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PARODY AND THE ARGUMENT FROM PROBABILITY IN THE APOLOGY by Thomas J. Lewis Over a century ago James Riddell pointed out that Socrates' defense speech in die Apology closely followed the standard form of Athenian forensic rhetoric. He called the Apology "artistic to the core," and he identified parts of "the subde rhetoric of this defense."1 Since then many scholars have explicated the rhetorical elements in Socrates' defense.2 Their work has led in turn to recent attempts to integrate the rhetorical form into an overall understanding of the meaning and significance of the Apology? The puzzle to be solved is what to make of the fact that Socrates disclaims the ability and the intention to use rhetoric in a speech which is itself a rhetorical masterpiece. R. E. Allen raises the possibility thatby using the techniques ofrhetoric and at the same time denying that he is using them Socrates is dissembling or lying. However, Allen rejects this possibility and interprets Socrates' falsehood as only a surface or apparent falsehood. According to Allen it is ironic parody of a disreputable rhetoric which seeks to convince without concern for the truth.4 For Allen the object of the parody is base rhetoric in general, the type of rhetoric denounced by Socrates in the Gorgias as "rhetoric aiming at gratification and pleasure, and indifferent to truth and the good of the soul."5 Two subsequent articles, one by Kenneth Seeskin, the other by Douglas Feaver andJohn Hare, support the view that Socrates is parodying the debased form of rhetoric. However, they place somewhat different emphasis on the exact object of the parody. They argue that the object of Socrates' rhetorical parody is Gorgias' Pahmedes, rather than pandering rhetoric in general.6 After summarizing the many rhetorical similarities between Gorgias' Palamedes and Socrates' defense speech, Seeskin concludes that "Gorgias' Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 359-366 360Philosophy and Literature Palamedes is not a masterpiece of world literature; it is a collection of topoi—tried and true devices for winning acquittal . . . [whereas] despite his disclaimer, Socrates' speech is no amateur performance. On the contrary, he knew all the tricks of the trade and employed them with consummate skill" (p. 97). Seeskin uses Plato's Gorgias to explain how Socrates' rhetoric fits within an overall understanding of the Apology. He notes the two types ofrhetoric presented in the Gorgias: base rhetoric, a species of flattery which aims at gratification; and philosophic or true rhetoric which aims at improving the soul. Then Seeskin makes a crucial point. He insists it is not enough to distinguish between base rhetoric and philosophic rhetoric; there must be a way to identify a given instance of rhetoric as either base rhetoric or as philosophic rhetoric. Moreover, he cautions that distinguishing the one from the other is no easy task. "It is impossible to tell them apart on the basis of technique alone. Base rhetoric is no less polished for its baseness. . . . Nor can one tell them apart on the basis of their stated goals. Flattery succeeds only to the extent that it can pass itself off as something better" (p. 98). Thus, if Socrates and Palamedes employ the same rhetorical devices, Seeskin wonders how we can tell which type ofrhetoric is in the Apology. "Somewhere in the Apology of Socrates there ought to be a clue which allows one to distinguish his defense from the 'standard' defense composed by Gorgias" (p. 99). Seeskin finds the clue in the exordium, where Socrates denies that he is a skillful speaker: "Unless, of course, by a skillful speaker they mean one who speaks the truth. If that is what they mean, I would agree that I am an orator, though not after their pattern" (17b). Although Palamedes makes a comparable claim, Seeskin argues that Palamedes was concerned with appearance rather than truth, and that the key to appearance is the use of the argument from probability. According to Seeskin, Socrates does not rely on the argument from probability , whereas this argument permeates the Palamedes. "Again and again, the speaker tries to show that it would be implausible to suppose that anyone in his position did what he is accused of doing. How...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 359-366
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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