GSI: Kuan Hwa
An Apt Apology with Aplomb
In response to the countless accusations laid against him, Socrates, in “The Apology” by Plato, attempts to defend his youth-supported teachings to a crowd of entrenched members of society. His teaching naturally offends many members of society, even of the “worst and most dangerous kind,” necessitating a deft grasp of language to defend his teachings and his life of it. In the latter part of Socrates’s introduction to the trial, he points out the artificiality of his enemies and the truth of his teachings.
After describing the people he interrogated, Socrates speaks of the “young men of the richer classes, who…come about [him] of their own accord,” bringing to attention the upper tier which largely compose the dangerous enemies of Socrates. At the same time, Socrates also demonstrates the falsity of his enemies. The people who have power, who think they know something when they really do not, from philosophers that prattle over students for their academy to politicians that fight for positions, are the ones set against Socrates. Yet, the children of the rich are the ones who agree with Socrates, amusing themselves in discovering the pretenders. This ironic outcome attests to how inauthentic the upper class are; even their children do not trust them. To further enforce the pettiness of the upper class, Socrates adopts illeism, and spouts the vile language that his enemies might utter. “This confounded Socrates, they [would] say; this villainous misleader of youth.” At last he calls out his greatest enemy, the one primarily responsible for the trial, “Meletus, that good and patriotic man, as he calls himself.” Using a statement dripping of dramatic irony, Socrates uses Meletus’s own words, knowing that Meletus is anything but what he claims to be.
The artificiality of Socrates’s enemies is just as obvious in their crowd mentality. Without creating unique responses, “they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse appear the better cause.” The use of polysyndeton only reiterates the droning of the upper masses. To Socrates, his enemies “are numerous and ambitious and energetic,” but the falsehoods of the soothsayers of society are even more dangerous when spoken by “persuasive tongues,” a synecdoche that makes their pointed rhetoric more obvious. To their audience, Socrates’s enemies are just a loud mass that tries to force their speech across. With another synecdoche, Socrates tells the court that Meletus and his gang “[fills]… ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies,” much unlike the words of Socrates which the youth voluntarily listens to.
To conclude his introduction to the case, Socrates enforces the truth of his teachings, knowing that the truth is exactly what got him into trouble, yet is also his only chance to defend his life and what makes it up. Referring to his audience with the metonymy, “o men of Athens,” Socrates deals an honor that calls upon the nation, not just upon the going-ons of society and especially not the ones in control of it. He tells the audience that his teaching “is the truth and the whole truth; [he conceals] nothing, [he dissembles] nothing,” a deliberate attempt to hammer his words through the hard heads of the masses with epistrophe. And yet [he knows] that this plainness of speech makes them hate [him], and what is their hatred but a proof that [he is] speaking the truth?” The chiasmus of speech and hate reveals the paradoxical relationship that is their hate for and the truth of what Socrates says. To end the introduction to the case, he delivers a heavy handed message with assonance by telling them that the “truth of this [he] will endeavor to prove.”
The teachings of Socrates already formed his life, but the trial literally set his life up against what some saw as his teachings. In order to defend himself and consequentially his teachings, Socrates had to wrest control of the audience. He had to convince them of the falsehoods and insincerities of the upper class and other arrogant wielders of wisdom, while attesting to the truth of his own wisdom. The only way to gain the attention of the ones listening, was to turn the art of rhetoric against the soothsayers that have infected the masses for too long.