Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

The Story of the Trial

It is not too much to say that the young man was prostrated by the news which he had just heard, for the blow fell upon him with a suddenness that seemed to increase the pain tenfold. He had not been indeed on the same intimate terms of friendship with the great philosopher as the older disciples, Crito, Simmias, Cebes, Phædo and others had been. But he had regarded him with an affection and admiration that was nothing less than enthusiastic; and he had looked forward to getting his advice about the future conduct of his life with a hopeful eagerness that made disappointment very bitter. To find himself in Athens after all the vicissitudes of fortune through which he had passed, and to learn that the man without whom Athens scarcely seemed itself, was lost to him forever, was a terrible shock. Xenophon's sorrow had not been less keen, but he had been prepared for his loss by at least a few days' previous knowledge. The news had reached him while he was on his way, and the first shock was over when he landed. But there had been nothing to break the news to Callias. He felt as a son might feel who returns home after a, long absence in full expectation of a father's greeting, and finds himself an orphan.

So overpowered was the young man that he felt solitude to be absolutely necessary for a time.

"Let me talk to you about it another day," he said to Xenophon, "at present I am not master of myself."

Xenophon clasped his friend's hand with a warm and sympathetic pressure. "I understand," he said. "Yet, I think it will comfort you when you hear how he bore himself at the last and what he said. Come to me to-morrow; Hippocles will tell you where I live."

Early the next morning, Callias presented himself at Xenophon's house, a modest little dwelling, not far from the garden of Academus. He found him in the company of some friends, most of whom were more or less known to the young man as having been members of the circle which had been accustomed to listen to the teaching of the great master. Crito, Menexenus and Æschines, and the two Theban, Cebes and Simmias, were among the number; and there were others whom he did not recognize. He was greeted with kindness and even distinction. His host had evidently been giving a favorable account of him to the company.

"I thought it best," Xenophon went on to explain, "to ask some of those who were actually present when these things happpened, to meet you. I myself, as you know, was not here; and it is well that you should hear a story so important from eye-witnesses, men who saw his demeanor with their own eyes, and heard his words with their own ears."

"I thank you," said Callias. "But tell me first how it was that such things came to pass. It seems incredible to me. I have heard that here and there a man has been found so monstrously wicked that he could kill his own father, though Solon thought it so impossible a crime that he would impose no penalty on it. But that a whole people should be stricken with such madness of wickedness seems to pass all imagination or belief."

"Ah! you do not understand," said Simmias; "I am a foreigner you know; and those who look at things from outside often see more of them than they who are within. I had long thought that Socrates was making many enemies in Athens. And verily if he had said, such things in my own city, as he said here, I doubt whether he had been suffered to live so long."

"But he always spoke true things," said the young man, "and things that were to the real profit of his hearers"

"Just so," replied Simmias, "but that they were true and profitable did not make them pleasant, or the speaker of them welcome. What, think you, would happen to a school-master if his pupils whom he daily corrects and disciplines, sometimes with hard tasks and sometimes with blows, were permitted to judge him, or to a physician if the children whom he seeks to cure of their ailments with nauseous drugs, or, it may be, with the knife or cautery, had him in their power?"

"Truly, it might fare ill with him," Callias confessed, thinking to himself of certain angry thoughts that in his own boyhood he had cherished against his own teacher and doctor.

"Yes," said Crito, "Simmias is right, nor did this matter escape the notice of us Athenians, though we did not perceive it so plainly. You, I know, have been much absent from Athens since you grew to manhood, yet you must have seen something of this. You were here, for example, when the admirals were condemned after the battle at Arginusæ. Is it not so?"

"I was here," said Caillas.

"And you know how Socrates set himself against the will of the people, refusing to put to the vote a proposal which he believed to be unconstitutional. Well, he suffered nothing at that time, because their will prevailed in spite of him. Yet we saw that there were many who remembered this against him, and only waited for the opportunity of avenging themselves upon him. Nor was he less constant in opposing the few, when he believed them to be acting wrongfully, than in opposing the many. Listen now, to what he did and said in the days of the Thirty. Were you in Athens at that time?"

