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Apologizing for Socrates

Apologizing for Socrates

How Pluto and Xenophon Created
Our Socrates
Gabriel Danzig

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Danzig, Gabriel, 1961-
Apologizing for Socrates : how Plato and Xenophon created our Socrates / Gabriel
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7391-3244-9 (cloth : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-7391-3246-3 (electronic)
1. Socrates. 2. Plato. 3. Xenophon. I. Title.
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183l.2-dc22 2009042371

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Plato and Xenophon on Socrates' Behavior in
Court ( B e Apologies)

Building a Community under Fire (Crito)

Disgracing Meletus (Euthyphro)

Xenophon's Socratic Seductions (Memorabilia)

Plato's Socratic Seductions (Lysis)

Why Socrates Was Not a Farmer: Xenophon's Apology
for Socrates in Oeconomicus
La subtilite de Platon tient surtout au fait,
nous semble-t-il, que sa defense de Socrate
est toujours indirecte.


cholars now recognize that Plato's aims are wider and more diverse
than we have usually assumed. Rather than focusing solely on what
Plato is trying to say, we may now ask, "What is the set of func-
tions that can be attributed to the corpus? And why should various ones
be attributes to individual dialogues?"' In order to appreciate these func-
tions we are compelled to go beyond the simplistic philosophy/literature
debate, and envision the role that the Platonic dialogues played in life.
Were they performed? In what circumstances? Were they "used" in some
way, "as dialectic exercises, as a philosophic training, as advertising for the
These questions raise challenges for the traditional literary and philo-
sophical modes of interpretation which aim to solve difficulties in the

1. G. Press, 1996, repr., 316. An essential survey of interpretive approaches to Plato is E. N.

Tigerstedt, 1977.
2. G. Press, 1996, repr., 313.

arguments and to provide satisfying and consistent portraits of Socratic

techniques, methods and doctrines, and coherent interpretations of indi-
vidual dialogues. When we find difficulties in the text, we can no longer
assume that the explanation is to be found in a better appreciation of
Plato's literary or philosophic art. In some cases, explanations must be
sought outside of the text, in the circumstances under which they were
written and published.
Such explanations have sometimes been offered to explain contra-
dictions and divergences between dialogues. The hypothesis that Plato's
ideas developed over time is a reasonable one, and likely to explain at
least some divergences between earlier and later dialogues. But despite the
identification of a late group of dialogues (Sophist, Statesman, Philebus,
Timaeus, Critias and Laws) and possibly another group of "middle dia-
logues" (Republic, Phaedrus, Parmenides and 7heaetetus) no consensus has
emerged concerning the relative order of individual dialogue^.^ Even if we
could reach consensus on this issue, it would not provide a full solution
to the problem of contradictions. For although it is more than likely that
Plato's views changed over the years, such changes are not necessarily the
causes or the only cause of contradictions between dialogues. It is quite
possible to produce contradictions for reasons other than intellectual de-
velopment. Moreover, it seems obvious that a developmental approach
could say little about incongruities, weaknesses or contradictions within a
single dialogue. And yet, if Plato was capable of producing individual dia-
logues with internal weaknesses and contradictions, why should he have
been incapable of producing distinct dialogues that contradict each other?
Before resorting to development as a means of solving this problem, then,
we need to resolve the problem of contradictions and weaknesses in the
individual dialogue.4
This problem has been brought to our attention recently by J. Beversluis'
Cross-examining Socrates. While subtitled A Defense of the Interlocutors in
Plato? Early Dialogues, the book could be described equally well as a review
of the faults in Socrates' argumentation in the early dialogue^.^ Not all of

3. See H. Thesleff,
1978, D. Nails, 1995, C. Kahn, 1996, chapter two.
4.To anticipate, rather than attributing contradictions between the dialogues to the inner
development of Plato's thought, I explore the possibility that they result from the different
aims that they each serve in relation to their audiences.
5. The author acknowledges this in his introduction when he comments "Instead of focusing

the faults that Beversluis notes are his own discoveries; but whereas most
scholars make an instinctive rush to Socrates' defense, Beversluis leaves
the weaknesses as problems. Maybe Socrates is just wrong. Certainly, he
makes arguments that are not persuasive to a modern reader. 'The ques-
tion, which Beversluis does not try to answer, is Why would Plato have
portrayed him so?
Simplest perhaps is to postulate that Plato was a poor philosopher by
contemporary standards. Although this was at one time a widely accepted
conclusion, it is today rightly seen as the option of last resort. Another
possibility is that Plato wished to offer a subtle critique of Socrates. But
a critique so subtle that it has eluded generations of readers is hardly a
successful one. Indeed, most readers emerge from the dialogues with
admiration for Socrates. Even when a Platonic critique of Socrates has
been detected, it was not based on weaknesses in Socrates' argument^.^
Moreover, such a view would contradict the testimony of the author of
the second letter who speaks of a "Socrates made beautiful and young (or
new)" (Epistle 2, 3 14c).
Another way of dealing with the weaknesses in some of Socrates' ar-
guments has been to locate the problem in the peculiar character of the
interlocutor. C. Kahn offered one of the earliest and most persuasive ap-
plications of this approach.' M. C. Stokes has shown how this approach
can explain many oddities in Crito.' 'These and similar studies have shown
convincingly that in many of the dialogues what appear to us as weak-
nesses in the argument can be traced to Socrates' effort to address particu-
lar interlocutors with individual views and assumptions. Why have I not
followed this promising path?
The chief reason is that it does not offer a complete solution to the
problem. While the character of an interlocutor may provide an explana-
tion for Socrates' use of weak or ad hominem arguments, it cannot provide
an explanation for Plato's portrayal of them. Take the case of Socrates'

on the interlocutors' resistance to Socrates' arguments and accounting for it in psychological

terms, I will focus on the quality of the arguments resisted . . . Socrates' arguments are not only
criticized by interlocutors; they often warrant criticism and are criticized for exactly the right
reasons." (5-6)
6. See Al-Farabi.
7. C. Kahn, 1983.
8. M. C. Stokes, 2005. See also R. B. Rutherford's comments, 28.

great speech in the name of the Laws in Crito. This speech is undoubtedly
a response to a challenge issued by Crito, and if Crito and his challenge
were historical facts we would need no further explanation for its exis-
tence. But Crito is a work of literature. From a dramatic point of view, the
entire composition leads up to Socrates' great peroration, and clearly it is
this speech which will leave the most lasting impression on the audience.
Given this, we have to consider not only Socrates' aims in enunciating it
to Crito, but more importantly Plato's aims in writing and publishing it
for an audience. Crito was not written for Crito. While Crito's questions
and character may provide the literary justijcation for the speech of the
Laws, they do not provide the authorial purpose. From the author's point
of view, Crito is not the cause of the speech, he is its excuse. And the
crucial question is not, Does the speech provide a good answer to Crito?
but Why was Plato interested in publishing this speech?'
In order to answer this question, we need to focus more on Plato and
his audience and less on Socrates and his interlocutors. We need to explore
the nature of his intended audience and uncover his aims with respect to
them. The best guide we have in these matters is of course the text itself.
In some respects this is the best p i d e we could ever hope to have. Even
if Plato had left an authentic letter describing his intended audience and
the effects he hoped to have on them, we would not be able to rely on
it implicitly, but would still have to wonder whether Plato remembered
his aims accurately and whether perhaps he misrepresented them deliber-
ately.'' In the end, the dialogues have to speak for themselves and exter-
nal evidence can only play a secondary role. Although I do make use of
some external evidence, primarily from Xenophon, for helping to identify
Plato's aims, I use this only as a source of hypotheses to be tested against
the dialogues themselves.
In order to determine the orientation of a dialogue the most impor-
tant question is, What focus provides unity to its various components? To
take the case of Crito again, the most pressing question I had to answer
was, Why does Plato spend so much time telling Crito not to pay atten-

9. One could answer that Plato wished to portray Socrates offering a weak answer to Crito
for some reason, but one needs a plausible account of why he might have wanted to do that. I
treat this dialogue in detail in chapter two.
10. I do not mention the popular observation that an author is never fully aware of his or
her own real aims because I intend to treat only Plato's conscious aims.

tion to popular opinion (41b-d; 46c-48d)? The discussion is perfectly well

motivated by the dramatic circumstances as described; but why did Plato
create circumstances which would lead to this discussion? What connec-
tion does it bear to the central theme of the work as a whole? In effect I
had to ask, What could the central theme be such that this discussion is
relevant to it? While some readers have proven capable of skipping over
this section without worrying about it too much, for me seemingly pe-
ripheral elements such as this, when they occupy a relatively large part of
the dialogue, hold the key to understanding the intention of the whole.
In order to connect this section with the over-all aim of the composition,
I was willing to consider interpretations of the remaining sections of the
text which otherwise might seem paradoxical. In the end, I drew the con-
clusion that this section, and all other sections, would be relevant if the
aim of the composition as a whole were to combat slander against Socrates
and his former friends in the period following his execution.

No text can be fully revelatory of its aims in the absence of its context,
much less an ambiguous text like Plato's. At the very least, one needs a
set of possible contexts in which to place the text hypothetically. Since
Xenophon makes use of a narrator, he is able to offer information con-
cerning contemporary events and controversies that is not found clearly
in Plato. One cannot always trust Xenophon, of course; but it is hard to
imagine that he could grossly misrepresent certain public issues such as
the opinions of members of his own audience. So for example when he
says that Socrates seemed to have behaved foolishly by his arrogant speech
in court (Ap. l), he must be reflecting some genuine contemporary senti-
ment. Since Xenophon attacks Plato on at least one occasion (Symp. 8), it
seems clear that the two authors are addressing some of the same people.
Given this, it is reasonable to ask whether or not a Platonic dialogue
responds to one of the contemporary issues mentioned in Xenophon's
writing. This hypothesis becomes plausible to the extent that it helps
explain features of the text which are difficult to explain otherwise.
The use of historical hypotheses to explain obscurities in the text enables
us to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of Platonic studies. Those who con-
clude that Plato simply failed to achieve coherence and clarity take an easy
route, and one which seems contradicted by the observable qualities of
his works. Those who resort to overly subtle literary and philosophical
explanations, on the other hand, run the risk of esotericism, even if they
do not invoke specifically Straussian hypotheses. Both of these extremes
may be avoided if we rely on the simple hypothesis that some matters
would have been clearer to a contemporary audience better aware than
we of the range of contemporary issues Plato was addressing. The fact
that Plato's aim often seems obscure today need not be attributed either
to an effort to conceal or to an inability of expression on his part, but
merely to the historical distance that separates us from his contemporary
The most obvious and prominent contemporary circumstance we
know that influenced the Socratic writers was the public controversy sur-
rounding Socrates' life, trial and death. For understanding this contro-
versy, Xenophon's writings are a resource of unique value. Unlike Plato,
Xenophon made use of a narrator's voice in his Socratic writings, and he
used it in great part to address this controversy directly, defending and
praising Socrates." All of his Socratic works, including even his seemingly
innocent Oeconomicus, are fundamentally apologetic works, and even his
non-Socratic works contain apologetic references to the Socratic contro-
versy. When one returns to Plato after reading Xenophon, it is not difficult
to see that Plato also is engaged in apologetics on behalf of Socrates, even
if his methods are more indirect.
Apologetic writing is often dismissed today as an inferior form of lit-
erature, despite the fact that we know quite well that a very large part
of our literature, including our religious literature, contains apologetic
and polemic elements. Perhaps the fault lies more in our own peculiar
expectations-our dreams of a world devoid of contentions, of associates
who are more saintly than the ones we commonly encounter-than in the
writings whose apologetic elements we try to ignore. Perhaps we have lost
the ability to enjoy the insults and strife that brought smiles to the lips of
our ancestors in part because our own manners of contention are often so
tasteless. In any case, whether we appreciate it or not, the Greeks engaged
in vigorous forms of defense, boasting and attack, and these are reflected

11. I refer to these as apologetic aims. The term protreptir could be applied to some of the
same phenomena, but only if used in the broadest possible sense to include all kinds of indirect
efforts at recruitment to the life of philosophy.

in their literature. Socrates in particular was a man given to sometimes

outrageous boasting, particularly in his Xenophontic guise. His defense
speech as recorded in Xenophon's Apology was one great act of megaligoria.
Before his trial, Socrates claimed that he had never had to acknowledge
that another lived a better life than he did (Ap. 5). He said that he lived a
life of justice and piety, and that as a result he admired himself highly and
noted that his companions did so as well (5). During the trial he boasts of
his prophetic abilities (12-1 3) and of the high praise he received from the
god of Delphi (14-19). After the trial he says that he has no reason to hold
a lower opinion of himself than he held before (24). This boastfulness is
part of the enduring charm of the Greeks, and of Socrates in particular.
While Apology may show Socrates at his boasting best, he is not the least
bit humble in Memorabilia, Symposium, or even Oeconomicus either. The
Socrates of Plato's Apology is not much different: although he presents a
f a ~ a d eof humility, most readers have discerned an arrogance in him that
in some ways even exceeds that of Xenophon's Socrates. If these portraits
reflect anything of the historical Socrates, if the historical Socrates did
spend time singing his own praises, there will be no surprise if his students
and defenders, by whom I mean Xenophon and Plato, employed them-
selves in defending and praising their master, and in attacking his enemies,
each in his own way.
We can glimpse the difference between Xenophon's and Plato's lit-
erary manners by contrasting the forms of boastfulness they portray in
their two Symposia. Undisguised boasting is a central motif in Xenophon's
Symposium, where the participants take turns praising themselves in so
many words. Socrates suggests that each participant describe "the most
valuable thing he possesses" (3.3), which Callias interprets as an invitation
for each to name "what he is most proud of" (3.4). Accordingly, each guest
in turn praises one of his own attributes, one praising his own beauty, the
other his own wealth, another praising his own poverty, and so on. There is
nothing rank about this boasting, however, for it almost always contains a
mixture of seriousness and playful irony. After boasting vociferously about
the virtues of his poverty, for example, Charmides readily admits that he is
willing to face the dangers of wealth if he could only find an opportunity
to do so (4.33). This is the good taste of Xenophon: he does not disguise
the boasting of his characters, but he shows them doing so ironically and
with good humor. In this they display a tact that Plato never equals.

Plato's characters take an opposite path. O n the surface none of them

boasts: their speeches are not devoted to self-praise, but instead to praise of
the god eros. Despite this, virtually all of the speakers wind up offering self-
serving speeches: Phaedrus praises the young beloved over the older lover;
Pausanias praises the mature, educated and sincere lover; Eryximachus
praises those who possess the medical art; Agathon praises the beautiful and
poetically inspired. Even Socrates himself does not refrain from describing
eros as a barefoot and poverty-stricken lover of resource (203b-d). In Plato's
Symposium, self-praise is more indirect than it is in Xenophon's, but it is no
less serious. Indeed, there is no hint of irony or good humor in the indirect
self-praise offered by any of the speakers, Socrates included. At the same
time, there is no hint of criticism of Socrates or anyone else for displaying
bad manners in using a speech about the god to praise himself.
The same contrasting pattern characterizes the apologetic strategies
that Plato and Xenophon adopt in defending Socrates. While Xenophon
is undeniably and openly engaged in defending Socrates, he also displays
a certain degree of irony and good humor which enables him to under-
cut his own defense at times without harming the overall effect. Plato's
apologetics, on the other hand, are always indirect and always completely
serious. It is certainly not by chance that readers of the Platonic dialogues
emerge with an overwhelmingly positive impression. Even seemingly un-
related dialogues, nominally devoted to themes such as courage, piety,
sliphrosun~,of the acquisition of virtue, are made to contribute indirectly
to the project of defending and praising Socrates.

We would be better able to understand the functions that the dialogues

played in their local context if we knew more about the circumstances in
which they were read. We know from Plato that sophists like Prodicus
offered two kinds of lectures, inexpensive public lectures and more ex-
pensive advanced lectures (Craqlus 384b). D. Sansone has argued that
the story of Hercules recorded for us by Xenophon in Memorabilia 2.1
was most likely based on his popular lectures.12Could the dialogues have
played an analogous role?

12. D. Sansone, 2004.


This idea seems consistent with current conceptions about the publi-
cation of the dialogues. Gilbert Ryle's once-provocative notion that the
dialogues were performed or read in groups is no longer dismissed, al-
though his argument that they were read at very public occasions such as
the Olympic or Athenian games has not gained much ground.13 Holger
Thesleff has argued that the majority of the dialogues could not have been
designed primarily for private reading, in part because most of them would
have been difficult to read without guidance since they would not have
included indications of the change of speakers.'* But he also argues against
an unrestricted public audience such as that suggested by Ryle. The long
dialogues would place special difficulties before such an audience. And
even certain short dialogues, such as Charmides or Menexenus, seem unfit
for widespread consumption in democratic Athens: both of them display
Plato's anti-democratic sentiments too boldly, and Charmides contains ar-
gumentation on points that seem far-removed from any public concern.15
Thesleff notes further that Plato's writings had little influence on fourth
century literature before Aristotle (295), which suggests that they were not
widely distributed. Similarly, he points out that there are many "passages
or sections which are simply not comprehensible without background
knowledge of Socratic/Platonic philosophy" (291). This again suggests
something less than the unrestricted public that Ryle postulated.
At the same time, Thesleff acknowledges that the fine literary form
of the dialogues implies that "Plato had in mind something more than a
single occasion for dialectic reasoning" (297). It is hard to imagine that
Plato created these literary masterpieces merely for the consumption of a
few choice students, and more plausible to postulate that he did have a
wide audience in mind. Taken together, these considerations suggest that
the dialogues were intended for a broad range of venues, or for a semi-
public venue which included students, colleagues and potential students
of various levels of ability. The presence of esoteric references, understood
fully only by those with some training, would not be incompatible with

13.G. Ryle, 1966. See the generally positive review of R. Demos, 1967.
14.H. Thesleff, 2002a. This does not apply to Apology which consists essentially of three
Socratic speeches, or to works like Republic or Symposium where changes of speakers are made
very clear in the text itself.
15. H. Thesleff, 2002a, 290-291. It is possible as Thesleff implies that Charmides was in-
tended only for a small group of intellectuals who remained sympathetic to Critias, but it is
also possible, as I plan to argue elsewhere, that Plato hoped for a wider audience.

presentation to a mixed audience. O n the contrary, such references would

remind the uninitiated that there are secrets to be learned and would
attract them to the studies offered in the Platonic circle. Similarly, the
fact that some of the dialogues address public concerns would not conflict
with this account, since both students and potential students might be
concerned with such issues as well as with more abstract questions. In
short, the balance between accessibility and esotericism fits a situation
in which initiates and novices are both present at a restricted but public
'The likelihood that the dialogues were read publicly suggests another
way to account for some kinds of inconsistencies within them. Classicists
have long recognized that vividness of presentation often trumps consis-
tency in Greek drama;16 but this awareness has barely entered the con-
sciousness of those who interpret the Platonic dialogues in literary terms.
If Greek audiences were not overly concerned with consistency in tragedy,
it is unlikely that they would have been any more concerned with it in
philosophical drama, if they even noticed it. Most of the contradictions
considered by Platonic scholars have come to light only as a result of hours
of quiet contemplation on the part of professional students of philosophy.
Such contradictions would not necessarily have been apparent to a first
time reader, much less to an inexperienced member of an audience at
a public reading. 'This observation is no consolation to those who insist
on finding a fully-worked out philosophical position or argument in any
given dialogue. But inconsistencies which fail to mar the dramatic effect
of the dialogues are no blemishes if the works are considered first and
foremost as performances.

A public reading would necessarily serve a variety of aims simultaneous-

ly. Obviously, the main attraction would be the philosophical ideas and
methods that Plato has to offer. Together with this, there is nothing sur-
prising if Plato responds to public attitudes concerning himself and his as-
sociates. Both of these aims can be found in Xenophon as well. But unlike

16. The fundamental work on this is T. von Willarnowitz, 1917; see also A. J. A. Waldock,
195 1, J. Jones, 1962.

Xenophon, Plato was also a founder of a "school" and this implies the aim
of recruiting or even "converting" some members of the audience. This
aim can be observed in a great number of dialogues, far more than those
ordinarily considered protreptic, but it is clearest perhaps in Symposium,
which begins with an almost explicit appeal for membership in a latter-
day Socratic community of sorts. 'The dialogue is narrated by Apollodorus
to an unnamed individual who is involved in business (173c) but who is
also curious enough about Socrates to have made more than one inquiry
about him. Apollodorus is a member of a second generation of admirers
who had not been with Socrates in the early days (172b-173a). He is per-
petually involved in persuading others to abandon their business pursuits
and join the cult of Socrates' admirers (173d-e) and he clearly wishes to
persuade his unnamed listener as well.
This dramatic setting tells us something about the intentions of the
dialogue as a whole. Like the unnamed listener, Plato's audience must
have some interest in hearing about the famous symposium or it would
not be present at a reading. Like the unnamed listener, the intended audi-
ence must be composed, in part at least, of those who are not professional
philosophers but individuals involved in business with an interest in phi-
losophy, or at least in Socrates.
As the listener reminds us of the audience, so does the narrator remind
us of the author. Like Apollodorus, Plato did not attend the symposium
he describes and can only be relying on reports of others, at best, for
whatever he knows of it. Again, like Apollodorus, Plato became a fan of
Socrates only in Socrates' later years. By one further step we may postulate
that the fictional narrator's aims tell us something about those of Plato:
like Apollodorus, he aims to convert his audience from curious listeners to
active members of the Socratic-Platonic circle. We cannot expect to find
clues this obvious in every dialogue. Symposium may be especially broad
in its aim and appeal. But it would be odd if no other dialogue functioned
in a similar way.
A well-known story tells of a Corinthian farmer who dropped his
work and rushed to join the Platonic school after hearing Plato's Gorgias."
Apocryphal or not, this story expresses something about the character of

17. Reported by Themistius. See G. Grote, 1875, vol. 2, 317 or fragment 53 in V. Rose,
1886. If this late story reflects a late perspective on the role of literature in missionary work, it
is nevertheless significant that the story was attached to a Platonic dialogue.

the dialogue. It does not aim simply at defining rhetoric, but uses the dis-
cussion of rhetoric to raise questions about human nature and the road
to its perfection. In doing so, Socrates pushes the discussion in a direc-
tion which, as Callicles remarks, turns the world upside down (481b-c). In
general terms, Plato's dialopes aim not merely at raising questions, but also
at promoting definite views. As R. B. Rutherford has noted, the view that
Socrates is an open-minded questioner "ignores or at least neglects the fre-
quency with which certain themes recur and the commitment with which
they seem to be expressed."18 As G. R. Ferrari has pointed out, authorial
anonymity does not guarantee neutrality literature is often "committed to
particular views, and Plato's dialogues seem to be a case in point."
The importance of caring for the soul and the development of the in-
tellect are central themes in almost every dialogue. Quite aside from any
solutions to theoretical conundrums that Plato may have achieved, the
activity of intellectual study is itself offered as a solution to some of the
most pressing difficulties of human life. ?he philosopher is the only truly
virtuous man (Pbaedo 68c-69c) and the only reliable ruler of the political
community (Republic 484b-487a) because his devotion to the intellect
insures his moral virtue. It is hard to doubt that these views are Plato's or
at least that they are views he wishes to spread. O n issues like these, one
senses a "missionary" aim in some of the dialogues which distinguishes
Plato from many modern philosophers.
The effort to spread ideas that could unite men in philosophical friend-
ship is, in the ancient world, a form of political activity. If Plato was in-
volved in "missionary" or proto-missionary activity, he was involved,
albeit indirectly, in politics. Those who believe that usually assume that
at least some of the letters are faithful to at least the character of his ac-
tivities." Those who don't believe it often object that the scheming am-
bitions related in the letters are in conflict with the high-minded aims
presented in the dialogue^.^' Some have argued on other grounds that

1995, 26.
20. So l? Friedlander. See also C. Kahn (1996, 5 1) who speaks of philosophy for Plato as "the
continuation of politics by other means." By this he presumably refers only to the examination
of moral and political principles in the dialogues, and not, as I do, to the publication of the
dialogues as a political activity.
21. See L. Edelstein, 1966.

Plato and his students were not involved in political life at all, or at least
that such a charge cannot be proved despite the existence of considerable
circumstantial evidence.22 But if it could be shown that in addition to
their obvious literary and philosophic brilliance, some of the dialogues are
literary deeds which played a political role in the community for which
they were composed, a continuity could be restored between the letters
and the dialogues. It is not the teaching of the dialogues but their aims
or functions which demonstrates this continuity. The teachings could be
interpreted as contributing to the political aims rather than as describing
them. If our account of the function of some of the dialogues is correct,
then even when he is expressing his indifference to politics--or perhaps
especially then-Plato is pursuing a political goal.

I have spoken mostly about Plato in this introduction and will continue to
speak mostly about him in the rest of the book. I have mentioned Xenophon
primarily insofar as his writings shed light on those of Plato. But while this is
certainly an important and legitimate use for Xenophon's writings, they also
possess an intrinsic interest that is greater than first meets the eye. The final
chapter of this book provides an interpretation of Xenophon's Oeconomicus
as a philosophic-apologetic work dealing with genuine Socratic issues.
The fourth chapter has expanded from what was originally a brief account
of Xenophon's portrait of Socratic seduction, intended for contrast with
Plato's treatment, into a lengthy treatment of the subject in its own right.
These two Xenophontic chapters create a certain imbalance in the book as a
whole: they are too slight for a book claiming equal treatment of Plato and
Xenophon and too substantial for a book focused on Plato. The reader will
also note that chapter four diverges from the other chapters in character:
while the other chapters focus primarily on the interpretation of a single
composition this chapter ranges among several chapters and statements
found scattered in Xenophon's Memorabilia and other works. For these and
other weaknesses I beg the reader's indulgence.

22. I? A. Brunt, 1993, 282-342.


Commonly known Greek words have generally been transliterated. Less

common words, words which are the subject of discussion, words not in the
nominative case, single words that appear within a translated passage, and
longer passages of Greek have been reproduced in the Greek alphabet.

Chapter one is a revised version of "Apologizing for Socrates: Plato and

Xenophon on Socrates' Behavior in Court," Pansactions of the American
Philological Association, 2003, 28 1-32 1. Chapter two is a substantial-
ly revised version of "Crito and the Socratic Controversy," Polis, 2006,
21-45. Some material in chapter four appeared in "Apologetic Elements
in Xenophon's Symposium," Classica et Mediaevalia, 55, 2005, 17-48.
Chapter six is a revised version of "Why Socrates was not a Farmer: The
Oeconomicus of Xenophon as a Philosophical Dialogue," Greece a n d Rome,
2003, 57-76. I wish to thank the publishers for the kind permission to
reprint this material.

My interest in the relationship between philosophic literature and the

communities for whose consumption it is published goes back to my
studies with the late Arthur Adkins at the University of Chicago. His for-
mulation of the problem of the relationship between competitive and co-
operative values has been subject of considerable controversy, but his work
has certainly focused attention on the abiding importance of the former
from Homer to Plato and after. Long after I had left the University, I was
particularly struck in rereading his Merit and Responsibility by the follow-
ing description of Socrates:
Socrates, having been poor, and hence a failure, all his life, had proved
unable to defend himself in court as an agathos should and by his death
had left his family unprotected . . . Nothing could be more aischron than
Socrates' life and death . . . Socrates must be shown to have exhibited in
his life when properly considered those qualities as a result of which men are
termed agathos andphronimos to a greater extent than his opponents. (259;
italics in the original)

Its influence on my research requires no comment.

In composing this book I was privileged and blessed to receive the
continual encouragement and criticism of Michael Stokes. His scholarly
and personal traits have served as an inspiration to me. I owe thanks to
Debra Nails, Jeffrey Purinton, David Schaps, Holger Thesleff, Michael
Trapp, and Roslyn Weiss for reading parts of the manuscript in its various
phases and offering generous comments and criticisms. I thank the Bar Ilan
Department of Classical Studies and the Israel Society for the Promotion of
Classical Studies for providing forums for the presentation of some of the
material in this book. During the period of producing this manuscript, I
enjoyed the support of the chairpersons of the Classics department at Bar
Ilan, Professors Ranon Katzoff and David Schaps, and Dr. Daniela Dueck,

and received a warm welcome from the chairman of the Philosophy depart-
ment, Professor Noam Zohar, and my other colleagues there.
It is customary to thank one's husband, wife or cat for allowing one to
take the time to write a book and cheerfully waiting for it to be done. I
cannot say, however, that my wife Rachele has been completely coopera-
tive in this area. Her charm, beauty and conversation provided a constant
distraction which often made it difficult for me to concentrate on my
work. Our many delightful children have not made things any easier.
In different ways each of my parents contributed to this book. As a
Professor of Education at Montclair State College, my mother, Myrna
Danzig, first introduced the word Plato into my vocabulary, and also
gave me my first opportunity to address a college audience. My father,
Phillip Danzig, may his memory be a blessing, was one of my greatest
fans. He read everything I wrote and always offered his best suggestions
and warmest encouragement. It is a very deep disappointment to me-as
it would be to him-that he will not be able to read this book.
Chapter One

Plato and Xenophon on

Socrates' Behavior in Court1

ecent years have seen a dramatic growth in the study of the
philosophy of Socrates, usually based on the assumption that the
"early" works of Plato provide some insight into the thought of
the historic so crate^.^ One of the pillars of this theory is Plato's Apology:
if it provides an accurate portrait of Socrates, then it makes some sense
to think of other early dialogues as presenting at least the spirit of what
Socrates might have said. Gregory Vlastos put it nicely: "[Ilf this is con-
ceded, our problem of sources is solved in principle. For we may then
use the Apology as a touchstone of the like veracity of the thought and
character of Socrates depicted in Plato's other early dialogue^."^ O n the
other hand, if it can be shown that even the Apology does not provide
an accurate portrait of Socrates, it is hard to see why other compositions
would do any better.

I. An earlier version of this chapter appeared as G. Danzig, 2003a.

2. Recent books devoted to the theme include: H. Benson, 2000; N . D . Smith and I? B.
Woodruff, 2000; T. C. Brickhouse and N . D . Smith, 1994; G. Vlastos, 1994; H. Benson,
1992; G. Vlastos, 199 1.
3. G. Vlastos, 1971, 4; the idea was put forth previously by A. -H. Chroust, but with
more qualifications (1945, repr. 1996, 40-41). In his later book, Socrates, Ironist and Moral
Philosopher (1991), Vlastos held that Plato followed a Thucydidean methodology in com-
posing the speech (49, n. 15) and that, because of being present, he succeeded better than
Thucydides in putting this Thucydidean historical methodology into practice (253, n. 65).
But he offered no arguments to clarify or support this interesting suggesting. H e also argued
that other dialogues, while not intended as faithful representations of Socrates' words, are
nevertheless true to Socrates' thought (see ch. 2-3). A more modest version of the thesis is
maintained by C. Kahn (1996, see especially 88-95). For a critical review ofvlastos' theories,
see D . Morrison, 1987, J. Beversluis, 1993, I? A. Vander Waerdt, 1993,3-4, n. 7, and D . Nails,
1995, 75-96.

The claim that the Apology provides an accurate portrait of the thought
of Socrates is usually made on the grounds that it represents more or less
what Socrates said in court, and that Socrates spoke openly and honest-
ly about himself in this ~ o n t e x t It
. ~could be defended alternatively on
the grounds that Plato used the courtroom speech as an opportunity to
present his own account of Socrates' life and thought, once again aiming
at producing an accurate intellectual biography of his teacher and suc-
ceeding in this aim. But either way, the argument is riddled with doubtful
Those who regard the Apology as fiction, on the other hand, usually
see the Apology together with the other dialogues as outlining Plato's own
personal vision of the essence of Socrates' thought and way of life or that
of the idealized phil~sopher.~ Some have gone so far as to claim that they
teach us almost nothing about the historical so crate^.^ The disagreement
between these two views seems irresolvable, in large part because we do
not know enough about the historical circumstances in which the dia-
logues were produced or the aims with which they were published. But
we do know something about the historical circumstances, and although
this information is meager, it nevertheless can help us to assess the char-
acter of the work and even to draw some conclusions about the historical

4. This view was made prominent by A. E. Taylor, 1911, J. Burnet, 1924 and G. C. Field,
1930 (154) and it persists in the writings of W. K. C. Guthrie, 1971, and T. C. Brickhouse and
N. D. Smith, 1989. The central argument for the first assumption is that the trial was a public
event that could not have been seriously misrepresented. R. Hackforth (1933) already pointed
out that this would hold only if we could show that the Athenian public expected accuracy.
Brickhouse and Smith argue that it did (1989, 2-10). It is also urged that Plato mentions his
own presence in order to attest to its accuracy. This of course is only one of many plausible
explanations of the reason that Plato mentions this. For further references to this question see
Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, 3, n. 9.
5. As A. Momigliano put it (1971, 46) "Socrates . . . was not so much the real Socrates as
the potential Socrates . . . [a] guide to territories as yet unexplored." See also A.-H. Chroust's
earlier formulation (1945 repr. 1996, 42): "Plato in his early dialogues expresses the highest
possible view of Socrates' personality and thought-the maximum potentialities of Socrates."
Kahn also argues that the Socratics wrote fiction, and, in fact, that Aeschines' lost Asparia was
a bolder fiction than the works we have from Plato and Xenophon (1996, 34). Other examples
of scholars who endorse the fiction theory include T. G. West, 1979, M . C. Stokes, 1992, P. A.
Vander Waerdt, 1993, R. B. Rutherford, 1995, 30.
6. See C. Joel, 1893-1901; A.-H. Chroust, 1957; 0 . Gigon, 1947; M. Montuori, 1981 and
1988. But none of them said that we can know nothing at all.
7. See E. de Strycker and S. R. Slings, 1994, 16-21. Some have gone to extremes in treating
the Apology as concerning issues almost completely unrelated to the historical Socrates. G.

What are the aims of the composition? If it aims merely at defending

Socrates' way of life or the life of philosophy in general, its relation to
history will remain obscure, since such aims are compatible with either
Socratic or Platonic origin. Only if the composition serves an aim that is
incompatible with one of these alternatives will we be able to draw secure
conclusions. With the help of remarks made by Xenophon in his Apology,
it is in fact possible to identify some of the central aims of the composi-
tion. It turns out that Plato was not merely defending Socrates from the
charges brought against him in court, and was not merely defending a
vision of the philosophical way of life, he was also addressing some very
specific Athenian questions about how Socrates behaved in court, answer-
ing charges of arrogance, foolishness and failure. This was an issue that the
historical Socrates never had to grapple with by anyone's account, at least
not in his speech in court.

I will not review in detail the merits and demerits of the argument that
the Apology is an accurate record of Socrates' speech, since this has been
discussed recently by Strycker and sling^.^ Their arguments show clearly
that there are no good apriori grounds for assuming that the Apology rep-
resents more or less what Socrates actually said in court. However there
is a difference between refuting the assumption of historicity and dem-
onstrating that the work is fiction. Despite their arguments, Strycker and
Slings conclude their discussion of the historicity issue by saying that,
there is, o n t h e o n e hand, n o single sentence i n the Platonic Apolog~that
Socrates could n o t have actually pronounced, a n d o n the other, . . . the

Ryle was perhaps indulging in his own version of Socratic irony when he suggested that Plato
wrote the Apology in order to defend himself and his school from a lawsuit towards the end half
of the 370s (1966, 146-192). Similar is A.-H. Chroust's suggestion that Socrates was a petty
politician whose friends transformed him into a great philosopher in order to cast aspersions
on his victorious opponents (1957, chapter seven, esp. 191-7). For a good concise overview of
the Socratic and Platonic problems see M. Lane, 2000.
8. 1-8. These authors adopt Riddell's argument (xx)that the artistic structure of the Apology
testifies to its Platonic origin. They follow Riddell also ( m i ) in arguing that the very wide di-
vergence between Plato's and Xenophon's Apologies argues against the assumption of historical
accuracy for either one of them. New is the argument that claims for historicity within the text
can be safely dismissed since stronger claims for historicity are made in the Phaedo, which is
nevertheless not generally regarded as historical (despite Burnet). See also M.C. Stokes, 1992,
D. Morrison, 2000, and WJ. Prior, 2001.
published w o r k contains n o passage so specifically un-Platonic that it
c a n n o t b e Plato's work.'

We are left in the dark. But this conclusion is overly pessimistic. In fact,
the work is a fiction-there are many sentences that Socrates would almost
certainly not have pronounced. Virtually everything in it is written with at
least one eye on the post-trial controversy, a controversy ofwhich Socrates
was completely ignorant during his speech.
Few would doubt the existence of a public debate of some kind
concerning Socrates in Athens in the 390s or later. We know very little
about the speech that Lysias is reported to have published,I0 or about
the "Socrates" of Theodectes," or other similar compositions. But we do
know that in a pamphlet published after the rebuilding of the long walls
by Conon about 39413, Polycrates attacked Socrates, blaming him for
the behavior of Alcibiades.12 It may seem strange, pointless and a mark of
poor taste for Polycrates to have attacked someone who was already dead,
but this apparently is what he did.13 Most likely he was aiming in great
part at Socrates' friends and disciples. Any group of friends was a political
force in the ancient city,14 and the many Socratic dialogues that were pub-
lished and read in Athens after Socrates' death show that some grouping of
Socratics continued to exist. It seems likely that some of Socrates' former
friends continued his practice of deriding Athenian citizens for their
failure to care for virtue: otherwise the ex post facto prophecy in which
Plato's Socrates foretells a wave of criticism by Socrates' students after
his execution (Apology 39d) would make him appear foolish. Given the

9. p. 8.
10. Frr. 220-224 (G. Baiterus and H. Sauppius, 1850,204). See Diogenes Laertius 2.40 and
Cicero, de Orat., 1 54.
11. See Aristotle, Rh. 2.23.13
12. See D. L. 2.39 and Isocrates' reference to Polycrates at Bwiris 4-5. Elements of Polycrates'
pamphlet may be preserved in Libanius' late (4th century A.D.) Apology ofSocrates. See Chroust
1957 for a speculative reconstruction of the lost work. M. C. Stokes argues convincingly that
Plato's Apology preceded Polyrates' pamphlet (1997, 3-4).
13. While one cannot completely deny the possibility that the pamphlet was merely a rhe-
torical exercise, it seems to me that any such exercise would have to take into account, one way
or another, the feelings of the family and friends of the departed victim. Isocrates' comments
suggest strongly that Polycrates' pamphlet was designed to cast aspersions on the dead man
14. See Plato's Symposium 182c. As is well known, the term i ~ a i ~ couldo s be used equally
of members of a school or of members of a political party. See Burnet, 1924, note on Apology
21a1, 90.

continued use of Socrates' image in Socratic literature, Polycrates' attack

on Socrates would have been an effective way to attack all those who spoke
in the name of Socrates or used him as their emblem.I5 Socrates' former
associates seem to have responded to the attacks. H. D. Rankin defends
Diogenes Laertius' report that Antisthenes was involved personally, and not
merely through his writings, in the post-trial controversy over Socrates.16
Xenophon appears to be replying to Polycrates in his Mem~rabilia,'~ and
a strong case has been made that Plato is doing the same in his Gorgia~.'~
If Socrates' opponents used Socrates as means for attacking his students,
the defense of Socrates by these students would serve both as a defense of
Socrates and as an indirect defense of themselves. Even if they preferred
to avoid conflict, the very act of publishing something about Socrates
in an atmosphere of controversy would inevitably play some role in that
But what were the subjects of this debate? In addition to addressing
issues concerning the life and teachings of Socrates, extant Socratic litera-
ture frequently refers to Socrates' trial and death. It is a central concern
in Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo, and is significant in his
Meno, Gorgids and Republic as well. In Xenophon's writings we find explic-
it references both to the trial and to a post-trial controversy concerning the
trial (Apology 1; see Memorabilia 1.2). Xenophon manages to mention the
trial, at least by implication, in his major non-Socratic writings as well: his
Hellenica (1.7.15), his Anabasis (3.1.4-7) and even his Cyropaedia (3.1.38-
40). In these instances Xenophon is not using the trial to illuminate some
other problem, but is contributing to the post-trial controversy concern-
ing the trial itself. In Symposium, for example, he argues that Socrates lost

15. Similarly A. H . Chroust, 1945, repr. 1996, vol. 1, 42.

16. See D. L. 6.9- 10 and H . D. Rankin, 6-7.
17. Many scholars believe that some sections of the Memorabilia are aimed at refuting
Polycrates' pamphlet rather than the arguments of the actual prosecutors. Socrates' connection
with Alcibiades and his use of Homer to denigrate the demos are both ascribed to Polycrates
(Diogenes Laertius. 2.39; Scholiast on Aristides' "For the Four" 133. 16, 3.480. Both ideas are
found in Xenophon's Memorabilia (1.2.12; 58) but not in his Apology or in Plato's. Similarly,
Isocrates' comment that Polycrates invented the connection between Socrates and Alcibiades
(Busiris 4-5) finds support in the fact that this connection is never mentioned in the Apologies.
O n the other hand, M . Hansen (11-15) argues that these facts may be explained on the hy-
pothesis that Socrates' speech concentrated on Meletus' accusations and ignored political ac-
cusations brought by Anytus.
18. This was first argued by J. Humbert, 1931. See also Chroust, 1945, repr. 1996, 42, and
the reservations of Dodds 1959, p. 28.

because the trial was really a beauty pageant, and that although Socrates
was an expert at self-presentation (which he calls "pimping"), he chose
not to make use of this skill (3.10). In Cyropaedia he argues that jealousy
caused the sovereign power to kill the Armenian sophist he uses as an
image of Socrates (3.1.38-9).
O f the works which directly address Socrates' trial, only three-Plato's
Apology, Xenophon's Apology, and Xenophon's Memorabilia-have sur-
vived. Xenophon's writings are particularly important, since unlike Plato
he uses a narrative voice and is thereby able to offer comments that shed
light on the nature of the public debate that surrounded the trial. One
cannot of course presume that Xenophon's statements are necessarily true,
and M. C. Stokes has argued that even statements made by his narrative
voice might be part of a fiction." But while Xenophon may sometimes
make authorial statements that are false (such as his claim to have been
present at the conversations he records in his Symposium, when by most
calculations he would have been only a few years old)*' this does not mean
that every authorial stance he takes is a false one. Xenophon would make
himself look foolish if he made assertions about public attitudes which
were simply false, since public attitudes are, by their very nature, known
to the public, and the gross falsification of them would be noticed. It is
presumably for this reason that he does not pretend to have been present
at the trial of Socrates and offers Hermogenes as the source for all his in-
formation (X. Apology 2): enough people knew that he was not there that
it would have been impossible to pretend otherwise. It would have been
pointless and self-defeating to make implausible statements about public

19. Stokes argues that "[Ilt might suitXenophonipurpose to pretend to accept as true, whether
or not he believed them true, the portraits of Socrates' boastfulness." (1997, 5 n. 10. Italics in
the original.)
20. There is however no certainty about the date ofxenophon's birth, and no way of knowing
that this statement is in fact a false one. The consensus opinion, which puts his birth at around
428 or so, is based on his references to himself as a young man, apparently younger than
Proxenus, in Anabasis. However, since Anabasis reports an episode rhat may have been among
the causes for Xenophon's exile, we cannot discount the possibility rhat he has exaggerated
his youth as a means of excusing himself. See also J. Dillery's argument, based on Xenophon's
promise to give his daughter in marriage to the son of Seuthes (7.2.38),that Xenophon may
have been older than is generally assumed (1998, 3-4). If so it is not inconceivable that he was
present at the symposium he records, which would have taken place in 422. The fact that he
says nothing during the entire evening does not prove his absence, since the only other narrator
we have of a Socratic symposium, Aristodemus in Plato's Symposium, also says virtually nothing
the entire evening despite being present.

attitudes at the time of his writing, since these would have had the effect
of making him appear to be out of touch with reality. It would have been
even more absurd to devote his work to responding to non-existent public
There is good reason, then, to accept statements made by Xenophon's
narrator on points of public knowledge. But we can be much more confi-
dent if we find outside confirmation. We can test the truth of Xenophon's
words by comparing what external evidence we have, and especially by
examining whether or not Plato's Apology makes sense as a response to the
same kinds of accusations Xenophon claims were being aired. If it does
not respond to the charges that Xenophon mentions, that is no proof that
there were none: Plato is under no obligation to respond to any particular
charges. But if it does respond to them, this would confirm that they did
According to Xenophon, other writers had written about Socrates'
trial, and all reported that Socrates spoke proudly or arrogantly at his
trial, from which, he says, it is safe to conclude that he really did so. He
adds that this arrogance seems extremely foolish because no one made it
clear that Socrates thought death preferable to life (X. Apology The
term p ~ - y a h ~ ~iso sometimes
~ia translated "lofty-speakingn rather than
arrogant or boastful speech, but in this context arrogance is clearly the
issue. There is no reason why pcyahqyopia in itself should seem foolish
or be the cause of Socrates' execution unless it offended the jury, and
this suggests arrogance. And in the body of his speech, as Xenophon
reports it, Socrates manifestly speaks with great arrogance on several
It is clear from Xenophon's introductory statement that he was con-
cerned about Socrates' apparently poor showing in court, which made
him look foolish and incompetent, and not his guilt or innocence.
Making fatally foolish mistakes like this would be just as damaging to
one's reputation as accusations of injustice, since failure in the Greekpolis

21. M. H . Hansen argues that Xenophon did not read Plato's Apology. Xenophon says that
no one made it clear that Socrates wanted ro die (Apology 1. l ) , but according to Hansen (32),
Plato does make this clear. J. Cooper, on the other hand, argues that Xenophon's point is that
others did not make it clear that even before the trial Socrates had decided to die (1 1, n. 16).
O n the relationship between these two compositions, see I? A. Vander Waerdr, 1993, L.-A
Dorion, 2005.

of the fourth century, as today, was perhaps the most powerful source
of h u m i l i a t i ~ n We
. ~ ~ might even infer that it was widely thought that
Socrates was innocent of the charges, for no one blames a guilty man for
losing his case by making a poor pre~entation.'~ This would help explain
the relative lack of attention that both Plato and Xenophon pay to the
question of Socrates' guilt in their Apologies, and the rather incredulous
attitude towards his conviction that Xenophon exhibits when he addresses
it in his Memorabilia (1.1-2). It would also help explain the fact that both
Xenophon and Plato seem to be concerned above all with refuting charges
of failure and demonstrating that Socrates led a supremely happy, even
enviable, life, and did not suffer in death.
As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that contradicts Xenophon's
claim that Socrates spoke arrogantly, and no good reason for an historian
to deny its veracityz4 O n the contrary, we find confirmation of it in every
report we have in our hands today. Although as I will argue below, Plato
seeks to tone-down the arrogance to some degree, he also acknowledges
it, mentioning it also in his S y m p ~ s i u mAt . ~ ~the very least, Socrates was
thought to have spoken arrogantly at his trial, and such perceptions are
worth taking seriously. From this very small beginning we can already
derive one valuable principle for deriving historical conclusions from the
Apologies: we should be willing to grant primafdcie plausibility to expres-
sions of arrogance recorded for us in them.
Xenophon responds to the charges by acknowledging the facts and
disputing their interpretation: he acknowledges that Socrates spoke ar-
rogantly and that this, not any skill or justice in the arguments of the
prosecutors, led to his c o n ~ i c t i o n He
. ~ ~recognizes that Socrates' perfor-

See A.W. H. Adkins, 259-61.

Crito 52c, Plato implies quite clearly that had Socrates proposed banishment the courr
23. At
would have acquiesced.
24. Although Brickhouse and Smith do deny Socratic arrogance (1989: see for example 44)
they do not make historical arguments, but rather rely on an elaborately reconstructed account
of the philosophical principles which in their view must have motivated Socrates.
25. Plato's Alcibiades playfully suggests that Socrates is on trial for arrogance (219c).
26. A variation on this is that it was merely his upright unwillingness to beg in courr which
led to his conviction (Mem. 4.4.4), an explanation which, as we will see, is also found in
Plato. Xenophon has another explanation as well: Socrates was convicted by parents who
were jealous of the fact that their children thought Socrates a better person than they. His
Meletus indicates this in X. Apology 20, and Xenophon expands on it in Memorabilia 1.2.51-
55. See also the role of envy in the story of Palamedes, Memorabilia 1.2.33. Even more
significantly, the charge reappears in the Cyropaedia, in connection with a wise man whose

mance was not effective as a defense, and explains that Socrates did not
spend a moment preparing his speech (X. Apology 2-5). The fact that Plato
implies something similar (17b-c) reinforces our impression that Socrates'
speech really was unusually ineffective. But Xenophon denies what must
be in his mind the most offensive charge, that Socrates acted foolishly or
incompetently in court. He seeks to correct misperceptions fostered by
earlier writers, possibly including Plato, offering a new explanation for
Socrates' arrogant behavior. As L.-A. Dorion has argued, both Plato and
Xenophon offer the divine as a justification for Socrates' behavior, but in
different ways:
The reference to the divine sign, in the case of Socrates(p), can only be
a retrospective justification for a strategy conceived independently of any
influence of the divine sign, while Socrates(x) is incited directly by the
two interventions of the divine sign before the trial t o justify changing his
strategy, that is to abandon the rhetorical logos in favor of rnegalig~ria."~'
According t o Dorion, this is the prime way in which Xenophon corrects
the false impression made by Plato's account that Socrates' behavior in
court was foolish: by moving the daimonion to a pre-trial position. While
Plato's Socrates decided o n his questionable courtroom strategy himself,
Xenophon's Socrates obeyed the divine, and hence cannot be blamed. Thus
it turns out that Xenophon's Socrates did not pursue his own death. In fact,
insofar as he acted for his own reasons, he was motivated mainly by moral
concerns similar to those evinced by Plato's S ~ c r a t e s . ' ~

There is a serious problem with this interpretation, however. Even in Plato's

version the divine sign condones Socrates' behavior retroactively. Despite
the absence of divine guidance in preparing for court, Plato's Socrates
clearly acted in a manner which was correct in the eyes of the divine. The

story is clearly modeled on that of Socrates (3.1.38-40). See also Plato's Apology 28a, and
Euthyphro 3c-d, where the charge of jealousy is asserted by Euthyphro and conspicuously not
affirmed by Socrates.
27. Dorion, 2005, 140-141.
2s. "If rnegaligoria is nonetheless an (indirect) cause of Socrates being sentenced to death,
it is not because it is a strategy woven into the design of provoking the judges, but because
the judges, who are accustomed to letting themselves be moved and flattered by the tricks of
rhetoric, will not tolerate that a man who risks death faces them standing up for his entire
existence and refusing to demean himself by begging for the prolongation of his life." (2005,
134). In fact, Xenophon's Socrates does attribute such noble sentiments to himself (Ap. 9), but
only after he has concluded that death is anyway preferable.

apparent foolishness of his behavior cannot reasonably be attributed to

his lack of divine guidance, since correct behavior approved by the gods
ought to be just as acceptable as correct behavior based on divine instruc-
tion. There is then no need or benefit in Xenophon's correction.
The more common view holds that Xenophon corrects Plato's version
by pointing out that Socrates acted arrogantly because he had deduced
that he was better off dead. This is what Xenophon says in correcting
the earlier accounts: "They did not make clear that he [sc. Socrates] had
already decided that for him death was preferable to life" (Apology2). The
crucial point is that Socrates himself knew that death was preferable. Even
in Xenophon, the divine is introduced in order to show that Socrates was
right about this point. How does knowledge that death is preferable make
Socrates' actions less foolish? The answer seems obvious: it justifies his
choice of a strategy that would lead to his death.
Unlike Plato's Socrates, Xenophon's Socrates was fully aware that the
failure to prepare a reasonable defense speech would lead to his death, for
he justifies his unwillingness to prepare one on the grounds that death
is preferable to life (Ap. 5-9). And since he knew that death was to his
benefit he was able to speak as offensively as he pleased. Plato's Socrates,
on the other hand, had not reached these conclusions. As we shall see, he
genuinely aimed at an acquittal, but failed to achieve it. From this point
of view Plato's Socrates and his arrogance appears especially foolish, for
he was unable to achieve the goals he set for himself in court. Xenophon's
Socrates, on the other hand, achieved exactly what he aimed for, since
he aimed to die." One should not exaggerate the death wish of course.
As Dorion rightly points out (2005, 133), Xenophon's Socrates was not
seeking death by any means at all: he did not throw himself from a cliff,
for example, or act in any other dishonorable manner. But he did delib-
erately choose a strategy of arrogant and offensive boasting that he knew
would lead to the excellent result he a~hieved.~'

29. In his Symposium, Xenophon is at pains to point out that Socrates could have succeeded
had he wanted to. There he makes Socrates a master of the art of self-presentation, portraying
him as claiming expertise in the art of 'procuring' ( k a a ~ p o ~ r iwhich
a ) , he explains as the art of
teaching self-presentation in relation to others and especially in relation to the city. See 3.10; 4.
56-64; 5.1; 8.5; 8.42. As far as the charges are concerned, we do not know of any law against
"corrupting the youth" and charges of impiety were usually brought only against those who
had committed an act of sacrilege, which no one seems to have thought Socrates had done.
30. This is not necessarily his aim, but it is a likely result he took fully into account. O n

Once he has shown that Socrates did not fail, Xenophon does not feel
any further need to tone down the arrogance. In itself arrogance is not a
bad thing, and it may even be a good one. As we will see, Plato too, al-
though toning down the arrogance and making it somewhat less abrasive,
seems to take delight in showing just how high an opinion of himself
Socrates expressed throughout the trial.31
These charges of arrogance and foolish self-destruction are of course
non-criminal charges, completely unrelated to any charges Socrates faced or
could have faced in court. Socrates was not charged with mishandling the
defense, with speaking arrogantly, or with suffering a miserable fate, and
would not have been likely to address these charges in his actual defense
speech. To the extent that Xenophon's or Plato's Socrates does so he is speak-
ing anachr~nistically.~~
Clearly Xenophon is addressing these post-trial charges in his Apology,
at least while speaking in his narrator's voice. But is Plato also address-
ing them through his portrait of Socrates? We do not know when either
Xenophon or Plato wrote their Apologies, so we cannot assume that the
same issues either were or were not in the air at the time of publication of
each work.33But if we examine Plato's Apology in detail, it becomes clear
that Plato does indeed address these same issues.34
A concern with the charges mentioned by Xenophon is evident both
in the basic structure of Plato's Apology, and in its systematic and well-

Socrates' aims in speaking boastfully, see V. J. Gray 1989, I? Vander Waerdt, 1993.
31. See Kennedy's assessment (150): "This arrogance is more clearly marked in the passages
which Xenophon puts into Socrates' mouth than in the Apology of Plato, though it is present
in the latter work."
32. Another anachronistic element is the dramatic irony in Socrates' first speech (see M. C.
Stokes, 1997,98). Obviously, Socrates could not have spoken ironically in reference to his own
death, since neither he nor he audience knew he would die. Similarly, Socrates' high praise for
his own courageous and life-risking choices at 28b-30c contains anachronistic irony. It sounds
almost like something from a funeral oration. Compare the courageous choices lauded by
Lvsias in his Funeral Oration 23-25; 33.
33. Xenophon'~Apology appears to have been written some time after the trial, since it refers
to Anytus, one of the prosecutors, as already dead (31).
34. Whether this implies anything about the relative dates of publication is hard to say:
it is certainly conceivable that public attitudes did not change quickly, and that Plato and
Xenophon addressed the same issues at different times. Plato does of course address other
charges as well, such as the charge that if Socrates were a good citizen he would have partici-
pated in public life (3 1c; see also Mem. 1.6.15), that he was responsible for the bad behavior
of some of his associates (33b) and that he said things in private which contradicted his public
statements (33b).

thought-out response to them. Being less familiar than contemporary

readers with the post-trial controversy, we do not always notice the anach-
ronistic references to it. But once we consider the Xenophontic evidence,
the references become obvious. To the extent that this feature was obvious
to the average fourth century reader the likelihood that we are dealing
with fiction is increased. The fact that these references disrupt the dramat-
ic illusion by referring to contemporary issues does not of course disfigure
the composition if it was designed to be received as a work of apologetic
pseudo-historical fiction.
Confirming this thesis will have some important implications for
Socratic studies. If the speech does respond to the post-trial accusations,
we will obviously be unable to regard it as an accurate account of Socrates'
own speech. Socrates himself did not know about nor respond to accusa-
tions raised after the trial. But Plato not only included such responses,
he also wanted his readers to notice them: otherwise they would have no
effect at all on the contemporary controversy. If so, the work cannot be
regarded as a serious attempt at historical verisimilitude or even at histori-
cal fiction. It provides neither an accurate window on Socrates speech or
thought, nor a Platonic effort to represent either of these. Addressing a
contemporary controversy implies a very different aim. It will no longer
be possible to use Apology as a standard for distinguishing other dialogues
which are faithful efforts to represent the spirit of the historical Socrates.
At the same time, we will be able to refine the fictional approach to the
dialogue. Scholars who view Apology as fiction usually see it as aiming to
express Plato's own personal vision of the essence of Socrates' thought and
way of life or that of the idealized philosopher. Others believe that Plato
has composed his own speech of defense against the charges that were
brought against so crate^.^^ Both of these views undoubtedly express part
of the story. But if Plato also aimed to respond to contemporary charges,
this factor needs to be taken into account as well.
We will also be able to correct those scholars who have gone to excess
and claimed that we can know almost nothing about the historical
Socrates. Although the Apology does not provide a transparent window
on Socrates' speech or on his thoughts about the philosophical life, this

35. ?he assumption that if fictional the Apology must aim at providing Plato's own defense of
Socrates from the charges against him can easily lead to unfortunate inferences concerning the
historicity of the text. See for example Irwin, 2005, 133.

does not mean that we can learn from it nothing at all of historical value.
What we lose in knowledge of the intellectual biography of the historical
Socrates we gain in knowledge of the equally interesting question of the
fourth-century debate over his legacy. Since the composition addresses
the question of Socrates' behavior in court, we will also be able to learn
something about that-not by accepting Plato's account as veracious but
by using it to test the plausibility of criticisms that were raised in other
quarters.36We will learn that Socrates' behavior in court was at odds with
the portrait Plato aims to present both here and throughout his writings.
Rather than confirming the historical veracity of the portrait of Socrates
in "early" Plato, a close look at the Apology raises serious doubts about it.
But most importantly, we will also learn something about Plato and the
origins of his philosophical endeavors. It would be futile to deny that there
are connections between themes presented in the Apology and those pre-
sented in Plato's other dialogues, or to deny that a similar origin should be
postulated for similar ideas. But once we acknowledge that the Apology is
a deeply apologetic work, addressing specific post-trial issues, we are com-
pelled to see a similar intention in other dialogues that present a similar
portrait. This suggests that many of Plato's most characteristic philosophic
ideas are intimately connected with the effort to defend Socrates' behavior
and that Plato's thought, even in its so-called "Socratic" period, was born
not in the time he may (or may not) 37 have spent with Socrates, but in
the effort to defend his memory after the humiliating defeat in court.
This does not mean that Plato's thought has no intrinsic interest: some of
the best philosophy was born in personal or political conflict. But it does
mean that Plato's thought was largely his own doing.
No less importantly, the approach I develop below offers solutions and
explanations for some of the central literary and philosophical tensions
and conundrums that have created difficulties for the interpretation of
the Apology.

36. Strycker and Slings identify the fine of 30 mnai as historical, and the third speech as not
(7). For reasons that will be given below, I disagree about the fine but agree about the speech.
37. We have no reliable independent evidence of Plato's contact with Socrates. Xenophon
mentions Plato but once (Mem. 3.6.1) and this reference may have been derived from a reading
of his works rather than any personal acquaintance with him. While Xenophon portrays
himself as having had conversations with Socrates (Mem. 1.3.8-13;Anab. 3.1.4-7) neither he
nor Plato portrays Plato as ever having conversed with him. In the dialogues and letters Plato
creates the impression that Socrates was a family friend.

Obviously Plato's Apology is not a straightforward polemic, such as we

find in the opening chapters of Xenophon's M e m ~ r a b i l i aAny
. ~ ~ polemic
tendency we may detect here comes in the guise of historical fiction, with
the necessary limitations that entails. This is by no means an anachronis-
tic concept: Plato offers us a model of contemporary polemic disguised
as historical fiction in his Symposium. There, as part of his response to
the previous speeches on love, Socrates recounts a conversation between
himself and Diotima which took place years ago. That ancient conversa-
tion concerned precisely the topic of conversation at the symposium in
which Socrates is currently participating, and Diotima even managed to
refer almost explicitly to the speech Aristophanes was destined to make
years later at that occa~ion.~' When Aristophanes tries to take issue with
Socrates on this point, however, he does not object to the "anachronism"
in the portrait, but, more reasonably, simply assumes that the conversa-
tion with Diotima was a literary pretense, and that Socrates is the true
author of her words.40Here then is a model for understanding how Plato
could have used historical fiction to address a contemporary debate. The
speech of Diotima, as used by Socrates, is not really historical fiction at all,
but contemporary polemic in the guise of historical fiction. The Apology
is somewhat different from Diotima's speech in that it purports to be the
well-known public speech given by Socrates at his trial. But it would have
failed to achieve its apologetic effect if its response to the contemporary
debate were not o b v i ~ u s . ~ '
While the apologetic aim of the work creates a motive for creative
maneuvering, the historical guise creates some restrictions. Even Diotima

38. In addition to the polemical aim, there are also of course philosophical and biographical
aims. See Momigliano's comment on the Apologies of Xenophon and Plato, "They are bio-
graphical sketches disguised as autobiographical sketches" (59).
39. Symposium 205d-e.
40. 2 1 2 ~ .
41. A similar case may be the Agesihos of Xenophon. Superficially an encomiastic account
of Agesilaos' actual deeds, it has been argued (S. Hirsch, 39-55) that this work subtly defends
him against a number of charges which surfaced at about the time when Xenophon wrote the
piece. In the apologetic effort, Xenophon fails to report episodes, recorded in his Hellenica,
in which Agesilaos exhibited excessive friendship with the Persians, and modifies episodes in
which other criticized traits were displayed. Apparently, even an obviously butchered account,
and one which does not really address the charges directly, could nevertheless be published for
apologetic purposes.

could not, for example, name Aristophanes openly, although the reference
to him is patently obvious to anyone who has heard his speech. Plato too
can only have Socrates say things that Socrates or another defendant could
plausibly say in court, and this means that he cannot address the post-
trial charges or their authors directly. He can and does stretch the fiction
almost to the breaking point,42 giving Apology the air of a deliberately
anachronistic speech: Socrates seems to know that he will be convicted
and executed,43and he seems constantly to be apologizing for and explain-
ing his courtroom behavior. But that is as far as he can go.
Because the polemic takes the form of an historical fiction a certain
degree of fidelity to the historical event is guaranteed.44 If the author
changes things too much, the composition will no longer be relevant to the
contemporary debate. As Guthrie noted, the public, historical character of
the Apology makes it differ in important respects from other Platonic writ-
ings.45Plato can alter, modify, tone down, explain, and even invent with
great freedom. But he cannot deny the basic facts of the historical event:
that Socrates was on trial, that the trial concerned irreligion and corrupt-
ing the youth, that he was convicted, that he seemed to speak arrogantly,
and so on. Without a basic acknowledgment of these facts, his work will
have no serious relationship to the subject of the contemporary debate,
and hence little or no effect on that debate. Because he was working within
these restrictions, his work bears some significant relationship to the trial,
and it should be possible to derive some, limited, historical fact from it.
These restrictions may help explain some of the contradictory elements
in Apology. Plato's Socrates displays a strange combination of arrogance

42. As Stokes says, "even minimal realism would preclude Pl.'s writing as if Soc. or anyone in
court knew the results of the case (though PI. nearly destroys the illusion at 28a); but, writing
after the event, PI. writes accordingly in a way which without explicitly breaking the illusion
or descending to the cheaply obvious is interpretable both as a trialspeech andas an emotionally
chargedforeshadowing of the result PI. and his readers all know the end. . . ." (1997, 98, n. 10.
Italics added).
43. Brickhouse and Smith (1989 viii) note this, but do not acknowledge that it is evidence
of anachronism.
44.Compare Riddell (xxvi): "although . . . the main object certainly was the ultimate one of
presenting to the world a serious and adequate justification of his adored teacher, yet he was
none the less under the necessity of adopting for his framework the circumstances of the actual
trial." So too Momigliano, speaking of both Plato and Xenophon, "The conventional form of
rhetoric they used set certain clear limits to the experiments." (48); and "the fiction is anchored
to the truth . . ." (59).
45. See Guthrie, cited by Strycker and Slings (5, n. 2).

and humility.46 This may arise from the situation Plato finds himself in:
Socrates really did speak arrogantly, and Plato cannot plausibly deny this
fact in toto. Most likely, too, he did not want to eliminate the arrogance
entirely. Instead his strategy is to reproduce the arrogant incidents while
modifying, explaining and justifying them. Several awkward passages and
tensions in the work seem to arise from Plato's attempt to acknowledge
Socratic arrogance while toning it down.47Scenes which demonstrate the
arrogance and incompetence which people complained about, such as the
story of the Oracle, the failure to beg or bring his family to court and the
proposal of an unusual punishment, are probably attributable to the his-
torical Socrates, even if Plato has distorted them for his own purposes.
It might seem self-defeating to use historical fiction as a vehicle for
addressing a contemporary debate about an historical event. By implicitly
admitting that the scenario he presents is a false one, does not the author
relinquish any hope of influencing peoples' attitudes about the histori-
cal event in question? Fiction seems to negate the very purpose which a
polemical tract serves, namely to convince. For this reason, it is under-
standable that many scholars who view the Apology as fictitious see it as an
expression of Plato's own ideas rather than as a narrow polemic.
In fact, however, even avowedly fictional portrayals of historical events
can be used in order to influence and shape public attitudes concerning
those events. Modern docu-dramas can have a powerful effect on public
perceptions, even when they are clearly labeled as fiction.48Even if Plato
did not expect his readers to believe that this is the speech that Socrates
spoke in court, he could still easily expect that the readers' attitudes
towards Socrates and towards his behavior in court would be affected.

46. As R.B. Rutherford notes "the conflict between Socrates' humility and his amazing self-
confidence are a general feature of the dialogues" (30). So my explanation of the origin and aim
of this portrait will have general application.
47. While, according to Xenophon's testimony, ancient critics were unanimous about Socratic
arrogance, this is not the case for modern critics of Plato's Apology. Most do acknowledge the
arrogance, but Brickhouse and Smith deny it. Whether correct or not, their interpretation
would be unimaginable were it not for the fact that there is a significant degree of humility in
the portrait of Socrates which Plato provides.
48. For example, a considerable controversy arose in 2003 over a "docudrama" about Ronald
Reagan's presidency called "The Reagans" which was scheduled to be shown on CBS. Despite
the fact that the show was billed as a fictionalized docudrama, it was ultimately dropped
because its portrait of the Reagans was thought to be offensive to the historical Reagans.

