Monday, September 12, 2016

Socrates in Plato’s Apology and Gorgias

In ‘Plato’s Phaedrus, Cratylus, and Apology’, which I posted yesterday, I quoted from Socrates’ interrogation of Meletus: ‘Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking (Pros autȏn toinun, ȏ Melȇte, toutȏn tȏn theȏn hȏn nun ho logos estin), tell me and the court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean (eipe eti saphesteron kai emoi kai tois andrasi toutoisi, 26b8-c1) … Do you mean that I do not believe in the god-head of the sun or moon (oude hȇlion oude selȇnȇn nomizȏ theous einai), like the rest of mankind (hȏsper hoi alloi anthrȏpoi)?’ – Mel. ‘I assure you, judges (26d4), that he does not (Ma Di’, ȏ andres dikastai): for he says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth (epei ton men hȇlion lithon phȇsin einai, tȇn de selȇnȇn gȇn).’ – Soc. ‘Friend Meletus, do you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras (Anaxagorou oiei katȇgorein, ȏ phile Melȇte)? Have you such low opinion of the judges (kai houtȏ kataphroneis tȏnde), that you fancy them so illiterate (kai oiei autous apeirous grammatȏn einai) as not to know (hȏste mȇ eidenai) that these doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian, which are full of them (hoti ta Anaxagorou biblia tou Klazomeniou gemei toutȏn tȏn logȏn, 26d1-9, tr. Jowett)?’

There are two points in Jowett’s translation that misrepresent Socrates and his attitude to the ‘court’. I put the ‘court’ in quotation marks, for the Greek word for ‘court’ was dikastȇrion ‘court of justice’, and Socrates refrained from using that word, before it became clear, whether the ‘court’ would reach a correct decision so that justice would be done. This is no idle speculation on my part. Sentenced to death, Socrates turned to those members of the ‘jury’ who voted against the guilty verdict: ‘O my judges (ȏ andres dikastai) – for you I may truly call judges (humas gar dikastas kalȏn orthȏs an kaloiȇn, 40a2-3).’ Throughout the Apology, Socrates refrains from calling the men of the ‘jury’ judges, calling them men of Athens (andres Athȇnainoi, 17a1 and passim) in stark contrast to Meletus, who always addresses them ‘judges’, as he does at 26d4.

Firstly, Jowett misrepresents Socrates when he translates ‘tell me and the court’ Socrates’ eipe kai emoi kai tois andrasi toutoisi, which means ‘tell me and these men’. Secondly, he misrepresents Socrates when he translates ‘Have you such low opinion of the judges’ Socrates’ kai houtȏ kataphroneis tȏnde, which simply means ‘have you such a low opinion of these’, i.e. of these men.

In ‘Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro, Gorgias and Cratylus, and in Aristophanes’ comedies’, posted on August 29, I quoted a lengthy passage from the Gorgias, which I viewed in the light of Euthyphro’s finding it ridiculous (geloion) that Socrates thinks it makes any difference whether the man who died was a member of a family or no (hoti oiei ti diapherein eite oikeios ho tethneȏs, 4b7-8): ‘The real question is (touto monon dei phulattein) whether the murdered man has been justly slain (eite en dikȇi ekteinen ho kteinas eite mȇ). If justly (kai eiper en dikȇi), then your duty is to let the matter alone (ean); but if unjustly (ei de mȇ), then proceed against the murderer (epexienai, 4b8-10, tr. Jowett).’ Or rather, I viewed the Euthyphro passage in the light of the passage from the Gorgias, for in its light Euthyphro was fully justified in his expecting to be fully supported by Socrates in prosecuting his own father. After referring to Aristophanes’ comedies for testimony that the views on justice expressed in the Gorgias can be ascribed to the historical Socrates, I asked ‘what was it then about Socrates that made Euthyphro confident that Socrates did not come to the Porch of the King to prosecute anybody? Socrates’ aversion to court proceedings were obviously well known. But how can this fact be squared with Socrates’ words in the Gorgias, quoted above? The answer lies, in my view, in Socrates’ philosophical ignorance, and the Euthyphro is a good dialogue in which we can get a notion of it.’

If we read the passage from the Gorgias in the light of Socrates’ refraining from calling the members of the ‘jury’ judges and the ‘court’ dikastȇrion before it became clear, whether they would promote justice, we can reach a more nuanced view of Gorgias 480a-d. So let me quote it again.

