Socrates and Plato - Track 901

Now we come to that part which is an account of himself, it is not a part of accusation but it is a subordinate question that might arise in the minds of the people, why is he conducting his life in such a way that it brings him nearer to his death this is the question − the very first line. “But perhaps someone will say: do you feel no compunction Socrates for having followed the line of action which puts you in danger of the death penalty; this is the question he himself is raising as if from the side of the people. He said even when I was in the army as a soldier, I faced death, I didn’t run away from death simply because I would die, I didn’t count it at all. So what I did at that time I  do the same now, I am on my action. You see he has answered finally is this ‘you can please yourself whether you listen to Anytus or not and whether you acquit me or not, you know that I am not going to alter my conduct not even if I have to die a hundred deaths. He says: It is literally true that God has specially appointed me to this city as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly.’ He says this city is like a horse, quite fat, well bred but has become lazy. So it requires a stinging fly to stimulate it into action, so I am like the stinging fly, it seems to me that God has attached me to this city to perform the office of such a fly and all day long I never cease to settle here, there and everywhere rousing, persuading, reproving every one of you, you will not easily find another like me gentlemen and if you take my advise you will spare my life. I suspect however before long you will awake from the drowsing and in your annoyance you will take Anytus’ advice and finish me off with a single step and then you will go on sleeping till the end of your days unless God in his care for you sends someone to take my place.

So this is his final answer to the questions. Now he is giving a personal account of himself. If you doubt whether I am really the sort of person who would have been sent to the city as a gift from God you can convince yourselves by looking at it in this way. He is trying to prove that he is appointed by God. How does he prove? This is his proof. Does it seem natural that I should have neglected my own affairs and endured the humiliation of allowing my family to be neglected for all these years while I visit myself all the time on your behalf going like a father or an elder brother to see each one of you privately and urging you to set your thoughts on goodness, if I had not got any enjoyment from it or if I would have been paid for my good advice there would have been some explanation for my conduct. That is to say people would have said he enjoyed doing it or that he is paid for it therefore he is doing it but neither of the two is true. But as it is you can see for yourselves that although my accusers unblushingly charge me all sorts of other crimes there is one thing that they have not had the impudence to pretend on any testimony and that is I have ever exacted or asked a fee from anyone. The witness that I can offer to prove the truth of my statement is I think is a convincing one, my poverty. The very fact that I am poor shows that I am not taking any fees from anybody therefore I am doing this work as appointed by God and not because of any other reason. It may seem curious that I should go round giving advice like this and busying myself in people’s private affairs and you never ventured publicly as a whole and advise on the matters of state. The reason for this is that you have often heard me say before on many other occasions that I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience. This is the one of the most important sentences of Socrates, the reason for this is what you have often heard me say before on many other occasions namely that I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience which Meletus was fit to travesty in his indictment. Then he says how he has supernatural experience. It began in my early childhood a sort of voice and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do and never urges me on.

Now try to understand this sentence. This voice which comes to Socrates; what kind of voice it is? Supposing he tries to do something and if the voice wants him to continue to go on then it says nothing but if the divine wants that he should not do what he wants to do then the voice tells him: don’t do it. This is the nature of the voice that he is getting therefore when he doesn’t get a voice it means that he can go on, it is divine sanction and when he gets the voice it is only to prevent him from doing what he wants to do. It is this voice that debars me from entering public life and a very good thing in my opinion that is to say it is a divine will and he finds even rationally I think it is correct; both because divine tells me not to do it and also I will tell you the reasons why it is so good that I should not do any politics because you may be quite sure gentlemen, if I had tried long ago to engage in politics I should have long ago lost my life without doing any good either to you or to myself. Please do not be offended if I tell you that no man on earth who conscientiously opposes either you or any other organised democracy and flatly prevents a great many wrongs and illegalities taking place in the state to which he belongs can possibly escape with his life. The true champion of justice if he intends to survive even for a short time must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone. I will offer you substantial proof of what I have said, not theories but what you can appreciate better facts. Listen while I describe my actual experiences so that you may know I would never submit wrongly to any authority through fear of death but would refuse even at the cost of my life. It will be a common place story such as you often hear in the course but it is true.

