This Thursday, at a fundraiser for the National Hellenic Museum, Socrates will once again have his day in court—or the Palmer House Hilton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, as it were. In what’s being billed as “the biggest freedom of speech case of all times” and “the most significant legal appeal in nearly 2,500 years,” some of the country’s foremost legal minds will rule on the charges facing the father of Greek philosophy. The Honorable Richard A. Posner, Seventh Circuit Appeals Court judge and many-time HUP author will head a team of three judges presiding over the affair; the City of Athens will be represented in its case against Socrates by former U.S. District Attorney Pat Fitzgerald and former prosecutor Patrick M. Collins.
All involved would do well to heed the advice Socrates offered at trial, as set down by Plato in The Apology. Those moving to convict him, he warned, would only injure themselves. From Volume 36 of the Loeb Classical Library, in Harold North Fowler’s translation, with minor concession to this week’s proceedings:
Now I am going to say some things to you at which you will perhaps cry out; but do not do so by any means. For know that if you kill me, I being such a man as I say I am, you will not injure me so much as yourselves; for neither Pat Fitzgerald nor Patrick M. Collins could injure me; that would be impossible, for I believe it is not God's will that a better man be injured by a worse. He might, however, perhaps kill me or banish me or disfranchise me; and perhaps he thinks he would thus inflict great injuries upon me, and others may think so, but I do not; I think he does himself a much greater injury by doing what he is doing now—killing a man unjustly. And so, men of Athens, I am now making my defence not for my own sake, as one might imagine, but far more for yours, that you may not by condemning me err in your treatment of the gift the God gave you. For if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging. I think the god fastened me upon the city in some such capacity, and I go about arousing, and urging and reproaching each one of you, constantly alighting upon you everywhere the whole day long. Such another is not likely to come to you, gentlemen; but if you take my advice, you will spare me. But you, perhaps, might be angry, like people awakened from a nap, and might slap me, as Patrick M. Collins advises, and easily kill me; then you would pass the rest of your lives in slumber, unless God, in his care for you, should send someone else to sting you. And that I am, as I say, a kind of gift from the god, you might understand from this; for I have neglected all my own affairs and have been enduring the neglect of my concerns all these years, but I am always busy in your interest, coming to each one of you individually like a father or an elder brother and urging you to care for virtue; now that is not like human conduct. If I derived any profit from this and received pay for these exhortations, there would be some sense in it; but now you yourselves see that my accusers, though they accuse me of everything else in such a shameless way, have not been able to work themselves up to such a pitch of shamelessness as to produce a witness to testify that I ever exacted or asked pay of anyone. For I think I have a sufficient witness that I speak the truth, namely, my poverty.
This past weekend, Fitzgerald discussed the case with NPR’s Scott Simon and explained his efforts on behalf of Athenians:
Give him liberty or give him hemlock.