It is clear from his other writings that Plato was troubled by the apparently
incompetent and unmanly manner in which Socrates defended himself in
court. Crito says,
I am ashamed for you and for us, your friends, lest it seem that this whole
episode concerning you occurred because of some unmanliness on our
part: the fact that the issue came to trial when it didn't have to, the very
conduct of the trial itself; as it happened, and finally this, the most humili-
ating part, that we seem to have run away through some weakness and
unmanliness on our part, since we did not save you-neither did you save
yourself-which would have been possible if we were good for anything
at all. (45d-e, italics added)4'

Crito is in great part an attempt to come to terms with the humiliation

that Socrates' friends suffered as a result of the execution.50
The issue did not die easily: Plato returns to it again and again,51most
directly in Gorgias:

[Callicles:] If anyone should seize you or anyone like you and drag you off
to prison, claiming you are guilty when you are not, you realize that you
would not know what to do, but would wander open-mouthed without
a word to say, and when you came before the court, even with an utterly
worthless and wicked accuser, you would be put to death, if he chose to
demand the death penalty. (486a-b)

This anachronistic image of the trial and execution of the innocent but
helpless Socrates shows Plato's continuing concern with the charges of
failure arising from the trial and execution, and also his lack of concern
with avoiding anachronism in addressing it.
Similar images of impotence recur in Republic: in the image of the
ship's pilot, and of the philosopher who cannot make out the shadows on
the wall. Concern with this issue may help explain Plato's efforts to show
that the achievement of conventional political success is irrelevant to true

and other translations in this book are my own, except for the translations from Plato's
Apology which are taken from Stokes 1997.
50. See following chapter.
51. See also Phaedo 63b; 69e; Euthyphro 15e-l6a.

human happiness, efforts which continue as late as the This line

of thought is traceable in part to the sorry spectacle of Socrates baffled in
court by a few worthless prosecutors.

Here I provide an outline of Apology which is designed to show how vir-
tually every part of the composition addresses the post-trial controversy
implicitly or explicitly.

First Speech: 53
1. Apology for Socrates' failure to prepare or present a reasonable defense
speech (17a- 18a6)
2. Statement of the older, more serious charges, which provide the true
explanation for Socrates' conviction (18a7-e3)
3. Assertion that a serious defense effort was made-for the sake of the
audience and for the sake of the law-despite the inevitable futility of
the effort (18e4- 19a6; 30c)

Body of the speech:

1. THEOLDER CHARGES (19a7-24b).
a. Explanation of why Socrates was condemned: deeply ingrained but
mistaken prejudices (19a7-24b) which cannot be expelled in a short
time (19al-2; 24a).
b. Denial to Meletus of the satisfaction of victory (18b; 28a-b).
c. The story of the Oracle (20c-24b)
i Further explanation of why Socrates was condemned: personal
hatred which arose from his heroic service to the god (2Oc-24b).
ii Denial of the charge of arrogance in court: Socrates interpreted the
Oracle with all possible humility.

52. See for example 731c-732b; or 742e-743c where Plato argues that no rich man can be
53. Note that the speech is divided into three parts: the old charges, the current charges, and
the post-trial charges, although all parts address the post-trial charges implicitly. C. D. C. Reeve
also notes the three-part division of the speech, although he explains it differently (3-4).

[Summary of older charges and statement of the actual charges (24b-c)]


Socrates launches a personal attack arguing that the accusation was
a frivolous and self-contradictory joke exhibiting arrogance, vice and
youth. As such, the interview implicitly defends Socrates from the
charge of incompetence and arrogance in court.
[Summary: 'The older charges caused his conviction, not the newer
ones (28a-b)]

a. Socrates did not lose (28a-31c)
i Denying Meletus the satisfaction of victory (28a-b)
ii Facing death bravely is a source of pride not shame (28b-29a)
iii Death may not be a bad thing at all (29a-29c)
iv Socrates deliberately chose death rather than abandon his mission
v A good man cannot be harmed by a bad (30c-d)
vi 'The Athenians lose god's gift (30c-3 1a)
vii It would be to Athens' advantage to spare him (31a-31c)
b. Profoundest explanation for Socrates' execution (or: why Socrates
did not participate in the public life of the city; 3lc-34b)
i The just and good man cannot succeed in public life, but must
adopt a private station.
ii Examples of Socrates' devotion to law in his public activities
iii Examples of Socrates' virtue in private:54
He never taught for money but was available to all (33a-b)
He never said things in private other than what he said in
public (33b)
His conversations were amusing (33c)
All of his students and their relatives were pleased with his
results (33c-34b)

54. This is the only section which does not directly address the charges mentioned by
Xenophon and their implications. The whole section may be intended as a defense of Socrates'
private way of life against the charge that a good citizen ought to participate in public life (see
Mem. 1.6.15) or as a defense against the charge that he taught disreputable doctrines in secret.
At the same time, it seems to be almost an advertisement for a Socratic (or Platonic) school.

Direct response to the charge of arrogance in court: Socrates did not beg
because that would not be honorable, just or pious. In fact, behaving dif-
ferently would be committing impiety. (34b-35d)

Second Speech: Socrates' Reaction to the Conviction

A. Socrates' conviction did not harm him (35e-36b)
1. Not the least disturbed by the conviction (35e-36a)
2. Claims a degree of victory (36a)
3. Denies Meletus any important role in the conviction (36a-b)
B. Proposal of a penalty: modified arrogance (36c-38c)
1. Reviews his own merits (36b-36d)
2. Deserves honorary meals (36d-37a)
3. Denial that this request constitutes arrogance (37a)
4. Cannot in good conscience propose any harm to himself (37a-38b)
5. Blames the laws of Athens for not providing enough time to con-
vince the jury of his innocence (37a-b)
6. Could not propose prison, a fine or exile (37b-38b).
7. Proposes a fine as large as he can afford, and adds to it the money of
his friends. (38b-c)

i'hird Speech:j5 results of the conviction and execution

of Socrates
1. The Athenians gained only a bad reputation (38c)
2. Socrates lost the trial not because of the inadequacy of his defense,
but because he did not act disgracefully (38d-39b)
3. He did not repent of how he handled the defense (38e)
4. Those who voted against him deserve the disgrace (39b)
5. The Athenians will suffer a harsher penalty than Socrates did: they
will be punished by lessons from his students (3%-d)
6. Both supernatural indications and rational considerations show that
death is good (39e-41d)

55. Note that only here can the character Socrates openly address the post-trial charges
which concern Plato throughout, since only here does he have full knowledge of the results of
the trial. Hence there is little dramatic irony in the third speech.

7. Despite the good results of the trial, those who voted to condemn
deserve blame (4 1d-e)
8. Encouragement to others to follow the path of Socrates (4 1c-42a)
9. Aporetic ending (42a)

This outline makes it clear not only that Plato is addressing the post-
trial controversy, but also that this goal informs the basic plan and struc-
ture of the work. The basic structure of a work is of course an important
clue to the thoughts and intentions of the author. This outline also shows
how little time Plato spends addressing the court-room charges against
so crate^.^^ Even when he does do so, in section 2, his Socrates claims that
he is interested primarily in discrediting Meletus and his arguments bear
this The fact that Socrates does not address the charges seriously
does not in itself prove that the speech is not an accurate reflection of
Socrates' actual speech: for all we know, Socrates was perfectly capable
of behaving in just this way. But it does argue against the idea that the
speech represents Plato's fictional attempt to answer the original charges
in his own way.
At the same time the outline shows the way in which almost every-
thing in Apology contributes to a systematic effort to combat the post-trial
charges mentioned by Xenophon. Once we have accounted for the apolo-
getic elements, there is almost nothing left to explain. Note that the first
speech begins and ends with Socrates directly addressing the twin charges
of mishandling the court appearance and displaying excessive arrogance.
Note also that the speech falls naturally into three parts: the older charges,
the present charges, and the post-trial charges. Socrates explicitly con-
cludes his reply to the charges at 28a-b and from there he turns immedi-
ately to the post-trial charges which he addresses in an almost undisguised
manner for the remainder. And yet, even the earlier parts of the speech
contribute importantly to answering the post-trial charges of misbehavior

56. Socrates apologizes for this at 28a.

57. Contrast Libanius' Apology of Socrates and Xenophon's account in the Memorabilia, which
really try to show that Socrates was innocent. Strycker and Slings follow Burner (1924, note
on 24c9, 106-7) in concluding that this section does not seriously address the charges (see e.g.
106), but they believe that Socrates answers the charges later. They argue that his discussion
of his commitment to his philosophical mission is designed to show his piety, and that his
explanation of his non-participation in public life is designed to show that he did not corrupt
the young. But Socrates himself claims to have finished with the charges at 28a.

in court: the story of the older charges and the Oracle help explain why
Socrates was convicted, without blaming him for his courtroom antics,
and without attributing any success to his accusers. The interview with
Meletus discredits the courtroom behavior of the accusers, just as Socrates'
post-trial critics criticized his behavior in court.
To address the post-trial charges directly, however, is impossible within
the confines of a defense speech without openly breaking the fiction.
'This may help explain Plato's motives in inventing a third speech, which
Socrates delivers to his judges after the conviction and sentencing, while
the jurors would be trying to collect their fees (Ath. Pol. 69; see I? Apology
39e). 'This third speech is unique in Greek oratory, and many scholars
have denied that Socrates could have really made it.58But they have not
seen why Plato was compelled to take this step. Unlike X e n ~ p h o nPlato
makes no use of a narrator in reporting Socrates' trial and therefore lacks
any mechanism by which to address directly questions which arose as a
result of the conviction. The third speech helps solve this problem, since
here, after the sentence has been given, Socrates is free to address directly
the charge that his death was a shameful defeat, and this is precisely what
he does.
In the remainder of this chapter, I will try to show the depth of Plato's
concern with the post-trial charges by taking them up one by one and
showing how Plato deals with them. As will be observed, one of the prom-
inent tactics Plato adopts is to charge his opponents with behavior similar

58. See U. von Wilamowitz (124) and Strycker and Slings (201-204). Stokes (1997, 179-
80) remains skeptical about whether Plato invented the third speech, but he does point out
rhat Plato uses it to say what he himself could have said in his own person, or could have had
Socrates say if he had provided the Apology with a narrative frame or if he had been content to
break the dramatic illusion. Burnet thinks the third speech possible (1924, 161-2). Brickhouse
and Smith (1989, 162) argue thar Socrates made the speech, and conclude, following Burner,
thar, 'At least this much is true: the idea that Socrates would have the opportunity to address
the jury one last time did not strike contemporary Athenians as absurdly impossible" (235).
But even this much is not necessarily true at all: the argument only works if we assume, un-
justifiably, rhat the Apology was not to be read as fiction. M. H . Hansen (18) also accepts the
historicity of the speech, without however explaining Socrates' unusual step here.
59. Xenophon also has a third speech, but it serves no essential function in his hands: he has
a narrator who can and does express his own reaction to the trial and sentencing, and he even
allows Socrates to speak of his death before the trial begins (X. Ap. 5-9). Some of the things his
Socrates says in the third speech in the Apology, reappear in the Memorabilia, prior to senrenc-
ing (compare X. Apology 24-6 with Memorabilia 4.8.9-10). If the third speech was invented, it
would seem that Plato is the inventor, and hence that Xenophon relied on Plato in composing
his Apology. O n this see Stokes' comments (1997, 7; 1992, 78).

to the kind of behavior that they charged Socrates with exhibitingG0Plato

seems to have known that the best defense is a powerful offense.


Plato addresses the incompetence issue directly only in the third speech,
for only here can his Socrates speak as one who has already failed in court.
He explains:
You may think, Athenians, that I have been caught through a shortage of
arguments of a kind to have convinced you, if I had thought it right at the
cost of doing and saying just anything to escape with an acquittal." Far
from it. O n the contrary, I have been convicted for a shortage not of argu-
ments but of brazenness and shamelessness and the willingness to tell you
the sort of thing you would most like to hear: laments from me, and grief,
and many other actions and words unworthy of me. . . . But . . . I do not
now repent of the way I defended myself. . .62
This is an almost explicit and direct response to the post-trial charge that
Socrates brought about his own destruction through his incompetence in
court. Here Plato offers his broadest explanation: Socrates could have won
a victory by behaving differently in court; but it would not have been better
speaking but only disgraceful behavior which would have saved him.

Introductory Apology
But Plato's concern with this issue is apparent from the very beginning
of the Apology where Socrates apologizes for his manner of speaking. He
denies that he is "clever" at speaking as his opponents charged (17a-b),
thus turning any rhetorical weakness the historical Socrates may have dis-
played into a virtue. He says that he has not prepared any fancy speech but
will speak at random using whatever phrases pop into his head (17c). He

60. Aristotle says that turning a charge against its authors is an excellent tactic (Rh. 2.23.7).
Xeno~hon'sTheramenes does this brilliantly in Hellenika 2.3.9-56
61. Note that here, as elsewhere in the Apology (e.g. 20c), Socrates simply assumes that no
one really thinks that he is guilty. This may reflect the post-trial attitude.
62. 38d-e. This and other translations from Apology are from M.C. Stokes, 1997.

explains that it would not be appropriate at his age to come to court like
a boy TA&TTOVTL A 6 Y (~1 7~ ~~and ) ~ argues that speaking ability is not as
important as speaking the truth, which is what he will do (17b; see 18a).
He asks for forgiveness for speaking in his own peculiar style, as he does
in the marketplace, and for indulgence on the grounds that he has never
been to court before and hence is like a stranger ( 1 7 ~ - 1 8 a ) . ~ ~
At first sight this is a somewhat conventional even rhetorically sophis-
ticated attempt to win the sympathy of the audience.64 But we cannot
dismiss it so easily because, as we have seen, Socrates really did speak in
an unusual and offensive manner. We have evidence that Socrates did
not prepare a defense speech: Xenophon reports that he did not spend a
minute on it and was chastised for this by Hermogenes (X. Apolog~2-5).
This fact may underlie the report that he rejected a speech offered to him
by Lysias.65In this context, Socrates' opening words take on a definite
complexion: they constitute a response to the charges of arrogance and
incompetence which were raised against Socrates, and an apology or ex-
planation for his behavior.
Did the historical Socrates really make an apologetic disavowal of
rhetorical ability on these lines?" Xenophon does not mention any; and
the entire section conflicts with the image of incompetence and arrogance
attested to by both Xenophon and Plato. But in the post-trial atmosphere,
there was good reason for Plato to introduce this apology. Unable to deny
that Socrates spoke poorly, he can only apologize for and explain this fact,
while giving him a much more polished speech than he actually gave.67

63. It has been pointed out (Burnet, 1924, note on 17d3) that this is not strictly true, since
Socrates gives evidence later of his knowledge of courtroom procedure (34b-35a). Therefore
Burnet saw his statement as ironical. Brickhouse and Smith, on the other hand, argue (1989,
55-6) rhar Socrates only means rhar he has not been a defendant in court previously. But if
this is all he means, he is offering only a very weak explanation for his own poor speaking:
an auditor in court who knows about legal proceedings would also know something about
how to make a proper speech in court, and surely could not call himself a stranger in court.
More likely, Plato is not bothered by the contradiction between his presentation of Socrates
as a stranger to the court (and later as a stranger to politics in general), and at the same time
as moral authority on courtroom (and political) behavior. Both aim to show Socrates' moral
64. O n the claim to truth as opposed to fancy speaking see e.g. Antiphon 5.2-7, Lysias 17.1,
19.1-6. See also Riddell xxi, and Stokes, 1997, 97.
65. Diogenes Laertius, 2.40-41.
66. See Riddell's arguments against a Socratic origin for this section, xx. Contrast Burnet,
1924, 67, and Hackforth, 55-7.
67. Even ifwe wish to attribute these words to the historical Socrates, they still serve the same

In fact Socrates' words here are not entirely conventional: no extant

speech I have seen claims that the speaker did not spend time to prepare a
proper speech, that he will speak at random ( ~ l ~ f orj ) that
, ~ ~he will adopt
his own unique style. So Plato is not simply repeating rhetorical topoi,
although he draws on them. 'These unique features call attention to the
fact that what Socrates said was genuinely different in manner from what
the court was used to hearing, which is something Plato would have to
acknowledge and explain if Socrates' defense speech was really as bad as
everyone thought it was.
But Plato does not merely apologize for Socrates' poor performance.
By adopting the well-known topos that truth-telling is better than clever-
ness in speaking, he tries to show that Socrates' very failure in court was a
mark of his virtue. Far from speaking out of disrespect, Socrates' unusual
plain-speaking was really a form of respect and right conduct. And he
goes one step further than what we find in other extant speeches when he
claims (in a manner typical of the Platonic Socrates) that he who speaks
the truth, even in poor style, deserves to be called "clever at speaking" in
the truest sense." So while defending Socrates as a plain-speaker rather
than a master of rhetoric, Plato also manages to retain for him the title of
master of rhetoric, in its new, purified sense.
'This may help explain the seeming contradiction between Socrates'
initial remarks in deprecation of his speaking ability and his actual perfor-

purpose in Plato's hands. No intelligent reader, aware that Socrates was ridiculed for speaking
so poorly in court, could fail to interpret Socrates' words here as an apology for and explana-
tion of that fact. And Plato himself must have been aware of the impression these words would
68. There was a serious debate between orators on the merits of written speeches versus
spontaneous ones. Compare Isocrates, Panegyricus 11-12, Panathenairus 24. At Antidosis 140,
Isocrates affects to revert to spontaneous speaking claiming to be at a loss (&nop6)what to say.
See also Plato, Menexenus 234c, where Plato pokes fun at the widespread preference for well-
prepared speeches. His general denigration of the written word is of course well-known.
As John Glucker has kindly pointed out to me, it is possible that Plato is here trying to
claim that Socrates' speech possesses the superior quality of spontaneity. In the context of
Socrates' disastrous performance in court, this would still be an apology of sorts. O n the other
hand, Alcidamas, who considered spontaneous speeches superior to written ones, does not use
the term E I K ~
to describe spontaneity but rather ~ ~ T O O ~ S L ~ See L K ~ SAgainst
U TIsocrates' . the
Sophists, 30. E ~ K usually
B has negative connotations. O n the debate over the relative advantages
of spontaneity and preparation see Y. Liebersohn.
69. This idea of a purified rhetoric appears also in the Gorgias (460a) and the Phaedrus

mance, which is certainly a competent oratorical perf~rmance.~' The opening

words may be taken as an apology for the speech of the historical Socrates,
which really was unimpressive. But the excellent speech Plato records also
aims to counteract the impression of Socratic inc~mpetence.~' So this ap-
parent contradiction can be explained by a single apologetic motive. This
will not be the only place in which Plato responds to a charge in contradic-
tory ways, explaining and denying the offense at the same time.

Interview With Meletus

Once we put on our apologetic glasses, the interview with Meletus takes
on a new coloration. Socrates spends little time in Apology addressing the
actual charges against him, and the time he does devote to it (24~4-28a2)
is actually devoted to a personal attack on Meletus. Scholars have long
been puzzled over this seemingly pointless interview.72As Brickhouse and
Smith put it,
[ T l h e discrediting o f Meletus seems t o b e all that Socrates intends t o achieve
t h r o u g h t h e interrogation: before h e begins his questioning, h e tells t h e jury
only that h e will show that Meletus is "joking b y lightly involving m e n i n a
lawsuit" ( 2 4 ~ 4 - 6 ) ;h e does n o t explicitly say that h e will actually refute t h e

Brickhouse and Smith go on to argue that in fact, Socrates does address the
charges against him in a serious manner. ?hey argue that he must be doing
so because if he were not, his words "would constitute an unnecessary incite-
ment to the jury. . . ,"74or would be inappropriate in another way. They
further undertake to show that Socrates' arguments do provide a satisfactory
answer to the charges, but it is hard to agree that they s~cceed.'~

70. D. Blyth (2000, 15) makes the attractive suggestion that Plato wrote "to show that, even
if Socrates were given all the advantages of his own [sc. Plato's] rhetorical expertise, the content
of what he must say is only all the more obviously an intolerable challenge to the jury. . . ."
71. Note also the efforts Plato makes to demonstrate Socrates' competence in composing
rhetorical speeches in Menexenus and Phaedrus.
72. See Hackforth, 104- 110, Burnet, 1924, 100- 1; 106-7. Brickhouse and Smith acknowl-
edge that there is "virtual unanimity" among scholars that Socrates does not seriously address
the charges (1989, p. 112).
73. 112.
74. 114.
75. The section in which they attempt to show the power of Socrates' arguments here (1 17-

If Socrates were seriously interested in answering the charges, he might

have mentioned some of the facts brought in this context by Xenophon:
for example, that he always participated in public and private sacrifices
(Mem. 1.2). The fact that every argument that Socrates uses to "defend
himself happens also to discredit Meletus suggests that we would do well
to take Socrates at his word and acknowledge that his primary purpose
here is to discredit Meletus. But if we do so, the whole interview with
Meletus becomes curiously irrelevant both to the defense of Socrates' in-
nocence and to the justification of his philosophical way of life. The hu-
miliation of Meletus is not curious at all, however, when we consider that
Plato is writing in the context of contemporary debate (in which Meletus
may have played some further special role7" and in particular that he is
defending Socrates from charges of incompetence in court. Because the
contemporary debate would be foremost in the minds of contemporary
readers, Socrates' attack on Meletus would not necessarily have seemed
out of place, and would certainly not have appeared as an unnecessary
incitement to the fictional jury.
Socrates' attack charges that Meletus is not genuinely concerned
about the corruption or education of the youth (24c; 25c; 26a-b), that

128) is one of the least convincing in the book. Both here and in their later discussion of the
issue (1992), their arguments rely heavily on the assumption that Socrates conformed to a set
of principles that they derive from the Apology itself. But the claim to be telling the truth, for
example, is the kind of thing that many speakers say, and it does not guarantee veracity. In fact,
Socrates arguments are notoriously weak. His first argument shows that if anyone improves the
young it will most likely be a single person or a small group of people and not a large group.
It does not show that no single individuals harm others, much less that Socrates did not. The
second argument shows that no one deliberately corrupts anyone, if corruption means making
them worse in such a way that they will harm their corrupters. But there are other kinds of
corruption. Xenophon's Meletus accuses Socrates of alienating the affections of his students
from their parents (X. Apology 20). If Socrates did do this it would be a form of corruption
not necessarily harmful to him personally. The third argument shows that Socrates is not a
complete atheist, a charge rhat was no part of the formal accusation. This argument rests on
the assumption rhat Socrates believes in the divinity of his so-called daimonion. But in the
Euthyphro the charge is that Socrates is a creator ( T O L ~ T < S ) of new gods, and Meletus says that
in his opinion Socrates believes in no gods at all. At least some of Socrates' friends had doubts
about the sincerity of his claim to hear a daimonion (X. Symp., 8.5; Men?., 4.3.12) and all the
more so his enemies (see Mem. 4.8.1). Xenophon's Socrates himself seems to have no idea what
Hermogenes is talking about when the latter claims to have similar divine visitations (X. Symp.
76. Plato's Socrates seems to single Meletus out for abuse, much as Xenophon singles out
Anytus. Meletus' hostility may be traceable in part to the fact that he participated in the arrest of
Leon of Salamis (Andocides 1.94), and may have felt that Socrates' refusal to do so put him in a
bad light. O n Meletus, see Hackforth, 108-9; H. Blumethal,1973 and below chapter three.

he has written an incompetent and self-contradictory affidavit (26e-

27a; 27c; 27e), that he is joking (24c; 27a; 27e), and-what is implied
in all this and also made explicit-that he is not treating the jury or
the law with proper respect. He elaborates on this last charge, claim-
ing that it is a sign of disrespect that Meletus does not think the jury
is acquainted with the writings of Anaxagoras (26d), claiming that
Meletus wrote his indictment in a spirit of hubris, disobedience and
immaturity (26e-27a) and pointing out that Meletus is reluctant and
unwilling to comply with the accepted procedures in a court of law
(27c). 'The fact that these charges of incompetence and arrogance in court
closely resemble the post-trial charges brought against Socrates suggests
that Plato not only thinks that the best defense is a strong attack,77but
also that the best mode of attack is turning the accusations against their
own authors.78

'The charge of incompetence is closely connected with the charge of ar-

rogance. Both Plato and Xenophon accept the fact that Socrates acted
arrogantly in court. Xenophon embraces the charge, and argues that this
arrogance was part of a deliberate and successful strategy of euthanasia. It
would be hard to believe that he invented the arrogance, since this would
imply implausibly that Plato adopted a Xenophontic invention despite
having been, by his own testimony, personally present at the trial (Ap.
Plato also provides a portrait of an arrogant Socrates. As we have
noted, it is quite possible that Plato's Apology is one of the works to which
Xenophon refers when he says that everyone who wrote about the trial
mentioned Socrates' arrogance. But it is even less likely that Plato invented

13: K U ~ T O L oAX h
77. This was a well-known tactic. See e.g. Lysias, VI AgainstAndocides, TTP
U;TO; &kXh ~T&V
& T ~ ~ o ~ ~ u E TK ~U L , ~ X ~ WK ~ VT ~ Y O ~ ~ U E L .
1f1 am right about the motives underlying Plato's depiction of the interview of Meletus,
this would offer some additional support to the theory that Xenophon made use of Plato's
Apology in composing his own: Xenophon is not concerned to show that Socrates was compe-
tent or that his opponents were not, and yet he reproduces a similar exchange, even making use
of the pun on the name Meletus which Plato's Socrates makes repeatedly.
78. As D. BIyth argues (2000), in places Plato's Socrates appears to be conducting a trial of
the jurors.

Socratic arrogance. That would imply that Xenophon made the mistake
of believing a Platonic invention without checking any other independent
source, despite telling us that he did speak with a witness. And anyway, why
would Plato invent this trait, which was destined, according to Xenophon,
to bring Socrates into disgrace? And if he did not care about that, why,
after inventing the arrogance, would he devote extensive efforts to explain-
ing, toning-down and justifying the very arrogance he has invented? It is
much more likely that Xenophon's conclusion is correct: Socrates really
did speak this way (X. Apology 1).
But Plato does diverge from Xenophon in providing evidence of hu-
mility in his portrait of Socrates' speech, and in making efforts to apolo-
gize for the arrogance. In several places (20d-e; 34d-e; 37a; 38al) Socrates
addresses the arrogance charge explicitly, denying that he is speaking out
of arrogance or disrespect, and offering alternative explanations for his
behavior. In another place, he feels compelled to state explicitly that he
is seriously trying to win an acquittal (19a2-4), exactly what Xenophon
denies. This is anachronism: Socrates was not on trial for his behavior in
court. It is hard to imagine the historical Socrates simultaneously inflam-
ing the jury and apologizing for doing so. Plato's efforts to repel these
charges are evident most of all in his treatment of three notorious in-
stances of Socrates' arrogance at his trial: his failure to beg for pity, his
reference to the Oracle of Delphi, and his proposal of a counter-penalty. A
comparison with Xenophon's treatment of these issues shows how Plato's
different polemical position helped shape his treatment of the speech.'"

In Xenophon, there is no mention of any begging, and afortiori no attempt
to explain why Socrates did not beg. He does not beg, but only a reader
familiar with the usual Athenian courtroom antics would notice this. In
Plato, on the other hand, the lack of begging is a conspicuous motif. Plato
explicitly recognizes that this was thought to be one of the major causes

79. It may be objected that Xenophon is exaggerating the arrogance in his version, and that
therefore we are not justified in arguing that Plato is toning it down. But this is speculation.
Xenophon does not undertake to show just how arrogant Socrates was-as he says, that was
widely acknowledged-but rather to explain that his arrogance stemmed from his desire to
die. So it is not necessarily true that Xenophon exaggerates. In any case my argument does not
depend on the assumption that Xenophon is a faithful reporter, which I highly doubt. Rather
I use Xenophon as an example of what Plato could have said, but did not.

of Socrates' conviction:
But any of you might possibly be annoyed, thinking back to his own be-
havior, because he, when on trial on a lesser charge than this, begged and
entreated the judges with floods of tears . . . (34b-c).

Socrates explains why he is unwilling to beg (34b-35b). He says that

he is not being arrogant or disrespectful ( O ~ K a G 8 a S ~ ~ 6 p c v o sJ, &vSpes
~ ~ , hptis &TL~&LWV34d). Here he is responding to the post-
' A 8 T ~ a ^ L 068'
trial charges. He explains that it would not contribute to their S6ta (repu-
tation) or his if he begged, but would be disgraceful. He adds that he has
no fear of death anyway, and that it would be immoral and irreligious to
beg. He explains that the duty of the judge is to seek justice and truth,
not to hand out judgments as though they were personal favors (35c).
And, as we have seen, he returns to this issue after the death sentence,
explaining that he has been condemned not because of his inability to
speak but because of his unwillingness to engage in lamentation and grief
(38d). Here Plato acknowledges that there was no begging, and he defends
Socrates: this was not arrogance on his part, but honorable behavior.
In addition to not begging personally, Socrates also did not bring his
family to court to arouse the pity of the jury. This too seems like arro-
gance, and Plato acknowledges the facts. But here he goes one step further
in countering the arrogance charge. His Socrates does not refrain from
mentioning his family:
I, my very good fellow, surely also have some relatives. Indeed, I too am not
sprung, as Homer has it, "from stick or stone" but from human beings, so
that I have both relatives and, in particular, sons, Athenians, three of them,
one by now adolescent and two still children . . . (34d)
By mentioning his family in this way Socrates, surprisingly enough, does
appeal to his judges for pity in this conventional manner, despite his claim
that this would be the wrong thing to do. Since it was, one presumes,
notorious that Socrates did not bring his family to court, Plato could not
have had him do so. But by having him mention his family in this way, he
does the most he can, within the limits imposed upon him by the guise of
an historical fiction, to present a Socrates who was willing to beg a little
bit in order to win an acquittal. There is surely a contradiction here: on
the one hand, Socrates was right not to beg, and on the other he did do

so. But it is easy to see how and why this contradiction arose when we
note that Plato's single intention is to nullify the charge by explaining or
denying the arrogance.

i%e Oracle
The story of the Oracle gives us another opportunity to evaluate the ar-
rogance of Plato's Socrates. This was surely the prime example of Socrates'
boastfulness at his triala0According to Xenophon, the Oracle did not say
that no one was wiser than Socrates, it said that no one was more ~ X E O ~ E ~ O S ,
8 I ~ a ~ oors u&+pwv (free, just or moderate) than he (X. Apology 14). His
Socrates is not puzzled in the least by this astounding praise. He simply
explains to the jury why the Oracle was justified in this complimentary
pronouncement. He even explains that he is also wise (uo+6s, X. Apology
16), something that on his account the Oracle had not even said.81The
only humility he displays here, if it can be called that, consists in his point-
ing out that the Oracle did not compare him to a god, as it did Lycurgus
(X. Apology 15).
In Plato, the story is quite different. As Plato reports it, Socrates in-
troduces the story with a lengthy apology (20d-21a), apologizing espe-
cially for Chaerephon's presumptuous question, and attributing it to his
impetuosity (2 1a). The Oracle only speaks of Socrates' wisdom, denying
that anyone else has more of it than he (21a). This emphasis on wisdom,
as opposed to the virtues mentioned by Xenophon, fits well with Plato's
efforts to interpret the Oracle as enjoining on Socrates a mission to phi-
l o ~ o p h i z eMore
. ~ ~ importantly, Plato capitalizes on the negative language
of the Oracle, using it to turn Socrates' boasting into a display of hu-

so. See I? A. Vander Waerdt (1993, 17).

81. There is no need to emend the text to make the Oracle refer to wisdom (as H. F. A.
von Arnim suggests, 87), as this would still leave us with a Socrates who does not directly
explain the Oracle's reference to his siphrosuni. The simplest explanation is that the word
siphrin has a wide enough range to include sophia, and, as Xenophon explains in Memorabilia
3.9.4, Socrates in fact equated the two (see I? A. Vander Waerdt, 1993, 40, n. 109 and Plato's
Protagoras 332a-333b). For another view, see the account of R. Waterfield, 2004, 94-5, esp. n.
82. O n the other hand, it is hard to see why Xenophon would have left wisdom off the list,
if he thought that the Oracle had really mentioned it, particularly since he re-introduces it in
Socrates' explanation of the Oracle. (X. Apology, 16)

mil it^.'^ Socrates claims to be baffled by the Oracle, since he does not
consider that he knows anything very great (2 1b). If there is no one wiser
than he, that does not mean he knows something, but only that no one
else knows more. Socrates tries to prove the Oracle wrong not because of
any religious skepticism or antagonism on his part, but because he hopes
to discover that some human wisdom does exist in others. It is only re-
luctantly that he comes to the conclusion that the Oracle is right, that
all human wisdom is worthless. The message of the Oracle points not
to Socrates' great wisdom but to the insufficiency of all human wisdom,
itself a humbling lesson (23a-b). Socrates' only real virtue consists in his
awareness of how little he knows. In this way Plato turns the Oracle from
a confirmation of Socratic greatness, which is the natural and obvious
meaning of its words even as Plato reports them (and is the meaning
Xenophon gives it), into a reminder of human limitations and an impera-
tive to seek for wisdom. Socrates remains proud of his preeminence even
in Plato's version (see 21d, 22c, 22e) but it is a preeminence, paradoxi-
cally, in humility
If we look more carefully into the difficulties surrounding the story
of the Oracle we will find additional confirmation of the role I have at-
tributed to Plato in modifying Socrates' words. There are many reasons
to doubt the historicity of the Platonic version of the oracle story. The
story is beset with difficulties that stem essentially from the fact that in
Plato's version the oracle is responsible for the origin of Socrates' phi-
losophizing. First of all, it follows from Plato's story that the oracle must
have been given before Socrates started on his philosophical quest, and
this has raised problems of chronology.84Secondly, it is hard to under-
stand what would have led Chaerephon to ask his question if Socrates
were not already distinguished at least in his eyes for a special degree
of wisdom. Socrates himself professes to have been utterly incredulous
when he got the response since he was not aware that he knew anything
at all. M. C. Stokes sees the reference to Chaerephon's impetuosity as
an effort to explain this oddity.85 But while impetuosity might explain
Chaerephon's eagerness to ask a burning question, it would not explain

83. Following Xenophon, Diogenes Laertius records the response in a purely positive fashion:
civSpSv & n & v ~ w vC W K T ~ &CTO+&T~TOS.
T~S (2.37)
84. See Burnet, 1924, note on 21a5, pp. 90-91, and Stokes, 1992, 52-54.
85. Stokes, 1992, 68-9.

what raised the question in the first place. The simplest motive for men-
tioning Chaerephon's impetuosity is to apologize for an impudent ques-
tion which implicitly claims that Socrates is an especially wise man. A
third difficulty: as Stokes points out, if the oracle really played such an
important role in motivating Socrates' search for wisdom, we would have
expected to hear about it el~ewhere.~'And yet, aside from the reference to
it in Xenophon, we hear nothing about it in any other surviving writing
about Socrates. Fourth, in both Apologies Socrates presents the story of
the oracle as a new piece of information, not yet known to his audience.
It is hard to imagine that such a significant oracle would have remained,
in Stokes' words, "the best-kept secret of a lifetime."87 Finally, there is the
awkward interpretation of the oracle as it appears in Plato. Scholars have
long been baffled by the implausible way in which Socrates interprets the
oracle.88The oracle never said that Socrates was obliged to investigate
others in a search for wisdom, but merely that there was no one wiser
than he. It is hard to imagine how Socrates could have come to his inter-
pretation on the basis of the simple negative answer the Oracle gave to
Chaerephon's question.
These arguments are strong enough to raise serious doubts about the
historicity of the oracle as it is reported by Plato. But virtually all of
them (with the possible exception of the fourth) apply only to the story
as Plato reports it. These problems are not caused by the oracle itself,
but by the bizarre interpretation that Plato's Socrates gives it, turning it
into the originating impulse for his search for wisdom. It is only because
it started him on his philosophical quest that the dating of the oracle is
problematic; it is only because of the early dating that the question itself
is an odd one; the absence of any reference to the story in other literature
and the audience's apparent lack of knowledge of the story is much more
problematic if the oracle set Socrates on his life's mission than if it merely
offered extravagant praise. Stokes mentions some contexts in Plato's writ-
ings in which a mention of the oracle would have been appropriate if
there really had been But it is appropriate in these places only if it
is the oracle as Plato records it. Finally, it is precisely the linkage between

86. Ibid 55.

87. Ibid 5 5.
88. See Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, 88-91 for comments on the history ofthis problem.
89. Stokes, 1992, p. 55.

the oracle and Socrates' sense of philosophic mission that creates the dif-
ficulty in Socrates' interpretation. There would be no difficulty if Socrates
would interpret the oracle as saying what it seems to say: that no one is
wiser than him.90In short, none of the arguments against the historicity of
the oracle-story casts serious doubt on Xenophon's simpler version of the
story, where the oracle only confirms Socrates' moral excellence and where
Socrates himself uses it as an opportunity for boasting. If Plato invented
something, we have no reason to suspect him of inventing the basic ele-
ments of the story as they appear in Xenophon."
There is some reason to believe that Socrates did speak about an
oracle at his trial. While we certainly cannot rely on Xenophon's tes-
timony alone, partly because it may have been inspired by Plato, it is
worth noting that Plato's version itself shows signs of being a reaction
to some version like that of Xenophon in which the oracle serves as an
opportunity for boasting. His Socrates introduces the oracle in the first
place, as does Xenophon's, as a proof of his wisdom, not as an explanation
of his philosophical mission, and he seems to apologize for mentioning
it (20d-21a). This makes sense if Plato felt a need to respond to charges
of Socratic arrogance in this episode. From all the evidence we have, the
reference to the oracle is the most conspicuous example of that arrogance.
So, if he really spoke arrogantly in court, he is likely to have spoken ar-
rogantly at this point.
But in Plato's version, the arrogance is offset by explanations and apol-

90. Stokes has offered an explanation for the Oracle story as presented in Plato that solves the
last problem. He argues that in Plato's formulation Socrates' investigation of the Oracle's riddle
resembles his later philosophic investigations of human beings (1 992, 33-41). This suggests a
literary relationship between the story of the Oracle and the rest of the Platonic oeuvre. Which
is first? Did the portrait of the humble investigator originate as philosophic device, which was
then transferred to the Oracle story, as Stokes seems to suggest (40); or did it originate in the
effort to counter-act the arrogance associated with the Oracle story, afterwards being trans-
ferred to the philosophical investigations? If the latter is the case, this would show how deeply
the post-trial controversy affected Plato's portrait of Socrates. We may note that Xenophon
rarely portrays Socrates involved in an elenchos, and where he does (as in Symposium 4 and
Memorabilia 4.2) the passage seems influenced by Plato. Even in these passages, Socrates makes
no pretense that he is in search of truth.
91. Hackforth takes a similar approach, arguing that it is both inherently implausible that
the Oracle should have ordered Socrates to philosophize, and (92-3) that in any case Socrates
attributes his impulse to philosophize to a variety of sources later at 33c, to which we may add
37e-38a. But Hackforth still assumes that much of the story is historical: in his view the only
thing Plato adds is the idea that the Oracle constituted an imperative to philosophize (101-
103). He accepts that the Oracle did inspire Socrates to begin philosophizing, so most of the
problems still remain.

ogies. These contradictory tendencies suggest that the story is a compos-

ite, in which two different elements have been stitched together.92We
have in the first place a complimentary oracle, which offers high praise
for Socrates. The most natural role for such an oracle is to serve as an
occasion for boasting, which is what Socrates uses it for in Xenophon's
version of the speech,13 and what he conspicuously denies he is doing in
Plato's (20e). Plato took this somewhat embarrassing incident and, with
great skill, transformed it into a story which both explains Socrates' devo-
tion to philosophy and, conveniently for our argument here, reduces the
arrogance, replacing it with the (for Plato) characteristically Socratic false

f i e Counter-Penalty
Similar observations can be made about Socrates' outrageous behavior
when asked to name his counter-penalty. Here the arrogance seems unde-
niable. As Stokes puts it,
[Mlost o f us would, I think, b e incensed if a convicted m a n began a speech
o n his sentence by saying, almost unintelligibly at first, t h a t h e h a d escaped

92. ., -
Riddell (xxiv) comes to the same conclusion, although without much argumentation.
93. Here and elsewhere, Xenophon seems not so much to be copying Plato, or even creating
his own fiction, but rather correcting Plato's distortions. I would not use Xenophon here as
independent evidence (although he may well be) since he may have derived his version in part
from Plato's, and is probably incorporating fiction. But Xenophon's version does seem more
94. Vlastos argues (1991: 105-6) that the one place where Xenophon mentions Socratic
ignorance (Mem. 4.4.9) can be used to confirm as historically accurate the frequent reports of
Socratic ignorance in Plato's writings. This is a problematic argument, since Xenophon had
certainly read Plato (see Stokes, 1992, 78; 1997,7) and since this reference occurs in a context
that patently suggests its dependence on Plato's Republic. Moreover, Xenophon's Socrares goes
on to deny that he is ignorant and to explain his conception of justice quite openly. More
significant perhaps is Socrates' claim in X. Apology 16: "And how could anyone reasonably
deny that he is wise who from the moment he understood speech never has ceased seeking and
learning whatever he could." The fact that in this context, where Socrates is boasting, he em-
phasizes his wisdom as a "search strongly suggests that there is some truth in Plato's portrait of
Socrates as a searcher for wisdom. Similarly, the fact that in Clouds Socrates advises Strepsiades
to lie down and come up with his own conclusions suggests that the historical Socrates used
a maieutic method of some sort rather than offering lectures. There are also two fragments of
Aeschines which refers to Socrates' lack of possession of a techni or a mathima through which
he can improve others (frr. 3 and 4 Krauss; see Kahn, 1996, 21 citing Doring, 1984). But
while these references provide evidence of some kind of Socratic irony, reticence or ignorance,
only Plato turns this into humility. As A. A. Long points out (156-60), the theme of Socratic
ignorance is not especially prominent even in Plato, and was not generally noticed until the
time of Arcesilaos.

the legal prosecutor, and continued by saying that he deserved special

honor, like a sporting hero, only more so, as the hero's services were only
apparent, his own being real and his needs greater. Soc. is provocative also
in that among the possibilities he explicitly declines to offer are some at least
which, in one case on his own admission (37c), a reasonable jury, many of
whom thought him not guilty, could easily have accepted. Tempers were
not likely to be soothed by the suggestion that he would rather die or that
he would if spared continue the activity for which he had been convicted.
It would not help matters to add that the jury will not believe the grounds
for his so continuing. It would add fuel to the flames to suggest that having
done no harm he is willing to pay a fine-since loss of money would do
him no harm. There is no reason to doubt that PI. meant Soc. to appear in-
tentionally provocative. . . . Only a na'ive Soc. could fail to realize the likely
hostile response . . . Soc. is not na'ive. (1992, 168)
In this section, after the conviction, Plato's Socrates displays considerable
arrogance, and undoubtedly the historical Socrates did as well. But even
here the contrast with Xenophon is illuminating. In Xenophon's version,
Socrates proposed no penalty at all, and did not permit his friends to do
so either, claiming that to do so would be to admit to injustice. Without a
counter-penalty, there could have been no vote on a penalty, and the death
sentence would have been approved by default. In effect, Socrates would
have forced his accusers, even against their own intentions, to become
responsible for his execution.15
Plato's Socrates does not go this far. At first he explains why he de-
serves to receive something good (36b-d). He argues that the most ap-
propriate thing would be a reward, such as free meals in the prytaneum,
the reward offered to Olympic victors. This is an outrageous suggestion
given that he has just been found guilty of the crimes for which he was
charged. But Socrates does beg a bit, pointing out that he actually needs
the food (36e). And then, after offering this reward as his hypothetical
punishment (37a), he reverses himself and proposes a monetary penalty
after all.96

95. Socrates on the other hand is happy to charge Anytus with insisting on the death penalty
(29c). Perhaps this is because he does not attribute any death wish to Socrates.
96. This seems so odd that even Chroust, who has little respect for Xenophon, judges his
version to be more accurate on this point.

Once again, we are confronted with contradictory tendencies, one ar-

rogant and offensive, the other reasonable and humble. An explanation is
ready at hand: the historical Socrates behaved outrageously when asked to
propose a penalty, either by suggesting a reward such as that mentioned
by Plato or by refusing to propose anything, as Xenophon reports, or in
some other way. Plato reproduces the outrage, but he also moderates it by
having him offer a monetary fine."
O f course even a monetary fine is not satisfactory. But Plato could
not have had Socrates propose the more reasonable penalty of exile for
one obvious reason: the jury would have most likely accepted such a pro-
posal, and everyone knows that Socrates was not exiled. Some Athenians
may have thought it was foolish and arrogant not to have made such a
proposal. Plato's Socrates therefore explains in detail why he could not
honorably do so (37c-38a), thereby also showing that there was nothing
left to propose except a fine.18 Socrates proposes a fine of a mna, which
amounts to a fifth of his property, if we can trust Xenophon (Oeconomicus
2.3). Offering more would mean impoverishing his family for the sake
of his own life, itself an act of questionable propriety. It is a well-known
Socratic concept that such offers should be measured in accordance with
one's ability to pay (Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.3.3-4; see Plato, Republic,
364b-365a). In short, the fine is the best Plato can do in the circum-
stances. And Socrates' friends offer a substantial addition to it, so that, as
Brickhouse and Smith argue,19the total sum is a respectable one. It might
seem disrespectful for Socrates to mention that the majority of the fine
will be paid by others, and not from his own pocket. But what other way
was there for Plato to indicate that a substantial sum was offered? And
how else to combat the rumor that Socrates' friends had not helped out?loo
Socrates could not possibly have offered such a sum personally, so it was
up to his friends. Since no one else had the floor at the time, Socrates had
to make the announcement himself.

97. Note that he could not do this with Xenophon's version of the outrage, for there Socrates
simply refuses to propose anything at all.
98. O n this see Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, 221-225.
99. Ibid,225-230.
~oo.Aswe will see in the following chapter, there was apparently a widespread feeling that
Socrates' friends had not done enough for him. This would have reflected badly not only on
these friends, but also on Socrates himself, for it would have shown that he was incapable of
arousing loyalty in his friends.

There is, of course, some apparently gratuitous arrogance when Socrates

points out that paying a fine would not really hurt him at all (38b). 'This
makes a potentially serious looking proposal seem insulting. But even here,
the purpose of this passage may not be to show how Socrates antagonized
his judges, but to show that he would not perform an act of injustice even
against himself, as Socrates says several times in Plato's Apology (25c-26a;
29b; 37b) and in Xenophon's Apology (23).1°'
In any case, I would not want to claim that Plato strives to elimi-
nate Socratic arrogance altogether. All other things being equal, a certain
degree of pride and arrogance is not bad and may be something to boast
about.lo2The reason that Socrates' arrogance became an object of criticism
was only because it seemed foolish since it led to his conviction in court.
While Xenophon takes issue with the charges of failure and implicitly
overturns the charge of incompetence, he does not feel obliged to deny
Socratic arrogance, and even makes a point of saying that Socrates was in
no way humbled by the actions of the court (X. Apology 24). Plato too
leaves in a good deal of arrogance, particularly (although not exclusively)
after the conviction, when even if it contributes to the harsh sentence, it
no longer contributes to the finding of guilt.

The most serious charge-and the only one Xenophon felt obliged to
deny-is the charge that Socrates' behavior in court was foolish and
his subsequent execution a mark of failure. Plato does not argue, like
Xenophon, that Socrates deliberately provoked his own death by his arro-
gance. Although he does claim that death may have been a good thing, he
portrays this as Socrates' attitude after the sentencing, not before it.'03 'This
leaves Plato with a difficulty: if Socrates sought an acquittal, and did not
seek to die, how did he, the most righteous man of his generation and one
of its most persuasive, fail to persuade a jury of his innocence of dubious

101. See R. Weiss, 1998, 32-35. Even more frequently are his assertions that one should not
harm anyone (see for example Crito 49a-c; Gorgias 479c-e; Republic 335b-e).
102. See Cicero's comment, obviously based on his reading of Plato's Apology: Socrates nec
patronum quaesivit ad iudicium capitis nec iudicibus supplex fuit adhibuitque liberam contu-
maciam a magnitudine animi ductam non a superbia. (Disp. Tusr. 1.29.71)
103. See L.-A. Dorion, 2005.

charges? Plato's attempts to address this issue show again that the Apology
addresses the post-trial controversy.
Plato offers a variety of explanations, each of which serves to deflect
any blame or shame from Socrates himself. He argues that Socrates
simply did not have enough time to make an adequate defense (19a2;
24a1-3). In other cities more time is devoted to capital trials (37a-b).
He denies the failure by having Socrates claim a degree of victory after
the vote to convict, on the grounds that he lost by a small margin (36a).
He denies victory to one of his enemies by arguing that Meletus cannot
boast of any accomplishment, since the vote to convict is due primarily
to the popularity of the other prosecutor, Anytus (36a-b; see 28a-b). lo*
But despite this brief moment of post-conviction jubilation, Socrates
cannot simply claim that he has won. How, then, does Plato address the
charge that Socrates lost, and by his own fault?
It is obviously grossly anachronistic to have Socrates address this ques-
tion directly in his defense speech, but this is what Plato has him do.
Towards the end of his speech Socrates asks himself a theoretical ques-
tion, "Someone may perhaps say: 'Are you really not ashamed, Socrates, of
having practiced the kind of activity that puts your life now in danger?"'
(28b).'05 'The question is not an impossible one for a defendant to ask
himself hypothetically106-Plato does not destroy the fiction-but it is a
peculiar one. And it is precisely the sort of question that Xenophon says
was raised after the trial. Since Plato does not employ a narrator, he has no
other way to raise the issue than to have Socrates himself do so. Obviously
he could not have Socrates ask himself even hypothetically whether he is
not ashamed of the fact that he was killed in the end. There would have
been no better way for Plato to have Socrates address the issue of the
shame of his conviction and execution than having him raise the question
in precisely the form he does.

104. He has already mentioned the prosecutors' argument that if they free Socrates they should
not have brought him to trial in the first place (29c), an argument that seems designed to show
that they knew they had no good case against him, and that the jury only voted to convict out of
respect for the prosecutors. Similarly he has denied any real victory to his prosecutors by attribut-
ing his execution to the old prejudices against him. Contrast Hackforth, 8 1.
105. While this was a common manner of pre-empting opponents' arguments, Socrates'
question does not address any possible charge that could have been brought against him by his
106. I have not found a good parallel to it in extant Greek forensic speeches.

Plato already provided some of the material for constructing an

answer to this question when he introduced the "earlier charges."
Socrates explains that deeply-held Athenian prejudices led to the guilty
verdict, and hence implies that there was little he could have done to
avert it. These prejudices of course were the result of sheer ignorance:
the Athenians confused Socrates with ordinary intellectuals, teachers of
rhetoric and natural scientists, who were widely suspected of holding
heretical beliefs about the gods (18a-20c). In fact, he did not belong
to this group, since he did not teach these things, nor charge a fee for
whatever he did do.
Socrates claims that he mentions these points in order to persuade
the jurors to overcome their prejudices and acquit him: "Well: it's right,
then, to offer a defense, Athenians, and to try to remove from your mind
in this short time the slander you took in over a long time" (19a). But
even here Socrates sounds pessimistic about his chances. Later he says
that he would be surprised if he should be able to do so (24a). And finally,
when he sums up the argument, Socrates refers to this prejudice not as
something which the jury is encouraged to lay aside, but as the cause of
his own execution; and as Stokes points out (1992, 98), he nearly breaks
the fiction in doing so: "This is what will catch me-if indeed it is going
to catch me-not Meletus nor Anytus, but the widespread slander and
grudging feelings against me" (28a).lo7So these arguments seem aimed
not at the audience in court, but at a post-trial audience Socrates never
met, an audience which wants to know why Socrates lost.
So far, Plato has blamed the others: the Athenians and their inade-
quate legal system. These explanations remove the blame, perhaps, from
Socrates and his courtroom antics, but they do not completely erase the
sheer shame of failure. They do not even begin to transform Socrates into
an object of envy. To reach this goal, Plato portrays Socrates as a hero
and his suffering as a kind of martyrdom.lo8 He introduces two more
explanations for his death, one rooted in his personal divine mission, the

107. This passage also aims to lessen the impression that it is Meletus and Anytus who have
won. Socrates returns to deprecate Meletus in the second speech, where he explains that
Meletus could not have succeeded without the assistance of the other two prosecutors (36a).
108. Plato may have been influenced by the portrayal of Prometheus in the Prometheus
Bound, or other similar figures in literature now lost to us. But Plato is doing something new
when he describes a genuine historical figure in such terms.

other in an essential conflict between Socrates' excellence and the nature

of human political life.
Socrates explains how the fatal hatred against him arose. It was because
of his obedience to an Oracle which commanded him to question others
and show them that they are not truly wise (23b). By arousing their hatred
in this way he made it virtually certain that he would be convicted (24a),
as indeed he was. He knew he was angering people through his service to
the god, but he felt his duty came first (21e). This account of Socrates'
death goes beyond mere explanation and contributes to transforming that
death from a source of shame into a source of pride.
In this connection, Plato has Socrates compare himself to some of the
great heroes of Greek mythology. He explains that a person should not
calculate dangers, but only do what is right. O n e must risk one's life in
order to perform what is commanded by a superior:
Your suggestion is dishonorable, Sir, if you think a man who is the slightest
use ought to take into account the risk of life or death, rather than to con-
sider one thing alone in every action, whether the action is just or unjust,
and the behavior that of a good man or bad. For the demigods who fell at
Troy would be of little worth, on your principle, including even n e t i s ' son
. . . Wherever a man posts himself, thinking that best, or is posted by a com-
mander, there he ought. . . to stand his ground. . . . (28b-d)Io9
Here is the first substantial repulsion of shame for Socrates' death: the god
commanded him to undertake an unpopular religious mission, and he he-
roically obeyed the command of the god, even at the cost of his own life.
'This obviou~lyhas nothing to do with a real defense speech.
The Oracle's words and Socrates' interpretation of them plays a vital
role in all of this, since all the risks were taken in obedience to the oracle.
But this service of the god is only one way of explaining Socrates' pursuit
of his mission:
If, first, I tell you that that is disobedience to the god, and for that reason
I cannot lead a quiet life, you will not be convinced, but will think I am
putting it on. If, secondly, I say that this is the greatest good for a human
being, every day to discuss goodness and the other topics on which you've

109. See comments on this in Stokes, 1997, 144.

heard me conversing and examining myself and others, and that life without
examination is not worth a man's living, that you will believe even less from
me (37e-38a).

Here Socrates offers two ways of saying the same thing. In a sense it was
the god, but in another sense it was Socrates' own conviction that phi-
losophy is the best way of life for a human being which led to his mission
and to his martyrdom. His self-endangering character was expressed not
only in obedience to the god, but also in service of his own firm moral
What brought Socrates into conflict with the city of Athens, then, was
not merely his own peculiar mission assigned him by the oracle, but an
inner compulsion. There were hints of this already in the earlier treatment
of Socrates' incompetence in court and his arrogance: being a virtuous
man, Socrates refused to speak in an unworthy manner in order to gain an
acquittal. Like other Athenian defendants, Socrates lists his merits: the oc-
casions on which he endangered his life by obeying the law rather than the
ruling body, whether the demos (32a-32c) or the oligarchs (32c-32e). And
he demonstrates this strength of character throughout the Apology by his
abrasive and stubborn unwillingness to compromise his moral principles
even in the face of death.
Although it is true that Socrates attributes his refraining from enter-
ing political life to the mysterious personal warning he received from his
divine sign (31c-e), the sign is not unintelligible. Socrates usually under-
stands the reasoning behind the advice given by this sign quite well (see X.
Apology 5-9),11° and this is no exception. Its message is of universal import,
and its truth is perceptible to reason. No righteous person who opposes
the masses can be saved (3 1e; 32e).lHThe truly virtuous will always suffer
in politics (28b; 31d-32a; see X. Apology 4, 26). Therefore, the good man
must have a private station (31c-33a). Faced with the impossibility of
blaming Socrates for his own failure, and with the triviality of blaming a
particular Athenian jury (although he does that as well), Plato took the

110. See also the discussion in R. Weiss, 1998, 8-15.

111. Socrates mentions his resistance to the masses when they insisted on illegally trying the
generals as a group and points out that they later regretted their action. In its late context this
may remind the audience of the regret that was felt in Athens after the execution of Socrates,
as Plato indicates later (38c; 39c-d).

only option left: he blamed the nature of human political life."' It was not
foolishness or misplaced arrogance that brought about Socrates' defeat. It
was surely not the successful efforts of his victorious opponents-they have
nothing to boast of-but rather it was Socrates' superior nature and supe-
rior behavior which led, inevitably, to his death. There is an eternal conflict
between the ideal and the real. It is easy to see here too that Plato is wres-
tling with an issue that Socrates would not have confronted in his trial.
These arguments, originating in the effort to defend Socrates' reputa-
tion, are closely related to Plato's efforts in other works, especially Gorgias,
Phaedo and Republic, to sharply distinguish philosophy and philosophic
virtue from conventional conceptions of wisdom and virtue. The incen-
tive for Plato's idealistic conception of philosophy can be traced in part at
least to his rejection of the common judgement of Socrates' fate. No one
would deny the depth and insight with which Plato confronts philosophic
problems of the first order; but it is no contradiction to say that his char-
acteristic tendency in posing and solving them stems from a deep animus
which is intimately connected with the fate of Socrates.
There is one more step in Plato's defense of Socrates. Since his aim is to
arouse envy for Socrates, he is not satisfied with heroic martyrdom: heroic
losers are not always the objects of real envy. Therefore he needs to argue,
like Xenophon, that Socrates didn't suffer in any appreciable way and, if
possible, that he benefited. Even before the sentencing, Socrates makes the
theoretical point, elaborated later in Gorgias, that a good man can never be
harmed by a bad one (30c-d). While primarily apologetic in character, this
point is not violently inappropriate in its dramatic context: it represents
Socrates' own forward-looking speculation, and implies only that what-
ever the result may be, it cannot be a bad one, since it is impossible for a
good man to be harmed by a bad one. Socrates also says at this point that
it would be arrogant to think we know that death is bad (29a-b).lI3 This

112. Socrates uses this conflict to explain another circumstance which may well have been
the subject of post-trial accusations: why did Socrates not participate actively in political
life? Xenophon addresses this issue, in his Memorabilia, arguing that by training politically
active persons, Socrates did in effect participate in political life (1.6.15). Oddly enough, he
offers Charmides, later a member of the tyrannical government of the thirty, as an example of
someone whom Socrates personally, . persuaded to enter politics (3.7.1-8).
113. His point here is both a defense of Socrates, and an attack on those who charged him
with failing through arrogance: they are the truly arrogant ones if they think they know that
death was bad for him.

is already an almost undisguised anachronism; it is the absolute most the

character Socrates can say in confronting the mere possibility of his own
execution. To argue at length that death is certainly better than life at this
stage, prior to sentencing, would be inappropriate for a defendant who,
like Plato's Socrates, sincerely aims at an acquittal.
But Plato does plan to make the apologetic point in greater detail, and
to do so within the fiction of Socrates' historical defense speech. Plato
offers an elaborate version of the point made by Xenophon, that death was
really better than life for him, not for the reason that Xenophon gives-
that he was an old man with nothing good to look forward to-but rather
because death itself is most likely a better thing than life. In order to make
these points he must allow Socrates to do what was not usually done in the
Athenian court: to address the jury after the sentencing.
Socrates argues that death must be a good thing, since the daimonion
did not stop him from speaking as he did (40a-c)."* Scholars have won-
dered whether the daimonion was so active in Socrates' life that he could
safely draw this conclusion merely from its non-interference.Il5 But it is
hard to imagine that Plato intended his readers to pursue this fruitless line
of speculation. His point is that Socrates was really better off dead, and the
daimonion proves this-even if this comes at the expense of a slightly il-
logical argument. But in any case, there is logic to the daimonion's opinion,
and Socrates is fully capable of explaining that logic: death is either a great
rest, or a chance to philosophize with better companions (40b-41c). The
realm of Hades is one in which true justice reigns.Il6 Without in any way
excusing the culpable behavior of the judges in condemning him (4ld-e),
Socrates argues that he will be much better off dead. This claim means not
only that he did not lose his spirit in the face of his sentence, but also, if
he was right, that he really was better off dead.
In Phaedo, Plato offers more elaborate arguments in favor of death.
When his friends arrive full of humiliating pity for his unfortunate fate,
Socrates turns the tables on them, expressing the shocking wish that his

114. Note that here as well as later on in the third speech, Socrates implicitly acknowledges
that his behavior in court was responsible for his conviction, as Xenophon tells us was the
universal opinion.
115. See Brickhouse and Smith, 1989, 237-257.
116. This is perhaps the first positive description of Hades in western literature. It makes its
prominent appearance here in order to demonstrate Socrates' victory.

rival Evenus join him in death (6lb-c). While his friends naturally suspect
that he bears some ill-will to Evenus, Socrates explains that this is not a
curse, but a blessing, since any philosopher would be happy to die (6lc).
Unfortunately for Evenus, and for everyone else who remains behind,
suicide is forbidden (6lc-d). Only Socrates has had the good luck to be
condemned to death by a court of law; the others are condemned to live.
Socrates thus offers only pity for those who would have pitied him. Pbaedo
makes it even more clear than Apoloay does that Socrates is fortunate to
have received the death penalty by the court. Not only does Plato repel
any shame or pity, he actually contrives to arouse jealousy for Socrates on
the grounds that he was lucky enough to die as he did.

In the final analysis Plato's Socrates, just like Xenophon's, suffered nothing
shameful or bad at the hands of the court. Socrates only gained by his
death, and the others only lost by it. But Plato wants to eat his cake and
leave it whole. In his portait, Socrates' death was both a good thing and
a testimony to his heroic willingness to risk his life for a noble cause.
And yet, despite both of these justifications for courting death, Plato's
Socrates, unlike Xenophon's, makes a serious effort to win an acquittal
(19a). His declaration on this point, uncalled for in an actual defense
speech, is clearly designed to respond to those who charged that Socrates
foolishly failed to make serious efforts to defend himself.' l 7
This effort to win the case is consistent with Plato's general effort to
reduce Socrates' arrogance and disrespect for the court, explaining, justify-
ing and toning it down. But if Plato's Socrates genuinely wanted to win,
and was even willing to act with a degree ofhumility, even begging a bit, in
order to secure an acquittal, does this not make his loss all the more humil-
iating for him and his followers? By emphasizing the sincerity of Socrates'
failed efforts, Plato seems to be working against his own interest.
But Plato devised a solution to this self-made problem as well. He
argues that Socrates' solicitousness in court stemmed only from his desire
to benefit his judges, and not from any concern for his own welfare (19a;

117. As we have seen, this charge is raised prospectively by Hermogenes in Xenophon's

Apology (3); see also Crito 45d.

30c; 30d-31a; 35d). He himself did not care whether or not he would
win the case (30b-c). His defense efforts aimed only to preserve the life of
a man who was sorely needed for the good of Athens (30d-3 1c). By this
device, Plato offsets two possible criticisms of Socrates. O n the one hand,
any charges of arrogance or mishandling of the defense lose their punch
since Socrates had no interest in living anyway. But at the same time, any
embarrassment which might be associated with his humility and his will-
ingness to mention his family is eliminated as well: if Socrates begged for
his life, he did so only for the sake of the city of Athens.

Plato goes one step further, arguing not only that Socrates did not lose,
and not only that he gained, but also that his condemners lost. Obviously
they made a mistake in condemning an innocent man. Plato makes this
point primarily not by providing evidence of Socrates' innocence, but
rather by denying that this jury or any other is competent to pass judg-
ment. By arguing that few people if any know what is a good or a bad man
(19e-20c; 23a-b; 24e-25c; 29e-30b), he undermines any claim that the
court could make to possessing the competence necessary to make vital
decisions concerning human beings. And for this reason, as he says, he
does not address his judges as judges, but merely as Athenians (compare
17a with 40a). Similarly, by arguing that his hypothetical crime was nec-
essarily unintentional (25d-26a), an argument that appears elsewhere as
the expanded claim that no one does wrong intentionally (e.g. Protagoras
345d-e; Laws 731c; 860d ff.), Plato delegitimizes any application of pun-
ishment on the part of the court.
Plato charges not only that the court was incompetent, but also that
its members suffered actual damage. 'They have lost their reputations
and have little gain to show for it. 'They have saved a few years of annoy-
ing Socratic chatter, but will be blamed hereafter as his killers (38c).lX8
They attempted to escape Socrates' interrogation, but that interroga-
tion was beneficial, and now many more people will interrogate them

118. The anonymous author of "On Figured Speech in the corpus of Dionysius of
Halicarnassus (Usener and Rademacher, 305.5-23) claims that one of the primary purposes of
Plato's Apology was to bring an accusation against the Athenians for having brought such a man
to court (cited by M. Buryeat, p. 5).

(3%-d). Aside from these relatively comprehensible losses, the judges

will lose much more by their very involvement in an act of injustice:
it is much worse to do wrong than to suffer it (30d), and those who
convicted Socrates are guilty of great injustice. Socrates was caught at
an old age by death, which is slow, while his accusers were caught at a
much younger age by wickedness, which runs more quickly (39a-b).
But the worst loss of all is the loss of Socrates himself, god's greatest gift
to Athens, and one nearly impossible to replace (30d-31a). By losing
him, the Athenians became the world's greatest losers, and they had only
themselves to blame.
This attack on the Athenian jurors is the most powerful attack of all
since it does not merely charge Athens with injustice, but with failure,
a more serious charge, and precisely the one that was brought against
Socrates in the post-trial d i ~ p u t e . "'This
~ reversal of positions enables
Socrates not only to avoid the stigma of defeat but also to achieve the
kind of victory that can only be obtained through the defeat and hu-
miliation of one's enemies. This is the revenge which Plato took on his
master's (and his own) ad~ersaries.'~' However much he renounces the
ethics of helping friends and harming enemies, Plato is not above acting
in accordance with it.

Throughout Apology, Plato never completely breaks the dramatic illusion.

But while the work has the appearance of a defense speech, Plato uses it
for a variety of his own goals: philosophical and biographical as well as
apologetic. The central goal is the defense of the reputation of Socrates
and through it of all who still associated themselves with Socrates' name.
This is made clear above all by the depth and comprehensiveness of Plato's
treatment of the specific post-trial issues. It is not just the formal structure

119. Interestingly enough, the Athenians lost god's gift through their own foolish and arro-
gant misbehavior in court. They lost for the very reasons for which Socrates was later blamed
for his defeat in court.
120. L. Strausshas argued (1 983,3) that the titleofXenophon's Memorabilia ( d r ~ o ~ v ~ ~ o v ~ G ~ a ~ a )
is derived from the verb & ~ o ~ v ~ ~ owhichvc6w has a secondary meaning of "to bear a grudge,"
and is so used by Xenophon (Mem. 1.2.31). One may compare the Hebrew zachor. The use
of rhetorical compositions to gain the advantage in personal wars of this sort is mentioned in
Isocrates' Antidosix (13),a work consciously modeled on Plato's Apology.

of the work, but also the systematic way in which Plato treats all the post-
trial issues and their implications, sometimes bringing forward petty or
contradictory arguments, which makes it clear that he is addressing this
controversy. There is virtually nothing in the composition that does not
relate directly to the post-trial debate. Even the exposition of Socrates'
philosophical ideals can itself be seen as an important part of the defense
effort. To the degree this would have been obvious to a fourth century
reader, personally familiar with that controversy, to that degree we can be
confident that the work was written as a work of apologetics in the guise
of historical fiction.