Now he gives an example as to how when he was in public life what happened to him. The only office which I have ever held in the city gentlemen was when I was elected to the council. It so happened that our group was acting as the executive when we decided that the ten commanders who had failed to rescue the men who were lost in the naval engagement should be tried en bloc, which was illegal as you all recognised later. On this occasion I was the only member of the executive who insisted that you should not act unconstitutionally and voted against the proposal. And although your leaders were all ready to denounce and arrest me and you were all urging them on at the top of your voices; I thought that it was my duty to face it out on the side of law and justice rather than support you through fear of prison or death in your own decision.

You follow this argument, this statement, No? Let’s see. He says: I held one public office in my life when I was elected to the council, now in the council of course there are many other members also and once a case came before them. What was the case? There were ten commanders on the sea on the navigation. Now these ten commanders had failed to rescue some of the soldiers fallen into the sea; they had failed to rescue the man who were lost in the naval engagement. Now the decision was that these ten commanders should be tried en bloc, altogether, which was actually illegal. The law was that you should engage every commander individually not put all together then it was illegal was recognised later but at that time we were pounding upon him that you should agree that all the ten should be tried en bloc. On this occasion I was the only member of the executive who insisted that you should not act unconstitutionally and voted against the proposal. At that time all the leaders were opposed to Socrates. He would have been saved if he would have agreed to all the others. There was a great danger that if he did not agree with all the others he would be put to death or he would go to prison but he says he did not mind it. He did what was right. Although your leaders were all ready to denounce and arrest me and you were all urging them on the top of your voices. I thought it was my duty to face it out on the side of law and justice rather than support you through fear of prison or death in your own decision. He said this happened while we were still under democracy. You must remember that Socrates refers to three important periods of the history of Greece. There was a period when Athens had democracy to begin with then there was a big war, – Peloponnesian War, it was a war with Sparta. So Athens and Sparta fought for many, many years, ultimately Athens was defeated. Therefore Sparta imposed upon Athens a kingdom of what was called oligarchy, – the three main forms of government, monarchy, oligarchy and democracy.

Now there was no monarchy in Athens. Right from early times there was democracy in Athens. Democracy is a rule of the people for the people, by the people, people themselves ruling themselves that is called democracy. Oligarchy means rule of a few. This is similar to economics, in economics there are three words, free-market, monopoly, oligopoly. Every trader is free and nobody is prevented from entering into the market, every seller can go to the market freely, no restriction, no imposition. Every buyer can go to the market freely, no restrictions and all sellers are free without any restrictions it is called free market and when one person is allowed to sell, others are not allowed to sell it is called monopoly. Oligopoly is when only a few are allowed to sell because of many reasons then it is called oligopoly, so now you have got oligarchy – rule of a few, democracy – rule of all and monarchy – rule of one person, one name is monarchy.

Now here what happened in the history of Athens was that first there was democracy then came the Peloponnesian War; Sparta and Athens fought against each other in that was Sparta won. Now Sparta was opposed to democracy, Athens was in favour of democracy and Sparta was opposed to democracy. Sparta favoured oligarchy, rule of a few people because Sparta won they imposed oligarchy in Athens. Now when these few people began to rule Athens now Socrates says what happened. ‘When the oligarchy came into power with thirty commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the round chamber and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salamis from his home for execution. (Thirty oligarchs, thirty tyrants as they were called they took all the power in their hand, thirty people. These thirty people asked Socrates and four other people and said you go and bring before us Leon of Salamis. The intention was that Salamis, they go to Salamis bring Leon and when Leon comes before the thirty commissioners they order: now kill him, this was the intention.) Now what did Socrates do? This was of course one of the many instances in which they insisted such instructions, they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their wickedness. On this occasion however I again made it clear not by my words but by actions that death did not matter to me at all.