Chapter 15. Socrates: The New Aesop

In many ways, the Platonic Socrates fits into the pattern of Aesop, the mythical blame poet who is moral, called by god, yet rejected by a corrupt society.
Socrates, like Aesop, was seen as the best of men. Thus, in the ending of the Phaedo: “Such, Echecrates, was the end of our comrade, who was, we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the best [aristou] and also the wisest and most upright man.” [1] The jailer in Phaedo refers to Socrates as “the noblest and gentlest and best [ariston] of all the men that have ever come here.” [2] In Xenophon’s Apology, Socrates reports that, after Chaerephon consulted Delphi concerning him, “in the presence of many people, Apollo answered that no man was more free than I, or more just, or more prudent … Apollo did not compare me to a god; he did, however, judge that I far excelled the rest of mankind.” [3]
Socrates receives a divine commission, a consecration, and thus is sacred. He was given his obligation to crossexamine and unmask the pseudo-wise “in obedience to God’s commands given in oracles and dreams and in every other way that any other divine dispensation has ever impressed a duty upon man.” [4] Socrates’ mission “is what my God commands.” [5] He claims that “God has specially appointed me to this city.” [6] Socrates describes himself as given (dedosthai) to Athens by god. [7] He is, in fact, the “gift of God,” theou dosin, to Athens (Apology 30d)—or, perhaps, god’s dose of medicine or dose of poison.
Like Aesop and Archilochus, Socrates had a close connection with Delphi, [8] which was, as it were, the instrument of his consecration. In the Apology, he calls on “the god at Delphi” to be witness on his behalf, an Aesopic theme. [9]
Like Aesop, Socrates uses an animal quasi-fable (the gadfly and the horse) in his last statement to his accusers that, among other things, defends his divine mission, and includes a prophecy of his death. It is also somewhat insulting to his listeners, and allegorizes his satirical role. Socrates describes the fable as sounding “rather comical [geloioteron]”; it is itself in the satirical tradition.
ἀτεχνῶς—εἰ καὶ γελοιότερον εἰπεῖν—προσκείμενον τῇ πόλει ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ὥσπερ ἵππῳ μεγάλῳ μὲν καὶ γενναίῳ, ὑπὸ μεγέθους δὲ νωθεστέρῳ καὶ δεομένῳ ἐγείρεσθαι ὑπὸ μύωπός τινος, οἷον δή μοι δοκεῖ ὁ θεὸς ἐμὲ τῇ πόλει προστεθηκέναι τοιοῦτόν τινα, ὃς ὑμᾶς ἐγείρων καὶ πείθων καὶ ὀνειδίζων ἕνα ἕκαστον οὐδὲν παύομαι τὴν ἡμέραν ὅλην πανταχοῦ προσκαθίζων. τοιοῦτος οὖν ἄλλος οὐ ῥᾳδίως ὑμῖν γενήσεται, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν ἐμοὶ πείθησθε, φείσεσθέ μου· ὑμεῖς δ’ ἴσως τάχ’ ἂν ἀχθόμενοι, ὥσπερ οἱ νυστάζοντες ἐγειρόμενοι, κρούσαντες ἄν με, πειθόμενοι Ἀνύτῳ, ῥᾳδίως ἂν ἀποκτείναιτε, εἶτα τὸν λοιπὸν βίον καθεύδοντες διατελοῖτε ἄν, εἰ μή τινα ἄλλον ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἐπιπέμψειεν κηδόμενος ὑμῶν.
It is literally true, even if it sounds rather comical, that God has specially appointed me to this city, as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly. It seems to me that God has attached me to this city to perform the office of such a fly, and all day long I never cease to settle here, there, and everywhere, rousing, persuading, reproving [egeirōn kai peithōn kai oneidizōn] every one of you. You will not easily find another like me, gentlemen, and if you take my advice you will spare my life. I suspect, however, that before long you will awake from your drowsing, and in your annoyance you will take Anytus’ advice and finish me off with a single slap, and then you will go on sleeping till the end of your days, unless God in his care for you sends someone to take my place.
Apology 30e–31a
Like many of the poets we have studied, Socrates was a soldier on occasion. This would not be especially worthy of note, except that Alcibiades, in the Symposium, used the military theme, Socrates’ heroism in battle, to heroize his master. [10] Socrates’ soldiering is part of his persona as best of men.
Socrates was also seen as the worst of men in some ways. He was poverty-stricken, [11] and most importantly, was accused of criminal impiety, for which crime he was executed. [12] Late evidence (Josephus) denies that he was a temple thief, [13] which may or may not imply that there was such a tradition extant.