Two Images of Socrates

This conclusion sheds light on the genesis of the two portraits of Socrates
that remain in our hands. The differing portraits of Socrates in his trial
and execution are closely connected to the differing portraits of Socrates
in the other works of Plato and Xenophon. We have mentioned especially
Socrates' arrogance which Xenophon acknowledges wholeheartedly, both
in Apology in elsewhere in his Socratic writings, and which Plato modifies
with some signs of humility both here and throughout his works. Whereas
Plato's Socrates is in some sense sincere in his disavowal of knowledge,
Xenophon's Socrates always seems to understand whatever subject he is
asked about perfectly well.
The differences between the two portraits reflect opposing assumptions
about the nature of virtue and its place in the life of the city. For both Plato
and Xenophon Socrates was an excellent and virtuous man, but they had
very different ideas about how virtuous people perform in society. Plato
acknowledged that Socrates failed in conventional terms, but argued that
those terms are wrong. 'The best sort of men do not necessarily know how
to survive politically. Despite the fact that sophists in ancient Greece were
often associated with political rulers, Plato argues that the idea of a true
philosopher being king is an apparent absurdity. The mathematically-ori-
ented philosopher-king could not be further removed from the figure of
Cyrus the great. The latter possessed the knack of getting ahead that Plato
ridicules as pseudo-knowledge in Gorgias and Republic. The unique char-
acter of the Platonic philosopher may help explain the fact that, unlike the
Xenophontic Socrates, Plato's Socrates gets involved continuously in futile
disagreements with his interlocutors. He argues with people rather than

guiding them because the wisdom he strives for bears little resemblance to
what ordinarily goes by that name. The images of the ship's pilot and the
bewildered philosopher in the cave serve as illustrations of the seemingly
unfortunate career of Plato's Socrates. All this can be traced to the fact that
Plato's Socrates failed to achieve his aims in court, but is no less worthy of
praise on that score.
Xenophon took a very different approach. Although he defended and
praised Socrates no less than Plato, he did not allow the apparent failure in
court to invert his conceptions ofvirtue and wisdom. He did not argue for
an essential conflict between the man of virtue and the corrupt political
and social community, but on the contrary, constantly says the opposite.
In his view, virtue tends to be rewarded in political life as in any other
aspect of life. Socrates, being virtuous, could not have been unsuccessful
and in fact he was not. O n the contrary, Xenophon's Socrates was popular
and well-loved by his many friends and associates. While there are instanc-
es of hostile confrontation between Socrates and others in Xenophon's
writings, they are few and far between, and they are generally initiated
by others (e.g. Mem. 1.6). His Socrates primarily gave helpful advice to
those he knew. Among other lessons, he told them that the only way to
win friends and influence people is by convincing them that one is a good
person, and that the only way to do that is by really being one (for exam-
ples, Mern. 2.2-6; 3.1; 3.3-6; compare Cyr. 1.6.22). Far from being "too
good" to succeed in ordinary civic life, Xenophon's Socrates was exactly
good enough. He was an expert precisely in the practical art of self-pre-
sentation and was able to teach others how to present themselves as well.
This is the meaning of his claim in Symposium that he is an expert in the
art of pimping (Sym. 4.56-60; see Mem. 2.6), a claim which is illustrated
in the bulk of the conversations recorded in the Memorabilia, especially
books two and three.
This view of Socrates conflicts sharply with the way his life would have
appeared to his hostile neighbors. If Socrates was a great expert in winning
friends and influencing people, how could he have wound up condemned
to death by his own neighbors? The only possibly explanation is the one
that Xenophon offers: Socrates must have wanted to die. For a master
of the art of pimping, any other explanation would be inconceivable.
Although obviously provocative, this explanation should not be rejected
out of hand: it conforms to the widespread opinion that Socrates' own

behavior in court led to his execution.

For both Plato and Xenophon, the portrait of Socrates' behavior in
court stems from the need to respond, in different ways, to the post-trial
debate. What is more remarkable is how consistently they developed
these two contradictory views of Socrates. The consistency and opposi-
tion of these two portraits on this crucial point suggest that the portraits
stemmed not so much from the recollection of time spent with the great
master as from the need to say something in response to the criticisms that
were voiced after the trial, and in the different ways Plato and Xenophon
conceived this task. While we may not be able to learn very much about
the ideas of Socrates from the writings of Plato or Xenophon, we do learn
a lot about both Plato and Xenophon by considering how they reacted to
the debate on Socrates that followed his death.
Chapter Two

Building a Community under Fire

Crito and the Socratic Controversy1

rito is often treated as Plato's philosophical treatise on civil dis-
~ b e d i e n c e .But
~ while the dialogue certainly contains ideas and
arguments on the subject, this is not its central focus. Crito does
not offer anything like a coherent philosophical treatment of the subject,
and those who have treated it from this point of view have had to supple-
ment the text with their own speculations and reasoning. The effort to
improve, clarify or explicate what is unclear implies that Plato was unable
to express himself or else involves a kind of literary esotericism. Some
scholars acknowledge that their solutions involve forcing the text,3 others
find it simpler to dismiss the work as poor philosophy or e dialectic^."^ The
assumption that the text offers a treatment of civil disobedience creates lit-
erary problems as well. Crito contains a long section devoted to the moral
authority of the mob (44b-48b). This subject is not presented as part of
the investigation of civil disobedience, but is raised by Crito because of

I. Many of the ideas in this chapter occurred to me while reading M. C. Stokes' careful de-
lineation of the problems in his Dialectic in Action (Swansea, 2005). I thank him and Roslyn
Weiss for very generously reading an earlier version of this chapter and offering good criticisms
and suggestions.
2. Innumerable articles and books have been written on the subject. I will mention here only
some ofthe more important ones: A. D. Woozley, 1979; R. E. Allen, 1980; R. Kraut; R. Weiss,
3. A. D. Woozley, 1979, for example, writes: "We have to conclude that the conflict between,
on the one hand, his principle that in no circumstances must a man do what is unjust or treat
people badly and, on the other, his three arguments for obedience to the laws cannot be re-
solved, and that it can be papered over only by insufficient attention to the text". (59-60).
4.See G. Grote, 1875, 302; G. Vlastos, 1974, 5 19; G . Santas, 1979, 55; N. Greenberg,
1965, 64. See especially the analysis of M. Miller, 1996.

his fears for his future. Not surprisingly, some book-length treatments of
the dialogue virtually ignore the ~ u b j e c tAny
. ~ persuasive interpretation of
the dialogue as a coherent whole has to explain the role this section plays
in the overall plan. Another feature of Crito that requires explanation is
the presence of many arguments that pertain specifically to the case of
Socrates, and not to any other likely case in which the question of civil
disobedience might arise.6 Such arguments would be out of place if the
composition aimed to offer some general teaching about a subject, such
as civil disobedience.
As a result of these and other considerations, many scholars have aban-
doned the effort to construct a consistent theory of civil disobedience
from Crito and regard it instead as an example of dialectical deliberation,
illustrating not the philosophical investigation of an abstract question, but
a deliberation concerning a particular practical and moral decision: should
Socrates escape prison or not?' 'This approach helps explain the brevity
with which some central philosophical issues (such as the importance of
justice for one's own well-being) are treated: Crito already accepted most
of the premises Socrates needed and deliberation arguably does not require
investigating premises on which there is consensus. It may also explain the
fact that many of the arguments that Socrates uses are unpersuasive to us:
deliberation arguably needs only to rest on premises that are accepted by
those who are engaged in it, in this case Crito and Socrates. And it also
has the virtue of explaining why the dialogue is so concerned with the
particulars of Socrates' case.
M. C. Stokes has made a detailed effort to explain the weaknesses in
the argument of Crito in terms of the specific character and situation of
the interlocutor. O f course, explaining the presence of weaknesses is dif-
ferent from showing them to be strengths. But Stokes also argues that
Crito is not as intellectually limited as he is sometimes represented, and
therefore that the arguments of the Laws are not as bad as they are some-
times portrayed:

5. A. D. Woozley devotes a mere eight pages (1979, 11-18) to this prominent subject, which
in Plato runs from 44b-48b. R. Kraut, although claiming that Crito is "as careful a dialogue as
Plato wrote" (1984, 7), barely even mentions this theme. R. Polansky (1997) is one of the few
who takes this section seriously, arguing that the arguments for obeying reason and for obeying
the law are interdependent and contribute to the unity of the work.
6. See C. Kahn, 1989, 35.
7. See especially E. Benitez, 1996, and M. C. Stokes, 2005.

Whether it was philosophically reprehensible in Plato to make the Laws

argue ad hominem, against a homo, a person, Plato had himself in some
measure created as an author remains debatable. It would have been more
clearly reprehensible if Crito's original argument were not such a natural
one for a reasonably intelligent man in Crito's position to construct (74).

It would surely be a mistake to portray Crito as more of an ignoramus

than he is and then charge Plato with taking the easy way to win the argu-
ment. And Stokes performs a valuable service in exposing the virtues of
both parties to the debate. But even if we grant this general point, we are
still left wondering why Plato wished to portray the kind of arguments
that a not unintelligent man would make to Socrates and the kind of
arguments that Socrates, whether fictional or historical, would make in
reply. While Socrates succeeds in raising some points of genuine intel-
lectual interest, the arguments as a whole fail to persuade contemporary
philosophical readers and would not presumably have persuaded many
advanced students of philosophy in Plato's time either.
Not only are the individual arguments of the Laws unpersuasive, the
range of issues they treat seems unsuitable. Whereas early in the dialogue
Socrates claims that the only issue worth considering is justice (48b-d), in
practice he has the Laws consider other issues as well. If he was planning
to bring in a variety of issues, why did he claim so emphatically that justice
is the only thing worth considering? If on the other hand he did wish to
limit the discussion to justice, why does he bring in the other arguments
anyway? Such arguments may be effective on Crito, but they do not very
well illustrate a coherent "method of deliberation.
Given the relatively modest level of philosophical rigor at which the
conversation is held, one wonders how substantial is the disagreement
between the view of the dialogue as "dialectical deliberation" and G.
Grote's view of it as essentially "rhetorical" in ~ h a r a c t e r .O~n one view,
Socrates is arguing in accordance with the beliefs and opinions of one
particular individual, which he does not necessarily share; on the other
view, Socrates is making arguments he does not necessarily believe in
order to have a persuasive effect. The difference is perhaps a small one;
but the latter seems closer to the truth for one reason: the conversation is

8. See G. Grote, 1875, 433.


by no means open-ended. A true dialectical deliberation, as I understand it,

would not aim at a pre-ordained conclusion. But Plato clearly does direct
the conversation in Crito to a pre-ordained conclusion. His aim is to explain
(ex post facto) why Socrates did not flee, not to investigate the question of
whether he should or not. The character Socrates does not seriously consider
the possibility that escape would be right, even though the author Plato had
the resources for such an argument, and could easily have portrayed him
considering it. Since, as I will argue, the pre-ordained conclusion is one
which is formulated with a public controversy in mind, Crito is best charac-
terized as an rhetorical or apologetic composition in the guise of a dialectical
deliberation. O r a political act in the guise of a theoretical discussion.
Most of those who advocate an interpretation of the dialogue as rhe-
torical make the mistake of limiting the rhetoric to the speech of the Laws,
arguing that only here is Socrates using rhetorical (by which they mean
emotionally powerful but philosophically weak) arguments. This approach
has been taken by numerous writers, and has been argued in great detail by
R. Weiss.l She argues that the speech of the Laws is designed to persuade the
non-philosophical Crito to accept Socrates' decision on grounds other than
those which motivate Socrates himself and that there is a fundamental con-
flict between the initial arguments that Socrates presents in his own name,
which do represent his own opinions, and the speech of the Laws, which he
brings in only as a last resort when real philosophy fails him. 'Thus, despite
the rhetoric, there is real philosophy in Crito, only it must be carefully ex-
tracted from Socrates' own allusive phrases.
This line of interpretation is not impossible, but it requires an unusual
conception of what Plato was aiming at in writing the dialogue. O n the
one hand, Plato does present his own thoughts in the form of Socrates'
initial arguments. But on the other hand, he does not aim at offering a full
account of his thought, since he portrays a Crito who is unable to appreci-
ate it, and a Socrates who ceases to express it at the point where he gives up
on Crito and introduces the Laws. This puts an extraordinary burden on
the reader, who must not only recognize that the speech of the Laws does
not contain Plato's genuine ideas, but must also reconstruct those ideas
out of the brief comments that he made previously. This would be par-

9. G. Young, 1974; L. Strauss, 1983; M. Miller, 1996; V. Harte, 1999; J. Beversluis, 2000;
R. Weiss, 1998.

titularly demanding in a live reading-session, since the reader or listener

would have no way of knowing in advance that Socrates will change gears
half-way through, and hence would not have had any reason to make the
effort to derive a full theory from his initial remarks. It is not easy to see
why Plato would want to make it so difficult for his readers, and one sus-
pects that this approach demands a theory of esotericism.
A second problem with dividing sharply between the "rhetoric" of the
Laws and the arguments of Socrates is that, as T. Gergel and others have
argued, rhetoric is found throughout the dialogue, even in the speeches
which Socrates attributes to no one other than himself.1° Gergel argues
that rhetoric can play a valuable role in the exposition of philosophical
arguments, in this way questioning the traditional distinction between phi-
losophy and rhetoric. But the pervasive presence of these elements may
also be taken as a sign of the rhetorical character of the composition as a
whole. This way of viewing the dialogue becomes more attractive when we
acknowledge that Plato was writing within the context of a public contro-
versy concerning Socrates. It suggests that his composition aimed in part at
responding to the slanders of enemies of the deceased and his followers.
In order to account fully for the drama and argumentation of Crito, we
need then to leave the sphere of the drama and take a look at the "meta-
dramatic" dimension, asking what purposes Plato has in providing this
portrait of Socrates' deliberations concerning his best course of action.
A published dialogue is different from an actual conversation. While a
conversation is directed essentially towards an interlocutor, a published
dialogue is published for the sake of an audience. Plato chooses and de-
lineates an interlocutor, one presumes, in order to facilitate his aims in
regard to the actual audience. Unless the audience is somehow identical
in character, situation and intellect to the interlocutor-a circumstance
that is difficult to imagine-the published dialogue will pursue somewhat
different aims with regard to the audience than those the lead character
pursues with regard to his interlocutor. In cases such as Ion and Euthyphro
it seems obvious that few members of the audience would resemble the
interlocutors, and hence that Plato's aim in the composition is not identi-
cal to Socrates' aim in the conversation. In principle this should be true of
the other dialogues as well.

lo. T. Gergel, 2000.


What then is Plato's aim in publishing Crito?Crito is a far more reason-

able interlocutor than either of the two semi-comic figures I have men-
tioned, so it will not surprise anyone to learn that one of Plato's aims is
to persuade at least some members of the audience, as Socrates persuaded
Crito, that it was best for Socrates to obey the decision of the court, despite
its injustice. But while the arguments used may persuade some they have
proven troubling not only to those who expect philosophic rigor, but also
to those who recognize the composition as dialectic, but expect a more
serious dialectic encounter. Rather than indicating Plato's philosophical in-
capacities, these weaknesses suggest that he had other aims in mind as well.
The weaknesses we have mentioned do not mar the composition seriously
once we recognize that its primary aim is not to impart a philosophical
teaching or to offer a lesson on philosophical method but to offer a portrait
of Socrates' deliberation that will influence public attitudes concerning
Socrates and his friends." Crito offers a portrait of Socrates' thoughts and
behavior that counters the disgrace into which he and the remnants of his
social circle had fallen, and helps restore their confidence and strengthen
their social and ideological coherence after the crisis of Socrates' execution
had threatened to scatter them. Plato's aim is not to demonstrate that the
slanderers are wrong, but simply to counter the effect of the slander by
providing a fictional portrait of Socrates which shows him in a much more
favorable light.12 Because of these meta-dramatic aims, Crito's accusations
and Socrates' replies at times threaten to break out of the dramatic context
and address directly the concerns of the contemporary audience.
It may seem intuitively obvious that Crito is enmeshed in contem-
porary polemics concerning the circumstances of Socrates' death. But in
order to appreciate its effect on the character of the work and thereby
assess its aims, we need to take a closer look at some features of the histori-
cal context that are directly relevant to the subject of Crito. These can be
found in part by comparing other contemporary documents, but primar-
ily by looking at Crito itself, since only here can we identify those aspects
of the debate that Plato intended to address.

11. The artistic quality of the dialogue as a whole, as well as the fact rhat the entire conversa-
tion was ostensibly a private one to which Plato was not privy, make it doubtful rhat Plato pre-
tends to record historical fact. This was not his aim even in Apology (see above chapter one).
12. As I noted in the previous chapter (note 47), such portraits can have a profound impact
on people's attitudes towards historical events despite their fictive character.

One thing we know with certainty about Socrates is that he was exe-
cuted by an Athenian court in 399.13 In addition to the personal loss
involved, this would have caused intense disgrace in the intimate world
of the Athenian polis (see Crito 45e-46a).14 The disgrace would have
been augmented by the fact that, unlike other objects of public enmity,
Socrates was not a political figure against whom jealousy might naturally
be felt; that he failed in the one area-persuasion-where some thought
him competent; and that he did so while facing charges which would
have seemed dubious to many.15 It seemed that Socrates' own behavior
in court brought about the death-sentence, and this made him look es-
pecially foolish.16
As Polycrates' katcgoria S6kratous and Xenophon's apologetic writ-
ings make clear, attacks on Socrates continued after his death. As I have
argued in the previous chapter, in attacking Socrates, Polycrates was also
attacking the reputations of his remaining friends and disciples. In such
a context, responses by these disciples would aim not only at exculpating
their master, but also at redeeming their own reputations.
What kinds of attacks were made? According to Xenophon's
Memorabilia, Socrates was charged with harboring disrespect for a variety
of authoritative institutions of the city, including the laws and customs of
the city (Mem. 1.2.9), and the institution of the family (Mem. 1.2.49-55).
In addition to such accusations, Socrates' enemies also ridiculed him for
his failings, inclu ding, as we have seen in the previous chapter, for his
incompetent performance in court. 'They may have ridiculed him for the
long term he spent in prison, suffering from fear and dread of his forth-
coming execution. Plato devotes some effort to showing that Socrates did

13. The limits on our knowledge of Socrates are properly emphasized by M. Montuori,
198 1. See also L.-A. Dorion and M. Bandini, 2000, vii-miii.
14. See A. W. H. Adkins, 1960, chapters 15- 16. The harm and embarrassment that Socrates
apparently caused his friends and allies may help explain Xenophon's efforts to show that he
was actually of benefit to them (see e.g. Mern. 2.60-61, 64,4.8.11, Ap. 34).
15. Note Xenophon's incredulity concerning the sentence in Apology (25; 28) and in
Memorabilia (1.1.1-10; 1.1.17-20; 1.2.1-8).
16. Xenophon Apology, 1. Xenophon's Socrates proposes no alternative to the death penalty,
thus forcing it on himself. Diogenes Laertius implies that many of those who voted to acquit
nevertheless voted for death as the punishment, which seems to indicate that his proposal of a
punishment was counter-productive (2.42).

not suffer in this way at all." In the opening scenes, Plato contrasts the
nervous and worried Crito, who arrives before dawn to bring comfort and
assistance, with the relaxed and good-spirited Socrates who seems utterly
indifferent to the prospect of death (43b). Crito allows Socrates to sleep as
long as possible so that he may be spared consciousness of his terrible cir-
cumstances; but unlike tragic heroes, who may indeed have been better off
not knowing the bitter truth," Socrates is unperturbed by knowledge of
his difficult circumstances. Crito is so impressed by Socrates' calm that he
tells him that although he always considered him eudaimon, now he does
so even more (43b). 'This one statement neutralizes both slanders concern-
ing Socrates' miserable life and slanders concerning his suffering in prison.
Socrates explains that it would be absurd for an old man to be upset about
dying (43c).19His quotation of Achilles' words about returning home to
Phthia (Iliad 9.363) draws attention to the contrast between Socrates and
the tragic hero. While for Achilles, Phthia symbolized escape from death,
for Socrates it symbolizes death itself. Socrates does not entertain illusions
of escape and survival, but remains firm and unperturbed in the face of
death.20Achilles' great biographer21 composed an extended lamentation
for his hero, but Plato holds up Socrates only as a model of eudairnonia
and an object of envy and emulation.
But Crito is primarily devoted to answering a different charge, the
charge of friendlessness. The dialogue suggests that Socrates' enemies
derided him for not having acquired a single friend willing or able to
help him in his distress. Whatever friends he had seemed to have aban-
doned him in prison and made no effort to free him." Such claims would
have reflected poorly not only on Socrates, but on all those who claimed

17.See also Xenophon Apology, 33.

18.See e.g. Ajax 257-280; Oedipus Rex 332-3.
19. Crito is deeply troubled by the news that the ship will soon arrive, signaling the time for
the execution (43c). Socrates comforts him by deducing from a dream that the ship will come
later than Crito believes. But he seems to be joking with Crito: if we are destined to die, does
it really matter whether it is tomorrow or the day after?
20. L. Strauss points out the contrast between Achilles' decision to disobey his superior and
desert from the war effort at Troy, and Socrates' intention to obey (1 983, 55).
21. So Homer was sometimes viewed in antiquity. See e.g. Arrian, Anabasis, 1.12.3-4.
22. David Schaps has pointed out to me that there are few if any records of escapes from
Athenian prisons. But Crito's assumption that he and others will be blamed for failing to
help him escape would be incoherent if the possibility were not a real one. It is possible that
Socrates' unusually lengthy stay in prison would have made escape a more realistic option than
it usually was. (See Stokes' comment, 2005, 45).

some connection with him. Xenophon does not address the disgrace of
the Socratic circle directly, perhaps because being absent from Athens he
was hardly aware of it, or because writing later he did not need to address
it. Instead he concentrates on positive subsequent developments, such as
popular longing for Socrates (Ap. 7; see Mem. 4.8.1 1) and Anytus' fall
from grace (Ap.31). But he may be responding to charges of friendlessness
when he portrays Socrates as supported by loyal friends who spoke at his
trial (Ap. 22), who tried to offer a penalty on his behalf (Ap. 23) and who
attempted to persuade him to escape from prison (Ap. 23).23
This charge and others are made clearer in the text of Crito itself. Crito
twice draws Socrates' attention to the existence of popular slander con-
cerning the behavior of Socrates' friends. Despite Plato's propensity for
creativity, Crito's words must be taken as evidence for the existence of such
slander, and also as a fairly reasonable description of at least some of the
elements it contained:

But listen to me now and let yourself be saved. Since if you die this will be
for me not a single tragedy. Apart from being deprived of a good friend, such
as I never will find again, it will also seem to the many, who do not know
me and you well, that I was able to save you if I was willing to spend money
but failed to do so. But what reputation is worse than that of seeming to
think money more important than friends? For the many will not believe
that you yourself did not wish to get away from here even though we urged
it. (44b-c)

I am ashamed for you and for us, your friends, lest it seem that this whole
episode concerning you occurred because of some unmanliness on our part:
the fact that the issue came to trial when it didn't have to, the very conduct
of the trial itself, as it happened, and finally this, the most humiliating part,
that we seem to have run away through some weakness and unmanliness on
our part, since we did not save you-neither did you save yourself-which
would have been possible if we were of any use at all. Consider Socrates
whether in addition to the suffering (74 K ~ K G
) things are not shameful
(ataXp&)for you and for us. (45d-46a)

23. The first of these does not appear in Plato, which suggests that Xenophon did indeed
have an independent source.

Within the drama, Crito is considering only the possible, in his view in-
evitable, result of Socrates' hypothetical failure to escape. But his words
were published for an audience which knew more than we do about the
ensuing events. Historically speaking, Socrates did fail to escape; and
Athenians must have reacted to this either by slandering Socrates and his
friends24or by not doing so. The fact that Plato's audience knew which of
these happened is a fact of some significance, for while Crito as we have
it is consistent with an audience such as us, which does not know what
ensued, it is not easily made consistent with a readership that knew that
no slander had occurred.
If no slander had occurred, Crito's expression of his fears would, like
Oedipus' conspiracy theory, look to a contemporary audience like an
exercise in pure fantasy. One might imagine that Plato is happy to make
Crito look absurd by expressing fears that have no grounding in reality,
If so, there would be irony in his foolish expressions of fear, an irony
that would have been palpable to a contemporary audience. But Plato
does not capitalize on this irony in any way. The master of irony offers
no hints that this slander may not materialize. O n the contrary, rather
than expressing any prescient skepticism, Socrates assumes throughout
that the slander Crito speaks of is likely to materialize. His advice that
Crito pay no attention to public slander would hardly be appropriate in a
composition that was published after everyone knew no such slander ever
occurred. Not only would Crito's fears look foolish on this hypothesis,
but, more importantly, Socrates' advice not to bow to public opinion
would look ludicrous.25
These considerations make it difficult to deny that the slander Crito
describes, or something much like it, did occur. We should also be willing
to consider the possibility that this slander was more justified that we
usually assume. Many readers of Crito today take it for granted that
Socrates had friends who offered to help him in his time of distress. But
what real evidence is there? As we have noted, Xenophon also mentions

24. Crito's repeated use of the first person plural-which does not refer to himself and
Socrates (see 46a: mi TE ~ a ' i;IP~v)-shows that he is concerned not merely with his own
reputation but with that of a larger group of Socrates' friends. See e.g, ;Iy;v TV; O&V
~ T ~ L T ~ (45e)
~ E ~ and qL V 78
I V & ~ a v 8 ~(lT ~ ) IiCL€TbPSL
(45e -twice).
25. We may add that Plato's rare mention of himself in Apology (38b), where he offers to pay
a fine of Socrates' behalf, may also reflect an effort to reply to this very same slander in a way
that sheds favorable light on himself.

an offer to free Socrates from prison (Ap. 23) and he may possibly possess
an independent authority for that; but he may equally well be basing
himself on Plato's report,26 or have invented the claim independently:
Xenophon was even more committed to a view of Socrates as a popular
teacher than Plato was. But if Plato aims to address this charge, he can
point only to a single Athenian (Crito) who actually made an effort to
save Socrates. The others whom Crito mentions as willing to help are all
foreigners.'' If other Athenians did take part in the plot, Plato has denied
them the dignity of a mention. Unless Plato is writing mendaciously, no
more than the few people he mentions, at most, took part in it.28The fact
that Plato describes the visit as occurring in the very early morning, prior
to regular visiting hours, when no witnesses aside from the guard would
have been present (43a), suggests the possibility that the entire episode

Rightly or wrongly, it seems undeniable that very many people in

Athens believed that Socrates had been abandoned by his friends. Crito
himself says that most people would never believe that Socrates would
have refused such an offer (44c). This implies that they would not believe
that a viable offer had been made, for if it had, according to them, Socrates
would have taken it.30This statement clearly implies that most members

26. In the opening words of Apology, Xenophon refers to others who have written on the
subject, and it is quite possible that this includes Plato.
- -

27. Crito 45b; at 44e-45a and 53b he implies that there are additional supporters, but he
declines to mention their names.
28. Michael Stokes has suggested to me that the limitation of the personnel might be ex-
plained alternatively by Plato's desire to avoid exposing the accomplices to prosecution or
denigration for having conspired to commit a crime. Crito died around the time of Socrates'
execution (D. Nails, 2002, 114-1 16) so it would have been safe to use him. This may also
explain the statement of Idomeneus (recorded by Diogenes Laertius 2.60; 3.36; see 2.35)
that it was Aeschines not Crito who had urged Socrates to escape. Plato may have replaced
Aeschines with Crito not out of jealousy but in order to prevent recrimination against him. If
he was already dead at the time of publication, Crito could not have countered any of Plato's
claims. If he in fact died before Socrates' trial, as some have argued, the fictional character of
the dialogue would be patent. O n the other hand, it would be unlikely that anyone would be
prosecuted for caving conspired to commit a crime that never occured.
29. It has been suggested to me that the early hour may have been necessary for the plan of
escape, but it seems at least as reasonable to escape at night. The fact that the guard is said to
have been bribed would explain any denials the actual guard might make.
30. Note especially the reference to the many o'i ip.2 K C L ~o i p? ua+& ZUCL(JLY (44b) and
the contrast with the &TLELK~UTUTOL (44c) who will believe that an offer was made and refused.
Obviously, Plato himself does not believe that Athenian attitudes can be easily altered. His
acknowledgement of this is designed to forestall criticism and at the same time to ridicule those
who do not accept his account.

of the audience were unaware of the existence of any viable offer, and that
Plato is presenting them with new information. This in turn adds to the
likelihood that his former associates were subjected to slander.
If slander really occurred, we need to take it into account in inter-
preting the dialogue. It implies that by speaking of his fears Crito not
only gives expression to the emotions of the character he represents,
but also partly disrupts the fiction by addressing an issue that had been
raised in contemporary circles. By speaking of his fear of slander, Crito
is meta-dramatically referring to the historical slander that had already
been voiced. By raising a contemporary issue in this vivid a manner, the
composition raises the expectation that some response to the slanders
will be offered.
This perspective helps alleviate one of the weaknesses that have been
detected in the portrait of Crito. Crito's complaints about his own per-
sonal reputation and those of Socrates' other associates have seemed exces-
sively self-centered to many critics.31Indeed, he focuses almost exclusively
on the suffering that he and Socrates' other associates will experience if
Socrates fails to escape. It is not easy to say why Plato would have wanted
to create a portrait of Crito that is unflattering in just this way. M. C.
Stokes suggests that Crito's words may be attributed to his accurate per-
ception that Socrates would not take his own material conditions into
account, but might well take into account those of others (2005,37). But
Socrates never says that he is indifferent to his own material conditions or
concerned with those of others.32Stokes cites Apology 30b in this context;
but there Socrates only explains that he believes virtue to be more impor-
tant than wealth, and therefore exhorts others to pursue it. If anything,
that shows a lack of concern for the financial prosperity of others: his ex-
hortations to pursue virtue will only tend to reduce their opportunities for
the pursuit of wealth. Socrates does not say that virtue aids in acquiring
wealth, but only that it makes wealth good.33SOSocrates has no reason to
spare the property of his friends unless he is sure that they already possess

31. For references, see Weiss, 1998, 40, n. 2, 43-56; Beversluis, 2000, 59.
32. Stokes also suggests that Crito is enunciating a moral concern: that Socrates' unwilling-
ness to flee would be an act of injustice to his friends (175-6). But while Plato does discuss the
damage Socrates' escape might cause his friends (i.e. 53b) he never argues that this would make
escape unjust, as Stokes acknowledges.
33. See Stokes 1997, 69.

virtue. It is of course possible that Crito's emphasis on his own potential

discomfort is based on a misapprehension that Socrates would be moved
by such considerations. But while we are certainly free to take such a view,
there is nothing in the text to suggest it.
M. J. Plax argues that Crito's repeated emphasis on the ease of solving
the financial difficulties could indicate a degree of insincerity in his pro-
fessed willingness to assist Socrates (2001, esp. 68). One may wonder why
he even mentions the threat of sycophants and the moderate expenses they
entail (45a) and why he reminds Socrates that he already has given him
money (45a-b). His mention of other potential donors might also seem
a hint that all in all he would rather not spend his money (45b). But I
doubt that Plato wishes to portray Socrates' only good friend derogatorily.
As one learns from Xenophon, Crito was genuinely plagued by sycophants
even before the trial of Socrates (Mem. 2.9). 'The issues are raised here, I
suggest, because they are the issues Plato is addressing in this composition.
Plato wants to address and deny the charge that the Socratics abandoned
Socrates out of financial considerations. In a dialogue, he had no choice
but to raise this issue except by putting it in the mouth of a character, and
Crito is the most appropriate one for that purpose.34A contemporary au-
dience would have recognized that by speaking of his fears Crito is merely
serving as a mouthpiece for criticisms they have already heard, And over-
look any unflattering implications we may find in the portrait.

Who exactly is Plato addressing in this work? As Stokes points out, the
two passages we have quoted differ in that the first expresses the opinions
of the many, while the second expresses Crito's own opinions (2005, 48-
9). 'This division thus reflects two distinct reactions to Socrates' failure. O n
the one hand, the many derided the Socratics for the whole embarrass-
ing failure to defend or rescue Socrates. O n the other hand, the Socratics
themselves felt humiliated by it. In a similar way, Crito employs two dis-
tinct kinds of arguments in his appeal to Socrates (44e-46a). While these

34. Although Plato could of course have decided to introduce an additional character for this
purpose, the problem would remain, since any other participant in an offer of escape would
necessarily be a friend of Socrates.

are often classed as "worldly" and "moral" arguments, they can also be
seen as responses to criticisms of Socrates' friends by outsiders (44e-45c4)
and a voicing of another kind of criticism of Socrates by his former friends
In response to the slander of outsiders, Plato portrays Crito offering
Socrates a realistic option of escape. Crito mentions that he has already
given Socrates money, which implies that at least some assistance was ac-
tually given (45a-b). He has also lined-up additional donors from whom
Socrates might be more willing to accept aid (45b) and he has a plan for
a place of refuge in 'Thessaly (45b-c). Crito explicitly denies the charge
that Socrates' friends were reluctant to take on the risks involved, ex-
plaining that the escape will cause them no serious troubles (44e-45a). In
this way he refers to and answers popular criticism of those who claimed
that Socrates' friends abandoned him for considerations of personal
'This passage is also addressed to the Socratic circle, some of whom
may regret not having done anything for Socrates. Plato shows them
what would have happened if someone had. Since Socrates would have
refused vehemently and been well-disposed to meet his fate, nothing they
could have done would have altered the results. If Plato can also show that
Socrates' choice would have been the right one, he may be able to per-
suade them that they had done the right thing by not even trying. Plato
himself clearly did not offer any assistance at this point, so the portrayal of
the futility of Crito's effort may aim also at exonerating himself.
But humiliation and embarrassment were not necessarily the only re-
actions of Socrates' former friends. Seeing Socrates' own behavior as the
cause of the slander from which they are suffering, it would not be un-
natural if some of Socrates' former friends blamed him for that suffering.
This does not necessarily mean that they believed he refused an offer of aid
or blamed him for that-it may never have happened or almost no one
may have known it did-but merely that they believed he had failed in
court and thereby caused the slander from which they were now suffering.
Plato dramatizes this complaint, by portraying a Socrates who deliberately
refused an offer of escape.
Crito argues that Socrates will be harming himself and his philoi if
he allows himself to be killed (4%-d); that doing so means promoting
the designs of enemies who want to destroy him (45c) and acting in an

unvirtuous and unmanly way (45d-e); and that it will make them all
look incompetent (45c-46a). Bordering on the indelicate, Crito adds that
Socrates seems to be taking the easy way out (45d) and he tell him that
he shares the blame for not saving himself (46a). These charges are appro-
priate not only to a Socrates who was thought to have refused an offer of
help, but also to one who merely disappointed his friends by his incom-
petent handling of everything connected with his trial and execution. In
the historical context, they air the concerns of any Socratics who suffered
personally from the popular slander and preferred to blame Socrates for
causing it.
All of these criticisms, which are hypothetical and prospective in the
dramatic context, will appear to the contemporary audience as criticisms
of actual deeds, those of Socrates' friends or those of Socrates himself.
While Crito's deeds serve to answer the criticisms of Socrates' friends,
Socrates' words to Crito serve as an answer to criticisms of Socrates' own
behavior. The second half of the composition is devoted to answering
these latter criticisms by offering a portrait of a Socrates who freely deci-
sion to accept his unjust punishment because of his devotion to justice
and the Law.

In Plato's portrait, Socrates is not the passive victim of his enemies, but
decides his own fate. While in Apology, Plato offered a portrait of a Socrates
who made a serious effort to win an acquittal, and hence a Socrates who
in some sense failed, in Crito he draws closer to the model that Xenophon
offers in his Apology, a Socrates who chose to die. In Xenophon's view,
Socrates did not care if he angered the judges and brought about his own
death, since he knew that it was better for him to be dead rather than
experience the decrepitude of old age (Ap. 5-9). By portraying Socrates'
refusal to escape, Plato is able to add this powerful image to his own
menu. More clearly than the Socrates of Plato's Apology, the Socrates of
Crito did not cling to life; rather he faced his death courageously and with
To make this point, Plato adopts heroic models drawn from Greek
literature. He models the work as a whole on a heroic pattern famil-
iar from Greek tragedies such as Sophocles' Ajax, where the sincerely

devoted but unheroic Tecmessa engages in a futile effort to persuade the

hero to change his mind and renounce his suicidal intentions. 35 AS in
such cases generally, Tecmessa points especially to the suffering that will
come to her and to her children ifAjax is gone (485-524). Crito plays a
similar role in attempting to persuade Socrates not to die, and he even
uses similar arguments (44b; 45c-d). The issue of Socrates' injustice to his
children may seem like one of Crito's stronger arguments, but the ability
to resist such considerations can also be seen as a sign of heroic strength.
It does not necessarily reflect hardness of heart, but rather a recognition
that one must meet one's fate bravely and without evasive gestures. By
putting the issue in these terms, Plato places Socrates squarely in the
Greek heroic tradition, leading the reader to expect the inevitable refusal
of the heroic figure and his subsequent s ~ b l i m a t i o n . ~ ~
Attributing these motives to Socrates offers Plato a special oppor-
tunity to respond to the charge that Socrates showed disrespect to the
laws of the city. Plato's efforts to combat this charge are most obvious in
the great speech he attributes to the Laws, as we will see. But through-
out the dialogue Plato portrays Socrates as a man of consistent moral
principles, and one who lived up to them. In replying to Crito, Socrates
says that he has always been the kind of man who listens to or obeys
only the logos, "and not now for the first time" (46b). He says that he
cannot now throw away the principles (70;s X6yous) which he has long
proclaimed, but that he still honors them (46b). He asks whether the
truth of their earlier conversations has been altered by the fact that he is
now facing death (46d). Later Socrates asks, referring to principles that
he and Crito have obviously discussed many times, whether these prin-
ciples remain in force (48b). Again, Socrates mentions that they have
many times agreed that doing injustice is never good or fine (49a). These
words, like Crito's earlier comment that Socrates appears now as happy
as ever (43b), show how Plato uses the present occasion to respond to
public perceptions about Socrates' life in general. This demonstration of
moral consistency is possible only because Plato has given Socrates the
opportunity to refuse a plan of escape.

35. See also S. White, 2000, on Plato's efforts to transform Socrates into a tragic hero.
36. There are of course important differences between Socrates and other heroic figures.
Socrates' heroism is motivated nor by a concern with honor (see Phaedo 68b-69d), but by his
moral concern to avoid wronging the laws of the city.

The effort to put Socrates' commitment to justice on display may help

explain the brevity with which Plato presents his arguments concerning
the importance of j ~ s t i c e . ~Socrates
' asks whether life is worth living if
one is damaged in "whatever part of us it is that injustice and justice are
about" (47e-48a) and Crito agrees that it is Socrates asks whether
the "justly" and the "well" are identical, and Crito agrees that they are
(48b). This swift agreement precludes the necessity or opportunity for
any serious discussion of whether or not justice is always worth pursuing.
Stokes argues that the swift agreement is due in part to Crito's unphilo-
sophic character (2005, 92-3). But Plato's portrait makes it seem that this
is a subject that the two men have discussed previously, and that no more
than a brief reminder is needed (48b; 49e). Why does Plato present this
issue as a matter of long-standing agreement, when on other issues he
presents Crito as not especially insightful into Socrates' thought? Why
does he avoid any serious discussion of justice in a work which ostensibly
shows that it is better to die than perform an act of injustice?39
Here again, it helps to take into account Plato's aims with regard to his
audience. The swift agreement on the unvarying importance of just be-
havior seems designed to make a good impression on any readers who are
not yet convinced of Socrates' sterling attitudes towards justice. A lengthy
discussion concerning justice would risk creating the impression that de-
votion to justice was a matter of dispute among Socrates' closest friends.
Such discussions can be presented without impropriety only when Socrates
confronts those who like 'Thrasymachus and Callicles raise doubts about its
importance, or those who like Glaucon and Adeimantus need reassurance
about it, but not when talking to a close friend like Crito. By showing that

37. Plato apologizes for the brevity of the philosophical discussion on rhis and other points
by having Crito exclaim that there is really no time for discussion and that immediate action is
demanded (46a).
38. Scholars have speculated about Plato's reason for using rhis circumlocution or onkos (see
Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.6) instead of the simplerpsuch~L. Strauss (1983, 58) and R. Weiss (1998,
43) argue that this is meant to indicate Crito's intellectual limitations, and there is no doubt
that as R. Weiss shows (1998,43-56) Crito is presented as limited throughout Plato's writings.
But Crito's limitations do not explain the absence of the terrnpsucht? psucheis not an especially
abstruse term; and although it is absent Socrates still asserts that there is something in us that is
harmed by the performance of injustice, and Crito understands what he means and accepts this
difficult claim as self-evident. It is possible that the term psuch~does not appear here simply
because it is unnecessary for the argument to specify what part of man is harmed by perform-
ing injustice (see Stokes 2005, 69), or that the onkos is used merely for its decorative effect.
39. This question is raised by John Glucker, quoted in Stokes, 2005, 91.

devotion to justice was a matter of complete and unquestioned consensus

within Socrates' closest circle, Plato combats any impression of moral cor-
ruption within that circle.

Before Socrates responds to Crito's offer of escape, he responds to Crito's

fears concerning his own personal position. If publicized in the immedi-
ate aftermath of the execution, this would have been a question of great
concern to Socrates' former associates. Socrates does not dismiss or belit-
tle Crito's fears; nor does he suggest that the slander Crito faces is unlikely
to materialize. His first response is to tell Crito to pay no attention to it.
The doings of the many are of little concern since they are not able to ac-
complish any great evil or good (44~-d).~O Their opinions are of no great
concern either (46b-48a). We should honor ( T L P ~47a) V or make much
( ~ r ~ T~oXXOG
pl T~OLE^L(J~QL,
46e) of some opinions and not others, the good
ones (XPTu~&s), not the bad ones, the opinions of the wise (+poviPwv).We
should pay attention ( T ~ ~ O U T~ ~~ VVEOL~ V
V47b) to the one who knows.

Why does Socrates insist on Crito's ignoring the opinions of the mob!
One might imagine that a philosopher would be willing at least to con-
sider the opinions of his opponents, even if he does not agree with them.41
One possible explanation is that Socrates does not, at this point in the
dialogue, expect Crito to be capable of much independent thinking, and
therefore seeks to cut off any serious consideration of opposing views. As
Woozley says of the dialogue as a whole, "Philosophically, it would have
been a fuller discussion if Crito had been up to propounding the objec-
tions to Socrates' own arguments; but he was not" (6). But surely this is
to put the cart before the horse. It is a mistake to imagine that Crito, a
character in Plato's dialogue, has forced Plato to write a dialogue other
than the one he wanted to write. If Plato had wanted a fuller philosophic

40. One must puzzle over the fact thar Plato does not use Socrates' predicament to illustrate
the power of the many, but rather Crito's predicament. This would be particularly strange if
writing after the event Plato knew full well thar the mob had done nothing at all to Crito.
41. m e n Aristotle limits the range of opinions he will consider he is careful to include those
that are especially prevalent: "To examine all the opinions that have been held were perhaps
somewhat fruitless; enough to examine those that are most prevalent or that seem to be argu-
able." (NE 1.4) Plato himself frequently addresses the opinions of the mob, as for example at
Republic 358a.

exposition, he could have chosen another character or characterized Crito

as more capable of expounding objections.
The explanation for the prominence of the arguments against consider-
ing the claims of the mob must be traced to Plato's own aims with regard
to his audience. In the context ofpublic slander the elitist attitude Socrates
expresses serves a very obvious purpose: by encouraging Crito to ignore
the popular slander, Plato encourages the audience to do so as well. Since
Plato cannot hope to reverse the tide of public opinion completely by
means of his dialogues-he can guarantee neither that everyone will read
them nor that all will be persuaded-his first aim has to be strengthening
the spirits and commitments of the remaining Socratic partisans and the
waverers among them, and he does this by advising them to ignore the
slander altogether.
In addition to ignoring the crowd, Socrates advises Crito to rely on an
alternative human authority, the "expert." It is hard to imagine the Socrates
of Plato's Apology believing in the ready availability of moral experts. And
if he did, why does he emphasize the singularity of the expert, implausibly
ignoring the possibility that more than one individual might possess the
requisite expertise (47b2-d6)? Various suggestions have been made con-
cerning what expert he might have in mind-the Laws, Socrates, Crito,
some divine person-but as Stokes shows (2005, 55-68) none of them fits
the bill, and none is suggested noticeably by the text.
Stokes suggests that the reference to the one expert may function as a
rhetorical device to wean Crito from reliance on groups of any kind, even
on experts, and to induce him to rely on reason itself4' Tnis is confirmed
in Stokes' view by the fact that the single expert is later replaced by a dif-
ferent standard, namely the standard of truth (48a). But it is hard to see
why Crito could not have recognized the importance of truth without the
intermediary doctrine of the single expert. This is especially perplexing
considering that to represent a single expert, rather than a group, as the
only possible alternative to the opinion of the mob is implausible. Why
introduce an implausible argument as a stepping stone to an eminently
reasonable one? If Plato cannot guide Socrates' interlocutors towards truth

42. (62-8). See also Benitez, 1996. One could also suppose that the singular reference is
merely a reflection of the fact that every expert is identical to every other expert insofar as he
or she is an expert, and that therefore there can only be one expert. See Laches 186d, where
Socrates expresses surprise that two experts could disagree.

except by means of the concept of a single expert, why does he not respond
to Glaucon and Adeimantus in some analogous way in Republic book two,
after they have spoken so impressively about public opinion? Is Crito por-
trayed as such a foolish man as to be unable to appreciate the idea of truth?
In fact, however, Socrates speaks of the logos as his guide prior to speaking
of the expert (74 ho@: 46b) and Crito shows no difficulty with that.
I suggest that the use of the singular is meant primarily to highlight
the irrelevance of the numerous mob of Socratic detractors. We may be
best off glossing Socrates' words as, "even if there should be only one such
expert." His use of the word p6vos (47b) suggests such an interpretation,
and this is also the point in a parallel passage in Laches (184e-185a). In the
context of widespread hostility it would be useful to point out that one
right opinion is better than a million false ones.
One may also speculate that Plato does have a particular person in
mind. With few internal clues to tell us who is a candidate, it may help
to consider the meta-dramatic dimension. If Plato wrote Crito for the
reasons we have suggested, he clearly saw himself as capable of filling the
role of moral expert, at least in relation to this c o n t r ~ v e r s y If
. ~an
~ internal
reference is intended, that would not contradict the existence of a meta-
dramatic reference as well; and the difficulty we have in pinpointing any
internal reference suggests that this latter is the more important one. I
suggest that by these words, just as by the publication of the dialogue,
Plato encouraged his audience to consider him as a valid moral authority,
despite his numerical singularity.
'This perspective enables us to explain the contrast between the assump-
tion of the availability of an expert in Crito and the ignorance that Socrates
claims to have discovered in himself and others in Apology. 'This contrast
can be explained by the different aims of the two compositions: in Apology
Plato wishes to distinguish Socrates and his mission from the activity of
those whom he calls sophists and to modify the image of Socrates' over-
weening arrogance in court. For these purposes, he creates a Socrates who
is not aware of possessing any knowledge. In Crito, on the other hand,
he aims to offer leadership to his companions in a time of crisis, and this
requires a certain claim to expertise. Even in Apology, Plato is careful to

43. Indeed, Stokes himself twice suggests that there may be a reference here to Plato himself
(61-2; 65). Plato's use of the term &raiwv for expert may be intended to soften the implied
arrogance of such an implication.

have Socrates express qualified approval of sophists, if they should really

possess the ability to teach virtue (19e-20c). In Meno he claims, ironi-
cally or otherwise, that the sophists are competent teachers of virtue, and
mocks Anytus for failing to investigate their claims (91b-92d). In Laches
he bemoans the fact that he has not been able to pay the fees required to
learn from the sophists (186c).These expressions, and others like them,
seem designed to leave open the possibility that someone like Plato may
one day prove capable of fulfilling the unfulfilled promise of sophistry.

Instead of considering the issues that Crito has raised-expenses, reputa-

tion and the raising of children-Socrates dismisses them as the concerns
of the mob and insists that the only question worth considering is justice
(48c-d). He argues that one may ignore the mob with impunity, since
they can cause one no harm (44d; 46c; 48c). It is a peculiar fact that this
principle, so relevant to Socrates and his fate as victim of the mob, is raised
to alleviate Crito's concerns for his own personal well-being. It is surely
possible that some of Socrates' former associates suffered from the mob
in the period following his execution, and that these words are meant to
reassure them. Undoubtedly, the words also refer indirectly to Socrates
himself, reassuring everyone that he was no one's victim.
Crito offers no objection to Socrates' radical methodological principle,
and the investigation of the justice of the case swiftly becomes the central
theme of most, but not all, of the ensuing discussion. 'This argument enables
Plato to solve two apologetic challenges in one stroke. He can explain
Socrates' refusal to escape in a manner which demonstrates his extraordi-
nary devotion to justice, law and the city. This would have been a surprising
argument to anyone who believed that Socrates was a criminal with little
respect for the law. It would have been surprising if anyone would accept
an unjust execution for this reason. It is the decision to frame the explana-
tion in these terms that gives rise to all the weaknesses in the subsequent
argument. Simply put, there would be hardly any injustice at all in escaping
prison, and in order to justify Socrates, behavior on these grounds, Plato
will have to work very hard to find some.
In order to do so, Plato has to argue that committing injustice is never

worthwhile and is in fact worse than dying. He then needs to argue that
escape would involve committing injustice while the alternative to escape
would not. As Plato himself should have known, neither of these argu-
ments is particularly compelling.
Socrates argues that the most important thing is living well, not mere
living, and that living well means living justly (48b). Socrates and Crito
seem to think that this implies that death is preferable to living badly or
unjustly. But the fact that living well is more important than mere living,
does not imply that death is preferable to either of them. That would only
follow if death were a form of living well.
Socrates has also argued that life is not worth living if one's soul is
damaged by injustice (47e-48a). Apparently he believes that any single
act of injustice is sufficient to irreparably damage the soul and render it
unworthy of continued existence, although he does not state this explic-
itly.44But how reasonable is such a claim as far as Plato is concerned? In
Republic, where Socrates discusses injustice at great length, he argues that
injustice is a bad condition of the soul, comparable to a physical illness,
and that this state makes the life of the unjust man unbearably bad (445a-
b). Individual acts of injustice are problematic because they tend to bring
on this state of the soul (444d). One act is not necessarily enough to create
an unjust disposition, just as one act is not enough to create a just one.
Socrates acknowledges that justice can be produced in the soul by means
of acts of justice ( 4 4 4 8 . Like all opposites, justice is produced from its
opposite. The soul which becomes just must have been unjust. It is hard
to see how a single unjust act could create a state of irreversible injustice in
the soul. But only in such a case would an act of injustice truly be worse
than death.
Even if death is preferable to the commission of any act of injustice,
it still needs to be shown that escaping prison is such an act. Socrates is
aware that evading an unjust sentence is only a doubtfully unjust act.
While unjust in one way, it is also just in another way. Therefore he gains
Crito's agreement to the claim that one must never do injustice in any
way (49a-b). This implies that any degree of injustice at all is sufficient to

44. Why does Socrates not simply gain Crito's admission that death is preferable to perform-
ing any act of injustice? Perhaps this would seem too implausible to members of the audience.
Similarly, his obscuring of the difference between injustice as a state of character and an act of
injustice contributes to making the refusal to perform an act of injustice seem reasonable.

render an act forbidden and that no extenuating circumstances can justify

an act that contains any degree of injustice at all. Thus even self-defense
does not justify an act of injustice (49d).
These principles are extremely rigid, and applying them to particular
cases yields paradoxical results. It is essential for Socrates' argument not
only to show that escape involves injustice, but also that remaining in
prison involves no injustice whatsoever: if the alternative to escape in-
volved even some degree of injustice it too would be ruled out and there
would be no act available that would fulfill Socrates' strict demands. It
would not help to argue that more injustice is involved in one than the
other, since according to Socrates' principles life is not worth living if one
commits any injustice at all. Socrates does not consider the possibility
that a degree of injustice might be involved on both sides of a difficult
moral dilemma. But what if it is? In such a case an opportunity would
be presented for sleight of hand. One could reach any conclusion one
wished merely by posing the question as one chooses. It would be possible
to eliminate either of the options merely by submitting only the other to
examination. This is what Plato does. He frames the question as follows:
. . . nothing else should be considered than what we just said, namely
whether we will be acting justly by offering money and thanks to those who
will take me from here, whether escaping ourselves or being helped away, or
in truth do we do injustice by doing these things (48c-d)

By putting the question in this way, Socrates determines which alternative

will be forbidden. Since there is a degree of injustice in escaping, escape is
clearly forbidden and remaining in prison appears to be the only option
What if Socrates had asked about the justice of submitting to an unjust
punishment? Would it have been impossible for him to reach the conclu-
sion that some injustice is involved in cooperating with an unjust punish-
ment? Could he not have argued that aside from the injustice of the act of
self-destruction itself, the consequences might involve injustice to family
and friends? Plato offers some arguments that could be construed as at-
tempts to dispel this possibility. His earlier denial that the actions of the
many constitute a serious harm may aim in part at neutralizing this objec-
tion: no harm can be caused to Socrates or his family and friends by the
mob. Similarly, Socrates later argues that escape would not enable him to

help his family much anyway. But it is hard to agree that an exile is really
as useless to family and friends as a dead man. And even if the suffering his
relatives and friends would experience after his death would be illusory,
would it necessarily be just to put them through it?
Even if his execution causes no harm to Socrates or his friends, it might
cause harm to its perpetrators. Let us not forget that the court order is in
Plato's view an act of unqualified injustice. In Apology, Socrates blames
the Athenians for their unjust decision even while he denies that he will
suffer from it personally (39c-41d). Instead, he argues that his accusers
and those who voted against him will suffer from the very act of commit-
ting injustice. Plato's Socrates frequently says that committing an act of
injustice is worse, more harmful to oneself, than suffering one (Ap. 39a-b,
Gorgias 469b, cf. Republic 445a-b). By enabling them to kill him unjustly,
Socrates thus enables the people of Athens to suffer great injustice. Could
this not be considered an act of injustice on his part? Is it so different from
returning a weapon to a raging madman (cf. Republic 331c)?
Cooperation with an act of injustice could arguably cause harm to
Socrates himself as well, not only because it means suffering an unjust
punishment, but also because it means perpetrating one.45Participation in
an act of injustice is harmful to the perpetrator, which is presumably one
of the reasons that Socrates was always careful to avoid injustice even when
commanded to perform it (Ap. 32c-d). Similarly, Xenophon's Socrates
refuses to name a penalty on the gounds that it is wrong to perform an
act of injustice against oneself (Ap. 23).46None of these characteristically
Socratic considerations, any of which would complicate the clear-cut deci-
sion that Plato depicts, is even raised in Crito.
In his most explicit effort to address moral objections to Socrates' deci-
sion, Plato makes a daring move. He argues that the concerns about "the
payment of money, reputation and the raising of children" are not relevant
issues, since justice is the only thing worth considering (48c). By saying
this, Socrates denies that the results of his decision to die could be unjust

45. Colson (1989) recognizes that some such argument could be made, and assumes that
Socrates therefore faces a moral dilemma (39-40).He argues that Socrates reaches the conclu-
sion that on balance escape would involve doing greater injustice to himself, since it would
force him to live apart from Athens, the only suitable context for philosophy, without which
life is not worth living (40-5 1). But his principles here do not admit of degrees of injustice.
46. Aristotle on the other hand denies that one may do injustice to oneself (NE 5.9.1-8)

without saying why. If he were committed to a thorough philosophical

discussion or to a convincing deliberation, he would need to explain why
justice and injustice could not be involved in decisions bearing on the
payment of money, reputation, and the raising of children. By categorizing
these subjects as irrelevant to the question of justice, Plato forecloses any
complete consideration of justice. Once there is no injustice in Socrates'
submitting to injustice, any injustice found in escape will be sufficient to
determine his course of action.
But even after dismissing these alternative moral claims without a
hearing, Plato still needs to demonstrate some degree of injustice in es-
caping an unjust sentence. This is no easy task. For the Greeks, injustice
was closely tied to causing harm. But who would be harmed by such an
e ~ c a p e ? The
~ ' city is the only reasonable candidate, but it is hard to see
how any serious damage could be caused to the city. Indeed, Plato does
not argue implausibly that Socrates' escape would offer tangible harm to
the city. He does not argue that his hypothetical act of disobedience, if
viewed by others as a model for behavior, would lead to the widespread
violation of the law. Instead he argues only that escaping prison means
nullifying the law concerning obeying decisions of the court:48
"Tell me now, Socrates, what do you have in mind to do? Are you intending
to d o anything by this act other than destroy us, the laws, and the whole city
as well as far as you can? O r do you think that a city can exist and not be
overthrown in which the existing laws are not in force, but become lacking
in authority ( B K U ~ Oand
L ) are destroyed by private persons?" What should
we say, Crito, in response to these and other such charges? For one could
say many things, particularly if one is a public speaker, about the law which
establishes that enacted rulings are authoritative ( ~ u ~ i a being
s) destroyed.

Here Plato raises the possibility that disobedience of the law could destroy
the city. If all the citizens disobeyed all the laws, as Socrates disobeys one

47. Even the prosecutors may have favored escape. Although they proposed the death
penalty, they may well have counted on Socrates to propose and win exile. In Xenophon's
Apology, Socrates forces the death penalty on himself by refusing to name any alternative. In
Plato's Apology too his proposal of a penalty does not seemed designed to persuade the judges.
The prosecutors may well have been distressed to be put in the position of Socrates' killers.
48. 50a-b. Kraut points out, 1984, 132-7, that the Laws do not argue that Socrates' act
would actually lead to mass disobedience. See also A. D. Woozley, 1979, 111-140.

of them, all the laws would be effectively annulled. But Socrates is only
one citizen, and he disobeys only one law, one which happens to demand
an unjust action. The Laws do not argue that Socrates' disobedience would
lead to a general weakening of obedience to the law, presumably because
this would have seemed an unlikely eventuality. Socrates was neither in-
fluential enough to have such an effect, nor his fellow citizens upright
enough in Plato's view to make the effect of Socrates' act significant. In
what sense then does Socrates' act destroy the law? All Socrates need be
saying is that it would nullify the city's law concerning obedience to legal
rulings as far as he is concerned. Although the law would still remain in
force with regard to others, its area of authority would have shrunk by one
member. This damage to the laws and the city is the modicum of damage
that would be required to render Socrates' escape unjustifiable.
This argument creates some difficulties. It does not seem obvious that
a city is an entity which can suffer acts of injustice. As Aristotle says, a city
is a kind of association created by human beings to achieve their own ends
(Politics 1.1). Plato offers a similar picture in his description of the origin
of the city in Republic book two. As such, the only damage that should be
considered is that done to the members of the association. But Socrates
neither shows that the city is other than an association, nor what damage
he would be doing to its members.
To answer this difficulty, Plato has recourse to a brilliant stratagem:
he personifies the Laws and presents Socrates' hypothetical escape as a
personal offense against them.49 By this device Plato not only provides
a convenient literary means for presenting Socrates' arguments, he also
transforms the city into a being against whom a harmful act could be
considered an act of injustice. He enables us to hear the Laws' complaints
and sympathize with their plight as though they were sentient beings.50
This dramatization is effective precisely because it allows us to overlook

49. Socrates was not the first to recognize the importance of law. Heraclitus had already said
that "The people must fight on behalf of the law as though for the city wall" (Diogenes Laertius
9.2) and Sophocles had made a similar point (Antigone, 175-191). What seems new here is the
idea that disobedience to the law is analogous to a crime against a person, since the laws have
a kind of personhood.
50. This was noted by A. D. Woozley, 1979. "To say that he imagines them as personified is
misleading, because at least the first two of the three arguments why he should not break the
law depend upon the laws actually being in some sense persons." (1979,28) See also M. Miller,
1996, 125-6.

the fact that the laws have no existence independent of the citizens and
are not normally thought of as beings, much less as beings which can be
treated unjustly.
Even so, the amount of damage that Socrates points to seems quite
small. 'The Laws implicitly acknowledge this by focusing primarily on
Socrates' allegedly hostile intentions. 'They say that by escaping Socrates
would be destroying the laws-and the whole city-so far as he is con-
cerned ( ~ bubv pkpos. 50b) or as much as he can (6oov 8 6 v a a a ~51a).
'They emphasize that Socrates' intention in escaping would be to destroy
the city and its laws: " S ~ a v o j706s TE v6pous ;1@s ci7~0Xkua~" (50b; see
also 50d; 52c; 54c). Clearly they recognize that the damage he would be
causing is negligible.51
But the argument concerning Socrates' intentions is perhaps the most
implausible of all the arguments that they offer. 'The assumption that
Socrates would escape in order to destroy the city as far as he could is both
gratuitous and false. It is obvious that any offense he might thereby cause
to the city would be only the unintended consequence of an act aiming
to preserve his life. Indeed, Socrates has acknowledged this when he per-
suaded Crito to agree that one may not even defend oneself if it involves
doing harm in return (49d). R. Kraut offers no defense of the Laws' argu-
ment on this point, commenting only that "the Laws have a strong case
against Socrates even if he is not trying to destroy the city. . ." (132). One
can only presume that Plato did not intend this argument to be taken too
No more reasonable is the argument that escape would be the sum
total of the damage that Socrates could accomplish if he put his mind to
it. Surely, Socrates could harm Athens in other ways after escaping if that
were what he wanted to do.
But while the arguments presented by Socrates may not be compelling,
they do serve to offset the slander against Socrates and his associates. At
the very least, they offer a portrait of an extraordinary devotion to justice.
Socrates is willing to die rather than commit an act that could hardly be
discerned as an unjust one by many Athenians. Even if they judge that he

51. See A. D. Woozley, 1979, 111-121, especially 115: "[The argument concerning the con-
sequences of an act of disobedience] is a very weak argument, because in almost all circum-
stances the correct answer will be that very little, or even that nothing, will happen if he does

was foolish to let himself be killed for these reasons, Socrates' critics can
hardly accuse Plato's Socrates of an insufficient regard for justice.
In addition to transforming the laws into victims, Plato heightens their
victimhood by pointing to their superior status. Since the laws and customs
of the city regulate the marriage of citizens and the education of children, in-
cluding the marriage of Socrates' own parents and the education of Socrates,
he is in effect their child or slave (50e). His obligation to the city is far greater
than his obligation to his parents, however, since the laws are far more sacred
and august than are parents (50d-5 lc). Just as the city has the right to order
citizens to participate in its wars, so too may it ask them to lay down their
lives (5 1b). The disparity between the city and its citizens is so great that one
can never be justified in acting against the city's orders (50e).
Strictly spealung, the status of the Laws is irrelevant to Socrates' case.
As long as some injustice can be shown this would by agreed principles
prohibit escape. But the argument that Socrates offers enables him both
to magnifying the crime and to emphasize Socrates' profound sense of
respect for the Laws. In portraying the citizen as a child or slave of the Laws
Socrates goes beyond what most citizens would have said, including those
who condemned Socrates. He expresses sentiments that no one would have
associated with a man deserving of death, certainly not one condemned for
teaching young people to hold the city and its laws in disdain.

Plato also argues that Socrates may not justly escape on the gounds that
he has agreed to obey the laws (50c; 5 1e) and done so to a special degree
(52a-c). Since he has agreed to obey the laws, he cannot now disobey the
law demanding obedience to decrees of court (50c). Strictly speaking, this
argument is unnecessary since Socrates has already shown the injustice
of escape on other grounds. Moreover, the argument is in tension with
the superior status argument as Plato has described it: how can a slave or
child gain further obligations by his own free action? One may adduce
two reason for its inclusion: it offers an additional proof of the injustice of
escape, and it enables Plato to offer a brief biographical sketch of Socrates
which emphasizes his devotion to the laws and city of Athens.52

52. I must acknowledge, however, that an analogous tension exists in the first book of

The Laws argue that those who do not take advantage of the oppor-
tunity to leave the city have implicitly accepted the authority of its laws
and decrees. Socrates has demonstrated his satisfaction with Athens to a
greater degree than other citizens ( 8 t a $ ~ p 6 v ~ wat
s 52b and 53a) by re-
fraining from leaving the city even for short trips (52b) and by raising his
children in it. By so doing he has implicitly renounced any claim against
the laws.
But the argument contains serious w e a k n e ~ s e s As
. ~ ~Woozley points
out, there are sometimes circumstances in which justice demands break-
ing an agreement (22-27). It is perfectly conceivable that one agreement
could conflict with another, or with a ruling made by the city. And it is
hard to agree that the failure to emigrate is adequate evidence of satisfac-
tion with the city's laws, since such failure could be attributed to a variety
of factors other than satisfaction with the laws. For example, Socrates may
have found other cities more objectionable than Athens, he may have
enjoyed personal relationships with individuals in Athens whom he did
not wish to abandon, or he may simply not have had the financial re-
sources or foreign contacts to make a move feasible.54
One might imagine that if Crito had been a more critical interlocu-
tor, he would have been able to make some of these points. But, says
Stokes, one has to consider the rhetorical situation in which Crito finds
himself. Since his aim is to persuade Socrates that exile is an attractive
option, it would not be in his interest to argue that Socrates' remaining
in Athens was due to any dislike or difficulty involved in foreign travel
(154). This is surely an attractive and ingenious line of speculation, but it
is not a persuasive one. Simply put, Crito could indeed have raised objec-
tions to the contract argument. He could have pointed out that Socrates
had in fact criticized the laws of Athens (see Memorabilia, 1.2). Some af-
finities to cultural aspects of democratic Athens n ~ t w i t h s t a n d i n g ,Plato

Aristotle's PoLitics, where he treats the state both as an association, formed by a conscious act
for obtaining mutual benefits, and as a natural entity comparable to a living organism.
53. See A. D. Woozley, Law, 76-109 for a more detailed discussion of the weaknesses in this
54. One could defend the Laws' argument by assuming that what they mean to say is that
overall the city has proven the most attractive option of those available to Socrates, and that
this is enough to obligate him to observe their injunctions. But Plato has not developed this
line of reasoning.
55. See S. Sara Monoson. 2000.

himself is generally critical of democracy, and would not have devoted his
two largest works (Republic and Laws) to envisioning alternative politi-
cal arrangements if he thought the laws of Athens were perfectly satisfac-
tory. Such arguments would undoubtedly assist in his effort to persuade
Socrates to abandon Athens. But in order to make the case for obedience
in Crito Plato has Socrates affirm his complete satisfaction with the laws
of Athens (50c-e; 5 1d-53a). At the very least, this seems to contradict the
attitude Socrates displays in Apology where he criticizes the Athenian law
restricting capital trials to a single day (37b).
Crito could have suggested that Socrates' failure to emigrate previously
was undoubtedly due to financial considerations, and that this problem
is now solved by the generosity of his foreign friends. O r he could have
argued that it was attachment to family and friends that restrained him,
and then pointed out that death would not provide a better opportunity
for such contact in the future. In short there is a whole range of arguments
that Plato could have raised if he had wished to do so. But his aim here
is not to consider the full range of arguments, but to make the case for
Socrates' refusal while highlighting his lifelong love of the city of Athens.
In doing so, Plato offers a surprising portrait of a Socrates who exhibits
the very highest regard for Athenian law, a portrait which contradicts the
popular prejudices against him in the sharpest possible way.
While these objections make the arguments less persuasive, they do
not spoil the composition. The live audience would not necessarily have
noticed the weaknesses that we can perceive in our leisured study of the
text. And even if some of the weaknesses would have been apparent, they
would not harm the portrait of Socrates' admirable character and motives,
which itself serves Plato's central apologetic aims. O n the contrary, by
manipulating the arguments as he pleases, Plato is able to create a bold
image of Socrates as someone who felt an unbreakable obligation to honor
an implicit agreement with the city. The social-contract argument may
be criticized on the grounds that it is relevant only to those who, like
Socrates, never left their cities; but that only shows that Crito aims to
explore, explain and extol Socrates' motivations rather than to clarify a
perennial philosophical problem.

