‘The Trial of Socrates’ by Alan Steinle The Society June 22, 2020 Beauty, Culture, Poetry 11 Comments Poet’s Note: The Apology of Socrates is Plato’s account of Socrates’ defense of himself in a court of law. The present work is a poetic interpretation of Plato’s account. I would like to thank my friend Dr. William Engels for his constructive criticism and helpful editorial suggestions. Part 1: Socrates’ Defense Socrates defends himself in a court of law before about 500 people, including a judge and his accusers: Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. 1. Though I am old, I’ve never been Within a court of law before; It’s hard to win against some men, But their false words I can’t ignore. Though absent men began this fight, I’ll bring their claims into the light. 2. “That Socrates, a wise old man, Investigates the earth and sky; He’ll make you godless if he can; His flimsy reasons please don’t buy.” Yes, many make such baseless claims And go about destroying names. 3. Please disregard my humble speech— The simple truth is what I tell; You’ve gathered round me to impeach My character, as you know well. Decide if what I say is just, For fancy words are heaps of dust. 4. O men of Athens, quell your shouts; Don’t think of me as vain or proud; Let honest words remove your doubts As I present my case unbowed. The god at Delphi verifies The words I’m speaking are not lies. 5. You surely know Chaerephon, too; He went to Delphi and inquired; The priestess there reveals what’s true And speaks the words as she’s inspired. “Whose wisdom is unparalleled?” “That Socrates can’t be excelled.” 6. What did Apollo mean by this? The god does not speak falsely, now; I thought that something was amiss, For he asserts I’m wise, but how? My wisdom isn’t great or small— I do not think I’m wise at all! 7. With these strong doubts within my mind, I looked for men reputed wise; I sought the wisest of mankind, And such they were in human eyes. But questioning with little tact, I soon found out they sorely lacked. 8. I tried to show one pol that he Was not as wise as others said; Though proud enough, he couldn’t see By flattery he was misled. He didn’t like my boorish truths, For he was mocked by several youths. 9. And when I left that angry guy, I realized the god was right; The god made me a nagging fly To pester smugness with my bite. I know I don’t know anything— This is the truth to which I cling. 10. I found that men of high repute Were not as wise as simple chaps, That lowly men were more astute Than famous men with knowledge gaps. But I continued with my quest To put all wisdom to the test. 11. I went to see a poet next, To ask him what his verses meant, But as he read, he seemed perplexed— He didn’t know his words’ intent. The poets write as prophets do— Not grasping what they hear or view. 12. I thought the craftsmen must know more Than others who are not as skilled; I found they have a knowledge store, For they know how to weave and build. Beyond their narrow specialty, They’re just as lost as you and me. 13. The god’s own message seems to be That human wisdom comes to naught; I represent all men, you see— A great exception I am not. If any think that they are wise, I test and prove them otherwise. 14. In service to the god I live, Though earning only hate from men; My time to all I freely give; I cower not, I have thick skin. The proof of my sincerity: I live in simple poverty. 15. When I put people to the test, The idle youths all did the same; Then people saw me as a pest And placed on me the guilt and blame. Their slander fell on eager ears, As it has done for many years. 16. You claim that I corrupt the youth And don’t revere the gods, like you; These accusations mock the truth; Your words of slander misconstrue. O men of Athens, rein your ire, For I can sense a growing fire. 17. Meletus says that I alone Corrupt the youth, but no indeed! I’ll let it be my cornerstone That only few can really lead. As few can tame a wild beast, The rest will be inept, at least. 18. And it would be the greatest gift If only I corrupted men; If all the others can uplift Our youths, then let the schools begin! But my accusers do not care About our youths or if they err. 19. You say I don’t believe in gods, But do believe in daemons and Some others, such as demigods; This is the claim, I understand. But I will prove I do believe And my accusers are deceived. 20. As for my proof, would you persist In claiming that some things relate To horses, but no steeds exist, Although related things have weight? If foals and reins can’t be dismissed, We know that horses must exist. 21. If daemons are the gods’ own seed, Then who would claim that daemons are Unless he firstly does concede That gods exist, and pass that bar? But I believe that daemons live And that the gods are causative. 