Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates

There have been several articles over the years (both in print, the fine piece by T. E. Strunk and online: a website and a editorial) about Martin Luther King’s engagement with the Classics–specifically the figure of Socrates and Plato’s Apology–and its influence on his thought and his rhetoric. I think those who want to ‘correct’ his response and reception of Classical models should just be ignored; those who note, however, that such reception must also be understood from a particular theological perspective put their efforts to far better work.

On this day in his honor, I do think it is worthwhile for us to reflect on the process of reception and how MLK made his own Socrates in a way that enriched his life and those of his interlocutors–both the addressees of his Letter from Birmingham Jail and the generations of cultural respondents who have followed him. MLK refers to Socrates three times in that letter:

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

“In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?”

“To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”

While a classical Platonist might quibble, what I see here is the creation of a personal Socrates from multiple texts. In the first passage, Socrates has a revelatory power not dissimilar to Jesus’–this is the Socrates of the parable of the Cave (from the Republic, the philosopher who dabbled in the idea of the ideal forms. This Socrates promises that the world we experience isn’t the real world but that with practice and grace we may be able to see through the fallacies that surround us. The second and third passages model a different kind of Socrates, one that is particularly Christian, but also one who models a positive and constructive apostasy close to MLK’s own heart and life.

Apology 30e

“Now, Athenians, I am considerably lacking in defending myself, as one might expect, but instead I do it for you, so that you don’t make a mistake against a god’s gift to you by convicting me. For, if you kill me, you will not easily find another like me—simply put—even if it is rather ridiculous to say—you will lose someone dedicated to the city thanks to the god just as to a great and noble horse who has become sluggish because of its size and needs to be roused from its languor by some gadfly. This seems to be the way the god has attached me to the city.

 I am the kind of person who wakes you up, persuades you and reproaches you and I do not stop assailing each one of you everywhere and all day long. No other like this will arise for you easily, men, but if you listen to me, you will spare me. Perhaps, however, because you are annoyed just like drowsy people suddenly awakened, and you listen to Anytos you could easily kill me and then spend the rest of your life sleeping if the god fails to send anyone else to you because he cares about you.

That I really happen to be the sort of person who is sent to the city by the god you might recognize from this: It don’t seem to care about my own affairs and to worry about my household being neglected for this many years in the manner that is normal for people. Instead, I am always laboring on your behalf, going to each person in private as a father or older brother would, trying to persuade you to care for what is most important.”

νῦν οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πολλοῦ δέω ἐγὼ ὑπὲρ ἐμαυτοῦ ἀπολογεῖσθαι, ὥς τις ἂν οἴοιτο, ἀλλὰ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, μή τι ἐξαμάρτητε περὶ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δόσιν ὑμῖν ἐμοῦ καταψηφισάμενοι. ἐὰν γάρ με ἀποκτείνητε, οὐ ῥᾳδίως ἄλλον τοιοῦτον εὑρήσετε, ἀτεχνῶς, εἰ καὶ γελοιότερον εἰπεῖν, προσκείμενον τῇ πόλει ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ὥσπερ ἵππῳ μεγάλῳ μὲν καὶ γενναίῳ, | ὑπὸ μεγέθους δὲ νωθεστέρῳ καὶ δεομένῳ ἐγείρεσθαι ὑπὸ μύωπός τινος· οἷον δή μοι δοκεῖ ὁ θεὸς ἐμὲ τῇ πόλει προστεθηκέναι—τοιοῦτόν τινα ὃς ὑμᾶς ἐγείρων καὶ πείθων καὶ ὀνειδίζων ἕνα ἕκαστον οὐδὲν παύομαι τὴν ἡμέραν ὅλην πανταχοῦ προσκαθίζων. τοιοῦτος οὖν ἄλλος οὐ ῥᾳδίως ὑμῖν γενήσεται, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν ἐμοὶ πείθησθε, φείσεσθέ μου· ὑμεῖς δ’ ἴσως τάχ’ ἂν ἀχθόμενοι, ὥσπερ οἱ νυστάζοντες ἐγειρόμενοι, | κρούσαντες ἄν με, πειθόμενοι Ἀνύτῳ, ῥᾳδίως ἂν ἀποκτείναιτε, εἶτα τὸν λοιπὸν βίον καθεύδοντες διατελοῖτε ἄν, εἰ μή τινα ἄλλον ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἐπιπέμψειεν κηδόμενος ὑμῶν. ὅτι δ’ ἐγὼ τυγχάνω ὢν τοιοῦτος οἷος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ πόλει δεδόσθαι, ἐνθένδε ἂν κατανοήσαιτε· οὐ γὰρ ἀνθρωπίνῳ ἔοικε τὸ ἐμὲ τῶν μὲν ἐμαυτοῦ πάντων ἠμεληκέναι καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι τῶν οἰκείων ἀμελουμένων τοσαῦτα ἤδη ἔτη, τὸ δὲ ὑμέτερον πράττειν ἀεί, ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ προσιόντα ὥσπερ πατέρα ἢ ἀδελφὸν πρεσβύτερον πείθοντα ἐπιμελεῖσθαι ἀρετῆς.