Despite Socrates' claim that justice is the only consideration, he does

address the popular charges in detail. This in itself is a serious problem on
some views of the dialogue. If Plato planned to address the opinions of the
mob, why did he have Socrates flamboyantly dismiss them? And if their
opinions are not worth considering, why does he portray Socrates answer-
ing them? The difficulty is made even more peculiar by the fact that Crito
had never implausibly suggested that the mob is a reliable source of valid
moral opinions, but only something to be feared.56
Again, while the limitations of Crito or any other literary figure do
not provide a sufficient explanation for an author's words, the needs of a
contemporary audience do. For a contemporary audience a wide variety
of responses might be more useful than a single consistent philosophical
argument could be. While some could perhaps be persuaded to simply
ignore the slander, others would need answers. If Plato offered no further
response, he would risk creating the impression that he had none. These
considerations help explain the fact that, as has often been recognized,
Plato offers a variety of different and sometimes incompatible arguments
to show that escape was unwarranted. By doing so, he provides something
for everyone.
The Laws argue on prudential grounds that accepting the punishment
is the only reasonable alternative. There is no attractive place of refuge
after all. Socrates would have to choose between well-ordered states where
he would be treated as a law-breaker or lawless societies where he will be
humiliated in other ways (53b-54a); he would have little or no oppor-
tunity for engaging in philosophy (53e); but if he stays and dies there is
good hope for a friendly reception in the next world (54b-c). According
to these arguments, which are left unanswered, Socrates had no interest
in escaping and lost little or nothing by submitting to the penalty. This is
a surprising turn in the argument, since it not only undermines the claim
that Socrates submitted to his punishment simply because of his concern
with justice, but also vitiates Socrates' initial premise that the only thing
worth considering is justice.57

56. A. D. Woozley is the only commentator I have seen who noticed this difficulty (1979,
57. This problem was noted by M. Miller, 1996, 128.

A similar problem emerges when we consider Socrates' defense against

slanders alleging that he left his family in dire straits. This subject appears
to us as one of Crito's more forceful arguments (45c-d). Socrates at first
maintains that it is an irrelevant consideration, since the only thing to
consider is whether it is just to escape from prison or not. For this reason
he explicitly includes the raising of children among the concerns of the
many which are not relevant to the issue at hand (48c). And he dismisses
the question again in the speech of the Laws (54b). But he also returns
to the question and offers a response, pointing out that escape will not
promote the well-being of his children anyway, since he will not be able
to offer much support in exile, and that in any case his children will have
to depend on his friends (54a-b; perhaps there is here a not-too-subtle
reminder to those friends of their neglected obligations). By making this
argument, the Laws fail to adhere to Socrates' injunction earlier that one
must not pay attention to the opinions of the many and must not consider
anything other than justice when conducting proper deliberation^.^^ One
might respond that this argument, together with the earlier argument that
by escaping Socrates will put his friends in danger of retribution (53b),
should be construed as an answer to the charge that Socrates is doing in-
justice in one way by allowing himself to be killed. But Socrates never
makes that point. And this solution does not apply in any case to the argu-
ment that there is no available refuge. So it is probably better to treat all
of these arguments as pointing out not the injustice but the impracticality
of escape.
Even more surprisingly, whereas Socrates earlier insisted that one not
be concerned for one's reputation (48c), here the Laws point out that
if Socrates escapes his reputation will be damaged and that he will look
ridiculous if he goes around talking about justice when everyone knows
that he is an escaped criminal. He will be laughed at (53a), will confirm
the opinions of the prosecutors that he is not a man of justice (53b-c), and
will make himself look a hypocrite (53c-d). The Laws note that people will
comment on the fact that an old man like Socrates was so eager to cling to
life that he violated the most serious laws (53d). By raising these points,
Plato strengthens our conviction that Socrates made the right choice in

58. Woozley (1979, 10-1 1) noticed another contradiction as well: although Socrates rejects
the argument that he must show consideration for his children (48c), he also argues that the
laws of Athens insist that fathers take care of their children (50d).

accepting his punishment, but he undermines the argument that Socrates

was acting out of a pure concern for justice and the city. We are left won-
dering what Socrates would have done if he had had other options available
besides Thessaly? O r if escape would have enabled him assist his children
while preserving his reputation? And whether it is necessary to consider
what people will say, or not?59But if we are left wondering all this, then
what lesson, philosophical or deliberative, have we learned?
These difficulties can be addressed most simply by those who distin-
guish sharply between Socrates' own position and the position he attributes
to the Laws. R. Weiss argues that Socrates wished to convince Crito that
it would be wrong to escape only because it would mean harming himself
and his friends through involving them in injustice (1998, SO), and not
because of any obligation to the city. Only when Crito fails to grasp this
point does Socrates introduce the Laws and their rhetorical arguments
based on obligations to the city. If so, it is not surprising that the Laws
adduce practical arguments which contradict principles laid down earlier
by Socrates: Socrates' principles do not bind the speech of the Laws.
This argument gains some support from literary indications of the rhe-
torical nature of the Laws' speech. Socrates begins by describing the speech
as something an orator or public speaker might say (50b), and he ends by
comparing it to Corybantic music (54d). These references have been inter-
preted as indications that this speech is especially rhetorical in character.
But while the reference to an orator or speaker may well indicate a
change of some sort,60 it does not necessarily indicate that the previous
arguments were free of rhetoric. It may simply indicate the change in
tone and style that accompanies the Laws' lengthy peroration. As several
commentators have pointed out, there is no sharp break between Socrates'
arguments and those he puts forth in the name of the Laws." Socrates
has laid down the principles on which he can base his argument against
escape, but he did not clinch the argument prior to the speech of the Laws

59. D. Colson (1989, esp. 35-40) noted this problem and argued that Socrates' concern is
only for his future ability to engage in philosophy; but if this were the issue, why wouldn't
Socrates say so? The Laws' question "What will become of those conversations about justice
and virtue?"(53e54a) does not clearly refer, as Colson would like, to the possibility of future
conversations, but to the fact that his hypothetical behavior in escaping will contradict the
principles elaborated in his earlier conversations.
60. But see M. C. Stokes, 2005, 121-124 for a strong argument to the opposite effect.
61. See M. C . Stokes, 2005, 116-9, 201-9.

because he did not show how those principles apply to his own case. The
speech he attributes to the Laws thus provides a natural continuation and
conclusion of his argument.
R. Weiss argues that Socrates would obey the law only to avoid injus-
tice, and not out of concern for the city. But one of the principles that
Socrates lays down prior to the speech of the Laws is that it is wrong to
defend oneself if this entails causing harm in return (49d). This point
is relevant only because escaping the city would, according to the Laws,
entail harm of some sort to the city. It would not be relevant if Socrates
believed that only harmless injustice, or harmful injustice to self and
friends is worth taking into considerations. For these reasons, it is dif-
ficult to separate Socrates' arguments from those he makes in the name
of the Laws or to see the latter alone as rhetorical. As Gergel argued,
rhetoric is found throughout the composition.
When we take account of the rhetorical aims of the composition in rela-
tion to its historical audience, a simpler explanation can be found for the
introduction of these practical considerations. However successful the dia-
logue may have been in persuading the audience that justice is the only thing
worth considering, not everyone would be convinced. While it would make
a fine impression to portray Socrates as deciding solely on the basis of justice,
it would also have been worthwhile in the eyes of many to show that even on
practical grounds Socrates made the right decision. The argument about the
poor reputation that Socrates would gain if he escaped is particularly impor-
tant in this context. As we have argued, Socrates gained a very poor reputa-
tion when he did not escape. If Plato wrote this dialogue in part in order to
combat this slander, the argument that his successful escape would have had
a similar result would help persuade those of his former associates who could
not ignore the slander not to be angry at Socrates' failure."
Weiss argues that the reference to Corybantic music at the end of the
speech of the Laws, like the reference to a rhetorician or public speaker at
the beginning, indicates Socrates' lack of sincerity in the speech he attri-
butes to the Laws (1998, 84-95). A comparison with Alcibiades' reference
to Corybantic music (Symposium, 215e)63 shows however that the image

62. They would still have a right to be angry for his incompetent handling of the trial, a
subject that Plato wisely does not address here. In Apology he does address that issue, arguing
that Socrates' failure in court was due to his high moral principles. See above chapter one.
63. See M. C. Stokes' discussion, 2005, 187-194.

functions as an indication of a deeply moving intellectual experience. Here

Socrates seems to testify to his deep conviction of the rightness of his choice,
a conviction which was genuine and sincere even if some of the arguments
he used to support it may not strike everyone as convincing. Earlier in the
dialogue, Socrates recorded his firm personal belief that one may never do
wrong or harm in any way, but he made no attempt to persuade anyone
that this is the case (49c-e). Here Socrates says: "the sound of these argu-
ment rings so loudly in my head that I cannot hear any others. So know,
that as things seem to me now, it will be useless to urge a different view"
(54d). Crito's silence in response to this assertion does not necessarily imply
that he has been convinced by Socrates' arguments, but only that he recog-
nizes the firmness of Socrates' resolution. The audience may be expected to
follow suit. The composition ends, as it began, with a reassuring portrait of
Socrates' self-confidence, even after he has heard Crito's views.64

Despite all the objections I have raised, there is of course an underlying

good point to the argument in Crito. Plato has every right to argue that
the individual owes a great deal to his city, and probably much more than
most people are willing to acknowledge. As his image of the cave indi-
cates (Rep. 7,5 14a-5 18c), the city is even responsible for the way we view
the world, a point he fails to make in Crito. Taking the cave image into
account, Plato seems to acknowledge that we are products of the city to
a very large degree, and hence that the city really is in a sense our parent.
To argue that it is wrong to mistreat one's own source of being, even at
the expense of one's life, would not be an impossible leap. What is prob-
lematic about the argument in Crito is not that he makes this basic point,
but the effort to apply it to Socrates' position. This effort forces him to
adopt implausible arguments that purport to show that escaping an unjust
death-sentence is performing an act of grave injustice.
But there is still a serious discrepancy. In Republic there is something
beyond the cave, a realm of truth, nature or the good; and however strong

64. Here Stokes' position is not far from mine; he argues (2005, 53) that it is designed to
show that Socrates took his own moral principles seriously enough to decide on a question of
life and death by their light, an argument which serves an apologetic aim quite well.

the bond to culture and the city may be, man is ultimately bound more
closely by his connection to this transcendent realm. As a result, the phi-
losopher is obligated to assist his city only if it has provided a proper edu-
cation for him (520a-c). This is the real tension between Crito and Plato's
other writings, including Apology, where Socrates refers to his obligations
to the gods, and threatens to disobey a law commanding him to cease his
divinely sanctioned activity (32 c-e; 2 9 ~ - e ) In .~~Crito, Plato's aim is to
emphasize only part of the story-that Socrates recognized the depths of
his obligation to the city. But it is a sign of his philosophical integrity that
he never actually contradicts his affirmations elsewhere of the existence of
higher obligations. Rather than denying any transcendent obligation in
Crito, Plato simply omits any argument for disobedience based on such
obligation^.^' Crito's failure to refer to the gods in his argument may be
attributable to his personal limitations and his lack of understanding of
the divine. But Crito plays a role that Plato has created. The result of this
omission is that Plato is able to present an untroubled portrait of Socratic
obedience to the city, and to reserve the option of civil disobedience in the
service of the gods should it prove needful at some time in his political or
literary future.

We have argued that in Crito, Plato does not offer a tight philosophical ar-
gument, or even an exemplary case of deliberation, but a variety of differ-
ent arguments, many of them not very compelling. But this uncharitable

65. See R. G. Mulgan 1972; G. Vlastos, 1974; G. Santas, 1979.

66. Only Socrates speaks of the divine in Crito, in reporting his dream (44a-b) and in the
closing lines of the dialogue (54e). Socrates' reference to his dream seems to indicate that in
obeying the city Socrates is also acting in response to divine prompting. One may compare
Xenophon's Apology, where Socrates claims that the daimonion has indicated that it is good
for him to die (5-9). This might assist A. D. Woozley's argument that obedience to the god is
the prime factor not only in Apology but also in Crito (1979, 58). However, it is not clear that
the divine is capable of offering meaningful guidance on its own. As L. Strauss has pointed
out, the dream itself seems ambiguous since the location it mentions, Phthia, is in Thessaly,
the place where Crito would bring him (1983, 55). It is only Socrates' interpretation of the
dream that determines his course of action. This dependence of the divine on the rational may
explain the fact that the conclusions reached through argumentation can be referred to as the
direction of the god (54e). More importantly, the reference to the god>s approval in this case
reminds the audience that if the god did not agree, disobedience to the city would become a
real possibility.

view needs to be defended, in particular against a recent account of Crito

by M. C. Stokes which proposes a much tighter argument.
As we have seen, Plato's central argument is that Socrates refuses to
escape prison because he believes that it is wrong to commit injustice
in any way (49a), even in response to injustice (49b-c), and because he
believes it wrong to cause harm even in self-defense (49d). A great deal
of effort has been spent determining what exactly Socrates means by in-
justice in response to injustice. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of
thought. One holds that Socrates rules out any retaliation at all, and be-
lieves that any harm done, whether in response to harm or not, is unjust.
The other holds that Socrates is not espousing such an extreme view, but
that he tolerates some retaliation and forbids only excessive, dispropor-
tional and therefore "unjust" retaliation."
The question is important because it sets the parameters for Socrates'
later arguments. According to supporters of the first view, Socrates' later
arguments suffer from overkill. Once Crito has agreed that it is always
wrong to harm others, even in response to injustice, all Socrates needs to
show is that someone would be harmed by his hypothetical escape and
such a course would be ruled out. However, Socrates does much more
than this. In the speech he attributes to the Laws he also shows that escape
constitutes excessive retaliation.
For this reason and others, Stokes has argued that far from consider-
ing any retaliatory harm at all to be unjust, Socrates holds the common
sense view that only those acts of retaliation that exceed all proportion are
unjust, and only if there are no accompanying circumstances that justify
the excessive retaliation (see Stokes 2005, 81-5). Tnus in order to show
that escape is unjustified, Socrates has to argue that it entails more serious
harm to others than the unjust death sentence he is facing poses to him,
that it would be, in Dover's adaptation of the Biblical phrase, exacting "a
head for an eye," and that there are no extenuating circumstances which
would justify such excessive retaliation.
In order to make this case, Plato needs to employ all the otherwise
superfluous arguments he in fact employs. His emphasis on the superior
status of the Laws and the special regard in which Socrates held them is
necessary in order to show that the seemingly minor offense of escape

67. See Stokes, 2005, 75-77; 95-1 13, with references on 99.

is actually more severe than murder. Furthermore, since in some special

circumstances a head for an eye might be justified, Plato has to show that
no such circumstances obtain in Socrates' case. Therefore, he needs to
show that escape would do no one any good-not Socrates himself, not
his friends and not his children. This view has the great advantage of jus-
tifying the whole course of the discussion, rendering Socrates' arguments
necessary rather than superfluous.
If Stokes is right, I would nevertheless argue that one reason that
Plato adopts such a stringent approach is that it justifies him in offering
a lengthy list of objections to the plan for escape, thus making a stronger
impression that Socrates was right.
But others argue that there is no tight relationship between the prin-
ciples to which Crito agrees prior to the speech of the Laws (46b-50a)
and the arguments later employed by the Laws. The most extreme version
of this argument is the one set forth by R. Weiss, who, as we have seen,
argues that there is no relationship at all between the agreements Socrates
reaches with Crito and the speech of the Laws. I will argue for a more
moderate account of the relationship, in which there is some connec-
tion but not as strict as Stokes maintains. O n my view, Socrates elicits
maximum concessions from Crito, far more than he needs to make the
minimum case against escape. This enables him to show that escape would
be far more than minimally unjust. In other words, Crito has agreed to
more than Socrates needs in order to make his case, and the Laws make
arguments that go beyond the minimum necessary on the basis of Crito's
agreements. O n this view, the expansive arguments of the Laws are useful
for making a dramatic impression on the audience, but superfluous for the
strict argument.
After dismissing the opinions of the many as unworthy of consideration,
Socrates presses Crito to agree not only that &~LKE^LV is wrong, but also that
wrong as well. No one is quite sure what Socrates means by these terms,
since he fails to disambiguate them. Two of them are rare words (&VT~SLKE^LV
and & V T L K ~ K O U ~SO~ Ethe
^ Laudience
V), would not necessarily have had a
better insight than we do. The best we can do is to rely on context and on
the assumption that Socrates is making some coherent argument.
The central question is whether & V T C L ~ L K E ^ L V means any form of retalia-
tion, or only excessive retaliation. Taken literally, doing injustice in return

might mean going beyond whatever retaliation is justified. But what if

no retaliation, no harm-doing, is ever justified? In that case, &VT~SLKE^LV
would refer to any retaliation at all, and Socrates would be proposing a
ban on even minimal harm-doing, even in response to unjustified harm.
But we do not need to solve the problem of the meaning of &VT~SLKE^LV
in order to see that Socrates does propose such a ban. For Socrates also
elicits from Crito an agreement to a ban on ~ a ~ o u p y c ^ LStokes v. argues
that KCLKOU~-~E^LV here means to act wickedly or unjustly rather than harm-
fully (10 1-5). If so, and if to act wickedly means only to act unjustly, then
Socrates is wasting his time by asking Crito to ban it, for Crito has already
agreed to ban &SLKE^LV. Much better to assume that in asking whether
~ a ~ o u p y ~ ^isLnot v also wrong, Socrates is adding to what was previously
admitted. This means that ~ a ~ o u p y c tmust v be something less obviously
wrong than & ~ L K E ^ LIndeed, v. while it can mean to act wickedly, it is used
more commonly to mean simply "to cause harm" (LSJ, 164). But the
important fact is that it is an ambiguous term, and that Socrates uses it
ambiguously. Crito agrees to a ban on ~ a ~ o u p y c because, lv as he hears it,
it is virtually synonymous with &SLKE^LV. But Socrates seeks his agreement
on this term precisely because it is not synonymous. In his view, Crito has
made a major concession at this point, even if unwittingly.
Having achieved this verbal agreement, Socrates next introduces the
term & V T L K ~ K O U ~ ~ E ^ L V and asks whether it is permissible or not. Again, the
close analogy to & Y T ~ ~ L K E ^ L V and ~ a ~ o u p y c ^ Linduces
v Crito to concede;
but, again, if it were really a synonym Socrates would not have needed to
ask. It appears, then, that Socrates is seeking Crito's agreement that doing
harm in retaliation is wrong. There are two steps to Plato's argument. Just
as doing injustice is wrong, so is doing wrong, which means doing harm.
And so too is doing wrong, meaning doing harm, in retaliation.
Socrates does not leave it there. He next gains Crito's assent to the
proposition that ~ a ~ .rro~~'iv--which t s he implicitly treats as synonymous
with ~ a ~ o u p y ~ t v - ino s different from &SLKE^LV.Why does Socrates make
this substitution? Stokes argues that this term too carries essentially the
same meaning as &SLKE^LV.But if this were the case, Socrates would be
repeating himself once again. Moreover, K ~ K T~ O SL E ~ V is not as ambigu-
ous as ~ a ~ o u p ~ c ^ItL valmost . always means to cause harm, and almost
never to act unjustly, as Stokes acknowledges (Stokes 2005, 104). Stokes
argues that Plato nevertheless uses this word in the sense of &SLKE^LVin this

particular context. He suggests that Plato needs a parallel passive form,

unavailable for ~ a ~ o u p y ~ ^but L v ,available for ~ a ~ iTOLE^LV
js in the form of
~ a ~ iI jT s& ~ W . For this reason, Plato substitutes ~ a ~ i TOLE^LV js but uses it
in the sense of K ~ K O U ~ ~ Ewhich ^ L V ,in turn means &SLKE^LV.
But if Plato needed a term for &SLKE^LV which can be used in the passive
why didn't he use the term &SLKE^LV itself?
If Plato is a careful writer, it stands to reason that he does not mul-
tiply his terms unnecessarily. Since K ~ K G STOLETV is a less ambiguous
term than ~ a ~ o u p y ~ ^ itL vexpresses
, more clearly and less ambiguously
than ~ a ~ o u p y ~ the ^ L vmeaning of ~ a ~ o u ~ ~by e ^which
L v it is distinguished
from &SLKE^LV. 'Thus by the skillful employment of these terms, Plato has
subtly moved Crito to a position he may not have seen as self-evident.
We may think of ~ a ~ o u p y ~ as ^ Lav linking term which on the one hand
means &SLKE^LV and on the other hand means K ~ K D TOLE^LV. S By means
of the ambiguity of ~ a ~ o u p y ~ Socrates ^Lv is able to lead Crito over the
bridge from the ban on &SLKE^LV to the more comprehensive and counter-
intuitive ban on K ~ K G TSO L E ~ V .
It is true that Socrates concludes that ~ a ~ i TOLE^LV js is identical to
& ~ L K E ^ L v , just as Stokes argues. But if K ~ K TOLE^LV~ S were no different, at
least at first sight, from &SLKE^LV, this conclusion would be a tautology
Rather we have argued that this identification is counter-intuitive, and
consists in the assertion that any form of harm-doing is wrong because it
is, in effect, an act of injustice. By using these other terms Plato is showing
just how far the ban on &VT~SLKE^LV goes, arguing that it must include any
form of retaliation or harm-doing at all.
This concession is carried over to Socrates' concluding formulation.
Socrates' discussion with Crito culminates with the following agreement
which serves as the foundation or starting-point ( & p X 6 p ~ 0 a for ) the re-
maining discussion:
[I]t is never right to do injustice (&SLKE?V),
or to do injustice in response
to injustice (&VTU~LKE?V),
nor when suffering harshly (KUKOST ~ ~ O V TtoC I )
defend oneself (&pGv~uOa~)
by harsh retaliation (C~VTLS~GVTU

Here Socrates relates directly to the anomalous situation in which he finds

himself. By escaping, he will not of course be causing harm to the city in
response to his own unjust death at the hands of the city, for an escaped

Socrates is one who has not suffered such a death. For this reason, the verb
~ & q appears
w in the present rather than the aorist: Socrates cannot say
that his escape would be a response to having been killed.68For the same
reason, Socrates acknowledges that any harm he may do would be caused
by his effort to defend himselEG9
It is the third clause, that forbidding self-defense when such self-defense
would involve & v ~ ~ S p i jK v~K a Othat
S , is directly relevant to Socrates' case.
'The phrase & V T L ~ ~ K O~VKTOis~S most naturally interpreted as a reference
to causing harm in retaliation. Here Socrates offers the most extreme
version of his counter-intuitive claim, banning any harm-doing, even in
response to harm-doing, and even if necessary for self-defense.
'This view of Socrates' position is supported by the fact that Socrates ex-
plicitly speaks of the ban as something counter-intuitive, something that
the many would not agree to (49d). In order to defend the thesis that
Socrates bans only excessive retaliation Stokes argues that the counter-in-
tuitive element involved here is not the ban on &VT~SLKE^LV itself, but the
categorical nature of Socrates' ban on it, the fact that the ban on unjust
retaliation brooks no exceptions (2005, 107-1 13). But this is not the
natural way to read the text. By the time Socrates refers to the counter-
intuitiveness of the ban in the eyes of the many, Crito has already accepted
the categorical nature of the ban on injustice (that was discussed in 49a4-
49b8). Socrates then asks, "So after suffering injustice ( & ~ - ~ ~ S L K O ~ ~ E Y O
one should not do injustice in return (&vT~SLKE^LV), as the many suppose,
since one must in no way do injustice" (49b9-10). Here the mistake of
the many is not in denying the categorical nature of the ban on injustice,
a question they have probably never considered, but in thinking that in-
justice may be done in response to injustice, whatever that may mean
for them." Socrates repeats the fact that the many do not agree when he

68. This may also explain why Socrates' mere attempt to destroy the city is treated as a poten-
tially significant act of injustice: attempting to destroy is all that the city can be accused of if
Socrates does escaDe, and hence all that Socrates' retaliation need entail.
69. The fact that Socrates nevertheless rejects such self-defense provides a sufficient refuta-
tion of Kraut's thesis that according to Plato one is permitted to disobey the city while engaged
in an act of persuasion. Obviously self-preservation is a necessary component of any act, in-
cluding the act of persuasion, and so would always justify disobedience on this view. But in
Plato's argument, disobedience is banned whenever it causes some harm to the city, and thus
his Socrates accepts his fate. For criticism of Kraut, see T. Penner and D. Colson.
70. Justifying this anti-intuitive ban was presumably one of the reasons he dismissed the
opinions of the many earlier (46c-48a).

presses Crito to ban also K ~ K O U P ~ E ^ Leven V for someone ~ a ~ i .rrcia>(ov~a

(49~4-5).Again, the categorical nature of the prohibition is not at issue.
After concluding that one must not &VT~SLKE^LV or ~ a ~ i I jT Os L E ~ V even
those at whose hands one has suffered, Socrates makes a special request
to Crito to affirm that he sincerely accepts this anti-intuitive conclusion,
acknowledging that few people would agree (49c-e). Here again, he is not
referring to the categorical nature of the ban on & V T ~ ~ L K E ^ L V , but to the
ban on &VT~SLKE^LV and ~ a ~ i TOLE^LV
js itself. Socrates says that he has no
common discourse with those many who disagree on this point.71It is hard
to imagine that Socrates would have no common discourse with people
who accept his principles only in an un-categorical way. Thus Socrates'
words strongly imply that the principle under consideration is an extreme
one, namely a total ban on doing harm, and not merely a moderate ban
on excessive retaliation.
Support can also be brought from a comparison with Socrates' dis-
cussion with Polemarchus in Republic. As Stokes notes, Socrates argues
there that a just man will never do injustice or harm to another (334d-
336a).72 Thus he comes very close to claiming that causing any harm
would be unjust, very close to affirming that y&p TOU K ~ K BT SO L E ~ V
&v0p&.rrousTOG & ~ L K E ^ L V 0 6 8 2 ~S L ~ + + E L (Crito, 4 9 ~ 7 - 8 )There
. too Plato
acknowledges that such a doctrine-and not only its categorical applica-
tion-would seem absurd to many people, for Thrasymachus reacts with
strong disagreement to the nonsense that Socrates is spouting at exactly
the point where he bans all harm-doing (336b-d). Clearly there is no
absurdity in thinking that in Crito too his ban is on all harm-doing. The
fact that Crito accepts Socrates' view so easily shows that on this point,

71. This statement contains an implied threat: if Crito disagrees at this point, he will lose
his debating partner. Socrates is portrayed as using pressure throughout this conversation. He
repeatedly mentions that he himself personally accepts the principles under consideration, and
has done so for some time (46b-c; 48b; 49a ). He ridicules the possibility that Crito might
wish to revise their former opinions in the light of the current threatening situation (46c). In
pressing Crito to affirm a ban on violating one's word, he asks him whether one's commitments
should be upheld, or whether one should "play the cheat" ( ~ ( U T ~ T ~ 4%). T ~ OThis
Y : is obvi-
ously a highly prejudicial way of putting it, ignoring the possibility that extenuating circum-
stances might compel a decent person to deviate from his previously given commitments.
72. ?he similarity here suggests that this part of Republic may have been published not long
before or after Crito. Later in Republic, however, Socrates makes arguments which contradict
or modify the authoritarianism of Crito, by raising doubts about the philosopher's obligations
to any city other than the one he proposes. This suggests that the later part of Republic was not
written at the same time as Crito.

in contrast to others, Plato portrays him as familiar with Socratic teach-

ings. It is possible that the ban on ~ a ~ i jT TsO L E ~ V in Crito is even more
comprehensive, including a ban on all vicious behavior, for example, even
if it does not cause any tangible harm. What is clear, however, is that
it goes beyond the common-sensical notion that one must not retaliate
What is problematic here, and what has stimulated scholars to interpret
the ban in a less paradoxical way, is that as Socrates proceeds he does seem
to aim at showing that escape would be far more than a case of causing
harm or behaving viciously. He seems to aim at showing that escape would
be an injustice more serious than the unjust murder that the Laws are at-
tempting to commit against him. Socrates argues that the Laws are in
the position of parents, educators and masters, that Socrates is like their
child or slave, and hence that all retaliation whatsoever is banned (50d-
5 la). At points he even seems to argue that the Laws have the right to kill
their citizens without provocation (5 l a-c), which if true would imply that
no legal killing of citizens could be unjust. O n this view any hostile act
against the city on Socrates' part no matter how small would be an act of
excessive retaliation, an act of greater injustice than their non-existent one.
If Socrates' position is so strong, a ban on excessive retaliation would seem
sufficient. Why then does Plato offer a ban on all forms of harm?
The answer is that Plato has decided to use overkill. There are other ex-
amples of this. In addition to banning ~ a ~ o u p y ~ ^& LV TvL ,K ~ K O U ~ ~ E ^ L V , ~ a ~ i j s
T T O L E ~ V ,and & V T L S ~ & VK ~ K ~ Socrates
S , goes on to elicit Crito's agreement
that one must fulfill one's promises (49e-50a). He claims that by remain-
ing in Athens and raising children in it Socrates has demonstrated his
agreement to abide by the laws. We have noted weaknesses in the argu-
ment, but it is also true that strictly speaking the argument is unnecessary
for reaching the conclusion that Socrates may not escape from prison. As
long as that act would involve excessive or moderate injustice, he would be
prohibited from escaping even if he had never agreed to anything.
Similarly, the Laws emphasize that Socrates was pleased with the laws
of Athens (51d; 52b-53a). This too is in no sense a necessary condition
for showing that escape is unjust. It is not even necessary in order to show
that Socrates agreed to obey the laws, although it adds to that argument.
But the arguments adds to the dramatic effect of the composition. The
argument may serve to prevent Socrates from justifying disobedience on

the gounds that the laws are unworthy of obedience-the Laws have pre-
viously asked if he blames their regulations concerning education (50d) as
though such blame would reduce his obligation to obey. But why would
such blame reduce his obligation to obey laws that he has already agreed to
obey? Rather, Plato wishes to pile up the arguments, even if they are strict-
ly speaking superfluous. This piling up of arguments also enables Plato to
provide a brief biographical sketch of Socrates (52b-c), in which his failure
to visit abroad or to propose exile in court can be used as evidence of his
satisfaction with the city. And the whole emphasis on Socrates' satisfaction
with the laws serves to combat the popular image of Socrates as a discon-
tented citizen of Athens and agitator for non-democratic ways (Mem. 1.2
9; Crito 52e).73In the same way, while Socrates' emphasis on the superior
status of the laws and the city is not strictly necessary to prove the injustice
of escape, given the deep concessions made by Crito, it does add to the
dramatic portrayal of that hypothetical injustice at the same time that it
serves to combat Socrates' image as a despiser of the law.
From these examples we may conclude that the speech of the Laws
does not aim at providing the minimum case against Socrates based on
Crito's admissions. Without denying that causing any harm whatsoever
would be enough to prohibit escape, the Laws aim to show that escap-
ing prison would be especially wrong from many points of view and on
many different grounds. In the discussion with Crito Socrates achieves
maximum concessions; in the speech of the Laws he shows that in this in-
stance the case is far better than what he needs. That is surely a reasonable
strategy for persuasion, even if it does leave unclear the precise conditions
under which civil obedience is obligatory.

73. Another issue Socrates raises is the issue of persuasion versus violence. Socrates' Laws
repeatedly say that the only alternative to obedience is persuasion (51b2; 5 1e-52a) and they
portray Socrates' proposed escape as an act ofviolence (5 l c l ) . Plato prepares for this by having
Socrates raise the question of whether or not it is right to leave without the Athenians' agree-
ment (48b; 48e). Plato also has Socrates demonstrate his commirment to persuasion in practice
by having him say to Crito that he wishes to persuade him and not act against his will (48e).
This discussion is useful not only because it offers further justification for Socrates' decision to
remain in jail, but also because it enables Plato to answer the charge that Socrates encouraged
violent resistance to the city's institutions (Mem. 1.2.10-11). By having him speak so firmly
against the violence inherent in escaping, Plato turns one accusation against another, using
Socrates' failure to escape as proof of his commirment to persuasion and his unwillingness to
act violently against the state.
Chapter Zree

Disgracing Meletus:
Eutbypbro and the Socratic Controversy

w hat is the subject of Euthyphro? Some readers see it as a

substantive philosophic dialogue, treating the subject of holi-
ness (to hosion or to eusebes);'others see it as a methodological
dialogue, offering guidance concerning the nature of definitiom2 As a
substantive dialogue it raises suggestions about the meaning of holiness,
offers criticism of some contemporary notions, may arguably offer hints
concerning a Socratic t e a ~ h i n gbut
, ~ reaches no definite conclusions. As a
methodological dialogue it shows us what is wrong with some bad defini-
tions, and indicates something about what would be needed for a good
definition, but it is far from a thorough treatment of the subject, contain-
ing nothing like the complexities of Plato's later dialogues on definitions.
But these subjects do not exhaust the range of subjects found in
Euthyphro. In addition to offering lessons on definition and holiness, Plato
also raises questions about justice and filial piety, the reliability and moral
value of contemporary myths about the gods, the nature of legal and moral
disputes, and the reasons for Socrates' prosecution. These subjects do not
always seem directly or essentially related to either of the main topics of
the dialogue. For example, the conflicting views put forward by Socrates

1. I translate to hosion sometimes as holiness, sometimes as piety, depending on context.

Plato himself uses to hosion and to eusebes interchangeably in this dialogue. The use of the latter
term in the early part of the dialogue may be intended draw a parallel to the trial of Socrates,
who was charged with asebeia (impiety).
2. S. M. Cohen (1971) views the dialogue as primarily offering a lesson on definitions.
3. Among those who have found a positive teaching in Euthyphro (of very different sorts) by
reading between the lines are J. Burnet, 1924, 137 (with caution); W. Rabinowitz, 1958; P
Friedlander, 1958, vol2, 82-91; M. McPherran, 1985 and 1996; R. Weiss, 1994.

and Euthyphro about the reason for Socrates' prosecution do not seem to
advance any discussion of definitions; and although the question may be
tangentially related to the nature of holiness, it is not clear what exactly it
contributes. What explains this plethora of tangentially related topics in
this short dialogue?
In addition to the embarrassment of riches, there is also an embarrass-
ment of poverty. Although many subjects are raised, none is dealt with in
any great depth and some are treated in a manner which obscures rather
than illuminates them. It is sometimes thought, for example, that Eutbypbro
addresses the question of whether or not it is holy to prosecute one's own
father if he is guilty of murder. This is a serious question, and one which is
undoubtedly raised by the dialogue, but is it really dealt with? One problem
is that Plato raises doubts as to whether Euthyphro's father is actually p i l t y
of anything. It is not a matter of geat philosophical interest whether or not
one should prosecute one's father if he is innocent of murder. If Plato is in-
terested in exploring this question, why does he present a case in which the
father's guilt is at best ambiguous?
Another problem concerns the dramatic setting of the dialogue. Why
does Plato raise the question, "What is holiness?" in the context of the
prosecution of Euthyphro's father? If Plato is interested in examining the
concept of holiness, he could have had Socrates examine someone who
has spent much money on religious obligations, for example, or who has
failed to perform his religious duties. The context he has chosen, the pros-
ecution of a father, does not seem demanded by or even particularly ap-
propriate to an inquiry into holiness. According to one of the definitions
of holiness raised in the dialogue, holiness is a form of justice which con-
cerns relations with the gods, not with other men (12e; see Gorgias 507b).
The prosecution of one's father seems more naturally treated as an issue of
j u ~ t i c eVC?ly
. ~ then choose this as the setting for a discussion of holiness?
Most scholars now accept that it is a mistake to skip over small dra-
matic details in the story and focus exclusively on the philosophical argu-
m e n t ~ But. ~ it is not always clear how the dramatic details are related to
the philosophic subject of the dialogue, if they are. In order to find the
unifying principle of a dialogue, we need to ask what aim unites all of its

4. See R. Weiss, 1986.

5. See the introduction of J. Cooper and D. Hutchinson, eds., 1997.

parts and to be open to the possibility that the philosophical argument is

only one part, even if a dominant part, of the dialogue as a whole.

I will argue that the overall aim of the dialogue is to defend Socrates in
the context of his trial. 'This is pursued in a variety of ways, but chiefly by
attacking one of his prosecutors. Although the dialogue presents a con-
versation with Euthyphro concerning the prosecution of his father, it is
also meant to be read as an indictment of Meletus for the prosecution of
Socrates. It is an attack on Meletus in the guise of a conversation with
Plato announces his intention to comment on the trial of Socrates
in his very opening words (2a-3e), which concern the trial of Socrates
not the trial of Euthyphro's father. 'The question that is formally consid-
ered by the interlocutors, 'What is holiness?' is motivated explicitly by
Socrates' desire to succeed in his own defense speech. Socrates' claim that
he will be indebted to Euthyphro if he can teach him what is holiness (to
hosion) since this will help him escape Meletus (5a-d) makes the connec-
tion between the philosophic subject of the dialogue and Socrates' trial
unmistakable. Socrates continues to comment on the assistance he hopes
to gain from Euthyphro for his legal defense (6a; 12e); and at the very end
of the dialogue Plato returns to this theme, offering an novel explanation
for Socrates' conviction: if Euthyphro had given Socrates an adequate ex-
planation of holiness, Socrates would have been able to defend himself in
court (15e-16a).
Some critics imagine that "the charges against Socrates are just men-
tioned as a lead-in to the philosophical topic of the dialogue."' This is a
perspective that comes naturally to those whose prime interest is in the
philosophical arguments of the dialogue. But it would be poor form to
start the audience thinking about Socrates' trial at a time when it was still

6. O f course the dialogue serves other purposes as well: Plato criticizes some contemporary
conceptions of holiness and presumably intends to encourage the philosophic investigation
of them in the religious-philosophical school he led. But while the criticism of contemporary
attitudes may be an important theme, it is not the architectonic theme, because it does not
explain the inclusion of the other elements we have mentioned, such as the dramatic setting in
the context of the two trials.
7. Woozley, 2.

a relatively recent, painful, and controversial event, only in order to move

on to other dimly related subjects. These references are better seen not as
incidental, but as playing an important role in focusing our attention on
the central subject of the d i a l o g ~ e . ~
The main line of attack is the argument that initiating a prosecution at
law implies a degree of wisdom that was not possessed by Socrates' pros-
ecutors. ?his line of attack is indicated in the very opening lines of the
dialogue: "What's going on, Socrates?Why have you left your stomping-
grounds in the Lyceum and come to spend time at the stoa of the basileus?
You surely do not have a dike before the basileus as I have." O n learning
that Socrates is actually involved in agraphe, Euthyphro declares that he is
sure that it is not Socrates who initiated it.' Socrates acknowledges that he
is himself being prosecuted at court (2a-b).
This little exchange sheds no light on the nature of the holy and ad-
vances us not at all in the art of definitions. Nor is it mere window-dress-
ing. One obvious purpose is to remind us that, unlike Euthyphro, Socrates
was not afflicted with the pestilent Athenian disease of litigiousness.10His
admirable restraint is particularly significant when we view the dialogue
in the context of his own trial. Litigiousness, of course, is one charge from
which Socrates' prosecutors would have had a hard time defending them-
selves. Socrates never prosecuted anyone; but his prosecutors certainly
did." By drawing attention to this trait Plato is able to praise Socrates in
a way that implicitly denigrates his enemies.
In addition to invoking popular prejudice against the litigiousness of
Socrates' prosecutors, Plato raises philosophical arguments against it, ar-
guments that preclude all but the wise from ever launching a prosecution

8. See M. McPherran, 1996, 32-35. McPherran makes several perceptive comments about
Plato's apologetic techniques in Euthyphro, particularly emphasizing the parallels between
Socrates and Euthyphro and between the trial of Socrates and the trial of Euthyphro's father.
See below.
9. A g r a p h ~
is a public trial with greater risks for both the prosecutor and the defendant. See
M. Christ, 1998, 26.
10. Xenophon's Socrates seems equally uninvolved in legislation. He is unwilling to prepare
a speech for his own trial (Apol. 1-4) and he is contrasted with Ischomachus, the wealthy
estate-holder in Oeconomicus, who spends a a great deal of time on such things (1 1.22-25).
Socrates general avoidance of legal contentions is made clear in Mem. 4.4.11. On litigiousness
in Athens, see R. Osborn, 1990; D. Harvey, 1990; M. Christ, 1998.
11. People named Meletus and Anytus were also involved on different sides in the prosecu-
tion of Andocides in 400. See M. Ostwald, 472-3; 495. O n the identification of the two
Meletuses, see also below note 30.

at law. Socrates raises these questions in a general way early on in his inter-
rogation, asking whether Euthyphro is sure that his father is guilty, and
whether he knows what holiness is in the first place (4e; 5c-d). Knowledge,
he implies, is the necessary pre-requisite for involvement in the kind of
legal action that Euthyphro is undertaking Since Euthyphro does not
have adequate knowledge of his father's guilt, which is ambiguous at best,
and cannot say whether his own actions are religiously acceptable or not,
he ought to desist.
In raising these questions, Plato is displaying an interest not just in
Euthyphro and his father, but also in Socrates and his prosecutors. Socrates'
interrogation of Euthyphro in this dialogue resembles his brief interroga-
tion of Meletus in Plato's Apology, but is far more expansive. In both cases
Socrates aims to disqualify the prosecutor by demonstrating his ignorance.
Socrates' aim in Apology is to show that "Meletus is guilty of making light
of a serious matter, since he summons people to trial on frivolous gounds,
and professes concern and care about matters about which he has never
done a thing" (24c).12In Euthyphro, too, Socrates seeks to show that the
young prosecutor has insufficient understanding of what he is attempting
to accomplish. He does not merely raise doubts concerning the justifica-
tion of the charges Euthyphro is bringing against his father, he also takes
the more aggressive line of questioning the piety of Euthyphro himself.
If Euthyphro serves in part as a representative for Meletus, the implica-
tion is that Meletus was not only ignorant of the charges he brought,
but also guilty of impiety in frivolously prosecuting Socrates. Impiety of
course was the very charge raised against Socrates. It is this circumstance,
I suggest, which explains its presence in the context of the prosecution of
Euthyphro's father. The theme of holiness is introduced because Socrates
was tried for impiety (asebeia),and Plato wishes to imply that Meletus was
ignorant of the nature of the very offense with which he charged Socrates,
and guilty of it.
In Euthyphro, Plato finds an opportunity to extend and deepen his
attack on Meletus by using Euthyphro as a proxy. Meletus and Euthyphro
resemble each other in ways which contrast sharply with Socrates. Socrates
resembles them both in possessing no positive understanding of holiness;

12. Socrates states this as if it were a formal accusation at law. ?he fact that Socrates mentions
no genuine crimes may be his way of mocking Meletus' own charge-sheet, which also failed to
mention any deeds that were ordinarily treated as serious crimes.

but unlike them he acknowledges his ignorance, and as a result he pros-

ecutes no one. Far from corrupting the citizens, Socratic awareness of
ignorance serves a good purpose that can be recognized as such by any
Athenian citizen familiar with the plague of contemporary litigiousness.
It provides a buffer against the ignorant abuse of the court of law. Within
the dialogue itself, the aporia (confusion or uncertainty) to which Socrates
reduces Euthyphro serves the practical moral aim of preventing him from
transgressing against his father.13While we do not end up knowing what
holiness is, we do end up believing that in the absence of such knowledge
one should hesitate to prosecute an elder citizen. Far from encouraging
reckless deeds, Socratic philosophy inhibits them.
This lesson has a special point in the context of the Socratic controver-
sy: just as the prosecution of Euthyphro's father was a rash mistake, so too
was Meletus' prosecution of Socrates. Just as Euthyphro did not possess
the wisdom necessary for pious prosecution, so too Meletus had no such
wisdom. The difference is that, unlike Euthyphro, Meletus did not have
a Socrates to restrain him. Meletus is an example of the corruption that
happens in the absence of Socratic intervention. But before I explore these
themes in detail, it may be useful to investigate some of the other ways in
which the dialogue provides a response to Socrates' trial and execution.
This review will also show some of the ways in which the characters in
the dialogue serve as representatives of some of the leading figures in the
Socratic controversy.

In this dialogue, Plato presents a dramatic portrait of Socrates which

is in sharp opposition to the popular image of Socrates as a teacher of
disrespect for parents. Socrates was popularly accused of teaching his

13..Diogenes Laertius suggests that Euthyphro abandoned the suit he had planned to lodge
after conversing with Socrates (2.29). This is apparently based on the fact that Euthyphro ends
the conversation and claims that he has a pressing appointment to attend to. Assuming that
he has run into Socrates while on his way to the court, and not on his return after lodging his
charge, Diogenes. would be right. R. E. Allen (1970, 64) defends Diogenes' position against
Burnet and argues that Euthyphro has learned his lesson. Even if this point remains debatable,
it is clear that Socrates' argument here, unlike his argument in many other dialogues (Ion,
Laches, Charmides, Lysis for examples), aims to persuade his interlocutor to change his immedi-
ate course of action.

companions not to respect their fathers or other relatives. This charge was
a prominent feature of Aristophanes' Clouds, where Pheidippides uses his
newly acquired rhetorical skills to show that he is right to beat his father
(1405-1436). Together with injustice, encouraging sexual immorality and
the denial of divinity, the justification of rebellion against fathers is one of
the chief offenses attributed to Socrates in this dramatic work.
The subject was addressed also by Xenophon in his Memorabilia.
Xenophon records the charge that Socrates taught his students to abuse
( . r r p o . r r T h a t c ~ 5 ~ ~their
v ) fathers; but instead of denying it, Xenophon merely
replies that Socrates did not encourage the imprisonment of the igno-
rant (1.2.49-50). According to Xenophon, the accuser said that Socrates
taught his companions not to hold fathers and relatives in honor, because
they are not as useful as experts when you need assistance (1.2.51-55).
About this charge Xenophon says that he knows that Socrates did say such
things (1.2.53; see also Plato's Lysis 210a-d). Rather than deny the charge,
Xenophon defends and justifies Socrates' unsentimental attitude towards
fathers and other relations, arguing that it is right to obey experts rather
than ignorant relatives. These are important admissions from an apolo-
getic Xenophon, and they deserve to be taken seriously. Even ifxenophon
is wrong about this-and there is little reason to think that he is-the fact
that he mentions the charge shows that it was a familiar accusation against
Plato, on the other hand, takes a tack similar to the one he uses in de-
fending Socrates against charges of disrespect for the city in Crito. These
two dialogues are marked as belonging together by the fact that they treat
Socrates' activities before and after his trial; and in both we find a Socrates
who encourages deference to (although not perhaps real respect for) the
authoritative institutions of the city even if they err. The Socrates of Crito
is willing to sacrifice his life rather than violate a decree of the Athenian
courts, even an unjust one. The Socrates of Euthyphro objects to anyone
prosecuting his own father for murder, regardless of his guilt. In both
cases, Plato provides a portrait of a Socrates who shows great deference to
authority, a portrait which contrasts sharply with the prejudices of many
Athenians. The creation of a sharply contrasting image of Socrates is one
of Plato's characteristic responses to accusations against him.I4

14.. See above chapters one and two. In other places, Plato adopts another posture, justify-

Plato creates this portrait by contrasting Socrates with his young in-
terlocutor. Euthyphro demonstrates the same kind of indifference to fa-
milial relations, and in particular to one's father, that Socrates was said to
promote. According to Xenophon, the accuser said that Socrates taught his
companions to bury or imprison their fathers (1.2.51-55), and Euthyphro
takes that further by seeking to destroy his through a judicial process.
When Euthyphro informs Socrates what he is doing, Socrates expresses
only shock (4a). Although he has no reason as yet to doubt that the charge
is justified, Socrates objects to the mere fact that a son is prosecuting his
father. He seems to believe that fathers deserve to be treated with respect
simply for being fathers, and that a son ought to hesitate before prosecut-
ing his father even if the father seems to have done something terribly
wrong. The fact that the father's guilt is later called into question (4e)
is only a further blow to the justice of Euthyphro's case, but is not the
grounds for Socrates' initial objection.
Not only does Socrates display concern for paternal honor, he also
displays respect towards family bonds in general. Socrates assumes that
Euthyphro can only be prosecuting his father because the latter has killed
another family member (4b). But here, too, Euthyphro disappoints. O n
probing, Socrates learns that Euthyphro is prosecuting his father for ac-
cidentally killing Euthyphro's ~ F E ~ & T(neighbor)
~ S who was guilty of mur-
dering one of his father's O ~ K ~ T(domestic
~ L servants). Euthyphro's case
looks even worse now, not only because of doubts that are raised about the
father's guilt, but also because of the identity of the person he killed: it was
only a neighbor, not a relative.

In response to Socrates' objections to his prosecution of his father,

Euthyphro offers a great sign (tekm~rion)that his action is right, namely
that Zeus himself prosecuted his father Kronos for injustice. He adds that
the same people who attack him for prosecuting his father, acknowledge
that Zeus was right to prosecute his (5d-6a). Here again we find Euthyphro
embodying a trait that was associated in the popular mind with Socrates.

ing rather than denying the offense. In Euthyphro and Republic, for example, he acknowledges
Socrates' practice of criticizing mythology and justifies the practice.

The charge that Socrates abused authoritative myths and traditional litera-
ture seems to have been a serious one, for it is discussed frequently in Plato
and Xenophon (see Mem. 1.2.56-59). In Euthyphro Socrates even says that
the main reason for his persecution is his questioning of such mythologi-
cal stories about the gods as Euthyphro mentions (6a).
Not only was Socrates thought to misinterpret traditional myth in
general, he was thought to have taught the very doctrine that Euthyphro
espouses, namely that since Zeus mistreated his father it is permissible
for human beings to mistreat theirs. Aristophanes records the argument
that Zeus unjustly bound his father, attributing it to the unjust argument
(Clouds 904-6). After hearing this and other arguments, Pheidippides
starts beating his own father, thereby demonstrating the effect that such
teachings can have on youthful behavior. If Clouds is representative of
popular sentiment, then the justification that Euthyphro uses for pros-
ecuting his father must have seemed Socratic in character. By attributing
this argument to Euthyphro, and allowing Socrates to express his outrage,
Plato provides a portrait of Socrates as someone who vigorously opposed
the very sentiment associated with him in the popular mind. Again, com-
plete denial of a popular accusation coupled with counter-accusation is
one of Plato's characteristic techniques.
But while Plato thus denies that Socrates taught such unwholesome
lessons, he does not deny that Socrates rejected Greek myth. Socrates
does not object to Euthyphro's argument on the grounds that it is a
misinterpretation of traditional stories. Rather, he accepts Euthyphro's
interpretation as accurate, and brings the poetry itself under criticism.
Here Plato takes a stance different from the stance he takes with regard
to respect for parents. Rather than deny the charge that Socrates raised
questions about myth, Plato acknowledges it. Perhaps the charge was
too widely believed for Plato to risk denying it altogether; perhaps he
believed he could succeed in persuading his audience that Socrates was
right on this count.
Together with admitting the charge, Plato tries to justify Socrates'
practice. He does this by pitting one value against another. In Grote's
words, Plato is saying to the audience: "See the consequences to which
consistent orthodoxy and implicit faith c ~ n d u c t . " ''The
~ dramatic situa-

15. G. Grore, 1875, vol. 1, 442.


tion shows that fidelity to myth can lead to the very kind of impious
practices towards parents that Socrates' accusers objected to.I6 It is not
philosophy, but myth that corrupts the youth. Philosophy, at least phi-
losophy of the Socratic variety, may question some mythological stories,
but only in order to restore respect for traditional institutions such as fa-
therhood. This argument would have been more acceptable to the degree
that skepticism about mythology was already popular.''
Plato attacks these stories not only on the grounds that reliance on
them can lead to vicious behavior, but also because they do not provide
any coherent policy at all. Since the gods war against each other, it will
always be possible to learn opposite lessons by considering the actions of
gods who were opposed to each other (8b). Socrates opposes Euthyphro's
assumption that we can learn how to behave from these mythological
stories and proceeds in an opposite fashion in his own arguments where he
derives salutary opinions about the gods from human practice and belief.

We have seen two cases in which Plato attributes to Euthyphro some of

the negative characteristics that had been attributed to Socrates by his
hostile critics. As several scholars have noted, Euthyphro is presented as a
caricature of a popular but in Plato's view false image of Socrates.18 By at-
tributing these traits to Euthyphro, and illustrating Socrates' opposition to
them, Plato insinuates that the popular image is false. By having Socrates
distinguish himself from Euthyphro in several respects, Plato corrects a
popular misconception. By having Socrates reject Euthyphro's vicious use

16. Xenophon avoids this issue by presenting the accuser as charging Socrates with offering
offensive interpretations rather than untrue ones (Mem. 1.2.56).
17.See Socrates' question: "Do you really believe...?" (I? Ap. 6b). Such doubts were wide-
spread in ancient Athens and in the Socratic circle in particular, Thucydides had written a
history which virtually excluded the gods; Sophocles gave blasphemous speeches to characters
such as Jocasta in Oedipus Rex; in Clouds we find humorous speech about the gods. The fact
that in Phaedrus Socrates ridicules those who provide naturalistic explanations for myth shows
that this was a popular practice. Whatever attitudes Sophocles, Thucydides and Plato may have
had towards this phenomenon, the existence of such portraits implies that such ideas were
well-known. See K.Dover, 1976; R. Wallace, 1994.
IS. See McPherran, 1996, 33, 35: Euthyphro provides "a lesson in what Socrates is not."
R. Blondell notes the parallel as well: "Euthyphro, who sees a kinship between himself and
Sokrates, is independent-minded and eccentric by Athenian standards and, like Sokrates, does
not mind being laughed at" (108, n. 265). But she does not ask why Plato draws this parallel.

of myth, Plato responds to charges that Socrates himself distorted tradi-

tional myth, justifying Socrates' disagreements with it.
This technique of creating alternate images of Socrates was used more
widely by Xenophon. He uses Antisthenes as a caricature of the rude im-
poverished philosopher (rude interrogations: Symp. 1.3.4; 1.3.6; 4.2-5;
4.6; 8.3-6; poverty: 1.3.8; 4.34-44), Hermogenes as a caricature of the
prudish moralist who shares communication with the gods (Symp. 4.46-
49; 6.1-5), and Aristippus as a caricature of an a-political philosopher
(Mem. 2.1).19 In these cases, Xenophon fashions an alternative figure to
represent one of Socrates' disagreeable features and then allows Socrates
himself to mock him for it, just as Plato does with Euthyphro.
These are not the only ways in which Euthyphro functions as an image
of the false and vicious Socrates. He is also an embodiment of a Socratic
trait that does not seem so offensive at first sight. His prosecution of
his father is motivated not only by his fear of midsma20 but also by his
belief that justice takes precedence over familial ties (5d-6a; 8b-e). This
reminds the reader of the Socrates presented elsewhere in Plato. In Crito,
for example, Socrates claims to be completely unconcerned with his ob-
ligations to his family, and only concerned with justice (48b-d). In that
dialogue Plato acknowledges Socrates' unsentimental attitude towards
friends and relatives, and uses Socrates' commitment to justice to counter
the charge of injustice towards the city. For readers familiar with Crito, it
will be odd to see Euthyphro arguing that the only thing worth consider-
ing is justice, while Socrates expresses shock at the application of justice to
a close relative. Beversluis argues that Euthyphro is making a good point
here, and that we should have more respect for his p ~ s i t i o n . But
~ ' that is
hardly Plato's aim. Plato paints Euthyphro in unflattering colors through-
out the work, and when Socrates hears that Euthyphro is prosecuting his
own father for murder, he exclaims, "Heracles!" This is not designed to
show that Euthyphro's devotion to justice is admirable. Rather the object
here is to contrast Euthyphro's behavior with the more respectful attitude
of Socrates, while distancing him from the fanatic pursuit of justice. In

19. O n the first two, see D. Gera, 2007, esp. 45-47. O n Antisthenes she comments, "He is a
distorted image of Socrates, who serves as a foil for the philosopher, showing us what Socrates
is not like" (46) See also G. Danzig, 2004.
20. Pollution. See R. Weiss, 1994, 264-5.
21. J . Beversluis, 2000, 167.

order to do that Plato creates an image of Socrates which resembles his

portrait in Crito in terms of respect for authority, but diverges in regard to
the supreme importance of justice.
Euthyphro shares one more trait with the Socrates of hostile popular
imagination: he is a sincere, boastful and misguided pseudo-prophet. This
may seem a surprising way to characterize Socrates, but there is evidence
to suggest that Socrates was viewed in this way. The very fact that Plato
allows Euthyphro to draw a bogus parallel between himself and Socrates
on such grounds already suggests it. In fact, of all the similarities we
have considered, this is the one most emphasized by Plato. O n this issue
Euthyphro compares himself to Socrates explicitly, claiming that the two
of them are spiritually gifted men with a special understanding of the
divine, and both badly misunderstood by the multitude (3b-e).22It is this
shared spiritual gift that has brought Socrates his present troubles, much
as it has brought troubles to Euthphro, because the many are jealous of
spiritual prodigies such as himself and Socrates (3b). This claim is not
completely unreasonable: Xenophon also writes of the role of jealousy in
provoking the indictment (see X. Apology 14).23
To what extent could Socrates have resembled Euthyphro on this
score? How were his prophetic claims viewed in popular opinion? The
passages where Plato and Xenophon refer to the daimonion reveal a variety
of views concerning Socrates' daimonion in ancient Athens, just as there is
a variety of views among scholars today.24Many of course did not believe
that Socrates had a special line of communication with the divine. In
Apology Xenophon says that the jury objected loudly to Socrates' claim
that the gods communicate with him, "some not believing it" (14). In
Memorabilia, Xenophon records several expression of doubt as to the ve-

22. Euthyphro's effort here to associate himself with Socrates also creates the impression that
Socrates was desirable as an associate, an important apologetic aim in itself.
23. According to Xenophon, Socrates was killed by parents who were jealous of the fact that
their children thought Socrates a better person than they. His Meletos makes rhis charge in
X. Apology 20, and Xenophon expands on it in Mem. 1.2.51-55. See also the role of envy in
the story of Palamedes, Mem. 4.2.33. The charge reappears in Cyropaedia in connection with
another teacher whose story is clearly modeled on that of Socrates (3.1.38-40). This is perhaps
the most significant evidence, since in rhis passage Xenophon is free to portray Socrates as he
wishes. See also Plato's Apology, 28a.
24. See the collection of articles on the daimonion in Pierre Destree and Nicholas D. Smith
edd., 2005.

racity of Socrates' claims, some even from among his own corn pan ion^.^^
It is not clear whether these disbelievers accused Socrates of deception,
or merely of making unwittingly false claims: the participle ~ E U ~ ~ ~ E V O V

in Mem. 4.8.1 can imply either. But in Xenophon's Symposium Charmides

explicitly accuses Socrates of making cynical use of his claims to proph-
ecy (8.5). This attitude seems reflected also in the charge mentioned in
Euthyphro that Socrates was an inventor ( T ~ O L ~ T T ~3b)
S : of gods.

But there were also those who believed Socrates sincere in his claims,
even if they believed them false. This attitude is reflected in the official
charge that Socrates introduced new gods into the city, a charge which,
unlike the charge recorded in Euthyphro, is compatible with the assump-
tion that he sincerely believed in the divinities he introduced. Socrates
exploits this assumption forcefully in Plato's Apology to show that Meletus
contradicts himself by claiming that he believes in new gods and also that
he is a complete atheist.26It is this opinion, that Socrates sincerely, but
wrongly, believed in the gods he introduced to the city that explains the
similarity between public perceptions of Socrates and our Euthyphro.
Socrates himself claims in both Apologies that he is sincere in his pro-
phetic claims, and correct about them (I? Ap. 26b-28a, X. Ap. 4, 10-13
41d). In Memorabilia, Xenophon devotes a great deal of effort to showing
both that Socrates was sincere in his claim to divine communication, and
that he was not deluded in this (Mem. 1.I). He argues that no one would
be so foolish as to claim a divine source for a merely human prediction,
since he would risk public falsification. He also argues that Socrates' sincere
belief was justified since he was never found to be wrong in pronounce-
ments he attributed to the gods, which would have been impossible if he
did not really have a divine source. At the end of Apology, his Socrates
offers an example of his prophetic ability in his prophecy concerning the

25. 1.4.15:&mep ui, +s:; 4.3.12: e'i ye; 4.8.1: O ~ ~ aTh bL v hkkyXeu8a~TITIE$ mi) 8a~poviou
v . M. Narcy, "Socrates Sentenced by his Daimon," in Destrke and Smith edd.,
+ ~ u S b ~ a v o See
2005, 113-125.
26. O f course, while Meletus may contradict the implication of the charge sheet he has sub-
mitted, he does not necessarily contradict his own opinion about Socrates: the charge of com-
plete atheism does not contradict the charge of inventing new gods as reported in Euthyphro.
Taken together, the invention of gods together with the disbelief in them would make Socrates
a religious charlatan, a charge which, as we have said, appears in Xenophon. Why then did
Meletus officially charge Socrates with introducing new gods rather than inventing them? The
charge may be designed to win the support of those members of the jury who thought Socrates
sincere about his religious pretensions as well as those who did not.

son of Anytus. This argument is clearly meant to respond both to those

who thought Socrates sincere but deluded and to those who thought him
While Xenophon defends Socratic prophecy, Plato tries to minimize
its significance. His Socrates offers rationalized interpretations of the dai-
monion as an intermediary between the human and the divine (see Symp.
202d-e). He describes it as only forbidding actions but never command-
ing them, in this way assimilating it to the intellect (see Rep. 439c-d). In
Apology he offers alternative descriptions of his commitment to philoso-
phy, one of them couched in religious language and the other avoiding it,
as if to say that his religious talk was only a manner of speaking (37e-38a).
This effort to rationalize Socrates' relationship to the divine makes sense as
a response to those who saw Socrates as an irrational pseudo-prophet.
This was not a minor issue. The importance which Socrates' enemies at-
tributed to his prophetic claims is evident in Mem. 4.8.1, where Xenophon
records that some thought the failure in court refuted such claims. This
is one of the few places in his writings where Xenophon uses the word
ZXkyX~uOa~ (elencbestbai: to refute). Socrates' opponents were quite happy
to apply this term, which was associated with Socratic interrogation, to
this apparent Socratic defeat. But the disproof of his communication with
the daimonion would be a cause for joy only if a significant part of the
public had taken it seriously.
I have offered this brief survey of opinions in order to show that at
least some people in Athens would have viewed Socrates' claims as on
par with those of Euthyphro, as does Euthyphro himself. Plato makes it
clear that Socrates does not resemble Euthyphro in this way at all; but
the very need to distinguish the two suggests that the difference may not
have been very clear in the minds of some Athenians.
In response, Socrates rejects every effort by Euthyphro to draw a con-
nection between them. He does not agree that the source of the preju-
dice against him is jealousy for his prophetic ability (3d). If it were, he
would merely be laughed at, as is Euthyphro, instead of being persecuted,

27. There is some evidence to suggest that this positive opinion of Socrates' claims was not
limited to Socrates friends and defenders. Xenophon mentions those who were jealous that
Socrates received greater (honor) from the gods than they (Ap. 14). This group is apparently
composed of people who not only think that Socrates is sincere in his claims, but also fear that
he may be right about them.

as he is. Socrates claims he is hated because he spreads his wisdom gen-

erously to others, while Euthyphro keeps his to himself (3d): not only
is Socrates no prophet, but Euthyphro is no wise man. As the dialogue
demonstrates, Euthyphro has no wisdom, which undoubtedly is the real
reason that he does not commit the crime of spreading it. Even at Socrates'
great urging Euthyphro will not share the wisdom he fails to possess (15d-
16a). Throughout the dialogue, Plato contrasts Socratic reasoning with
Euthyphro's inconsistent, indefensible and sometimes wild opinions.
When Euthyphro tells Socrates that he knows many stories about the
gods which will shock Socrates even more than the commonly accepted
stories about battles among them (6c), we are meant to note the dissimi-
larity between the two men. By contrasting Socratic rationalism with reli-
gious folly of this kind, Plato seems to be affirming first that, contrary to
some strands of popular belief, Socrates was rational person, and second,
that this rationalism, with all its danger, is better than the piety of a man
like Euthyphro. He pits one value against another, forcing his readers to
choose rational scepticism over the foolish credulity they sometimes as-
sociated with Socrates.