22. If I’m condemned, it won’t be by Specific people with their claims, For hate and envy underlie The defamation of my name. Though I’m condemned, this will not end— With many more you will contend. 23. When death has come to walk near you, Don’t fear or question what will come; Seek justice till your days are through; Be brave although you may succumb. Face danger and remain in place; Avoid dishonor and disgrace. 24. Philosophy is my own work, And I inspect myself each day; I serve the god and never shirk; I’d be remiss to disobey. If I did not fulfill my role, Then you could justly sift my soul. 25. O men of Athens, is not fear The mask of wisdom that men wear? And men feel wise to engineer All sorts of ways to quell despair. But it’s not wise to fear the end, For it could be a welcome friend. 26. O men of Athens, why should I Select an evil that is sure Instead of choosing here to die, For death might be a good or cure? It’s ignorant to think you’ve got The greatest wits when you have not. 27. O men of Athens, I shall choose To follow god instead of you, For I am bound, though men refuse, To test all things and seek the true. I cannot change my task or fate— I’ll warn, assess, and agitate. 28. And are you not ashamed to seek For riches, fame, and glory first? Without real wisdom, fame is weak; Without the truth, all glory’s cursed. Just seek perfection of the soul; This must be your pursuit and goal. 29. You must regard your soul with care And not prefer your flesh or wealth; If you choose truth, it won’t ensnare; It will direct to peace and health. Yes, virtue is the source of joy; It brings a wealth that doesn’t cloy. 30. If you assert you care for these— The truth and wisdom that I praise— I’ll sift and prove you, as I please, To search out all your hidden ways. But if you choose what’s truly base, I will reproach you to your face. 31. O men of Athens, murmur not— The evil men can’t harm the good; Though I may die, if it’s my lot, I’ll speak the truth because I should. If you convict and throw the blame, You’ll hurt yourselves and taint your name. 32. Your judgment cannot harm me now, By exile, death, or heavy fine; I will not fear nor wipe my brow; To me, your insults are benign. Meletus and Anytus fail To harm me though they both assail. 33. I’ll make a firm defense for you Lest you should hurt yourselves with hate; Your slander here is nothing new; Your lack of justice weaves your fate. The god chose me to wake you up, But envy stirs a bitter cup. 34. Replacing me would be a task That would be hard for you to do; The god might send one if you ask, But you still fear what would ensue. To you I am the god’s own gift; If you condemn me, who will sift? 35. From early life, I heard a voice; A godly spirit spoke to me; Opposing every harmful choice, It guards me from what I can’t see. This spirit never goads or leads, But it prevents unwanted deeds. 36. This voice kept me from public life, For politics is not my field; Opposing you would have made strife, But private life was like a shield. I simply would have bit the dust If I had fought for what is just. 37. My goal in life is to reject All actions that are less than good; The just and holy I elect— For these two things I’ve always stood. I do not fear the government, Though I must often voice dissent. 38. I don’t take money for my speech; I don’t refuse the rich or poor; I am not greedy like a leech; To all I open wide my door. If any say they have received Some secret lore, don’t be deceived. 39. You know why some obtain delight To linger with me every day? They love to hear the frauds put right And see their faces in dismay. I’ve been enjoined by deities To keep on sifting such as these. 40. O men of Athens, do not doubt That seers, priests, and dreams tell me To question fully those with clout; This urgent task I will not flee. The words I speak are wholly true And hold up under close review. 41. If I corrupt the youth this way, Then those who were deceived by me Should now arise, accuse, and say They were misled, as they now see. If I have wronged them, they would scold And punish me for what I’ve told. 42. But many youths are present here, As Plato, Crito, and the rest; Meletus could have them appear And put a “knife” into my chest. And if I have no righteous case, Then they can put me in my place. 43. But they all sympathize with me; They’re ready to assist my plea; As many others clearly see, They would reproach your enmity. They know Meletus is untrue; His hate and envy are undue. 44. Though I may be condemned today, I won’t parade my wife and friends; It simply isn’t my own way To rouse emotions for my ends. Although these actions may enrage, I won’t seek pity at this stage. 