This gadfly Socrates stands as the model for the conscientious objector, the social activist, the cultural warrior who agitates for the improvement of her or his state to the point of the sacrifice of self for the greater good.

The reason I wish to dismiss many of those who critique MLK’s use of Socrates as in some way inauthentic is that I believe their policing of his reception has cultural authoritarianism at its core. Even from the beginning of the 4th century BCE the figure of Socrates has been one of the apostate in construction and reception. Xenophon’s Socrates and Plato’s are different. Hell, Plato’s Socrates is rarely the same from one dialogue to the next. His lessons and values shift not just among his students but over time.

MLK’s amalgamation of Socrates is not just a stage in the religio-historical reception of Socrates and, therefore, a vital and important version, but it is also a model of the reception of Socrates as a model by a member of a marginalized group. We can learn from MLK’s Socrates and our responses to his identification with the Platonic figure. And, I dare say, we can learn more from the importance of such a figure from MLK than from standard academic responses.

Here is a passage I have been mulling over the past few days:

“An attempt, termed ‘feminist standpoint theory’ was made by Harstock (1983) to theorize the value of drawing on particular perspectives. The underlying assumption within this theory is that structural privilege precludes clarity of thought because there is no impetus to theorize ‘the norm’. By contrast, structural marginalization increases clarity of thought because such persons not only have access to dominant understandings but also have access to ‘abnormal’ or subjugated perspectives.”

Sam Warner. “Disrupting Identity Through Visible Therapy: A Feminist Post-Structuralist Approach to Working with Women Who have Experienced Child Sexual Abuse.” Feminist Review 68 (2001) 115-139.

As many of us who have taught literature, art, and language in diverse classrooms know intuitively, students who have been marginalized by race, language, gender, sexual identification, or ability, can ‘read’ and ‘understand’ the experiences of individuals of privilege and structural advantages with far more success than the other way around. MLK’s reading of what Socrates means from a broader cultural perspective thus does not teach us merely about what he found valuable in the figure, but it also teaches us about the broader cultural valences.

When Socrates stands up for his beliefs and dedicates himself to the betterment of the state, he sacrifices his own personal good for the good of the state. To this day, activists from all walks of life–but especially those from the margins–risk their own health, wealth, and future success to make the world better for others. For MLK, Socrates was a source of strength, and I suspect, comfort.

Observing this is important not just for us to appreciate the cultural position of both figures–but also for educators and the continuing discussion of how relevant Classics remains and how the reception of Socrates provides encouragement and direction for those who wish to make our world a better place.

Image result for Ancient Greek Socrates gadfly

An Apology For Saying “Be Well” Instead of”Good Morning

Lucian, Pro lapsu inter salutandum (“A Slip of the Tongue in Greeting”)


“It is hard for someone who is a mortal to avoid random divine anger; but it is much harder to fashion a defense for a senseless slip caused by a god—both things befell me when I visited you to greet you in the accustomed fashion.  It would have been right for me to utter that customary greeting and to bid you to rejoice [khairein] but I, the golden fool, messed up and said “health” to you.  This is also a nice thing to say, but it was not proper for the time: it is not a morning greeting.

