After his conviction and sentencing, Socrates continued to engaged in “big talk.” So it appears that obtaining a death sentence was not his only purpose in boasting. Xenophon says that Socrates aimed “to appear neither impious as regards gods nor unjust as regards human beings” (§22). Socrates said, “why should I be humbler than before I was condemned,” since I have done none of the impious things “for which they indicted me?” and “how could I corrupt the young by accustoming them to endurance and frugality?” (§24-25). Additionally, those who gave false testimony and those who obeyed them must be aware of their own impiety and injustice (§24). Socrates could not be humbled by the judges because of his own virtue and because of their shameful lack of virtue.
Socrates’ closing argument is a legal argument: “As for the deeds for which the penalty is death — temple-robbery, burglary, enslavement, and treason — not even the plaintiffs themselves said that I did any of these” (§25). Death is not the lawful sentence for his acts; but he’s not going to remonstrate against the Athenian legal system here. The cure for injustices originates elsewhere, in “the time to come and by the time past.” The cure is education: to converse and learn whatever good thing one can (§26), and to learn how to judge without undermining the law.
Having made his defense on his own terms, “Socrates went away with beaming eyes and mien and gait” (§27). Socrates consoled comrades who lamented his death, joked about dying unjustly, and prophesied that the son of one of his accusers would become depraved due to his father’s poor education and poor judgment (§31). The accuser, Anytus, though proud of his victory, did not know which man had “accomplished more beneficial and nobler things for all time” (§29). Prevailing in court is no guarantee that one has knowledge of good things.
Xenophon judges the true victor: Socrates received “a fate dear to the gods” and accepted his death or mortality “completely and cheerfully” (§32). To report on Socrates’ defense and death (without mythologizing) is to praise his life. Perhaps his actions speak for themselves to a certain extent; but, after the trial, at the end of his life, readers can only judge what is said about Socrates in different sources and reported speeches. To view Socrates’ educational activity, which includes his choice to display or defend his superior life (§9), requires legal and non-legal standards of judgment to grasp the meaning of that activity. The different defenses reported in Plato (Apology and Phaedo, to name two) and Xenophon (Apology and Memorabilia), and the different audiences to which they are directed, point to a plurality opinion in favor of Socrates.
Xenophon seems to conclude the Apology by deflating somewhat the “big talk” found in shared reports (Hermogenes’ and others). “If of those who aim at virtue came together with someone more helpful than Socrates, I believe that man worthy to be deemed most blessed” (§34). Perhaps there are others who make similar claims of being the best. Finding those who truly excel in learning whatever good thing they can, also points to the plurality of opinions on which philosophy depends.
by Jason Happel