- Apology (Xenophon)
Xenophon's "Apology" (in full "Apology of Socrates to the jury" ("Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους πρὸς τοὺς Δικαστάς") describes Socrates' state of mind at his trial and execution, and especially his view that it was better to die before senility set in than to escape execution by humbling himself before an unjust persecution. Specialists believe that Xenophon's interpretation of the trial was written in response to a widespread literary reaction following the trial, where Athenian public figures and authors used the theme of Socrates trial to state their views on his guilt. The main part of the text is a direct blow for blow rejection of a particular attack on Socrates' character by an opponent of Socrates. The text gives clear indication on the charges brought against Socrates by Anytus, and is often used on this point in comparison with Plato's version. Xenophon was away at the time, involved in the events of the march of the Ten Thousand. He cites Hermogenes as his source for the factual elements of the trial. It is probable that Hermogenes had indeed witnessed the trial; for, though Plato's "Apology" does not mention his presence, Plato's "Phaedo" lists Hermogenes among those who were present at Socrates' death.
Evidently, Xenophon had written his "Apology" after a number of other accounts of the trial had been published; for he presents his as being the only one of them that made Socrates' "boastful manner of speaking ("megalēgoria")" at the trial understandable ("Apology" 1-2). Other than Plato's "Apology of Socrates", Xenophon's second-hand account is the only other surviving "eye-witness" account of the trial of Socrates. Even granting some bias in the work, it is of historical value on that point alone.
One thing that distinguishes Xenophon's account from Plato's is that in the former, the Oracle at Delphi claimed no one was "more free, more just, or more sound of mind" than Socrates ("Apology" 14), while in Plato's text the claim was only that no one was "wiser" ("Apology" 21a). Some scholars have suggested that what accounts for the difference is that Xenophon wished to avoid the explicit attribution of "wisdom", a term which, to the average Athenian, would suggest that Socrates indeed was properly characterized as an atheistic natural philosopher as Aristophanes had done. [pp. 90-91, J. Burnet, "Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito", Clarendon 1924. For "wisdom" as characteristic of atheistic natural philosophers, see Plato's "Apology" 18b-c and 19c.] However, Xenophon's Socrates does claim to be "wise" in the sense that "from the time when I began to understand spoken words [I] have never left off seeking after and learning every good thing that I could" ("Apology" 16).
Another difference is that in Xenophon's "Apology" Socrates' "divine sign" ("daimonion") is described as giving positive indications as to what should be done (12), [Cf. "Memorabilia" 4.8.1.] while Plato's Socrates consistently and explicitly describes the sign as "turn [ing] me away from something I am about to do" but "never encourag [ing] me to do anything" ("Apology" 31d).
A further difference between Plato and Xenophon is that whereas Plato has Socrates finally suggest a thirty-mina penalty for himself ("Apology" 38b), the Xenophon/Hermogenes version says that he refused to suggest any and refused to allow his freinds to do so, claiming that to do otherwise would imply guilt ("Apology" 23).
Finally, whereas Socrates' willingness to face the death penalty is in Plato's "Apology" explained by Socrates' unwavering commitment to his divinely appointed mission to keep philosophizing at all costs (29c-30c), it is explained in the Xenophon/Hermogenes version by the claim that it is better for him to die now than to face the pains and limitations of advanced old age ("Apology" 6-8, 27, and 32). [Cf. "Memorabilia" 4.8.1 and 4.8.8.]
The final "chapter" of Xenophon's "Memorabilia" (4.8.1-4.8.8) contains some of the same material - some of it almost word for word - as the beginning sections of his "Apology" (1-8). This has led some scholars to suspect that Xenophon's "Apology" was the original conclusion to the "Memorabilia"; given our limited evidence, however, this cannot be known with certainty. [p. 639, O. Todd, "Xenophon IV: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Symposium, Apology", Harvard U. Press 1923.]
Trial of Socrates
*"The Apology of Socrates" by Plato
Gutenberg ProjectEnglish translation of Xenophon's "Apology": http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1171
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