book-reviews

Apology

by Plato (tr. Benjamin Jowett)

Rating: ★★★★

There's not an awful lot to say here. This is a dramatic scene that, whatever its actual relation to what happened in Socrates' trial, has had a great deal of impact on Western philosophy and culture for over two millennia. You might be afraid of it being dry and archaic: it isn't. This could easily be a script from a modern courtroom drama, albeit that few of those would feature a heavily ironic philosopher outrageously tweaking the noses of his accusers, and then, when condemned, accepting the sentence with barely a shrug.

Plato was a good writer. The Socrates we see is at the same time refusing to give a defence and yet subtly providing one by reference to his historic acts of character. Socrates who never took money for teaching. Socrates who was the lone voice speaking against a passionate violation of legal procedure. Socrates who refused to arrest a man on the orders of tyrants. At the same time, he is no mere rhetorician. He rebukes the assembly with verve. When asked for his suggestion of a sentence, after the verdict is given against him, he suggests first that they sentence him to a maintenance grant, and then to some small sum that his friends urge him to offer. He warns them that their critics in the future will not be so gentle as him.

Surprisingly stirring, but more instructive than mere pathos. Very much worth the small investment of reading it.