The Trial & Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues
Before we begin the text:
- Have you heard the names Plato and Socrates before? What comes to mind when you hear these names?
- This text is part of a text entitled, The Trial and Death of Socrates; based on this, what do you expect to find when you read this text?
Questions for homework/class discussion:
- This text has several footnotes. Read pages 1-2 without reading the footnotes. Then read the footnotes and reread pages 1 and 2 with the footnotes in mind. How does your understanding of the pages change having read the notes? What strategy for reading the notes do you think will work best for you as we move through the text?
- This text is about piety. What does this word mean?
- Select a passage from this text that confuses you, a passage that is interesting to you, and a passage that you feel you completely understand. Be prepared to share and discuss your selections with a partner and with the class.
- Both Socrates and Euthyphro have legal dilemmas in this text. What are they?
- Why on page 7 does Socrates say that Euthyphro did not teach him adequately about piety?
- On page 11, Socrates says, “Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?” What is the difference? Why is this question important to Socrates?
- The footnote on page 13 mentions Daedalus. Who is he? Why do Socrates and Euthyphro argue over who is being like Daedalus?
- Do Socrates and Euthyphro ever agree on the definition of piety? Why do you think the text ends in the way it does?
- Words like examination, inquiry, and proof are used throughout this text. Does this text tell us anything about the nature of debate and argument that can be useful to us today?
Group Activity for Euthyphro
Rationale: In Euthyphro, Socrates asks this question: “Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?” (PDF 9, Book 11).
He then uses analogy to unravel what he means. This is a fundamental aspect of his Socratic method. Analogies (logical examples) help Socrates to ask questions in a lateral way. The best way for us to understand his analogies in “Euthyphro” is to make our own comparisons to contemporary examples.
Directions: Discuss the Plato quotations below in your groups. Then, draw lines between the first row and the second row to match Socrates’s examples to a modern example.
Be sure to read some of the background information about Socrates on page ix, and then the introduction on page 21. Here are some questions to help guide your reading. Write out your answers; you will be checked up on next week to see how well you did.
NB: Questions usually refer to the stephanus numbers.
- Look at the footnote on page 21—is the Apology apologetic? What does the Greek word actually mean?
- Around 17c, Socrates says that his accusers sounded good, but that they didn’t speak the truth. He says he won’t use “stylized phrases” but just speak the whole truth. Aren’t truth and beauty related, or even the same? Explain how Socrates opposes, or puts distance between them. Can you think of examples that show him to be correct?
- In 18a-d Socrates says he has two different types of accusers. Who are they, and which is more dangerous? Why? What does this say about how humans can be influenced?
- What exactly is Socrates accused of? 19b-c
- Socrates imagines an argument against him at 20c-d; what is it? Is it valid?
- What does Socrates’ friend Chaerephon ask the Delphic oracle? What is the answer? What is Socrates’ initial reaction?
- Socrates then visits in 21b-22e (pages 26-27) three different types of people, and quizzes them up; he tries to find out how wise they are. Whom does he visit? What is his assessment of each one?
- In 23b, Socrates gives his interpretation of the Delphic oracle’s statement—what is it?
- What are the charges of Meleus and the newer accusers? 24b
- Socrates refutes the charge of corrupting the young in 25e—explain his argument.
- In 27d he refutes the other charge—how?
- 30a-b. What does Socrates indicate is the purpose of living?
- In 30e, Socrates actually says he is like a gift from the gods, and compares himself so something—what? What is the meaning of this metaphor? What therefore is his purpose, and how will he go about fulfilling it?
- At 31e, Socrates explains his “divine sign” (the Greek is daimon, from which the English gets “demon”). What does it do?
- At 34 c-d, and 35c, Socrates says he is not going to do this—what? What does it say about him and the defense he puts on?
- What does Socrates say he deserves as “punishment”? 36c-e. Is he being sarcastic?
- Explain 38a, especially the last line of the paragraph—this is perhaps the most important quotation of Socrates.
- At 39c, Socrates warns that things might not go well for the city after he’s gone—why?
- What does Socrates’ daimon say? 40a-b
- Socrates’ last words in his Apology seem oddly optimistic—why so?
Further reflection questions:
- What did you learn about Socrates from the Apology that you did not know before? Or what did you learn about the kind of person he is?
- What questions do you have about this text?
- What impressed you most about this text? What stands out? What was meaningful?
Group Project, Apology
There are fourth columns below. In the first column, list the accusations that are made against Socrates. In the second column write down what you find to be Socrates’ most convincing points to disprove the accusation. In the third column, summarize Socrates’ argument in your own words. In the fourth column write down whether or not his argument would convince you if you were on the jury.
Summary of the Refutation
In-class essay, Plato’s Apology
Write an essay on ONE of the following topics. Support your response with references to the text, either quotations and/or paraphrase. Avoid needless summary (essay #1 was summary, this one is not.)
- At 23B (bottom of page 27) Socrates gives his interpretation of the Delphic oracle’s statement (that the wisest man, is he who like Socrates, “understands that his wisdom is worthless”). In class we called this “Socratic wisdom.” What does this saying from Socrates (and the gods) mean, and why is it important for Socrates, for humans, and maybe for us?
- At 38A (middle of page 41) Socrates claims “the unexamined life is not worth living for humans.” What does Socrates mean by this? How did he “examine” his life and the lives of others? What are the consequences of one not “examining” one’s life?
- Socrates says that he functions as Athens’ “gadfly.” He also mentions that he has a spirit (daimon) that guides him. Why do Socrates and the city, both individuals and communities, require an external force to help them do the right thing (or be fulfilled, or remain active)?