45. I don’t think it’s becoming here To supplicate at my old age; Although I may seem cavalier, I am not loath to turn the page. Yes, some commit a shameful deed When stooping low to beg and plead. 46. Some culprits think that they will ail If they are put to death by men, But that they’ll live forever hale If they achieve a legal win. Such people bring this city shame; They tarnish Athens’ ebbing fame. 47. Those people should take all the blame, Instead of those who calmly wait; Their dramas are an ugly game, And sometimes judges take the bait. Such cowardice does not befit A man, though judges may acquit. 48. O men of Athens, should a judge Decide a case by means of laws? Or should some favors make him budge, As culprits flee the deathly jaws? It is not right—he should be loath To take a bribe or break his oath. 49. I won’t behave in such a way To ruin justice by my acts; If I did so, I’d prove today An unbeliever by these facts. O men of Athens, please discern That justice is my first concern. 50. I am a strong believer in The gods—more than Meletus here, And more than many other men, So let me make my purpose clear. I’ll let the god and you preside; My fate is what you will decide. Part 2: After the Verdict The votes are cast, and Socrates is found guilty by a majority of the votes. 51. O men of Athens, I’m not grieved At these events, for I received A vote of guilt, as I believed, And thus your aims have been achieved. But I did not expect to see The end determined just by three. 52. If three had changed their guilty votes, Then I would soon have been released; But this decision now connotes My options quickly have decreased. Although Meletus is perplexed, He will prepare the sentence next. 53. But now it’s clear to everyone, Had not Meletus’ helpers come, Meletus would have been undone By hefty fines, a massive sum. If he had not obtained the votes, A thousand drachmas—yet he gloats! 54. I have neglected money’s charms And all the things that men pursue, Like leading, speaking, mansions, farms; With all these things, wealth does accrue. But I taught people to take care Of justice, self, and city square. 55. O men of Athens, what should I Award myself as just deserts? A good reward would satisfy, Though my proposal disconcerts. I should receive my rightful plumes Within the Prytaneum’s rooms. 56. I should receive a daily sum To speak within the public square; The people’s questions I would plumb; To me, this small reward seems fair. Your benefactor I would be To help improve society. 57. Perhaps you think I’m acting proud In this, a case of life and death; But I’m not able or allowed To stretch my time or catch my breath. I think I could persuade those here If I had more time to appear. 58. I don’t believe that I have hurt On purpose anyone I’ve met; So I won’t act now to subvert My own good morals with your threat. I don’t believe that I should earn A punishment from this concern. 59. But should I choose to do some time Within a prison or a jail? Or should I owe a hefty fine And wait till friends can pay my bail? A fine would be the same as jail— I’d be confined to no avail. 60. Or should I go away from here? Perhaps an exile would please you? But if my words don’t make me dear To Athens, what would others do? A fine life it would be to go Throughout the land and mischief sow! 61. And some will say, “Why can’t you live A quiet life without debates?” Myself I never would forgive If I opposed what god dictates. The unexamined life is not Worth living, nor is it my lot. 62. If I were rich, I’d pay a fee— I’d pay a large, substantial sum; I’d not be harmed, but be set free, But as it is, I may succumb. A fine of thirty minas for My punishment—I can’t pay more. Part 3: After the Sentencing The judges sentence Socrates to death. 63. O men of Athens, you will see Chastisement from your enemy; They will believe that you killed me, A wise old man, with cruelty. Your acts and name they will defame; You will be scolded, to your shame. 64. If you had waited for my death, You might have saved yourselves some stress; I’d soon have breathed my final breath, For I am old, but you transgress. This is for him who vilifies, For him who longs for my demise. 65. I have not been convicted through A lack of arguments, but by A lack of words with which to woo Your sentiments before I die. I did not think it was my place To move you with a tearful face. 66. Yet I’m not sorry for my fate Nor for defending my life thus; I did not then incorporate Fair words that are quite frivolous. I did not use all methods to Escape the sentence planned by you. 67. Though it’s not hard to outrun death, Depravity runs faster still; Though one may keep one’s living breath, It’s harder to restrain the ill. And though the slower has caught me, The faster one you cannot flee. 68. And I depart, condemned to die, But you’re condemned by verity; And justice soon will amplify The pain for your barbarity. My sentence I will not arrest; I feel that things are for the best. 69. O men of Athens, I predict— As men near death are wont to do— The young men here will soon afflict Your lives as I did hitherto. And all these youths, whom I restrained, Will set on you when they’re unchained. 