But Euthyphro not only resembles a false image of Socrates, he also resem-
bles an image of Meletus that Plato actively promotes. Like the connection
between Euthyphro and Socrates, the connection between Euthyphro and
Meletus has been noted by readers." It is evident in the very way that
Plato juxtaposes the two trials by having Socrates and Euthyphro discuss
the two cases when they meet at the court of the basileus. We are obviously
meant to compare the cases," and that means comparing the two prosecu-
tors and their two victims.
Like Meletus (2b), Euthyphro must be fairly young if he is prosecuting
his older but still robust father. Both of these youngsters are prosecuting
an older man on a capital charge. Plato draws attention to this similar-
ity between Socrates and Euthyphro's father in the following way: when
Euthyphro reveals to Socrates the identity of the person he is prosecuting

28. See for example N. Reynolds, 1988, 27-54; M. L. McPherran, 1996, 33-35.
29. See for example M. L. McPherran, 1991, repr., 170.

he refers to him in the first instance by his age alone @resbut~s4a), a way
of characterizing his father that applies equally well to Socrates. While
it was undoubtedly more troubling to prosecute one's own father than
another elder citizen, the Athenians believed, in theory at least, that one
should show deferential respect to all elder citizens (see Rep. 562e-563a).
In order to heighten the crime that Athens committed, Plato sometimes
has Socrates describe himself as a father to the Athenians (Ap. 31t13-5).~'
By drawing these two cases together dramatically, Plato makes Meletus'
prosecution of Socrates seem comparable to the prosecution of one's
Although we do not have enough evidence concerning the histori-
cal Meletus to know to how closely he may have resembled the char-
acter Euthyphro, some evidence that we have does suggest a similarity.
Euthyphro is portrayed as greatly concerned with the pollution and sub-
sequent damage that may result if his father is left unpunished (4c). A
similar argument appears in the speech against Andocides attributed to
Lysias (13) which was given in 400 or 399 B.C. and may have been de-
livered by Meletus himselE31 Even if it was not, it is more than likely that
Meletus would have used such an argument against Socrates, as this was a
standard argument in cases of prosecution for asebeia. 'There would be no
reason for him not to have used it, and it is hard to see what other concrete
damage he could have pointed to as resulting from Socrates' continued
residence in Athens. If Meletus did use such arguments, an audience that
was aware of it would note another similarity between Euthyphro and
Plato draws the two trials closer together by the character of the chal-
lenge Socrates raises. He does not raise an issue closely connected to the
unique facts of Euthyphro's case, such as whether exposing a murderer
to the risk of death is or is not a crime. 'The actual crime committed by

30. Plato also claims in Apology that Socrates was a gift sent by the gods to care for the people
of Athens (Ap. 30e), which only makes the impiety worse.
31. There is no consensus on this question. D . MacDowell (1962, 208-210) argued against
the identification. K. Dover (1968a, 78-80) leaned towards identifying them. H. Blumenthal,
1973, argues that they are possibly the same. R. Bauman (1990, 108-9) accepts that they
are without adducing new reasons. If Euthyphro is a figure for Meletus, then the similarity
between his religious enthusiasm and that which we find in the speech against Andocides
(Lysias 6) would offer some support for the theory that the two Meletuses are identical, and
that Meletus delivered that speech (see J. Burner, 1924, 89, with references).

Euthyphro's father is discussed, but not dwelt on in any detail. 'The main
issue Socrates raises is whether or not it is pious for Euthyphro to engage
in prosecution, a question which applies equally well to Meletus' prosecu-
tion of Socrates.
'The grounds for questioning the propriety of prosecuting are also
significant. In criticizing Euthyphro, Socrates does not say "Aren't you
concerned that you may be acting unjustly?" but rather "Aren't you con-
cerned that you may not be acting piously?" (4e). One possible definition
of piety that emerges later in the discussion (at Socrates' own suggestion)
is that piety is a form of justice that is practiced towards the gods (12e;
see Gorgias 507b). If so, Euthyphro's attack on his father is injustice rather
than impiety. By raising the issue of impiety, however, Socrates reminds
us of the fact that Meletus prosecuted of Socrates on a charge of impiety.
Here Socrates turns the tables, bringing the charge of impiety not against
the defendant, but against the prosecutor. He shows that someone who
prosecutes another for religious reasons may himself be guilty of impiety.32
Such a charge is as applicable to Meletus as it is to Euthyphro. As elsewhere,
Plato not only exposes his opponents to ridicule, he also tries to show that
they are guilty of the very crimes they charged against so crate^.^^
There is nothing surprising about the idea that Plato would attack
Socrates' prosecutors. Direct attacks on them abound in the Socratic writ-
ings of both Plato and Xenophon, neither of whom evinces any willingness
to treat them with respect or to treat their opinions as serious or worthy
of a serious response. In Apology and Eutbyphro, Plato singles out Meletus;
in Meno he is almost as abusive towards Anytus. Xenophon concentrates
primarily on Anytus (Ap. 29-3 1).To know why they chose the targets they
did we would need to know more than we do about the personal relations
between the men and their positions in Athenian society at the time of the
publication of the different works.34

32. In the speech against Andocides attributed to Lysias the sentiment is expressed that those
who prosecute others wrongly for impiety should themselves be prosecuted for it (12). If this
speech was delivered by Meletus himself, as is sometimes thought, then Plato is not only charg-
ing Meletus with the crimes for which he charged Socrates, he is doing so on Meletus' own
33. In Apology Socrates accuses Meletus of arrogance, misbehavior in court, and failure, three
of the charges that were made against him in the aftermath of the trial (above chapter one).
So it is not surprising that Plato would try to pin charges of impiety on him as well. See also
Xenophon's charge that Anytus corrupted his own son (Ap. 30-31)
34. See D. Nails, 2002, 37-8, 202, for a summary of what is known about these two men.

Euthyphro contains some of Plato's sharpest comments on Meletus.

Socrates describes Meletus as a young man, unknown in the city (2b).
Although barely acquainted with his name, Socrates is able to offer some
unflattering comments about his physical appearance. We learn that he is
a hook-nosed man with long straight hair and not much of a beard (2b).35
It would be fruitless to speculate about how Socrates obtained informa-
tion about his looks while being uncertain of his name, as though the
dialogue were an historical document. Obviously the reason that Plato
presents the information in this way is in order to denigrate Meletus, both
on the grounds that he is unknown and unimportant and also on the
grounds that he looks bad.
Socrates says that Meletus alone undertakes a political career in the
right way, taking care of the young by eliminating those who corrupt
them. He suggests that afterwards Meletus will go on to assist the elders,
and thus will make himself a great benefit to the whole city. But here, of
course, Socrates is speaking with heavy irony: while it may be right indeed
to take care of the young by eliminating those who corrupt them, Socrates
is probably not doing that, at least not intentionally. Either deliberately
ignoring or never catching Socrates' sarcasm, Euthyphro says that rather
than helping the city, Meletus is harming it and wronging Socrates (3a).
At this point in the dialogue, Plato is willing to place accurate comments
in the mouth of Euthyphro: even a Euthyphro can see that Socrates does
nothing wrong. If there is anything problematic about this particular
statement it is that Euthyphro does not see that he himself is behaving in
much the same way as the one he attacks.
The attack on Meletus in Euthyphro is paralleled by an equally unflat-
tering explicit attack on Euthyphro. Euthyphro displays a comic combi-
nation of ignorance and self-confidence. He is confident in his knowl-
edge about the gods (4e-5a) and uses haughty phrases in conversation
with Socrates (&AX'& o 6 ~ wP o ~ ~ E & L ,~ ~ K ~ Q T ~E Sa ,oi 6 ~ waoL $p&uw

35. As R. Blondell points out (62) this is for Plato a rare instance of portraying a figure's
physical traits; but she does not explain why Plato does this here. This portrait of Meletus
contrasts sharply with everything we know about another young man whom Socrates did
spend time with: Alcibiades. H e was neither unknown nor unattractive. Plato may be ribbing
Meletus by suggesting that Socrates would never have associated with someone like him. At
the same time, attacking Meletus for his bad looks is a fitting way to reply to those who may
have disliked Socrates in part for his own bad looks. Here again, Plato takes a special pleasure
in turning the accusers accusations against themselves.

6e). For this reason, he serves as a fine example of the kind of arrogant
self-delusion that characterizes the victims Socrates describes in Apology
(33c). Euthyphro's character does not go undetected in the city. As he
says himself, he is regularly mocked in the assembly for his use of proph-
ecy, and is considered a madman (3b-c). He demonstrates the errancy
of his prophetic ability when he responds to Socrates' ironic statement
that "only you prophets" can know whether my trial will turn out well or
not by saying that perhaps it will (3e). He acknowledges also that he has
been widely attacked for the unholy deed of prosecuting his father (4d-e).
Even Beversluis, who tries to provide a somewhat sympathetic portrait
of Socrates' interlocutors, has to acknowledge the poor impression that
Euthyphro makes, speaking of Euthyphro's "deficient intellectual grasp
and off-putting ~haracter."~'
Plato places a special emphasis on Euthyphro's claim to accurate
knowledge of divine matters, referring to it prominently at the begin-
ning of the discussion (&K~LPGs 4e-5a), and returning to it towards the
end of the dialogue, when Euthyphro is forced to admit that it would take
a great effort for him to explain holiness accurately (&K~LPGs 14b). This is
only one of several places where Euthyphro makes transparent excuses for
his inability to explain to Socrates what he has promised to explain. Earlier
he told Socrates that it would be too hard to explain exactly how he knows
that he is doing the right thing in prosecuting his father (9b). In many
dialogues Socrates ridicules his interlocutors, or praises them ironically, but
with Euthyphro he abandons irony and speaks with open sarcasm about
Euthyphro's great "wisdom" (12a). At the end of the dialogue, Euthyphro
claims to have a pressing appointment that makes it impossible for him
to provide the teaching he claimed he knew. Socrates exhorts him not to
hide the truth from him (15d-e), as he accused him earlier of being stingy
with his knowledge (3d). But it is not difficult to see that in fact Euthyphro
simply has no wisdom to share.
The fact that these two figures are singled out for personal attacks
in these ways suggest that there is some relation or connection between
them. Furthermore, we know nothing about the historical Euthyphro that
would explain Plato's interest in attacking him personally in a dialogue.
If Euthyphro serves as a proxy for Meletus, however, both the personal

nature of the attack and the connection that is drawn between Euthyphro
and Meletus become understandable.
One may wonder why Plato would have resorted to an indirect attack
rather than simply expanding his direct attack on Meletus. It is impossible
to answer such a question with certainty, but several possibilities suggest
themselves. Plato may have believed that it would make a poor impression
or arouse sympathy for the victim if Socrates attacked Meletus too vigor-
ously. Such a scene might force Plato to pay closer attention to the facts
or risk the charge of misrepresentation. Hostile members of the audience
might be reluctant to accept characterizations that seem unfair when the
victim is openly identified. O r it may have been thought to lower the liter-
ary level of the composition. Perhaps it would have been disconcerting to
portray a conversation between Meletus and Socrates, when it was well-
known-by the testimony of Plato's Apology (26a) if by no other-that
the two had not conversed.
By making use of a substitute, in the form of Euthyphro, Plato is free
to create the kind of caricature that will bring ridicule to his opponents.
For all we know Meletus may have been a far more reasonable person than
the Meletus we meet in Plato and Xenophon. But for this very reason,
it would have been useful to portray him by means of a caricature. The
negative traits which Plato ascribes to Euthyphro will be transferred by
the audience to other figures who resemble him, even if some injustice is
involved. Once they have laughed at Euthyphro they will naturally laugh
also at others who resemble him.
Drawing this parallel assists Plato in a special way. As we have argued,
Euthyphro is not only a substitute for Meletus, he is also in several ways a rep-
resentative of a false image of Socrates. By assigning both roles to Euthyphro,
Plato is able to imply that Meletus resembled the false and corrupt image of
the Socrates he attacked. In other words, it enables Plato to charge Meletus
with the very same wrong-doing he charged against Socrates.

The parallel that Plato draws between Euthyphro and Meletus also helps
explain one of the most perplexing features of the dialogue. As we have
mentioned, one of the themes that appears in this dialogue is the clash
between universal justice and the special respect one owes one's own father.

Should one prosecute one's father for his transgressions, just like any other
man, or does the duty of filial piety include the obligation to overlook a
father's potentially criminal misdeeds? By presenting a case in which a son
prosecutes his own father for injustice, Plato seems to be addressing this
very issue. But he does not do a very good job of it. 'There is no theoretical
discussion of the issue anywhere in the dialope. Instead we find contrary
assertions, Euthyphro claiming that personal relation is irrelevant, and
Socrates expressing his shock. When Socrates challenges him, it is on a
different issue entirely. So why raise the issue in the first place?
Furthermore, as Plato exposes the details of the case, he reveals facts
that vitiate the value of the example he has chosen for any philosophic
purpose. He reveals that Euthyphro's father was by no means clearly in the
wrong. He did not directly kill Euthyphro's neighbor, but merely shack-
led him and threw him in a pit where he later died. 'This may seem like
outrageous behavior, but it is not murder. And the neighbor deserved it:
as Euthyphro himself acknowledges, his neighbor had killed his father's
domestic servant. Since there is no contest on this point, it seems obvious
that a court of law would be justified in punishing the killer. Plato em-
phasizes more than once that these circumstances make Euthyphro's case
weaker (4e; 9a).
Moreover, the delay that brought about the neighbor's death was in-
curred by the father's determination to consult the local religious authorities
concerning his obligations in the case (4c). 'This detail seems deliberately
added in order to emphasize the father's religious scruples, thus weakening
any charge of asebeia, as well as to score a point against Euthyphro's own
religious enthusiasm. 'The mention of all these circumstances are surely de-
signed to mitigate the guilt of Euthyphro's father. Not only is it wrong for
Euthyphro to prosecute his father, whatever the offense, but in this particu-
lar case the father does not deserve to be prosecuted. As a result we do not
have an unambiguous case of conflict between the obligation to treat one's
father with respect, and the obligation to prosecute the guilty. 'The ques-
tion whether or not one should prosecute one's father if he is innocent of
wrong-doing is hardly an interesting one. Why, then, does Plato present an
ambiguous situation which offers no philosophic interest on this point?
This question can be answered when we consider the parallel to the
case of Socrates. Although willing to blame Meletus for the prosecution
of an elder irrespective of the elder's guilt, Plato does not want to imply

that the elder was in fact guilty, since he represents Socrates. The mitigat-
ing circumstances in the case of Euthyphro's father, enable Plato to imply
that Euthyphro, and like him Meletus, was wrong not only for prosecut-
ing an elder, but also for prosecuting an innocent one. Piling up the case
against Euthyphro means vitiating the philosophic interest in the issue
raised, but it is eminently useful for discrediting the prosecution. Treating
a philosophically interesting question would only show that there are two
sides to the question.

The most important way in which the dialogue attacks Socrates' prosecu-
tors is by insisting that the right to prosecute is dependent on the pos-
session of wisdom or knowledge. As we saw above, the question of the
merits of litigation is raised at the very beginning of the dialogue, where
Euthyphro's excessive litigiousness is contrasted with Socrates' quietism.
Plato does not offer a full philosophic discussion of litigiousness, but he
says enough to make it clear that it is wrong to prosecute one's elders,
particularly if they are innocent, and especially if one has no idea whether
prosecuting them is behaving piously or not. Formally, the dialogue is a
deliberative one, in this way again resembling Crito, and the central ques-
tion is whether or not Euthyphro should prosecute his father. The discus-
sion of holiness is introduced as means of testing Euthyphro's proposed
course of action, and the aporetic conclusion has practical implications.
While the aporia means that no theoretical conclusion has been reached,
it also means that Euthyphro does not possess the wisdom necessary to
initiate a prosecution of his father.37
This lesson is doubly applicable to Meletus, whose ignorance of piety
means not only that he himself may have acted impiously, but also that
his charge of impiety against Socrates was based on ignorance.38Socrates
draws the connection between wisdom and the right to prosecute in re-
lation to both Meletus (2c) and Euthyphro (3d-4b, e). Speaking ironi-

37. This is noted by McPherran, 1996, 69-71.

38. Plato's argument that no one does wrong intentionally (Prot. 345d-e; Laws 731c; 860d-
e) also implies an obligation to make use of education rather than law-courts in restraining
wrong-doers, and thus provides another grounds of attack on Socrates' prosecutors (see Ap.
cally or sarcastically, he says that Meletus is wise, since only those who
know can legitimately prosecute others at court (2c). Euthyprho claims
this same wisdom with all seriousness (4e-5a), and once again Socrates
speaks of it ironically (3d; 5a-b;15d-16a). Thus Plato draws a connec-
tion between the two young prosecutors precisely on the grounds of the
wisdom each lacks but claims and needs to possess in order to conduct a
The argument of the dialogue begins with a double challenge from
Socrates. After he has heard Euthyphro's description of the crime for
which he is prosecuting his father, Socrates asks Euthyphro whether you
have "such an accurate knowledge of the divine and of the holy that in
circumstances such as you describe you can accuse your father? You are
not afraid that you yourself are doing an unholy deed?" (4e). In asking
this he implicitly reiterates the accusations of Euthyphro's relatives, who
accused him of performing an unholy act in prosecuting his father (4d-e).
The fact that Socrates sides with popular opinion against Euthyphro is an
important part of the apologetic rhetoric in Euthyphro. Here he takes a
tack markedly different from the one he takes in Crito, where he dismisses
popular slander. This tack enables him to present an image of Socrates
that is in tune with popular sentiment, and to invoke popular sentiment
against Meletus.
In order to show Euthyphro his error, Socrates asks him to say what
holiness is in every case (5c-d). Euthyphro's first claim is that the holy is
"What I am doing," namely prosecuting the unjust (C~~LKOGVTL) regard-
less of who it is (5d-e). It is a bad answer, not only because it offers an
example rather than a definition, as is frequently noted, bur also because
Euthyphro's action is not an instance of holiness. Socrates' immediate aim
is not to disprove Euthyphro's "definition" (since after all this is not a
definition), or even to teach him what a good definition would be, but to
refute his substantial claim that what he is doing is holy. His initial requests
that Euthyphro offer a definition (5d; 6d-e) are made not in order to dis-
cover an adequate definition, but in order to provide a basis for refuting
his substantial claim. By showing that his definition and hence his under-
standing of holiness is flawed, Socrates hopes to persuade Euthyphro that
what he is doing may not be holy. Socrates' insistence that there must be a
single form of holiness that is always opposed to unholiness is not merely
a principle of definition, it also enables him to offer a substantial refuta-

tion of Euthyphro's proposed definition, that holiness is that which is

loved by the gods (to theophiles).
Once Euthyphro has acknowledged that the gods disagree (6b-c)
and has defined holiness as that which is loved by the gods (6e-7a),
the further admission that holiness is one thing and always opposed to
unholiness naturally brings him to swift self-contradiction. If the same
thing is loved by one god and hated by another, and if holiness is that
which is loved by the gods while unholiness is that which is hated by
them, then one and the same thing would be both holy and unholy
(8a). But this is impossible ifand only ifholiness is always one thing and
always opposed to unholiness. If the same act could be both holy and
unholy, Euthyphro's definition would be defensible. Socrates does not
consider the possibility that the same thing could be holy in one way
and unholy in another way, although Plato does raise such possibilities
in his other composition^.^^

Before launching into the substantial philosophical arguments, Plato
offers two long digressions concerning the nature of legal judgment
among gods and men. If his aim were to refute the definition of holiness
as to theophiles, he could have accomplished it in a few words, simply
by arguing that since the gods love different and opposite things, the
same thing will be loved and hated by the gods, which means that the
same thing will be both holy and unholy. But Plato vastly expands the
argument with these digressions concerning the nature of disputes. The
first (7b6-8a2) aims to prove that the disagreements of the gods concern
not simple matters of fact but disputable issues such as the just and the
unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad. The second
(8b10-9b3) aims to show that the gods, like men, agree on theoretical
propositions, such as that it is right to punish the guilty, but disagree
in determining who is the guilty party. Together these two digressions

39. Plato uses this distinction, for example, in Republic, 436b-e. It is possible that this idea
was developed by Plato only after he had completed Eutbypbro (and Crito where it also would
have served to undo Socrates' argument that he cannot escape since this would be unjust in
one way). But it is just as likely that Plato did not make such an argument here since it did not
suit his compositional aims.

add up to almost three pages of the Oxford text, and yet they are gener-
ally glossed over in treatments of the dialogue. How do we account for
It is surely no coincidence that both of these digressions concern
the nature of judicial disputes, and this makes them relevant both to
Euthyphro's prosecution of his father and to Meletus' prosecution of
Socrates. In the first digression, Socrates points out that legal disputes
concern not matters of easily established fact, but debatable questions
of goodness and justice. This helps to show that there may be two rea-
sonable sides to a dispute, thus undermining Euthyphro's confidence in
prosecuting his father-and also implicitly undermining the confidence
of Socrates' own prosecutors and their sympathizers. In Apology Socrates
raised similar doubts about the existence of experts who can distinguish
good from bad. The uncertainty of human opinion concerning the good
and the bad undermines our ability to confidently prosecute wrong-
doers. Seeing this, Euthyphro responds that in his opinion all the gods
would agree that it is right to punish the unjust (8b).
This leads Socrates to the second digression in which he explains that
agreement on a principle as broad as "it is right to punish the unjust"
would not eliminate disagreement among the gods, because they still
have to account for the particulars of each case. Even among men dis-
putes on justice concern not whether injustice is wrong or not, but rather
the identity of the wrong-doer in any given case. Accusations concern
neither indisputable, clear facts nor profound differences of principles,
but rather the application of agreed-upon principles to particular cases
or disputes about difficult matters. By this argument, Socrates further
weakens the confidence Euthyphro or any other prosecutor can have,
perhaps giving an extra measure of legitimacy to the seemingly weaker
Socrates uses these arguments in pursuit of his main goal in this
section of the dialogue, which is not to find an adequate definition of
holiness, but to convince Euthyphro that he is making a mistake in
prosecuting his father. While accepting Euthyphro's claim that the gods
agree that the wrong-doer should be punished, he disputes Euthyphro's
claim that what he is doing in this particular case is punishing a wrong-
doer. Socrates concludes this section as follows:

Come then dear Euthyphro and show me too, so that I may become wiser.
What proof do you have that all the gods think that he died unjustly, your
hired-hand who when he had killed a man was bound by the master of
his victim, and perished, dying because of his bonds before the man who
shackled him could learn from the interpreters what ought to be done,
and that for a man like him it is right for a son to prosecute his father and
indict him on a charge of murder? Come, try to make it clear to me that
under these conditions all the gods must consider this action to be right. If
you can adequately prove it to me, I will never cease praising you for your
wisdom. (9a-b)

Here Socrates describes the crime of Euthyphro's father carefully and in

detail. He emphasizes here all the mitigating circumstances involved: that
Euthyphro is prosecuting on behalf of a hired-hand, that the man had
killed someone, that the person who killed him was the master of the
victim, that he did not actually kill him, but rather bound him, and that
the fatal delay was caused by the apparently pious effort to consult reli-
gious authorities concerning the case. None of this has anything to do
with the definition of holiness, but it has everything to do with raising
doubts about the justice of Euthyphro's paternal prosecution and about
his ability to weigh factors in coming to a decision concerning a particular
Socrates concludes this part of his interrogation by forcing Euthyphro
to admit that it would be difficult for him to explain why what he is doing
is holy (9b). 'This is a clear response to Euthyphro's definition of piety
as "what I am doing." But why is Plato so interested in reaching a judg-
ment on the particular case that Euthyphro is involved in! While focus-
ing on Euthyphro's mistakes may contribute to the effort to humiliate
him personally, it does not contribute to clarifying the nature of holiness
or the nature of definitions. The focus on the personal humiliation of
Euthyphro can be explained when we recognize the relation of this trial
to the trial of Socrates. By humiliating Euthyphro, Plato also humiliates
the prosecutors of Socrates. 'The focus on the complexities involved in
reaching reasonable opinions about guilt and innocence also serves as a
warning to all who engage in foolish and frivolous legal actions, above
all Meletus.

'This perspective helps correct a common misunderstanding of the central

argument with Euthyphro. At this point, when the dialogue is half-over,
Socrates drops his direct concern with the merits of Euthyphro's case
against his father, and turns in earnest to the question of the definition of
holiness (9b-d):
while you were talking, a notion came into my head, and I asked myself,
Suppose that Euthyphro taught me quite clearly that all the gods consider
such a death unjust, what would I have learned from Euthyphro concerning
what the holy is, and what is the unholy? (9c)

Socrates next suggests that perhaps Euthyphro wants to define the holy as
that which all the gods love, and when Euthyphro agrees, Socrates pro-
ceeds to refute this definition.
The argument Socrates presents here is frequently misconstrued.
Readers often think that Socrates is demonstrating that the holy cannot
be holy simply because the gods love it ("theological voluntarism"), but
that it must have some inherent quality that makes it holY4OHowever
Euthyphro never argues that the holy is holy because the gods love it, and
later he asserts the opposite of that. All he does at this point is to define the
holy as that which is loved by all the gods, to theophiles. Socrates' argument
aims merely at refuting that definition by showing the non-identity of the
holy and the loved. Whereas the holy is loved because it is holy and for no
other reason, the loved is loved because the gods love it.
Socrates begins by offering examples of qualities that are conferred on
objects by actions that are performed on them. 'Thus, something is "seen"
because others see it. Plato uses the passive voice of the participle and
the finite verb, so if we translate literally into English we could say that
something is "seen" because it is seen by someone, or simply, it is "seen"
(understood adjectivally) because it "is seen" (understood verbally).
Socrates uses this idea to distinguish between the holy and that which
is loved by the gods (to theophiles). He starts by asking whether the holy
is loved because it is holy or for some other reason, and Euthyphro agrees
that it is loved because it is holy. Socrates then restates this saying "It is

40. See R.E. Allen, 1970, 44, who labels this position "theological voluntarism". See also
Vlastos, 1989, 59; J. Beversluis, 2000, 172-4.

loved then because it is holy, and it is not holy because it is loved?" Again
Euthyphro agrees. At this point Euthyphro has already denied "theologi-
cal voluntarism," the idea that the holy is defined as whatever the gods
love, but he does not yet believe that he has lost the argument, since
he was never arguing for that p ~ s i t i o n . ~Neither
' does Socrates believe
he has won at this point. He continues by asking whether the loved is
loved because it is loved, and Euthyphro agrees that it is. Only with this
admission, does Socrates announce that he has refuted Euthyphro's defi-
nition, which identified the holy and the loved.
He sums up the argument as follows:
But if the loved is the same as the holy, lovely Euthyphro, then if the holy
is loved because it is holy, the loved would also be loved because it is loved;
and if because of being loved by the gods the loved is loved, the holy would
be holy because of being loved. But in fact you see that it is the opposite,
that they are completely different from each other. For the one is lovable
because it is loved, and the other is loved because it is lovable. (10e-1 la)

The argument is presented as a kind of rhetorical flourish designed not

only to clinch the argument, but also to confuse poor Euthyphro. Plato
piles up terms with similar sounds, based on the root +LA-, even referring
to Euthyphro as +CAE E6015+~wv (see also 9al). I have used the terms
loved, lovable and lovely throughout, at the expense of decent English,
in order to emphasize the repeated use of this root in Greek. I have not
tried to soften the perplexing repetitive employment of strikingly similar
syllables in the original text, as many translators do in order to produce a
more easily comprehensible argument. The effect in Greek is to give the
argument a musical flavor that is somewhat distracting to anyone trying
to think it through.
But the argument is perfectly comprehensible. Socrates proves that
the holy and the loved are not identical because assuming that they are
would lead to contradiction. He offers two alternatives. Either the holy is
loved because it is holy, (as they have agreed), in which case, if the loved

41. Allen (44) finds this an odd admission, and it would be if Euthyphro were trying to
argue that the holy is holy because the gods love it. Beversluis (2000, 174) also finds it odd,
and argues that Socrates has pushed Eurhyphro into it by asking an unfair question. But it is
not odd at all if theological voluntarism is not at issue.

is identical to the holy, then it should be loved because it is loved.42But

they have already agreed that the loved is not loved because it is loved, but
rather because the gods love it. Alternatively, if the loved is loved because
the gods love it (as they have agreed), then, if the holy is identical to the
loved, it too should be loved because the gods love it. But in fact they have
agreed that it is loved because it is holy. Therefore the holy and the loved
are not identical.
Not only would it be a mistake to think that the argument disproves
"theological voluntarism," it is clear that if Euthyphro had affirmed that
principle he would have easily won the argument. If the holy is holy
because the gods love it, then in this respect it is exactly like the loved,
which is loved because the gods love it. Socrates only refutes Euthyphro's
definition because Euthyphro does not hold the position that has been
widely attributed to him. At the end of the argument, we are still free to
believe that the holy is holy because the gods love it, even if Euthyphro
never thought of that. Because he leaves this possibility unexamined, it is
difficult to conclude that Plato is trying to refute the theory of "theologi-
cal voluntarism" here. Rather he is disproving Euthyphro's definition and
hence his understand of holiness.
Socrates blames Euthyphro for becoming confused by the argument,
comparing him to "our ancestor" D a i d a l o ~His
. ~ ~statues were so life-like
they could walk, and so too the definitions that Euthyphro offers keep
on walking around and don't keep still (1 1b-d). While the conversation
has not led to the clarification of any philosophical idea or method,
it does enable Socrates to make fun of Euthyphro. By illustrating the
humiliation of Euthyphro it allows the reader the vicarious pleasure of
a virtual refutation of Socrates' accuser. Euthyphro of course blames
Socrates, which seems designed to explain how Socrates caused others to
hate him by confusing them with his annoying chatter (see 3d and Ap.
21e-23e ).

42. Socrates could also have argued that the loved should be loved because it is holy, just as
the holy is.
43. While the primary use of the image of Daidalos is to ridicule Euthyphro's ever-chang-
ing definitions of holiness, it seems also applicable to Socrates, although in another sense:
Daidalos was a symbol of a wise man who suffered unjustly for his wisdom (see Xenophon
Mem. 4.1.33).

The humiliation of Euthyphro is an important aim in the remaining ar-

guments as well. Unlike many dialogues in which the arguments build
in complexity, or in which surprising new considerations are introduced
towards the end, the argument with Euthyphro seems to fizzle out. As
several commentators have noted, there may be hints concerning Socrates'
own conception of piety embedded in the d i ~ c u s s i o nbut
, ~ ~the arguments
themselves create the impression that Euthyphro is increasingly grasping
at straws in his efforts to free himself from the Socratic inquisition. His
willingness to accept any plausible-sounding suggestion and to rapidly
change definitions is a sign that he has not thought very much about this
question and has no real answer to it at all; but he is still eager to find
something defensible to say. Like most arguments in Platonic drama, the
arguments presented by Euthyphro are self-serving, aiming to defend the
speaker. This is a vital feature of Socratic disputes, since only the refuta-
tion of self-serving arguments can cause an interlocutor to re-think the self
which his arguments serve. In this case, claiming knowledge of the nature
of holiness is necessary in order for Euthyphro to repel Socrates' attack on
his plan to prosecute his father.
Socrates first suggests that piety is a part of justice. This division
into parts is useful because it implies a categorical resemblance between
justice towards humans and holiness towards gods, enabling us to learn
something about holiness by comparing it with more familiar human
phenomena. In this way Socrates again reverses the theological reason-
ing of Euthyphro, who derived moral lessons from the dubious behavior
described in stories about the gods. A similar intention seems to be found
in Socrates' quotation from Stasinus. He quotes two lines from this poet
only in order to disagree with them, once more showing his critical stance
towards authoritative stories concerning the gods (12a-b). After explain-
ing to Euthyphro what he means by saying that holiness is a part of justice,
he requests Euthyphro's assistance in discovering what part of justice it is,
so that he will be able to tell Meletus to cease from doing him injustice
and prosecuting him for impiety now that he has learned what is piety and
holiness (12e).

44. See above note 3.


Euthyphro declares this part of justice to be the tberapeia of the gods.

Therapeid may be translated "care," "service," or "treatment." Socrates
offers examples of how specialists treat different animals, and notes that in
all cases this treatment aims to make the animals better. He therefore asks
Euthyphro if the treatment of the gods also aims to make the gods better.
Euthyphro of course rejects the blasphemous suggestion that the gods are
in need of improvement, and suggests a different model, still an earthly
one, for understanding the treatment of the gods. He suggests that we treat
them the way our slaves treat us. Obviously slaves do not improve their
masters, but they do assist them in accomplishing goals. So Socrates pro-
ceeds to ask about the goals that the gods aim to accomplish by means of
our treatment of them, and Euthyphro once again finds himself at a loss.
He can say no more than that they perform many noble things. After some
further questions, he declares that the subject is not an easy one (14a-b).
Euthyphro has obviously been reduced to a humiliating position. He
no longer hopes to offer a reasonable definition of holiness, and simply
asserts that if anyone knows how to say and do things pleasing to the gods
in prayer and sacrifice, that is holiness (14b), adding that such behavior
preserves the family in private life and advances the interests of the state,
which obviously bears little on the question of the definition of holiness.
He seems to suspect that Socrates is denigrating piety while pretending
merely to seek an adequate definition of it and for this reason reminds
him of piety's benefits. Socrates objects that Euthyphro has changed the
subject, but nevertheless tries to discover if his latest words make sense.
He soon concludes that according to Euthyphro holiness is a form of
commerce with the gods, whereby we exchange sacrifices for the ful-
fillment of our prayers. Euthyphro becomes angry when Socrates asks
him whether the gods benefit in any way from this commerce, since
obviously gods don't need anything. Euthyphro claims that they gain
worship, honor and good will, and Socrates objects that Euthyphro has
now returned to the point from which they started, by defining the holy
once again as that which is pleasing to the gods. Socrates wants to con-
tinue the investigation, but Euthyphro claims to have an appointment
and hurries away, leaving Socrates bereft of knowledge.
This ending stresses the mutual antagonism of the two sides, and
especially the deficiencies of Euthyphro. Rather than building up to a

complex or surprising conception, the argument goes around in circles,

reflecting Euthyphro's confusion and his inability to learn. Euthyphro's
departure signals his disinterest in philosophy; but the reader may also
hope that it signals the end of his prosecution of his father, as Diogenes
Laertius thought it did (2.29; see above n. 13). If this is right, and we are
meant to conclude that Euthyphro did not do as Meletus, it was because
of Socrates' intervention. The only cure for Meletus would have been a
similar meeting with Socrates. Since that never happened, the reader has
to make do with the vicarious pleasure of a virtual refutation of Socrates'

In addition to raising doubts about the piety of Socrates' prosecutors, Plato

also suggests that Socrates' alleged impiety, the cause of his persecution,
was in fact true piety. One of the definitions of piety raised is the idea of
serving the gods (he calls the art ~ T ~ ~ E TInL Apology,
K ~ ) . Socrates claims
that his philosophic inquiries are in fact a kind of service of the gods
(ha.rp&a 23b-c; but also 67rTpeola 30a).45This means that while both
Meletus and Euthyphro behave impiously in prosecuting elder citizens,
Meletus has the special distinction of prosecuting one on the grounds that
he is engaged in a lifetime of what in fact is pious activity.
R. Weiss sees piety here as a virtue connected with ignorance, and es-
pecially the awareness of one's ignorance.46In her view service of the gods
is possible only for those who recognize their own ignorance, and this
implies something not only about Socrates, but also about Euthyphro and
Meletus: "Euthyphro also thinks himselfwise (ironically, he thinks himself
wise with respect to the gods); thus he, like Socrates' accusers, is actually
unable to be In these cases, unrecognized ignorance leads to acts
of pseudo-piety that are in fact impious. True piety or Socratic awareness
of ignorance leads to hesitation and ultimately to the abandonment of po-
litical activity in favor of investigation. By showing us that Socrates' aware-
ness of his own ignorance is true piety, Plato rebukes his (and Socrates')

45. See G. Vlastos, 1989, 213-238; R. Weiss, 1994.

46. R. Weiss, 1994.
47. R. Weiss, 1994, repr. 2 14, n. 36.

enemies while making important religious claims on behalf of the kind of

activities he fostered in the school he was promoting.
Socrates' piety, his awareness of his ignorance, explains his unwilling-
ness to prosecute others, in contrast to Euthyphro and others. And it also
explains Socrates' behavior in court. R. E. Allen has argued that Socrates'
unwillingness even to directly deny the charges of & u k p ~ ~(impiety)
against him in I? Apology stems from the fact that he recognized himself to
be ignorant of its nature: He "could not on the basis of knowledge deny the
charges brought against him."*' Instead he limits himself to saying things
like, "if this is corrupting the youth, then I do it," (30b) to showing that it
is unlikely that he does so (24d-25c), and to denying that he intentionally
corrupts them (25c-26). The dialogue Euthyphro, set shortly before the
trial, explains why he had to argue in this way. Equally, it highlights the
impiety of his prosecutors. If piety means acknowledging ignorance and
serving the gods by searching for wisdom, then neither Euthyphro nor
Meletus was pious.

Plato concludes the dialogue by reminding the reader of the connection

between this discussion and the trial of Socrates:
What are you doing my friend? Will you leave and ruin my hope of learn-
ing from you what is holy and what is not, and so escaping from Meletus'
indictment? I hoped to show him that now I had become wise about things
divine from Euthyphro, and no longer out of ignorance made rash asser-
tions and innovations with regard to them, but would lead a better life in
the future. (15e-l6a)

One can of course dismiss this as pure irony or frivolous joking, but
it is rare that Plato says things that have no serious intention whatsoever.
Taken literally, Plato is blaming Euthyphro for Socrates' failure in court.
This is not the only place he does so. Much earlier he has said that after he
adopts Euthyphro's opinions about holiness, he will be able to tell Meletus
to prosecute Euthyphro, his teacher, rather than himself (5a-b). But why
would Plato wish to blame Euthyphro in this way?

48. 1975, repr., 1 1


As we have noted, we know little about the historical Euthyphro. He

does not seem to have been either an important figure in Athens, or a
well-known enemy of so crate^.*^ He was certainly not connected with
the prosecution, since he is presented as being entirely ignorant of it
(2a) and on first meeting he seems well-disposed towards Socrates. We
know nothing of any historical enmity between him and Socrates. We
might imagine that he represents the ordinary Athenian religiosity that
condemned Socrates; but the fact that he is ridiculed by the Athenians
shows how problematic such an assumption would be.50 If, as we have
argued, he represents Meletus, however, the ending takes on a special
bite. Paradoxically enough, by blaming Euthyphro Plato blames Meletus
for an unwillingness, which is really an inability, to teach Socrates to do
According to Socrates, Euthyphro deserves to be prosecuted because
the teacher is responsible for the corrupt actions of his students, and
Euthyphro is Socrates' teacher. He is Socrates' teacher because his will-
ingness to engage in prosecution implies his possession of wisdom, and
Socrates has requested him to share that wisdom. The idea that a teacher
is responsible for the opinions and actions of his students was a common
charge against teachers, and one that was used against Socrates himself.
Apparently it was a fairly prominent charge, for both Xenophon and Plato
respond to it, Xenophon denying that a teacher can be held responsible
for his student's later degeneration (Mem. 1.2), while Plato suggests that a
teacher is in fact responsible for his students, and characteristically turns
the charge against others (Gorgias 46Oc-46la). But why does Plato saddle
Euthyphro with this responsibility?
While Euthyphro may bear some responsibility for Socrates' ignorance,
he is surely not the only one to do so. Undoubtedly he shares this respon-
sibility with all those who failed to teach Socrates; but he shares it most of
all with those who took actions that imply their wisdom. In other words,
he shares responsibility with all those who, like Euthyphro, prosecuted
their fellow-citizens. He certainly shares it with Meletus.
'That Meletus had a responsibility to teach Socrates the error of his
ways prior to taking him to court Plato makes clear in Apology:

49. See D. Nails, 2002, 152-3.

50. See J. Burnet, 1924, 85; McPherran, 1996, 34, n. 19.

And if I unintentionally corrupt others, it is not right in such cases

to summon me here, but to take me aside privately for instruction and
correction. (26a)

Since Meletus never did this, and in fact never even met Socrates (2b),
Plato cannot portray anything more than the short interview between
Meletus and Socrates he offers in Apology itself. But Euthyphro shows us
what might have happened if Meletus had attempted to educate Socrates.
The only thing that might have changed is Meletus' conviction that pros-
ecuting Socrates is the right thing to do. Plato's belief that Meletus ought
to have instructed Socrates rather than prosecuting him helps explain
why Socrates repeatedly insists that Euthyphro is his teacher. Blaming
Euthyphro for failing to teach Socrates is Plato's way of blaming Meletus.
Furthermore, if Euthyphro deserves to be punished for the misbe-
havior of his "student," then Socrates' suggestion that Meletus prosecute
Euthyphro for his failure to teach Socrates actually means that Meletus
should prosecute himself. Here once again Plato turns the tables on
Socrates' accusers.
Socrates may not have known what piety is any more than his pros-
ecutos did. But he lived in awareness of his ignorance and refrained
from actions that presume a knowledge he lacked. Just as he sought
wisdom throughout his life, so too on the verge of his trial, Euthyphro
informs us, he sought to learn about holiness from a holy man and so
improve his way of life. In this he stood in stark contrast to his impious
Chapter Four I

I Xenophon7sSorratic Seductions

T here is considerable evidence that hostility towards Socrates was

based in part on suspicions concerning his sexual relations with
his young companions. This insinuation would have been natu-
rally suggested by the official charge of corrupting the youth.' The word
"to corrupt," SLCL+~EC~ELV, has the basic meaning of to destroy or, in the
case of a living being, to kill. If a political leader or judge is the object, and
money is involved, it usually refers to bribery. If the object is a woman
or young man, however, its most regular meaning, especially in a judicial
context, is to seduce or fornicate.
In Magna Moralid (1.1 5) we find the author rejecting as implausible
the claim of an adulterer:
~ T {
Lv a y ~ h a 8 ~Tv TOG
~ V +ihou y u v a i ~ a8 ~ a + 8 c i p aArb
~ T ~ 4
S8 o v - j ~

"that he was compelled by pleasure to corrupt the wife of his friend."

Similarly, in Lysias, On the Murder of Eratosthenes,16-17 we find:

X ~ T L8' ~ ~ r l ' E p a ~ o a 8 c v c s ' O ~68 eT v~ G Trph.r.rwv,
~ 8s 06 p6vov T ~ U
V ~ V

y u v a i ~ a8~&$8ap~cv&AX& ~ a uhhas i TFO~X~F.

"Eratosthenes said that the one who does these things is from Oe, and he
has not only corrupted your wife, but many others as well."

In these cases, the word "to corrupt" clearly refers to sexual relations and
seems to be a euphemism for committing an act of illicit sexual relations
or fornication.

1. Athenaeus assumed that this was part of the accusation. See 5.219b.

And just as fornicating with a woman is "corrupting" her, so too is

fornicating with a boy.
In Aeschines, Against Timarchos 43 we find:
KU; KE~EU~VTWV 48q ~ t s~b
C ~ K O ~ O U ~ E ~ V ~ E I J ~ W T + I L O V , ~ T L~ E L ~ ~ K L O V

Z h ~ B 0 ~ ~S o~ vL + 0 ~ t p a v .
"And they ordered him to jail, since he had corrupted a free youth."

In this case the context makes it clear that the term refers to sexual
It is impossible to know whether or not the prosecution explicitly charged
Socrates with corrupting the young men of Athens in this sense. There
does not seem to have been any clear evidence that Socrates did so: in
Plato's Apology, Socrates asks if anyone can point to a young man whom
he has corrupted and he gets no answer (33c-34b). Plato at least seems
confident that no one could have given one. O f course, a lack of evidence
does not mean a lack of guilt. No family would have an interest in claiming
or publicizing the fact that one of its members had been corrupted in this
or any other sense by Socrates. In the absence of evidence, the prosecutors
might have preferred to confine this charge to extra-judicial rumor. The
prosecutors could count on the fact that the jurors would notice that this
is one of the basic meanings of the word ~ L ( I + ~(to Ecorrupt)
they could have whispered about the subject in the street.
Even without any prompting, it would have been natural for the judges
to assume that some sort of sexual relationship existed between Socrates
and his young companions, since sexual relations were often a part of
the teacher-student relationship and were sometimes seen as a kind of
"payment" for instruction. In K. Dover's memorable phrase, the "accep-
tance of the teacher's thrusting penis between his thighs or in his anus is
the fee which the pupil pays for good teaching."' The fact that Socrates
did not charge a monetary fee for his teaching would have made it seem
obvious that he received some alternative form of compensation. A teacher
who accepts no payment obviously has motives other than monetary ones
for engaging in educational activities with the young, and few would have
suspected Socrates of pure, idealistic motives such as those Plato often
attributes to him. If payment of money to a teacher functioned as a kind

2. D o v e r , 1978, 91; see also 34, 48.


of bribe or protection-payment designed to provide an incentive for the

teacher to keep his hands off his young ward,3 Socrates was under no such
But if the charge of fornication played a significant role in the trial and
controversy over Socrates, one may wonder why Socrates' later defenders
ignore the sexual implication of the charge when discussing the trial. The
simplest explanation is that prudence dictates ignoring the ugliest parts
of any accusation. By interpreting the charge as related primarily to his
philosophical activity, Socrates' defenders were able to present him as a
devoted follower of the god of Delphi who freely and magnanimously
worked for the betterment of Athens; this is much better than merely
denying that he was a fornicator.
But one cannot completely ignore serious charges. As I will try to show,
the Socratic writings abound with indirect efforts to respond to the charge
of fornication. These efforts would be inconceivable if no such charge had
been made.

Suspicions concerning Socrates' relations with young men would have

been enhanced by Socrates' unusual looks. Xenophon and Plato both
mention that Socrates looked like a Silenos or a Satyr (I? Symp. 215b-
e; X . Symp. 4.19; 5.7). These are not just ugly monsters, they are sexual
perverts. For those who believed that appearance and character go hand
in hand, one needed to explain that despite looking like a mythological
sexual pervert Socrates had a good character.
The clearest example of this effort is found in Phaedo's mostly lost
Zopyrus. Even though we do not have much of this work, what do we have
is enough to show that this was one of its main themes.* Zopyrus is an
eastern wise man who claims to be able to read men's characters in their
faces and bodily appearances. O n seeing Socrates, he declares him to be
dull, stupid, and also a lewd womanizer. Alcibiades and others burst out

3. As Aeschines points out, their livelihood is dependent on their good behavior (Against
Timarchos, 9).
4.The evidence concerning Phaedo's Zopyrus is usefully collected in L. Rossetti. As he notes,
Socrates is called muleriosus in Cicero and libidiosus in Persius ( 1 86). See also C. Kahn, 1994,
10-12; R. Blondell, 73-4.

in laughter at this absurd description, but Socrates interrupts them saying

that he is indeed prone to these weaknesses by nature, but has overcome
them through training. The dialogue may have had as its main theme the
question of whether it is possible to overcome natural endowment, but
unless the example chosen was completely inappropriate it clearly shows
that Socrates' physical appearance raised suspicions about his sexual be-
havior. The author responds that in Socrates' case, appearances are deceiv-
ing. While there is some truth in the suspicions about Socrates, they are
not actually justified. One would not want to rely on the fragmentary
remains of this one dialogue to establish the point. But we find similar
suggestions in other places as well.

Aristophanes' Clouds was performed in 424 BCE, not only long before
Plato and Xenophon wrote their defenses, but also some twenty-five years
before the trial of Socrates. One would not expect that the issues sur-
rounding the trial would be identical to those of the play5 Nevertheless,
there are many similarities. The basic charges of corrupting the young and
introducing novel deities both appear here. Aristophanes' Socrates wor-
ships the Clouds as deities.' And he corrupts the young both by turning
them against their parents and by teaching them the slippery use of logic
to overcome the claims of justice. He also gains his livelihood by stealing
food from the baskets of shoppers, an act which is facilitated by his lofty
position in studying the heavens (175-7). The play does not, however,
portray him seducing young men. This might seem a serious obstacle to
my argument. If Socrates was suspected of having improper relations with
the young, why doesn't Aristophanes mention it?
It is of course impossible to draw any definite conclusions from the
silence of a comic author; and because of the gap in time we can always
suppose that this charge emerged later: Socrates may not have been so
popular with the young in the 420s, or his association with them may
not have aroused as much notice while he was still a comparative young

5. Since we only possess a revised version of the play, we cannot be sure that the charges
against Socrates in our version are the same as those in the original version.
6. See I? A. Vander Waerdt 1994, on the possibility that this reflects a serious physiological

man in his middle for tie^.^ But we also have to remember that Clouds
is not an apologetic work, but rather aims to ridicule Socrates, accusing
him of crimes such as theft which do not seem to have figured in the later
trial, but also showing him as a personal failure and social misfit. This
helps explain one major difference between Clouds and the later reports by
Socrates' friends. While Plato and Xenophon portray Socrates as a popular
man who attracted plenty of good-looking young men, Aristophanes pres-
ents him as a close companion only of Chaerephon, whom he describes as
unattractive in appearance (503-4; see Wasps 1412-141 4). By all accounts,
Chaerephon was in fact a companion of Socrates: Plato mentions him
in Apology, Charmides and Gorgias. While he is not given a starring role
in any of these places, the role he is given indicates some intimacy with
Socrates. Not every casual acquaintance would ask the oracle at Delphi
about Socrates (Ap. 21a), or run to greet him enthusiastically on his return
from battle (Charmides 153b) or arrive together with him to interview
Gorgias (Gorgias 447a-c). Given the evidently close connection, we may
actually be surprised at his lack of prominence in Plato's and Xenophon's
works. Xenophon barely mentions him (Mem. 1.2.48; 2.3), and when he
wants to record a conversation Socrates had on brotherhood, he records
Socrates as conversing with Chaerephon's brother, not with Chaerephon
himself (Mem. 2.3). It is surely possible that this neglect results from
efforts to show that Socrates spent time with beautiful young people, not
ugly ones like Chaerephon. Aristophanes on the other hand had every
reason to make much of Socrates' friendship with this bad-looking young
man. This goes together with his general effort to show that Socrates was
a social m i ~ f i t . ~
But he cannot have it both ways. The effort to display Socrates as ri-
diculous and unfortunate makes it impossible for Aristophanes to provide a
portrait of him as a successful seducer of young men. A hostile Aristophanes

7.The idea that Socrates' association with the young may have aroused more attention the
older he got was suggested to me by David Schaps.
8. See Clouds 102-4; K. Dover, 1968b, xxxiii-xxxiv. Plato's Symposium responds to
Aristophanes' comedy both by offering a portrait of a socially adept Socrates who is the object
of admiration of the most attractive young men (in this resembling Xenophon's Symposium) and
perhaps also by offering an explanation for Aristophanes' hostile portrait of Socrates: Socrates
had criticized Aristophanes earlier. Plato marks Aristophanes' effort to answer Socrates' speech
as unfinished (212c), and records a further conversation in which Socrates offers an argument
critical of those who cannot write both comedy and tragedy (223d).

would not have wanted to portray him as such anyway, because while it
would reflect badly on him in one way, it would arouse envy for him in
another. Instead of this, Aristophanes chose to portray Socrates as the very
opposite of the charmer that we meet in Plato and Xenophon.
But in a way, Aristophanes does manage to have it both ways. In the
debate between the better and the worse argument, the worse argument
represents the new sophistic reasoning that Aristophanes attributes to
Socrates. It is significant therefore that the better argument attacks the
worse argument for unacceptable sexual behavior (908-9). He accuses the
worse argument of polluting the young men (Xupa~v6p~vov TOIS ~ E ~ ~ K ~ O L S :
928), clearly a reference to illicit sexual behavior. When the better argument
describes the practices of his own generation, he emphasizes the efforts that
were made to preserve modesty. The boys had to keep their thighs crossed
so that no one could see their private part, and they had to smooth out the
sand when they stood up so that the imprint of their fine figures would
not be visible (973-977).9 They did not anoint themselves with oil below
the navel, or use a sexy voice or make suggestive glances (977-980). He
concludes by saying that if one follows the worse argument, one will wind
up like Antimachus the faggot (1022-3). When the worse argument lists
the advantages that he has to offer, the first two are access to boys and
women (1073). Sexual looseness is clearly one of the main questions at issue
between the two. By associating indecent sexual activity with the worse ar-
gument, which represents Socrates and his school, Aristophanes contrives
to imply that Socrates was responsible for the sexual corruption of the
young without arousing envy on his behalf, which would have occurred if
he had portrayed Socrates as a successful seducer of young men.''

In Xenophon's account of the trial we find fairly direct indications of this

aspect of the charge against Socrates." In Apology of Socrates before theJudges,

9. O n the other hand they walked through the streets naked, even in the snow, and had to
keep their thighs apart while singing (964-966). The better argument hints that he also ap-
preciates the sight of attractive naked boys (see 978; 989), but not as openly.
lo. See below on the complex attitudes Athenians held with regard to sexual misbehavior.
11. Xenophon is characteristically more open than Plato about the charges he is confronting.
See Apology 1, and chapter one above.

Meletus claims that Socrates corrupted the young men by persuading

them to obey him rather than their parents (20). Xenophon expands on
this in Memorabilia 1.2.49-55, reporting the charge that Socrates taught
his students to have no special regard for the advice of their parents and
relatives. This charge occurs as well in the Cyropaedian story of the sophist
in Persia who alienated the affections of the king's son (Cyr. 3.1.38-9).
This story is certainly based on events in the life of Socrates; and precisely
because it is fictional, it offers Xenophon the freedom to portray the in-
cident as he wishes. The sophist's crime is alienating the affections of the
son and arousing the jealousy of the father. Jealousy is also a key theme in
the parallel story of Palamedes which Xenophon reports at Memorabilia
4.2.33 and which is also mentioned in Plato's Apoloay (28a) and Euthyphro
(3~-d) .
The charge of alienation of affection brings us very close to the charge
of fornication. Sexual relationships are the primary paradigm for charges
of alienation of affection, as we see in Lysias' speech about the killing of
Eratosthenes, where he claims that seduction is worse than rape since it
alienates affection (32). Xenophon says the same thing in his Symposium:
Socrates points out that a seducer corrupts his beloved more than a rapist
does, for he "corrupts" the soul of the boy he seduces (8.20; see also Hieron
3.3-4). Because the charge of alienation of affection was associated with
seduction, the claim that Socrates corrupted the young by alienating their
affections would have suggested some sort of sexual relationship. It may
serve for Xenophon as a delicate way of referring to that aspect of the
Xenophon's play with the various meanings of the term ~ L U + ~ E Iin~ E L V
Symposium reveals clearly enough that the sexual meaning played an im-
portant role in the campaign against Socrates. Xenophon's Syracusan en-
tertainer complains that he fears that some people are plotting to destroy
( ~ L U + ~ E C his
~ Eyoung
L V ) dancer (4.52-54). Socrates pretends to be unaware
of the possible sexual meaning of the term and asks what crime he has
committed that they want to kill him. The Syracusan explains that they
do not want to kill him, but rather to sleep with him. Socrates feigns igno-
rance of the sexual meaning of this phrase as well, and asks whether merely
sleeping with the boy would ruin him. When the Syracusan responds in
the affirmative, Socrates asks whether the Syracusan does not himself sleep
beside him. ?he Syracusan replies that every night he sleeps with him the

whole night through without causing any damage, and Socrates exclaims
that in that case he ought to be quite proud of his skin, since it does not
harm those who sleep beside him.
This passage offers a mildly humorous treatment of the charge of cor-
rupting the youth, and in this context it is clear that the term S L ~ + ~ E C ~ E L V
refers to sexual relations.12In addition we find a first line of defense: if one
really "sleeps" beside the boy, as a pardian or parent would, this would
not corrupt at all. This is one of the lines of defense that Plato takes in
his treatment of Socrates' relationship with Alcibiades in his Symposium, a
work which may have been inspired in part by his reading of Xenophon's
Symp~sium.'~ If the conversation with the Syracusan contains an indirect
reference to the charge of corrupting the youth, then it is clear that sexual
relations were an important component of that charge.
Xenophon also raises the issue directly in relation to Socrates. In
chapter four of Symposium, the prudish Hermogenes takes up the part
of accuser by charging Socrates with neglecting to curb the erotic passion
of Critobulus (4.23). Clearly the topic here again is Socrates' alleged cor-
rupting of the young, and just as clearly we see that it concerns the perni-
cious effect Socrates had on their sexual behavior. Socrates' response to the
charge resembles Xenophon's own response in Memorabilia to the charge
that Socrates had corrupted the young. Xenophon argued that young men
like Alcibiades were corrupted before they reached Socrates and that he
actually restrained them as long as they were under his influence (Mern.
1.2.12-16). In Symposium Socrates claims that he is not responsible for
Critobulus' corruption because Critobulus was already infected before he
ever met Socrates (4.23). His father deposited him with Socrates in the
hopes that Socrates could work some improvement on him. And in fact,
Socrates claims, there has been some very small improvement: whereas
before he would stare at Cleinias without blinking, now he blinks (4.24-
5 ) . Although the exchange is presented humorously, there is no reason to
discount the implication that Socrates was popularly suspected of having a

12. The work as a whole contains numerous references to the trial. Socrates' long speech in
chapter eight, after which Lycon calls Socrates a fine person (9.1), is obviously designed to
show his positive influence on others. The Syracusan makes a clear reference to the charges
against Socrates (6.6),there are several allusions to accusations in the speeches in chapter four,
and the beauty contest in chapter five seems to be a parody of Socrates' trial and condemna-
tion. See G. Danzig, 2004.
13. See G. Danzig, 2005.

bad effect on the sexual behavior of the young. O n the contrary, the light-
hearted atmosphere lets the truth come out. And Socrates' ludicrously
unconvincing denial suggests that Xenophon acknowledges that there
was some truth in the charges. 'This too is part of Xenophon's complex
Plato's works also confirm the suspicion that sexual misconduct was
part of the charge against Socrates. The most obvious example is found
in Alcibiades' speech concerning Socrates' chaste behavior with him in
bed (I? Symp. 217e-219e). But perhaps it is unnecessary to say more in
order to show that such a charge was in the air. In the remainder of this
chapter and the next I will consider the ways in which Xenophon and
Plato respond to it.

In order to understand the complex apologetic approaches of Xenophon

and Plato it is necessary to consider further the nature of the charges and
their relationship to popular attitudes in Athens. It seems clear that the
controversy over Socrates was not confined to the legal question of his guilt
or innocence of specific charges, but also concerned a whole range of per-
sonal issues. This is reflected, for example, in the charges that Xenophon
addresses: that Socrates acted foolishly and arrogantly in court (X. Ap. 1;
see above chapter one); that he suffered from poverty (Oec. 11; see below
chapter six); and that he led a generally pitiable existence (Mem. 1.6).
Similar charges are reflected in Plato's Crito, Republic, Gorgias and else-
where. This double-accusation of crime and misery is particularly power-
ful and difficult to refute, especially when one considers the hypocritical
nature of human society in general and Athenian society in particular. As
Plato notes frequently, ordinary Athenians were not consistent in their
attitudes towards injustice. Like members of other societies, they tended
to disapprove of injustice more strongly when committed by others, and
to overlook or excuse it when committed by themselves or their friends.
For this reason, it was possible to portray ordinary Athenians as longing
secretly to commit acts of injustice and even disdaining those who would
not act unjustly if given the opportunity (Rep. 360d). Underneath the
superficial condemnation of injustice and praise of justice, there lurked an
equally strong desire for material prosperity which could often justify the

doing of unjust deeds.'*

Athenians were particularly hypocritical with regard to sexual behavior.
O n the one hand a well-documented stigma attached to those young men
who were willing to have sexual relationships with older lovers, and a cor-
responding blame for those who seduced them.15 But while potentially an
object of blame, the successful seducer, or hunter, of beautiful young boys
would also have been an object of envy to a vast plurality of adult men.
Catching a beautiful boy was something to proud of, while failing to do
so successfully after trying was ~ h a m e f u l . ' ~
In Athens, as in other societies, a person who had limited access to
attractive sexual partners was considered an unfortunate individual. 'This
is apparent, for example, when in Xenophon's Symposium Antisthenes
defends his impoverished life-style in part by remarking that despite his
poverty he nevertheless has opportunities for sexual relations with women.
Although these of course are not beautiful women, he argues that they
have the advantage of being especially grateful for his visits (4.38). Still
better would be to visit the beautiful on similar conditions.
'These contradictory attitudes are described by Pausanias in Plato's
Symposium. He says that Athenians were indulgent of extravagant behav-
ior on the part of the older lover in pursuit of his beloved, accepting oth-
erwise humiliating behavior such as begging or sleeping in a beloved's
doorway. O n the other hand, parents took steps to shield their boys from
lovers (183c-d; see also X. Symp. 8.19; Pbaedrus 255a, Lysis 208c, 223a),
and it was considered disgraceful for a boy to give in too quickly or to do
so for the sake of money (184a-b). In sum, Pausanias describes a situation
of "sympathy for the erastes, but at the same time protection of the erome-
nos and criticism of an eromenos who is 'quickly caught'.""

14. This point was made forcefully by A. W H. Adkins in his discussion of the relative weight
of competitive and cooperative values in Athenian society (see Adkins, esp. 259-281). While
many have contested Adkins' formulation of the issue, few would deny the pervasiveness of
competitive values in the ancient Greece. See H . Lloyd-Jones; M. Gagarin (with responses by
A. Adkins and H. Lloyd-Jones).
15. For a range of competing views on Greek homosexuality, see K. Dover, 1989, D.
Halperin, W A. Percy 111, B. S. Thornton.
16. See Symposium
. . (182d-e), Lysis 205d-206a.
17. Dover, 1989, 84. Although one obviously cannot take everything Pausanias says as
good evidence, Dover is right to distinguish between his relatively reliable description of the
facts about Athenian attitudes and his own invented explanation of the purpose which these
complex attitudes serve (82-3).

Like other peoples, the Greeks held complex attitudes towards the
most valuable commodities in their society. Many of them wished for
good things for themselves and were willing to pursue them at the expense
of others. But in order to prevent others from doing likewise at their own
expense they condemned such behavior in others. The average Athenian
man would therefore have had two good reasons to be annoyed at the ap-
parent successes Socrates enjoyed with young men: he would have been
both indignant and envious.
For this reason, a truly successful defense of Socrates could not rest
with a demonstration that he was an honest, pious, law-abiding or just
man. Such a portrait, even if convincing, would perhaps free him from
the charge of injustice, but would do little to free him from the equally or
more serious charge of misery, and would do nothing to arouse genuine
envy or admiration for him. ?he only effective response would be a mixed
and possibly self-contradictory one showing both that Socrates was inno-
cent and that he led an extraordinarily successful and enviable life.
For a figure like Socrates, who was not successful in either economic
or political terms, relations with young boys were perhaps the only area
in which a recognizable degree of success could be plausibly affirmed. In
order to arouse envy on his behalf, therefore, Socrates' defenders could not
afford to deny Socrates' alleged relations with attractive young men, but
on the contrary would need to emphasize them. For these reasons they
were in the difficult position of having to show off Socrates' success with
young boys at the same time that they argue for his innocence. As we will
see, each succeeded in doing so in his own way.

Xenophon offers several different responses to the charge that Socrates

took advantage of his young companions. The most prevalent response
is outright denial. Xenophon presents numerous speeches in which
Socrates speaks out strongly against the pernicious effects of eros. In
chapter eight of Symposium he delivers one of the lengthiest speeches
that Xenophon composed for him, arguing that a true lover of the soul
should avoid any physical relations with his beloved. The speech replies
to the more lenient speeches on eros given by Phaedrus and Pausanias
in Plato's Symposium, both of which had praised homosexual relations.

Phaedrus had argued that far from encouraging shamelessness, homo-

sexual relations can provide an incentive for noble behavior. He made
the famous suggestion that an army composed of male lovers and be-
loveds would be a formidable fighting force because the shame lovers
feel before their beloved would incite them to noble deeds. Pausanias
had claimed that there are two sorts of love, just as there are two names
for Aphrodite. Some love young boys (and women) for their physical
attributes, while others love slightly more mature boys for their minds
or souls. Since their love is for the souls of their beloveds, the better sort
of lover may also legitimately enjoy their bodies as well. Contrary to
popular belief, he argued, the act of sexual relations with young boys is
not inherently wrong. No action is inherently wrong; and even sexual
relations with young boys can be done in a proper way. In short, both
Phaedrus and Pausanias have good things to say about homosexual rela-
tions; and Plato's Socrates does not offer any very strong rebuke.
Xenophon's Socrates does not agree. He approves of the distinction
Pausanias makes between love of the body and love of the soul, but argues
that Pausanias has not gone far enough. A true lover of the soul will not
insist on physical relations at all. Those who do insist on physical rela-
tions, at least within the social framework prevalent in Athens, are shame-
less.I8 For this reason, Phaedrus' suggestion that an army composed of
homosexual lovers could be quite successful is rubbish: people with no
sense of shame in their private lives would never allow shame to motivate
them on the field of battle either. Socrates insists that Callias maintain
what we would call a purely "platonic" relationship with his young friend
(Symp. 8.22-41). Here we find one of many examples of Xenophon's
Socrates' throwing cold water on the erotic aspirations of his friends and
Another example is found in the only conversation Xenophon records
in Memorabilid between Socrates and himself (1.3). In that conversation,
Socrates addresses Xenophon in Critobulus' presence in order to warn the
latter about the dangers involved in kissing a beautiful young boy (see also
Mem. 2.6.32-33). But instead of supporting Socrates' efforts, Xenophon
rebuffs him by expressing his own wish to do exactly as Critobulus has

18. Xenophon recognizes that in Thebes and Elea such relations do not imply shamelessness,
since no shame is attached to them there (Symp. 8.34).

done. Socrates becomes exceedingly angry and calls Xenophon an idiot

( ~ I , G ~ Eif) he is not aware of the dangers of kissing the beautiful. He com-
pares the effects of gazing on the beautiful to those of a spider's bite and
advises both Xenophon and Critobulus to keep far away from the source
of danger.19 The reactions of Xenophon and Critobulus to this harangue
are not recorded.
In Oeconomicus, Socrates warns Critobulus against the economic folly
of indulging in expensive love affairs (2.7). In Memorabilia 1.5 Xenophon
records a short harangue in which Socrates explains the importance of
self-control in regard to all manner of pleasures. In his conversation with
Aristippus, the famous Socratic hedonist, Socrates is at pains to point out
the folly of indulgence in pleasure for anyone who wishes to survive in
the real world of fierce political and economic competition (Mem. 2.1).
In his meeting with the beautiful Theodote (Mem. 3.1 1) he tells his com-
panions that she should pay them for visiting her, since her beauty causes
them only harm, while her honor is increased by the number of her visi-
tors. From all of this, Xenophon's first line of defense is clear: rather than
encouraging licentious behavior, Xenophon's Socrates admonished all and
sundry to avoid erotic involvements like the plague.
Many readers assume that if Socrates advised others, he must have acted
this way himself. But there are reasons to doubt it. Although he advised
others to stay far from the young and the beautiful, Xenophon's Socrates
himself spent a good deal of time with exceptionally attractive young men
such as Autolycus, Charmides, Critobulus and Euthydemus, a circum-
stance which gave rise to suspicions and allegations that Socrates did not
always follow the advice he gave to others. Xenophon himself seems to
be aware of such suspicions, for when he offers tribute to Socrates' self-
restraint in Memorabilia 1.3, his words are formulated in response to such
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19. Here Xenophon is in accord with a long tradition of Greek literature on love that com-
pares it to a kind of disease. See for example Sophocles' Trarhiniae and Euripides' Hippolytus.

in his ability to refrain from the most beautiful and sexually attractive
( & p C L ~ ~ boys
~ & ~more
~ ~ )easily than others could refrain from the ugliest
and most sexually unattractive ones.20

The very need for a defense on this score shows that suspicions did exist;
and Xenophon's response-that Socrates was conspicuous in practicing
self-restraint himself ( a 6 d s ; see also 1.5.6)-shows that not everyone
took his words as proof to others of his practice.
As C. Hindley says, this kind of claim concerning Socratic enkrateia
(self-control) "forms the centerpiece of Xenophon's rebuttal of the charge
that the philosopher corrupted the young."21 Considering Xenophon's
portrait of Socrates' attitude towards eros as a whole, Hindley concludes
that he portrays Socrates as a celibate.22 Other commentators also take
this anti-erotic portrait of Socrates at face value.23But this view is hard to
reconcile with some prominent aspects of Xenophon's portrait. As we have
noted, Xenophon's Socrates spends considerable time with very beautiful
young men. He claims, no less than Plato's Socrates, to be an expert on
eros (Mem. 2.6.28; see Symp. 3.10). This alone does not prove anything,
since the claim is ambiguous, and Xenophon's Socrates explains his erotic
abilities in non-erotic terms (Symp. 4.57-60). But a closer look shows that
Xenophon's portrait of Socratic eros and his statements about him are laced
with ambiguities concerning both his attitudes and his personal behavior.
These ambiguities strongly suggest that in Xenophon's view Socrates was
not always as celibate as he sometimes pretended.
Several ambiguities can be observed in the phrasing of the passage we
have just quoted. Socrates' self-restraint is praised in relative terms: he is
only said to have been much better at restraining himself than are others.
Xenophon's praise of Socrates' character takes the form of a natural-result
clause rather than an actual-result clause, which means that while offer-
ing a beautiful tribute to Socrates' strength of character, the passage says
nothing about his actual deeds.24The emphasis on conspicuous behavior

20. 1.3.14. See also 1.5.6. In speaking of those who are unable to refrain from the ugly,
Xenophon may be taking a jab at Antisthenes whom he portrays as concent with unattractive
women (Symp. 4.38).
21. C. Hindley, 1999, 77.
22. C. Hindley, 1999, 2003.
23. See e.g. Dorion, 2000, 96-7, note 114.
24. In 1.5.6 Xenophon affirms unambiguously that Socrates practiced what he preached,

( + a v ~ p h s 3 v ) suggests that Socrates may have displayed great powers of

self-restraint in public and still indulged in sexual relations in private.
Socrates frequently claims that self-restraint can be a useful means for
maximizing physical pleasure (e.g. Mern. 1.3.5), so his public restraint
would not contradict private indulgence in any way.
The words that precede this quotation offer a more complex example
of Xenophon's intiguing ambiguity:25

This is t h e way h e thought it necessary for those w h o are n o t infallible in

regard to sex to treat those objects that the soul (or person) would reject i f t h e
body d i d n o t need t h e m a n d which would n o t cause troubles if needed.