Significantly, as in the case of Aesop, as in the case of Sappho and Hipponax and Tyrtaeus, we also have a strong tradition that Socrates was ugly. According to Xenophon, he had protruding eyes, which seemed to want to see round the back of his head, and a snub nose [14] with wide nostrils. [15] Alcibiades in the Platonic Symposium likens Socrates to a Silenus, particularly to the satyr Marsyas; these creatures were proverbially coarse featured, bestial, and ugly. [16] Xenophon’s Banquet (4.16–19) shows that satyrs were seen as ugly, and that Socrates resembled a satyr. Banquet chapter 5 is Socrates’ self-defense of his ugly features. Here again he argues that he is a silenus. The comparison with the sileni is apt, for these creatures were artistic, Muse-inspired (they were pipers), and mantic (they prophesied when captured). [17] The explicit identification of Socrates with Marsyas (“this latter day Marsyas,” Symposium 215e, τουτουῒ τοῦ Μαρσύου) is also richly suggestive, for in addition to being a surpassingly sweet piper (215b–d), Marsyas is a mythological poet whom Apollo kills. [18] Plato is once more mythologizing his master and his upcoming death. [19]
Plato emphasizes the magical nature of Marsyas’ playing; it “bewitches mankind” (ἐκήλει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους), and his tunes “have a magic power” (μόνα κατέχεσθαι ποιεῖ, 215c). The grotesquely ugly, animalistic satyr’s tunes are also holy: “Because they are divine they reveal those men who need the gods and initiation.” [20]
As we have seen, Socrates freely satirized his fellow citizens. The allegory of the horse and gadfly, a brilliantly satirical ainos, shows Socrates “rousing, persuading, reproving”; the drowsy horse is annoyed enough by this to slap the fly dead. Expressed more directly, the Athenians have found his “discussions and conversation” to be “too irksome and irritating” so they try to “get rid of them” (Apology 37c–d). [21] Socrates’ historian was even seen to be in the iambic tradition. Gorgias, reading Plato’s Gorgias, reportedly said, “How well Plato knows the art of producing iambs [iambizein],” and Gorgias even referred to him as a new Archilochus. [22]
As in the case of Aesop, Socrates’ greatest occasion of blame is his farewell speech before death. “When I leave this court I shall go away condemned by you to death, but they [his accusers] will go away convicted by truth herself of wickedness and injustice [mokhthērian kai adikian]” (Apology 39b). [23] This opposition of true and false wickedness is an important theme in the story of Aesop’s death.
Yet Socrates was often an urbane satirist. “All his life he spends … practicing irony and mocking people [eirōneuomenos de kai paizōn]” (Symposium 216dff.). [24] At one point, Socrates is about to tell a friend, “One must, o Hippothales, converse with a beloved friend in such a way as will bring down his pride and humble him [tapeinounta kai sustellonta], but not, as you, make him more blown up and conceited.” [25]
Puncturing blown-up pride obviously does not ingratiate a person with the conceited, who are by nature indisposed to receive criticism. Thus Socrates made enemies among some prominent citizens of Athens. In particular, Socrates criticized Anytus, his main accuser, a politician, for making his son a tanner. [26] Because of this, this politician brought suit against him. The Seventh Letter says Socrates was brought to trial by “some of those in authority” (dunasteuontes tines). [27] His blame is explicitly a cause for the charge being brought against him. [28]
After being condemned (unjustly) [29] by a public meeting, a trial, and a vote, [30] he was imprisoned. [31] All these are Aesopic themes, developed with consummate skill by Plato. Moses Finley writes of the different versions of Socrates’ trial, “These versions do not agree with each other, and in places they are quite contradictory. Here before our eyes is the mythmaking process at work.” [32]
After the condemnation, his acceptance of death seems voluntary, for he refuses to go into exile, [33] and takes his poison without any cowardice or delay. [34] Plato emphasizes this point: Socrates takes the cup of poison “cheerfully” (Phaedo 117b, mala hileōs) and drinks the poison “with no sign of distaste” (117c, eukolōs). This serenity is probably an idealization, to some extent. [35]
Oddly enough, or perhaps naturally enough, in the days before he drank the hemlock, Socrates occupied his time in versifying Aesop’s fables (Phaedo 60c–61b). [36] While one cannot disallow the possibility that this is historical, it is also possible that it is purely Platonic. In any case, Plato was enough of a conscious artist that he was using this detail for more than incidental meaning. Before Socrates mentions his versifying of Aesop, he discusses pain and pleasure and makes up a fable about them (they are like quarreling men joined at the head by god) that he describes as Aesopic—“I am sure that if Aesop had thought of it he would have made up a fable about them, something like this” (60c). [37] Socrates makes up Aesopic fables and (re-)writes Aesop’s fables (almost as Pierre Menard rewrites the Quixote in Borges’s story); he is being assimilated to Aesop by Plato, and surely Aesop’s death is being echoed here, in the Phaedo, the dialogue of Socrates’ death. The story of Aesop’s unjust execution was already a commonplace in Athens, since Herodotus and Aristophanes refer to it. [38] Diogenes Laertius even preserves a purported excerpt from one of these poems:
Αἴσωπός ποτ’ ἔλεξε Κορίνθιον ἄστυ νέμουσι,
μὴ κρίνειν ἀρετὴν λαοδίκῳ σοφίῃ.
