The Trial and Death of Socrates: Linking the Symposium and the Apology
Philosophy, as it is conceived in its classical sense, means love or friendship for wisdom. Although the aforementioned conception is the most widely accepted, there is also another important conception of philosophy which springs from the Socratic-Platonic Dialogues itself; that philosophy is a certain kind of therapeia; that is, the care of one’s soul.
Socrates himself believes that the care of one’s soul should be our utmost concern as human beings. Thereby, declaring that “the unexamined life is not worth living. ”
Socrates’ trial and death as it is recorded by Plato in the Apology is one of the manifestations of Socrates’ commitment to philosophy as the care of the soul and the kind of life which is most appropriate for human beings to live. It is important to note that Socrates’ death could have been avoided if, after hearing the charges against him by his accusers Anytus and Meletus, have opted to admit that his teachings are wrong and go on a voluntary exile; but to do so would mean damaging his own soul and turning his back away from the truth; two things that Socrates is deeply committed to.
This paper seeks to explore how the Symposium parallels the charges against Socrates in the Apology. In the Apology, Plato seeks to provide an account of Socrates’ trial and death; the emphasis of which is Socrates’ defense before the Athenian jurors. It is of utmost importance that we bear in mind that the Greek word apologia means defense if we are to arrive at a fuller understanding of the dialogue. The Symposium, on the other hand, deals with two very important topics: the nature of love and of knowledge.
In the Apology, there are three main reasons as to why Socrates was put on trial. These may be called as the formal charges against Socrates. In Paul Millet’s book, it is clearly stated: Meletos… has brought this charge and lodged this affidavit against Socrates… Socrates has broken the law by not acknowledging the gods whom the state acknowledges and introducing new daimonic things. He has also broken the law by subverting the young. The penalty should be death.
(34) The foregoing passage lays down the formal charges against Socrates. Although scholars are divided in many issues concerning the supposedly historical account provided by Plato, I think it is unfair based upon the available data that there is no underlying political agenda behind Socrates’ trial and death. There are a number of reasons as to why Socrates may have many enemies. First of all, there is Socrates’ intellectual activities and reputation.
Being the philosopher that he is, speculating, asking questions and probing into other people’s beliefs, it is not difficult to see that these activities offended a lot of his interlocutors especially people who are considered as knowledgeable and learned during his time. Second, Socrates’ associations are very much dangerous during that time. One may be reminded of Socrates’ uncle Charmides, and Critias; both members of the Thirty Tyrants.
Socrates is also associated with Alcibiades, another infamous figure and also one of the key persons in the Symposium. In point of fact, such personal association with these figures is dangerous because of the political climate of the time. This is because during that time, the seat of power in Athens is very much unstable (Brickhouse and Smith 19). Such being the case, Socrates may be said to be in a very difficult situation.
This is because Athens (at least, those who were in power during that time) is very critical of those personalities who can influence another upheaval and shift in the balance of power. Socrates’ intellectual activities made the youth of Athens ask questions. All of a sudden, things that are not questioned in the past are now being questioned. For some, such activities are considered dangerous and qualify as corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates then, is considered as a threat to Athens and democracy.
In the Symposium, we can identify an instance where Socrates questions the gods. As they were discussing love, Socrates presents a view which may be said to run against the Athenian law (and this may be related to the first formal charge against Socrates, that is, of not worshipping the gods). As Socrates makes mention of Diotima’s view about love and his agreement to her, one may say that Socrates is open to talking about and even questioning the sacred and profane.
It is important to note that in the past, these things are not the type of things that is openly discussed especially in terms of questioning the gods. In the same dialogue, Symposium that is, one may notice that Alcibiades is very much attracted to Socrates and is always making ways to be alone with him. If Plato’s account is accurate, however, Socrates was able to make manifest his exceptional self-control and discipline not only in thought but also in bodily pleasures.
In the final analysis, two important aspects offer us a tenable position as to why Socrates was put to trial and death. First, it is plausible to maintain that it is primarily because of his intellectual activities and philosophical teachings/convictions as the gadfly of Athens. Second, it is also plausible to maintain that those in the seat of power became very much in doubt of Socrates because of his personal associations with the infamous political figures of the time associated with or members of the Thirty Tyrants and traitors.
The first and the second reasons may be sum up in one idea; that Socrates’ pursuit of the truth and his openness to talk about and question even the sacred and the profane poses a threat to Athens and democracy. Works Cited Brickhouse, Thomas and Nicholas Smith. Socrates on Trial. US: Oxford University Press, 1990. Millet, Paul. “The Trial of Socrates Revisited. ” European Review of History 12 (2005): 23-62 Reeve, C. D. C. Socrates in the Apology: An Essay on Plato’s Apology of Socrates. US: Hackett Publishing, 1990.