Monday, November 14, 2016

The Silence of Socrates

From the Declamations or Imaginary Speeches by Libanius

[1] It is difficult to advance even the most justified of arguments on Socrates' behalf before you who have already condemned him, and believe the first slanders that were directed against him. However, since the malicious prosecutors have now gone too far and are doing wrong not only to Socrates but to the common rights of all the unfortunate, it is incumbent upon me to say this much to you: many have been condemned in your court, and some have died justly, some unjustly, but none has ever dies in silence. 

[2] You ordered Socrates to die. He obeys, uncomplaining. But they are imposing a second penalty upon him: to be silent and not to talk to anyone until he dies. This is to kill him before the hemlock comes. It is of course easy for Socrates -- he is as capable of silence as he is of speech -- but you need to take care for yourselves, lest gods and men should charge you with taking away from Socrates the common right of all who live, and robbing him not only of his life, even before that, of his voice. 

[3] Now I am one of those who visit Socrates and listen to him; it is a marvelous thing, the man teaching philosophy in prison, and dying with cheerfulness. I have therefore risen to oppose this cruel proposition, because I think it will be damaging not to Socrates but to us, if we are not to have some small benefit from Socrates' remaining days.

[4] Socrates is to die as a result of a malicious accusation which transgresses all the rules of justice, and of false charges which are totally unworthy of his philosophy. Of all men, he has been most pious and the most helpful to the young, always obeying the city's laws, as citizen and as soldier, opposing tyrants and oligarchies, and, uniquely, making no demand for money or a fee from pupils for his lessons; he has mastered two evil natures as well as he could, and turned many others into good citizens; he has made our city famous and admired throughout Greece, through the foreigners who come to gather round him and the discussions that are disseminated throughout the world.

[5] That such is the Socrates who has been the victim of this malicious prosecution, and that the judges cast their vote with more haste than was proper, will, I believe, be proved by time and by the gods. I pray only that this may come to pass without anger and any public damage to the city! I know very well that the jury would have changed its mind, had it been given a second opportunity to judge the matter -- just as you once changed your minds over Mitylene. 

[6] But when the day was won by those who bore a grudge against Socrates because of the way he had refuted them in argument, you heard him talking as a philosopher even in court. He neither wept nor begged for mercy nor contrived any rescue that might be shameful or unworthy of philosophy. He obeyed the god who lead to this end; he went happily with the Eleven, and proceeded to prison as cheerfully as to the Lyceum or to the Academy or the Ilissus or any of the places where he used to pass the time; and he intended to talk and converse there also. Of course he did -- he was a human being, and still alive. Indeed he discusses philosophy energetically with his friends. Even in chains, he is still Socrates. His physical discomfort has not overcome him. He expounds arguments so divine and beautiful that if you had all heard them you would surely have let him go free.

[7] The right thing then is to think of Socrates as fortunate, because he is happy in the presence of death and talks and discusses philosophy, not grudging it to those who listen to him and are capable of benefiting thereby for their whole life. Anytus and Meletus, it seems, are more cruel than the prison governor. He lets visitors see Socrates; they both render his life useless to us and devise a new sort of fetter to bind him with -- so that not only are his feet and hands tied before he is allowed to die, but his tongue too. 

[8] What envy, what brutality, what uncivilized wickedness! Is Socrates, oh lord Apollo, not to talk, while he is yet alive, while he has a voice? Does our Solon propose a decree like this relating to an individual, when the laws explicitly and plainly forbid the proposal of any law or decree relating to an individual which does not apply generally to all Athenians? 

[9] "He is a criminal, and condemned." Let us assume he is a criminal. Let us assume there is nothing unbelievable in the accusation or in the denunciations of an Anytus and Meletus. I know that the time will come when you will be proud of Socrates, as the Ephesians or of Heraclitus the Samians of Pythagorus, the Lacedaemonians of Chilon, the Milesians of Thales, the Lesbians of Pittacus, the Corinthians of Periander -- and you yourselves once of Solon! All of these wise men were opposed by the envy of their neighbors while they were alive; now they are dead, their wisdom is judged without prejudice with a sensibility that feels no pain.
[10] Let the decision stand as it has been taken. What was resolved in court should not now be an issue. It was resolved that Socrates should drink hemlock, like other condemned men before him. Socrates does not reject this; he would never seek to escape your judgment, nor to flee the country, even if some of his friends want to snatch him away to Boeotia or to the Peloponnese or to Thessaly, and every city in Greece invites him: no, he would tolerate no furtive escape, he is more eager than you are yourselves for his death; he is thirsty for hemlock. 

[11] But it is surely scandalous and illegal to seek to add by a vote something which the court never decided, and which is not enjoined by the laws governing the treatment of convicted prisoners? It is wrong for any of us to add to judgments any measure of clemency over and above that which is obligatory under the law; it is equally wrong to show more bitterness than is regular. Both of these courses -- both adding some mitigation in favor of the condemned, and depriving those who are in this condition of their due -- are contrary to the law. The court herald did not announce that the Eleven were taking charge of Socrates and ordering that he should be silent till his death and not talk, but only that he should die. 