70. You think that you will be set free From needing to inspect your mind; Although I’ll be an absentee, Your many foes won’t be so kind. They’ll make you even more displeased, And they won’t quickly be appeased. 71. This shameful method to escape Your troubles is not good or just; Your life is not in splendid shape, For you’ll receive what we’ve discussed. Yes, that is what you will go through, And now I take my leave of you. 72. To those who voted to acquit, I would converse with you a while; I should reveal and now admit What happened ere I came to trial. This morning, something strange occurred: I left my home quite undeterred. 73. The deity who guides my choice Was silent when I left my place; It didn’t warn me with its voice That I’d encounter some disgrace. It has not yet opposed me here, Though seeming evils do appear. 74. So what could be the cause of this? Is this a blessing that I gain? The lack of signs I can’t dismiss; My destiny I won’t disdain. I do believe I’ve met some boon On this momentous afternoon. 75. To die must now be one of these: Annihilation could be fate; To have no sense, to be at ease, Or else the soul moves through a gate. So death could be a darkness vast, Or else the soul could be recast. 76. If death is like an endless sleep— A sleep without a dream of fear— Then it would be a boon to keep That peaceful state, that rest austere. I don’t think rulers would decline A peaceful rest that’s so divine. 77. If death is, on the other hand, A passage to another place, Or to a better mystery land, Then that is something I’d embrace. If I could meet some judges there, They’d be more righteous by compare. 78. No price would be too high to meet Some demigods and heroes there; I’d suffer death or full defeat; All worldly goods I would not spare. To speak with Homer like a friend Would be a gift without an end. 79. And I could meet with other dead— Those who were killed unjustly here; Comparing hardships, naught unsaid, Their love and friendship would endear. I’d like to question famous men To find if they were wise within. 80. If what they say is true indeed, Then life in Hades is not bad; To follow where the dead ones lead Is not to die or to go mad. To be immortal is a joy That nothing ever can destroy. 81. O judges, you should keep your hope And meditate on truths like this; The gods aid men and help them cope; To good men nothing falls amiss. This death to me is not by chance— Past my old cares I will advance! 82. O judges, please reproach my sons; Please pain them all as I pained you; If hope for wealth and fame outruns Plain virtue, judge them all anew. If they think they are something great, Then let your justice set them straight. 83. But now it’s time for me to leave, And I will die, but you will live; There is no need for you to grieve; All hate and envy I forgive. And who goes to the better place? God only knows what we will face. Alan Steinle is a writer, editor, and Spanish translator. Originally from Oklahoma, he currently lives in Washington state. His website is https://alansite.net/ NOTE: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 11 Responses Susan Jarvis Bryant June 22, 2020 This is an amazing poetic journey through the trial of Socrates that could well be applied to attitudes today. I applaud you for the dedication to your poetic quest and thank you for this eye-opening wake-up call. Well done! Reply Alan June 22, 2020 Thank you for your comments. I didn’t expect many people to take the time to read something so long, but hopefully it was worth reading. I agree with many of Socrates’ views, including the idea that human wisdom doesn’t amount to much and the idea that we need a spiritual guide to help us get through life, so I enjoyed composing this poem. Reply C.B. Anderson June 22, 2020 Alan, And I almost didn’t, but I couldn’t resist the pull of such a thorough treatment of any subject with perfect rhyme and meter throughout. However, if Socrates’ defense was really that long, he might have been found guilty for that fact alone. A few years ago I was on a jury in a federal patent-infringement case. After a while, I held a grudge against the plaintiff for having put me through such an arduous ordeal. You’d be surprised at what goes on in a jury room and what incidental factors come into play when ordinary persons are asked to mete justice. What Socrates learned is still