Socrates: ‘What is the great use of rhetoric, Polus (ȏ Pȏle, tis hȇ megalȇ chreia estin tȇs rȇtorikȇs)? For in fact from what has been agreed now a man should most of all take care for himself so that he doesn’t do injustice (dei men gar dȇ ek tȏn nun hȏmologȇmenȏn auton heauton malista phulattein hopȏs mȇ adikȇsei), knowing that he will have a great enough evil if he does (hȏs hikanon kakon hexonta) … And if he or whoever else he cares about does do injustice (Ean de ge adikȇsȇi ȇ autos ȇ allos tis hȏn an kȇdȇtai), he should go voluntarily (auton hekonta ienai) wherever (ekeise hopou) he will pay justice as quickly as possible (hȏs tachista dȏsei dikȇn), to the court of justice (para ton dikastȇn) as to the doctor (hȏsper para ton iatron), eager to prevent the disease of injustice from being chronic (speudonta hopȏs mȇ enchronisthen to nosȇma tȇs adikias) and making his soul festering (hupoulon tȇn psuchȇn poiȇsei) and incurable (kai aniaton). (480a1-b2) … Then for someone’s defence for his own injustice (Epi men ara to apologeisthai huper tȇs adikias tȇs hautou), or when his parents (ȇ goneȏn) or his friends (ȇ hetairȏn) or his children (ȇ paidȏn) or his native state do injustice (ȇ patridos adikousȇs), rhetoric is of no use at all to us (ou chrȇsimos ouden hȇ rȇtorikȇ hȇmin), Polus (ȏ Pȏle), unless someone supposes it is useful for the opposite purpose (ei mȇ ei tis hupolaboi epi tounantion) – that he should denounce most of all himself (katȇgorein dein malista men heautou), then his relatives (epeita de kai tȏn oikeiȏn), and whatever other friend does injustice (kai tȏn allȏn hos an aei tȏn philȏn tunchanȇi adikȏn); and should not conceal the unjust action, but bring it into the open (kai mȇ apokruptesthai all’ eis to phaneron agein to adikȇma), to pay justice (hina dȏi dikȇn) and to become healthy (kai hugiȇs genȇtai); and compel himself (anankazein te hauton) and others (kai tous allous) not to shrink in cowardice (mȇ apodeilian), but to close their eyes and offer themselves well and bravely (alla parechein musanta eu kai andreiȏs), as though to the doctor for cutting and burning (hȏsper temnein kai kaein iatrȏi); he should pursue the good and fine (to agathon kai kalon diȏkonta), not counting the pain (mȇ hupologizonta to algeinon), but offer oneself for flogging, if his unjust action deserves flogging (ean men ge plȇgȏn axia ȇdikȇkȏs ȇi, tuptein parechonta), for prison, if it deserves prison (ean desmou, dein), paying a fine, if it deserves a fine (ean de zȇmias, apotinonta), [for exile, if it deserves exile, J.T.] (ean de phugȇs, pheugonta, 480d2), accepting death, if it deserves death (ean de thanatou, apothnȇiskonta); he should himself be the first denouncer (auton prȏton einai katȇgoron) of himself (kai hautou) and of the rest of his relatives (kai tȏn allȏn oikeiȏn), and use his rhetoric for this (kai epi touto chrȏmenon tȇi rȇtorikȇi), to have his [their, J.T.] unjust actions exposed and get rid of the greatest evil (hopȏs an katadȇlȏn tȏn adikȇmatȏn gignomenȏn apallattȏntai tou megistou kakou), injustice (adikias).’ (480b7-d7, tr. Terence Irwin)

In the light of Plato’s Apology, when he was expressing such views, Socrates had in mind true courts of justice, where true judges would administer true justice. Under the circumstances in which he and his contemporaries lived, Socrates was nevertheless open to a pragmatic view of justice, as it appears from Xenophon’s Memorabilia: “But,” said his accuser, “Socrates (Alla Sȏkratȇs ge, ephȇ ho katȇgoros) caused his companions to dishonour not only their fathers, but their other relations as well (ou monon tous pateras, alla kai tous allous sungeneis epoiei en atimiai einai para tois heautȏi sunousi), by saying (legȏn) that invalids and litigants get benefit not from their relations (hȏs oute tous kamnontas oute tous dikazomenous hoi sungeneis ȏphelousin), but from their doctor or their counsel (alla tous men hoi iatroi, tous de hoi sundikein epistamenoi).’ … Now I know that he used this language about fathers, relations and friends.’ (I.ii.51-53, tr. Marchant)

Marchant’s ‘litigants’ stands for tous dikazomenous, i.e. ‘those who go to law to seek justice’ (perhaps because the English is not my mother tongue, I do not hear ‘justice’ in the word ‘litigants’). Marchant’s ‘their counsel’ stands for hoi sundikein epistamenoi, i.e. ‘those who know how advocate for justice’.


Terence Irwin in his translation left out Socrates’s ean de phugȇs, pheugonta (Gorgias 480d2) ‘for exile, if it deserves exile’. Those words are important, for they indicate that when Plato wrote the passage, his thoughts were with Socrates and his trial. Does the omission have anything to do with Irwin’s view of the historical Socrates and Plato in Plato’s dialogues?

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