Apology was written by Plato in 399 B.C. and still presents an excellent piece of literature in terms of logics, rhetoric elements and the philosopher’s dialectics. It is actually his version of Socrates’ self-defensive monologue at the trial revealing a lot of details of the latter. The text of Apology was the first that remained after the trial. As it is understandable, the main idea of the work is self-defense of a person, a usual procedure at a trial, when the arguments supporting the idea of unfair accusations are given. The explanation is developed and elaborated, moreover, Socrates’ views on the concepts of soul and body are given, which makes the text even more valuable.
The central theme of Apology is a relevant character of all accusations, which are referred to as “calumny”. The general claim of Socrates is that none of them are fair, that one cannot be judged for having a sharp and curious mind and wanting to explore and grasp the sense of everything. The work also reveals and describes the topics of cognition and wisdom, for the philosopher understood these notions in quite a peculiar way, not like everyone else did. Socrates tried to find out what real wisdom was, but everyone whom he deemed to be wise (officials, poets and artisans) disappointed him, as it turned out they knew practically nothing of what they wrote or claimed because they falsely were of too high opinion about themselves. Naturally, such a bitter truth about oneself was unpleasant to be heard, that is why the great thinker was accused on a nonsense basis.
The composition of Apology
The composition of Apology is easily distinguishable. Specifically, the text of the monologue can be divided into several parts reflecting trial processes: Socrates’ speech before the verdict (where he explains every point of his blame; the largest part), then his reflections after the accusations (dedicated to the kind of punishment waiting for him) and finally his comments upon the verdict (with pondering over the future of Athens and death). It is in Apology that the Greek’s philosopher’s famous maxim “to know that one’s wisdom is in truth worth nothing” appears. Nowadays it is cited widely in relation to the weight and nature of knowledge. Notably, this statement is made in regards to God’s knowledge, compared to the grandeur and universality of which even the wisest human being is a fool. In order to support Socrates’ central arguments better, Plato retells his vivid examples from life. For instance, after finding out that wisdom is not what it seems to be, based on the research of professions that are generally requiring a great deal of keenness of wit and exhaustive special knowledge, he presents insights that are still topical. The acceptance of the fact that everyone can interpret a poet’s words better than himself would gladden today’s critics. Cynics of nowadays would find it amusing in this work that there is more wisdom in an ignorant person that in a man of letters. This personal investigation may be considered a crucial argument of Socrates. Its power is supported by an emphasized respectful attitude to the men of Athens.
The character of accusations deserves special attention
There are several crucial points which become reasons to blame Socrates. It should be mentioned that the text of Apology is the first work where every accuser of the philosopher is named. In terms of argumentation, the most important component of this part of the monologue is the fact that if the prosecutors have reasons to plead him guilty of corrupting youth people by preaching a non-conditional way of living and thinking, not complying with traditional beliefs and worshiping other new gods of his own, the thinker knows how to debunk every piece of calumny. The way the great thinker does it is truly a domain of a wise man. Socrates logically proves that all of these accusations are applicable to prosecutors themselves. He manages to achieve it by splitting the actual form of the statement containing the blame and due to reasoning leading to counter-accusation. It is an effective rhetoric device, for the audience understands the absence of blame, sympathizes with Socrates and sees his prosecutors as evil-doers and hypocrites. The thinker stays true to his beliefs and his science and is not encouraged to give them up even when threatened with death. He strays away by referring to himself as to a God-sent “enlightener” of the souls of the men of Athens. However, it is an argument against death sentence, and as long as it works on the listeners, it is appropriate.
One of the arguments given by Socrates as a counter-accusation is especially vivid, and it is the one addressed to Meletus. The philosopher denies that he is the only one depraving the young minds, as it takes a lot of people to destroy something, and usually the one who creates is a loner in a crowd. Socrates also accuses his opponent of paying no attention to youth and, thus, questions his being prosecuted in general. This argument is relevant because it reflects the purpose of the work to show the falseness of accusations and give evidence against them.
What concern Socrates’ reflection on the nature of body and soul, the philosopher, in line with hundreds of his followers, appeals to cherishing the immortal one, not the perishable one. He even draws parallels between body and money, therefore claiming that both are not worth dedicating life to. Money, as a reflection of physical side of life, can only bring moral destruction, for “virtue is not given by money”. In order to be wealthy materially, a person must possess spiritual richness. In such a way, body and soul are polar notions according to Socrates.
The fact that the work ends with the death of the great philosopher contributes to its overall dramatic effect. Socrates appears as a humble, plain, yet dignified man, and that is the way he will be remembered in history. Plato managed to convey the crucial thoughts of his colleague at length and vividly, which once again proves a great literary and philosophic potential of Apology.