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Xenophon's Apology - selections and notes

The account of Socrates' decision to accept death, which was given to Xenophon by Socrates' companion Hermogenes, is that Socrates was an old man and it was Socrates' view that "for him death was more to be desired than life".

According to the entry "Xenophon" in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd edition, Xenophon's Apology was written about 15 years after Socrates died, which would be about 386 B.C. It is not possible, based on the historical evidence, to say whether Plato's Apology was written before or after Xenophon's. W.K.C. Guthrie's belief was that Plato wrote his account of Socrates' defense to the jury "shortly after" Socrates' trial and death in 399 B.C.

Xenophon's short work offers a complementary account to Plato's Apology, which is the only other extant account of Socrates' defense, for as Xenophon says "others have written about this". Xenophon's own account of Socrates, the Memorabilia ("Memories of Socrates") and Symposium ("Banquet"), does not appear to have been influenced in any way by Plato's works.

Xenophon's Introduction. The choice of death.

It seems to me fitting to hand down to memory, furthermore, how Socrates, on being indicted, deliberated on his defense and on his end. It is true that others have written about this, and that all of them have reproduced the loftiness of his words, -- a fact which proves that his utterance really was of the character intimated; -- but they have not shown clearly that he had now come to the conclusion that for him death was more to be desired than life [cf. Memorabilia iv, 8, 1]; and hence his lofty utterance appears rather ill-considered.

Hermogenes, the son of Hipponicus

Hermogenes [named in Plato's Phaedo 59b as present at Socrates' death], the son of Hipponicus, however, was a companion of his and has given us reports of such a nature as to show that the sublimity of his speech was appropriate to the resolve he had made.

For [Hermogenes] stated that on seeing Socrates discussing any and every subject rather than the trial, he had said: "Socrates, ought you not to be giving some thought to what defense you are going to make?" That Socrates had at first replied, "Why, do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in preparing to defend myself?" [cf. Memorabilia iv, 8, 4] Then when [Hermogenes] asked, "How so?" [Socrates] had said, "Because all my life I have been guiltless of wrong-doing; and that I consider the finest preparation for a defense." [Xenophon's account in Memorabilia iv, 8, 4 has more about the above that is useful to the student of Socrates' philosophy.]

(Xenophon, Socrates' Defense [Apology; the Greek word is apología] to the Jury, i, 1-4 [Note.--Xenophon's Apology is only one "Book" in length], tr. O.J. Todd (Loeb Classical Library, 1923))

Answer to the second charge against Socrates

Socrates' defense against the charge of "corrupting the youth" is, in Xenophon's account, that no young person who has come to Socrates, or indeed anyone else who has come to Socrates, has fallen from good practices into bad practices because of Socrates' influence on them (Apology, i, 19-20). And again, that Socrates was "far from ever doing any man a wrong or rendering him more wicked" (i, 26). [Alcibiades was virtuous when he was with Socrates because he imitated Socrates when he was with him, rather than because he had absorbed Socrates' teaching. Thus Alcibiades reverted to vice when he left Socrates. (Memorabilia i, 2, 24)]

Xenophon's account of Chaerephon's visit to Delphi

[Socrates said,] "Once on a time when Chaerephon made inquiry at the Delphic oracle concerning me, in the presence of many people Apollo answered that no man was more free than I, or more just, or more prudent." (Apology i, 14)

Socrates' ethics = "devotion to the inner voice"?

It is possible that when Albert Schweitzer speaks of Socrates' "ethical mysticism of devotion to the inner voice" (Civilization and Ethics, tr. Campion (1929), v, p. 34-35), this may be an allusion to Xenophon's Apology i, 12, where Socrates asks rhetorically, "As for introducing "new divinities", how could I be guilty of that merely in asserting that a voice of God is made manifest to me indicating my duty?"

However, the following supports my view [or account] rather than Schweitzer's, because here if we look at Xenophon's Apology i, 15-16, Socrates says, "However, do not believe the god even in this without due grounds, but examine the god's utterance in detail." So that even if Socrates hears a divine voice, or even if he hears of the words of Apollo's oracle, nonetheless he seeks "due grounds" for believing it -- i.e. for accepting it as clear and true. (Socrates in contrast to Abraham.)

As in Socratic dialog: one must agree to a thesis only after one has tried to refute (by cross-questioning to discover unclarity or contradiction) the thesis, and failed. That is the standard Socrates set for philosophy: if anyone knows something, he can explain what he knows to others (Memorabilia iv, 6, 1; cf. Plato, Laches 190c), and defend his explanation in discussion with his companions, or in discussion with himself alone as if he were trying to explain what he knew to others, asking himself: What is the meaning of my words: is what I say nonsense or true or false? Always the Socratic principle is reverence for the true and the good above all things (Plato, Gorgias 457e-458b and Euthydemus 278d-282a; Memorabilia iii, 9, 5).

In his Apology i, 21, Xenophon has Socrates call education "man's greatest blessing". Socratic dialog is, of course, an education ("the Socratic method"), both for oneself and one's companions. And everything that one reads, everything that one hears, must be put to its tests of reason and experience for clarity and truth.


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