Aesop once said to those living in the city of Corinth
that they should not judge virtue by the wisdom of a jury-court.
Diogenes Laertius 2.42, my translation
Even if this is not authentic, it shows that Socrates is being assimilated to Aesop because of Aesop’s unjust death.
Versifying Aesop explicitly makes Socrates a poet, [39] though his philosophical pursuits and verbal artistry would have qualified him as a poet in a less technical sense; as we have seen, Alcibiades refers to him as a Marsyas, a maker of supernaturally beguiling music. He is specifically a blame poet, a satirist, and a moral critic, to a significant degree.
These Aesopic allusions are closely connected with the cult of Apollo, for Socrates is working on adapting the Aesopic fables and is composing a hymn to Apollo at the same time; and he is doing both of them in response to dreams encouraging him to “practice and cultivate the arts [mousikēn].” [40] Socrates makes poems by “versifying the tales of Aesop and the hymn to Apollo.” [41] Socrates works at these poems during a festival to Apollo that is delaying his death—in fact the hymn is written in honor of that festival and its god. [42] And perhaps we are to understand that Apollo has inspired the dreams—if so, Apollo himself is extending the link from Aesop to Socrates, in Plato’s elaborate system of correspondences.
Socrates’ daimon has engineered his death; [43] but, as Socrates makes clear, death is not a bad thing for a just man, [44] so the daimon is his patron, working for his good. This is a clear expression of the notion of divinity as beneficent executioner that lies behind so many of these lives of poets.
Like Aesop and Homer, Socrates prophesies serious consequences arising from his unjust execution:
Τὸ δὲ δὴ μετὰ τοῦτο ἐπιθυμῶ ὑμῖν χρησμῳδῆσαι, ὦ καταψηφισάμενοί μου· καὶ γάρ εἰμι ἤδη ἐνταῦθα ἐν ᾧ μάλιστα ἄνθρωποι χρησμῳδοῦσιν, ὅταν μέλλωσιν ἀποθανεῖσθαι. φημὶ γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες οἳ ἐμὲ ἀπεκτόνατε, τιμωρίαν ὑμῖν ἥξειν εὐθὺς μετὰ τὸν ἐμὸν θάνατον πολὺ χαλεπωτέραν νὴ Δία ἢ οἵαν ἐμὲ ἀπεκτόνατε· νῦν γὰρ τοῦτο εἴργασθε οἰόμενοι μὲν ἀπαλλάξεσθαι τοῦ διδόναι ἔλεγχον τοῦ βίου, τὸ δὲ ὑμῖν πολὺ ἐναντίον ἀποβήσεται, ὡς ἐγώ φημι. πλείους ἔσονται ὑμᾶς οἱ ἐλέγχοντες … καὶ χαλεπώτεροι ἔσονται ὅσῳ νεώτεροί εἰσιν, καὶ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον ἀγανακτήσετε.
I feel moved to prophesy to you who have given your vote against me, for I am now at that point where the gift of prophecy comes most readily to men—at the point of death. [45] I tell you, my executioners, that as soon as I am dead, vengeance shall fall upon you with a punishment far more painful than your killing of me. You have brought about my death in the belief that through it you will be delivered from submitting your conduct to criticism, but I say that the result will be just the opposite. You will have more critics … and being younger they will be harsher to you and will cause you more annoyance.
Apology 39c–d
So there will be a moral, rhetorical plague (more, harsher critics) following Socrates’ death. This is to a certain extent a departure from the earlier prophecies. Aesop warns of plague and war, and Homer prophesies a shortage of poets for Cyme, a plague of poetic sterility, as it were, but Plato prophesies more and harsher satirist philosophers, an inversion of the Homeric plague. However, Socrates’ prophecy perhaps by implication predicts a dearth of moderate philosophers and thus continues the Homeric tradition. [46] Thus this theme shows us three outcomes: the cultic, the literary, and the literary/philosophical. The cultic reality continues in literary trappings; we have a literary cult hero and a literary cult myth. We have the echo of cultic honors to Socrates: not long after his death (“immediately,” euthus), the Athenians feel such remorse that they put Meletus to death and exile other prominent accusers. Then “they honoured [etimēsan] Socrates with a bronze statue [eikoni], the work of Lysippus, which they placed in the hall of procession.” [47]
The Xenophonic Apology has a different prophecy: Anytus’s son will not continue in the servile profession that his father forced him into, and “through want of a worthy adviser he will fall into some disgraceful propensity and will surely go far in the career of vice” (30). As it turns out, this prophecy is later fulfilled when the son becomes an alcoholic. [48] Anytus himself suffers exile, misery, and finally stoning. [49]
There is another curious coincidence in Socrates’ biographical tradition. According to Apollodorus, Socrates was born on the sixth day of the month Thargelion, [50] the day on which the pharmakos ritual was carried out, the first of two days of the Thargelia. If this were factual, it would be an interesting coincidence; but it is more likely that it is once again an example of mythical elaboration. According to Greek tradition, this was also the day on which Troy fell; the day of the Greek victories at Marathon and Plataea; and the date of the victory of Alexander over Darius. “Evidently,” writes Bremmer, “the expulsion of evil was felt so intensely that this seemed to be the appropriate day to celebrate these victories.” [51] It also seemed right, evidently, that Socrates should be born on such a mythically charged ritual day.
