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Reexamining Socrates in the Apology

Russon and Fagan

Publication Year: 2009

An oracle was reported to have said, "No one is wiser than Socrates." And in fact it was Socrates’ life’s work to interpret these words, which demanded and defined the practice of philosophy. Each of these original essays attends carefully to the specifics of the Apology, looking to its dramatic details, its philosophic teaching, and its complexity as a work of writing to bring into focus the "Socrates" of the Apology.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

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pp. xi

We would like to thank the contributors to this volume, first for making their excellent work available to us for inclusion in it, and second for their patience during what turned out to be an unusually long process of bringing the manuscript to publication. In our view, the essays in this collection are highly cohesive, and we are very pleased to be able to present them together as a collective statement about the reading of Plato’s ...

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Introduction: Socrates Examined

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pp. xiii-xxiv

... It would seem that such a small text should produce a very simple task for reading. And yet, in fact, it was the project of Socrates’ entire adult life to interpret these three words. At first (he claims), he could not recognize himself in the oracle’s words. As, putatively, the words of the god, the oracle should speak the truth; the words’ prima facie significance for Socrates, though, is that they are false. In the ...

Part 1. Interpreting Riddling Texts

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1. “Oracles and Dreams” Commanding Socrates: Reflections on Apology 33c

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pp. 5-15

In one of the more curious passages in the Platonic dialogues, Socrates tells his judges that his public questioning of the putatively wise occurred in response to a command (prostetaktai) which was delivered to him by the god in many ways, among them “oracles and dreams” (Apology 33c5– 6) as well as in every other way that divine moira1 shows itself to men.2 ...

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2. Just Speaking, Just Listening: Performance and Contradiction in Socrates’ Apology

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pp. 16-31

In the first line of the Apology, Socrates makes an interesting and important statement. He says, “How you, men of Athens, have been affected by my accusers, I do not know” (17e).1 In this statement we are directed to one of the most distinctive features of this dialogue: the contested space into which Socrates’ words are being delivered, the space of his ...

Part 2. Socrates and Literature

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3. Of Socrates, Aristophanes, and Rumors

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pp. 35-61

Were we to try to provide the simplest description of the Apologia Sokratous, there is very little to say: this work of Plato’s is the script of a play whose dramatis personae are Socrates, the “men of Athens,” and one of Socrates’ accusers, Meletus.1 We know the historical background. In 399 b.c. Socrates was brought to trial, accused of not honoring the gods the city honored and of corrupting the youth. ...

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4. Socrates and Achilles

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pp. 62-84

... Xenophon attempts to show that Socrates’ proud posture before the jury is explained by his resolve to face death at his trial, having decided that death was preferable to life in his situation (sect. 1). Before recounting any of Socrates’ words to the jury, Xenophon re- creates a conversation between Socrates and his companion Hermogenes, in which Socrates goes through his reasons for preferring death to life. The last of the reasons presented ...

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5. Plato’s Oedipus: Myth and Philosophy in the Apology

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pp. 85-101

Plato’s attitude to myth is a vexed and vexing question. The problem begins with what we mean when we say “myth” in a Platonic context. For my purposes here “myth” means “a traditional tale used by a culture to tell itself something important about itself.” By “traditional” I mean “accepted by being told and retold over time.”1 By that definition the things we often refer to as “myths” in Plato, like the Myth of Er in book 10 of ...

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6. Inventing Socrates: Truth, Jest, and Care in Plato’s Apology

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pp. 102-114

In the past few decades, a number of commentators have taken up the question of Plato’s debt to poetic or extra- philosophical genres.1 Understanding this debt requires, among other things, some account of the relation between dialogue and tragedy. If I were charged with contributing to that account, I would be tempted to begin by presenting the passages above as something like the termini of a “literary Platonism.” ...

Part 3. Socrates and Law

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7. Caring and Conversing About Virtue Every Day: Human Piety and Goodness in Plato’s Apology

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pp. 117-167

While most of Plato’s works seem to lend themselves to conflicting interpretations, the Apology seems especially successful at dividing scholars into opposed camps. Among the many disagreements surrounding the interpretation of this work, a central one concerns whether Socrates’ defense is to be seen as ironic or sincere. Those who claim that it is ...

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8. Citizen Socrates

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pp. 168-190

In the Platonic dialogues surrounding his trial and execution, Socrates presents himself as a defender of the absolute authority of law, accepting his own death sentence though he thinks he is not guilty. But he also claims to be willing to defy a verdict that would prohibit him from doing philosophy. The appearance of contradiction here is not easy to dispel and has yielded a number of divergent interpretations. Some clues for ...

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9. The (Childish) Nature of the Soul in Plato’s Apology

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pp. 191-205

Upon a first reading, it may seem that Socrates in the Apology is an enemy of collective prejudice and a champion of individual thinking. More careful reading, however, reveals a more complex situation; in particular, it reveals a more complex relationship to collective prejudice. ...

Part 4. Socrates and Philosophy

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10. Becoming Socrates

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pp. 209-249

Readers have long observed significant differences among the dialogues in Plato’s depiction of Socrates. In some dialogues—for example, the Protagoras and Laches—Socrates merely refutes the opinions of his interlocutor(s) by showing that their views are contradictory. In dialogues like the Phaedo and Republic, however, Plato shows Socrates putting forth opinions and arguments of his own, especially concerning the eternally unchanging, purely intelligible “ideas” of the good, the noble, and the just. ...

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11. An Apology in the Cave Light

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pp. 250-270

In this chapter I argue that the Apology of Socrates should be read from the perspective of the Athenian juror, and that, for this reason, it calls for a parallel reading of the cave story in the Republic, also seen from the viewpoint of the prisoner. Such a cross- reading, proceeding from the perspective of “student” and not from the “educator,” solves textual problems ...

Part 5. Socrates in the Future

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12. The “Inconceivable Happiness” of “Men and Women”: Visions of an Other World in Plato’s Apology of Socrates

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pp. 273-290

The primal scene out of which the lineage of Western philosophy unfolds takes place in a tribunal. Philosophy, summoned before the law, indeed, constituted through such a summons, fundamentally accused, must present itself in order to apologize, defend itself, if not finally establish its own legitimacy. Philosophy comes forth in, through, and as the gesture of an apologia. ...

Index of Passages in the Apology

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pp. 291-293

Index of Topics

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pp. 295-297


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pp. 299-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780810163829
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810125865

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1