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POVERTY AND SINCERITY IN THE APOLOGY: A REPLY TO LEWIS by Kenneth Seeskin In a recentarticle in Philosophyand Literature, ThomasJ. Lewis offers a number of arguments to undercut the claim that Socrates' Apology is a parody ofexisting rhetoric.1 As one who supports the parody interpretation, I would like to respond. Lewis understands me correctly when he points out that a defender of the parody interpretation must do more than establish similarities between the Apology and other examples of fifth-century rhetoric such as the Apology ofPalamedes. To be effective, either legally or aesthetically, a parody must contain an element of criticism: Socrates must use the devices of courtroom orators and point the way to something higher.2 Otherwise there would be no way to distinguish the sincerity ofSocrates' defense from the insincerity of "standard" defenses. I have argued that Socrates does this at Apology 17b, when he claims that he is a skillful speaker if one means a speaker who tells the truth. The crux of the argument is that while Gorgias's Palamedes makes repeated use of the argument from probability (Phaedrus 272d-274a), Socrates keeps his promise to stick to the facts. In 1985, Steven Nadler pointed out that Socrates does use the argument from probability in the cross-examination of Meletus. But Nadler and I both follow Burnet in arguing that insofar as Socrates is trying to show that Meletus did not understand the charge he himself had brought, this passage represents a special case (Burnet, pp. 106-7). I then asked whether there is an appeal to Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 128-133 Kenneth Seeskin129 probability in the body of Socrates' speech, claiming that as far as I could tell, there is not. Lewis answers that James A. Coulter found such a passage at 31c, where Socrates offers his poverty as proof of innocence: "I think therefore I have sufficient witness that I am telling the truth: poverty."3 Since Palamedes makes a similar appeal at Palamedes 15, one may ask whether Socrates is making an argument of the following sort: "How could a poor man like me take it upon himself to anger the gods and corrupt the sons of wealthy and powerful citizens?" or "What would my motive be for doing all of this? Certainly not money, for I am a person of modest means and have no need for large sums." If Socrates is making either of these arguments, Lewis is right, and the parody thesis is in trouble. I wish to argue that Socrates' argument is very different. In the first place, there is every reason to think that Socrates' claim of poverty is sincere: a lot of texts support it, none that I am aware of contradicts it.4 In the second place, poverty is not something Socrates simply drops into the speech to win favor with thejury; it is an essential part of his defense. We can see this by examining the context in which the reference to poverty occurs. At 30e and following, Socrates tries to show that so far from being a criminal, he is in fact a benefactor to Athens. The crux of his argument is that he has neglected his own affairs in order to urge the citizens to attend to virtue (31b). He then points out that unlike the sophists, many of whom became exceedingly wealthy, he has never charged for his services. This claim is a familiar one and can be found at 19d-e, 23a, and 33a-b as well. Thus the reference to poverty does two things: (1) it defeats the old prejudice (18b, 23a) according to which Socrates was viewed as a sophist, and (2) it supports the argument that he is a special servant embarked on a divine mission. In fact, 31c is not the only place where Socrates uses poverty to buttress his case. As early as 23b-c, Socrates maintains that he investigates people at god's behest and shows those who think they are wise that they are really not. He then concludes: "Because of this occupation, I have no leisure time worth mentioning, either for the affairs of state or for my own affairs...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 128-133
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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