As soon as I said that, I was turning red and I was completely undone. Some who were present excused it as a mistake, a probable thing; others thought me a fool because of my age; and others thought that I was still half-drunk from the night before. But you bore it especially well—not signaling what had happened with the mistake of my tongue with so much as the beginning of a smile. Therefore, it seems right to me to write some exhortation to make myself feel better, so that I might not be too upset at my mistake or consider it unbearable if as an old man I have slipped so far from normal behavior before so many witnesses. For I don’t think there a great need for an apology for a tongue-slip if the result is so kind a wish.”


Χαλεπὸν μὲν ἄνθρωπον ὄντα δαίμονός τινος ἐπήρειαν διαφυγεῖν, πολὺ δὲ χαλεπώτερον ἀπολογίαν εὑρεῖν παραλόγου καὶ δαιμονίου πταίσματος, ἅπερ

ἀμφότερα νῦν ἐμοὶ συμβέβηκεν, ὃς ἀφικόμενος παρὰ σέ, ὡς προσείποιμι τὸ ἑωθινόν, δέον τὴν συνήθη ταύτην φωνὴν ἀφεῖναι καὶ χαίρειν κελεύειν, ἐγὼ δὲ ὁ χρυσοῦς ἐπιλαθόμενος ὑγιαίνειν σε ἠξίουν, εὔφημον μὲν καὶ τοῦτο, οὐκ ἐν καιρῷ δὲ ὡς οὐ κατὰ τὴν ἕω. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ἐπὶ τούτῳ εὐθὺς ἴδιόν τε καὶ ἠρυθρίων καὶ παντοῖος ἦν ὑπὸ ἀπορίας, οἱ παρόντες δὲ οἱ μὲν παραπαίειν, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, οἱ δὲ ληρεῖν ὑφ’ ἡλικίας, οἱ δὲ χθεσινῆς κραιπάλης ἀνάμεστον ἔτι ᾤοντό με εἶναι, εἰ καὶ ὅτι μάλιστα σὺ ἐπιεικῶς ἤνεγκας τὸ γεγονὸς οὐδ’ ὅσον ἄκρῳ τῷ μειδιάματι ἐπισημηνάμενος τῆς

γλώττης τὴν διαμαρτίαν. ἔδοξεν οὖν μοι καλῶς ἔχειν παραμυθίαν τινὰ ἐμαυτῷ συγγράψαι, ὡς μὴ πάνυ ἀνιῴμην ἐπὶ τῷ πταίσματι μηδ’ ἀφόρητον ἡγοίμην, εἰ πρεσβύτης ἀνὴρ τοσοῦτον ἀπεσφάλην τοῦ καλῶς ἔχοντος ἐπὶ τοσούτων μαρτύρων.

ἀπολογίας μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲν ἔδει οἶμαι ὑπὲρ γλώττης εἰς οὕτως εὔφημον εὐχὴν ὀλισθούσης.

How Not To Defend Oneself (Lucian’s Apology)

“Before all else, it is necessary that those who criticize me remember that they do not criticize a wise man—if, indeed, there is someone wise anywhere—but instead a man of the regular people who has prepared arguments and received some limited praise for them, even though he has not at all been trained in that pinnacle of virtue of the highest men. And, by Zeus, it would be sufficient for me not to be upset on this count, that I have not encountered some man yet who has paid in full a promise of wisdom. Certainly, I would be surprised if you were to find fault with my current life, if you would criticize the fact which you knew long ago, that I was earning a great deal of money for teaching rhetoric in public when you went to visit the Western Sea and the Celts and you met me, I was one of the highest-charging sophists!

