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Kenneth Seeskin IS THE APOLOGY OF SÓCRATES A PARODY? Plato's apology is many things. To begin with, it is a tragedy. It is not difficult to recall how, in one's first humanities class, the lecturer read from the text in somber tones, comparing Socrates to Antigone orJesus. In addition to a tragedy, it is a masterpiece of forensic oratory. Within a short time after Socrates' death in 399, it was being imitated by no less a stylist than Isocrates. ' In his notes on the text, John Burnet pointed out that Socrates' speech also could be read as a parody. He concluded that, ". . . just as in the Phaedrus Socrates improves on the current rhetorical commonplaces by giving them a deeper meaning. . . ."2 There are, of course, passages where he appears to be using such commonplaces to his own advantage. In this connection, one thinks of his challenge to Meletus to produce witnesses against him or his willingness to die rather than beg the jury for his life. The parody thesis was attacked by Hackforth on the ground that Socrates claims at the beginning of his speech (17b) that he is not a clever speaker.3 If he is not a clever speaker, how can we expect him to produce an artful parody of those who are? If he is a clever speaker, dien he has begun his defense with a palpable falsehood. But this argument overlooks one point: a disclaimer about speaking ability is itself a rhetorical commonplace. Instead of contradicting die parody thesis, this remark may in fact support it. Rather than discuss these points in the abstract, I wish to compare Plato's Apology with a particular piece of Greek oratory: Gorgias' Apology ofPalamedes. I believe my examination will show that the Apology ofSocrates is not only a parody ofexisting commonplaces, but a parody which takes Gorgias' speech as its prime example. My reasons for making this claim are two: (1) there are a surprising number of similarities between the two speeches — more than can be accounted for by coincidence, and (2) viewing the Apology ofSocrates as a parody allows us to see important connections between it and Plato's discussion of rhetoric in the Gorgias. The first person to call attention to the verbal similarities between these two speeches was Heinrich Gomperz.4 But all Gomperz wanted to establish was the Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 94-105 0190-0031/82/0061-0094 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Kenneth Seeskin95 authenticity of Gorgias' text. Kathleen Freeman remarked on the "striking resemblances" between the two orations but went no further.5 In 1957, Guido Calogero maintained that the Apology of Socrates is a record of Socrates' debt to Gorgias.6 Yet most scholars regard Calogero's view as fanciful. A more plausible suggestion is that by comparing Socrates to Palamedes, Plato is providing Socrates' speech with a mythological background.7 The most comprehensive study of these two speeches is a monograph written by James Coulter in 1964.8 Coulter contends that the Palamedes sets forth a view of rhetoric which the Apology ofSocrates explicitly rejects. But Coulter does not mention the parody thesis, and therefore misses what may be the most important point. I According to legend, Palamedes, son of Naupilus, was noted for ingenuity. He is credited with the invention of the alphabet, the systematization of weights and measures, and numerous helpful devices. When Odysseus feigned madness to escape going to war, it was Palamedes who called his bluffby putting the baby Telemachos on the ground in front of the plow. In the early part of the Trojan War, Odysseus was sent on an expedition to bring back a supply of grain. When he returned empty handed, Palamedes ridiculed him. But Odysseus claimed diat Palamedes could do no better, whereupon Palamedes returned with a full supply. Odysseus then devised a plot to make Palamedes look like a traitor. A pot of gold was buried in Palamedes' tent and a prisoner was forced to deliver a letter which seemed to implicate Palamedes in treason. The plot succeeded, and Palamedes, falsely accused, was stoned to death. Gorgias' supposed defense of...


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