"No," replied Callias, "I left the city, or rather was carried away from it—" at this there was a general laugh, most of the company having heard of the curious story of his abduction—"after the murder of the generals, and did not set foot in it till the other day."

"But you know what manner of men these Thirty were."

"Yes, I know."

"Well, among other vile things that they did was this, that they put to death many excellent men whom they conceived to be enemies to themselves. Then Socrates, in that free way of his, said, 'If a herdsman were so to manage his herd that the cattle became fewer and not more, men would consider him a bad herdsman. Still more would they consider him to be a bad ruler of a city who should so manage it that the citizens became not more but less numerous.' This being reported to Critias, who was a chief among the Thirty, he sent for Socrates, and said to him, 'There is a law that no man shall teach or use the art of words.' Socrates said, 'Mean you by this, the art of words rightly spoken or the art of words wrongly spoken?' On this, one Charicles, who was a colleague of Critias, and was standing by him, broke in violently: 'Since, Socrates, you find it so hard to understand an altogether easy thing, take this as a plain rule, that you are not to talk with young men at all.' 'Truly I desire to obey the law,' said Socrates; 'tell me then what you mean by young men. How young? Up to what age?' Charicles said, 'Up to thirty, at which age men are able to take part in affairs of the state.' 'But,' said Socrates, 'if I desire to buy a thing of a man who is under thirty, is it permitted me to ask what it costs?' 'Yes,' said Charicles, 'you may say so much.' 'And If a man under thirty asks me where Critias lives or Charicles lives, may I answer him?' 'Yes, you may answer such questions,' said Charicles. Then Critias broke in, 'But you must not talk about blacksmiths and coppersmiths and tanners; and indeed you have worn these themes pretty well thread-bare by this time.' 'Nor about righteousness and wickedness and such things, I suppose,' said Socrates. 'No, indeed, nor about herdsmen. If you speak of herdsmen and of the herd being diminished, take care that it be not diminished by one more, even by you.'"

Callias listened with delight. "Oh, how like him!" he cried.

"Yes,"replied Crito, "like him indeed, and truly admirable. But such things do not please those to whom they are spoken, especially do not please men in power. Then consider the number of empty-headed, ignorant fellows whose vanity and conceit he exposed every day by his pitiless questioning. There was not a pretentious fool in Athens whom he had not at some time or other held up to ridicule."

"And they deserved it richly." said Callias.

"Yes," replied the other, "but I have never found that a man liked punishment more because he knew that he deserved it. So you see that the city was full of his enemies. And there were some honest men who really believed that he did harm by his teaching. What with knaves whom he opposed with all his might, and fools whom he exposed, and right-minded, wrong-headed men whom he could not help offending, there was a very formidable host arrayed against him."

"I see," said Callias. "But they must have had some pretext, they could not put any of the things you have been speaking about into a formal charge. Tell me, what did they accuse him of?"

"Oh, it was the old story, treason and blasphemy. Men who would have sold their country for a quarter of a talent, men who believe in no other gods than their own lusts, were loud in proclaiming that Socrates had ruined the state, and was teaching the young not to worship the gods."

"Good heavens!" cried Callias, "how dared they utter such lies? A better patriot, a truer worshipper of the gods never lived."

"You are right; yet, these were the charges against him, these and other things equally absurd, as that he taught the young to despise their fathers and to think meanly of all their relatives and friends, as if he himself were the only friend that was worth having; that he perverted words from Homer and the old poets to a bad sense, making them mean that no work was disgraceful so that it brought in gain, and that it was lawful for kings and nobles to beat the common people—these were the charges that they brought against him. And then they added the accusation that Critias and Alcibiades who had done great harm to Athens had both been disciples of his."

"But tell me," said Callias, "how did these liars and villains proceed? And first, who were they? Who took, the lead?

"One Meletus was the chief."

"What! The foolish poet whom everyone laughs at?"

