PLATO’S “APOLOGY OF SOCRATES”: A New Translation, in the Style of a Cinematic Novel

Posted by & filed under apollo, apology, oracle at Delphi, Plato, Socrates, symposium, wisdom.

by Steve Kostecke (Today’s PRIZE GIVEAWAY is a PDF Copy of Steve’s Book. Leave a COMMENT to enter. See details below)

Andrew Cort’s Mini-Review:


SocratesIn this new translation of Plato’s Apology (Socrates’ statement to the Athenian court that soon condemned him on trumped up charges of “corrupting the youth of Athens”), Steve Kostecke has recreated the monologue into a screenplay, complete with stage directions and flashbacks. The language of the translation has been modernized without any loss of meaning, and the cinematic format makes the entire presentation more alive and palatable to modern tastes (by adding visual content) while allowing other background factors of Socrates’ life and work to fill out the context of the story (through flashbacks and other movie magic).

In the section I’ve excerpted, we see Socrates telling the court how his friend Chaerephon had long ago gone to the Oracle at Delphi and asked if there was anyone as wise as Socrates. The prophetess replied that no one was wiser than he. Socrates was troubled. “What can the god mean? I know that I have no wisdom, small or great.”
So Socrates decided to search for someone who really did have some wisdom, and then to go back to confront the Oracle, hoping to learn the answer to this riddle. He started by questioning a well-known politician. But when he began talking to him, he “could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself.” So Socrates left, thinking to himself that “at least I am better off than he is for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.”
After this, Socrates went on questioning others who had pretensions to wisdom. He spoke with politicians, he spoke with poets, he spoke with merchants, but always with the same results. In the end he would conclude that the riddle simply meant that he, Socrates, who had no wisdom at all, was nonetheless as wise as anyone else on earth since only God is wise, and what people think of as wisdom means nothing.

The Courtroom

[The court magistrate asks Chaerecrates to swear to the truth of his testimony by Zeus, Demeter, and Poseidon, which he promptly does. He then reports how Chaerephon did indeed go to the oracle at Delphi and ask if anyone were wiser than Socrates, and the answer was no. The jurors remain subdued, though constantly commenting among themselves in undertones and whisperings. The magistrate instructs Chaerecrates to come to the clerk’s table in order to sign his testimony. Chaerecrates descends the three steps of the bēma as Socrates moves back to its center. Cut to a close-up of the copper spout of the water-clock as the plug is removed and time is again allowed to flow. Cut back to the view of Socrates alone on the bēma.]

Apollo statue 2 Socrates: Understand why I have just related this account to you: I am about to provide a detailed explanation of how the barrage of attacks on me had its origin. After hearing Chaerephon’s  report, I took it to heart and thought it over in this way: “What on earth does the god mean, and what type of riddle is this? I am not aware of myself being wise in any way. What can he possibly mean, then, by proclaiming that I am the wisest man? He most certainly cannot be lying – that would be against divine law.”
And for the longest time I was puzzled and at a complete loss for what he could have meant. But then, in order to prove him right or wrong – and I did this with great reluctance, I must say – I set off on the following investigation.

[Cut to the court clerk as he uses the blotting cloth on the freshly-inscribed papyrus. He dips the reed quill into the inkwell again and hands it to Chaerecrates. Chaerecrates grasps the quill as he leans over to sign the document. Cut back to Socrates on the platform.]

I went straight to a man who is well-known for his wisdom so that right then and there – if anywhere – I could refute the oracle and declare to its giver: “This man here is wiser than I
am, but you proclaimed that I should be the wiser.”

So I questioned and examined him … [A juror shouts out ‘who?’] … – a man whose name I would rather not say, Athenians, since it was one of our public men I was speaking with who made this impression on me. … [Socrates glances briefly at the bench for the prosecution. Cut to a close-up of Anytus’s face.]

[Cut from the real-time of the courtroom. Flashback to a scene at Anytus’s home many years earlier. The setting is the andrōnītis, the room in the household used for entertaining male guests. Socrates, Anytus, a young man named Meno and several others are gathered there. Some of them are reclining, some are sitting upright on the clinēs – the cushioned bedsteads, in this case ornately-decorated with the shapes of animal paws carved at the foot of each wooden leg.

Symposium scene, Tomb of the DiverThey are engaging in a symposium – a drinking party – with drinking cups and food spread out on a low-rising table at the center. A handful of Anytus’s slaves are stationed at different places in the room, waiting for their commands. Socrates is in the process of asking Anytus if Meno should seek out the tutorship of one of the sophists in order to be instructed on how to be virtuous in such matters as household economy or running city affairs. Anytus reacts with shock at the suggestion, stating that sophists are harmful men who bring nothing but corruption and ruin to those who listen to them. Socrates asks how is it, then, that Protagoras, the most-renowned sophist, could teach for forty years if his instruction brought such calamities to his pupils?

Anytus places the blame for this lack of retribution on the pupils themselves and their family members who allowed them to be taught by such a man. Socrates asks if a sophist has somehow wronged Anytus; and if not, why is he so hard on them? Anytus explains that he has never known any sophist, or ever spoken to one, and never will. Socrates inquires how it is, then, that Anytus can make such accusations against sophists without any personal experience of them. Anytus claims that what he has heard of them is enough.

So who can teach virtue, Socrates asks, if the sophists cannot? Anytus replies that any decent Athenian citizen can do a sufficient job of that. Socrates asks why it is, then, that virtuous men do not have virtuous sons – is it because they refuse to teach their virtues to them? Socrates glances at Anytus’s son, who has been seated on a clinē against a far wall, observing the interaction with a respectful silence. His son is a young man who, instead of following in his father’s footsteps as a public man, has remained in the traditional profession of his family – that of a tanner, working animal hides into leather.

Socrates, with a gleam in his eyes, looks back at Anytus and asserts that virtue can certainly not be taught. Cut back to the real-time of the courtroom and Socrates on the speaker’s platform.]

While we were talking together I realized that even though this was a man who appeared wise to many other people, and especially to himself, in fact he was not. And when I tried to make him aware of this – that even though he might believe himself to be wise, that may not be the case, – at that moment he became enraged and began to hate me, as did many of the on-lookers who were there.

[Cut from the real-time of the courtroom back to the andrōnītis. Anytus, with a look of hurt pride on his face, is standing next to the clinē on which he had been seated. He criticizes Socrates sharply for speaking badly of people too easily and warns him that he had better be more careful and watch himself.

Close-up of the foreboding look on Anytus’s face. Cut back to real time and Socrates on the bēma.]

I walked away from this encounter thinking to myself: “I have more wisdom than that man, at least, but probably neither one of us has any type of true or worthy knowledge. Unlike me, though, he believes that he does know the truth about certain things even if he really does not. But me, well aware that I do not have such knowledge, I do not believe that I do.
Greece - Delphi: Temple of Apollo and Altar of the Chians

I seem, then, to have a slight advantage over him in just this respect: that whatever I do not know, I do not believe myself to know.”

Steve Kostecke majored in English Literature (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1989) and studied Greek while earning a master’s degree in Foreign Language Education (University of Texas, Austin, 1997). Since then he has taught English as a Foreign Language in universities in Japan, Korea, Thailand, and at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founders of the Underground Literary Alliance and was its editor-in-chief from 2000 to 2008, during which time he compiled the five editions of the group’s literary zine, Slush Pile. He currently resides in Seattle and can be contacted at .

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