These are the words, friend, which I offer as a defense to you, even amidst my rather busy schedule, since I think it is not at all a minor matter to acquire a clean slate from you. As for the others, even if they all accuse me at once, let this be enough of an answer: “Hippocleides don’t care”.  *

Πρὸ δὲ τῶν ὅλων μεμνῆσθαι χρὴ τοὺς ἐπιτιμῶντας ὅτι οὐ σοφῷ ὄντι μοι—εἰ δή τις καὶ ἄλλος ἐστί που σοφός—ἐπιτιμήσουσιν ἀλλὰ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ πολλοῦ δήμου, λόγους μὲν ἀσκήσαντι καὶ τὰ μέτρια ἐπαινουμένῳ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς, πρὸς δὲ τὴν ἄκραν ἐκείνην τῶν κορυφαίων ἀρετὴν οὐ πάνυ γεγυμνασμένῳ. καὶ μὰ Δί’ οὐδ’ ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἀνιᾶσθαί μοι ἄξιον, ὅτι μηδὲ ἄλλῳ ἐγὼ γοῦν ἐντετύχηκα τὴν τοῦ σοφοῦ ὑπόσχεσιν ἀποπληροῦντι. σοῦ μέντοι καὶ θαυμάσαιμ’ ἂν ἐπιτιμῶντός μου τῷ νυνὶ βίῳ, εἴ γε ἐπιτιμῴης, ὃν πρὸ πολλοῦ ᾔδεις ἐπὶ ῥητορικῇ δημοσίᾳ μεγίστας μισθοφορὰς ἐνεγκάμενον, ὁπότε κατὰ θέαν τοῦ ἑσπερίου ᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ τὴν Κελτικὴν ἅμα ἐπιὼν ἐνέτυχες ἡμῖν τοῖς μεγαλομίσθοις τῶν σοφιστῶν ἐναριθμουμένοις.

Ταῦτά σοι, ὦ ἑταῖρε, καίτοι ἐν μυρίαις ταῖς  ἀσχολίαις ὢν ὅμως ἀπελογησάμην, οὐκ ἐν παρέργῳ θέμενος τὴν λευκὴν παρὰ σοῦ καὶ πλήρη μοι ἐνεχθῆναι· ἐπεὶ πρός γε τοὺς ἄλλους, κἂν συνάμα πάντες κατηγορῶσιν, ἱκανὸν ἂν εἴη μοι τό οὐ φροντὶς ῾Ιπποκλείδῃ.

*A quote from Herodotus 6.127-129.

Plato, Xenophon, Lucretius and Montaigne: Learning How to Die

In his version of the trial of Socrates, Xenophon makes his teacher consider death (Xenophon, Apology 6.1-7.3):

“And if my age proceeds along still more, I know that old age’s traits will necessarily develop: worse vision, weaker hearing, slower learning and less memory for what I have learned already. And when I perceive I am deteriorating I will blame myself, wondering “How can I keep living with pleasure?” Perhaps, he said, the god is kindly on my side not just in ending my life at the perfect age but also in doing it so easily.”

νῦν δὲ εἰ ἔτι προβήσεται ἡ ἡλικία, οἶδ’ ὅτι ἀνάγκη ἔσται τὰ τοῦ γήρως ἐπιτελεῖσθαι καὶ ὁρᾶν τε χεῖρον καὶ ἀκούειν ἧττον καὶ δυσμαθέστερον εἶναι καὶ ὧν ἔμαθον ἐπιλησμονέστερον. ἂν δὲ αἰσθάνωμαι χείρων γιγνόμενος καὶ καταμέμφωμαι ἐμαυτόν, πῶς ἄν, εἰπεῖν, ἐγὼ ἔτι ἂν ἡδέως βιοτεύοιμι; ἴσως δέ τοι, φάναι αὐτόν, καὶ ὁ θεὸς δι’ εὐμένειαν προξενεῖ μοι οὐ μόνον τὸ ἐν καιρῷ τῆς ἡλικίας καταλῦσαι τὸν βίον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ᾗ ῥᾷστα.

So Xenophon’s Socrates muses on the end of his life and the serendipity of his death sentence. Plato’s Socrates talks about death too and not without some similarity. And, yes, I seem to have a weakness for death scenes.

Remember, that a philosopher’s true mission is to learn how to die:

Plato, Phaedo 67e

“In truth, those who practice philosophy correctly practice dying.”

