12 September 2005

He Would Have Missed the Photo Op

I saw this headline: "Roberts' Kids Steal Show As Hearings Open" and then perhaps unfairly thought of the following passage:

Well, Athenians, this and the like of this is nearly all the defence which I have to offer. Yet a word more. Perhaps there may be someone who is offended at me, when he calls to mind how he himself, on a similar or even a less serious occasion, had recourse to prayers and supplications with many tears, and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving spectacle, together with a posse of his relations and friends; whereas I, who am probably in danger of my life, will do none of these things. Perhaps this may come into his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote in anger because he is displeased at this. Now if there be such a person among you, which I am far from affirming, I may fairly reply to him: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of wood or stone, as Homer says; and I have a family, yes, and sons. O Athenians, three in number, one of whom is growing up, and the two others are still young; and yet I will not bring any of them hither in order to petition you for an acquittal. And why not? Not from any self-will or disregard of you. Whether I am or am not afraid of death is another question, of which I will not now speak (a)ll' ei) me\n qarrale/wj e)gw\ e)/xw pro\j qa/naton h)\ mh/, a)/lloj lo/goj). But my reason simply is that I feel such conduct to be discreditable to myself, and you, and the whole state. One who has reached my years, and who has a name for wisdom, whether deserved or not, ought not to debase himself. At any rate, the world has decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other men. And if those among you who are said to be superior in wisdom and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this way, how shameful is their conduct! (Jowett)
Yet then I was struck by the italicized line, which I had not noticed before. The quoted passage comes, of course, from Plato's Apology (34b-35a), at the place where Socrates gives his summation, just before he is found guilty. A short while later in the dialogue, after Socrates has been given the death sentence, he then (apparently) speaks directly to this issue, explaining why death is not something to be feared.

But the italicized sentence seems strange to me. (Grube incidentally renders the line: "whether I'm boldly facing death or not is a separate story"'--which seems even less understandable. Fowler has: "Whether I fear death or not is another matter.') Why does Socrates say this? Is it that he would make a bad impression on the jury, or encourage them in finding him guilty, if he appeared not to fear death? Also, hasn't it already become clear in his speech that he isn't afraid of death?

I'm probably not seeing something simple and obvious.


Anonymous said...

The word can carry negative overtones; if so here, then Socrates would be setting to one side the question of whether in the face of death he's being (not brave but) reckless.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Yes, I think that's right.

This is interesting, because it shows how Socrates presumes that the jury will be judging him as against different virtues, and that he presumes also that he can defend himself as regards one virtue, while prescinding for the moment from another.

For the moment, he's intent to argue that his behavior is consistent with megalopsychia: after all, he says, Socrates is generally thought to be set apart from the majority of men (diapherein twn pollwn, 35a1) He's only acting in a way consistent with that regard for his dignity, when he doesn't drag his wife and children into court, which would be unseemly. (Note also authadizomenos at 34d5, which marks out arrogance, a vice opposed to megalopsychia.)

However, the question might still be raised whether he isn't acting, rather, against he virtue of courage, by being recklessly bold. (Yes, you are right that we should understand tharalews as taking that sense here.) And then Socrates says that his defense against that charge is for another occasion.

When? Perhaps in his brief speech to the jury after he is convicted of death. But I rather think that Plato is cryptically referring here to the Phaedo, where precisely what is at issue is whether Socrates hasn't been overly bold in not fearing death.

Anonymous said...

Cp. Phd 63e8-a2: "I want to make my argument before you, my judges, as to why I think that a man who has truly spent his life in philosophy is probably right to be of good cheer (tharrein ) in the face of death and to be very hopeful that after death he will attain the greatest blessings yonder." 

Posted by Anonymous