The first words of the passage, O;TW 64, connect it with the previous
scene in which Socrates urged Critobulus to stay as far away from attrac-
tive young people as possible. Given this, the passage should mean that
Socrates thought that those who are not "infallible" in regard to sex (706s
p;1 ho+aX&s E x o v ~ a s~ p h sh + p o S l a ~ a ) must strictly avoid those objects
that the soul would reject if the body did not need them, as long as they are
needed and do not cause trouble. But this seems incomprehensible: why
would restraint be necessary only if the objectionable objects are needed and
do not cause trouble? Rather than a stringency, Socrates seems to be issuing
a conditional leniency, ruling that it is permissible to indulge in sexual rela-
tions when the body demands it, even with objects one would otherwise
reject, on condition that such indulgence is necessary and does not cause
further troubles. In other words, despite the torturous language, and in
seeming contradiction to his advice to Critobulus, Socrates acknowledges
the permissibility of sexual relations for purposes of bodily health.
But this is not the only obscurity in the passage. What are we to make
of the fact that this leniency applies only to those who are not "infallible"

but there the subject is physical pleasure rather than eroticism, and his examples concern only
foods and prostitutes.
25. There are numerous examples of Xenophon's use of ambiguity in a variety of contexts:
see Mem. 1.3.14; 1.4.1; 1.4.16 and 1.6.15. C. Hindley suggests that our passage is a result of a
poor editorial job (1999, 83-4; see 2003, 127, n. 11); but Xenophon may wish to be obscure
in places.

in regard to sex? Such fallible individuals are told to avoid sexual relations
except when necessary. But what about those who are infallible? In what
way should their behavior diverge from their more fallible companions?
Should they never engage in sexual relations? O r does their infallibility
imply that they may do so with impunity? If we interpret infallibility as
indifference to sexuality altogether, then they will have no need for the le-
niency that Socrates offers to their more fallible acquaintances. They would
be able to avoid erotic activities altogether, for they would be natural celi-
bates. O n the other hand, what if infallibility refers to the ability to enjoy
erotic relations without experiencing any unfortunate results? Xenophon
never tells us what Socrates meant by fallible and infallible; but this latter
possibility would help explain Socrates' own flirtatiousness. While most
people must indeed restrict their eroticism to infrequent encounters of
dire necessity, presumably with the kind of women Antisthenes frequents,
those who possess sexual infallibility may find themselves freer to indulge
in erotic behavior safely.26
This view may help explain the portrait of Socratic eroticism that
we find in Symposium. While Memorabilia is self-evidently addressed to
public criticisms of Socrates' behavior, Symposium is not ostensibly an
apologetic work, and the apologetics it does contain are of a somewhat
different character. The light-hearted banter Xenophon reproduces here
provides a cover for some candid revelations about Socrates' sexual behav-
ior. We have already discussed Socrates' somewhat unimpressive effort at
defending his treatment of Critobulus, claiming that the latter was already
corrupt when he met him and has shown some mild improvement. This
is in accordance with Xenophon's first line of defense, that Socrates was
opposed to erotic indulgence and taught his companions to avoid it. But
the humorous character of the defense raises doubts about just how seri-
ously we are meant to take it. Moreover, while this excuse may (or may
not) satis@ Hermogenes, Socrates' statements strike Charmides as sheer
hypocrisy. In his view, Socrates warns others to stay away from beautiful
young people while enjoying their company himself, and even enjoying
physical contact with them:
"But why, Socrates," Charmides now asked, "do you frighten us, your

26. So Hindley characterizes Xenophon's own attitude (1999, n. 29.)


friends, away from the beautiful, when, by Apollo! I have seen you yourself,
when you and Critobulus were searching for something in the same scroll
at the school, with your head touching his, and your bare shoulder touching
his bare shoulder!"
"Ah!" exclaimed Socrates. "That is why I felt pain in my shoulder for five
days as if a wild animal had bitten me, and felt as if I had something like
a sting in my heart. But, Critobulus," he said, "in the presence of all these
witnesses I warn you not to touch me until your beard is as long as the hair
on your head." (Symp. 4.27-28)

This is as far as I know the only place in the extant Socratic writings where
Socrates is portrayed as coming into erotic physical contact with anyone:
in general, Plato portrays Socratic eroticism as focusing on the beautiful
appearance of a boy's face and body or on his soul (see e.g. Charrnides),
and not on any form of physical contact. The rubbing of shoulders may be
intended in fact as a delicate way of referring to sexual relation^.^^
Both his reported actions and his transparently disingenuous
protestations raise serious doubts about Socrates' commitment to avoiding
the beautiful temptations he warns others against. Moreover, Socrates'
claim to have chosen a better path for the future is belied by events. Just
previously he disputed Critobulus' claim to be better able than he to obtain
kisses from the young performers (4.18-20). Critobulus had claimed
that by virtue of his beauty he could more easily win kisses from the
young entertainers than Socrates could, despite all his great wisdom.
Socrates did not deny that kissing young people is a worthwhile end, nor
that a proper use of wisdom is to further that end.28Instead he claimed to
be more beautiful than Critobulus and insisted on competing with him
in a beauty contest. One might have thought that after his expressions
of regret for rubbing shoulders with Critobulus and his decision to right
his ways for the future Socrates would abandon his plan to compete in a
beauty contest, or at least renounce any intention of obtaining kisses by

27. Hindley has already drawn attention to Xenophon's use of euphemism in sexual contexts
(2004, 130 with n. 23).
28. The idea that Socrates' wisdom is vulnerable to the charge of inadequacy in winning
kisses from these young beauties further confirms the suggestion that some people suspected
that this was precisely what Socrates used his wisdom for. It also suggests that his success in
this area may not have been universally acknowledged and needed some bolstering by his

this means. However, he participates enthusiatically in the contest, and

he personally insists that the prize for beauty be kisses from the beautiful
young judges rather than ribbons (5.9). Kisses from good-looking
young people were precisely the danger that Socrates warned against in
Memorabilia 1.3 and elsewhere; and yet here, shortly after his renunciation
of such things, he eagerly casts himself headlong into the very danger
he warned others to stay away from.29Although presented in a humorous,
delicate and light-hearted fashion, Socrates' deeds clearly conflict with the
advice he offers to others.30
Another kind of ambiguity arises when we examine sceptically some
the stern warnings that Socrates issues. We are struck by the frequency
which which they can be explained as serving his own personal aims.
It is easy to suspect that there are special reasons for Socrates' stern
remarks about eros in the presence of Critobulus in Memorabilia, the
very young man with whom he enjoyed physical contact as reported
in Symposium. In lecturing him, Socrates tells Critobulus only of the
need to avoid the kisses of those who are young and beautiful, but says
nothing against kissing older unattractive men such as himself. His
Antisthenian leniency in regard to contact with the unattractive may
have served his own interests by encouraging others to refrain from erotic
contact with anyone more attractive than himself. O n the other hand,
his own indulgence in erotic contact with the beautiful would have
been harmless and justified if he was "infallible" with regard to sexual
Another example is Socrates' conflict with Critias over the young
Euthydemus (Mem. 1.2.29-30). O n the surface, Socrates' harsh words-
comparing Critias to a pig rubbing itself on a stone-aim simply at
protecting the young man from Critias' unwonted advances.31 But like
Critobulus, Euthydemus was also an object of erotic interest to Socrates
himself, and Xenophon devotes considerable effort to describing Socrates'
later efforts at seducing him (Mem. 4.2; see below). So Socrates' words here
may also aim at preventing a rival from gaining contact with an object of

29. His suggestion that the Syracusan entertainer treat the crowd to what seem to be erotic
dances instead of mere acrobatics is another indication of Socrates' erotic interests (7.5).
30. From this point of view, Socrates' words in Mem. 1.6.13 are irreconcilable only with his
general teachings, not with his practice. Compare Hindley 2003, 128-9 with note 17.
31. D. Morrison, 1994, 184, n. 6; Hindley 1999, 77-8; 2003, 125, with note 5.

his own infatuation.

This way of interpreting Socrates' behavior towards young people is
suggested quite directly by Antisthenes in Xenophon's Symposium. He
accuses Socrates of tranparently engaging in pimping on his own behalf (As
oa+& ~ ~ V T Ooh,L p a u ~ p o 7 oau~oG,
~ and of using
his alleged communication with the divine as an excuse to avoid those
who have lost his interest (8.5). Socrates does not deny the charges, but
attributes Antisthenes' criticisms to jealousy, admonishing him to refrain
from speaking about such subjects in public, since he loves Socrates only
for his good looks and not for his soul (8.6). Antisthenes' charges occur
just before Socrates' long speech of warning to Callias and Autolycus, the
bulk of which is devoted to explaining why Callias must refrain from
obtaining the favors of Autolycus. If we are right to read the speech in
light ofhtisthenes' words, Socrates' effort to persuade Autolycus to avoid
sexual contact with Callias may serve his own interests as well.32
These observations raise a difficult question about Xenophon's aims in
his Socratic writings. Why would an apologetic Xenophon create prob-
lems for himself by presenting a portrait of Socrates in which he fails to
uphold his own warnings about erotic behavior? Is this an example of his
astounding incompetence as a writer and apologist! Strictly speaking, of
course, because of the ambiguities in his statements, Socrates is not open
to the charge of hypocrisy. If he regarded himself as infallible with regard
to erotic matters, he would have had no need to follow the advice he gave
to others more fallible than he. But avoidance of hypocrisy would not
necessarily have reassured those parents who suspected him of corrupting
their children. We still need to understand why Xenophon would offer
hints about Socrates' attitudes and behavior that only confirm the gravest
suspicions against him.
I suggest that this question can be answered only when we take into
account the full range of Xenophon's apologetic aims. Although in a ju-
dicial context Socrates' alleged relations with the young may have been

32. Autolycus' beauty is described as so striking that everyone in the room was affected by
it: "just as the eyes are drawn to a light that appears at night, so too the beauty of Autolycus
drew the Dgaze of all uoon him him. And not one of the onlookers was unmoved in his soul bv
the boy: some grew quiet, others assumed a pose" (Symp. 1.9). Socrates, of course, is included
in the list. His rivalry with Callias is evident in disparaging or belittling remarks he makes
thoughout the evening. The conflict with Antisthenes should be compared with Socrates' con-
flict with Alcibiades in Plato's Sympostum.

a source of blame, in many other contexts they would have been a cause
for envy. In the candid atmosphere of a drinking party, revelations con-
cerning Socrates' behavior would not have the same offensive character
that they would have when scrutinized in a public trial. Socrates might
be quite happy if some of the drinking guests go off with the impression
that he has corrupted no small number of young people, and Xenophon
may be doing well by implying that this was the case.
?he popularity of this more indulgent attitude towards pleasure
cannot be denied. It plays an important role in the scene in Memorabilia
where Xenophon expresses his sympathy for Critobulus' erotic behav-
ior (1.3). Xenophon's expression of sympathy serves in part to disarm
the hostile reader by reminding him of the generally acknowledged
desirability of erotic contact with the young and the beautiful. Along
with the common treatment of love as a disease, this more indulgent
mode of expression concerning erotic attractions had a long history in
Greek thought. Xenophon may be modeling this scene in part on the
famous scene in Homer's Odyssey where the gods debate Ares' conduct
towards Aphrodite and her husband Hephaetus. While all the gods
seem unanimous in condemning Ares' behavior and engage in laugh-
ter at his expense for being caught in Hepaestus' nets,33Apollo points
out that a liaison with Aphrodite would be well worth it (Ody. 8.266-
366).34Xenophon's candid comment about Critobulus evokes the same
attitudes that Apollo's does, and helps undermine indignation against
suspected perpetrators of erotic wrong-doing, such as Socrates. Just as
Apollo could count on sympathy for his words, so too could Xenophon
count on sympathy for his. And so too a portrait of Socrates which con-
tains hints concerning his sexual indulgences would have succeed better
in persuading Athens' lusty population that Socrates lived an enviable
life than one which omitted such hints. Such a portrait would appeal to
those who, like the character Xenophon himself, enjoyed kissing beauti-
ful young boys very much.

33. Xenophon also uses net-imagery in describing the capture of adulterers in his description
of Socrates' conversation with Aristippus, comparing fornicators to birds who are attracted by
bait and caught in hunters' nets (Mem. 2.1).
34. See also the elders' ambivalent comments on Helen in the Iliad (3.155-60).

In this section, I will describe two scenes in which Xenophon's Socrates

exhibits his abilities in seducing beautiful people, one male and one female.
In both cases, the erotic aspect is relatively subdued; the conversations
appear to present typical Socratic educational efforts. But these educational
efforts also serve greater goals which can be described as political. In both
cases, Socrates reveals an aggressive desire and ability to subordinate his
interlocutor and transform him or her into a submissive recipient of
Socratic input. 'This aim in turn has an erotic component.

Because Memorabilia aims more at denying Socrates' guilt than at arous-

ing envy for him, its portrait of Socrates' skills in seduction may be
somewhat subdued. But it nevertheless contains some significant rev-
elations. In Symposium (3.10) Socrates spoke of himself as a pimp who
never practiced the profession, or at least never made money from it.35In
his conversation with the beautiful 'Theodote (Mem. 3.1 1 ) we get both
an illustration and an explanation of his skill in this area. Placed in a
section of Memorabilia devoted to professional advice, this conversation
shows the excellent advice Socrates could offer to a successful professional
woman. But unlike some of the other professionals Socrates instructs in
this section of Memorabilia, Theodote is a kind of a rival to him. For this
reason, his aim is not merely to offer instruction or gain an admirer, but
also to gain supremacy.
Socrates' encounter with 'Theodote naturally lends itself to compari-
son with Cyrus' encounter with Panthea in Cyropaedia (5.1.1-18).36In
both cases, the hero receives a report about a most beautiful woman and
the question is raised as to whether or not it would be worthwhile to
take a look at her. Cyrus explains why it would not. He is a busy man
and knows that the sight of her would be even more distracting than the
mere description of her has already been (Cyr. 5.1.8). He fears he would

35. See also Memorabilia 2.6.28 where Xenophon interprets Socrates' eroticism as referring
to his skills at teaching others to be more attractive to others.
36. Nadon notes the comparison between Cyrus and Socrates on viewing beautiful women,
but argues that Cyrus only pretends to be unable to view her 158-9.

be charmed and enslaved by her beauty and thereby rendered unfit to

perform his duties. Cyrus worries not only about his own ability to resist
the beauty of Panthea, but also about the ability of his lieutenant Araspas
who brought her to his attention (Cyr. 5.1.16). The two men engage in a
lengthy argument in which Cyrus claims that virtue is never proof against
temptation and that there is always a need for taking measures to safeguard
oneself. This point is made frequently in Xenophon's works, sometimes
explicitly (e.g. Mem. 1.2.19-24) sometimes implicitly (e.g. Cyr. 3.3.55).
The narrative in Cyropaedia leads us to expect that Cyrus is in the right:
Araspas' insistence that good character can overcome all temptation seems
motivated primarily by his desire to persuade Cyrus to allow him to have
the beautiful prize. Sure enough, after Cyrus grants his request, Araspas
fails to live up to his promise, proving not immune to the effects of eros.
Overcome with passion, he makes humiliating demands on Panthea, even
resorting to force, and is obliged to atone for his offense by undertaking a
dangerous and life-threatening mission (6.1.31-43). The lesson is clear: no
one is immune when eros is on the prowl.
Socrates, however, appears to be an exception. The contrast between
him and Cyrus can be seen from the very beginning of the scene. Having
been told that 'Theodote's appearance is far greater than words can de-
scribe, Socrates exhibits no hesitation about seeing her, but on the con-
trary decides that he and his companions must go to see her at once.
This insistence raises the question of his motivation. Is he eager to enjoy
a pleasurable interlude? O r on the contrary is he simply confident in his
utter immunity to the woman's charms? During the visit he comments to
his friends that we desire to touch what we have seen, and we will depart
in a state of passion and will long for her afterwards (1.1 1.2). If not ironic,
Socrates' words imply that he himself is among those affected. But some-
times Socrates uses the first person plural to politely but falsely imply that
he is included among those he denigrates (see for example Mem. 4.2.23).
In fact, Socrates easily overcomes whatever passions 'Theodote may arouse,
displaying no outward sign of weakness. Socrates shows a similar ability
to resist other attractive objects of desire, such as Autolycus (Symp. 8) and
Euthydemus (Mem. 4.2, 4.4). His display of disinterest suggests that his
eagerness to meet Theodote stemmed from his desire to achieve a per-
sonal and political victory over a rival rather than to enjoy a pleasurable

One may question whether Socrates' ability to rebuff these beautiful

people reflects a genuine indifference to them, or whether he merely forces
himself to overcome powerful passions, displaying enkrateia (self-control).
But even if the latter is the case, this may be enough in Xenophon's eyes
to qualify him as erotically infallible. Cyrus' fear was that exposure to
Panthea would cause such strong and obsessive desire that he would be
unable to perform his duties effectively. Socrates raises the same kind
of practical consideration in his conversations on eros with Critobulus
(Mem. 1.3) and Aristippus (Mem. 2.1). If this is the danger, then as long
as Socrates does not allow his passions to affect his behavior he seems to be
demonstrating a sufficient infallibility with regard to eros3'
Regardless of his internal state, Socrates' eagerness to see Theodote cer-
tainly stems at least in great part from his desire to meet a threat to his
own reputation. Beauty is an attraction; and Socrates is not one to ac-
knowledge that anyone is more attractive than himself. In Symposium he
is sufficiently disturbed by Critobulus' claim to being more beautiful than
he that he ludicrously challenges him to a beauty contest. In the event,
Socrates does not merely display his own good looks to the judges, he
presents an argument, a logos, in which he claims that his seemingly ugly
features, because of their utility, are in fact supremely beautiful (Symp.
5). In Symposium, Critobulus' beautiful appearance gains a victory over
Socrates' logos, but only because, in Socrates' view, Critobulus has cor-
rupted the judgment of the judges (5.10).
In the encounter with Theodote, too, Socrates enters into competition
with a physically beautiful rival. After his anonymous companion has de-
scribed her beauty in high terms, the only way to deflate his enthusiasm is by
having a look see. His companion claimed that her beauty beggars descrip-
tion ( K ~ E ^ L T T O V XbYou). Translating overly literally, this expression implies
that the power of her beauty is greater than the power of reason. Interpreted
in this way, the claim represents a serious slight to Socrates. But here, unlike
in his contest with Critobulus in Symposium, his logos gains a clear victory.38
Socrates' initial comment that Theodote ought to be grateful to them
for seeing her implies that she owes them something, thus placing her

37. Compare the remark attributed to Aristippus on being criticized for entering the house
of a courtesan: "'The danger is not in entering, but in being incapable of leaving." Diogenes
Laertius, 2.69, quoted by M . Narcy, 2004, 214.
38. For this idea, see M. Narcy, 2004, 215.

in the position of a debtor. Socrates not only succeeds in persuading his

companions that she owes them, he even persuades 'Theodote herself
(3.1 1.2-3). By offering her excellent advice, Socrates increases her indebt-
edness and awakens her sense of gratitude. 'This gratitude reminds us of
Antisthenes' comment in Symposium that he visits women so ugly that
they are exceedingly grateful for his visits. Socrates outdoes Antisthenes
by gaining the same reaction from an exceedingly beautiful woman and
by the superior means he uses to achieve it. By the end of the conversa-
tion Theodote eagerly asks him to play a role in her life which can only
be described as being her pimp (3.1 1.15). She also offers to visit him
at his place at no charge (3.11.18). In response, Socrates plays with her,
claiming he will receive her only if none of the girls he likes better is with
him (3.11.18). He portrays himself as the object of affection of numer-
ous young ladies, by whom he may be referring to male students whom
he has reduced to feminine proportion^.^^ In displaying his indifference
to Theodote, Socrates not only outdoes both Cyrus and Araspas, he also
demonstrates his superiority to the historical Alcibiades, who did succumb
to Theodote's charms and preferred them to Socrates' company.40Here we
see both how Socratic wisdom wins attractive companions, and how he
himself remained un-tempted by the opportunities this provided.
In these scenes we find that Socrates' expertise in pimpery was no
mere theoretical knowledge, but a practical know-how that he himself
employed in his daily life. While Socrates was a pimp, in this sense, many
other teachers resembled prostitutes, receiving pay for services that ought
not to receive pay. Good advice, like good sex, ought to be shared only
with good friends and at no charge.4' Socrates did not accept fees for his
teaching because he knew that it is not proper to take fees for teaching any
more than for sexual favors (Mem. 1.6.13). Those who offer such services
to the general public for a fee are rightly called prostitutes. Xenophon adds
that Socrates refused to accept fees because-here again distinguishing
him from both sophists and common prostitutes @ornai)-he wished to

39. See S. Goldhill, 121-3.

40. See M. Narcy, 2004,213-233. Socrates' rejection of Theodote may also explain her avail-
ability for Alcibiades, just as Socrates' association with Euthydemus explains his unavailability
to Critias. In both cases Socrates shows himself superior to a man of greater political power.
See Hieron (1.26-1.38) for some remarks on how useless political power is for obtaining truly
desirable young people.
41. Contrast Aristotle who argues that all things should be given a price (NE, 5.5.14).

maintain his freedom to choose his own companions (Mem. 1.2.6).

'Theodote herself is not exactly a prostitute (porn2): she is a courtesan
(hetaira), free to choose whom she will accept as a customer. As Xenophon
says, she spends time with whoever persuades her (3.11. I), thus display-
ing some discernment in her choice of companions. Like Socrates, she
refuses to associate with just anyone, and does not appear to demand a
fee: rather she accepts presents from those who wish to give them (3.1 1.4).
Presumably she finds more time for those who give generously or please
her in some other way. The chief difference between her and Socrates,
then, is the quality and character of the services they offer. While she
offers the pleasures of her beautiful body and charm, he offers intellectual
It is possible that Socrates differs from Theodote also by refusing to
accept presents even when offered. This might be suggested by the comment
that he did not charge a fee because he preferred to gain a friend instead
(1.2.7). Although Socrates' statement does not preclude the possibility
that, like 'Theodote, he accepted presents when offered, it is also possible
that he would refuse gifts, on the grounds that accepting a fee would miti-
gate the bonds of friendship: leaving a customer indebted means gaining
a reliable ally or friend for the future. If so, his practice resembled more
that of Cyrus, who preferred to leave money with his friends and gain
their devotion rather than retaining the money and finding himself bereft
of allies (see e.g. Cyr. 8.2.19-23). But it is not clear that Theodote lost
friends by accepting their gifts; and this difference, if it is a real one, does
not play any role in their discussion. Although Socrates explains many
other aspects of the trade, he does not feel compelled to explain to her the
advantages of working purely on credit. This suggests that on this score at
least her behavior was not seriously deficient, and hence that he too may
well have accepted presents (but see Ap. 16).
'Theodote and Socrates agree emphatically concerning the value of
friends. When Theodote says that she owes her wealth to her many gen-
erous friends, Socrates enthusiastically comments that friends are indeed
preferable to a multitude of sheep, goats and oxen (3.1 1.5). 'Th'IS comment
reminds us of Socrates' statement that he himself prefers to collect friends
rather than horses, dogs or birds (1.6.13-14; see also Lysis 21 Id-212a).
There is a difference of course between the animals mentioned: sheep, goats
and oxen provide nourishment and clothing, while horses, dogs and birds

are collected primarily for enjoyment. In Aristotelian terms, they are ends
in themselves; and Socrates' preference for human beings in this context
shows that he regards his human friends not merely as means to an end,
but as ends in themselves. Again one is reminded of Aristotle's concept of
the friendship of the good (NE8.3.6-7: 1156b), the only case of friendship
in which the friend is valued as an object in and of itself.
But Xenophon's Socrates speaks also, and much more often, of the
practical advantages that friends provide. He frequently says that friends
are an especially useful form of wealth (see e.g. Mem. 2.3.1-3; 2.4; 2.5,
2.6; Oec. 1.14). There is no reason to doubt that Socrates himself viewed
his own friends in quasi-utilitarian terms, as indeed he remarks on occa-
sion (Oec. 2.8; see Mem. 1.2.7-8). These two views of friendship do not
necessarily contradict. Socrates may have had some friends of high quality
whom he regarded as worthwhile in themselves, like dogs or horses, while
also having other friends of lower quality whose attraction was primar-
ily the benefit they could offer, like sheep and goats. He may have had
friends who served both purposes simultaneously. Although Socrates
praises Theodote only for possessing friends of the utilitarian sort, he
neither questions of the value of this kind of friend nor seeks to correct
her pragmatic aims (see Narcy 2004, 222). Instead he offers her much
detailed advice on catching and keeping them. He tells her to avoid the
passive methods used by spiders (al +&Xayy~s) for catching their prey,42
instead recommending the active techniques of those who hunt hares. Just
as hunters use hounds as their agents for chasing hares into their nets, so
too Theodote should make use of an agent to capture friends. Her net,
he says, is her body.43But in addition to using that, she has a soul which
is capable of acts of affection which will win her lovers' hearts. Rather
than merely relying on her good looks, Theodote should strive to please
the men who are driven into her nets by kind words and glances and
by kind-hearted love-making. As he has said previously in his discussion
with Chaerecrates (2.3), the chief way to win over another person is by
performing valued services. Her performance must be natural and honest,

42. 3.1 1.6. In Memorabilia 1.3.12 Socrates compares the effect of the beautiful to the effect
of the bite of scorpions (78 4aXhyy~a).
43. O n the use of net-imagery see above, note 28. There is nothing contradictory about
Socrates offering Theodote advice about how to capture those he warns to stay away from her.
His advice is always in the interest of those to whom he speaks.

since it is not force but affection that binds a friend. She should ask favors
that are easy to perform, and she should be easy in repaying them. At the
same time, she should be sparing in her charms so that men will appreciate
them more. She should show herself reluctant to satisfy them, since this
increases their desire (3.1 1.10- 14). In all these ways, Socrates emphasizes
the spiritual aspect of prostitution over the merely physical aspect.44
Socrates practices what he preaches. His advice about winning friends
itself serves as a means to win Theodote: while ostensibly teaching her how
to win devoted friends, Socrates has turned her into one. But Socrates does
not take immediate advantage of his success. As he says in Symposium, he
could have made a lot of money by means of his ability in pimpery if he
wished to, but he has chosen not to do so (3.10). Nevertheless, his cool
rejection of 'Theodote does not necessarily mean the end of their relation-
ship. While the very act of rejecting her implies that Socrates possessed
self-control (enkrateia) and did not misuse his powers, it can also be un-
derstood as an element in a long-term strategy of seduction and subordi-
nation. After all, Socrates has advised 'Theodote herself to be sparing of her
charms as a means of arousing greater desire (3.1 1.13).

An alternative view of this episode has been presented recently by M.

Narcy. He argues that the lessons Socrates offers are so elementary that
no professional courtesan could possibly benefit from them, and therefore
that a large measure of irony must be present in the interview. He points
out further that Socrates' initial questions on the sources of her wealth are
rhetorical in character, since she could not possibly possess the sources of
wealth he refers to.45 He argues that Socrates asks these question only to
humiliate her by forcing her to admit that she is more like a courtesan,
and not much different from a prostitute (228-9). Rather than do so,

44. Compare his advice on painting and sculpture (Mem. 3.10) and his praise of the dancing
teacher (Symp. 2.15-6). See S. Goldhill, 118-9, and contrast Narcy, 2004, who finds here
"aucune allusion. . . i la primaute de I ' h e sur le corps" (222; he revises this judgment in 2008,
45. 2004,227, note 2. Even if she could perhaps informally control such properties, Socrates
knows full well that that her income derives from other sources, and his questions are undoubt-
edly rhetorical as Narcy notes. Narcy's assumption that she is an Athenian, however, is puzzling
in light of the first words of the chapter.

Theodote describes her customers euphemistically as "friends", and pre-

tends to be completely innocent of all the elementary lessons in acquiring
customers that Socrates offers. O n this reading, Socrates does not actually
teach her anything she does not know and certainly his non-lessons do
not genuinely charm or seduce her. The gratitude she expresses to him
for his excellent advice is itself ironical: it is designed to turn the tables by
insinuating that Socrates himself is a kind of prostitute.
'This ingenious way of reading the exchange is open to two serious
objections. First of all, can we really use the elementary character of the
advice as evidence of irony? Xenophon's characters frequently offer advice
which seems to us elementary46 and it would be perverse either to in-
terpret it always as ironic or to do so only in select cases. It is better to
interpret Socrates' effort to transform Theodote into a professional cour-
tesan as sincere and as meant to display Socrates' knowledge of practical
affairs. It can be compared to his effort together with Crito to transform
Archedemus into a kind of personal advocate (2.9). Without this scene we
would have no literal illustration of Socrates' great claim to expertise in
pimpery (Symp. 3.10).
Secondly, it is not only Theodote who presents herself as an unprofes-
sional courtesan, it is Xenophon himself who does so, calling her merely
a beautiful woman staying in Athens who was willing to spend time with
anyone who persuaded her (3.1 1.1). While it is of course possible to read
Xenophon's words as euphemistic, one cannot attribute to him the same
rhetorical motive that Narcy attributes to Theodote.
If Theodote's simplicity seems unbelievable, perhaps the explanation
lies in Xenophon's aims. He wishes to demonstrate Socrates' understand-
ing of the skills required for seduction, and in order to do that he has to
find an appropriate student. If he showed Socrates teaching these skills
to a true novice, he would shed a sharply unflattering light on his hero.
Instead, he chooses the ambiguous case of a non-Athenian woman who
has already begun to make her living by means of sexual favors, but has
not yet begun to do so in a fully self-conscious and professional way. In
this way, Socrates is able to demonstrate his understanding of the profes-
sion without exposing himself to the charge of corrupting the innocent.

46. See for example my treatment of Oeconomicus below (chapter six). The case would be
better for the Oeconomicus, since Ischomachus explicitly says numerous times that the advice
he has to offer is elementary.

Socrates' abilities at seduction are on display also in the description of the

seduction of Euthydemus (Mem. 4.2). Here Socrates takes the initiative in
pursuing a good-looking young man and transforming him into a most
devoted follower and student. Here again, Socrates' conversation is nomi-
nally educational in content, but the educational topic seems to serve as a
means for Socrates to achieve further political and erotic aims.
Plato's Alcibiades provides some useful information for understand-
ing Socrates' relationship with Euthydemus. In describing his relation-
ship with Socrates in Plato's Symposium, Alcibiades emphasizes the
abuse he received at Socrates' hands: while pretending to be in love
with Alcibiades, Socrates was actually completely indifferent to him.
He caused Alcibiades to fall in love with him, but did not reciprocate.
Socrates spent his whole life playing this kind of game, and Alcibiades
was not his only victim: Charmides the son of Glaucon and Euthydemus
the son of Diocles were among the other victims of Socrates' erotic irony
(Symp. 222a-b).
Plato offers a detailed account of Socrates' relations with Alcibiades
in Symposium and in Alcibiddes 1, if he wrote it, and a brief portrait of
Socrates' relations with Charmides in the dialogue by that name. But he
offers no account of his relations with Euthydemus. As though responding
to the lack, Xenophon's most detailed account of Socrates' relations with
a young man concerns one E~thydemus.~' And we find here a portrait
that does not diverge significantly from the accusations of Alcibiades. The
agreement between Plato's Alcibiades and Xenophon on the way Socrates
treated his young loves is surely significant in light of the frequent dis-
agreements between Plato and Xenophon in all that concerns the charac-
ter and activities of Socrates.
While the emphasis of most recent commentaries on the conversations
reported in this chapter is on their educational function, Xenophon intro-
duces the episode with the comment that Socrates would often say he was
he was in love (Mem. 4.1.2; see Symp. 8.2).*' He adds that Socrates did not

47. Mem. 4.2. While it is useful to compare Euthydemus to Alcibiades, this proposed origin
of Xenophon's choice of Euthydemus suggests that he is not to be viewed as a mere cipher for
Alcibiades. See Johnson 2005,46-49. Contrast H. Dittmar, 124-6; 0. Gigon, 1953,40; A.-H.
Chroust, 1957, 11; L. -A. Dorion, 2004a, 56.
48. See Morrison, 1994. D. Johnson, 2005, provides valuable observations on the philo-

love young men for their physical beauty, as might be expected, but for
their souls. He particularly loved those who possessed a quick grasp, good
memory and the desire to learn everything connected with the manage-
ment of estates and cities. Socrates' erotic passion for these young men was
connected with his love of the virtues that lead to practical success: he saw
that education would enable these young men to become eudaimones (suc-
cessful and happy) themselves, and also capable of bringing eudaimonia
(success and happiness) to their households and cities (4.1.2). In making
these comments, Xenophon is obviously confronting and denying the
charge that Socrates corrupted the good-looking young men with whom
he spent time.
His central claim, that Socrates loved the young boys for their souls
rather than their bodies, is not confirmed by the portrait that Xenophon
actually provides.*' Neither Xenophon's Socrates nor Plato's Socrates shows
any interest in the excellent souls of any ugly young men. While persuad-
ing his young friends to love him despite his unattractive appearance,
Socrates does not seem to have followed this advice himself by falling in
love with unattractive or older men such as himself.50 Nor is the intel-
lectual excellence of the beautiful young men he does love always in evi-
dence. Xenophon acknowledges that Socrates' interest was not confined to
the excellent when he discusses his well-developed methods for educating
those whose natural abilities persuaded them that they were already wise
and needed no training and those who were wealthy and thought that
wealth would suffice (4.1.3-5). Euthydemus himself belongs to a third
class of those who believed they were so well-educated that they had no
need of Socrates' instruction (4.2.1). But he does not seem to have been
especially gifted intelle~tually.~~Although boasting a large collection of
books and displaying pride in his own abilities and possessions, he evinces
little genuine interest in philosophy. Morrison points out that this failing
does not necessarily indicate that Euthydemus possessed a fundamentally
bad nature (1 85, see n. 7). But it is also true that Xenophon does not cat-

sophical implications of the conversation.

49. The claim itself is closer to that made by Pausanias in Plato's Symposium (183e-184c)
than to the similar claim made by Plato's Alcibiades on Socrates' behalf in Symposium. See
below chapter five.
50. As we have seen above, the one exception is the notoriously bad-looking Chaerephon.
51. See L. Strauss, 1972, 94, 100.

egorize him among those who possessed great natural abilities. It follows
that this was not his source of attraction.
Undeniably, Euthydemus was a good-looking young man. This may be
inferred from the fact that he was one ofthe favorites ofCritias (Mem. 1.2.20;
see D. Nails 2002, 15 1) and it is confirmed by the fact that Xenophon
refers to him as Euthydemus the beautiful (4.2.1). He resembles the light-
headed Phaedrus of Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium or Xenophon's beau-
tiful but morally weak Critobulus. Like them, Euthydemus displays more
beauty than brains, but, again like Plato's Phaedrus, he also displays intel-
lectual pretensions and even aspirations. While his beauty undoubtedly
plays an important role in motivating Socrates' attentions, these preten-
sions play a crucial role in enabling a successful hunt. Only the posses-
sion of intellectual pretensions makes a person susceptible to Socrates, for
Socrates' only charm is his intellect.
Xenophon devotes considerable space to a description of Socrates'
success in seducing Euthydemus. This success illustrates his superiority
to Critias whose undignified methods failed to achieve their end (Mem.
1.2.29), just as his seduction of Theodote demonstrated his superiority to
Alcibiades. In achieving this success, Socrates makes use of many of the
same techniques that he recommended to Theodote with some necessary
modifications and improvements. Socrates told Theodote to abandon the
spider-inspired technique of waiting in one's web for a victim to appear,
and to adopt instead the methods of those who hunt with hounds. In ac-
cordance with this, Socrates does not wait for a young man to approach
him, but he himself actively pursues Euthydemus. Rather than approach
him directly, he seeks, like a good hunter of hares, to drive him into the
net. Although he suggested that Theodote make use of an agent to perform
this task on her behalf, Socrates himself does not use one, perhaps because
his wisdom makes this superfluous. As Aeschines remarks derisively in
Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates is his own pimp (8.5: p a u ~ p o ~uau~oij).
A more essential difference is the attraction he has to offer. Rather than
relying on a beautiful body as the net in which to trap his victims, Socrates
relies his wisdom.
How does Socrates conduct a hunting expedition for young men?
Before approaching Euthydemus, Socrates obtains information about his
character and interests. He makes a point of visiting a bridle-maker's shop

near the market where the boy sometimes spends time.52Rather than speak
with the boy directly when he arrives, Socrates ignores him, conversing
with his companions as though he had no interest in Euthydemus but di-
recting the conversation in a manner that will be effective in trapping the
young man. Xenophon does not tell us whether or not Socrates informed
his companions of his designs on Euthydemus, but one of his friends
raised a question concerning Themistocles' method of acquiring virtue
which enabled Socrates to KLVETV(stir up) the eves-dropping Euthydemus
(4.2.2). He said that just as in the minor arts no one becomes an expert
without training, so too it is impossible to imagine that the ability to lead
a city would come of its own accord. The answer implies that training is
useful and so serves to stimulate Euthydemus to seek out a teacher. In the
context of the seduction of a young boy, it is understandable that he sug-
gests a positive answer to the much-debated question of whether or not
virtue can be taught.53
Socrates was an experienced enough hunter to know the value of pa-
tience, and hence the necessity of possessing the hunter's virtue of enkrateia
(self-control). We are not told how many times he had visited the shop
before making this remark, nor how much time elapsed between this episode
and the next that Xenophon records, but it is clear that he waited and made
no effort to directly engage Euthydemus in conversation. In the next en-
counter Socrates continues to refrain from speaking directly to the boy,
but he does try to focus attention on him. When he sees that Euthydemus
is pretending to be uninterested in overhearing his conversation with his
companions, he makes disparaging remarks to his companions concerning
the boy, speaking of him in the third person and suggesting a ludicrous
speech that Euthydemus will make one day in the Athenian assembly. In
this speech, Euthydemus will boast about his ability to give advice even
though he has never learned from anyone and has in fact avoided both
learning and giving the appearance of learning. Socrates compares him to
a doctor who seeks patients by boasting that he has never learned the art

52. L. Strauss comments that "all took place appropriately in a bridle maker's shop" (1972,
95), but he does not explain what is appropriate about that. If it does signify something,
perhaps it signifies the fact that Socrates will tame and control the young man as one does with
a young horse.
53. Compare the quotation from Theognis in X. Symposium (2.4) and Pausanias' speech in
Plato's Symposium.

of medicine. Here Socrates displays some of the dramatic flair that is so

evident in Xenophon's Symposium by performing a kind of impromptu skit.
By making Euthydemus the butt of his humor, Socrates amplifies the shame
that he may one day experience and that he already deserves.
Socrates' words are designed to humiliate Euthydemus on the grounds
that he does not seek out someone like Socrates as his teacher and thereby
to press him to do so. Rather than a direct attack, Socrates is chasing the
prey into the net, as he advised Theodote to do. Perceiving that the boy
is reluctant to seek a teacher because of the shame he would feel at ac-
knowledging that someone knows more than he does, Socrates shows him
that by avoiding instruction Euthydemus is exposing himself to a risk of
still greater public shame. Rather than be shamed in public, Euthydemus
would do well to accept the temporary and private shame involved in
submitting to Socratic teaching5* Since Socrates is the only man who
has noticed Euthydemus' ignorance and reproved him for it, having re-
course to Socrates' teaching will cause Euthydemus no further humiliation
and will save him from humiliation at the hands of others. He has little
left to lose by submission and much to gain. Thus the public shaming of
Euthydemus provides a strong incentive to his seeking out Socratic in-
struction. As we will see, the remainder of Socrates' conversation deepens
this incentive considerably.
These measures succeed in attracting Euthydemus' attention, but are
not enough to drive him into the net. Euthydemus still avoids initiating a
conversation with Socrates thinking that he would demonstrate saphrosun~
("temperance" or "moderation," here with a nuance of "tact") by remain-
ing silent. Socrates therefore continues to speak in his presence about the
foolishness of those who seek no instruction in politics before entering
into it. In the end, this patient strategy pays off, and Socrates is able to
engage Euthydemus in a lengthy personal conversation (Mem. 4.2.8-40).

In the second stage, Socrates makes a visit to the bridle-maker's shop

alone. Although it may seem that Socrates' chief aim in the conversation

54. In Plato's Symposium, Socrates seems to be aiming at the same goal when he portrays
himself as a willing pupil of Diotima.

is to humiliate the young man, the choice of a private setting actually

seems designed to mitigate any h ~ m i l i a t i o nThe. ~ ~ private setting enables
Euthydemus to reveal weaknesses that he would be unwilling to reveal in
public, and enables Socrates to focus on effecting a personal transforma-
tion in the young man's
Socrates continues to maintain a pretense of disinterest. His appearing
alone is the only hint he offers that he is willing to speak with Euthydemus.
He does not approach him directly but merely takes a seat and waits for
the latter to approach him, just as he had insisted that Theodote come to
him (3.1 1.18). After Euthydemus sits down beside him, Socrates begins a
lengthy dialogue on an appropriate subject. Apparently aware that young
people enjoy talking about themselves, he begins not by asking a general
philosophical question, but by asking Euthydemus about his book col-
lection. Socrates offers the boy a rare compliment, praising him for his
evident belief that wisdom is preferable to gold and is the true path to
virtue and wealth. He praises him for knowing that it is not wealth which
makes people better, but that the thoughts of the wise bring virtue to those
who absorb them (T&S S i TGV uo+Gv civSpGv yvhpas cipe~-ij T~~OUTCSELV
706s K E K T - ~ ~ ~ ~ V O4.2.9).
US: These words of praise provide an example of the
kind-hearted love-making he had recommended to Theodote (+~he^Lv...
E ~ V O L K G S 3.11.10). Socrates also told Theodote to be sparing with her

charms, and he obeys this advice himself by making discriminating use of

his praise: he has not praised him for possessing any wisdom. And even his
flattery serves to humble the boy: once Euthydemus has accepted Socrates'
praise, his humiliation for his actual ignorance will be all the greater.
Socrates' praise serves another function as well. Socrates praises
Euthydemus for understanding the value of acquiring wisdom. It is
doubtful that he really deserves these kind words: his possession of a large
book collection may attest to his vanity more than his sincere pursuit of
wisdom. But by attributing to him these commendable beliefs, Socrates
encourages him to adopt them and to regard wisdom, Socrates' sole pos-
session, as worthy of pursuit. Unlike Theodote, whose attractions are ap-

55. Morrison, 1994, 186; Dorion, 2000 and Bandini, clxx.

56. These conversations are reported as private ones. And unlike the case of Alcibiades in
Plato's Symposium, no claim is made that the young man ever publicly recounted the conversa-
tions in question. To the extent that these conversations bear any genuine relationship to the
historical Socrates, then, they most likely reflect Xenophon's own experience with Socrates.

parent to all, Socrates' wisdom is an acquired taste. Before he can win

admirers, he must create a genuine thirst for wisdom in their souls. This
is one of his chief aims in the interrogation of Euthydemus, and he ac-
complishes it not merely by arousing the boy's curiosity, as we will see, but
by arousing doubts about issues fundamental to the boy's personality and
self-image and thereby inducing depression.
Socrates inquires about the goodness or usefulness of Euthydemus'
books. He wants to know what useful art or science he aims to acquire
through them (4.2.10). Does he aim at a particular profession, or at the
virtue which makes political leaders, successful estate managers and com-
petent rulers (TOXLTLKO~~ a o ii ~ o v o p ~ ~~ oal a iP X ~ i~~va v o l ) By
? putting
the question in this way, Socrates induces the young man to choose what
he describes as the kingly art, the art of ruling5' Euthydemus enthusiasti-
cally exclaims that this is indeed the art he seeks, thus exposing his inner-
most aspirations to Socratic treatment. This art is a useful topic not only
because the questions associated with it are prime material for philosophi-
cal inquiry, but also because the desire to rule was such a basic element of
the souls of well-born Athenians like Euthydemus. By raising questions
about Euthydemus' understanding of this art he not only questions his
knowledge about a certain field of inquiry, but also raises doubts about
his self-image as a person who deserves to be free, autonomous and in a
position of rule. By focusing on the art of rule from the very beginning,
Socrates sets the stage for an argument by which Euthydemus will prove
unfit for anything higher than slavery.
As has long been recognized, this conversation comprises Xenophon's
most detailed portrait of Socrates' use of the e l e n c b ~ s .Elements
~~ of it
bear a strong resemblance to some of Plato's "aporetic" dialogues.59The
frequency of these elements suggests that Xenophon self-consciously pres-
ents this conversation as a corrective to the Platonic dialogues. In any

57. There is no reason to restrict the basiliki t e c h n ~

here to self-control. It presumably in-
cludes everything one would need to be a successful ruler, both moral and intellectual traits.
Contrast Dorion 2004a.
58. Xenophon also records additional conversations with Euthydemus, showing that
Socrates' companionship was educational and not corrupting and refuting the charge that
Socrates knew only how to rouse people to the pursuit of virtue, but not how to lead them to
it (4.3.1-2; see 1.4.1).
59. Listings of these can be found in R. Waterfield, 2004, 108-9, and further discussion can
be found in Johnson, 2005.

case, a comparison to the Platonic dialogues helps highlight the special

character of Xenophon's portrait.
As L. -A. Dorion notes, unlike the Platonic Socrates, Xenophon's
Socrates makes no pretense of engaging in a genuine inquiry into a par-
ticular subject-matter.60 Rather than a sustained investigation of a single
subject, we find a conversation that ranges among questions of justice,
intentionality, self-knowledge, the good, health, wisdom, happiness and
democracy, all within a very short conversation. As Johnson notes, many
readers find here "abbreviated and sloppy treatments of a great number of
topics, jumbled together in no obvious ~ r d e r . " ~Johnson
' himself shows
that the conversations offers a pithy and allusive summary of a wide range
of Socratic teachings, an achievement which can be regarded as original
and impressive. It is also true that the subjects are loosely connected by the
fact that they all have some bearing on Euthydemus' aspiration to the art
of ruling. But the underlying structure or order of the argument has not
been adequately clarified. As I will try to show, the order is determined
not by subject matter, but by the psychological effects which Socrates aims
to achieve. The subjects are raised not because they help elucidate one
another, but because they advance Socrates' aim of leading the young man
to a state of athumia or depression.
Because these are his aims, Socrates constantly turns the conversation
in a personal direction. After Euthydemus admits that the pursuit of the
art of ruling requires the possession of justice, Socrates presses him to
say whether he himself possesses the virtue of justice or not. Since justice
is necessary for the art he seeks, and perhaps because he is not aware of
any means of acquiring justice, Euthydemus responds that he is as just as
anyone (compare Gorgias 458e-460a). Given this, the deficiencies that
are later revealed in his understanding of justice will shed doubt on his
personal possession of it. Again, as if to emphasize that he has no inter-
est in pursuing an adequate definition of justice, but merely in testing
Euthydemus' personal understanding of the concept, Socrates does not
ask for a definition of justice, but merely asks him to categorize different
acts as just or unjust. He shows him that acts he classifies as just can be
unjust in certain circumstances, while acts he classifies as unjust can be

60. Dorion 2000 and Bandini, clxxvii-iii.

61. 2005, 45.

just in certain circumstances. He does this in two ways. In the first stage
he relies on the widespread Greek assumption that the beneficial acts de-
manded by justice are appropriate only for those one wishes to benefit,
namely one's friends, while for one's enemies the harmful acts normally
classed as unjust are appropriate and just (4.2.1 5; see Rep. 332a-b). Among
other points, he argues that it is sometimes just to sell the inhabitants of
a city into slavery. As D. Johnson points out, Socrates is careful not to say
that it is just to harm one's enemies, only to enslave them. Enslaving them
might be to their benefit, for Xenophon ocassionally argues that being
enslaved to a good master is beneficial for some (e.g. Oec. 1.23; see also
Aristotle, Politics 1.5: 1254b-1255a; 1.13: 1260a). By using an unjust city
as an example of one that might be justly enslaved (4.2.15) Socrates in-
creases the plausibility that such enslavement is beneficial. While Socrates
does not speak here of enslaving one's friends, a little thought shows that
beneficial enslavement would be just also in regard to a friendly city or
In the next stage Socrates raises a question concerning actions done
for friends, pointing out explicitly that acts commonly regarded as unjust
may sometimes lead to benefit. For example, he asks whether it is just or
unjust for a general to lie to his troops if they are in a dangerous state of
disspiritedness (athumia), or whether it is just or unjust to steal a friend's
sword or other weapon if the latter is in a state of depression (athumia)
and in danger of using it on himselEG3The implication in both cases is
that such acts of seeming injustice to friends are actually beneficial acts
of justice. This already leads Euthydemus to retract his earlier statements
(4.2.18) and to express his loss of confidence in his answers (4.2.19). The
mere mention of slavery and depression as examples in the argument is
significant since, as we will see, Socrates uses the conversation to induce
depression (athumia) by persuading Euthydemus that he is slavish. By pre-
senting arguments which imply the benefit and justice of enslavement in
some cases, and which emphasize the legitimacy of some acts of seeming

63. This is a slight variation on Plato's example of the friend who asks to receive his weapon
while in a rage (Rep. 331c-d). Xenophon takes the logical next step omitted in Plato: just as it
is righr to withhold the property of a friend in such circumstances, so too is it right to actively
deprive him or her of it in similar circumstances. O n Xenophon's tendency to express approval
for the use of seemingly unjust tactics see G. Danzig, 2007.

injustice Socrates enables Euthydemus to reconcile himself with the im-

plications of the argument as a whole.
Socrates' next question is designed to further depress Euthydemus by
exposing his ignorance of justice. Socrates raises a question that Plato
raises in Hippius Minor:who is more just, the man who deliberately de-
ceives or the man who does so unintentionally? Euthydemus assumes that
deliberate deception is more culpable than unintentional deception, but
Xenophon's Socrates uses an arts-analogy to show that those who make
deliberate errors are in general more knowledgeable and skilled than those
who err unintentionally. By transferring this principle to cases of virtue,
Socrates forces Euthydemus to the paradoxical conclusion that the more
virtuous individual is the one who deliberately commits injustice.
Once this confusion has been admitted, Socrates pushes for Euthydemus
to acknowledge its personal implications. While mere ignorance about
such questions is surely an uncomfortable condition, it is not necessarily
the most fundamental personal flaw one can contemplate. But Socrates
wishes to show Euthydemus that his ignorance concerning these subjects
undermines his claim to the title of a free citizen, much less a ruler. He
points out that ignorance of the arts merely means ignorance of a skill
that could be acquired by anyone, even a slave, whereas ignorance of
the beautiful, the good and the just is appropriate only to those who are
slaves by nature. The fact that Euthydemus has had to retract his answers
displays his ignorance of these subjects, for those who fail to offer a
coherent account of a subject, by saying "different things about the same
subject," display ignorance (4.2.21; see 4.4.6-7). Further, by displaying
his ignorance of justice Euthydemus has shown himself not to possess it,
and hence to be unqualified for participation in the political community
as a free citizen. His ignorance is appropriate only to a slave who has no
responsibility for making decisions concerning the city or the household.
Socrates concludes on a positive note, saying that "we" must make every
effort to escape slavery (4.3.23). But this positive note only implies that
without such effort slavery is Euthydemus' appropriate state. By arguing
that Euthydemus is slavish in character, Socrates implies that he deserves
to be a slave and not the free citizen he thought he was, much less the ruler
he aspired to be.64

64. The fact that Plato's Socrates causes Alcibiades to reach similar conclusions (see PI. Symp.

'This personalization of the issue achieves an effect. Socrates' questions

cause Euthydemus to express distress concerning his educational develop-
ment. He had thought that he was progressing in a philosophy that would
lead to an educated state appropriate to a true gentlemen, and now it turns
out that he is incapable of answering a question about the most necessary
matters (4.2.23). He has lost his direction in life, no longer has any idea
what path will lead to his improvement and has begun to feel depressed
( ~ ' ~ 0 64.2.23).
~ ~ s : From Socrates'point of view, these are positive develop-
ments; but they are not enough, for Euthydemus has not yet recognized
that by his ignorance he forfeits his right to the status of a free citizen and
he makes no mention of the awful prospect of slavery.
His resistance to this conclusion is easy to understand. Even in modern
times the thought that one is fit to be a slave is not a pleasant one, but in
ancient Greece, where slaves were a tangible reality, as they are in some
parts of the world today, it would have been especially disturbing The
belief that one is better than one's slaves was a fundamental element of the
self-image of any free Athenian. Doubts raised on this score would imply
a fundamental deficiency of character or unworthiness; and this in turn
would naturally lead to depre~sion.'~
Since Euthydemus does not yet admit that he possesses the character
of a slave, Socrates continues the conversation with a further series of
questions on topics related to personal happiness and political succe~s.'~
He turns to the question of self-knowledge by discussing the Delphic
Maxim "know thyself," arguing that it is essential for individuals and
communities to have accurate assessments of their own characters and
abilities. Coming after the discussion of slavishness, this conversation
implies that Euthydemus should recognize his true character and set
his sights on a role in society appropriate to his slavish character. The
best thing for those who, like Euthydemus, do not know their selves
adequately, is to seek out a competent and knowledgeable person who
can offer guidance (4.2.28). 'Those who refuse to submit to the guidance

216b; 219e) suggests that this was a common feature of Socratic discourse with the young.
65. See A. Beck, e t a l , 1979, esp. ch. 12.
66. Contrast Dorion who argues that the continuation of the interrogation past the point
where Euthydemus expresses defeat shows that Socrates' aim is to bring Euthydemus to a re-
alization that he knows absolutely nothing (clxix-clxxiii). But Euthydemus never says that he
realizes that he knows nothing.

of those who are wiser than they are doomed to experience humiliating
failure (4.2.29).67
These considerations lead Euthydemus to a further level of dispair; but
he has not reached the end of his rope and still hopes that by a humble
request he can induce Socrates to guide him to safety before hitting rock
bottom (4.2.30). Socrates, however, has no such intention. As Dorion
notes, "Socrate n'accepte pas les armistices: il exige la capitulation sans
condition" (2000, clxxiv).
Socrates appears to ignore the request for guidance, instead launching
an interrogation on the distinction between good and bad. Up to this
point, Socrates' arguments have succeeded in driving Euthydemus to a
recognition that the means he has used to achieve his aims of improve-
ment have been ineffective; but he has not yet recognized that his aims
themselves are open to question. He thinks that he has failed to become
the excellent man he hoped to be, but he has not yet realized that his
conception of excellence may be fundamentally flawed. This can be ac-
complished most effectively by raising questions about Euthydemus' con-
ception of the good.
Euthydemus believes that he knows what is good and bad, and here for
the first time he explicitly recognizes that should he prove not to he would
be worse than a slave (4.2.31). He offers three examples of the good that
seem not to be open to serious challenge: health, wisdom and happiness.
But Socrates shows that none of these is essentially good, since each of
them can be the cause of something bad. Health can lead to participation
in activities that prove fatal; wisdom can lead to enslavement by unjust
rulers; even happiness can lead to troubles if it is composed of elements
which are themselves capable of causing harm.
Euthydemus' despair increases, and he comments that if he does not
know what is good he does not know what to pray for." 8 Aristotle
says, wishes are directed towards the ends of our actions (NE,3.2.9), so if
Euthydemus does not know what to pray for, he has no more aims in life.
If he does not know what to aim for, he does not know what to do, and
hence he is no longer an independent agent.

67. See the discussion of these points in Johnson, 2005, 64-5.

68. These arguments are not merely dialectical: Socrates himself only prayed for the good
(Mem. 1.3.2).

After these extraordinary arguments it is somewhat odd to see Socrates

raise simple problems with the definition of democracy. One would think
that having brought Euthydemus to acknowledge his ignorance of both
the proper means and the proper ends of his education, Socrates would be
able to rest his case. But the return to a pragmatic political topic serves a
definite purpose. As we noted, the conversation began with Euthydernus'
expression of desire to master the art of ruling. While all of the arguments
had some bearing on this goal, the implication that Euthydemus would
be unable to pursue this aim in his present state were sometimes less than
obvious. In the discussion of self-knowledge, Socrates argued that without
such knowledge success in private and political life is impossible (4.2.26-
29). In the discussion of the good, however, the main emphasis was on the
personal damages that can be caused by the possession of seemingly good
things. 'The discussion of democracy reminds Euthydemus of the implica-
tions of his ignorance for the task of government. More importantly, it
heightens his awareness of his ignorance by showing that it concerns not
merely the theoretical questions of means and ends, but also the presum-
ably simpler question of identifying the nature of the city he wishes to
lead. If Euthydemus cannot even identify the regime he wishes to rule his
confusion is complete. In short order Socrates shows that Euthydernus is
not able to explain the meaning of the term democracy, since he is unable
to identify the demos. Euthydemus assumes that the demos consists of the
poor, but when asked to identify who are the poor he gets into difficul-
ties. Since wealth consists in a surplus of resources over expenses, many
of those who have large resources would be classified among the poor,
while many of those with little would be classified among the wealthy (see
Oec. 1).
Euthydemus' inability to provide satisfactory explanations of such a wide
range of essential topics leads him to depression. He departs from Socrates
believing himself worthless (phaulos),resolving to keep silent, despising
himself and thinking that he really is slavi~h.~' This is the kind of over-sim-
plistic or "primitive" and sweeping negative conclusion that is often associ-
ated with depres~ion.'~ If Socrates is depicted as a competent conversation-

69. 4.2.39: K ~ \ L T&VU &0GPws BXuv &IT?XOE ~ a ~ia ~ a + p o v . i a aisa u ~ o i ,KU\L V O J L L U ~ S T@ ZVTL
& v S p & ~ 0 8 0 vE ~ V ~ L .

70. A. Beck, et al., 1979, 15.


alist, it is the condition to which he wished to reduce Euthydemus.

Socrates makes no attempt to prevent Euthydemus from departing or
to encourage him to return. As Xenophon attests, referring perhaps to
Alcibiades and Critias among others, many of those who left Socrates after
similar conversations never did return (4.2.40).Because Socrates makes no
attempt, Euthydemus' ultimate return will be on condition of complete
subordination. Xenophon says that after returning Euthydemus never left
Socrates' side unless he had to, and that he adopted some of Socrates'
personal habits as well (4.2.40).Finally, he has accepted his rightful posi-
tion of subordination. He has understood that he is slavish by nature and
has taken the appropriate step of attaching himself to the best master
he can find. Since for some people it is preferable to be a slave to an
excellent master than a free man, the episode actually recounts an impor-
tant and beneficial event in Euthydemus' life. Later chapters in book four
outline the useful teachings his extraordinary master imparted to him.
They also show that he continued to experience depressive emotions and
that Socrates offered him encouragement (e.g. 4.3.1 5-16).
The fact that Euthydemus returned to Socrates shows that he neither
dismissed Socrates' words nor allowed them to push him into a hopeless
depression. Why did he return? D. O'Connor has described his experi-
ence of refutation as producing the "peculiar pleasure of realizing . . . one's
shameful lack of self-knowledge."" Perhaps he wanted more of this pecu-
liar pleasure. But this description applies better to Plato's Alcibiades, who
in Symposium describes the pleasure of being refuted and the shame it en-
genders. Unlike Euthydemus, however, Alcibiades did not stay at Socrates'
side, and, to Xenophon's dismay, did not adopt the role of his "slave" for
long.72Euthydemus had a different motive and a better one. He did not
necessarily enjoy his conversations with Socrates or fall in love with him.
O n the contrary he seems to have found the initial conversations quite
unpleasant. He returns to Socrates out of practical considerations: he real-
ized that if he did not spend time with Socrates he would never become

72. In Plato's account, Alcibiades forced himself to stay away from Socrates in order to con-
tinue his career in politics (Symp. 216a). In Xenophon's account, both Alcibiades and Critias
behaved poorly only after they had separated from Socrates. Euthydemus, on the other hand,
never departed from Socrates and never misbehaved. The conclusion is clear: it is best to
remain under Socrates' influence.

a man of any consequence (&v;IP &~~6ho-yos: 4.2.40). In accordance with

Xenophon's practical perspective on life, Euthydemus associates with
Socrates because of the benefit that he expects to obtain. And the result is
that, unlike Alcibiades who swiftly abandoned Socrates and adopted a life
of dubious personal and political virtue, Euthydemus never left Socrates'
side, and seems to have caused little uproar in at hen^.'^

As we have seen, the dialogue ends with Euthydemus reaching a depressive

state in which he recognizes his slavish nature and begins to act appropri-
ately. IfXenophon is presenting Socrates as a competent conversationalist,
his aim must have been to reduce Euthydernus to this very state. That this
was his aim in the conversation is indicated by the frequent use of the
terms athumia and athum&. Not only are these terms used by the author
to describe Euthydemus' reactions at various points in the conversation,
Socrates himself uses them, describing the just use of deception in order
to inspire dispirited troops or to lead a friend out of a potentially suicidal
depression (4.2.17).
Why does Socrates mention depression in a conversation designed to
induce it?Two possibilities suggest themselves. With regard to Euthydemus,
the mention of this concept would bring it to his awareness, encouraging
him to infer that he is or ought to be depressed about something. By
citing suicidal depression as a danger so serious that it justifies the use
of otherwise unjust tactics, Socrates prepares Euthydemus to recognize
the seriousness of the condition into which he is destined to fall. For the
reader, on the other hand, the reference serves to highlight the fact that
Socrates himself performs an act which is the very opposite of the acts he
implies are just. Rather than saving a friend from depression, Socrates is
deliberately inducing depression in a seemingly healthy young man. Of
course, as he shows Euthydemus, it is sometimes just and beneficial to do
apparently unjust things even to a friend.
Socrates' arguments create depression because they function not only
on a logical level, but also on a psychological one. While it is always em-
barrassing to have one's views refuted, there are more serious results when

73. On what little we know about Euthydemus, see D. Nails, 2002, 15 1.


those views are fundamental to one's perception of self-worth. Socrates

challenges Euthydemus precisely on those views he most takes pride in.
When questions are raised about these, they bring Euthydemus to enter-
tain doubts about his personal worth, which causes depression. Socrates'
arguments may also bring about depression in another way. By raising
doubts about opinions that are central to Euthydemus' world-view, even
if they are not directly connected with issues of personal worth, Socrates'
questions could serve to undermine the coherence of Euthydemus' person-
ality, and hence induce depression. In this sense, Socrates' questions about
the good could be seen as a positive response to Euthydemus' request for
guidance in the knowledge of his self. The concepts of good and bad are so
basic to the personality that when doubts are raised about them the results
can shake the foundations of the personality and hence induce depression.
By asking about them, Socrates enables Euthydemus to see that his inner
self is incoherent.
This kind of psychotraumatic treatment serves a variety of functions.
Most obvious is its educational aim. By raising questions that are fun-
damental to Euthydemus' view of the world, Socrates performs a task
that can be compared perhaps with the reformating of the hard disk of a
computer. They serve to erase large portions of the material recorded on
his internal hard drive. When Euthydemus returns to Socrates, he will
be in a position to absorb Socratic doctrine at a more fundamental level
of his thinking. In the conversations recorded for us later in book four,
Euthydemus displays what must be for Xenophon the ideal qualities of
a Socratic student: an almost completely passive receptivity to Socrates'
teachings. The few questions that he asks serve only to insure that he un-
dertands correctly the doctrines he absorbs (e.g. 4.5.1 1).
We may discern a "political" aim here as well. In this episode, Socrates
gains control over a young man and becomes his guide and mentor in
the most intimate and important matters of his life. In this sense Socrates
expands the realm of his influence in Athens. Like Xenophon's Cyrus,
Xenophon's Socrates is a supreme master of the art of politics; and this
means the art of acquiring devoted followers. The acquisition of students
by means of interrogations, lessons, and the delay of fee-collection enables
him to create a network of allies within Athens, in principle similar to the
allies of Cyrus. Just as Cyrus subordinates his allies by providing them
with goods they can never repay in full, so too does Socrates.

