Apology, Crito And Phædo
Literally Translated By
Henry Cary, M.A.,
Worcester College, Oxford
With An Introduction By
Edward Brooks, jr.
Of all writers of speculative philosophy, both ancient and modern, there is probably no one who has attained so eminent a position as Plato. What Homer was to Epic poetry, what Cicero and Demosthenes were to oratory, and what Shakespeare was to the drama of England, Plato was to ancient philosophy, not unapproachable nor unapproached, but possessing an inexplicable but unquestioned supremacy.
The authentic records of his life are meagre, and much that has been written concerning him is of a speculative nature. He was born at Athens in the year 427 B.C. His father's name was Ariston, and his mother's family, which claimed its descent from Solon, included among its members many Athenian notables, among whom was Oritias, one of the thirty tyrants.
In his early youth Plato applied himself to poetry and painting, both of which pursuits he relinquished to become the disciple and follower of Socrates. It is said that his name was originally Aristocles, but that it was changed to Plato on account of the breadth of his shoulders and forehead. He is also said to have been an expert wrestler and to have taken part in several important battles.
After the death of Socrates it is supposed that Plato took refuge with Euclides in Megara, and subsequently extended his travels into Magna Graecia and Egypt.
Upon his return to Athens he taught those who came to him for instruction in the grove named Academus, near the Cephisus, and thus founded the first great philosophical school, over which he continued to preside until the day of his death. Above the entrance to this grove was inscribed the legend: "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." Here he was attended by persons of every description, among the more illustrious of whom were Aristotle, Lycurgus, Demosthenes and Isocrates.
There is a story to the effect that Plato three times visited Sicily, once upon the invitation of the elder Dionysius, and twice at the earnest solicitations of the younger. The former he is said to have so seriously offended as to cause the tyrant to have him seized on his return home and sold as a slave, from which state of bondage he was, however, released by Anicerius of Cyrene.
The people of his time thought more of him than they did of all their other philosophers, and called him the Divine Plato. So great was the regard and veneration for him that it was considered better to err with Plato than be right with any one else.
The writings of Plato are numerous, and most of them are in the form of dialogues. The following pages contain translations of three of his works, viz.: "The Apologia," "The Crito" and "The Phædo," all of which have reference to the trial, imprisonment and death of Socrates.
"The Apologia" represents Socrates on trial for his life, undertaking his own defence, though unaccustomed to the language of the courts, the occasion being, as he says, the first time he has ever been before a court of justice, though seventy years of age. Plato was present at the trial, and no doubt gives us the very arguments used by the accused. Two charges were brought against Socrates—one that he did not believe in the gods recognized by the State, the other that he had corrupted the Athenian youth by his teachings. Socrates does not have recourse to the ordinary methods adopted by orators on similar occasions. He prefers to stand upon his own integrity and innocence, uninfluenced by the fear of that imaginary evil, death. He, therefore, does not firmly grapple with either of the charges preferred against him. He neither denies nor confesses the first accusation, but shows that in several instances he conformed to the religious customs of his country, and that he believes in God more than he fears man. The second charge he meets by a cross-examination of his accuser, Melitus, whom he reduces to the dilemma of charging him with corrupting the youth designedly, which would be absurd, or with doing so undesignedly, for which he could not be liable to punishment.
His defence, however, avails him nothing, and he is condemned by the judges to die by drinking the poisonous hemlock. In the closing part of "The Apologia" Socrates is represented as commenting upon the sentence which has been passed upon him, and as expressing his belief that in going to his death he is only passing to a better and a happier life.
In "The Crito" Socrates is represented in conversation with a friend of his named Crito, who had been present at his trial, and who had offered to assist Socrates in paying a fine, had a fine been the sentence imposed. Crito visits Socrates in his confinement to bring to him the intelligence that the ship, the arrival of which was to be the signal for his death upon the following day, would arrive forthwith, and to urge him to adopt the means of escape which had already been prepared. Socrates promises to follow the advice of Crito if, upon a full discussion of the matter, it seems right to do so. In the conversation which ensues Socrates argues that it is wrong to return evil for evil and that the obligations which a citizen owes to his State are more binding than those which a child owes his parents or a slave his master, and, therefore, it is his duty to submit to the laws of Athens at whatever cost to himself. Crito has no answer to make to this argument, and Socrates thereupon decides to submit to his fate.
Plato is said to have had two objects in writing this dialogue: First, to acquit Socrates of the charge of corrupting the Athenian youth; and, second, to establish the fact that it is necessary under all circumstances to submit to the established laws of his country.
"The Phædo" relates the manner in which Socrates spent the last day of his life and the circumstances attending his death. He is visited by a number of his friends, among whom are Phædo, Simmias and Crito. When his friends arrive they find him sitting upon a bed rubbing his legs, which have just been released from bonds. He remarks upon the unaccountable connection between pleasure and pain, and from this the conversation gradually turns to a consideration of the question of the immortality of the soul. He convinces his listeners of the pre-existence of the soul; but they are still skeptical as to its immortality, urging that its pre-existence and the fact that it is more durable than the body does not preclude the possibility of its being mortal. Socrates, however, argues that contraries cannot exist in the same thing at the same time, as, for example, the same object cannot partake of both magnitude and littleness at the same time. In like manner, heat while it is heat can never admit the idea of cold. Life and death are contraries and can never coexist; but wherever there is life there is soul, so that the soul contains that which is contrary to death and can never admit death; consequently the soul is immortal.
Having convinced his listeners, Socrates bathes and takes leave of his children and the women of his family. Thereupon the officer appears and tells him it is time for him to drink the poison. At this his friends commence to weep and are rebuked by Socrates for their weakness. He drinks the poison calmly and without hesitation, and then begins to walk about, still conversing with his friends. His limbs soon grow stiff and heavy and he lays himself down upon his back. His last words are: "Crito, we owe a cock to Æsculapius; pay it, therefore, and do not neglect it."