Poison is a major theme in the Phaedo. [52] To Socrates, poison, the means of death, is really the means of achieving life, for in the Platonic scheme of things, this body is a tomb [53] or a prison. [54] Separating the soul from the body is called “catharsis—purification.” [55] And “true philosophers make dying their profession.” [56] Socrates says, in his famous last words: “Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it and don’t forget.” [57] Though this is a muchdisputed problem, one certainty is that Asclepius was a god of healing. A reasonable interpretation of these last words is that Socrates is being healed by the poison that is bringing about his death. The poison is his medicine, just as he is the dose of healing poison administered to Athens.
Thus, Socrates, as portrayed by his disciples, is the best of men, and sacred—he is commissioned by god to deliver his message—he was closely connected with Apollo and Delphi. He was also the worst—poor, accused of criminal impiety, and remarkably ugly. He was a blame “poet,” occasionally using the animal fable to attack the Athenians, and his fellow citizens found his teachings intolerable. He was condemned in a trial, imprisoned, and sentenced to death—in actuality, a practical sentence of exile. But he chose obedient death over exile. He felt that the situation of his trial was directed by god—so his patron deity engineered his death—and he calls upon Apollo as his witness during his last speech. His condemnation was followed by disastrous consequences for Athens, but it was also followed by the influence of his teachings in the hands of such disciples as Plato.
It is entirely possible, as many scholars have argued, that Plato especially shaped Socrates’ vita into the form of such a myth. Montuori argues that the Apology is not a faithful account of Socrates’ defense at his trial, or even a mixture of truth and fiction; it is “above all an apologia for Plato and of Socrates’ disciples.” To portray Socrates’ relentless cross-examining as beneficial, not corrupting, Plato must invent the oracle to Chaerephon, which transforms Socrates into something of a prophet, an Apolline gift to Athens. [58] Though Montuori is generally correct on Plato’s skillful mythologizing, the oracle to Chaerophon is in Xenophon (Apology 14), so cannot have been a purely Platonic invention.
In the generation after Socrates’ death, a literature of polemic grew up attacking and defending Socrates—Polycrates, Plato, Xenophon, and Isocrates began “a vast literary movement by which the followers of Socrates” rehabilitated the relationship of the philosopher and Alcibiades. This “vast literary movement” eventually was reduced to one powerful myth, the Platonic Socrates, die Sokratesdichtung, as Olof Gigon expresses it. [59] Gigon is the radical skeptic, for whom the Platonic life of Socrates is a poem that has nothing to do with history. [60] It is possible that the Socratic myth is dependent for its genesis on an anti-myth, of which we have especially the Clouds remaining.
Many of the features highlighted above are paralleled in the Aesop biographical traditions, and these similarities are cemented by the Platonic Socrates versifying Aesop in his last days, because of a divine directive, during a festival of Apollo. Aesop is the mythological poet-pharmakos, and Socrates is the new Aesop. [61] Plato would assimilate Socrates to Aesop chiefly because of the blatant injustice of what amounted to a political murder in both cases. And in assimilating Socrates to Aesop, he also calls on archaic resonances of the pharmakos, who was selected for execution “by a public vote”— psēphidi … boulēi dēmosiēi, to deepen his narrative. In the cases of Aesop, Archilochus, and Socrates, the community uses the selection process to unwittingly select itself as polluted, and doomed to a certain extent. As the group of citizens isolates the poet as a sinner, the lone pseudocriminal, both holy and animalistic filth, is able to invert and reciprocally broadcast the judgment through his expulsion or execution. The poet is, as it were, the unwanted moral mirror of the community, and the trial is the moment of mirroring, of ambiguous moral reciprocity.