Because of this similarity between Socrates' political techniques and

those of Cyrus, it is not surprising that Socrates' interview with Euthydemus
bears a resemblance to Cyrus' interview with the king ofArmenia. In both
cases, the hero reduces his interlocutor to a state of complete helplessness
before offering him undeserved benefits and thereby winning his gratitude
and devotion. The use of this technique with the king of Armenia shows
its application in non-educational, purely political contexts. While Cyrus'
conversation with the king of Armenia can be described as a means of
teaching him moderation (stphrosune; see Cyropaedia 3.1.17-27), it also
aims at "enslaving" him (3.1.23). And by "teaching" moderation, Cyrus
means no more than instilling the willingness to accept Cyrus as his un-
questioned ruler on a long-term basis. But while the conversation contrib-
utes to this political goal, it is not sufficient: Cyrus takes the additional
measure of establishing guard posts to insure the king's obedience (3.1.27;
3.2). Socrates too becomes a permanent ficture in Euthydemus' future life.
(Contrast Alcibiades and Critias: Mem. 1.2.24).
Socrates' rigorous questioning insures the youth's dependence on him
not only by revealing to him the extent of his ignorance, but also by forcing
him to recognize Socrates as his only appropriate master. The doubts that
Socrates raises about Euthydemus' opinions are also doubts about conven-
tional beliefs widely held in Athens. Since most Athenians were no more
knowledgeable than Euthydemus, the young man had no choice other
than to accept someone like Socrates as his guide or remain in pursuit
of goals he himself now recognizes as illusory. But there is no one like
Socrates except Socrates himself. By forcing him to accept Socrates as his
master, the dialectical argumentation serves the role of the hounds who
drive the victim into the nets.
The combination of personality breakdown, emotional attachment
and the adoption of a new intellectual perspective justifies Dorion's refer-
ence to the affair as a kind of "conversion" (clxix). But the conversion is
not simply to another point of view. Unlike some contemporary cults,
Socrates does not provide a simple ready-made view of the world. His
teachings are complex and broad and merely to understand them requires
extensive efforts. For this reason, the immediate result of Euthydemus'
conversion is not the adoption of a new perspective, but attachment to
a particular man capable of instilling that perspective. Undoubtedly, the
mere presence of Socrates during the emotionally intense break-down

period would be enough to create a special bond with him. But Socrates'
evident ability to offer guidance in the uncharted realms in which
Euthydemus now finds himself navigating provides a more practical in-
centive to seek out his guidance.
But finally, we should not ignore the motive with which Xenophon
started. Enslaving a beautiful young man undoubtedly has an erotic aspect
as well. In Greek idiom, just as one hunts for slaves (paidas) SO too one
hunts for beautiful young men @aidika).'* The story of Socrates' encoun-
ter with Euthydemus is the story of how he enslaved one of these. It thus
encapsulates the entire range of Socratic activity: educational, political and
erotic; and in doing so it arouses envy for Socrates' manifold capabilities.

The portrait we have offered above is fundamental to understanding

Socrates' use of the elenchos in Xenophon's writings. Dorion attributes to
Xenophon a generally negative view of the elenchos, arguing that it does not
play an essential role in the educational process.75As he shows, rather than
using the elenchos as a tool in the search for truth, Xenophon's Socrates uses
it only as a preliminary tool for preparing the student to receive positive
instruction. He adds that this role is not indispensible. While necessary
when dealing with those who believe that they already know everything,
it is not necessary for dealing with ordinary people who are capable of
accepting Socratic teachings without any preliminary refutation (Dorion
and Bandini, 2000, clxxx-mi). Indeed, in Memorabilia 1.4.1, Xenophon
implies that Socrates used the elenchos primarily against know-it-alls, while
offering positive instruction to his close friends. Since Euthydemus is pre-
sented as someone who thought highly of his own wisdom (Mem. 4.2.1),
Dorion concludes that the interview with Euthydemus is an illustration of
this limited proper use of the elenchos.
In what sense is the elenchos a preparation? Here Dorion is less clear.
Following Morrison, he argues that the elenchos in the hands ofxenophon's

74. O n hunting as an image for erotic pursuit, see A. Schnapp, 1989. O n "hunting" slaves,
see Aristotle, Politics, 1.7: 1255b37-39.
75. This account is based on Dorion's treatment of the episode in his introduction to the
Memorabilia (2000). His forthcoming commentary on the fourth book of the Memorabilia was
not available to me.

Socrates is chiefly "un instrument de selection des interlocuteurs qui prC-

sentent les qualitis requises pour recevoir un en~ei~nement."'~ It is not,
as with Morrison, a test of their intellectual endurance," but rather a test
to see whether the interlocutor possesses the necessary characteristics for
the receipt of Socratic teaching (2000, clxxvii, including note 1). Dorion
does not explain, however, what those characteristics are, nor why they are
exposed uniquely by the use of the elenchos.
Dorion offers a second explanation for the use of the elenchos which
is closer to my own view: "Euthydkme, qui a finalement reconnu son
ignorance, est dksormais dans les bonnes dispositions pour recevoir un
enseignement" (2000, clxxvi). Here, rather than a test of the presence of
some pre-existing qualities, the elenchos, when successful, creates condi-
tions of receptivity in the student. The essential condition is a state of in-
tellectual humility. Because those who believe they know everything lack
this intellectual humility, the elenchos is a necessary pre-requisite for their
educational advancement. Those with a reasonable sense of their own
limitations would be able, presumably, to benefit from Socrates' teaching
without the use of the elenchos. Indeed, we find numerous examples of
such individuals throughout the Memorabilia.
But there are problems with this view as well. First of all, Xenophon
does not say that Socrates reserved the elenchos for those who believe they
know everything. All he says is that one should consider, in addition to
such cases, also cases where he spoke to his friends on a daily basis (Mem.
1.4.1). He does not say that these two kinds were the only kinds of conver-
sations Socrates ever conducted. His reference to the portrait of Socrates'
refutation of know-it-alls may be a reference to portraits of Socrates such
as that found in Plato, and does not necessarily summarize Xenophon's
own view of the use of the elenchos. The fact that he recommends paying
attention to his conversations with friends reflects the fact that his aim is to
correct a misconception of Socrates, not necessarily a misconception of his
use of the elenchos, even if it did have a wider use. The fact that Xenophon
displays Socrates' use of the elenchos in relation to Euthydemus, who had
a high opinion of his own wisdom (Mem. 4.2.1; does not show that the
elenchos was used only against such types. It is perfectly understandable

76. 2000, clxxvii.

77. Morrison, 1994, 185, 188, 190.

that in an apologetic work Xenophon would portray the use of the elen-
chos in the most justified possible circumstances, that is, against the exces-
sively self-confident.
Moreover, although Xenophon generally offers a different portrait of
Socrates than the one found in Plato he does not explicitly contradict
Plato's account. As we have noted, Xenophon says that in order to ac-
curately judge Socrates one has to take account not only of what he said
in refuting those who thought they knew everything, b u t also of what he
said to his friend^.'^ Xenophon's aim in Memorabilia, then, is to illustrate
an additional kind of conversation that Socrates conducted, the coopera-
tive discussion, not to deny that Socrates made the widespread hostile use
of the elenchos reported in Plato. Plato's Socrates uses the elenchos against
many kinds of interlocutors and not only those who claim to know every-
thing: Charmides, Polemarchus, Laches and Agathon, for examples, never
would have made such a claim. If Xenophon does not deny the validity of
these portraits of Socrates, then he does not deny that the elenchos could
be used against a variety of kinds of interlocutors.
But the most important evidence of Xenophon's view of the elenchos is
found in the conversation with Euthydemus. In fact, Euthydemus is not
presented as believing that he literally knows everything. Even if he were,
in order to refute him it would have been sufficient to show him that he is
ignorant of some important things. Such a refutation would immediately
remove him from the class of those who think they know everything, and
hence from the class of those who are legitimate targets of the elenchos. The
best argument against Dorion's interpretation is the fact that Socrates con-
tinues his interrogation of Euthydemus past the point where he expresses
his ignorance and his willingness to accept Socrates' guidance (4.2.23). It
is true that he has not yet acknowledged complete ignorance, as Dorion
points out (2000, clxxiii-iv), but this would not be necessary if the aim
of the elenchos is only to restore an ordinary form of intellectual humility
in which Socratic teaching can be absorbed. The fact that Socrates does
drive him to acknowledge complete ignorance shows that the elenchos is in
principle applicable to anyone who claims to know something.
As we have seen, in addition to acknowledging his own ignorance,
Euthydemus also draws the conclusion that he is worthless, and he departs

78. Mem. 1.4.1. See Johnson, 2005, 43.


in a depressive state, despising himself and considering himself no better

than a slave (4.2.39). While the elenchos may not always be necessary for
inducing an ordinary sense of intellectual humility, it does seem to be
indispensable for bringing potential students to this extreme state. While
not necessary for spreading Socratic educational teachings, the elencbos is
indispensable for forming the kind of slavish relationship that Socrates
evidently seeks to foster. Its lack of use for ordinary instruction reflects
the fact that it is not essentially an educational technique. Rather it is
useful for anyone whom Socrates desires to recruit as a loyal follower.
Socrates may be able to offer useful advice to others, as he does frequent-
ly in Memorabilia, but he is unable to fully subordinate his companions
without the humbling use of the elencbos. His choice of victims is not nec-
essarily dependent on their arrogance or even on their intellectual ability.
If Euthydemus is any indication, it depended more on their beauty. In
both cases, then, Xenophon provides a portrait which emphasizes not
Socrates' innocence, but his abilities in seduction.
Chapter Five:

I Plato's Socratic Seductions

lato's portrait of Socrates' relations with young men is more complex
and subtle than Xenophon's, but it is also structured by the twin-
goal of showing Socrates as innocent yet enviable. Plato portrays
Socrates' success in attracting the most beautiful young men, creating dia-
logues that are permeated with an erotic atmosphere more intense than
any Xenophon produced. But at the same time he is even more careful
than Xenophon in showing that although Socrates enjoyed young people,
he never took advantage of them sexually. Socrates derived an erotic plea-
sure from viewing the beautiful forms of his young companions and from
stripping their souls in speech, but he did not engage in physical contact
with them.
Socrates' almost obsessive interest in beautiful young men is constantly
on display. In Charmides he returns to the city from a military campaign
and when, after answering his acquaintances' questions about the battle,
he turns to his own concerns, his questions concern "the present state of
philosophy and the young men, whether any of them were remarkable for
wisdom or beauty or both" (153d). Although all young men of the right
age look beautiful to him, Socrates is nevertheless astounded at the beauty
of Charmides, particularly what he can see under his garments.' In Lysis
Socrates accepts an invitation to enter a gymnasium saying, "I would be
glad to hear first on what terms I am to enter, and who is your beauty?"
(204b). In Protagoras an anonymous speaker simply assumes that Socrates
has been spending his time pursuing Alcibiades (309a). In Gorgias,

1. Charmides, 153b. See also 154e; 158b; Symposium 209b; Republic 474d-475a.

Socrates says that he is in love with two things: Alcibiades and philoso-
phy (in that order: 481d). In Symposium Socrates is described as "always
excited by beauties" (216d). Plato's Socrates is constantly surrounded by
beautiful young men. His connection with Alcibiades, one of the most de-
sirable young men in Athens, is highlighted in several of Plato's dialogue^.^
Other beauties include Euthydemus, Phaedrus, Charmides, Agathon and
Socrates' connection with one of these young men, Alcibiades, may
have been a post-Socratic invention: in Busiris, Isocrates claims that
Polycrates invented the connection in order to besmirch Socrates' reputa-
tion. But, Isocrates claims, such a connection only shows Socrates in an
advantageous light. 'This is because everyone would agree that Alcibiades
was vastly better than others ( T o X ~ ~ L ~ V E Y K EBusiris
: 5). It is possible that
he meant by this only that he was far superior in his political or intel-
lectual skills. But Isocrates does not limit the respect in which Alcibiades
was superior, and it is just as likely that he is referring also to his beauty.
If Polycrates invented the connection, Plato adopted it enthusiastically,
portraying Alcibiades as a great lover of Socrates. Even if Socrates really
did associate with Alcibiades, Isocrates' comments show that this was by
no means common knowledge, and this suggests that Plato's decision to
depict that connection is attributable to his agreeing with Isocrates that it
was somehow to Socrates' credit.
But while his close contact with beautiful young men may reflect
positively on Socrates from some points of view, it is a subject that re-
quires a delicate touch. In Phaedrus, Plato's great myth concerning the
soul shows why those of a philosophic nature are especially attracted to
physical images of beauty4 It explains the characteristic weakness Socrates

2. In Gorgias, Socrates contrasts his own love for Alcibiades with Callicles' love for a boy
named Demos, the obvious point being that Alcibiades is a nobler young man. See also
Protagoras, Euthydemus, and of course Symposium.
3. Diogenes Laetius' report that Xenophon was himself exceptionally good-looking (2.48)
does not serve as reliable evidence for Xenophon's looks, but it does show that by this time
Socrates was famous for preferring the company of the beautiful.
4.249e-252c. See especially: "But when one who has recently completed this and seen much
of these things sees a godlike face or bodily form that accurately recalls beamy, first he shudders
and some of the fear which took him previously comes upon him, and then seeing it he wor-
ships it as a god, and if he did not fear gaining a reputation as a complete madman he would
offer sacrifice to his beloved, as to an image of a god" (251a-b). This may be meant to explain
incidents such as Socrates' severe loss of nerve in confronting the beautiful Charmides.

displayed throughout his life and especially in the opening of the dia-
logue, where he pursues an empty-headed but beautiful young man. Why
would a philosopher, whose soul has seen absolute beauty, follow around a
young man like Phaedrus? Plato explains that a philosopher gains a special
degree of pleasure from the sight of beauty, but that this is not a tribute
to the particular boy he follows: the boy's beauty has this great effect only
because it reminds him of the still greater beauty he has seen in the other
world. Since the source of his pleasure is visual he is not lead to consum-
mate the relationship with any physical contact. Thus the myth demon-
strates Socrates' experience of a rich erotic life that did not include any
humiliating subordination to a boy and did not involve the disgraceful
and animalistic pleasures of the body.
In other works Plato displays Socrates' ability to seduce young men
and his erotic enjoyment of their company, while carefully avoiding any
implication that he was guilty of sexual misbehavior. I will take a brief
look at Charmides and Symposium before turning to Lysis for the most
extensive portrait of Socrates' seductive techniques.

No dialogue is more erotically charged than Charmides. Here Plato

shows how Socrates was able to charm the most attractive young men
without suffering from the dangers normally associated with such activi-
ties. Charmides is introduced as the greatest beauty in Athens (154a), and
although Socrates professes to be entranced by the beauty of youths of
all sorts, he says that Charmides appeared to him thaumastos (amazing)
in his stature and beauty (154b-c). Everyone is astounded and confused
by his appearance when he enters-not only the older men, who can be
expected to react in such a way, but also the young boys, who gaze at
him as if he were a statue (154c; compare Autolycus in X. Symposium).
When Chaerephon asks if Charmides is not good-looking, Socrates replies
"huperphu6s" (extremely so) and Chaerephon promises that he looks even
better naked (1 54d).
Critias sends for Charmides in order to provide Socrates an opportu-
nity to consult with the young man concerning his headache. But when
the boy approaches, Socrates is so overcome by his beauty that he can
barely get a word out. While the glance of the boy's eyes makes a powerful

impression, the sight of his naked body, through the opening of his cloak,
creates an almost unmanageable agitation (155d). In a neat reversal of the
deceptive speech in Phaedrus, Socrates compares the young boy to a lion
and himself to a helpless fawn (155d-e; compare Xenophon's images of
the adulterer caught in the net Mem. 2.1.4-5). Somehow, Socrates recov-
ers sufficiently to proceed with the conversation, and as he warms to his
theme he regains full control of himself. He swiftly turns the conversa-
tion from physical symptoms of Charmides' headache to their possible
spiritual source. Before curing the head, Socrates must make sure that the
boy possesses the requisite spiritual qualities, above all sapbr~sunt.~ He
strips the boy's soul by asking him to look within himself to see whether
he possesses this valuable virtue, and if so to describe it (158e; 16Od). This
kind of personal and potentially embarrassing question serves as a means
to raise the philosophical subject of the dialogue, s6pbrosunt. But it also
serves as a tool of seduction. By making the boy's inner nature the subject
of public conversation Socrates offers a flattering and disconcerting atten-
tion which will prove irresistible to the young man.
Despite the initial eroticism, Socrates displays admirable composure in
the remainder of the conversation, easily shifting his attention to the older
Critias when the young man's answers fail. Socrates is even able to say that
he prefers continuing the conversation with a wise man such as Critias
(162d-e). This shift demonstrates Socrates' ability to overcome his passion
for physical beauty. It shows that for him the prospect of gaining philo-
sophical wisdom held a greater erotic attraction, and that far from corrupt-
ing the youth, the love of wisdom creates the conditions for the display of
sapbrosune. But it also makes a certain impression on Charmides.
From this point on the seduction of Charmides seems to come about
almost inadvertently. Rather than displaying interest in the young man,
Socrates completely ignores him, discussing with Critias abstract theories
that have little apparent relationship to the seduction of young men. But
this does not prevent Socrates' conversation from striking a chord with
Charmides. His position as passive audience to the impressive intellectual
performance that Socrates provides seems to stimulate his interest. If in-
tellectual discourse is an intimate affair, then Charmides is enjoying the

5. Here is a clear reference to the charge that Socrates taught politics to students whose lack
of sophrosuni made them unfit for such studies.

vicarious pleasure of a voyeur. He may be jealous of Critias' intellectual

intimacy with Socrates. He seems to wish that he were once again in the
center of attention.
Charmides' desire for Socrates' companionship is made clear only
at the end of the dialogue when the erotic atmosphere returns in force.
Socrates' conversation with Critias has aroused Charmides so much that
he volunteers to become Socrates' obedient student:
And Charmides said, By Zeus, Socrates, I don't know if I have it [sophrosun?]
or if I don't. For how could I know something whose nature you yourselves
say you cannot discover? But I don't quite believe you, and I am quite sure,
Socrates, that I do need the charm, and as far as I am concerned I shall be
willing to be charmed by you daily, until you say that I have had enough.

Very well, Charmides, said Critias. If you do this I shall have a proof that
you are temperate-that is if you offer yourself to Socrates for charming and
never desert him in things great or small.

You may depend on my following and not deserting him, said Charmides.
If you who are my guardian command me, I should be very wrong not to
obey you.

And I do command you, he said.

Then I will do as you say, and begin this very day.

You, sirs, I said, what are you conspiring about?

We are not conspiring, said Charmides. We have conspired already.

And are you going to use violence, without even giving me a hearing in court?

Yes, I shall use violence, he replied, since he orders me, and therefore you
had better consider what you will do.

But the time for consideration has passed, I said. When you are determined
on anything, and in the mood of violence, you are irresistible.

Do not resist me then, he said.

I shall not resist you, I replied. (176a-d)

This passage is sometimes taken as an indication of Charmides' willing-

ness to listen to the voice of his pardian, Critias, and therefore as a pre-

figuration and partial excuse for his participation in the government of the
thirty (see Dorion 2004b, 29-30). But Critias does not ask Charmides to
do anything other than what he himself eagerly desires to do; and while
Charmides does receive Critias' approval, the approval is for continued as-
sociation with Socrates. This means that Socrates will have the opportunity
to further influence the young man, and hence that he will bear significant
responsibility for the young man's participation in that government.
It is not easy to understand why Plato emphasizes Socrates' role in
educating a member of the notorious government of the thirty, just as it
is not easy to understand his portrait of Socrates' easy relations with the
notorious Critias.' Possibly, the erotic theme plays a role in this connec-
tion. Since Socrates' connection with the thirty was presumably already
well-known, Plato may aim here merely to explain how the unfortunate
association came about and thereby to excuse Socrates. 'The eroticism ex-
plains the connection. 'The violence that Charmides threatens to use on
Socrates may contain a subtle reference to the violence of the thirty, but it
most explicitly refers to the power he exerts over Socrates by virtue of his
beauty. Many had undoubtedly served the thirty out of compulsion, and
here Plato playfully suggests that any service Socrates may have offered to
the thirty was also a matter of compulsion, of an erotic sort. As he has em-
phasized, everyone was entranced by Charmides' beauty. Would anyone
have resisted better than he?
At the same time, the erotic theme serves wider apologetic purposes.
Socrates earned the disapproval of his fellow citizens in part because of his
popularity with the young and the suspicion that he took advantage of his
popularity in order to engage in sexual liaisons with them. There is a hint
of this charge in Charmides: when Socrates asks Critias to call the young
boy over for a conversation he remarks, "For even if he happened to be
still younger, there would be nothing wrong (aischron) with conversing
with him in your presence, since you are both his guardian and his cousin"
(155a). Clearly Plato is raising the issue of the propriety of Socrates' as-
sociation with the young. The dialogue provides a mixed response. O n
the one hand, some readers will see that Socrates' interest in philosophi-
cal conversation overcame his erotic interest in the young boy and saved
him from any improper behavior. O n the other hand, others will see that

6. I plan to discuss this issue in a future publication.


the ambiguous ending actually suggests an erotic component in Socrates'

future relationship with Charmides.

Among the descriptions of Socrates' seductions of young men, the seduc-

tion of Alcibiades holds a special place. It is the only such description in
the extant Socratic writings that is narrated from the point of view of the
young man. It is also unusual in that the bulk of the young man's speech
describes not Socrates' efforts to seduce Alcibiades, but the reverse. These
two features somewhat vitiate the speech's value as a portrait of Socrates'
own erotic aims and techniques. But it still offers some important insights
for understanding both the historical Socrates and the apologetic efforts
of his defenders.
O n the question of Socrates' intentions in his relations with young
men, Alcibiades offers a paradox. O n the one hand, he makes it clear that
Socrates displayed a strong interest in beautiful young men. "The Socrates
whom you see has a tendency to fall in love with beautiful young men,
is always in their company and in an ecstasy about them" (216d). O n
the other hand, Alcibiades affirms that in reality Socrates was indifferent
to the charms of the young and beautiful: "Once you see beneath the
surface you will discover a degree of self-control (sliphrosun~s)of which
you can hardly form a notion, gentlemen. Believe me, it makes no dif-
ference to him whether a person is good-looking . . ." (216e). Socrates
appears to find them entrancing, but in fact he "spends his whole time
pretending and playing with people" (216e). 'The bulk of Alcibiades'
speech is devoted to demonstrating this proposition by recounting the
embarrassing manner in which Socrates proved indifferent to Alcibiades'
own charms.
We may leave to one side the question of whether or not the historical
Socrates really lived up to the claims made on his behalfbyAlcibiades. These
claims clearly have an apologetic aim which provides a possible motive for
Platonic inventiveness; and because they relate only to Socrates' behavior
in the most intimate contexts, no well-known facts could contradict his
claims or restrict his creativity. But it is harder to see why Plato would have
invented the notion that Socrates openly pursued and admired beautiful
young people, or how he could have attributed to him a form of public
behavior that was unknown to his contemporaries. Clearly, Socrates was

perceived as someone who displayed deep infatuation with the charms of

the young and the beautiful. Rather than denying that, Plato offers expla-
nations, claiming that he did not misuse the young men sexually, but was
actually indifferent to their good looks.
What does Alcibiades mean by saying that Socrates was indifferent
to the beauty of his young friends? O n the surface, such a claim con-
tradicts not only Alcibiades' own previous statement about Socrates' be-
havior, but also the description of the ladder of love offered by Socrates.
According to that description, while lower than other forms of beauty,
beautiful bodies are in fact a genuine source of attraction (210a-b). If so,
why should Socrates have been indifferent to the beauty of young men? In
fact, Socrates demonstrates his genuine interest in the beauty of Agathon
within the drama of the Symposium itself (174a-175d; see 213c-d). In
light of this, Alcibiades' claim that Socrates was indifferent should not be
taken as the final word on the subject. It makes more sense if it is taken
in a relative manner: while Socrates' attraction to Alcibiades was genuine,
it paled in comparison to his much greater attraction to the higher forms
of beauty.
Alcibiades' words seem to reflect primarily his personal perspective on
Socratic eros: his rejection by Socrates convinced him that Socrates had
been playing all along. Socrates' own words provide a fuller account of his
erotic behavior. Beginning the day at the bottom of the ladder, Socrates'
first interest was often to seek a beautiful boy whose presence would arouse
his spiritual and intellectual powers. Once in contact with such a boy, he
would begin a conversation which would enable him to "give birth" in the
presence of the beautiful to ideas that are ultimately more beautiful than
the boy. The indifference he displayed at this point gave rise to Alcibiades'
belief that Socrates was completely indifferent to his beauty and that his
previous interest was feigned. This account conforms with what he we
find portrayed in dialogues such as Charmides and Lysis which begin with
an erotic interest based on the physical appearance of a young man, and
progress into philosophical discussions which leave physical beauty far
Alcibiades also provides insights into the Socrates' character and into
the techniques he used in seducing the young. He claims that Socrates
closely resembles Marsyas the satyr both in his physical appearance and
in his character: he is hubrist~s(215b; see Mem. 1.2.12), a word which

connotes violence or lewdness or both. Socrates has been asked to object

ifAlcibiades says anything inaccurate (214e-215a), but he does not object
at this point or elsewhere. Socrates' chief charm lies in his words, which
Alcibiades compares to the music of Marsyas. Marsyas' music charms even
when it is played poorly by a flute girl (215c), just as even a poor report
of Socrates' words has a power over the souls of the listeners (215d; see
What kinds of words did he use? As Alcibiades attests, Socrates created
the impression that he strongly admired Alcibiades' physical charms. This
kind of flattery must have played an important role in enabling him to gain
close contact with young men. It is reflected indirectly in the dialogues,
where we frequently find Socrates offering high but ironic praise of his
interlocutors in order to open them up to his questions.
We find here also some confirmation of the techniques Xenophon's
Socrates applied to Euthydemus. Chief among them is the fact that Socrates
used his wisdom to make Alcibiades realize that he was no better than a slave
(216b; 219e). Apparently, this was a conclusion towards which he com-
monly led his young interlocutors. Socrates' tendency to exert his personal
authority over his followers even in the most intimate matters is more pro-
nounced in Xenophon where Socrates gives advice to all and sundry than
it is in Plato. But it is found in Plato as well, as when Alcibiades says that
"there is no arguing against the conclusion that one must do as he bids"
(216a-b). That statement makes it pretty clear that Socrates told his young
followers what to do.

The most elaborate description of Socratic seduction in Plato is found in

Lysis. While this dialogue certainly raises interesting and important per-
plexities concerning the nature of friends and friendship, its central aim is
to provide a portrait of Socratic seduction of the young which will answer
Socrates' accusers at the same time that it arouses the envy of readers.
In this dialogue, Socrates offers some rather humiliating lessons to a less
competent gentleman on how to win the affections of beautiful young
boys.' The dramatic context enables Plato to display Socrates' formidable

7. See Dorion, 2004b, 167.


ability to seduce young men without implying that he had any personal
designs on them: everything he does is done on behalf of another gentle-
man. But perhaps the most interesting feature of Lysis is the way in which
his Socrates uses abstract arguments not merely to explore the nature of
the nominal subject of the dialogue-friends and friendship-but also to
manipulate the feelings and opinions of his interlocutor.

To illustrate the dramatic structure of the Lysis one may compare it with
Sophocles' Philoctetes. The thematic and structural parallels between the
two suggest that if Plato did not model his Lysis directly on the Philoctetes,
the two works belong to a common dramatic type. They share the theme
of "hunting" a human quarry. In both, two hunters are involved-one
who is incompetent and unable to capture his quarry, and a second, supe-
rior hunter who is brought in to assist the first. The two hunters form an
uneasy alliance in the opening scene or prologue of the play. The descrip-
tion of this alliance is designed to show both the common aim of the two
men (and thereby to shed light on the working out of their plot in the later
scenes), and also the grounds for possible conflict between them. In this
sense, the prologue plays an essential dramatic role in preparing the audi-
ence for the kinds of twists and turns of plot that will occur later. In both
cases, the central drama concerns the development or revelation of a deep
affinity between the superior hunter and the prized quarry. In Philoctetes,
the second hunter ultimately abandons his alliance with the first hunter
and allies himself with the quarry; in Lysis, this threat never materializes,
for Socrates displays a cool indifference to the charms of Lysis.
In Philoctetes, Neoptolemos, the son of Achilles and a believer in a
traditional code of honor which precludes the use of deception, arrives
together with Odysseus, an experienced man of the world who shrinks
from nothing, at the island on which Philoctetes resides. Odysseus' aim
is to bring Philoctetes to Troy, which cannot be taken without him.
He has brought Neoptolemos along because he is unable to approach
Philoctetes directly himself: having been responsible for the initial deci-
sion to abandon Philoctetes on the island, he is hated by Philoctetes and
regarded by him as an untrustworthy and shameless person. Neoptolemos
thus plays a crucial role as a go-between or procurer: he is here to make

up for Odysseus' inability and to assist him in capturing his quarry.

Odysseus asks Neoptolemos to play the thief, to use deception in order
to capture Philoctetes (or his bow-the exact object is left unclear). But
Neoptolemos has a noble nature, and the reluctance he displays in the
prologue warns us that he may find it difficult to carry through the unsa-
vory plan that Odysseus has set before him. Neoptolemos' later conver-
sations with Philoctetes are saturated with a dramatic irony that is per-
ceptible to the audience only because it has seen the prologue. By letting
us perceive Neoptolemos' goals and conflicts, the prologue changes the
way we view these conversations. It allows us to see that his words are
an insincere rhetorical means to an end, and at the same time allows us
to track the process by which they become more and more sincere as his
true nature gains control. The prologue lets us see that Neoptolemos is
not telling the truth when he tells of his fight with Odysseus (324-390),
and it prepares us for the moment when he, overcome by sympathy and
admiration for the object of his quest, begins to falter and eventually
abandons his mission altogether (839-842; 1222-1234). The irony is es-
pecially complex here, because the deception that Neoptolemos is asked
to perpetrate requires that he describe himself as a noble hero, in the
model of his father Achilles, and in a kind of double-irony this turns out
to be the truth. The prologue prepares us for Neoptolemos' eventual de-
parture from the original plan and his formation of a sincere alliance with
Philoctetes. The result of the meeting between these two figures is not the
fulfillment of the plan Odysseus had devised but the forming of a famous
friendship between two noble spirits, a friendship that will produce the
victory over Troy.
In the prologue of Lysis a plot is formed between Hippothales who
like Odysseus is in pursuit of a human quarry-in his case a beauti-
ful young man rather than an old and repulsive one-and Socrates.
Hippothales is incapable of bringing his plans to fruition on his own
because Lysis despises him, and he needs an ally to accomplish his aims.
Socrates plays the role of a go-between or procurer, as he claimed to be
in Xenophon's Symposium. This prologue thus alerts us to the fact that
Socrates' conversation with Lysis should be understood not merely as a
philosophical conversation, but also as a demonstration of Socratic se-
duction techniques. As in Philoctetes, there are signs of tension between
the two conspirators. It is not that Socrates has any moral compunction

about seducing a young man. Rather his interest in beautiful young men
(204b) suggests the possibility of a rivalry between him and Hippothales.
So when Socrates generously offers to speak with Lysis, in order to show
Hippothales how to do it, everyone will wonder whose interest he will
serve in the conversation. A further complication: in addition to these
two potential lovers, Lysis also has a close friend, Menexenus the cousin of
Ctesippus. While not a lover of Lysis, Menexenus is a friend and therefore
an obstacle to either of Lysis' older admirers. Thus the prologue raises
a number of dramatic questions: will Socrates succeed in seducing Lysis
or will the boy remain tied to Menexenus? Will Socrates take advantage
of the opportunity to seduce the boy, or will he honor his alliance with
Hippothales, renounce any personal goals, and force the boy to accept his
despised lover? While these questions provide the dramatic tension that
pervades the dialogue as a whole, the various philosophical arguments
provide its action. Socrates aims to influence Lysis' erotic attachments. For
this reason the arguments are peculiarly a d hominem: they do not merely
rely on philosophical assumptions accepted by the interlocutor, but are
designed to work a particular dramatic effect on him. In the end, Socrates
will remain loyal to his agreement with Hippothales, a fact which serves as
a testimony to his fidelity and his superiority to temptation.

Socrates' desire to meet young beauties is underlined in his response to

Hippothales' request that he enter the palaestra in which Lysis is train-
ing. Socrates asks what terms he may expect and who is the prime beauty
(204b). ?he request for payment is not designed to indicate that Socrates
is a sophist-for-hire, but rather that he regards the opportunity to be to-
gether with a beautiful young man as worth more than a monetary reward:
the subject of Socrates' conditions is quickly dropped, never to be raised
again. But by the same token, it is not philosophyper se, but the opportu-
nity to engage in a philosophical conversation on an intimate subject with
a beautiful young person which Socrates enjoys.
After entering the palaestra, Socrates learns that Hippothales is wildly
in love with Lysis, and that he has been annoying the entire world with his
ludicrous poems, songs and speeches in praise of the young boy's ances-
tors. Socrates questions him about his behavior and makes clear that these

tributes are not only pointless and annoying, they are also completely inef-
fective and counter-productive for winning regard from Lysis. Although
Hippothales does not seem to have succeeded in exchanging many words
with the boy, Lysis has already concluded that it is best to avoid him as
the plague. Hippothales is presented as a comic figure in a work that pre-
figures new comedy in its use of ridiculous and embarrassing situations,
secret plots and romantic emotions.
After Socrates has convinced him that he has been acting foolishly,
Hippothales asks Socrates to teach him how to make himself agree-
able to the boy. He asks in other words for Socrates to make use of an
ability which Xenophon's Socrates lays claim to: that of being a pimp.8
In response, Socrates makes the astounding offer to personally seduce the
young man for him, in order to show him how to do it. Even more as-
toundingly, Hippothales accepts, and is doomed to watching another man
easily subdue the young beauty he has desired for so long. Socrates' efforts
provide a correction for all of Hippothales' mistakes: rather than extol the
young man for the deeds of his ancestors in poetry, Socrates humbles him
for his ignorance with philosophy. Rather than annoy others with foolish
drivel, Socrates entertains the company with a seduction-scene, and one
in which he actually does speak with the boy.
Gaining contact with the young boy is not a simple matter. Just as a
wild horse needs to be hunted with great caution so as not to scare it off, so
too one cannot approach a beautiful young boy carelessly. Like Xenophon's
Socrates, Plato's Socrates is careful not to show any overt signs of interest
in the young boy, just as the boy is careful not to show any great interest
in Socrates' conversations. While Hippothales demonstrates his emotions
by his enthusiastic outpourings, Socrates keeps his feelings to himself, care-
fully considering the effects that his words and deeds will have.
Socrates is fortunate to have excellent sources of information about
the boy, and assistants who are closely connected to him (compare Ovid's
Art ofLove 1.351-398 on the proper use of a girl's handmaid). Not only is
Ctessipus willing to help, but Hippothales himself, Lysis' would-be lover,
is pleased to share his store of information about the boy. Socrates has
indeed stumbled upon a wonderful opportunity (compare the opening
scenes of Plautus' Menaechmi).

8. See Symp. 4.56-64 and Mem. 2.6.


Hippothales tells Socrates that Lysis is especially fond of listening to

conversations, and that if Socrates will merely sit together with Ctessipus
and begin to converse, Lysis will most likely approach them on his own.
He also suggests the possibility of using Ctessipus to summon his cousin
Menexenus together with Lysis. In the end, both Lysis' curiosity and
Menexenus' cousin play roles in forging the relationship. At first, Lysis
notices the conversation between Socrates and Ctessipus with great in-
terest but is too proud to come over and join them on his own. Soon,
however, Menexenus spots them and joins them. This provides Lysis with
the excuse he needs to join the party as well.

Although Socrates was commissioned to speak with Lysis rather than

Menexenus, he is able to turn the latter's presence to his advantage. Here
Plato offers a method for approaching a boy who may happen to be in
the company of a close friend. The bond between Lysis and Menexenus
is a source of strength to Lysis (it was this which enabled him to approach
Socrates in the first place) and is thus an obstacle to Socrates. He will need
to come between them. Socrates' normal method ofweakening a person's at-
tachment to something-whether an idea or a person-is to raise questions
about it. Here he raises questions about the friendship between Menexenus
and Lysis. This serves as a polite, even flattering, means of raising doubts
about the bond and, ultimately, of encouraging Lysis to seek new friends.
However, it would be offensive to begin with such a direct assault. In
order to maintain Lysis' good will, Socrates remains polite and maintains
a certain degree of respectful distance. He begins with a light question
(compare Ovid's Art of Love 1.143- 144): Which of you two is older? This
is not a challenging or threatening question, and it does not demand a
great deal of effort to come up with an answer. It will serve to put the two
boys at ease. But at the same time it is a personal question which puts
them in the spotlight and highlights a difference between them. Socrates
will find more interesting ways to drive wedges between them later on.
Despite the formality and lightness of the question, the boys do not wish
to answer a personal question. They claim that they dispute the matter.
This response prevents Socrates from turning to Lysis as being either the
elder or the younger, as the case may be, and singling him out for a follow-up

question. Instead he takes his cue from the rivalry that their answer implies
and turns to another more interesting possible object of rivalry: Do you also
dispute which one of you is better? When they affirm this dispute, Socrates
feels that he can ask a more risky question: Do you also dispute which one
is more beautiful? This question, with its implied compliment to both of
them, may be too forward for the third question, but it is helps create an
erotic atmosphere. It reminds the boys that they are objects of admiration to
the older gentlemen seated around them, and may be designed to encour-
age them to compete with each other in charming this audience. But such
a question can also have the negative effect of reminding them to be careful
of older men. If they continue the conversation past this point they have
agreed to enter dangerous water. 'The question elicits an embarrassed laugh,
but it does not produce any further results. 'The boys seem properly modest,
and Socrates wisely changes the subject.
Having threatened and complimented them in these ways, Socrates now
ingratiates himself by offering a mildly ironic tribute to their friendship. He
says that he does not need to ask which is richer, since good friends keep
their money in common. 'This tribute to their friendship may intention-
ally overshoot the mark. Although it was a common-place in Greece that
friends share their wealth, this was far from being the common practice. In
Memorabilia, for example, Socrates berates his companions for not spending
generously on their friends (2.5). Socrates' words may serve to remind the
boys that they do not really live up to the ideals of friendship: his tribute
implies that he is a firm believer in their friendship, but he leaves it up to
them to decide whether he is right or not. In effect, Socrates' compliment is
actually a challenge or provocation. By focusing attention on their friend-
ship, Socrates induces them to question it, thus opening the way to new
We do not know how Socrates would have proceeded to interview the
two had they remained together. He says that he was going to ask them
further questions, such as which is more just and which is wiser. This in-
dicates that friendship was not the inevitable subject of conversation; but
we do not know where he might have led them. Before he can continue
someone comes and takes Menexenus away to deal with a sacrificial ritual.'

Y. Plato frequently uses sacrificial rituals to excuse superfluous interlocutors: see Cephalus
in Republic. 'This is a Homeric touch, a kind of deus ex machina, available any time that Plato
wants to get rid of someone.
With the departure of Menexenus, Plato is able to show us Socrates en-
gaging Lysis in a more personal conversation. Just as his goal in the earlier
conversation was to separate Lysis emotionally from his friend, so too his
goal here is not to refute or humiliate Lysis, but rather to raise doubts
about his friendships and ultimately to forge a new one with him.'' Here
is a clear portrait of Socrates corrupting a youth: he teaches Lysis that his
parents do not love him, and that any true bond of love must be founded
on intellectual virtue or skill, not family relation."
'This portrait is evidently related to the charge that Socrates taught his
students to value their relatives only insofar as they are useful to them.
Xenophon mentions this charge (Mem. 1.2.51-55; see also 2.5.1-4) and
argues that while Socrates did say such things, his aim was not to cause his
students to despise their parents, but rather to convince them to improve
themselves and become useful so that their relatives will value them. Plato
takes a similar tack, portraying Socrates as encouraging Lysis to improve
himself so that others will love him. As Dorion points out, he surpasses
Xenophon in apologetic shrewdness, since he answers the charge without
even mentioning it.''
Socrates begins with complimentary words (207d): Your parents love
you a great deal, I suppose?This may seem to contradict the advice he gave
to Hippothales, not to puff up the beloved, but the confidence Socrates'
words inspire will be only temporary. Socrates tries to convince Lysis that
his parents do not love him, and that this lack of love is justified, since
Lysis possesses few good attributes. If successful, this line of argument
could serve to lead Lysis into a depression.13 Socrates argues that Lysis'
parents do not love him on the !grounds that they do not let him do what
he wants or be happy. They do not let him drive a chariot or drive the

10. Dorion notes the fact that Socrates does not use the elenrhos on Lysis, and connects this
to criticisms of the elenchos reflected, for example, at Memorabilia 1.4.1 (2004b, 182-3). But it
may also be that a refutation is not in Plato's eyes the best way of winning a friend.
11. F, Gonzalez notes that the discussions begin and end with arguments concerning the love
of one's own, and argues that it offers a new model of friendship based on a new conception of
what is most truly one's own (2000; see also Glidden, 41).
12. 2004b, 183-6. Dorion also notes that this argument is meant also to persuade Hippothales
to make himself more useful to the object of his affection (175; 180-1).
13. The belief that others do not love one or that one is unworthy of their love is one of the
typical causes of depression. See A. Beck, 1979, esp. 244-271.

mules, and his mother does not let him touch her spinning and weaving
tools (208a-e). Even worse, Lysis' parents have appointed a slave to direct
his activities, and send him to a school where there are teachers who tell
him what to do ( 2 0 8 ~ ) .
There appears to be a certain degree of humor in the argument (see
Lysis' reaction at 208d), and if we take it seriously we run into difficulties.
The assumptions that those who love allow their beloveds to do whatever
they want and that such freedom leads to happiness, are both highly doubt-
ful. It seems obvious that loving and wise parents might behave exactly as
Lysis' parents do, by insisting that he do what is good for him, not what he
wants to do. There is no need to seek roundabout ways to justify the argu-
ment, however, once we recognize the dramatic circumstances in which
they are employed. Persuading Lysis that his parents do not love him is a
useful step in reducing Lysis to dependence on Socrates.
After raising doubts about Lysis' relations with his parents, Socrates
holds out hopes of gaining friends in the future. He offers Lysis a way to
win the affection not only of his parents but of almost anyone he might
wish. While not loved at home, Lysis might one day be loved abroad.
Socrates claims that Lysis might be loved so much by the king of Persia,
for example, that he would be eager to hand over his property to him
(210a-b). But in order to achieve such preeminence, to gain both love
and power, Lysis must improve himself. First he must understand what
makes him unlovable at present. When Lysis suggests that his parents
deny his wishes because of his age, Socrates points out that age is not
the cause, since they do let him do things that he understands, such as
reading and writing. Lysis therefore concludes that his parents do not let
him do things that he does not understand. Socrates accepts this conclu-
sion and suggests that if he does learn things he will be loved and allowed
to do what he wants. Knowledge is the key to love and happiness. If he
knew more, his parents would not subject him to the rule of slave, but
would let him do what he wants. But this only implies that in his present
state of ignorance, Lysis deserves to be ruled by his family's slave, and
therefore that he is worse than a slave himself.
Here too one may sense that the arguments are being abused. While
being knowledgeable and useful may be one way of gaining love, it is
not either necessary or sufficient. As Plato knew perfectly well, parents
love their children even though they are ignorant, young, and useless and

require extensive care, and later in the dialogue he uses the love of a father
for his son as a prime example of love.I4 Plato frequently recognizes that
beauty is an object of love, and if Socrates finds Lysis attractive, that is
not because of his wisdom or u~efulness.'~ Again, the dramatic situation
suggests the reason for Socrates' exaggerations. In order to deflate Lysis, to
encourage him to seek wisdom with a teacher such as Socrates, and even
to suggest that Socrates himself is an appropriate object of affection, the
conclusions that Socrates presses on the young man are eminently useful.
Socrates' willingness to reach positive conclusions in this section may be
attributed not necessarily to any change in his attitude towards the elen-
chos (pace Dorion 2004, 182-3), but to the specific dramatic goals that
Socrates is pursuing here.
Just in case readers have forgotten that the purpose of this conversa-
tion was to teach Hippothales how to speak to a boy, Plato reminds us by
recording Socrates' thoughts:
W h e n I heard this, I glanced at Hippothales, and almost made a mistake.
For I thought of saying, "Hippothales, this is how you should talk to a
young boy, degrading and humbling him, instead of puffing him u p and
spoiling him as you do." However, seeing him disturbed and nervous at the
conversation, I remembered that though standing so near, he didn't wish to
be seen by Lysis. So I recovered myself and refrained from addressing him.

Hippothales' agitation at Socrates' success seems to show that he is worried

that Socrates may exceed his mandate. But Socrates' thoughts show that
he has been faithfully fulfilling his agreement with Hippothales to show
him how to seduce. This too serves an apologetic aim: the notion that
Socrates seduced young men is an optical illusion. Socrates' comments not
only remind the reader of the purpose of the conversation, they also mark
the completion of the assignment. In the remainder of the conversation

14. See also Diotima's speech in the Symposium 207b. Aristotle uses the love of parents for
their children as prime examples of love (NE 1155a17-19; 1159a26-34). As Dorion points
out, however, Plato does avoid using the term philos in this context (2004b, 205-6).
15. The effort to humble the beloved by denying that he possesses lovable qualities neces-
sarily involves the lover in self-contradiction: if the beloved is unlovable, why does the lover
love him? This problem is illustrated also in the speech of Lysias and in Socrates' first speech
in Phaedrus, which are devoted to demonstrating why a young boy should accept as a lover
someone who (he claims) does not actually love him.

Socrates will be improvising and we readers will not know exactly what
his purpose is. From here on in the philosophical component of the con-
versation becomes more pronounced. But as I will try to show, even the
philosophical arguments serve in Socrates' hands to forward his dramatic

Precisely when Socrates finishes his conversation with Lysis, Menexenus

returns from his sacrificial duties. Lysis has by now become intimately
attached to Socrates, so much so that he whispers a request in the ear of
his new friend: could you say to Menexenus what you have been saying to
me? The short conversation between Socrates and Lysis has created an al-
liance between the two which Lysis is prepared to use against Menexenus.
Lysis now looks forward to watching his friend Menexenus squirm under
Socrates' questioning, while he, Lysis, will be looking on together with
Socrates. Socrates has already come between the two boys.
Socrates however suggests that Lysis could do this himself, since he has
heard the entire conversation (21 1a). 'The point of this comment becomes
clear when we compare the attitude that Socrates has attributed to Lysis'
parents: whereas their lack of love is manifest in their failure to allow him
responsibilities, Socrates readily entrusts him with holding a philosophical
conversation with Menexenus. He deserves to do so because, having heard
the argument already, he now knows it, and those who know may be given
resp~nsibilities.'~But Plato saves us from the necessity of actually witness-
ing Lysis' feeble attempts at dialectic by having Socrates politely suggest
that Lysis make the effort at another time.
Lysis then asks Socrates to speak about a new topic. Not only is he
eager to hear Socrates (contrast his attitude towards Hippothales), he is
willing to put himself in Socrates' debt for the opportunity. Socrates exacts
a price-you, Lysis, must come to my aid if I need it in the discussion
with Menexenus (21 1b)-thus deepening the newly formed bond. He
justifies his request by claiming that Menexenus is well-practiced at dis-
puting and that he (Socrates) needs an ally. Socrates explains that it will

16. This scene also suggests that those reports are not far wrong which accused Socrates of
stirring up the young people to refute others.

be no easy task to defeat an excellent pupil such as Menexenus, but Lysis

insists that he try. Here Socrates' false humility serves to strengthen the
bond with Lysis.17 Relying on and reinforcing the strength of his new al-
liance, Socrates induces Lysis to join him in a small conspiratorial white
lie. He tells Menexenus that Lysis has not understood something that he,
Socrates, has said and that he has asked him to inquire of Menexenus
concerning the subject (21 Id). The lie is obviously complimentary to
Menexenus and this helps induce him to join the conversation and poten-
tially to expose himself. But Lysis' willingness to go along with this lie in
order hear the conversation he is hoping to hear further strengthens his
bond with Socrates. Thus the positions of Socrates and Menexenus have
been neatly reversed: now it will be Menexenus' task to try, if he can, to
pry Lysis back away from Socrates.
As in Charmides, the dazzling lines of thought that are introduced and
then rejected play an important role in the intellectual seduction of the
young man. By displaying his intellectual facility, Socrates engages Lysis
in a kind of mental gymnastics concerning a question of personal inter-
est to him. But Plato never forgets the implications that these arguments
have for Lysis' relationship to his parents, his friend, his would-be-lover
Hippothales and Socrates. If, for example, similars are friends, this would
imply that Lysis and Menexenus can view themselves as genuine friends.18
If those who are neither good nor bad love the good for the sake of a good
and on account of something bad, this would imply that both Lysis and
Menexenus have reason to love Socrates for his wisdom. If agitation is a
sign that the beloved is somehow a part of the lover, then Hippothales'
claim to Lysis is strengthened. But even when Socrates' arguments imply
that Lysis should reciprocate Hippothales' affection, Plato contrives that
he should love Socrates all the more. And so too the reader is encouraged
to admire and love the image of Socrates that Plato has created.
Socrates begins with a short personal statement: While others like to
collect horses, dogs, money, or public office I prefer to collect friends

17.HereSocrates' false humiliry consists not in the denial of knowledge, but in the denial of
dialectic ability.
18. Dorion points out some of the dissimilarities between Lysis and Menexenus, such as
the latter's excellence in disputation (2004b, 166). But this quality seems to be attributed to
him by Socrates somewhat ironically (21 lb), and its possession by him is not borne out by his
actual performance. In any case, the boys' friendship seems based on their similarities, not this
difference, so it serves as an example of the friendship of similars.

(21 Id-e). Socrates claims that he would prefer a friend to all the other
things in the world (compare Symposium 4.10-1 8). He is therefore full
of wonder at Lysis and Menexenus who have obtained this excellent
object at such a young age, while he still does not know how to acquire
This personal statement raises numerous questions. Is Socrates sincere?
If so, does he pursue friends for instrumental reasons (compare Xenophon
Memorabilia 1.6.14, 2.4.5, 3.11.5)? O r does he regard friendship as good
in itself? Does Socrates expect his listeners to share in his appreciation of
friends as self-evidently more valuable than the other items he mentions?
Does his interest in friendship help explain his lack of achievement in
financial affairs? But from a dialectical point of view, Socrates introduces
this statement in order to encourage his new acquaintances to contribute
confidently to the ensuing discussion. Socrates again displays a dubious
modesty, denying his own possession of a friend, and false praise, ironi-
cally assuming that Lysis and Menexenus are friends, to encourage them
to come confidently to his assistance. By the same token, however, they
will have to defend their friendship against Socrates' questions in the
ensuing discussion. Socrates' use of this sort of irony in this context in-
dicates that it is appropriate not only in general dialectical contexts, but
also in erotic ones.

The effort to clarify the meaning of friendship (to philon) is vitiated by

the ambiguous ways in which the term is used. The term philos refers to
a wide range of positive relationships including relationships with family
members, allies, and cherished possessions. Most problematically, the term
can be used either in an active sense, referring to the lover, or in a passive
sense, referring to the object of love. For this reason the question, "Who
is thephilos, the lover or the beloved?" has no unambiguous meaning and
can receive no unambiguous answer. 'The ambiguity in the meaning of the
term makes it particularly difficult for the boys to answer Socrates' ques-
tions, and insures that whatever answer they offer can be refuted. It also
means that the discussion cannot reach any positive conclusion.
How do we explain this circumstance? D. Robinson has argued that
Plato did not fully disambiguated the terms in his own mind, and hence

was unable to reach a coherent explanation of friendship.I9 This conclu-

sion results from viewing the dialogue as a treatise on friendship in literary
guise. But if the dialogue is read as a demonstration of Socrates' ability to
seduce the young, the employment of ambiguous terms can be seen as a
useful tool.
Socrates starts by asking the following question: When one person loves
another, which of the two is the friend? (212a). At first Menexenus sup-
poses that in such a case both of the parties are friends. Relations of lover
and beloved were common in ancient Greece, and the fact that some such
relations were one-sided did not negate the fact that they were friendships.
But Socrates reminds Menexenus of cases (like the relationship between
Hippothales and Lysis) where one loves another, but no friendship results
from it. Thus one-sided affection is clearly an insufficient condition for
But this does not imply that mutual affection is a necessary condition.
Socrates quotes Solon as saying:
Wealthy is he to whom there are dear (philoi)children and flat-footed horses
And hunting dogs and an ally in a foreign land

Misinterpreting the poem, Socrates gains Lysis' agreement that even

horses and dogs, as well as young children, can fall within the category of
"friends" despite the fact that they are not able to love in return. So there
are cases where one-sided affection is sufficient for the creation of a bond
of friendship.
But what about a case where someone loves another who hates him in
return (as Lysis hates Hippothales)? Socrates argues as follows: if a friend
is someone who loves, then an enemy would be someone who hates. But
although one may love someone who hates, it is impossible to be a friend
of an enemy, since the very term enemy implies the absence of friendship
(212e-213~).A bond of friendship is not, as D. K. Glidden has pointed
out, to be considered a purely subjective matter." Socrates goes on to
show by identical inverted reasoning that the loved person is not neces-
sarily a friend to his lover, since if he hates the lover, the lover would be
his enemy.

19. D. Robinson, 1986.

20. D. K. Glidden, 198 1.

A reasonable conclusion of this argument would be that one-sided af-

fection can create a bond of friendship, but not in all cases. At the same
time, mutual affection is not a necessary condition for friendship. Still, no
doubts have been raised that when affection is mutual a friendship will
result. Mutual affection does seem to be a sufficient condition of friend-
ship. Socrates, however, concludes with a statement that simply does not
follow from what has been said. He claims that neither those who love
nor those who are loved nor those who both love and are loved are friends
( 2 1 3 ~ )Is
. Plato so lacking in critical faculties that he is unable to draw a
logical conclusion from his own arguments?
Scholars have not found good ways to justify the conclusion. In his
effort to show the significant positive results that Plato achieves in Lysis,
D. Adams (1995) omits this section entirely. L. -A. Dorion points out that
this section is directed to Menexenus, who has been described as a student
of eristics (21 lb-c), and he argues that it is designed to show that merely
verbal arguments cannot achieve anything of value (2004b, 186-1 9 1). Is
that its only significance? Surely we can add that the argument shows that
Menexenus' training has not been sufficient to enable him to detect the
obvious flaws in the argument. Similarly, Socrates clearly demonstrates
his own abilities at intellectual razzle-dazzle. Within the dramatic context,
this would give Menexenus and Lysis the impression that he is a clever
or wise man worthy of admiration and love. But such effects could have
been achieved by any of a variety of clever arguments. Why does Socrates
employ arguments that can be (mis)represented as showing that no form
of friendship at all is possible?
'The question is undoubtedly a speculative one, but any reasonable
answer would take account of the dramatic context and of Socrates' aims.
By concluding that there are no friends, Socrates raises doubts about the
one friendship whose existence has been affirmed previously in the dialogue:
namely the friendship between Lysis and Menexenus. Raising doubts about
the existence of this friendship in the minds of Lysis and Menexenus will
have an effect on their perceptions of the relationship and ultimately on
the relationship itself. Although the implication of the argument is that no
friendship is possible with Hippothales or Socrates either, its first effect will
be to weaken the existing bond between the two young boys. Once this has
been accomplished, other means can be employed to encourage them to
seek new and better friends.

Socrates is clearly aware that his conclusions overshot the mark, for as he
continues he assumes that friendship is possible and that what is needed
is an explanation for it. When he suggests that they have made a funda-
mental error in their investigation, Lysis bursts out in agreement, and
then blushes in embarrassment for revealing his intense interest in the
discussion. This comment is the first of several indications that Lysis is
developing a strong and even intimate bond to Socrates and his logos.
Socrates turns from Menexenus back to Lysis, suggesting that they re-
consider their argument from the beginning. Turning again to the poets
as a reasonable source of potentially right opinions, Socrates notes that it
is sometimes said that similarity is the basis of friendship. He easily refutes
this opinion, pointing out first that those who are similar in badness
cannot be friends on account of that similarity. This really should be
enough to show that similarity is not in and of itself the cause of friend-
ship. But Socrates goes on to show that those who are similar in good-
ness cannot be friends, neither because they are like2' nor because they
are good: being perfectly good they are perfectly self-sufficient and need
no friends. By adding these arguments he shows not only that similarity
does not provide a necessary or sufficient cause for friendship, but has
also contributed to an argument that would show that similarity makes
friendship impossible. While not negating the possibility of friendship
altogether, this unnecessary second argument would serve to raise addi-
tional doubts about the possibility of a friendship existing between Lysis
and Menexenus, insofar as that friendship is based on their similarities
or goodness.
Socrates returns to the poets for another suggestion. If similarity is not
the basis of friendship, and even makes friendship impossible, perhaps
opposites attract. But this is even easier to disprove. Not all forms of op-

21. It is often objected that Plaro here mistakenly assimilates the similar to the identical:
while those who are identical in goodness might indeed have nothing to offer each other, those
who are merely similar might well (see references in Dorion 2004b 192, n. 2). But this does
nor get to the root of the issue, for even those who are identical in all ways, if they remain
distinct numerically, would be able to assist each other. For example, if there is need of two
individuals for the accomplishment of a worthwhile task, such as moving a piece of furniture,
then even those identical in all the traits needed for the task would have need of each other.
Plato's point, however, would be that even in such cases it is not their similarity which makes
them seek each others' friendship, but their numerical distinctness.

position are complementary. What could be more opposite than friend

and enemy for example? And yet, as has already been agreed, no one can
be a friend of an enemy. Similarly, it seems obvious that a just man cannot
be friend to an unjust, or a temperate to an intemperate. Since not all
forms of opposition attract, it is clear that opposition itself is not the
source of attraction. Unlike the argument about similars, Socrates' argu-
ment here does not show that no form of opposition can provide the basis
of a friendship. H e leaves open the possibility, for example, that the old
and the young could be friends because of their opposition.
O n the basis of these arguments, Socrates draws the conclusion that
"neither like is friendly with like nor contrary with contrary." Literally, this
is once again an overstatement, since while the argument has purported
to show that similars cannot be friends, it has not shown that opposites
cannot be friends. Here, however, Socrates proceeds as if he has shown
that neither similars or opposites can be friends, returning to this as a
point that has been demonstrated at several points in the later conversa-
tion (216e, 217b, 218b, 219b, 222b, 222d).

These conclusions are crucial for the development of the next stage of the
argument. Since neither similars nor opposites can be friends, the good
cannot be friend either to the good or to the bad. Only that which is
neither good nor bad can possibly be a friend of the good. Socrates sug-
gests a further condition as well: "that which is neither good nor bad can
be a friend of the good, because of the presence of something bad" (2 17b).
The fact that in proposing this suggestion Socrates speaks not in the name
of a poet but in the name of his own power of divination (216d) suggests
that this is a more serious proposal than the previous ones, even thought
it is finally dismissed.22
Socrates explains his theory by considering the example of bodily health.
A body, which is neither good nor bad, is friendly to a doctor (iatros) or to
the medical craft (iatrik~),which is something good, because of a sickness,
which is something bad (217a-b). If the body were fully healthy or utterly

22. Contrast Dorion who argues that "En dipit des apparences, cette position sera rnainte-
nue jusqu'i la fin du dialogue" (2004b, 201).

sick it would no longer be a friend of the doctor, who is good, since then it
would be either good or bad, and there can be no friendship between the
good or the bad and the good (217b-e). ?his point is especially important
because the friendship between a body and a doctor is not the only form of
friendship that Socrates is considering. The medical example is an analogy
for the relation of the soul to wisdom. Just as the body is a friend to the
doctor when it is neither completely good nor completely bad, so too the
soul can be a friend of wisdom only when it is in an intermediate state:
For this reason we say that those who are already wise-whether these are
gods or men-do not philosophize. Nor do those who are so ignorant that
they are bad. For no bad and ignorant person philosophizes. There remain
then those who possess this badness, namely ignorance, but who are not as
yet in consequence of it foolish or ignorant, but still understand that they
do not know the things they do not know (218a).

Only those who, like Socrates himself, possess an intermediate degree of

ignorance can be friendly to the good. By making others aware of their
ignorance, as he does in this dialogue itself, Socrates makes it possible for
them too to become friends of wisdom.
The two boys rejoice at this solution, which seems to solve the problem
of friendship by encouraging their further pursuit of wisdom. From
a dramatic point of view, Socrates has succeeded in attracting them to
the pursuit of wisdom by showing that it represents the very paradigm
of friendship. The implications of this for their future relationship with
Socrates, however, are not clear. It would be easy for the boys to assume
that if Socrates is the master of a spiritual counterpart to the art of medi-
cine, they should be friendly to him just as a moderately ill patient is
friendly to a doctor (217a). At the same time, this argument provides
no incentive for them to be friendly to Hippothales. I make these obser-
vations because the following arguments rectify both of these dramatic

'The rejoicing is short-lived, for Socrates immediately raises objections

that enable him to provide an account of friendship which both elimi-
nates his own potential role as a beloved teacher and provides a place for

Hippothales. By doing so he demonstrates both his skill in using philo-

sophic wisdom to attract the young and his personal indifference to the
young men in question.
Socrates argues that the model of friendship that has been proposed is
insufficient since it does not take account of the final aims of any friend-
ship. The friendship with the doctor or the medical craft is undertaken not
for the sake of the doctor or the medical craft, but for the sake of some
further aim, namely health. Hence the description of friendship must be
altered to take account of this further necessary condition of friendship.
Now he says, "that which is neither evil nor good is a friend to the good
on account of the bad, which is an enemy, for the sake of the good, which
is a friend" (219b).
This new description, however, seems superfluous, and it will prove
short-lived. The problem Socrates raises arises only because he has used
the doctor or the medical art rather than health as his example of friend-
ship. While friendship with a doctor is indeed instrumental, health can
be treated as an end in itself. When Socrates offers an abstract description
of his first model of friendship, it fits perfectly to the example of health:
"that which is neither good nor bad is a friend of the good, because of
the presence of something b a d (217 b; 21 8b-c). Socrates could easily
retain this description if he would only use health as his example of the
philon. Instead, he alters his description of friendship to fit the problem-
atic example of the doctor.
The new description leads to further problems. Since health is also
called a friend, it too must fit the new paradigm; it too must be loved
for the sake of something else. This is a highly implausible notion, since
health can easily be considered an end in itself. Indeed, Socrates does not
actually show that health is instrumental, or provide an example of the
objects for which we pursue health. But his interlocutors do not object.
Once we apply the new account of friendship to health we begin an in-
finite regression. Just as we love health for the sake of x, so too we must
love x for the sake of y, and so on. In order to avoid this, we must posit an
object of friendship that is chosen for its own sake and not for the sake of
some further good thing. Socrates does not say what this may be, but he
calls it the first friend, or proton philon. By this means Socrates overturns
his latest description of friendship and implicitly reverts to the earlier one.
The concept of the first friend is actually identical to the first description

of friendship. Socrates has eliminated the new qualification "for the sake
of something good which is a friend" (see 220b) leaving us to assume
that the first friend is a good thing loved because of something bad or an
enemy. And indeed, that is what he goes on to say (220c-e).
What is the purpose of this diversion? Why did Plato not use the
example of health from the beginning and retain his first definition of
friendship? Quite likely, because he conceives of philosophy as dialectic,
Plato prefers to show how the concept of an object of love that is an end in
itself develops from our experience of friends who are not always ends in
themselves. His prefers to develop the concept of the first friend orproton
philon from the concept of the intermediate or false friend rather than
presenting it at once. But one also does well to take the dramatic context
into account.
The second account of friendship is useful both because it introduces
intermediate friends, and because it negates them. In the first model, the
individual who is neither wise nor completely ignorant philosophizes.
His love is of wisdom, and his relationship with knowledge is unme-
diated by any other friend. Although it was easy to infer that the first
model offers an important role to a teacher such as Socrates, especially
since the example of a doctor was used at one point, strictly speaking
the first model, like the third, offers no role for a teacher at all. There
are no intermediate friends; the friend is simply the good. In the second
model, on the other hand, there is a place for some kind of teacher as an
intermediate friend who is loved for the sake of the wisdom that he or
she somehow provides.
But Socrates introduces the intermediate friend only to deny that it is a
friend. Even in describing his first model, he quickly drops the term doctor
(iatros) replacing it with the medical art itself iatrik~(217b; 218e-220e). So
too, as we have noted, when he speaks in abstract terms of his first proposal,
he mentions only three terms: the neither good nor bad who loves the good
on account of the bad, leaving the doctor or teacher completely out of the
picture (217 b; 218b-c). And while an intermediary is mentioned in the
second model, Socrates swiftly makes it clear that such intermediaries are
not truly friends at all.23Theonly true friend is the proton philon.

23. 219d; 220a-b; contrast Dorion, 2004b, 206-7. The elimination of the intermediate
friend means that friendship in Lysb concerns only two terms or beings (contrast Bordt 2000,
Dorion 2004b, 210-1 1).