"Yes, the very same. He represented the poets. There was one Lycon, of whom, I suppose, you never heard, who represented the public speakers, and Anytus, one of those who came back with Thrasybulus. He had been badly treated, it is true, banished without any good reason, but only a madman could have supposed that Socrates had had anything to do with it. These three brought the indictment. It was in these words:

"'Socrates is guilty of a crime. He does not acknowledge the gods whom the state acknowledges, and he introduces other and new gods. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty—death.'"

"But such charges hardly needed a defence. Is it possible that a number of Athenian judges found a verdict of guilty?"

"It was so indeed," said Crito, "and I am not sure that you will be altogether surprised when you hear what the accused said in his own defence. I am an old man now, and have watched the courts now for many years; and I have seen not a few men who might have escaped but for what they said in their own behalf. Now I can't tell you all that Socrates said, or even the greater part of it. Our friend Plato is going to set it forth regularly in a book that he is writing. But I can tell you enough to make you see what I mean.

"After he had dealt with various other matters—those calumnies for instance, that Aristophanes set afloat about him now more than thirty years ago-he went on: 'Some years ago, men of Athens, a certain Chærephon—you know him; some of you went into exile along with him—having been my companion from my youth up, ventured to go to Delphi, and to propose this question to the god: "Is there any man wiser than Socrates?" The Pythia made reply, "There is none wiser than he." When I heard this I said to myself, what can the god mean? He cannot tell a lie, yet I am not conscious to myself of possessing any kind of wisdom. So at last I devised this plan. I went to one of the men who are reckoned wise, thinking thus to test the oracle, so that I might say, here at least is one that is wiser than I. Now when I came to examine this man—he was one of our statesmen, men of Athens,—I found that though he was accounted wise by many and especially by himself, he was not wise in reality. But in vain I tried to convince him, and I even became odious to him and to many others who were present and admired him. Then I thought to myself, I am at least wiser than this man, for he, not knowing, thinks that he knows, while I at least know that I do not know. After this, I went to the poets, tragic, lyrical, and others, and taking to them poems which they had written, asked of them what they meant thereby. And I found that almost always those that had not written these things knew better what they meant than the authors. So I concluded that these also were not wise. And at last I went to the artisans, knowing that they were acquainted with many things of which I knew nothing. And this, indeed, I found to be the case. But I also found that, because they had mastered their own art, each thought himself very wise in other things, things, too, of the greatest importance, and that this self-conceit spoilt their wisdom. These also seemed to be less wise than myself. But all the time that I was doing this I knew that I was making myself hateful to many, yet, because I was bound to obey the god as best I could, I did not desist.

"'It is true also that many young men hearing me thus questioning others have found delight in this employment and have learnt to imitate me. And they have obtained this result: they have found many persons who think that they know much but in reality know nothing. But they who are this discovered are irritated, not so much against their questioners, but against me whom they suppose to have taught them this habit. Hence comes this fable of a certain wicked Socrates who is said to corrupt the young men.

"'Nevertheless, O men of Athens, if you this day release me, I shall not therefore cease to do that which, as I conceive, the god commands. I shall go about the city seeking wisdom; nor shall I cease to say to such as come in my way, My friend, can you, being a citizen of Athens, the most famous city of Greece, help being ashamed if you make riches or rank your highest aim, and care not for that which is indeed the greatest good? This shall I still do to young or old, for it is this that the god orders me to do!'"

"Magnificent!" cried Callias, "but how did the judges take it? It was a downright defiance of them."

"Certainly it was, and so they thought it. There was a tremendous uproar. When the noise had ceased, he began again:—'Do not clamor against me, men of Athens, but hear me patiently; 'tis indeed for your own good that you should. For be assured that putting me to death, you will harm yourselves rather than me. For, having rid yourselves of me, you will not easily find anyone who will do for you the office that I have done, which has been, I take it, that of a rider upon a horse of, good breed, indeed, and strong, but needing the spur. Such a rider have I been to the city, sitting close and exciting you continually by persuasion and reproach. You will not easily find another like me; and if you are angry with me, yet remember that persons awakened out of sleep are angry with the man who rouses them, though it may be to the saving of their lives. And remember this too: what I have done, I have done without pay; no one can bring up this against me that I have done anything for gain. If you ask a proof, look at my poverty—that is proof enough.