That these suggestions of Aesop and pharmakos are a conscious strategy on Plato’s part is suggested by the fact that in the Apology, he also skillfully compared Socrates to other mythical figures who were victims of injustice, as Socrates wishes to speak to Palamedes and Ajax in the underworld. “It would be a specially interesting experience for me to join them there, to meet Palamedes and Ajax, the son of Telamon, and any other heroes of the old days who met their death through an unfair trial [krisin adikon], and to compare my fortunes with theirs—it would be rather amusing, I think.” [62] Palamedes was killed by stoning on a false accusation of treason because of false evidence planted by Odysseus and Diomedes in his tent. As a result of this death, Palamedes’ father, Nauplius, caused a great number of the Greek ships to be shipwrecked. Here we have Plato skillfully assimilating Socrates to a mythological model who was stoned after a krisin adikon based on falsely planted evidence, and whose death caused a disaster to the perpetrators. [63]
Yet many other aspects of Aesop would be suggestive—his ugliness (which certainly makes him a more sympathetic figure), the punishment that descends upon the city that has killed him, his satirical bent. Most important would be the suggestion of the poet’s ambiguity—though he is ugly and hated by the community for his just satire, which is his real “crime,” he is also the best, sent by the gods, protected by the gods, and will always be famous. One wonders how far Plato took the comparison; perhaps he saw Aesop’s death as part of a divine mechanism, and wanted to show the same mechanism operative in Socrates’ death. It was an attempt on his part to construct a theodicy for what was still a traumatic, chaotic event; to create meaning from his master’s death. Socrates’ “voice” does not dissuade him from speaking at his trial, or keep him from escaping execution by leaving Athens; the philosopher learns to die; his death is prepared by the god. [64]
Thus the poet is ambiguous, enigmatic. To Vernant, Oedipus is “a man in the form of a riddle.” [65] Aesop is even referred to as a riddle, ainigma (G 98). Yet Aesop is also referred to as a sign, sēmeion (G 87), [66] and if he is a teras, “monster,” teras can also mean “sign.” The ambiguity of the poet, so well captured in the myth of his trial, points to meaning. The trial of the poet, especially as expressed in Plato’s Apology, is one of the most meaningful myths in ancient Greece.


[ back ] 1. Phaedo 118: Ἥδε ἡ τελευτή, ὦ Ἐχέκρατες, τοῦ ἑταίρου ἡμῖν ἐγένετο, ἀνδρός, ὡς ἡμεῖς φαῖμεν ἄν, τῶν τότε ὧν ἐπειράθημεν ἀρίστου καὶ ἄλλως φρονιμωτάτου καὶ δικαιοτάτου. Cf. Seventh Letter 324d: Socrates is “the justest [dikaiotaton] man of his time” (δικαιότατον εἶναι τῶν τότε). Xenophon (Memorabilia 4.8.11) calls him “the best and happiest man” (ἄριστός τε ἀνὴρ καὶ εὐδαιμονέστατος). See Koch 1960:237, on the perfection of the Platonic Socrates; Zeller 1962:73–74. (All translations of Plato in this chapter are from Hamilton and Cairns 1961, unless otherwise noted.)
[ back ] 2. Phaedo 116c: γενναιότατον καὶ πρᾳότατον καὶ ἄριστον ἄνδρα ὄντα τῶν πώποτε δεῦρο ἀφικομένων.
[ back ] 3. Apology 14–15 (translation by O. J. Todd): πολλῶν παρόντων ἀνεῖλεν ὁ Ἀπόλλων μηδένα εἶναι ἀνθρώπων ἐμοῦ μήτε ἐλευθεριώτερον μήτε δικαιότερον μήτε σωφρονέστερον … ἐμὲ δὲ θεῷ μὲν οὐκ εἴκασεν, ἀνθρώπων δὲ πολλῷ προέκρινεν ὑπερφέρειν. As Chroust notes, this contradicts the Platonic Socrates (1957:31). Cf. below.
[ back ] 4. Apology 33c: ἐμοὶ δὲ τοῦτο, ὡς ἐγώ φημι, προστέτακται ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πράττειν καὶ ἐκ μαντείων καὶ ἐξ ἐνυπνίων καὶ παντὶ τρόπῳ ᾧπέρ τίς ποτε καὶ ἄλλη θεία μοῖρα ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ὁτιοῦν προσέταξε πράττειν.
[ back ] 5. Apology 30a: ταῦτα γὰρ κελεύει ὁ θεός.
[ back ] 6. Apology 30e: προσκείμενον τῇ πόλει ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ.
[ back ] 7. Apology 31a–b. So we come to the complex of gift/poison/medicine, including my theme 17. Cf. 23b: “My service to God has reduced me to extreme poverty” (ἐν πενίᾳ μυρίᾳ εἰμὶ διὰ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ λατρείαν). For Socrates as one specially favored by god, Chroust 1957:238n140; Xenophon Memorabilia 4.3.12. For Socrates and the state religion, see Meijer 1981:249; Zeller 1962:77. For Socrates’ inspiration, Zeller 1962:82–83. Brickhouse and Smith 1989 insist on the historicity of the Delphian oracle account (96–100). On the historicity of the Apology, cf. Chroust 1957:245n209. I would caution that only the basic stories, the stories in outline, might be historical.
[ back ] 8. See e.g. Apology 20e–23b; Chroust 1957:30–33.
[ back ] 9. Apology 20e–23b: τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς.
[ back ] 10. See Apology 28e; Symposium 219e–220e; Laches 181b; Charmides i; Zeller 1962:67n2. Cf. chapter 3 (Archilochus).
[ back ] 11. See Apology 23b, 31b–c; Dio Chrysostom, Orations 55.9; Chroust 1957:249nn283–285; 271n658; Zeller 1962:62–65; Montuori 1981:182; Socrates is always starving, ibid. 183. See above, chapter 4 (Hipponax).
