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Plato’s Portrayal of Socrates and the Historical Socrates, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1285

Essay

Socrates, the Athenian philosopher, changed how philosophers thought about the world. However, modern audiences believe that Socrates did not write any of his ideas down because most of the information they know came from his student Plato. Plato’s account of Socrates is not regarded as being historically accurate because, although he was a philosopher, he was a historian. The dialogues Apology, Crito and Phaedo demonstrate changes in Plato’s description of Socrates because he misrepresents her in apology, offers his insight more instead of Socrates’ in Crito and excludes him in Phaedo.

First, Plato tended to idealize Socrates to a greater extent than other historians, leading to his misrepresentation. Plato describes Socrates’ flaws more leniently than other historians. A common example is how Plato describes how Socrates defended himself at trial. Plato and Xenophon, a historian, wrote accounts of the defense and titled them The Apology. Only Plato was present at the trial, but based on how Xenophon described Socrates’ actions during the trial, they appeared to be more natural than Plato’s account (Danzig 8). Plato’s and Xenophon’s accounts were similar since they portrayed Socrates as having a rude nature during the trial. However, Xenophon’s account is less toned down, and leads to the conclusion that Socrates was unapologetic and impolite. This led to the historic assumption that Socrates deserved to die. However, Socrates’ speech in the apology presented him as a law-abiding citizen. When Socrates made his defense, he did not contradict the charges made against him regarding his failure to believe in and worship the Athenian gods. However, he denied corrupting the youth, explaining that he did not indoctrinate his listeners to accept particular ideas. He also explained that his purpose was to encourage them to think for themselves. Socrates said he was ready to summon the elder brothers and parents of the youth associated with him to witness that none had become worse following his companionship. Also, although Socrates believed in God and obeying his laws was necessary over the laws of men, he did not attempt to evade the punishment that the state demanded violating laws, although Socrates believed they were unfair. Therefore, contrary to what Plato wrote about Socrates being condescending and rude, his speech in apology has led to society regarding him as a hero and a martyr who contributed to freedom and justice in the world.                                                                                                                                            

Plato also portrays Socrates in an evolving way in all his dialogues, making it challenging for readers to understand the real portrayal of Socrates when one reads the dialogues. Generally, Plato’s portrayal of Socrates is accurate in his first dialogues. The dialogues that Plato initially wrote, such as apology, were due to him being under Socrates’ influence. However, as he grew older and more mature, he developed independent ideas different from his teacher (Marcou 346). For example, Crito has been regarded as unique because, instead of writing what Socrates did, he writes what he ought to do. When giving his account, Plato uses quotation marks to describe Socrates’ responses to remaining inside prison. This indicates that Plato did not want to include Socrates’ real reasons for wanting to stay in prison. Instead, he shows that Socrates engaged in a one-sided conversation with himself in different instances (Sedley 81). The instances include where the laws of Athens interrogated Socrates. For example, in his original conversation with Crito, Socrates affirmed that it is never right, neither to do injustice nor to return injustice nor, even when you are suffering evil, to defend yourself by not doing evil in return. Thus, Socrates assumes that destroying a city is always wrong and does not argue about it. However, Plato does not give indications that Socrates has determined for himself. Therefore, Plato misrepresents Socrates in his depiction, making him appear as though he engaged in one-way conversation that had no positive influence on Athen’s laws.

In the final dialogue, Phaedo, Plato portrays Socrates as a brave person who was not afraid of death. This was evident in how Socrates portrayed the soul. According to Plato, the soul was immortal and had no beginning or end, similar to the nature of divinity (Lévystone 142). Socrates was not conflicted in his beliefs about the soul and had an adequate reply to the people who opposed his belief about immortality. Phaedo is regarded as being among the dialogues that Plato wrote in the middle period of his literary career when he had become mature as a writer. He intended the readers to have an accurate record of how Socrates died. Phaedo was the most accurate publication because he included the names of all the people present on the last day of Socrates’ death (Lee 19). Phaedo narrated to Echecrates and interested Socrates’ disciples about Socrates’ final hours. The disciples present were Simmias, Cebes, Crito, Apollodorus and others. Most of the people mentioned in the book were still alive and would have disagreed with Plato’s account in Phaedo. In the dialogue, Plato wrote about the four arguments regarding the immortality of the soul; the argument from opposites and affinity, the theory of recollection and the final argument, which was an objection to Cebes. When Socrates claimed that it was wrong for one to put an end to their own life unless commanded by the gods, Cebes wanted to know why suicide was wrong. Socrates explains that a true philosopher or anyone who loves wisdom is not afraid to die.

In summary, while Plato was Socrates’ mouthpiece, he misrepresented himself in some of his dialogues, especially those he wrote at a young age. For example, in the apology, Plato portrayed Socrates as rude and condescending. However, this was not the case as Socrates was defending himself on trial, speaking his truth about his belief in God and the lack of belief in the Athenian gods. Socrates also responded to claims that he was a bad influence on his young followers. As Plato wrote more dialogues, he included his opinion of what Socrates should have said instead of what he said, leading him to withhold information about Socrates. An example was in the Crito dialogue, where Plato excluded information about Socrates’ responses while he was not in the gathering. In the final dialogue, Plato has become more mature in his literary work, and his work is more accurate. He excludes Socrates less in the dialogue, indicating that most of the narration was based on his words.  

Works Cited

Danzig, Gabriel. “Introduction to the Comparative Study of Plato and Xenophon.” Plato and Xenophon (2018): 1–30.

Lee, David C. “Drama, Dogmatism, and the ‘Equals’ Argument in Plato’s Phaedo.” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 44 2012: 1–39.

Lévystone, David. “Socrates’ versatile rhetoric and the soul of the crowd.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 38.2 2020: 135–155.

Marcou, Andreas. “Obedience and Disobedience in Plato’s Crito and the Apology: Anticipating the Democratic Turn of Civil Disobedience.” The Journal of Ethics 25.3 2021: 339–359.

Sedley, David. “Socratic intellectualism in the Republic’s central digression.” Boys-Stones et al. 2013: 70–89.

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