τῷ ὄντι ἄρα, ἔφη, ὦ Σιμμία, οἱ ὀρθῶς φιλοσοφοῦντες ἀποθνῄσκειν μελετῶσι

There are, however, a few different ways to interpret this mission. Michel de Montaigne begins his essay “That to Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die” by quoting the same idea from Cicero: Tota enim philosophorum vita, ut ait idem, commentatio mortis est (Tusc. Disp. 30.74-31.71.5). Cicero, of course, does not footnote properly and attribute it to Plato (nor does Montaigne).

Montaigne offers interpretations of this idea:

“Cicero sayeth that to Philosophize is no other thing than for a man to prepare himself to death: which is the reason that study and contemplation doth in some sort withdraw our soul from us, and severally employ it from the body, which is a kind of apprentisage and resemblance of death. Or else it is that all the wisdom and discourse of the world doth in the end resolve upon this point: to teach us not to fear to die.  Truly either reason mocks us, or it only aimeth at our contentment, and in fine bends all her travel to make us live well and, as the holy Scripture sayeth, at our ease. All the opinions of the world conclude that pleasure is our end, howbeit they take diverse means unto and for it, else would men reject them at their first coming. For who would give ear unto him that for its end would establish our pain and disturbance?”

(Shakespeare’s Montaigne, Greenblatt and Platt 2014: 13) Other translations are available online. But for fun, here’s the French (Also available online from the Montaigne Project)

Ciceron dit que Philosopher ce n’est autre chose que s’aprester à la mort. C’est d’autant que l’estude et la contemplation retirent aucunement nostre ame hors de nous, et l’embesongnent à part du corps, qui est quelque aprentissage et ressemblance de la mort; ou bien, c’est que toute la sagesse et discours du monde se resoult en fin à ce point, de nous apprendre à ne craindre point à mourir. De vray, ou la raison se mocque, ou elle ne doit viser qu’à nostre contentement, et tout son travail tendre en somme à nous faire bien vivre, et à nostre aise, comme dict la Saincte Escriture. Toutes les opinions du monde en sont là, que le plaisir est nostre but, quoy qu’elles en prennent divers moyens; autrement on les chasseroit d’arrivée: car qui escouteroit celuy qui pour sa fin establiroit nostre peine et mesaise?

Near the end of this same essay, Montaigne gets hot and heavy with Lucretius–one might have expected the Epicurean strain from his opening line “ll the opinions of the world conclude that pleasure is our end”).

“Death is less to be feared than nothing, if there were anything less than nothing

–multem mortem minus ad nos esse putandum
Si minus esse potest quam quod nihil esse videmus 
(DRN 3.926-7)

Death is much less to us, we ought esteem,
If less may be, than what doth nothing seem

Nor alive, nor dead,it doth concern you nothing. Alive, because you are; dead, because you are no more.

Moreover, no man dies before his hour. The time you leave behind was no more yours than that which was before your birth and concerneth you no more.

Respice enim quam nil ad nos anteacta vetustas
Temporis aeterni fuerit (DRN

For mark, how all antiquity fore-gone
of all time ere we were, to us was none

Wheresoever your life ended, there is it all. The profit of life consists not in the space, but rather in the use. Some man hath lived long that hath a short life. Follow it whilst you have time. It consists not in the number of years, but in your will, that you have lived long enough….”

(Shakespeare’s Montaigne, Greenblatt and Platt 2014: 31)

La mort est moins à craindre que rien, s’il y avoit quelque chose de moins,

multo mortem minus ad nos esse putandum
Si minus esse potest quam quod nihil esse videmus.

Elle ne vous concerne ny mort ny vif: vif, parce que vous estes: mort, par ce que vous n’estes plus. Nul ne meurt avant son heure. Ce que vous laissez de temps n’estoit non plus vostre que celuy qui s’est passé avant vostre naissance: et ne vous touche non plus,

Respice enim quam nil ad nos ante acta vetustas
Temporis aeterni fuerit.