[ back ] 12. On the charge of asebeia ‘impiety’, see Finley 1977:65–66; Chroust 1957:311n1294; Ferguson 1913. See Brickhouse and Smith 1989, who are inclined to see the Apology as more historical than myth. Cf. the tradition of poet as blasphēmos, see above on Archilochus, chaoter 3.
[ back ] 13. Josephus Against Apion 2.263; Chroust 1957:244n197.
[ back ] 14. Cf. Theaetetus 209.
[ back ] 15. Xenophon Banquet 5.5–6; cf. Cross 1970:37.
[ back ] 16. Symposium 215a–b, e; 216c–d; 221d–e; cf. 222d. For sileni and satyrs, see Euripides Cyclops; Ovid Metamorphoses 11.89–101; Sophocles, Trackers; Kuhnert 1884 IV.444–453; Rose 1959:156–157; Kerényi 1974.179; Seaford 1984:5–10; Lissarrague 1990; Hedreen 1992; Gantz 1993:135–139. For Aesop and satyrs, see above, chapter 2.
[ back ] 17. Herodotus 8.138; Aristotle fragment 40 (V. Rose), quoted by “Plutarch” Consolation to Apollonius 115b; Virgil Eclogue 6; H. Rose 1959:163n62; Clay 2000:74.
[ back ] 18. See chapter 16, below.
[ back ] 19. See Clay 2000:52–53, 69–76.
[ back ] 20. Symposium 215c (my translation): δηλοῖ τοὺς τῶν θεῶν τε καὶ τελετῶν δεομένους διὰ τὸ θεῖα εἶναι.
[ back ] 21. … ὑμεῖς μὲν ὄντες πολῖταί μου οὐχ οἷοί τε ἐγένεσθε ἐνεγκεῖν τὰς ἐμὰς διατριβὰς καὶ τοὺς λόγους, ἀλλ’ ὑμῖν βαρύτεραι γεγόνασιν καὶ ἐπιφθονώτεραι, ὥστε ζητεῖτε αὐτῶν νυνὶ ἀπαλλαγῆναι.
[ back ] 22. Athenaeus 11.505d–e: ὡς καλῶς οἶδε Πλάτων ἰαμβίζειν (Archilochus test. 76T). Athenaeus fully sympathizes with those that Plato satirized, portraying him as an unjust and nonhistorical satirist. See also Gentili 1988:192; Tracy 1937:153–162.
[ back ] 23. καὶ νῦν ἐγὼ μὲν ἄπειμι ὑφ’ ὑμῶν θανάτου δίκην ὀφλών, οὗτοι δ’ ὑπὸ τῆς ἀληθείας ὠφληκότες μοχθηρίαν καὶ ἀδικίαν.
[ back ] 24. εἰρωνευόμενος δὲ καὶ παίζων πάντα τὸν βίον πρὸς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους διατελεῖ.
[ back ] 25. Lysis 210e. As quoted in Friedländer 1969:140. χρή, ὦ Ἱππόθαλες, τοῖς παιδικοῖς διαλέγεσθαι, ταπεινοῦντα καὶ συστέλλοντα, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὥσπερ σὺ χαυνοῦντα καὶ διαθρύπτοντα.
[ back ] 26. Xenophon Apology 29. Socrates was also attacked by the comic poets—Aristophanes’ Clouds is the most famous example of such an attack. This is another example of the Hipponactian theme of artist attacking artist—here poet attacking poetphilosopher. See above, chapter 14. Cf. Finley 1977:71: “[Aristophanes] … must bear a heavy responsibility … for the eventual trial and execution of Socrates.” Aristophanes, Cratinus, Ameipsias, and Eupolis all satirized Socrates; Chroust 1957:192; Montuori 1981:3n3.
[ back ] 27. Seventh Letter 325b. For political dimensions of this trial, see Chroust 1957:164–196; Finley 1977:60–73, with bibliography, 202–203; Brickhouse and Smith 1989:69–71, 80.
[ back ] 28. Cf. Brickhouse and Smith 1989:198.
[ back ] 29. Seventh Letter 325b–c; also, the Apology passim; Xenophon Apology 28.
[ back ] 30. This is, of course, described in the Apology. For the theme of the frustration of the philosopher in court, see Chroust 1957:234n92.
[ back ] 31. Both Crito and Phaedo take place in prison.
[ back ] 32. Finley 1977:62.
[ back ] 33. Apology 37c–38b. This passage suggests that the court’s original intention was to merely exile Socrates. The philosopher makes it clear that he prefers death. “Or shall I suggest banishment? … I should have to be desperately in love with life to do that, gentlemen” (ἀλλὰ δὴ φυγῆς τιμήσωμαι; … πολλὴ μεντἄν με φιλοψυχία ἔχοι, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, εἰ οὕτως ἀλόγιστός εἰμι). Socrates makes it clear that he would be banished from any city he lived in: “A fine life I should have if I left this country at my age and spent the rest of my days [ back ] trying one city after another and being turned out [exelaunomenōi] every time!” (καλὸς οὖν ἄν μοι ὁ βίος εἴη ἐξελθόντι τηλικῷδε ἀνθρώπῳ ἄλλην ἐξ ἄλλης πόλεως ἀμειβομένῳ καὶ ἐξελαυνομένῳ ζῆν). Socrates will always talk to the youth, and their “fathers and other relatives” (πατέρες δὲ καὶ οἰκεῖοι) will always drive him out. Cf. Chroust 1957:311n1296; Montuori 1981:197. For the volition of the sacrificial victim, see above, chapter 1; and below, chapter 22 (Cicero).
