The Apology of Socrates is a delightful and quite humorous dramatization of the famous philosopher’s defense while on trial for his life in Athens, ancient Greece. In the Apology, reported to us by Socrates’ student, Plato, the wise man of Athens firmly defends himself – rather than apologizing in the contemporary sense – against politically motivated accusations of not believing in the gods of the state, and of corrupting the Athenian youth. Based on Socrates’ beliefs, goodness depends mainly on the quality of our understanding of what to care about, and how to behave in our lives. The main principles of the Socratic discourse have had a significant influence on philosophy, politics, sociology and ethics in the Western World.
The Apology professes to be a record of the actual speech that Socrates delivered in his own defense at the trial (399 BC). This makes the question of its historical accuracy more acute than in the rest of the Platonic dialogues in which the conversations themselves are mostly fictional and the question of accuracy is concerned only with how far the theories that Socrates is represented as expressing were those of the historical Socrates. Here, however, we are dealing with a speech that Socrates made as a matter of history. How far is Plato’s account accurate?
We should always remember that the ancients did not expect historical accuracy in the way we do. On the other hand, Plato makes it clear that he was present at the trial. Moreover, if, as is generally believed, the Apology was written not long after the event, many Athenians would remember the actual speech, and it would be a poor way to vindicate the Master, which is the obvious intent, to put a completely different speech into his mouth. Some liberties could no doubt be allowed, but the main arguments and the general tone of the defense must surely be faithful to the original. The beauty of language and style is certainly Plato’s, but the serene spiritual and moral beauty of character belongs to Socrates. It is a powerful combination.