water-clock used to time the speeches in the law courts










The times: 399 BCE

  • When the Spartans defeated Athens and tore down the long walls, a body of thirty oligarchic rulers, called the 30 Tyrants, were appointed to administer the city. They inaugurated an 8 month rule of terror, during which they exiled or killed many of the democrats and confiscated their property.
  • Socrates did not cooperate with the 30, but he also was not exiled.
  • Moreover, his most (in)famous follower, ALCIBIADES, was staunchly anti-democratic.
  • No one could be brought up on charges of association with the 30 because the city had declared a general amnesty; nonetheless suspicion about Socrates, and others, abounded.

The trial

  • Charges were not brought by a public prosecutor in democratic Athens, but by individuals. The men who brought charges against Socrates were Anytus (who was exiled by the 30 Tyrants), Meletus, and Lycon.
  • Socrates' was charged with corrupting the youth, with not believing in the gods of the city but in new spiritual beings (24 b-c).
  • There was not a judge to instruct the jury, but 501 jurors, selected by lot, heard the trial; the jury did not deliberate, but simply voted after hearing both speeches.
  • The prosecution and the defendant both delivered their own speeches; when the two speeches, timed by a water-clock (see above) were finished, the jury decided the verdict by a simple majority vote. The trial had to be completed in one day.
  • If the verdict was guilty and there was no fixed penalty, the prosecution and defendant both proposed a penalty, and the jury chose one, again by simple majority vote.
  • Socrates was condemned by a majority of 61 votes, but sentenced to death by a majority of 141 votes.
  • One month elapsed between the trial and death of Socrates. It was the time of a great annual festival on Delos to which Athens sent a sacred ship; no capital punishment could be carried out during the absence of the ship.
  • The Phaedo of Plato recounts the final hours of Socrates' life.

Socrates' apologia


  • [18a] How do Socrates' comments about speech reflect on sophistic rhetoric and his own relationship to sophism?
  • Socrates identifies two groups of accusers and defends himself against both in the course of the trial.
  • [18b-c; 19b-c; 19e] Who are the earlier accusers, what did they accuse him of, and why does he fear them more than the present accusers?
    • note the allusion to Aristophanes' Clouds.
    • be sure you can discuss how Socrates defends himself from the earlier accusers [19d-e; 20a-b, note Socratic method; 20d-24b, Socrates' account of the nature of his "wisdom" and how he came to be so unpopular]
  • [24b] Who are the recent accusers and what is their charge?
    • you should be able to discuss how Socrates defends himself against the accusations for which he has been brought to trial [24b-25b, analogy, note use of ridicule; 25c-26a, argument based on what is likely; 26b, the charges are self-contradictory, use of ridicule]
  • [28-35] Socrates on his occupation
    • Why does he not give up out of fear of death; how does this relate to his kind of wisdom?
    • How is he the god's gift to the city?
    • Whom does he invite to rise as witnesses?
    • [35d] What is the relation between Socrates' manner of speech, his injunction to the jurors, and his theology?
Socrates' counter-assessment
  • If the jury awards Socrates the penalty he deserves, they will_________________
  • If they assign him the penalty he could pay, it would be ___________________
  • If he pays what his friends have collected for him, it would be ________________
Socrates' last words to the jury
  • Why he was convicted
  • If you kill me, more like me will follow
  • Why death may be a good thing
  • What to do for his sons

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