Book IV
VIII
 

Now if any one should be disposed to set the statement of Socrates touching the divinity[1] which warned him what he ought to do or not to do, against the fact that he was sentenced to death by the board of judges, and argue that thereby Socrates stood convicted of lying and delusion in respect of this "divinity" of his, I would have him to note in the first place that, at the date of his trial, Socrates was already so far advanced in years that had he not died then his life would have reached its natural term soon afterwards; and secondly, as matters went, he escaped life's bitterest load[2] in escaping those years which bring a diminution of intellectual force to all--instead of which he was called upon to exhibit the full robustness of his soul and acquire glory in addition,[3] partly by the style of his defence-- felicitous alike in its truthfulness, its freedom, and its rectitude[4]--and partly by the manner in which he bore the sentence of condemnation with infinite gentleness and manliness. Since no one within the memory of man, it is admitted, ever bowed his head to death more nobly. After the sentence he must needs live for thirty days, since it was the month of the "Delia,"[5] and the law does not suffer any man to die by the hand of the public executioner until the sacred embassy return from Delos. During the whole of that period (as his acquaintances without exception can testify) his life proceeded as usual. There was nothing to mark the difference between now and formerly in the even tenour of its courage; and it was a life which at all times had been a marvel of cheerfulness and calm content.[6]

[Let us pause and ask how could man die more nobly and more beautifully than in the way described? or put it thus: dying so, then was his death most noble and most beautiful; and being the most beautiful, then was it also the most fortunate and heaven-blest; and being most blessed of heaven, then was it also most precious in the sight of God.][7]

And now I will mention further certain things which I have heard from Hermogenes, the son of Hipponicus,[8] concerning him. He said that even after Meletus[9] had drawn up the indictment, he himself used to hear Socrates conversing and discussing everything rather than the suit impending, and had ventured to suggest that he ought to be considering the line of his defence, to which, in the first instance, the master answered: "Do I not seem to you to have been practising that my whole life long?" And upon his asking "How?" added in explanation that he had passed his days in nothing else save in distinguishing between what is just and what is unjust (right and wrong), and in doing what is right and abstaining from what is wrong; "which conduct" (he added) "I hold to be the finest possible practice for my defence"; and when he (Hermogenes), returning to the point again, pleaded with Socrates: "Do you not see, Socrates, how commonly it happens that an Athenian jury, under the influence of argument, condemns innocent people to death and acquits real criminals?"-- Socrates replied, "I assure you, Hermogenes, that each time I have essayed to give my thoughts to the defence which I am to make before the court, the divinity[10] has opposed me." And when he (Hermogenes) exclaimed, "How strange!"--"Do you find it strange" (he continued), "that to the Godhead it should appear better for me to close my life at once? Do you not know that up to the present moment there is no man whom I can admit to have spent a better or happier life than mine. Since theirs I regard as the best of lives who study best to become as good as may be, and theirs the happiest who have the liveliest sense of growth in goodness; and such, hitherto, is the happy fortune which I perceive to have fallen to my lot. To such conclusion I have come, not only in accidental intercourse with others, but by a strict comparison drawn between myself and others, and in this faith I continue to this day; and not I only, but my friends continue in a like persuasion with regard to me, not for the lame reason that they are my friends and love me (or else would others have been in like case as regards their friends), but because they are persuaded that by being with me they will attain to their full height of goodness. But, if I am destined to prolong my days, maybe I shall be enforced to pay in full the penalties of old age--to see and hear less keenly, to fail in intellectual force, and to leave school, as it were, more of a dunce than when I came, less learned and more forgetful--in a word, I shall fall from my high estate, and daily grow worse in that wherein aforetime I excelled. But indeed, were it possible to remain unconscious of the change, the life left would scarcely be worth living; but given that there is a consciousness of the change, then must the existence left to live be found by comparison insipid, joyless, a death in life, devoid of life's charm. But indeed, if it is reserved for me to die unjustly, then on those who unjustly slay me lies the shame [since, given injustice is base, how can any unjust action whatsoever fail of baseness?][11] But for me what disgrace is it that others should fail of a just decision and right acts concerning me? . . . I see before me a long line of predecessors on this road, and I mark the reputation also among posterity which they have left.[12] I note how it varies according as they did or suffered wrong, and for myself I know that I too, although I die to-day, shall obtain from mankind a consideration far different from that which will be accorded to those who put me to death. I know that undying witness will be borne me to this effect, that I never at any time did wrong to any man, or made him a worse man, but ever tried to make those better who were with me."

Such are the words which he spoke in conversation with Hermogenes and the rest. But amongst those who knew Socrates and recognised what manner of man he was, all who make virtue and perfection their pursuit still to this day cease not to lament his loss with bitterest regret, as for one who helped them in the pursuit of virtue as none else could.

To me, personally, he was what I have myself endeavoured to describe: so pious and devoutly religious[13] that he would take no step apart from the will of heaven; so just and upright that he never did even a trifling injury to any living soul; so self-controlled, so temperate, that he never at any time chose the sweeter in place of the better; so sensible, and wise, and prudent that in distinguishing the better from the worse he never erred; nor had he need of any helper, but for the knowledge of these matters, his judgment was at once infallible and self-sufficing. Capable of reasonably setting forth and defining moral questions,[14] he was also able to test others, and where they erred, to cross-examine and convict them, and so to impel and guide them in the path of virtue and noble manhood. With these characteristics, he seemed to be the very impersonation of human perfection and happiness.[15]

Such is our estimate. If the verdict fail to satisfy I would ask those who disagree with it to place the character of any other side by side with this delineation, and then pass sentence.

[1] Or, "the words of Socrates with regard to a divine something which warned him," etc.

[2] The phraseology is poetical.

[3] Or, "in a manner which redounded to his glory."

[4] Or, "marvellous alike for the sincerity of its language, the free unbroken spirit of its delivery, and the absolute rectitude of the speaker."

[5] i.e. the lesser "Delian" solemnities, an annual festival instituted, it was said, by Theseus. See Plut. "Theseus," 23 (Clough, i. 19); and for the whole matter see Plat. "Phaed." 58 foll.

[6] Cf. Arist. "Frogs," 82; of Sophocles, {o d' eukolos men enthad', eukolos d' ekei}.

[7] This is bracketed as spurious by Sauppe and other commentators. But see "Cyrop." VIII. ii. 7, 8, for similar ineptitude of style. R. Kuhner defends the passage as genuine.

[8] See above, II. x. 3; "Symp." i. 3; iii. 14; iv. 47 foll.; vi. 2; "Apol." 2; Plat. "Crat." 384.

[9] See above, I. i. 1.

[10] {to daimonion}--"the divine (voice)."

[11] This passage also may, perhaps, be regarded as spurious.

[12] Or, "There floats before my eyes a vision of the many who have gone this same gate. I note their legacies of fame among posterity."

[13] Or, "of such piety and religious devotedness . . . of such rectitude . . . of such sobreity and self-control . . . of such sound sense and wisdom . . ."

[14] Or, "gifted with an ability logically to set forth and to define moral subtleties."

[15] Or, "I look upon him as at once the best and happiest of men."