"'And if anyone ask me why I go about meddling with every body and giving them advice, and yet never come forward and give any advice about matters of state, I make him this answer: There is a voice within me, of which Meletus idly speaks as if it were another god, which never indeed urges me to do anything, but often warns me against doing this or that. This same voice has often warned me against taking part in public affairs, and rightly so indeed, for be assured that if I had so taken part, I should long ago have perished. And do not be offended if I tell you the truth. No man can be safe who opposes things wrong and illegal that are done by the people. If he would live, even but for a short time, he must keep to a private station.

"'Do you not remember, men of Athens, how when you had to judge the admirals that did not save the shipwrecked men at Arginusæ, I would not put the motion to the vote? For though I had never held any public office I was in the Senate, and it so chanced that my tribe that day had the presidency. You chose to judge all the men together, acting wrongfully, as you afterwards acknowledged. And I alone of all the presidents opposed this thing, and would not yield, no not when the orators denounced me, and would have joined me with the accused. This was in the time of the democracy.

"'And afterwards when the democracy was overthrown, and the oligarchy was in power, what happened? Did not the Thirty send for me along with four others to their council-chamber, and bid us fetch Leon of Salamis, that he might be put to death. This they did, after their habit, seeking to involve as many as possible in their wicked deeds. Then also I showed not in words only, but in deeds that I cared not one jot for death. For in the chamber I declared that I would not do this thing, and when we had gone out, the other four indeed went to Salamis, and fetched Leon, but I went to my own home. Doubtless I should have died for this act, but that the Thirty were overthrown soon afterwards.

"'And what I have done publicly that I have privately also. Never have I conceded anything that was wrong to any man. But if any man would hear what I said I never grudged him the opportunity. I have offered myself to rich and poor, whether they would question me themselves or answer my questions, nor have I spoken for pay, nor been silent because I was not paid, nor have I ever said aught to any man that I have not said to all.

"'So much, men of Athens, might suffice for my defence, but if any of you, remembering that other men when accused have brought their children before you seeking to rouse compassion, are angry with me because I have not so done, let him listen to me. I, too, have family ties.

"'From no gnarled oak I sprang, or flinty rook, as Homer has it, but am born of man. Three sons I have; two of them are children, one an infant. Should I then bring them before you, and seek to move your pity by the sight of them? Not so. I have seen many thus demeaning themselves, as if, forsooth, you acquitting them, they would escape death altogether; but such behavior would ill befit those who seek to follow after virtue and honor. Nor is such behavior only unseemly; it is wrong. For we are bound to convince a judge, not to persuade him, and he is set in his place not to give justice as a favor, but because it is justice. Verily, if I should have to persuade you to act against your oaths I should be condemning myself of the very charge that Meletus has brought against me, for I should act as if I did not believe that the gods by whom ye have sworn to do right are gods at all. Far be it from me so to act. I believe in the gods more than my accusers believe; and I leave it to these gods and to you to judge concerning me as it may be best for you and for me.'"

"No man," said Cebes, "could have spoken better; but it was not the speech that would please or conciliate."

"And what was the result?" asked Callias.

"After all there was only a majority of six against him; two hundred and eighty-one against two hundred and seventy-five were the numbers. Then came the question of the sentence. The prosecutor had demanded the penalty of death. 'Socrates,' said the president of the court, 'what penalty do you yourself propose?' 'You ask me,' said Socrates, 'what penalty I myself propose. What then do I deserve, I who have not sought to make money, or to hold office in the state, or to command soldiers and ships, who have not even attended to my own affairs, but have sought to do to others what I thought to be their highest good? What should be done to me for being such a man? Surely something good, something suitable to one who is your benefactor, and who requires leisure that he may spend it in giving you good advice. There is nothing, I conceive, more suitable than that I should be maintained at the public expense in the Town Hall, with those who have done great services to the State. Surely I deserve such a reward far more than he who has won a chariot race at the Olympic games; for he only makes you think yourselves fortunate, whereas I teach you to be happy.'

