Apology (Xenophon)

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The Apology (in full Apology of Socrates to the jury; Greek: Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους πρὸς τοὺς Δικαστάς) is a Socratic dialogue by Xenophon, a student of Socrates. It recounts Socrates' self-defense at his trial and execution, focusing prominently on his view that it was better to die before senility set in than to escape execution by humbling himself before an unjust persecution. It is the only surviving primary account of the trial other than Plato's Apology.


Specialists believe that Xenophon's interpretation of the trial was written in response to a widespread literary reaction following the trial, where Athenian public figures and authors used the theme of Socrates's trial to state their views on his guilt. Xenophon presents his account as being the only one of them that made Socrates' "boastful manner of speaking" (megalēgoria) at the trial understandable.[1] Xenophon was away at the time of the events, involved in the events of the march of the Ten Thousand. He cites Hermogenes as his source for the factual elements of Socrates' speech. It is probable that Hermogenes had indeed witnessed the trial: although Plato's Apology does not mention his presence, his Phaedo lists Hermogenes among those who were present at Socrates' death.

The main part of the text is a direct blow for blow rejection of a particular attack on Socrates' character by an opponent of Socrates. The text gives clear indication on the charges brought against Socrates by Anytus, and is often used on this point in comparison with Plato's version of the trial.

The final "chapter" of Xenophon's Memorabilia contains some of the same material – some of it almost word for word – as the beginning sections of his Apology.[2][3] This has led some scholars to suspect that Xenophon's Apology was the original conclusion to the Memorabilia; given our limited evidence, however, this cannot be known with certainty.[4]

Contrast with Plato's Apology

One thing that distinguishes Xenophon's account from Plato's is that in the former, the Oracle at Delphi claimed that no one was "more free, more just, or more sound of mind" than Socrates,[5] while in Plato's text the claim was only that no one was "wiser".[6] Some scholars have suggested that what accounts for the difference is that Xenophon wished to avoid the explicit attribution of "wisdom", a term which, to the average Athenian, would suggest that Socrates indeed was properly characterized as an atheistic natural philosopher as Aristophanes had done.[7] However, Xenophon's Socrates does claim to be "wise" in the sense that "from the time when I began to understand spoken words [I] have never left off seeking after and learning every good thing that I could".[8]

Another difference is that in Xenophon's Apology Socrates' "divine sign" (daimonion) is described as giving positive indications as to what should be done (12),[9] while Plato's Socrates consistently and explicitly describes the sign as "turn[ing] me away from something I am about to do" but "never encourag[ing] me to do anything".[10]

A further difference between Plato and Xenophon is that whereas Plato has Socrates finally suggest a thirty-mina penalty for himself,[11] the Xenophon/Hermogenes version says that he refused to suggest any and refused to allow his friends to do so, claiming that to do otherwise would imply guilt.[12]

Finally, whereas Socrates' willingness to face the death penalty is in Plato's Apology explained by Socrates' unwavering commitment to his divinely appointed mission to keep philosophizing at all costs,[13] it is explained in the Xenophon/Hermogenes version by the claim that it is better for him to die now than to face the pains and limitations of advanced old age.[14][15]



  1. Xenophon, Apology, 1-2
  2. Xenophon, Apology, 1-8
  3. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.8.1-4.8.8
  4. p. 639, O. Todd, Xenophon IV: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Symposium, Apology, Harvard U. Press 1923.
  5. Xenophon, Apology',' 14
  6. Plato, Apology, 21a
  7. pp. 90-91, J. Burnet, Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito, Clarendon 1924. For "wisdom" as characteristic of atheistic natural philosophers, see Plato's Apology 18b-c and 19c.
  8. Xenophon, Apology, 16
  9. Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.8.1.
  10. Plato, Apology, 31d
  11. Plato, Apology, 38b
  12. Xenophon, Apology, 23
  13. Plato, Apology, 29c-30c
  14. Xenophon, Apology, 6-8, 27, 32
  15. Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.8.1 and 4.8.8.

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