The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts

The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts

The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts

The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts


This volume contains C. D. C. Reeve's translations of Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and the death scene from Phaedo; Peter Meineck's translation of Aristophanes' Clouds; and James Doyle's translation of Xenophon's Socrates' Defense to the Jury. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR


By Socrates' own reckoning he was put on trial twice in Athens: once on the comic stage in Aristophanes' Clouds, and once in the King Archon's court by a jury of five hundred or so of his peers (Plato, Apology 18a7–b1). Of the second trial—or more accurately of the speech of defense Socrates made at it—we possess two supposed versions. The first is by Plato, who represents himself as present at the trial (Apology 38b6). The second is by Xenophon, who wasn't present but reports some of what he was told about it by Hermogenes, who may have been present. Of Clouds, we possess not the version to which Socrates refers in the Apology, but a later revised version. It is substantially the same play, nonetheless, as we can see from Socrates' own description of it.

Two other Platonic dialogues—Euthyphro and Crito—are closely related to the Apology and illuminate it in different ways. Euthyphro takes place as Socrates is on his way to the King Archon's court for a pretrial hearing, and deals with a topic—piety—that is central to the trial itself. Crito is set in the prison to which Socrates is confined after he has been found guilty of impiety and sentenced to death, and deals with his reasons for accepting what he believes to be an unjust verdict and sentence. In both dialogues, we see Socrates engaged in the philosophical activities that we only hear described in the Apology itself. Phaedo, like Crito, finds Socrates in prison, now awaiting imminent execution. He speaks about death, about his philosophy, and about the afterlife. Then, with the calm characteristic of him in adversity, and in utter fidelity to his principles, he drinks the hemlock and dies.

In Clouds we find a comic parody of a Socrates who is represented as a sophist, subversive of traditional Athenian values—including religious ones.

In Xenophon's Socrates' Defense to the Jury, we meet a very different Socrates from either Plato's or Aristophanes'—a man who is wholly orthodox in religious matters, and who provokes the jury into unjustly convicting him of impiety because he wants to avoid the pains of old age.

In this volume, these six related works are brought together for the first time. Those by Plato and Xenophon appear in new, previously unpublished translations, which aim to combine accuracy, accessibility . . .

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