I wanted to do two posts on the Apology, but I’m scarcely going to manage one, distracted as I am by being here at the APA in Philadelphia. It’s very daunting writing on this text, which is in so many ways both wonderful and monumental.
I was struck this time around by the experience of reading it directly after the Euthyphro, something I’ve never done before. My last post was about Socrates trying to find the essence of the concept of piety, or the holy. But of course what Socrates claims he’s doing in the Apology is something quite different: the Delphic oracle claiming that Socrates is the wisest man sets him off on his quest to find someone wiser, with the result that he examines everyone to see if they are really wise, or if they just think they are wise when they are not. Euthyphro, so confident in his special knowledge of the gods, is clearly one of the latter category, and Socrates’ entire conversation with him, in light of what he says in the Apology, now seems less about a quest for a definition of piety and more like an exposure of Euthyphro’s ignorance. In fact, Socrates here seems fairly certain of what piety is. At least, in his refusal to appeal to the pity of the jurors, he makes the claim that attempting to gain a favor from the jury, rather than their judgment, would amount to persuading them to break their oaths, and that this would be impious: “we ought not to get you into the habit of breaking your oaths, nor ought you to fall into that habit; for neither of us would be acting piously. Do not, therefore, men of Athens, demand of me that I act before you in a way which I consider neither honorable nor right nor pious” 35c-d.
But Socrates makes two claims about his activities in the Apology which seem (to me, at any rate) separate: he examines those who claim to be wise but are not, and he exhorts and encourages everyone to care for virtue (31b). Could this (also) be what is going on in the Euthyphro? Is it possible that Socrates sees the prosecution Euthyphro is about to bring against his father as a violation of correct behavior, and his inquiry into piety is a subtle attempt to dissuade him from it?
Two other things struck me about the text this time through, which I don’t have time to develop here, but hopefully will come back to later. One is the recurring motif of xenoi, or foreigners, in the speech: Socrates begins by saying he is such a stranger to the court and the kind of speech given there that the jury should forgive him as they would a real foreigner, for using his native dialect (17d), and foreigners (or the contrast between citizens and foreigners) pop up at other interesting moments in the text. Related to this (maybe) is the highly inflammatory claim Socrates makes starting at 31c that no man who fights for justice can survive in public life. So I’ll hope to return to Socrates’ relation to the city, and the perceived threat he represented to it.