97. Apology by Xenophon (c.370 BC)


Xenophon reports on what he has heard from Hermogenes regarding Socrates’ thoughts and words before, during and after his court appearance (Xenophon being away on the service of Cyrus as he describes in his work The Anabasis

My library copy of Xenophon’s minor works is missing the first page of the Apology (no sign of forced removal so perhaps it was a binding error back in 1888, a little late now to secure a refund). Instead, for the first time in this literary odyssey I have relied on an online copy from Project Gutenberg   http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1171/1171-h/1171-h.htm   (found via the Great Books site http://www.grtbooks.com/ )

My thoughts:

Although covering ground already discussed by Plato (Phaedo / Crito   /  Apology ) and Xenophon himself (Memorabilia Socratis ), this version of Socrates’ defence dwells more heavily on his preference to die now painlessly before old age robs him of his faculties and senses, and with his belief in himself having the lived the best life.

“Strange, do you call it, that to God it should seem better for me to die at once? Do you not know that up to this moment I will not concede to any man to have lived a better life than I have; since what can exceed the pleasure, which has been mine, of knowing that my whole life has been spent holily and justly? … I know that I cannot escape paying the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dullness of hearing. I shall find myself slower to learn new lessons, and apter to forget the lessons I have learnt. And if to these be added the consciousness of failing powers, the sting of self-reproach, what prospect have I of any further joy in living? It may be, you know,” he added, “that God out of his great kindness is intervening in my behalf to suffer me to close my life in the ripeness of age, and by the gentlest of deaths …. but, sound of body, and soul still capable of friendly repose, fades tranquilly away.”

Socrates’ steadfastness in refusing to attempt to sway the court with anything other than the truth as he saw it, and his willingness to submit to death rather than be deemed less than he was is further enhanced by an almost Christ-like acceptance of the inevitability of his position

“And when he perceived those who followed by his side in tears, “What is this?” he asked. “Why do you weep now?  Do you not know that for many a long day, ever since I was born, sentence of death was passed upon me by nature? If so be I perish prematurely while the tide of life’s blessings flows free and fast, certainly I and my well-wishers should feel pained; but if it be that I am bringing my life to a close on the eve of troubles, for my part I think you ought all of you to take heart of grace and rejoice in my good fortune.”

Favourite lines/passages:

And this following makes me smile

“Now there was a certain Apollodorus, who … exclaimed very innocently, “But the hardest thing of all to bear, Socrates, is to see you put to death unjustly.”

Whereupon Socrates, it is said, gently stroked the young man’s head: “Would you have been better pleased, my dear one, to see me put to death for some just reason rather than unjustly?”

Personal rating:    Moves up to a 5 simply for that anecdote involving Apollodorus

Next :
 Staying with Xenophon but giving Socrates some time off over the holidays. Next will be an omnibus of Xenophon’s minor works in a more practical and military vein, with the four small treatises : On Horsemanship, On Hunting, On the duties of a Cavalry Commander (Hipparchikos), and Ways and Means of improving the revenue of Athens


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