Much speculation has surrounded the question of the identity of the

proton philon. It could be interpreted as a human being who is loved for
his or her own sake, as in Aristotle's friendship of the good (NE 8.3). But
it is more often interpreted as something impersonal. Scholars have often
noted the similarity between the proton philon and concepts such as the
beautiful described by Socrates in Symposium and the good described in
Rep~blic.'~Although metaphysical aspects of the subject are not discussed
in L y ~ i sthis
, ~ ~might be attributable to the ages of the interlocutors or to
other dramatic considerations.
'There are several literary indications of a turn from a personal to an
impersonal object of affection. When Socrates rejoices over his initial so-
lution of the problem, he uses the image of a successful hunt, which pre-
viously was used to refer to his pursuit of young men (218c; see 206a-b).
This suggests that knowledge has replaced the human being as the object
of desire. Similarly, the fact that the phrase proton philon occurs in the
neutral gender suggests that it is an impersonal object. Indeed, Socrates
speaks of friendship to the good, to the iatrik~or to health (216c, 219a,
219a). Further, as Dorion points out (2004, 190-l), Socrates' earlier
mention of the possibility of being a "lover of wine" (212d) may be in-
tended to foreshadow the ultimately impersonal quality of the object of
Socratic friendship. Another reason why it seems unlikely that a person
could fulfill the role of the proton philon is that Socrates denies that that
which is neither good nor bad can love another similar being (216e). The
protonphilon must be good; but it is doubtful that a human being can be
so d e ~ c r i b e dEven
. ~ ~ if he were he could not be a friend of another good
being or one similar to himself. Although Plato never makes it explicit
that the proton philon is an impersonal entity, this seems to be the clear
implication of his discussion.
The doctrine of the proton philon has inspired considerable doubt that
in Plato's view a person can be loved as an end in his or her self. In an

24. In Lysis Socrates initially speaks of the object of love as beautiful or good (216d). As
Dorion argues, a similarity to the doctrine of the Symposium exists even though the doctrine of
the forms does not appear (2004b, 209-21 1).
25. See Dorion 2004b, 209-1 1.
26. Although Plato uses the example of a father's love for his son as an illustration of the idea
of the priton philon, as Dorion points out (2004b, 205-6 ) he is careful not to use the term
philos in this context, as if to make clear that strictly speaking this is not a good analogy for the
priton philon.

influential article, G. Vlastos argued that this would be impossible, and

he opined that Plato is wrong about this (1973). Others have argued that
the concept of the proton philon does not preclude the possibility of loving
a person as an end (see Price, 1981, Roth, 1995). But it is perhaps a
mistake to try to draw broad conclusions from an argument used in the
context of the seduction of a young boy. Whatever the final verdict on
Plato's philosophy may be, it is clear that in the context of the discussion
emphasis is placed on the impersonality of the proton philon while the
existence of intermediate friends is denied. Our question, then, is What
effect does Socrates achieve by means of the implied impersonality of the
proton philon?
It might seem poor form for a person bent on seducing a young boy to
point out that the true friend is an impersonal being and that all persons,
himself included, are at best false friends. This move can be explained as
apologetic in nature: the doctrine defends Socrates from charges of cor-
rupting the young. He did not aim to cause young people to fall in love
with him, but rather insisted that the only true friend is something else. If
in practice many of them fell in love with the teacher, that is not his fault.
It may also explain Socrates' seeming infatuation with his young compan-
ions: he did not love them, but something else.
But we are in the first place concerned with the role the doctrine plays
within the drama itself. In that context, the emphasis on the impersonal
proton philon implies a rejection of Lysis as a true object of Socrates' af-
fection. This sort of implied rejection of the beautiful young boys he
pursued is, as we have seen, a common feature of extant portraits of
Socrates. In the previous chapter we have seen how Xenophon's Socrates
used a pretense of indifference to seduce Euthydemus in Memorabilia.
The deceptive indifference of the would-be lover is a central issue in
Plato's Phaedrus, where the first two speeches both concern the disin-
genuous effort of a lover to convince a boy to gratify him on the grounds
that he does not love the boy (230e-234c; 237b-241d). The pretense of
indifference sometimes leads to further deception, as in Charmides where
Socrates falsely claims to have a charm to cure the boy's headache (1 55b).
In Lysis, we have already seen how Socrates feigns indifference when he
enters the gymnasium. And this pretense of indifference is not only a
crucial part of his seduction of the boy, it is also one of the central lessons
he offers to the overly enthusiastic Hippothales (see 2 10e). Paradoxically

enough, by speaking of an impersonal proton philon as the only genuine

friend, and thereby asserting his disinterest in Lysis, Socrates continues
his own ironic manner of seduction. What better way to remind the boy
that he is at best a poor rival to Socrates' real object of affection than by
making it clear that the real friend is something else? One may compare
the remark ofxenophon's Socrates to 'Theodote concerning his other girl-
friends (3.1 1.16).27Here we see how Plato takes a Socratic technique and
transforms it into a philosophical doctrine.
This display of indifference is not necessarily simply a pretense; it is de-
manded by one of Socrates' own accounts of the nature of love. According
to one of his arguments, love is naturally directed towards the good or
towards wisdom. By arousing their awareness of their ignorance, Socrates
awakens the boys' natural love for wisdom. 'This desire initially fixes itself
on Socrates; but it should really be directed to knowledge itself. Socrates
excuses himself and encourages the boys to redirect their desire to its
proper object because he knows he cannot be the true object of their love
just as they are not the objects of his (Dorion 2004b, 213-4).
Still, ifthe disinterest is genuine, how do we explain the fact that Socrates
also displays a strong interest in beautiful young boys like Lysis? Like the
falsely false lover in Phaedrus, Socrates' deeds seem to belie his profession
of disinterest. It would be unfortunate to conclude that the profession of
friendship only for theproton philon is as completely false a doctrine as the
speech of the falsely false lover in Phaedrus. L. -A. Dorion argues that the
doctrine of theprotonphilon allows the possibility of genuine love between
human beings. He argues that it is possible to assimilate the human soul
to the concept of the good, thus transforming it into a genuine object
of love. In his view, the human aspiration for the good is itself a form of
goodness which can serve as the object of love (2004b, 208, 219).
I would offer three objections to this ingenious theory: 1) Plato never
mentions it. 2) The aspiration for the good is not the good. 3) If the aspi-
ration for the good were the good, there could be no friendship between
those who aspire, since there can be no friendship between the good or
the similar.
Dorion argues also that the soul is good because nothing is more oikeion
(related or belonging) to the soul than the good (2004b, 208). 'This too

27. For the debate about who these girl-friends are, see M. Narcy, 2004

would provide a ground for loving other individuals. But to be oikeion to

the soul is not to be the soul; and as I will argue below, Socrates does not
conclude that the good is necessarily oikeion to the soul.
While Plato has not explicitly excluded the possibility that a person
might play the role of the proton philon, he has excluded intermediate
friends. Therefore if human beings are to be genuine objects of love, it
could only be because they are prota phila (first friends). But if the boys
love Socrates because he is aprotonphilon, and not merely an intermediate
friend, it is no longer clear why he must redirect their love towards some
other object.
There is a simpler way to reconcile Socrates' words and deeds. If it is
obvious that only the proton philon is a true friend, and therefore that
Lysis cannot be a true friend of Socrates, he must be only a false friend,
someone who is loved not as an end in himself, but only for the sake of
something else. Here is the famous "instrumentalist" account of love in
Lysis. Interpreted this way, Socrates' words do not contradict his interest
in Lysis, they merely put Lysis in his place.
In addition to explaining to Lysis why he cannot be a true friend to
Socrates or to anyone else, the doctrine of the proton philon also explains
to the reader why Socrates displays indifference to him. It explains why
Socrates remains true to his agreement with Hippothales, and does not
actually seduce the boy. This indifference is not necessarily false. Although
serving as a tool for attracting the young boy, it also reflects Socrates'
genuine love for the proton philon, for which his connection with Lysis
is only a springboard. It is to Socrates' credit that an attitude that could
be employed by others only as a tactic (see again the falsely false lover in
Phaedrus) is employed by him in all sincerity. The fact that others might
feign indifference reflects the fact that a truly excellent person really would
be as indifferent as is Socrates, and that this is an attractive trait. The fact
that Socrates can display indifference with complete sincerity is a mark of

By eliminating the intermediate friends, Socrates has essentially removed

the phrase "for the sake of the g o o d from his definition: the protonphilon,
which is the only true friend, is loved on account of the bad, not for the

sake of something else (220c-e). Now Socrates raises problems with the
phrase "on account of the bad." He speculates what the case would be if
there were nothing bad in need of cure. Those things which are neither
good nor bad, such as bodies, would still exist and still experience desires
such as hunger and thirst.28Such desires would not be the result of illness,
and would not depend on the existence of anything bad. Indeed, Socrates
argues that thirst itself can be a good thing. Since there can be desire
without the existence of something bad, friendship can exist which is not
"on account of the bad." Such friendship will be for the sake of the oikeion,
something that belongs to one but has been taken away (221e).29
What does Socrates mean by the oikeion? Is there some one thing to
which he refers by this term, or are different things oikeia to different
things.30 L. -A. Dorion argues that the oikeion represents a specific thing,
namely the good. In his view, after eliminating the "for the sake ofnand
the "on account of" from our earlier definition, we are left with that which
is neither good nor bad loving the good and the oikeion represents just this
(Dorion 2004, 201; 212-4; 217).
One may object, however, that Socrates does not speak of the love
of the good anywhere in this section, even though he could easily have
done so (at 221d for example) if it were still relevant. O n the contrary,
eliminating the "on account of the bad" means eliminating both the
concept of the good as the object of affection and the concept of the
prbton philon. As Socrates makes clear, he rejects his earlier formula
entirely and the oikeion is a new concept designed to replace the old
concept of the good (221d). He argues that the agathon (good) is philon
only on account of the kakon (bad: 220b). Therefore, if there were no
bad, the good would not be loved; it would be useless to us ( 2 2 0 ~ )This
is not to say that nothing good could be loved, only that a good thing

28. The example of hunger or thirst (220e-221 b) is perhaps the best one could do in provid-
ing an example of a desire that is not dependent on something bad. But it is hard to imagine
that Plato found it impossible to explain hunger or thirst as a desire for the good because of
the presence of the bad, since his words in Gorgias could be interpreted to mean just that
29. Ifwe apply this to those who love wisdom we may conclude that they do not love knowl-
edge in order to escape ignorance by becoming wise, but rather because knowledge is oikeion.
Socrates may never become a wise man by his hunt for knowledge, and neither can he promise
Lysis that he will become wise if he follows the same path. But this is beside the point, since
one loves that which is oikeion without consideration of its advantages.
30. See Gorgias 481d; Heracleitus (fr. 9): "Donkeys would choose straw rather than gold."

would not be loved because of its being good; if it were loved that would
be only because of its being oikeion to someone, if it happened to be so.
Socrates also argues that the proton philon differs from the others phila
in that whereas they are loved for the sake of some other philon it is loved
on account of something bad. So if the bad is removed we will not be
friendly to the proton philon either (220e).
These arguments clearly show that neither the good nor the first friend
would serve as friends in the absence of the bad. In a world in which no
bad is present there would still be desire, but that desire would not be on
account of something bad and would not be directed towards something
good. Previously we thought that what is neither good nor bad could love
the good on account of something bad, but now we see that there must be
another cause of loving and being loved (221~-d).Our previous theories
were all nonsense (221d). The cause of friendship is desire. Desire is for
what is lacking, and what is lacking is something that has been taken away
(22 1d-e). That something is the oikeion (22 1e).
Despite this evident replacement, Dorion argues that in the final
section of the dialogue Socrates offers hints that the oikeion is identical to
the good. In his view, Socrates offers the boys the option of reaching this
conclusion, but they mistakenly reject it. In typically ironic Platonic style,
the right answer is found on the path not taken.
This is not, however, the most accurate way to interpret the final argu-
ments. While Socrates does raise further questions concerning the oikeion,
he does not suggest identifying it with the good. His aim here is not to
clarify the meaning of the oikeion, but rather to show that this last expla-
nation of love is no more valid than the earlier ones. Socrates first consid-
ers one objection to his claim that the oikeion is the friend. It has already
been agreed that the homoion cannot be a friend to the homoion, so if the
oikeion is identical to the homoion, it would follow that nothing that is
oikeion could ever be a friend to what is oikeion to it. Socrates does not
have any response to this problem. He asks the boys to ignore it since they
are now drunk with arguments ( 2 2 2 ~ )But
. the objection still remains.
In his following question, Socrates does not ask whether the oikeion
is the good or not. It is an alternative concept. This is a surprising fact
for students of Plato, not only because the concept of the good plays
such an important role in his dialogues in general, but also because the
concept of the oikeion recalls the non-Socratic doctrine of love set forth

by Aristophanes in Symposium (19 1a-b). In Symposium, Socrates does not

accept Aristophanes' doctrine, but rather singles it out for attack (205d-
206a), explicitly rejecting the idea that love is for one's own, unless of
course one's own means the good (205e). Why in Lysis does Plato place
this "Aristophanic" formulation in the mouth of Socrates and give it the
final dramatic position, after the love of the good, as if it were a better
While it is certainly possible that Plato has changed his mind between
one and the other of these compositions, a simpler explanation becomes
apparent when we consider the effects of this doctrine on the plot. Plato is
not trying to clarify the nature of friendship in this dialogue, but to display
Socrates' skills in manipulating the emotional attachments of the young
by means of philosophic discussion. In this context, the Aristophanic doc-
trine serves a useful function. After reaching his conclusion, Socrates turns
to the boys and asks if their friendship is not a tie of nature, a bond of be-
longing, and they agree. He suggests that if anyone feels a strong desire for
someone, that person must belong to him. Menexenus agrees; but Lysis
does not say anything. Hippothales' face radiates with joy. He is thrilled
by this surprising and fortunate turn in the argument which seems to
show that Lysis must accept him as his lover. The effect of the transition
to this model of friendship seems clear: if desire is the cause of friendship,
then Hippothales has an excellent claim to Lysis' friendship, better than
any claim the relatively indifferent Socrates might have. As we suggested
above, by moving from the one model to the other Socrates both displays
his indifference to Lysis and lends support to the cause of Hippothales.
He fulfills his role as a procurer and brings the quarry within Hippothales'
Again, at this point in the argument, there is no suggestion that the
oikeion might be the good. O n the contrary, Socrates suggests that Lysis
and Menexenus, simply because they are friends, must be somehow natu-
rally oikeioi to each other. Similarly, the boys infer that the very fact of
Hippothales' passion is enough to show that he is oikeios to Lysis irrespec-
tive of his goodness. If passion alone is the criterion of friendship, there is
no means by which to distinguish good from bad passion, and hence if the
boys wish to assume that their mutual love is a proof of their friendship,
they must assume that Hippothales' love for Lysis is no less of a proof of

Socrates does not leave Lysis completely at the mercy of Hippothales.

Just as he lightly withdraws his own claims on Lysis, so too after causing
Hippothales to rejoice he lightly invalidates his claims well, by invalidat-
ing the final explanation of friendship as we have seen. The dramatic situ-
ation may also help explain the boys' choice of an answer to Socrates' final
questions. After having been told that Hippothales' ardor implies that he
is philos to Lysis, and that Lysis must return his affections, the boys are
eager for a way out. If the good are oikeioi to everyone, Lysis might be
obligated to gratify Hippothales; but if the good are oikeioi only to the
good, and the bad to the bad, he presumably would not, for the boys
clearly view themselves and each other as much better than Hippothales.
From their point of view, this suggestion offers a way out of that troubling

The dialogue ends without a solution to the question of friendship. Before

Socrates is able to call on an older person for assistance, the boys' servants
come to take them away (223a-b). In contrast to the articulate conversa-
tion that has preceded, these servants can barely understand or speak the
Greek language. There is no question of conversing with them, and as a
result the boys must simply submit to their orders. Here, in concluding a
dialogue from which no doctrinal conclusions emerge, Plato emphasizes
the limits of logos.
As they are being led off, Socrates calls out to them,
Now, I said, Lysis and Menexenus, we have made ourselves ridiculous-I,
an old man, and you two. For after leaving, these people here will say that
we suppose ourselves to be friends of each other-for I class myself among
you-but we are unable to discover what is a friend. (223b)

Those who believe a substantial account of friendship can be found in

Lysis must take these words to contain some degree of irony: Socrates
should not include himself among those who have failed to discover what
friendship is. O n the other hand, there can be no doubt at all that the
friendship that Socrates refers to as existing between himself and the boys
is only a supposition (oiometha). The theoretical questions that have been
raised had important practical implications, even if they have been left

unanswered. We are left in doubt not only about the nature of friendship,
but also about the existence of relationships that seemed to be friendships.
Moreover, we certainly do not know what kind of relations, if any, will
develop between Lysis and Hippothales or between either of the boys and
These unanswered questions would be disturbing in a composition
which aimed at answering them. But they do not disfigure Lysis at all.
Plato has displayed Socrates' ability to manipulate the feelings and inten-
tions of beautiful young men by means of his sparkling intelligence and
has also demonstrated his indifference to those he seduced. Together, this
shows him both innocent and enviable, and infinitely superior to gentle-
men such as Hippothales.
Chapter Six
I Why Socrates Was Not a Farmer
Xenophon's Apology for Socrates
in Oeconomicus'

T he apologetic element of Xenophon's Socratic writings is far more

prominent than the apologetic aspect of Plato's. Both Memorabilia
and Apoloay make explicit mention of their apologetic aims. But
even less obviously polemic works such as Xenophon's Symposium and
Oeconomicus also address the Socratic controversy in one way or another.
Although often seen mainly as a treatise on household management,
Oeconomicus addresses one of the most prominent questions that figured
in the general controversy over the legacy of Socrates: the value of the
life of indigence, indolence and philosophy that Socrates was reputed to
have led. In order to address this question, Xenophon turns the tables on
Socrates' critics by examining and criticizing one of the most respectable
ways of life known to ancient Athenians, the life of estate-management.
While nowhere denying that this way of life is far preferable to a life of
prodigality, such as that led by Critobulus, Xenophon gently shows the
reader that in comparison with the life of philosophy as lead by Socrates
the life of estate-management is a poor second-best.'

1. An earlier version of this article was published in Greece and Rome vol. 50 no. 1, April 2003
as "Why Socrates Was Not a Farmer: Xenophon's Oeronomicus as a Philosophical Dialogue."
2. Although Xenophon often makes use of irony in his writings (for a few examples see C.
Hindley, 1999, 355-6), the Oeronomicw is not an "ironic" work in any simple sense of the
term. Rather it is "nuanced: the advice Xenophon offers through Ischomachus is genuinely
useful to all readers for whom a life of farming is advantageous, even if such a life is not the
best one. O n e may recall in this context the statement attributed to Heracleitus: "The sea is the
purest and the impurest water. Fish can drink it, and it is good for them; to men it is undrink-
able and destructive."
Oeconomicus is a guide to the art (or ~ c i e n c e of) ~ household manage-
ment, one of the most desirable arts a free man in ancient Greece could
wish to acquire (see Protagoras 319a). It is filled with practical advice on
organizing one's household and making a respectable living in fourth
century Greece. In this sense it belongs to the classical tradition of advice-
literature, a genre which includes such works as Hesiod's Works and Days,
Virgil's Georgics, and even Ovid's Art oflove. It contains advice on subjects
such as organizing one's utensils and clothing, proper methods for turning
the soil, and even beauty tips for wives. It also includes valuable advice
on inspiring devoted service from one's domestic servants. The work is of
historical value because it provides rare information about the daily life of
ancient Greece, and in particular about its women. It is also one of the first
works we know of which is devoted to the subject of economics (in its old
~ e n s e )a, ~science that takes its name from the title of this work.
But there are several features of the work which make it difficult to
conclude that it is really nothing more than a manual of practical house-
hold advice. For one thing, the advice is presented in the form of a dia-
logue. In general, when Xenophon had practical advice to offer he used a
non-dialogical form (see Cavaly Commander, On the Art of Horsemanship,
and On Hunting). Why did he adopt the dialogue form here?
Much odder is the fact that he chose Socrates as his expert in household
management. Although an impressive personality and an original thinker,
Socrates was not exactly a successful householder. By all ordinary stan-
dards, he was a miserable failure in all aspect of household management,
both financially, and in terms of the training of his wife (see Xenophon's
Symposium 2.10). In order to overcome the gross improbability of Socrates'
giving advice on this subject, Xenophon presents the bulk of his advice in
the form of a recounted conversation he once had with Ischomachus, a
respectable Athenian gentleman who could claim with more right knowl-
edge about this subject. But that only makes the problem more conspicu-
ous: why introduce Socrates in the first place?5

3. Xenophon does not distinguish rigorously between science (epistime)and art (technd, and
I follow his lead in using these terms interchangeably.
4. The original meaning of the term economic is "pertaining to household management."
5. Some might argue that by this time Socrates had become a purely literary figure, a "wise
man" capable of expounding on all subjects. But this would be to exaggerate the extent to
which the literary Socrates was divorced from the historical. The literary Socrates always retains
particular characteristics that would not characterize a standard wise man: not all wise men

Another peculiarity which raises difficulties for those who think the
work is nothing other than a practical guide to household matters is
the fact that Ischomachus, the great expert on this subject, says there
is nothing to learn about it that is not obvious and known to everyone
already (20.2-1 1). And he proves this by prodding Socrates to discover
on his own all the essentials of good farming (16.8-19.19).6 Clearly the
purpose of the book cannot be to provide advice which everyone already
knows. In order to understand this peculiar and fascinating dialogue
we need to consider first not its homely subject matter, but its dramatic

Oeconomicus is divided into two parts. Chapters 1-6 record a conversation

between Socrates and Critobulus; chapters 7-21 contain Socrates' report
to Critobulus of a previous conversation he had with Ischomachus. In
order to see the structure of the dialogue as a whole, it may be useful to
offer a summary of the contents of the book, divided according to the
present chapter divisions, bearing in mind, however, that Xenophon was
not responsible for the division into chapters:

Part One: Conversation with Critobulus

Chapter 1: Socrates convinces Critobulus that wealth is whatever is useful
to a person.
Chapter 2: Socrates convinces Critobulus that he is wealthier than he,
and agrees to introduce him to others who can teach him the
various household arts.
Chapter 3: Socrates describes successful and unsuccessful practitioners of
the various household arts.

were executed by an Athenian court, for example. Both Xenophon and Plato display the capac-
ity of using other figures to substitute for Socrates when, for one reason or another, Socrates
is not appropriate. Xenophon for example uses Simonides in Hieron, which is set in Sicily,
and Plato uses an unnamed Athenian in his Laws, set in Crete. So it is reasonable to ask why
Xenophon chose Socrates here.
6. W. K. C. Guthrie suggests (1971, 17) that here, as in Plato's Meno, we have a reference
to Socrates' own theory of recollection. For a possible explanation of Xenophon's aims, see R.
Waterfield, 2004, 103-4.

Chapter 4: Socrates describes how Cyrus, the wealthy king of Persia,

devoted himself to warfare and agriculture.
Chapter 5: Socrates speaks of the manifold benefits, including moral ben-
efits, of agricultural work.
Chapter 6: Socrates summarizes the conclusions they have agreed on and
offers to recount a previous conversation with Ischomachus.

Part Two: Previous conversation with Ischomachus

I Women's matters: Ischomachus recounts his conversation with his wife
in which he trained her to be responsible for the household:
Chapter 7: Women's responsibilities in the household.
Chapter 8: An exhortation to tidiness.
Chapter 9: How to organize a household.
Chapter 10: The use and abuse of cosmetics.

I1 Men's matters:
Chapter 11: How to earn a reputation and keep it up.
Chapter 12: Training a loyal assistant by means of rewards and punishments.
Chapter 13: Teaching an assistant how to govern others by similar means.
Chapter 14: Instilling in him honesty.

I11 Farming:
Chapter 15: Socrates requests instruction in the art of farming, and
Ischomachus responds by praising the profession and pointing
out that it is the easiest art to learn.
Chapter 16-18: Ischomachus explains how easy it is to identify good soil and
shows that Socrates already knows how to sow and reap wheat
and barley.
Chapter 19: Ischomachus shows that Socrates already knows how to cultivate
Chapter 20: The secret of success in farming: not knowledge, only hard

IV Final Remarks:
Chapter 21: The mark of a good ruler of men: the ability to inspire devorion
and hard work.

'This outline shows how the composition moves from the most theoreti-
cal to the most practical, from the question of what is wealth, to the de-
tailed discussion of how to work the land.' 'The opening chapter and the
first part of the second chapter (1-2.8) together with Ways and Means, as
well as comments made in his Symposium, Memorabilia, and Education of
Cyrus, comprise Xenophon's contribution to an evidently thriving debate
among Socratics about economic matters. Other contributions may be
found scattered in Plato's Republic and Laws, in book five of Aristotle's
Ethics and book one of his Politics, in the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias, and in
the pseudo-Aristotelian Oikonomiki.
These works raised serious questions about the nature of wealth and
the goals of economic science. Xenophon was fully aware that wealth
cannot be identified with property. In Symposium (4.34-44), for example,
his Antisthenes points out that true wealth is not a matter of mate-
rial resources, but is a spiritual or intellectual property, and he credits
Socrates as the source of his wealth (4.43). In Memorabilia (4.2.37-38)
his Socrates argues that wealth consists not in property but in the ratio
of income to expenses. And the question was raised by other Socratic
writers as
Apart from formal arguments about the nature of wealth, the Socratics
seem to have agreed in their opposition to the accumulation of unreason-
ably large amounts of property. Aristotle makes it abundantly clear that
the accumulation of property ought never be an end in itself, and seems to
imply that some form of wisdom or prudence must be involved in setting
limits to the pursuit of property (Politics 1.3.8-9). Plato's communistic
Republic shows how little importance he attached to the possession of
property. A vast amount of legislation in Laws is devoted to insuring that
no one accumulates excessive property, and the Athenian Stranger even
argues that a rich man cannot be happy (742e).9 In Memorabilia (1.6)
and in other places, Socrates defends his life of poverty as a better life
than any other. Xenophon's Cyrus distributes much of his wealth to his
friends because he believes that excess wealth is a burden (Cyr. 8.2.21). It
would be strange then if Xenophon's Socrates would offer here a purely

7. Noted by S. Porneroy, 1994, 8.

8. At a later date, the Socrates of the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias argues that happiness, not
property, is wealth (393e).
9. See G. Danzig and D. Schaps, 2001, 143-7.

conventional account of wealth, or an account of economics as the science

of accumulating property.
In fact he does not. In the opening chapters of Oeconomicus Socrates
presents philosophical arguments that undermine common assumptions
about wealth. He argues that ordinary property is not a form of wealth
(chremata) unless its owner knows how to make use of it. Knowledge is
an essential component of wealth because it transforms otherwise useless
objects into tools which serve a good purpose.1° This does not imply that
property cannot be an important component of wealth. But it does make
it clear that for someone like Critobulus, who does not know how to make
use of it, property is not a form of wealth at all. He does not need more
property, he needs more wisdom."
One has to be surprised, therefore, that Socrates ends up agreeing that
Critobulus needs more property than he has (2.1), and that he spends the
vast bulk of his time apparently offering him advice concerning how to
acquire it (see 2.18). Has Xenophon's Socrates abandoned his views about
the nature of wealth and the goals of economic science?
To understand what is going on here, we need to take into account the
dialogical (or conversational) character of Oeconomicus. As usual, Socrates
is aiming his words at the particular person with whom he is speaking.
What he says to Critobulus is not the same as what he would say to
Antisthenes, for example.12 The opening arguments have not convinced
Critobulus that he needs to seek wisdom rather than property. Socrates'
demonstration that he himself is wealthier than Critobulus only height-
ens Critobulus' desire for property, and leads him to ask for Socrates' help
in preserving and expanding his fortune.13 Rather than press his views
further, or simply refuse to offer Critobulus the help he desires, Socrates
offers to provide Critobulus with the kind of advice he seeks.
But although Socrates expresses a willingness to help Critobulus, he
continues to pursue his own aims. At first he claims that he has no knowl-
edge of the subject and would ruin Critobulus' estate if he attempted to

10. Compare Lysis 2 10b-c.

11. See also Memorabilia 4.1.5.
12. See Xenophon, Symposium 4.43. If he resembles anyone, Critobulus resembles the
hedonistic Aristippus, so it is not coincidental that the advice Socrates offers him resembles the
advice he offers Aristippus (Memorabilia 2.1).
13. See also Memorabilia 2.6.38.

gain this knowledge by practicing on it (2.1 1-14). Instead, he offers to

introduce him to others who understand the subject better than he does
(2.15-1 8). But in the end, he does not even do this.I4
Socrates is clearly not interested in providing Critobulus with the in-
formation he seeks. He exploits Critobulus' interest in finance order to
turn him towards higher things.I5 His aim is ethical rather than economic:
he wants to persuade Critobulus to adopt the healthy, humble lifestyle of
a gentleman-farmer. This is why he emphasizes in chapter four that Cyrus,
the king of Persia, worked the land with his own two hands, and why he
goes on to offer high praise for farming in chapters five and six.
But this intention is especially evident in his recounting of his lengthy
conversation with Ischomachus. Ischomachus was certainly a wealthy
man; but during the course of the conversation, Socrates demonstrates
an almost complete lack of interest in Ischomachus' money-making skills
(see 11.11). He is interested in Ischomachus because he is an example of
a real gentleman (kahdlos Fagathos), and he hopes to learn something about
his general way of life. Socrates recounts this conversation not simply to
teach Critobulus a lesson in fiscal responsibility (a subject which did inter-
est Xenophon elsewhere-see Ways and Means, Cyropaedia), but mainly in
order to direct him to a sound way of life, a life of hard work and respon-
sibility." As he says, agriculture is the most just profession: it rewards its
practitioners strictly in accordance with their efforts (5.12). But while the
efforts necessary for economic success may have educational value, wealth
is not an end worth pursuing for its own sake. So far is Socrates from pro-
moting financial advantage, that by the end of his tale he actually criticizes
Ischomachus' father on the grounds that he farms with the ulterior motive
of making a profit from the resale of the land (20.26-28).
These simple observations offer us a first insight into the reason
Xenophon chose Socrates as the main speaker in Oeconomicus, and into

14. His recounted conversation with Ischomachus fills in rhis gap to some extent.
15. A similar tactic may be seen in Socrates' discussion with rhis same Critobulus in
Memorabilia (2.6). Compare also Socrates' discussion with Glaucon in Plato's Republic: the
entire educational system which culminates in philosophy is only brought into existence
because Glaucon's demand for relishes leads Socrates to demand a professional and well-
educated army.
16. As L.-A. Dorion rightly emphasizes (2008) Ischomachus is a useful model for educating
Critobulus because he embodies one character trait that is central to Xenophon's Socrates' own
ethical teaching: enkrateia (self-control).

the nature of Oeconomicur as a whole. Socrates is appropriate not because

he has any special knowledge about household management-Xenophon
is at pains to acknowledge his incompetence in this field (2.1 1-13)-but
because he offers an ethical critique and a corrective to the economic
impulse which motivates men like Critobulus. He is engaged in an act
of genuine education: leading Critobulus away from his pecuniary inter-
ests and seeking to turn him into something better than he is at present.
And for this reason the first theoretical section is a genuine part of the
whole: together with the rest of the work, it aims to reduce Critobulus'
preoccupation with the things that money brings, and to force him, and
readers like him, to find activities worth pursuing for their own sakes.
It aims to turn Critobulus into a respectable Athenian gentleman, a real
Ischomachus. Oeconomicur is an ethical dialogue disguised as an econom-
ic treatise.

But this is not the only role Socrates is playing here, and this is not the
only message Xenophon has for his readers. After all, Socrates himself is no
Ischomachus. Far from being a respectable farmer-gentleman of the sort
whose lifestyle he is trying to sell to Critobulus, Socrates was an indolent.
He was not merely ignorant of household management, he was a living
catastrophe with respect to this art, at least as it was usually understood. If
we follow Xenophon's division of household management into two parts,
that concerned with the duties of the woman and that concerned with the
duties of the man, we can say without hesitation that Socrates was a failure
in both of its parts. He was known for his poverty, for walking barefoot,
and for never spending a day working. And he was so unsuccessful in
training his wife, that her name has become proverbial for the shrew (see
Symp. 2.10, Mem. 2.2).
So serious a failure in these areas made Socrates ineligible for the
honor and respect of his fellow-citizens and deprived him of all reason-
able claim to the title of a kahdlos k'agathos as it was commonly understood."

17. Of course, in reality, Socrates is the only true kalos k'agathos (refined gentleman: see Mem.
1.2.2-3). Contrast Carlo Natali (2001, 282) who claims that in Xenophon's view Socrates fails
to be a kalos k'ugathos, and that Ischomachus is a better model.

His bizarre lifestyle earned him the public ridicule of Aristophanes in

more than one of his plays, and this ridicule seems to have reflected wide-
spread attitudes (see for example Mem. 1.6, and Plato's Gorgias). Rather
than an appropriate symbol of the upstanding gentleman, Socrates, in
a sense, was the anti-gentleman of Athens, which is why he could serve
as the inspiration for Antisthenes and the Cynic school. The existence
of an antagonism between him and the respectable citizens of Athens
was something that both Socrates and his enemies would have gladly
acknowledged (see Phaedo 64a-b). Socrates had little respect for those
who, like Critobulus, took it for granted that their wealth and social
standing made them something worthy of envy. In Plato's Republic, for
example, Socrates challenges the wealthy Cephalus to explain the value
of his wealth (329e-331b), and presents a picture of a regime in which
men like Cephalus are virtually non-existent. Xenophon's Symposium is
designed in great part to display Socrates' superiority to his wealthy and
respected host, Callias, despite his poverty. It is difficult to imagine, then,
that Xenophon used Socrates in order to praise a way of life he com-
pletely avoided.
Socrates appears here not because of his abilities as a householder or
his status as a respectable gentleman, but precisely because he was so far
from all that. The most serious theme of the Oeconomicus is not, in fact,
Socrates' effort to turn Critobulus into an Ischomachus, but rather the
investigation of the mutual antagonism between Socrates the philosopher
and Ischomachus the respectable citizen of Athens. As Xenophon will
try to show, and despite appearances to the contrary, far from being an
economic failure, Socrates' approach to household management actually
made him an eminently successful manager of his own affairs, and one
more worthy of the title of kalos k'agathos than his rivals.
There is nothing surprising about attributing a loosely apologetic
motive to Oeconomicus. As we have seen, Xenophon's other Socratic writ-
ings (Apology, Memorabilia and even Symposium) contain apologetic ele-
ments, and apologies for Socrates even appear in Xenophon's major non-
Socratic works: Cyropaedia, Anabasis and Hellenica. All of this makes it
extremely reasonable to suppose that the Oeconomicus too is designed, in
part, to confront one of the charges against Socrates: the charge that he
was a miserable failure as a householder.
The importance of apologetics in this work is made clearest in chapter

eleven, where Ischomachus says that he spends a great deal of time prepar-
ing for his own self-defense (1 1.2 1-25). The words he uses both recall those
used by Socrates (Apology 2-3) and indicate the vast difference between the
two: while both men claim to have spent their entire lives preparing their
defenses, Socrates meant this in a figurative sense-that his whole life was
an act of justice-and did not mean that he wasted even one moment ac-
tually writing a speech. Ischomachus, on the other hand, says quite clearly
that he spends a large amount of time practicing speeches for his inevitable
day in court. We are invited to wonder which of the two spent his time in a
more enviable manner.''
It is earlier in this same chapter that Xenophon makes the charge
against Socrates explicit:
How could I justly correct a man who is a perfect gentleman? I asked. For
I am considered a chatterer and a measurer of the air, and am even called-
the most ridiculous insult of all-a pauper! I would be very depressed about
this insult, Ischomachus, if I had not recently bumped into the new horse
of Nicias the foreigner. I saw many spectators walking after the horse, and
I heard some of them having a long discussion about it. So I went up to
the horse-keeper and asked him if the horse had much money. He looked
at me as though I were insane to be asking that, and said, "How could a
horse have money?" I was encouraged when I heard that it is permissible
for a horse to be good if its spirit is by nature a good one. Since, then, it is
permissible also for me to become a good man, give me a complete account
of your activities, so that I can try myself to imitate you starting tomorrow
in whatever I am able to learn from listening to you. (1 1.3-6)

Socrates does not deny here that he is a pauper, but only that the title is
one of disgrace. One can hear in these words a not so subtle attack on
those who think that possessions are a crucial component of happiness,
and at the same time a first line of defense: Socrates claims that neither
money nor a lack of money make one a good or a bad person. Here he
goes beyond what he said in the opening of the work, claiming no longer
that possessions are worthless without knowledge, but that they are not
necessary at all.

18. For a Socratic view of litigiousness see above chapter three on Euthyphro and Republic

But this is not the only defense Xenophon has to offer, and it is not
the main thrust of Oeconomicus. A second line of defense opens up when
we consider a comment that Socrates makes in Symposium. There he
claims that of all his accomplishments he is most proud of his ability as
a pimp (3.10). He says that although he has never actually made use of
this skill he could have made a lot of money if he had. Later he explains
that pimping means teaching others how to present themselves before
their fellow citizens, and especially before the city (4.60). This mildly
funny joke is designed to address charges of incompetence raised against
Socrates. The claim that he "could have if he had wanted to" appears also,
at least implicitly, in Xenophon's Apology (I), where Xenophon argues that
Socrates' failure in court was the result of a deliberate strategy designed to
achieve an easy and pleasant death before the onset of senility.19He could
have won had he wanted to, but he knew that it was better for him to die.
Far from being incompetent, Socrates knew very well how to handle his
appearance in court.
Similarly, in Oeconomicus Xenophon argues that Socrates was in fact a
skilled household manager. In chapter two, Xenophon argues that even on
almost conventional grounds, Socrates was a more successful householder
than some of the richest men in Athens. This is because the true measure
of wealth is not the amount of property one possesses, but the degree of
one's financial solvency: the ratio between income and expenses (2.4-8;
see Mem. 4.2.37-38). Since Socrates had such low expenses, he was actu-
ally wealthier, in an almost conventional sense, than rich men such as
Critobulus, who were burdened with public responsibilities. Critobulus
is good enough to acknowledge that Socrates, poor as he may seem to
be, is a better financial planner than he himself is. He is convinced that if
Socrates were in his position, he would do a much better job of balancing
the books than he himself has done, and he invites Socrates to take charge
of his household (2.9).
Xenophon goes still further in this odd line of argument. Socrates
was not only an expert in balancing the books, not only a good poten-

19. It also appears in Plato's Republic, where Socrates argues that any true philosopher is
born with the skills for a successful political career, and that he himself only devoted himself to
philosophy because his daimonic voice prevented him from entering politics ( 4 9 6 ~ )See . also
Aristotle's Politics, 1259a, where a similar claim is made on behalf of ?hales, and implicitly all

tial manager, but he was also deeply knowledgeable about the details of
running a household.20This claim is much less plausible than the previous
one, since Socrates never demonstrated anything resembling ability in this
area, and never ran a successful household in practice (2.11-13). In order
to make it plausible, Xenophon has to provide a convincing and reputable
outside source for Socrates' knowledge, and this he does: Socrates learned
all about household management from a conversation he had with the
wealthy gentleman, Ischomachus. Although he did not discover the art on
his own, nor practice it himself, his widely ridiculed chattering paid rich
dividends when it brought him into close conversation with this gentle-
man. As a result of that conversation, Socrates does indeed know all one
needs to know about this subject. Had he wanted to, he could have put
this knowledge into practice for himself: after all, he is still able, on the
basis of this ancient conversation, to offer good practical advise, useful to
men with more experience than himself such as Critobulus.

But this entire line of reasoning only opens up a more troubling and
genuinely philosophical question: if Socrates really had these abilities,
why didn't he use them? Why did he choose a life of poverty when
he could have been a successful householder or pimp? This question is
serious because it implies that Socrates chose his life of poverty deliber-
ately, and hence it places before us the unpleasant suggestion that a life
of Socratic poverty might be somehow better for a human being, better
for us, than any alternative. And who would want to believe that? This
is the central question of the dialogue, and it is the central issue of eco-
nomics as Xenophon understands it. Economics is not simply the art of
managing one's household finances, it is the art of managing all aspects
of one's personal life.21It includes not only managing finances, but also

20. Compare the opening chapters of the third book of Memorabilia, where Xenophon
demonstrates Socrates' knowledge of the details of military science.
21. Economics is understood here (but contrast Mem. 3.1.12) in opposition to politics, as
the management of private rather than public affairs. Aristotle has a similar conception. After
defining prudence as the ability to deliberate about what is good and useful for oneself, he
distinguishes between the ability to perceive one's own good and the ability to perceive the
good for men in general. He seems to refer to those with the former ability as economic experts,
and the latter as political experts (Ethics6.5.5, especially 1140b8-11). See also Plato's Apology

comparing the value of time spent making money with the value of time
spent living. And in this sense, Socrates was an economic genius.22
'The centrality of this issue can be seen if we consider again the pecu-
liar dramatic structure of Oeconomicus. 'The fact that Socrates re-tells his
former encounter with Ischomachus to Critobulus invites us to consider
that encounter from two entirely different points of view. As we have ob-
served, the conversation is presented to Critobulus for its helpful teach-
ings on household management and gentlemanly behavior. It is designed
to provide him with a good model, Ischomachus, whom he might really
strive to imitate. But that was not the purpose that Socrates had in mind
when he first approached Ischomachus. Socrates' purpose in speaking
with Ischomachus was not to learn the household arts, or even to learn to
become a gentleman, but to find out whether Ischomachus really was a
gentleman or not, and to decide whether or not his was a life he ought to
imitate (see 11.6).
Socrates interviewed Ischomachus after having been disappointed with
all the previous candidates he had interviewed (6.12-17). And just as he
considered and rejected the lives of the others, so too it is obvious that
Socrates considered and rejected Ischomachus' way of life. His conversation
with Critobulus took place years after his conversation with Ischomachus,
and yet Socrates still has not acquired any personal experience in running
a household, and still has to refer back to Ischomachus as the source of all
his knowledge in this area.23Even during the conversation Ischomachus
attempts to excuse himself early, apparently out of disinterest (12.1; see
also 1 1.1 1). What, then, is wrong with I s c h o m a ~ h u s ? ~ ~
Socrates' ultimate critique of Ischomachus is indicated from the begin-
ning in his interest in knowing how Ischomachus has earned the reputa-
ti or^^^ for being a gentleman (6.12-17; 7.2-3). The earning of a reputation

23b-c. The related term oikeios refers not merely to things connected with the household, but
to anything that is one's own.
22. Similarly, the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias offers a definition of wealth according to
which Socrates was a wealthy man. See also Antisthenes' speech in Xenophon's Symposium
23. See L. Strauss, 1975, 124, J. A. Stevens, 213
24. For a more extensive analysis of the critique of Ischomachus see W Ambler, 1996.
25. At first he refers to Ischomachus as one who truly deserves to be called a kalos hgathos (a
gentleman; 6.12). But this is only his ironic initial judgement, and it must be modified in light
of the conversation as a whole. See J. A. Stevens, 212, including note 9.

is not the same thing as the pursuit of excellence (aret?).26The two may
even be in conflict, insofar as the devotion to one's reputation requires the
abandonment of the pursuit of excellence itself. Reputation is often based
on the acquisition of things like excessive property, which are not worth
bothering about. Socrates was surely, in Xenophon's eyes at least, a man of
virtue, but he had not exerted himself to acquire a reputation for it.27
Socrates' first question to Ischomachus already expresses his funda-
mental criticism of Ischomachus' whole way of life:
W h y d o you sit like this Ischomachus? You d o n o t usually sit around
unoccupied. I n general I see you busy at something, o r at least n o t completely
at leisure i n t h e market-place. (7.1)

The question is superficially insulting, challenging Ischomachus to account

for his present irresponsible activity. It contains also an implied compli-
ment: Ischomachus' present laziness is totally uncharacteristic of him.
And yet, when we reflect that spending leisure-time in the market place
was precisely what Socrates did do all day, we may suspect that there is a
note of challenge precisely in that friendly implication. Is it really better
to be, like Ischomachus, a slave to all kinds of serious responsibilities, as
Socrates imp lie^?^' O r is it not a shame that Ischomachus was so rarely at
leisure, so rarely free, like Socrates, in the market-place?
?he conversation recorded in Oeconomicus obviously could never have
taken place if Ischomachus had gone about his daily routine on this day
as he did on most other days. Even on this occasion his leisure is only the
unfortunate result of the fact that he has been stood up by some guests
whom he had agreed to meet here (7.2). In order not to break his promise

26. A clear recognition of the gap between the reputation for virtue and the possession of it
can be found, for example, in the speeches of Glaucon and Adeimantus in book two of Plato's
27. His close friends, and even his later enemies, could, however, acknowledge his virtue. See
Lykon's comment in Symposium
&- (9.1)
28. It is true that in summarizing his conversation with Critobulus, Socrates praises farming
for, among other things, leaving the greatest amount of leisure for taking care of one's philoi
(which includes one's family) and one's city (6.9). But this is only in comparison with other
occupations, which leave still less (4.3). And Socrates does not say that farming leaves time for
philosophizing, or whatever it is that Socrates himself is occupied with, but only for taking
care of one's friends and one's city. As it turns out, farming does make extreme demands on the
time of its practitioners (5.4). Aristotle regards farming as inimical to virtue precisely because
it is so time-consuming (see e.g. Politics 1328b41-1329a2).

to them he is forced to wait for them in vain in the market place during
the entire course of his conversation with Socrates (12.1-2)." Socrates is
impressed by this devotion to duty: "By Zeus, you take very strong pre-
cautions not to lose that title of 'gentleman' that people have given you."
This is emblematic of Ischomachus' whole problem: he is enslaved to his
name. And it also shows paradoxically that he would never be at leisure if
he were not obliged to be so.
There is something admirable about Ischomachus' devotion to duty;
but his lack of leisure is a serious matter. Leisure was not only a valued
feature of anyone's life in at hen^,^' it had a particularly high status among
the Socratics. For Aristotle all good legislation aims to inculcate an ability
to make good use of l e i ~ u r e .Xenophon's
~' Antisthenes says that his most
valuable possession is the leisure he has to spend with Socrates (Symp.
4.44). Charmides notes that the prime advantage of being poor is that
one can spend one's time with Socrates without being subject to criti-
cism (Symp. 4.32). Xenophon himself says quite clearly that nothing is
better than spending time with this great man (Mem. 4.1.1 ; see Ap. 34).
And Xenophon's Socrates takes great pride in his opportunities for leisure
(Mem. 1.6). O n this particular day, Ischomachus has had the great good
fortune of running into Socrates when he had time to converse with him.
But the event was a rare, and from his point of view unfortunate, ac-
cident, and there are few signs that he made any good use of the oppor-
tunity. Rather than learning anything from Socrates, he gives him a long
lecture on household management. And there is no reason to think that
his meeting with Socrates inspired any change in him at any later date.
Ischomachus does invite Socrates to offer him any criticism he can;
but when Socrates declines to do so, pointing out that it would be inap-
propriate for someone with a reputation as poor as his own to offer criti-
cisms to a perfect gentleman such as Ischomachus (1 1.2-3), Ischomachus
accepts the compliment without a second thought. And yet, there is
clearly a good deal of irony in Socrates' words. After all, if Socrates was
not known for challenging the lives of others, what was he known for?

29. Incidentally, this vain wait also demonstrates that Ischomachus' theories about how to
arrange meetings are ineffective (see 8.23).
30. See for example Isocrates, Antidosis, 39, and Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.6.4, where again
Critobulus is Socrates' interlocutor.
31. Politics, 7.14.12-22: 1333a30-1334a10; 8.3: 1338a.

And in any case, Socrates proceeds shortly thereafter to argue, humorously

but still seriously, that wealth is absolutely unnecessary for a man who
wants to be good (1 1.5-6). Here (1 1.7) as elsewhere (13.4, 17.10, 20.19)
in the dialogue, Ischomachus gets the distinct impression that Socrates is
making fun of him. And there are other criticisms as well, none of which
Ischomachus seems to take to heart: for example, Socrates does not accept
Ischomachus' claim that !greediness is a good quality in a potential assis-
tant (12.15-16).32
Socrates wants to know how Ischomachus has earned his great reputa-
tion. It quickly becomes evident that he has done so through undergoing
some not-too-pleasant ordeals. The necessity to waste his time waiting in
vain for his irresponsible (or uninterested?) guests is only the beginning
of Ischomachus' troubles. He suffers from all the troubles that beset the
wealthy and privileged in Athens (see also 2.5-8 and Xenophon's Symp.
4.29-45). He is forced to fund expensive city expenditures (7.3), and is
constantly in danger of legal proceedings (1 1.21-25), motivated undoubt-
edly by the desire to win a share of his wealth. He has been beaten by his
own supposedly well-trained wife in some undisclosed domestic squabble
(1 1.25), a fact which seems to cast doubt on the reputed virtues of those
who, unlike Xanthippe, appeared to be virtuous wives. Like Socrates (see
Ap. 1.2-3), he has spent his whole life in preparing his legal defense, but
unlike him, he has not relied on his righteous way of life as his defense,
but has actually had to waste his time preparing speeches for the court,
both defense speeches and speeches for the prosecution. This was some-
thing that Socrates certainly never did (see above, chapter one). Worst
of all, because of his decency and honesty, he seems doomed to lose
his case (1 1.25). We may note the fact, not necessarily admirable, that
Ischomachus' concern with financial success has led him to hold out great
promises of reward to his subordinates, including the possibility that his
wife might enslave him (7.42),of which her successful prosecution of him
may be a partial fulfillment.
But despite all his efforts to succeed and secure a good name,
Ischomachus is quite surprised-and remains sceptical-to hear that some
people do actually call him a gentleman (7.3). He is not used to such treat-

32. Bur see Memorabilia 3.1.10, where Socrates adopts Ischomachus' opinion, and compare
Memorabilia 2.6.3.

ment (7.3; 11.21; compare Symp. 4.3). If all his efforts bear such paltry
fruit, are we not compelled to wonder just how successful Ischomachus
was after all?
But perhaps the saddest thing is the fact that Ischomachus' success
as a householder is not due to any great virtue or intellectual skill (as
Socrates naively supposes at 15.3), but merely to his untiring hard work
and effort, a subject which he is not at all eager to discuss.33 While
proud of his successes, Ischomachus is not interested in speaking about
the nitty-gritty details of his life as a farmer. He prefers to offer general
praises of his way of life, or to describe the manifold benefits he reaps
from his activities (1 1.9-20). Socrates has to push him into it, insisting
that he not skip over the details of farming through laziness (15.1-3;
15.6-9; 15.13). Ischomachus replies with broad praise of his profession,
but with very few details (15.4; 15.10-12), a reaction which reminds
one of Polus' reaction to Socrates' ultimately embarrassing questions
about the nature of Gorgias' profession (Gorgias447c-449a).
O f his many activities, he is proudest to speak about his ability to
inspire loyal obedience in others. This was implicit in his recounting of
his conversation with his wife, and it is one of the first themes he discusses
at length in connection with his own responsibilities as a farmer (12; see
15.5), and the last to which he returns at the end of the conversation
(21). It is important for him to point out that he has an assistant who is
perfectly capable of taking care of the farm when he is not there. But this
only implies that when he is there, it is he who does the work. And, as he
admits when pressed, the best way to get things done is to be there your-
self (12.19-20). So despite the fact that he spends so much time speaking
about his successful training of assistants (if we include his wife, chapters
7-10 and 12-14), Socrates manages to get him to admit that, in the end,
assistants are really not sufficient.
Ultimately, Ischomachus is forced to set this subject aside, as he was
forced earlier to omit speaking about money-making (1 1.9-1 I), and to
speak directly about the actual work of farming. He is surprised that
Socrates is seriously interested in this subject: "Are you asking, Socrates,
that I teach you the art of farming itself?" 34 TOthis Socrates responds,

33. O n the desirability of reducingponos (hard work) see for example Isocrates' Euagoras, 45.
34. Compare Aristorle, who forgoes offering detailed farming advice on the grounds
Yes, for it seems t o b e a n art which makes those w h o k n o w it rich, while
those w h o d o n o t k n o w it live a n impoverished existence, even if they work
hard. (15.3)

At this point in the conversation, Socrates still supposes that there might
be something to learn about this subject, and that lots of hard work is not
the only recipe for success.
Ischomachus makes one last attempt to avoid this discussion by ex-
plaining that there is really nothing to learn about it (15.10-12), but to
no avail: Socrates points out that its ease of learning only makes it more
imperative that Ischomachus teach him (15.13). So he is forced to de-
scribe the dirty, grubby work he is involved with every day of his life.
He maintains throughout that there is really no special skill or learning
involved in this sort of work (1 1.10-12; 22.2-5), and attacks those who
make farm-work into a more complicated business than it really is (16.1).
The only difficulty, as Ischomachus says repeatedly, is actually getting out
there and doing the work (20; see 2.1 8). You won't find anyone who ran
his farm down because he did not know how to sow seeds evenly: the
usual explanation is pure laziness (20.2-5). In Ischomachus' view it is dili-
gence (epimeleia) which is most necessary (the word and its derivatives
occur at least 58 times in Oeconomicus) and it is precisely for this reason
that Ischomachus has no leisure.35

that although valuable to farmers it would be tedious to actually dicuss it (Politics 1.1 1:
35. Dorion (2008) points out that Socrates himself recommends epimeleia (effort) frequently
in Memorabilia and argues that this together with the concern for enkrateia (self-mastery)
represents common ground between the two men (note 62, p. 270). There is a difference,
however, between recommending hard work to others and doing it yourself. The Socrates of
Xenophon, no less than his Platonic counterpart, spends most of his time in leisure activities.
In both economic and political matters, Socrates prefers to get others to do the work, and
as a result he makes use of enkrateia in a very different way from that of Ischomachus: while
Ischomachus uses it to endure a life of hard work, Socrates uses it to reduce his need for mate-
rial goods and the labor they require. Even in his teaching to others in Memorabilia, where
we find Socrates at his most conventional, Socrates differs from Ischomachus concerning the
objects for which effort and exertion should be made. H e rarely recommends tpimekia in
connection with hard physical work, speaking instead of exerting oneself to do what is right
or needful (1.2.22; 4.5.7) or what is noble (1.3.11, 2.1.20, see 4.5.10). In one place he refers
to the fact that his own way of life leaves him much leisure to take care of (epimeleisthai) his
friends and city (1.6.9), thus denigrating the lives of his hard-working neighbors. Only once
does he refer positively to ponou kai epimekias, and this is in a discussion with Aristippus who
displays some of the same weaknesses displayed by Critobulus (2.1.28). In sum, the verbal
similarity between Socrates and Ischomachus on the importance of epimeleia should not dis-
guise the serious differences between their views on the proper objects of such effort and exer-

Even Socrates, who has never spent a moment involved in farming,

is led by Ischomachus to recognize that he already has all the essential
knowledge necessary (e.g. 16.8; 18.10). Here, in the mundane details of
good farming practices, we find, at last, grounds for agreement between
the two men on such questions as whether it is best to wear thick garments
in cold weather (17.3), what is the proper treatment of fallow (17.1) and
when is the best time to plant grain (17.6). Anyone would be able to agree
about these things.
It is true that Ischomachus had claimed that the life of farming provides
many benefits other than financial ones (1 1.9-20; see also chapter 5 ) . And
he consistently praises his own life of hard work. But he freely admits that
he always praises whatever it is that he has decided to do (1 1.24). And in
the end Socrates is able to show that farming is not really an activity one
would choose for its own sake. He points out that Ischomachus' father,
from whom he acquired his own love of farming, was really a kind of
merchant-farmer, working not for love of work, but for love of the money
to be had from improving and reselling real-estate (20.27-8). In reply,
Ischomachus can only say that Socrates must be joking (20.29). 'These are
Socrates' last words on the subject of farming. The only thing he has left
to do is to praise Ischomachus for the rhetorical skill with which he has
presented his case (21.1).
From all we have said, the indictment of Ischomachus is clear enough.
'There is something admirable, but also something pitiful and futile, in
Ischomachus' untiring efforts to maintain a good name, efforts that come
at the expense of the leisure which Socrates enjoys. 'The lengthy descrip-
tions of the actual techniques of farming are surely designed to be useful
to those, such as Critobulus, for whom this is really a worthwhile way of
spending one's life. But at the same time, by laying forth in such detail the
real objects that must occupy Ischomachus' mind from day to day, they do
not make his life seem particularly enviable.

tion. For Socrates, effort and exertion should be made in areas which are fitting to a noble and
free individual, in other words in leisure activities (see Symp. 2.4; see Aristotle on the impor-
tance of limiting money-making activities [Politics 1.9.13-18: 1257b23-1258a181). Although
Dorion recognizes the difference between Socrates' and Ischomachus' "economic" methods,
and the superiority of Socrates' methods, his underestimation of the importance of leisure and
his assumption that the two men are to be compared only in their respective contributions
to the city, makes it impossible for him to explain why Socrates chooses his path over that of

Socrates managed his household on very different principles. He never

seems to have spent much time on farming. He does not often advise
others to do so either. In Memorabilia, Socrates says that anyone who
wants to be a farmer needs to make use of divination (1.1.6-8; see also
Oec. 8.16, 11.8, 11.13). While it is possible to learn all the skills involved
in farming from human beings the gods keep to themselves the most im-
portant information: whether or not one will actually benefit from the
crops in the end. He says the same thing here in Oeconomicus (5.18-20).
Socrates' attitude towards farming resembles his attitude towards the
unfortunate military campaign into Persia which Xenophon undertook
(Anab. 3.1.4-8). In both cases he advises not to proceed without a sure
sign from the gods. 'This theme is repeated throughout Xenophon's treat-
ment of military and agricultural endeavors (e.g. Cyr. 1.6.1-4). Farmers
who act without consulting the gods, like soldiers who do so, make a
fundamental error: overly confident about the predictability of the future,
they fail to appreciate that farming, like soldiering, is a gamble. In fact it is
not just farming and soldiering which require divine assistance, all practi-
cal activities require the assistance of the gods if they are to prosper (Mem.
1.1.7; see Oec. 7.7-8), which is presumbly one reason why Socrates did
none of them.36If Ischomachus expects that all his efforts will pay off in
the end, he has a lot to learn about practical activity in general and about
household management in particular.
In fact he failed miserably, as we happen to know from other sources. In
a speech called On the Mysteries, delivered in the year 399 B.C., Andocides
speaks of Callias the son of Hipponicus as having married the daughter of
Ischomachus (124). 'This Callias is the Callias of Xenophon's Symposium
(and Plato's Protagoras), and this Ischomachus appears to be the same as
the Ischomachus of Xenophon's Oeconornicu~.~' According to Andocides,
Callias sent his young wife away and began living with her mother,
Chrysilla, the former wife of Ischomachus (whom we meet in chapters 7-

36. Note the sailor's skeptical comments about the care gods provide for human beings at
8.16. He draws the conclusion that he had better make extensive preparations, and not rely on
the gods. But Socrates knows better the limits of human effort. It is not clear from the narrative
that Ischomachus mentioned this interchange to his wife: at 8.1 1 he turns directly to Socrates,
and he only returns to the conversation with his wife at 8.17.
37. Argued by J. K. Davies, 264-8.

10 of Oeconomicus). The daughter subsequently tried to commit suicide.

After some time, Callias sent the mother away as well and attempted to
deny his paternity of her child. While Callias is clearly the chief villain
in this story, it is not altogether complimentary to Chrysilla either. This
scandal must have erased any good name that Ischomachus and his family
could have earned p r e v i o u ~ l y . ~ ~
In addition to this family embarrassment, it appears that Ischomachus
lost the vast proportion of his wealth.39This would have made it seem
doubly odd to readers that Xenophon should have chosen Ischomachus
and his family as his models of good, respectable and successful people.
We have asked why in the world Xenophon chose Socrates as the leading
figure in a work on household management; but we are compelled to ask
also why in the world he chose Ischomachus as the model of a successful
householder? This question is particularly difficult for commentators who
believe that Ischomachus is presented as an unambiguous model for imi-
tation, and it is understandable that the facts of Ischomachus' biography
are usually omitted from their accounts. But from our point of view, the
explanation seems obvious: by using Ischomachus Xenophon points out
that, in addition to all the other drawbacks of his way of life, the kind
of success Ischomachus had achieved is not very reliable.*' Socrates, who
enjoyed every day of his life, and achieved the easiest and most convenient
death possible (Ap. 7-8; Mem. 4.8.8-lo), seems to have managed his life
much better than his more conventional acquaintance.
We may contrast the lesson of the dialogue with the lesson of Aesop's
famous fable about the ant and the cicada (Babrius 140). While Aesop
shows the advantage of the ant's efforts in preparing for the future,
Xenophon presents a more complex picture. He shows not only the
wisdom of the ant, but also that of the cicada. In Xenophon's view, an
entire life spent preparing for winter is hardly a life worth living, par-
ticularly since there is no guarantee that the fruits of such effort will ever
be gathered.

38. The role that Ischomachus' daughter played in the scandal may be reflected in the odd
fact that Ischomachus offers no discussion of the raising of children. Xenophon arranges to
avoid the subject by recounting a discussion with his wife that occurred before they had any
children (7.12).
39. See J. K. Davies, 266-268, J. A. Stevens, 217-223.
40. See J. A. Stevens, 214-223. For other explanations see F. D. Harvey, D. C. Mackenzie,
and D. Nails, 1985; see also S. Pomeroy 261-4.

In his concern for wealth, reputation and household matters, and in his
willingness to devote his time to pursuing these while displaying no inter-
est in the pursuits of leisure, Ischomachus is the anti-Socrates. For this
reason, it is somewhat odd to note that some scholars have thought that
Ischomachus is to be identified with Xenophon.*l The reasons for such
statements are of course not so difficult to see: Xenophon did not lead
the life of an impoverished philosopher, but that of a successful soldier
and commander, and later a wealthy estate-owner and writer-apologist.
His own life resembled that of Ischomachus much more than that of
It is not just these bare biographical facts which distinguish Xenophon
from Socrates. In his own writings, Xenophon portrays himself as an im-
perfect follower of the great master. In only two places does Xenophon
portray a discussion between himself and Socrates, and on both occasions
Socrates reprimands him severely. In Memorabilia (1.3.8-13), Xenophon
expresses sympathy for Critobulus (the same Critobulus whom Socrates
educates in Oeconomic~s)~~ for kissing beautiful young boys. Socrates calls
Xenophon a wretch if he does not realize how dangerous it is to do such a
thing (see also Symp. 4.25-6). In Anabasis (3.1.4-7) Xenophon approaches
Socrates to ask his advice about entering the service of Cyrus as a soldier
of fortune. Socrates regards this as a very questionable proposition, and
sends Xenophon to the Oracle in Delphi to ask whether it would be a
good idea or not. Xenophon, apparently worried that he might get a nega-
tive answer, merely asks the Oracle which gods he should propitiate before
setting out, a course of action that earned him Socrates' severe reprimand.
Why does Xenophon immortalize these exchanges?
O n a simple reading, these conversations show that Xenophon was
not a model student and did not adhere to the path Socrates recom-
mended to him. This does not of course imply that Xenophon rejected
Socrates' way. Although Xenophon did not live as Socrates, he seems
nevertheless to have recognized the superiority of Socrates' way. Much

41. See E. C. Marchant, iv, xxiv, xxvi; G. C. Field, 138.

42. For this and other reasons, some have argued that Critobulus represents Xenophon; this
is surely no more fanciful than the assumption that Ischomachus does. See J. A. Stevens, 21 1,
n. 8.

in Xenophon's writing suggests that he recognized that Socrates was in

the right, and he himself in the wrong, both in regard to the kissing of
young boys, and in regard to the decision to go to war. Xenophon often
highlights the dangers of contact with beautiful young people (see e.g.
Cyr. 5.1.12); and, as is well known, the military expedition with Cyrus
was unsuccessful, with the Greek mercenaries barely managing to orga-
nize a successful retreat back to Greece. As a result of the expedition,
and of Xenophon's further involvement with the largely Spartan merce-
nary army, Xenophon was later exiled from Athens, which is precisely
what Socrates had warned him against (Anab. 3.1.5). As Xenophon says,
Socrates gave excellent advice, and "those who listened to him pros-
pered while those who did not regretted it" (Mem. 1.1.4). In all of his
Socratic writings, there is praise for Socrates, and almost no hint of any
criticism of him. So to say that Xenophon disagrees with Socrates and
prefers the views of Ischomachus would be a rather odd conclusion.
Although Xenophon did not always listen to Socrates, and did not adopt
his extreme way of life, he does not take pride in that fact. He seems
rather to acknowledge his mistakes, and to recognize that on the whole
Socrates lived a better life than he did himself. If he is an Ischomachus,
he is a regretful one.
O n the other hand, it is hard to imagine that Xenophon wrote
Oeconomicus as a parody of his own way of life. 'The book is filled with
clever practical advice that Xenophon clearly thinks is valuable for those
who choose as he did to run a household. And it may even be that in
this, what may be the last of his Socratic writings, he was willing to voice
some reservations about Socrates. If Socrates criticizes Ischomachus
throughout the work, it is also true that Ischornachus gets in a few good
shots at Socrates. He seems to ridicule (anachronistically) Socrates' later
efforts to train Critobulus by saying that only diligent people can train
others to be diligent (12.17-18). H e seems to poke fun at Socrates when
he says that bad servants should be given inferior clothes (13.10), of the
sort, presumably, that Socrates would have been wearing throughout the
conversation (see Mem. 1.6). And in the rather heated final portion of
the discussion, he says that those who do not know any money-making
occupation clearly intend to live by thievery, by robbery or by begging

(20.15),43 the kind of accusation which Aristophanes made against

Socrates in the Clouds (177-9).**
These are serious charges, and if Socrates was able to ignore them,
Xenophon was not. If Oeconomicusis in some sense an apology for Socrates'
way of life, before the court of public opinion, it is also, to a lesser degree,
an apology for Xenophon's way of life, before the higher court of Socrates'
opinion. In the central chapter of the work, chapter eleven, Xenophon
offers the most direct confrontation between the two ways of life he is
considering. Here Socrates asks the question rather directly:
And when I heard this, I asked, "Do you really want to be wealthy and
to bear all the troubles which come from possessing great wealth?" "Yes,
I do very much," said Ischomachus, "for it seems quite pleasant, Socrates,
to honor the gods beautifully, to help one's friends in time of need, and
to make sure that the city is not lacking in ornamentation so far as it is
dependent o n me." "The things you say are quite noble, Ischomachus," I
said, "and befitting a powerful man. This is undeniable. For some people
are not able to survive without relying on others, and many are sat-
isfied if they are able to provide enough for themselves. But those who
are able not only to manage their own households, but also to produce
surplus which enables them to ornament the city and support their
friends, how could one not regard them as deep and powerful men?"
(1 1.9-10)

Although Socrates acknowledges here a degree of truth in Isocrates' words,

a close look shows that he is actually quite sparing in his praise. Socrates
does not agree that one needs money in order to honor the gods (see
Mem. 1.3.3-4, Symp. 4.49), and he does not agree that Ischomachus' life is
pleasant. Nor does he agree that the ability to accomplish !good things for
one's friends and city is a mark of virtue, calling it rather a sign of depth
(batheis) and power.45But he does agree that there is nobility in the effort

43. It is this that prompts Socrates to insult Ischomachus' father.

- -

43. As Dorion points out (2008, 265), there may be a similar jab in Critobulus' question
whether good wives are educated by their husbands, to which Socrates cannot respond by
offering his own wife as an example of a successfully trained wife, but rather offers to intro-
duce him to Aspasia.
45. S. Pomeroy quite rightly sees in Socrates' response "an element of tongue-in-cheek
humour" (1994, 310). Although also acknowledging some irony here, C. Natali argues that
Socrates here sincerely recognizes Ischomachus' skills as an administrator and concludes that

to do so, and that those who succeed in this must be powerful men, even
if he does not say they must be good ones.
As we know, Xenophon never had a chance to speak with Socrates
again, after his ill-fated campaign into Persia. In Ischomachus' reply, and
in Socrates' qualified acknowledgement of the power of his words, we
may hear something of Xenophon's belated apology to his beloved teacher
and request for his sympathetic understanding. 'The pride in being able
to support and help one's family, friends, and city, was something that
Xenophon could not easily set to one side, even if, on a good day, he could
recognize that this sort of pride is false. When Socrates responds that there
is some truth in his words, Xenophon may feel that he has finally been
granted (or has granted himself) the quasi-approval of the man he admired
above all else, but whose way of life was too difficult for him to adopt for
his own. In a sense, then, the Oeconomicus contains both a Xenophontic
apology for Socrates, and a Socratic apology for Xenophon.

Ischomachus is in fact a better model for Critobulus than Socrates (2001, 284). He bases
this on his own critique of Socrates: "En rkalitk un pauvre ne peut Ctre utile i la citt autant
qu'un riche; c'est pourquoi I'on ne peut gkntraliser le modPle de vie de Socrate; si tous les
citoyens ktaient comme Socrate, la polis ne pourrait survivre" (282). But this point of view is
not expressed by Xenophon anywhere in the Oeconomicw, or elsewhere. O n the contrary, he
continuously says that Socrates was more useful to his fellow citizens than anyone else. The
assumption that a model needs to be generalizable in order to be valid is not compelling, and it
is not affirmed by Xenophon. Even if a city of Socratics is unviable, one would still be justified
in holding up Socrates as a model to all, as long as one can assume that human nature would
not permit an entire citizen body to adopt the model fully and that imperfect efforts to ap-
proximate it would be beneficial. The question whether or not a city of Socratic philosophers
would be viable is an interesting one whose answer would require a fuller discussion, including
among other questions a consideration of how much production would be required to supply
their needs, how much productive activity would be compatible with the Socratic way of life
and how many slaves would be available for production.

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