19 February 2008

Socrates Comes to Life

This is going to be either very good or very bad.

The Yale Working Group in Ancient Philosophy is pleased to invite you to

"Socrates on Trial"
A Dramatic Performance of Plato's 'Apology.'"

With Steve Wexler
Professor of Law
University of British Columbia

This Wednesday, February 20th, at 6:30 p.m.
Rm. 317, Linsley Chittenden Hall (63 High Street)

4 comments:

Dawn said...

I was very pleasantly surprised by the performance. It's so easy to get in a rut with a work like the Apology , reading it in essentially the same way every time. Hearing it recited offered a fresh way to look at the work; themes and ideas stood out that hadn't made much of an impression on me before. I recommend taking the time to enjoy Steve's performance if you get the chance.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Hi Dawn, If it's not too much trouble, I'd be interested in hearing what struck you as different, or some of the things that appeared to you in a new light. But I understand if you don't wish to say more. Best, MP

Anonymous said...

Dawn, was anyone there to record the event? Any chance Steve's performance might end up on YouTube?

dawn said...

No one at this presentation was recording it, but Steve expressed plans to bring the show to more events and venues in the future. Not sure it would end up on YouTube with his blessings, extrapolating from his disinterest in email – not that having the creator’s blessing is anything like a necessary condition for a work ending up on YouTube.


What was most valuable about the performance was hearing the Apology in a different voice – not my own subvocalization that tends to emphasize the same things and speed through the same passages in the same way every time. Of course, to a large extent what I picked up on while watching the Apology performed was what Prof. Wexler intended me to pick up on. Whether it’s to be chalked up to his interpretation, Socrates’ character, or Plato’s artistry is up for discussion.


One theme which Prof. Wexler clearly wished to emphasize was the appearance of the number ‘thirty’ in the speech. Socrates mentions the Thirty Tyrants, is convicted by a margin of 30 voters, and suggests 30 minae as his punishment. Make of this theme what you will – Wexler suggested that the Apology provides the literary foundation for the association of the number ‘thirty’ with betrayal; an association which is galvanized in Judas’ bargain for the life of Jesus.


When the Apology was first introduced to me in an Intro class, my professor (like many others) directed our attention to the arguments in the work, and I think my attention has been inclined there in subsequent readings. The performance, however, made me question whether they play any significant role at all. Did Socrates mean them to be convincing? Where they just a demonstration of rhetoric? And why all this dwelling on death? It starts to sound like someone trying a little too hard to convince others that death isn’t an ideal punishment.


Finally, I don’t think I had ever realized how much irony this speech is just dripping with! Socrates ostensibly wants to present this image in which he is a simple, humble, straight-forward and straight-talking man who is pressed into service by a god, earning him an inaccurate reputation of someone who thinks quite a bit of himself. Yet the speech abounds with comparisons between himself and heroes, declarations of his failure to fulfill his civic and family duties, disparaging comments on the Athenian justice system, and indication that he has never benefited anyone by his inquiries. What is the explanation (either from Plato’s or Socrates’ point of view) for this tactic?