"Of course there was a loud murmur of disapprobation at this. Even some of those who had voted for acquittal were vexed at language so bold.

"Socrates began again: 'You think that I show too much pride when I talk in this fashion. But it is not so. Let me show you what I mean. As to the penalty which the accuser demands, I cannot say whether it be good or evil; but the other things which I might propose in its stead I know to be evils—imprisonment, or a fine with imprisonment till it be paid, or exile, which last, indeed, you might accept. But if you cannot endure my ways, O men of Athens, think you that others would endure them? And what a life for a man of my age to lead, this wandering from city to city! But if anyone should say, Why, O Socrates, will you not depart to some other city, and there live quietly, and hold your tongue? I answer, To do this would be to disobey the god, and I cannot do it. And indeed to live without talking and questioning about such matters is not to live at all. But I have not yet named the penalty. If I had money I should propose some fine which I could pay; but I have none, except indeed you are willing to impose upon me some small fine, for I think that I could raise a pound of silver.' At this there was another growl from the judges; and some of us who were standing by Socrates caught him by the robe, and whispered to him. After a pause, he said, 'Some of my friends, Crito and Plato and Apollodorus, advise me to propose a fine of thirty minas and offer to be security. So I propose that sum.'

"Of course the result was certain. A majority much larger than before voted for the death penalty. Then the condemned man spoke for the last time. You will be able to read for yourself the very words that he said. I can now give you only an idea of the end of his speech. He had told the judges, speaking especially to those who had voted for his acquittal, that the voice that was wont to warn him had never hindered him in the course of his speech, though it was not the speech that he should have made if he had wanted to save his life. From this he argued that he and they had reason to believe that death was a good thing. 'Either,' he said, 'the dead are nothing and feel nothing, or they remove hence to some other place. What can be better than to feel nothing? What days or nights in all our lives are better than those nights in which we sleep soundly without even a dream? But if the common belief is true, and we pass in death to that place wherein are all who have ever died, what greater good can there be than this? If one passes from those who are called judges here to those who really judge and administer true justice, to Æacus and Minos and Rhadamanthus, is this a change to be lamented? What would not anyone of you give to join the company of Homer and Orpheus and Hesiod? or talk with those who led that great army of Greeks to Troy, or with any of the many thousands of good men and women that have lived upon the earth? Verily, I would die many times if I could only hope to do this. And now it is time'—for these were his very last words of all—'that we should separate. I go to die, you remain to live; but which of us is going the better way, only the gods know.'"

There was a deep silence in the room after Crito had finished speaking. It was broken at last by Callias, who asked, "How long since was that?"

"Nearly two months," said Simmias, "but by a strange chance Socrates was not put to death for nearly a month after his condemnation. It so happened that the Sacred Ship started for Delos just at the time, and during its voyage—in fact from the moment that the priest fastens the chaplet on the stern—no man can be put to death. For thirty days then he was kept in prison, There we were permitted to visit him, and there we heard many things that are well worth being remembered."

"I want to hear everything," cried Callias.

"You shall in good time," said Crito. "Come to my house to-morrow and I will put you in the, way of your getting what you want."

"But you ought to hear," cried Apollodorus, who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation, "what the teacher said to me, though, indeed, it shows no great wisdom in me that he had occasion to say it. 'O Socrates,' I said, when I saw him turning away from the place where he had stood before his judges—and nothing could be more cheerful than his look—'O Socrates, this indeed is the hardest thing to bear that you should have been condemned unjustly.' 'Nay, not so, my friend,' he answered, 'would the matter have been more tolerable if I had been condemned justly?'"

There was a general laugh. "That is true," said Crito, "but certainly as far as Athens is concerned, it was a more shameful thing."