Xenophon, Socrates’ Apology (26): Palamedes is Better than Odysseus, Like Me

“The fact that I will die unjustly shouldn’t burden my thoughts. No, this is a matter of shame for those who convicted me. The case of Palamedes, who died like me, provides some comfort. For even now he furnishes more beautiful songs than that Odysseus who killed him unjustly. So I know that it will be known on my part in the future as time passes that I did nothing wrong and that I never corrupted any man—instead, I have worked hard on the behalf of those I encounter, teaching them whatever good I can.”

ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ μέντοι ὅτι ἀδίκως ἀποθνῄσκω, διὰ τοῦτο μεῖον φρονητέον• οὐ γὰρ ἐμοὶ ἀλλὰ τοῖς καταγνοῦσι τοῦτο αἰσχρόν [γάρ] ἐστι. παραμυθεῖται δ’ ἔτι με καὶ Παλαμήδης ὁ παραπλησίως ἐμοὶ τελευτήσας• ἔτι γὰρ καὶ νῦν πολὺ καλλίους ὕμνους παρέχεται ᾿Οδυσσέως τοῦ ἀδίκως ἀποκτείναντος αὐτόν• οἶδ’ ὅτι καὶ ἐμοὶ μαρτυρήσεται ὑπό τε τοῦ ἐπιόντος καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ παρεληλυθότος χρόνου ὅτι ἠδίκησα μὲν οὐδένα πώποτε οὐδὲ πονηρότερον ἐποίησα, εὐηργέτουν δὲ τοὺς ἐμοὶ διαλεγομένους προῖκα διδάσκων ὅ τι ἐδυνάμην ἀγαθόν.

In the Trojan War tradition Palamedes is the one who tricks Odysseus to showing he isn’t insane when Agamemnon and Nestor arrive in Ithaca to bring him to war. Once they get to Troy, Odysseus frames Palamedes as a traitor and arranges to have him stoned to death. According to fragments and ancient scholiasts, the major tragedians each had plays on Palamedes. We have none of them. Plato has Socrates mention Palamedes too (Apology 41b):

“Then it would be a wondrous way for me to spend my time there [in the afterlife], whenever I would meet Palamedes or Telemonian Ajax or if there is any other of the ancients who died thanks to an unjust judgment, I could compare the things I have suffered to what they did…”

ἐπεὶ ἔμοιγε καὶ αὐτῷ θαυμαστὴ ἂν εἴη ἡ διατριβὴ αὐτόθι, ὁπότε ἐντύχοιμι Παλαμήδει καὶ Αἴαντι τῷ Τελαμῶνος καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος τῶν παλαιῶν διὰ κρίσιν ἄδικον τέθνηκεν, ἀντιπαραβάλλοντι τὰ ἐμαυτοῦ πάθη πρὸς τὰ ἐκείνων…

The details are different-—notice the inclusion of another anti-Odysseus figure in Ajax—-but the tone is the same (Socrates enrolling himself in a list of wronged heroes). Plato’s Socrates seems a bit bolder, though, as he imagines hanging out with the unjustly dead.

5 thoughts on “Xenophon, Socrates’ Apology (26): Palamedes is Better than Odysseus, Like Me

  1. Odysseus pretended insanity to escape his oath-bound duty. Palamedes exposed his fraud and incurred his hatred, just as Socrates incurred the envy of his accusers; Ajax suffered a different kind of “unjust judgment” from the Greek council, who deemed him less worthy of honour than Odysseus, so did the Athenians unjustly judged Socrates, who deserved honour for his service to the state.

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