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  • The "Inconceivable Happiness" of "Men and Women":Visions of an Other World in Plato's Apology of Socrates
  • Claudia Baracchi (bio)

Éros dêuté m'ho lusimélês dónei, glukúpikron amákhanon órpeton.

(Sappho fr. 130)

[Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me—sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in.]1

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, to defend itself, if not finally to establish its own legitimacy. Philosophy comes forth in, through, and as the gesture of an apologia. Its institution (its being instituted and becoming institution) rests on the originary trauma of an accusation and death sentence. The analysis of a few pivotal moments in Plato's Apology of Socrates [Apologia Sôkratous] provides the occasion for a reflection on the task and danger of the philosophical endeavor—indeed, of the philosophical life. The consideration of the praxis of philosophy in its uncertain position (or even non-position) vis-à-vis the law illuminates the intertwined issues of vulnerability, foreignness, estrangement, and gender, casting them in the context of a comprehensive concern with justice.2

The present hermeneutical exercise aims at releasing the ancient text in its strangeness and bringing it into dialogue with contemporary, altogether haunting preoccupations.3 At stake is, however inceptively, revealing the [End Page 269] philosophical longing both in its atopia (in its "having no place") and in its visionary potential—in its potentiality for vision and envisioning, for imagining otherwise, for seeing places others do not see, places that are not, or not yet. Atopia and utopia: philosophical "placelessness" indicates the ongoing task of probing the invisible, groping in the not-yet, intimating the otherwise unseen.

There appears to be a crucial connection between the indictment against Socrates and the conflation or con-fusion of philosophy and sophistry. Socrates himself, at least according to Plato, suggests this much in his deposition before the jury. It is clear since the very inception of the Apology of Socrates that the "men of Athens" have confused the figure of the philosopher with that of the sophist, collapsing all distinctions between them. It is a matter of a certain obscuration of difference, of a lack of discernment. Such an indifference vis-à-vis the irreducible comportments of philosophy and sophistry provides the ground for the charges of impiety (heresy) and corruption of the youth brought against Socrates.

Socrates refers to an ancient, deeply rooted, and essentially imponderable hostility against the philosopher. Even before the present, formal accusations, others (his "first accusers") slandered and compromised him:

First, then, men of Athens, it is just for me to speak in defense [apologêsasthai] against the first false charges [katêgorêmena] against me and the first accusers [katêgorous], and next against the later charges and the later accusers. For many accusers have risen against me before you, even long ago, talking now for many years and saying nothing true; and I fear them more than Anytus and those around him, although they too are dangerous [deinous]. But the others are more dangerous [deinoteroi], men. They got hold of the many of you from childhood, and they accused me and persuaded you [epeithon]—although it is no more true [than the present charge]—that there is a certain Socrates, a wise man, a thinker of the things aloft, who has investigated all things under the earth, and who makes the weaker speech the stronger.


The characterization of Socrates by his "first accusers" is paradigmatically to be found in Aristophanes' Clouds. It is evident how such a depiction of the philosopher would constitute the ground and background for the later accusations. It should be noticed, however, that Aristophanes' posture is not that of positive, determinate accusation. Nor can his grotesque portrait of the philosopher simply be seen as originating the suspicion surrounding [End Page 270] the philosophical practice and ultimately causing open hostility against it. To be sure, Aristophanes' play reflects a situation in which the philosopher is perceived as a charlatan, a sophist...


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