Study Guide for Plato, Apology
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!)
does Socrates define true eloquence
(as opposed to the Sophists' emphasis on rhetoric)?
- 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
did the Oracle of Apollo at
Delphi say about Socrates?
did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the politician?
did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the poets?
did Socrates conclude that he was wiser than the artisans?
to Socrates, who is the only
truly wise man?
did so many people in Athens hate
does Socrates refute Miletus' accusation that he is an atheist?
does Socrates believe is the purpose of life?
does Socrates compare his courage to Achilles’ courage in The
does Socrates continue his teaching even though he knows that he is endangering himself?
benefit does Socrates insist
that his practice of angering the high and mighty possesses?
does he argue that by executing him, his persecutors do more harm to themselves than to
does he mean when he refers to himself as a gadfly?
does Socrates define human conscience?
he is convicted, what punishment
does Socrates suggest the jury use against him?
does Socrates define the
greatest good of man?
does the jury vote in the penalty phase? Why?
can Socrates reason that his
persecutors will suffer more from his death than he will?
is Socrates conception of the soul?
can Socrates reason that death
should not be feared?