An Account of Socrates' Defense Against the Charge of Impiety and Corrupting the Young
In 399 B.C. the seventy-year-old Socrates was tried before the judges and citizens of Athens on charges of impiety and corrupting the young. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Plato was present at the trial, and the Apology is his account, written some years after, of Socrates' three speeches in defense of himself. Although it is not to be taken as an exact transcript of the trial, the Apology probably does represent the general line of argument that Socrates followed; in this sense it is the most historical in intent of Plato's writings.
The citizens who advanced the charges against Socrates and served as his prosecutors were Anytus, a politician of the restored democratic government, the poet Meletus, and the rhetorician Lycon. It is clear that the particular charges against Socrates were merely a mask for a general animosity. A non- conformist and advocate of the voice of the wise rather than the voice of the many, Socrates must have represented a threat to the new regime.
In his speeches Socrates seems less interested in refuting the charges, which he easily shows to be trumped up and inconsistent, than in explaining the animosity towards him and defending his "philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other people." He has been a gadfly to the state, urging its citizens to self-improvement, and in his search for wisdom he has exposed their ignorance. His true enemies, he realizes, are not his prosecutors but all those who oppose the life of reason and virtue, who shrink before his conviction that "the unexamined life is not worth living."
Socrates is found guilty of the charges and is allowed to propose a penalty. Refusing to betray his mission, he suggests that he ought rather to be rewarded as a benefactor of the state. He does, however, propose a fine of