true today: The greatest crime is speaking the truth. Susan Jarvis Bryant June 23, 2020 Alan, your poem is well worth the read and I would urge everyone to read it. I am revisiting Philosophy with a mature eye, and Socrates’ views on wisdom are assisting me through these truly dreadful times. I’m heartened to hear that you enjoyed composing your poem. I thought I was the only poet who didn’t suffer for her art. May you have many more days steeped in the joy of creativity. Joseph S. Salemi June 25, 2020 The charges brought against Socrates were fake and politically motivated. The real reason behind them was the general animus felt by the partisans of Athenian “democracy” against anyone who had supported the previous rule of The Thirty, a strongly conservative and oligarchic regime. It’s exactly what happens today when Democrats bring fake charges against anyone in the political opposition whom they dislike or fear. Margaret Coats June 22, 2020 Alan, this easy-reading poem could be an educational resource for homeschools and small academies that teach the classics. I see at your website that you divide the poem into easy increments and offer a pdf of the whole. I might have used it with my children, who would have been much more likely to read your verse than any prose translation of Plato. Your work would easily have led into Peter Kreeft’s book, Socrates Meets Jesus, which I did use. Kreeft has Socrates wake up in the sub-basement of Widener Library at Harvard University, where he meets an old Irish janitor. The janitor is one of those simple people whose company Socrates prefers. When Socrates begins to question him about the afterlife, the janitor knows what to say because he had learned his faith in the question-and-answer format of the Baltimore Catechism. The two have a conversation that sparkles. Of course, the issue of “corrupting our youth” is of major importance to older students, as well as to parents and teachers, of non-government schools. Your poem would be a helpful discussion starter! Reply Alan June 22, 2020 If my poem is easy to read, that is thanks to my experience editing engineering theses and dissertations by international students. In that work, I had to try to understand what the author meant, and then phrase his or her idea in clear and standard English. That paraphrasing work was a useful experience. As far as the afterlife is concerned, I have to agree with the words Shakespeare put into Hamlet’s mouth: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And, as Jesus says in John 14:2, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” People are free to use my poem as they wish. If they do use it, I would like to hear about their experience with this particular “child” of mine. Reply Alan June 23, 2020 C. B. Anderson, Thanks for reading my poem. It’s interesting that you mention the element of time, since I did not cover the whole Apology of Socrates with my poem. In addition, Socrates said that he might have convinced more people of his point of view if he’d had more time: 57. Perhaps you think I’m acting proud In this, a case of life and death; But I’m not able or allowed To stretch my time or catch my breath. I think I could persuade those here If I had more time to appear. People often get upset when they hear another point of view, but what is the point of view we offer as an alternative? Is it the truth about our temporary mindset, which may or may not be helpful to others, or is it the ultimate and eternal truth, which may, in the end, be mostly ineffable? I, for one, don’t know the whole truth at this time, and although I try to be honest about my point of view, I realize that others have other points of view and other words to describe them, regardless of their honesty or dishonesty in relaying their own point of view. I find I have more peace of mind when I try not to find fault with others, and when I realize that I can only try to change myself and be honest with myself and others. These ideas are not aimed at any particular person (although they were in reply to Anderson’s statement about truth). They are just some of my thoughts about truth and honesty, which I don’t claim to embody or practice perfectly. Most of us are still works in progress. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 23, 2020 There’s one small typo — in stanza 5, the name should be spelled “Chaerophon,” with an n at the end. Reply The Society June 23, 2020 Thank you, Dr. Salemi. It has been fixed. Reply Alan June 23, 2020 The translation of the Apology of Socrates that I wrote the poem from used the spelling “Chærepho,” probably as an Anglicized spelling of the name “Chaerephon,” similar to changing the Greek name “Platon” to “Plato.” Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.