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Literature / Apology of Socrates

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Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you.

"I will begin at the beginning, and ask what the accusation is which has given rise to this slander of me, and which has encouraged Meletus to proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? (...) 'Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.'"

One of Plato's dialogues, the Apology (like all works by Plato) takes place in Greece in the 5th century BC, being written a little bit later. It describes the famous trial of Socrates, performed in Athens after he was accused of blasphemy and corruption of youth. The degree in which it reflects the real event is debatable, but the trial must have had many witnesses (with Plato most probably being one of them), who could help establish the accurate version of all three speeches. Nonetheless, the dialogue is impressive by itself because of its literary value. Of all Plato's dialogues, this one is used as a translating exercise by the students of classical Greek most often, because it is relatively easy to read and very well-written (with numerous examples of famous Socratic irony) at the same time.

Apart from being one of the oldest examples of the Law Procedural genre in history, it is an important ethical work, discussing the significance of truth in ethics and the real meaning of death. Although, as with all dialogues written by Plato, it is debatable in what degree it describes the historical Socrates instead of being an Author Tract, it is usually acknowledged to be one of the earliest Plato's texts, which means there is a good chance that the Socrates from Apology expresses his own views (in the latter case it may be the case when Shaming the Mob did not work). The fact that other authors wrote accounts of Socrates' trial that largely agree with Plato lend evidence to the theory (although some, like Xenophon, may have relied in part on Plato, so there's some evidence pulling the other way). Some interpreters say that the dialogue, along with a few other of Plato's works, foreshadows Christian ethics and eschatology.

The Apology of Socrates provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Chewbacca Defense: Socrates does this many times, often using Appeal to Ridicule.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The Cool Old Guy, Socrates. It should be noted, though, that he's only "rebelling" against the earthly, human authority, in the name of compliance with the higher one - the law, and, above all, the gods.
  • Democracy Is Bad: A possible message of the text, since it was a view Socrates had (at least toward the Athenian democracy, something quite different from the modern forms).
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Scholars still debate over the actual reason of Socrates' trial, though - it might have been more or less connected with politics rather than philosophy, in which case 'corrupting youths' would mean actively encouraging the rule of aristocracy rather than democratic government.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Socrates. Even more so in Phaedo, but the tendency is obvious already in the Apology.
  • Downer Beginning: Along with...
  • ...Downer Ending
  • Eccentric Mentor: Socrates to many of the people present. He lampshades it in his defensive speech.
  • Good Feels Good: Socrates believes this.
    Socrates: No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.
  • The Gadfly: Trope Namer. Socrates compares his relationship to the Athenian democracy to that of a gadfly pestering a horse. His portrayal in the Apology itself is perhaps his finest example, as he goes out of his way to subvert, pervert, or outright defy the typical rhetorical flourishes common to Athenian courtroom procedure of the time.
  • Hearing Voices: The way Socrates contacts his mysterious inner spirit.
  • Honor Before Reason: Socrates defines his life philosophy by this trope. He considers injustice and dishonesty as things to be avoided at all costs, even if it means his own death. He himself would be rather upset by this characterization, though — to him, it is everyone else who is being unreasonable.
  • I Won't Say I'm Guilty: Even though his friends persuaded him to do so (see Criton).
  • Irony: This text is made of it.
  • Jerkass Gods: Defied. In contrast to the ways most myths portrayed gods at the time, Socrates denies that it could be in the nature of a god to be vicious or dishonest.
  • Law Procedural: Apology here means "speech in defense," rather than anything to do with being sorry. The Apology is basically to be read as a transcript of the trial, with the focus being on the defense's examination of witnesses and arguments to the jury.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Socrates.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: One of the best known in history.
  • Moral Guardians: Socrates' accusers condemned him for "corrupting the youth" of Athens.
  • Motive Rant: Socrates had no choice but to constantly annoy the Athenians by proving them their stupidity, because he was told by a god to do so. However, it turns out that It Sucks to Be the Chosen One.
  • Not Afraid to Die: One of Socrates' reasons is that We All Die Someday, and you never know when Life Will Kill You. The courage of these claims is somewhat diminished by the fact that he was around 70 years old at the time, which was close to the end of life expectancy in ancient Greece, so he knew he probably didn't have much longer anyway. (For the record, Plato lived to be 80.)
  • Older Than Feudalism: By 800 to 1000 years.
  • The Philosopher: Guess who?
  • Principles Zealot: Lampshaded in Criton, which describes Socrates' conversation with a friend after the trial.
  • Prophecy Twist: Subverted. Socrates offers a twisted interpretation of the prophecy as a justification of his deeds (the implication being that he is a victim of the prophecy — if he misunderstood it — in a similar way to Oedipus), but both he and his accusers know perfectly well that the twist (if not the prophecy) is invented by him.
  • Real-Person Fic: Like all of Plato's dialogues, although the extent to which the Apology (and other works) are fictionalized is uncertain.
  • Seeker Archetype: Socrates, the seeker of truth.
  • Suicide Is Painless: Socrates' attitude toward the end, though in this case he's being forced to kill himself by the state, in lieu of any even worse method.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: This is how Socrates poses himself in his beginning words, when he says that he is a first-time defendant and does not even know proper terminology used during the trials. He then runs roughshod over typical Athenian courtroom procedure in such a way as to betray that he knows exactly what he's doing.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: Some scholars have pointed out that Socrates appears to either ignore or deliberately flout some of the rhetorical tricks and flourishes that his audience would have expected a defendant to provide, to the point that he seems to forego his own defense in order to subtly insult the assembly. It's somewhat debated whether he merely wanted his arguments to stand on their own force, or if this was done in deliberate mockery to demonstrate the contempt he held for his accusers, the accusations, and by extension Athenian society in general.
  • Victorious Loser: And a Doomed Moral Victor, no less.