European Humanities: 
Mr. Spragins 
Fall 2016

Study Guide for Plato,  Apology



 (Jacques- Louis David, "The Death of Socrates", 1788) 

Socrates (469-399 BCE) was an Athenian officer during the Peloponnesian Wars and then became a popular teacher in the city during the period of turbulent political and intellectual unrest which followed Athens’ defeat by the Spartans. He was known to walk the streets of Athens barefoot, clad in simple robes, all the while collecting a group of youthful followers who were attracted to his rigorous critiques of conventional moral thinking. He argued that every individual must strive to do good by subjecting his behavior to rational analysis. Socrates’ criticism was not well-received by all, however, and the philosopher made many enemies over the years, particularly among the Athenian political elite.

Teaching in the city at the same time as Socrates were the Sophists, a group of controversial teachers who had achieved important positions working with the youths of some of Athens’ most important families. The Sophists taught that the gods did not exist and that there was no single moral truth. As Protagoras bluntly stated, “Man is the measure of all things.” The Sophists charged exorbitant fees for teaching their students their specialty: the public speaking skills of rhetoric and grammar, essential skills in the political debates of this new democracy. Socrates was considered to be another of the Sophists, but his philosophy and method of instruction were very different. He believed that there was one universal truth, and he believed that the duty of human beings was to search for this truth by discovering and practicing virtue. The method of intellectual inquiry Socrates used was called dialectic: the systematic search for the truth through a series of probing questions. This Socratic method of instruction has been adopted by teachers ever since.

Because Socrates exposed the hypocrisy and vanity of the powerful, his teachings outraged the leaders of the city, and in 399 BCE (at the age of 70) he was brought to trial before a jury of five hundred, charged with teaching atheism and corrupting the youth of the city. (The word apology actually means "defense of a person from accusation or aspersion". (OED)) Socrates had three main accusers: Meletus, who quarrelled with him on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen; and Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians. Ultimately, Socrates failed to sway his judges and was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. This account of Socrates' Apology was written by his most famous student, the philosopher Plato.

Reading Comprehension Questions (Be ready for a quiz!)


  1. How does Socrates define true eloquence (as opposed to the Sophists' emphasis on rhetoric)?
  2. How has Socrates responded to the old charge that he has committed heresy by making 'the worse appear the better'?  ( ie. as the natural philosopher Anaxagoras who taught that the study of earthly phenomena is more important than the worship of the gods)
  3. What did the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi say about Socrates? 
  4. Why did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the politician?
  5. Why did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the poets?
  6. Why did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the artisans?
  7. According to Socrates, who is the only truly wise man?
  8. Why did so many people in Athens hate him?
  9. How does Socrates refute Miletus' accusation that he is an atheist?
  10. What does Socrates believe is the purpose of life?
  11. How does Socrates compare his courage to Achilles’ courage in The Iliad?
  12. Why does Socrates continue his teaching even though he knows that he is endangering himself?
  13. What benefit does Socrates insist that his practice of angering the high and mighty possesses?
  14. How does he argue that by executing him, his persecutors do more harm to themselves than to him? 
  15. What does he mean when he refers to himself as a gadfly
  16. How does Socrates define human conscience?
  17. After he is convicted, what punishment does Socrates suggest the jury use against him?
  18. How does Socrates define the greatest good of man
  19. How does the jury vote in the penalty phase? Why? 
  20. How can Socrates reason that his persecutors will suffer more from his death than he will
  21. What is Socrates conception of the soul? 
  22. How can Socrates reason that death should not be feared?