[ back ] 34. See Phaedo 116c; 116d–117a for the grace and willingness with which Socrates takes the poison.
[ back ] 35. Barkan 1979:76 and Gill 1973:25–28 write that a person who died of hemlock usually thrashed around in convulsions. But see now Sullivan (2001), who concludes that certain strains of hemlock produced more peaceful deaths.
[ back ] 36. For Socrates and Aesop, see Jedrkiewicz 1989; Compton 1990; Schauer and Merkle 1992; Lissarrague 2000:136. Schauer’s and Merkle’s argument that Plato in the Phaedo introduces Aesop in an unfavorable light, as a negative contrast to Socrates, is not compelling, and seems to me to misread Plato’s seriocomic tone here (Phaedo 60b–61c). Furthermore, Schauer and Merkle have not taken into consideration how Plato assimilated Socrates to other mythical victims of unjust trials, Ajax or Palamedes, Apology 41b (see below). In addition, their antithesis of the “voluntary” death of Plato and the “involuntary” execution of Aesop ignores the “voluntary” motif in Aesop’s death and “involuntary” aspects of Socrates’ death. They recast Socrates’ death as a sort of suicide, while Socrates in the Phaedo explicitly rejects straightforward suicide (61c–62c). Both Aesop and Socrates die as the result of unjust trials, see the Crito. However, Plato’s point is that, after receiving such an unjust verdict, a good man is prepared to die.
[ back ] 37. καί μοι δοκεῖ, ἔφη, εἰ ἐνενόησεν αὐτὰ Αἴσωπος, μῦθον ἂν συνθεῖναι ὡς …
[ back ] 38. Phaedo 60c–61b, and see above, chapter 2.
[ back ] 39. See also Socrates as Marsyas, the magical musician (Symposium 215 b–c), above, this chapter; for Aesop compared to Marsyas, see chapter 2.
[ back ] 40. Phaedo 60c–61b. 60e: “Ὦ Σώκρατες,” ἔφη, “μουσικὴν ποίει καὶ ἐργάζου.” For the meaning of mousikē, see chapter 16, on Marsyas.
[ back ] 41. Phaedo 60c–d: περὶ γάρ τοι τῶν ποιημάτων ὧν πεποίηκας ἐντείνας τοὺς τοῦ Αἰσώπου λόγους καὶ τὸ εἰς τὸν Ἀπόλλω προοίμιον … For the meaning of enteinō here, see Plato Hipparchus 228d; LSJ v.2; Burnet 1911:15–16; Hackforth 1955:33n4; Rowe 1993:120.
[ back ] 42. On this festival, see Phaedo 58a–c; 59e; 60d–61b (the hymn to Apollo composed in honor of the festival to Apollo). Curiously, this festival is linked to Androgeus the Cretan, whose death set off the chain of imbalances that ended in the yearly ship to Delos. “They have a law that as soon as this mission begins the city must be kept pure” (ἐπειδὰν οὖν ἄρξωνται τῆς θεωρίας, νόμος ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ χρόνῷ τούτῳ καθαρεύειν τὴν πόλιν …, 58b). The mission begins when the priest of Apollo garlands the stern of the ship.
[ back ] 43. Apology 40a–c.
[ back ] 44. Apology 40a–42. Cf. Chroust 1957:235n108.
[ back ] 45. Cf. Xenophon Apology 30. For parallels to this idea, Homer Iliad XVI 851–861; XXII 358–368; Xenophon The Education of Cyrus 8.7.21; Artemon of Miletus, quoted by Eustathius in Iliad p. 1089; Cicero On Divination 1.30, 36; Vergil Aeneid 10.739; Burnet 1924:164; Chroust 1957:284n870; Dyer 1976:107; Janko 1992:420.
[ back ] 46. The immediate consequence of Socrates’ death is the departure of his disciples to Megara—according to Diogenes Laertius, because they feared the cruelty of the political leaders (Diogenes Laertius 2.10.106).
[ back ] 47. Diogenes Laertius 2.43: Σωκράτην δὲ χαλκῇ εἰκόνι ἐτίμησαν, ἣν ἔθεσαν ἐν τῷ πομπείῳ, Λυσίππου ταύτην ἐργασαμένου. For the importance of statues in hero cult, see Clay 2004:88–89; chapter 2 (Lykoros honors Aesop); chapter 5 (Homer), chapter 13 (Euripides) above. On Lysippus’ statue, cf. Clay 2000:69–70.
