Xenophon. The Apology

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

This etext was prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.

The Apology describes Socrates' state of mind at his trial and execution, and especially his view that it was better to die before senility set in than to escape execution by humbling himself be- fore an unjust persecution. Xenophon was away at the time, involved in the events of the march of the ten thousand.


Among the reminiscences of Socrates, none, as it seems to me, is more deserving of record than the counsel he took with himself[2] (after being cited to appear before the court), not only with regard to his defence, but also as to the ending of his life. Others have written on this theme, and all without exception have touched upon[3] the lofty style of the philosopher,[4] which may be taken as a proof that the language used by Socrates was really of that type. But none of these writers has brought out clearly the fact that Socrates had come to regard death as for himself preferable to life; and consequently there is just a suspicion of foolhardiness in the arrogancy of his address.[5] We have, however, from the lips of one of his intimate acquaintances, Hermogenes,[6] the son of Hipponicus, an account of him which shows the high demeanour in question to have been altogether in keeping with the master's rational purpose.[7] Hermogenes says that, seeing Socrates discoursing on every topic rather than that of his impending trial, he roundly put it to him whether he ought not to be debating the line of his defence, to which Socrates in the first instance answered: 'What! do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in meditating my defence?' And when Hermogenes asked him, 'How?' he added: 'By a lifelong persistence in doing nothing wrong, and that I take to be the finest practice for his defence which a man could devise.' Presently reverting to the topic, Hermogenes demanded: 'Do you not see, SOcrates, how often Athenian juries[8] are constrained by arguments to put quite innocent people to death, and not less often to acquit the guilty, either through some touch of pity excited by the pleadings, or that the defendant had skill to turn some charming phrase?' Thus appealed to, Socrates replied: 'Nay, solemnly I tell you, twice already I have essayed to consider my defence, and twice the divinity[9] hinders me'; and to the remark of Hermogenes, 'That is strange!' he answered again: 'Strange, do you call it, that to God it should seem better for me to die at once? Do you not know that up to this moment I will not concede to any man to have lived a better life than I have; since what can exceed the pleasure, which has been mine, of knowing[10] that my whole life has been spent holily and justly? And indeed this verdict of self-approval I found re-echoed in the opinion which my friends and intimates have formed concerning me.[11] And now if my age is still to be prolonged,[12] I know that I cannot escape paying[13] the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dulness of hearing. I shall find myself slower to learn new lessons, and apter to forget the lessons I have learnt. And if to these be added the consciousness of failing powers, the sting of self- reproach, what prospect have I of any further joy in living? It may be, you know,' he added, 'that God out of his great kindness is intervening in my behalf[14] to suffer me to close my life in the ripeness of age, and by the gentlest of deaths. For if at this time sentence of death be passed upon me, it is plain I shall be allowed to meet an end which, in the opinion of those who have studied the matter, is not only the easiest in itself, but one which will cause the least trouble to one's friends,[15] while engendering the deepest longing for the departed. For of necessity he will only be thought of with regret and longing who leaves nothing behind unseemly or discomfortable to haunt the imagination of those beside him, but, sound of body, and his soul still capable of friendly repose, fades tranquilly away.'

[1] Or, 'Socrates' Defence before the Dicasts.' For the title of the

work see Grote, 'H. G.' viii. 641; Schneid. ap. L. Dindorf's note

{pros tous dikastas}, ed. Ox. 1862, and Dindorf's own note; L.

Schmitz, 'On the Apology of Socrates, commonly attributed to

Xenophon,' 'Class. Mus.' v. 222 foll.; G. Sauppe, 'Praef.' vol.

iii. p. 117, ed. ster.; J. J. Hartman, 'An. Xen.' p. 111 foll.; E.

Richter, 'Xen. Stud.' pp. 61-96; M. Schanz, 'Platos Apologia.'

[2] Or possibly, 'his deliberate behaviour.'

[3] Or, 'have succeeded in hitting off'; 'done full justice to.'

[4] Or, 'the magniloquence of the master.'

[5] Or, 'so that according to them his lofty speech seems rather


[6] See 'Mem.' IV. viii. 4 foll.), a passage of which this is either

an 'ebauchement' or a 'rechauffe.'

[7] Or, 'the philosopher's cast of thought.'

[8] Dikasteries.

[9] {to daimonion}.

[10] {edein}, i.e. at any moment.

[11] For the phrase {iskhuros agamenos emauton}, cf. 'Mem.' II. i. 19.

[12] L. Dindorf cf. Dio Chrys. 'Or.' 28, {anagke gar auto en

probainonti anti men kallistou aiskhrotero gignesthai k.t.l.}

[13] {apoteleisthai}. In 'Mem.' IV. viii. 8, {epiteleisthai}.

[14] Or, 'God of his good favour vouchsafes as my protector that I

should,' etc. For {proxenei} cf. 'Anab.' VI. v. 14; Soph. 'O. C.'

465, and 'O. T.' 1483; and Prof. Jebb's notes ad loc. 'the god's

kindly offices grant to me that I should lose my life.'

[15] Cf. Plat. 'Phaed.' 66.

'No doubt,' he added, 'the gods were right in opposing me at that time (touching the inquiry, what I was to say in my defence),[16] when you all thought the great thing was to discover some means of acquittal;[17] since, had I effected that, it is clear I should have prepared for myself, not that surcease from life which is in store for me anon, but to end my days wasted by disease, or by old age, on which a confluent stream of evil things most alien to joyousness converges.'[18]

[16] {te tou logou episkepsei}. Cf. Plat. 'Rep.' 456 C.

[17] Or, if {emin}, transl. 'we all were for thinking that the main

thing was.'

[18] Or, 'that sink into which a confluent stream of evil humours

discharge most incompatible with gaiety of mind.' Schneid. conj.

{eremon} sc. {geras}.

'No,' he added, 'God knows I shall display no ardent zeal to bring that about.[19] On the contrary, if by proclaiming all the blessings which I owe to god and men; if, by blazoning forth the opinion which I entertain with regard to myself, I end by wearying the court, even so will I choose death rather than supplicate in servile sort for leave to live a little longer merely to gain a life impoverished in place of death.'

[19] Or, 'I will give no helping hand to that.'

It was in this determination, Hermogenes states, that, when the prosecution accused him of not recognising the gods recognised by the state, but introducing novel divinities and corrupting the young, Socrates stepped forward and said: 'In the first place, sirs, I am at a loss to imagine on what ground[20] Meletus asserts that I do not recognise the gods which are recognised by the state, since, as far as sacrificing goes, the rest of the world who have chanced to be present have been in the habit of seeing me so engaged at common festivals, and on the public altars; and so might Meletus himself, if he had wished. And as to novel divinities, how, pray, am I supposed to introduce them by stating that I have a voice[21] from God which clearly signifies to me what I ought do do? Why, what else do those who make use of the cries of birds or utterences of men draw their conclusions from if not from voices? Who will deny that the thunder has a voice and is a very mighty omen;[22] and the priestess on her tripod at Pytho,[23] does not she also proclaim by voice the messages from the god? The god, at any rate, has

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