Où que vostre vie finisse, elle y est toute. L’utilité du vivre n’est pas en l’espace, elle est en l’usage: tel a vescu long temps, qui a peu vescu: attendez vous y pendant que vous y estes. Il gist en vostre volonté, non au nombre des ans, que vous ayez assez vescu.

Happy, Happy Saturday. May it be more than enough.

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.

Xenophon, Apology of Socrates 1.5-7: This Philosopher is Ready to Die.

“Do you really find it shocking if it seems better to the god that I die now? Don’t you know that before today I would never agree that any man has lived better than I have? This is the greatest pleasure, to know that my entire life has been lived righteously and justly. For this reason I have regarded myself well and I have found that those who know me feel the same way. Now, if this age were to proceed, I know that I would have to pay the price of old age: that my vision would be worse, my hearing weaker and I would be poor at learning and, worse, more forgetful of the things I have learned. If I sense myself becoming worse and I fault myself for it, how would I be able to live well? Perhaps, as an act of kindness, the god is granting that I end my life not just at the right age, but also in the easiest manner.”

῏Η θαυμαστὸν νομίζεις εἰ καὶ τῷ θεῷ δοκεῖ ἐμὲ βέλτιον εἶναι ἤδη τελευτᾶν; οὐκ οἶσθα ὅτι μέχρι μὲν τοῦδε οὐδενὶ ἀνθρώπων ὑφείμην βέλτιον ἐμοῦ βεβιωκέναι; ὅπερ γὰρ ἥδιστόν ἐστιν, ᾔδειν ὁσίως μοι καὶ δικαίως ἅπαντα τὸν βίον βεβιωμένον• ὥστε ἰσχυρῶς ἀγάμενος ἐμαυτὸν ταὐτὰ ηὕρισκον καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὶ συγγιγνομένους γιγνώσκοντας περὶ ἐμοῦ. νῦν δὲ εἰ ἔτι προβήσεται ἡ ἡλικία, οἶδ’ ὅτι ἀνάγκη ἔσται τὰ τοῦ γήρως ἐπιτελεῖσθαι καὶ ὁρᾶν τε χεῖρον καὶ ἀκούειν ἧττον καὶ δυσμαθέστερον εἶναι καὶ ὧν ἔμαθον ἐπιλησμονέστερον. ἂν δὲ αἰσθάνωμαι χείρων γιγνόμενος καὶ καταμέμφωμαι ἐμαυτόν, πῶς ἄν, εἰπεῖν, ἐγὼ ἔτι ἂν ἡδέως βιοτεύοιμι; ἴσως δέ τοι, φάναι αὐτόν, καὶ ὁ θεὸς δι’ εὐμένειαν προξενεῖ μοι οὐ μόνον τὸ ἐν καιρῷ τῆς ἡλικίας καταλῦσαι τὸν βίον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ᾗ ῥᾷστα.

Given the content of this speech, I am not quite sure Xenophon is doing Socrates many favors…But, perhaps Socrates was really ready to die.

Plato, Apology 30b: Socrates’ Words on Virtue and Wealth

“Virtue doesn’t come from money, but money and all other good things come from virtue to men both in private and in public.”

‘Οὐκ ἐκ χρημάτων ἀρετὴ γίγνεται, ἀλλ’ ἐξ ἀρετῆς χρήματα καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἀγαθὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἅπαντα καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ.’

Socrates says that this is one of the things he went around saying, which made him annoying to people and resulted in his capitol charges. Unfortunately, this seems to be one area in which Socrates assertion runs against our current reality (certainly, virtue still doesn’t come from money, but that doesn’t mean the converse is true…)

Xenophon, Apology 1.27

“What is this? Are you weeping? Don’t you know that from the moment I was born death was already assigned to me by nature?”


Τὶ τοῦτο; ἤ ἄρτι δακρύετε; οὐ γὰρ πάλαι ἴστε ὅτι ὅτουπερ ἐγενόμην κατεψηφισμένος ἦν μου ὑπὸ τῆς φυσέως ὁ θάνατος


This, from Xenophon’s popular dialogue, Socrates Superstar.