[ back ] 48. διὰ δὲ τὸ μηδένα ἔχειν σπουδαῖον ἐπιμελητὴν προσπεσεῖσθαί τινι αἰσχρᾷ ἐπιθυμίᾳ καὶ προβήσεσθαι μέντοι πόρρω μοχθηρίας.
[ back ] 49. Xenophon Apology 31; Themistius 520, p. 293 Dindorf; Diogenes Laertius 2.43, 6.10; Chroust 1957:232n72. Cf. Plato’s description of Meletus, another accuser, Gorgias 521c, “an utterly bad and worthless creature” (μοχθηροῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ φαύλου). Though Meletus is not mentioned by name, this is clearly a reference to him. He is eventually executed (Diogenes Laertius 6.10). See also Euthyphro 2b; Apology 26b, 26e; Chroust 1957:240n169.
[ back ] 50. Cited in Diogenes Laertius, 2.44. “He was born … on the sixth day of the month of Thargelion, when the Athenians purify their city, which according to the Delians is the birthday of Artemis,” translation by Hicks, Ἐγεννήθη δέ … Θαργηλιῶνος ἕκτῃ, ὅτε καθαίρουσιν Ἀθηναῖοι τὴν πόλιν καὶ τὴν Ἄρτεμιν Δήλιοι γενέσθαι φασίν. Cf. Derrida 1981:134; Zeller 1962:54n1.
[ back ] 51. 1983b:318; see also Burkert 1979:169n12.
[ back ] 52. See 63d–e; 115a–118.
[ back ] 53. Gorgias 493.
[ back ] 54. Cratylus 400c.
[ back ] 55. Phaedo 67c.
[ back ] 56. Phaedo 67e: οἱ ὀρθῶς φιλοσοφοῦντες ἀποθνῄσκειν μελετῶσι.
[ back ] 57. Phaedo 118: Ὦ Κρίτων, ἔφη, τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα· ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε. There is an extensive literature on these words. See Carafides 1971.
[ back ] 58. The Chaerophon invention is “at the root of Plato’s transfiguration of the Socratic personality” (Montuori 1981:220; 221); see 225n151 for bibliography on Socrates as Delphic missionary.
[ back ] 59. Gigon 1947:69–178
[ back ] 60. For an overview of the conflict between skeptics and historicists in this century’s Platonic scholarship, see Montuori 1981:42–53; for a shrewd critique of Gigon, see Friedländer 1969:361n6. For the Nachleben of the Socrates myth through Western civilization, see Montuori 1981:3–56.
[ back ] 61. Socrates would seem to be part of a new line of development in our mythical theme, the execution or exclusion of the philosopher. Of course, Aristotle was tried for impiety in Athens, and so withdrew to Calchis, where he died (Diogenes Laertius 5.5–6); cf. below, chapter 25 (Seneca and Cornutus), Epilogue. Cato the Censor and his friends banished Greek philosophers—Suetonius On Rhetoricians 1; Athenaeus (12.547a–b) lists other examples of expelled philosophers. Cf. the death of the Cynic Homeromastix Zoilos, who was stoned and crucified by different accounts (Vitruvius On Architecture Praefat. to VII, #9); another Homeromastix, Daphitas, was crucified for mocking kings in poetry (Strabo 14.1.39); Suda s.v. Daphitas; Cicero On Fate 3—cf. Gärtner 1978:1535–1536.
[ back ] 62. Apology 41b: ἐπεὶ ἔμοιγε καὶ αὐτῷ θαυμαστὴ ἂν εἴη ἡ διατριβὴ αὐτόθι, ὁπότε ἐντύχοιμι Παλαμήδει καὶ Αἴαντι τῷ Τελαμῶνος καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος τῶν παλαιῶν διὰ κρίσιν ἄδικον τέθνηκεν, ἀντιπαραβάλλοντι τὰ ἐμαυτοῦ πάθη πρὸς τὰ ἐκείνων—ὡς ἐγὼ οἶμαι, οὐκ ἂν ἀηδὲς εἴη. Cf. notes of Burnet 1924 ad loc.; also, Brenk 1975:44–46. For Plato’s assimilation of Socrates to such heroes as Odysseus, Achilles, and Heracles, see Loraux 1985:93–105; Clay 1972; Clay 2000:56–57.
[ back ] 63. See also Xenophon Apology 26.
[ back ] 64. Thus we find the following themes in the life of Socrates: 1a1, criminal impiety (imputed); 2b, communal disaster caused by hero’s expulsion or death; 3, oracle; 4, worst; 4d, ugly; 4f, poison imagery; 5, best; 5a, sacred; 7, selection by public meeting; 10a, (exile); 11, death; 18, divine persecutor-patron; 21, imprisonment; 22, blame poet; 22c, animal fables for blame; 23a, (consecration of poet); 24, conflict with political leaders; 26, poet as soldier.
[ back ] 65. Vernant 1981:208.
[ back ] 66. “Let another portent-interpreter be brought so that he may interpret this sēmeion,” say the Samians, on catching sight of him. See chapter 2.