[12] Even you who accuse Socrates and once asked for the death penalty, did not ask for an addition penalty of silence. That would have meant two assessments of penalty. Thus you are now inventing something over and above the original -- something that you did not venture to add at the time, when the jurors were most angry, and most grievously mislead. 

[13] If Socrates is guilty of some further novel offense, and you are adding some charges, after the jury has voted, outside the terms of the previous indictment, tell us what it is, give us the facts. If his offense is to open his mouth and talk who was ever punished for that? What condemned man has ever been ordered to be silent? Who has ever been brought before the people for talking? When did a criminal condemned to death at Athens last have his tongue cut out? You are making us Thracians, not Athenians; barbarians, not Greeks.

[14] Miltiades was once in chains here; he was not silent in his chains. You once condemned the nine generals all together, though Socrates was unwilling and would have no part in the illegality. He thought the law a stronger consideration than your anger; you condemned the men all the same, but you did not order them to be silent. 

[15] Murderers, temple-robbers, traitors, perpetrators of every dreadful crime, are condemned, but never told to keep silent and not converse with others: some give their last instructions to their dearest, some talk to their relations, friends and connections, some invoke the gods, some lament their fate. It is dreadful to think that, when all this happens, this one man alone, since time began, is to be ordered, when near his death, not to talk, when he is the man who most deserves to talk!

[16] It was only Critias, the tyrant, who laid on Socrates the command that he should his discussions -- Critias, the bad pupil who condemned his teacher. So the democracy has come to imitate the tyrants; the Athenians, by a free vote, make a decision equivalent to the tyrants' commands. 

[17] But Critias merely forbade Socrates to hold discussions with the young, not to stop talking altogether, only to refrain from those similes about shepherds and herdsmen; Critias was annoyed by the moral of Socrates' imagery, that it is a bad shepherd who diminishes the flock; for it was against the tyrants that Socrates used this argument. You, on the other hand, demand that Socrates shall not discuss anything with anybody -- not even with the warder or Xanthippe or the children; if Lamprocles or Sophroniscus asks his father a question, Socrates is not to answer, but to wait for the hemlock gagged as it were and deprived of the common privilege of all mankind, even the unfortunate and the criminal. 

[18] Man is by nature a talking animal, and the Athenians as a people love words and are full of them; when death is near, this love of talk takes hold of one, one wants to hear much and speak much, because one is shortly to be deprived of the power. No one grudges a man saying all he chooses when he shortly to keep a long silence.

[19] "Let him wait for the hemlock," says the prosecution, "Theramenes died in silence." But Theramenes had made a long speech before at the council's hearth. Under the oligarchy some fifteen hundred persons drank the hemlock; not one of them died because of Socrates, who refused to obey when he was sent to arrest Leon of Salamis, and would not bring him to the tyrants to die -- and it is Socrates who is to die now! And of all those who were killed in these days not one is said to have drunk the poison in silence. Neither Dracontides nor Pieson nor Charicles, nor any of these people, gave orders that anyone should keep his mouth shut or not bear witness before he died. 

[20] You are laying upon Socrates a much worse burden than those who had power under that savage tyranny. When people are under the knife, they are bound to groan; prisoners cry out; shall a man who is about to lose his life die without a word about anything, a dumb corpse even before the end comes? You are inflicting many deaths on Socrates.

[21] Philosophers tell us that ghosts have a voice, and that this remains even with shadows. Homer seems to offer proof of this. When he writes of the ghost of Patroclus, he says it came in all respects "like him," in body and in voice. And you are cutting out Socrates' voice while he is yet alive! Again: most men talk more when they are unhappy, and the dumb son of Croesus of Lydia is said to have found his voice at the moment of his father's disaster. And is Socrates alone not to lament or invoke the gods in his present misfortune? 

[22] This is not indeed a Socratic thing to do; but it is a universal right which he too should be guaranteed. Everyone else in the prison talks and chatters, however uneducated and unskilled, being near the end, and philosophizes about death itself; shall Socrates not be allowed to let his philosophy have the same term as his life?

[23] "His words were unsuitable and unjust," they say. That is what he is to die for, is it not? If you have no further charge to bring, beyond that on which he has been convicted, do not ask for any penalty greater than that which has already been assessed. "He corrupts." What boy has come to see him in prison? Apollodorus, Crito, Phaedo, Simmias, and Cebes, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Antisthenes, Aeschines -- these are grown men or old men, Socrates' associates. If Socrates utters any damaging or wicked words, they have been corrupted long since; and if what he says is good and useful, they do not deserve to be deprived of it even at this late hour. 

[24] So let things be and do not do anything more. Is it not a scandal that Gorgias and Protagorus should speak, and Polus and that pretentious humbug Prodicus, and Hippias, sophists all, traffickers in words, and that the Greeks, individually and publicly, should pay to listen to them -- to the men of Elis and Ceos and Abdera and Leontini -- while the Athenian Socrates is not to speak even in the prospect of death?

[25] You will have your fill, malicious as you are, of Socrates' silence. The Lyceum will be dumb, the Academy dumb, the wrestling schools silent. All the haunts of beauty will be taken over by barbarism and silence. Socrates will not be talking in the gymnasia, in the porticos -- the king archons' or the Painted Portico -- at the banker's, in the courts, in Agathon's house or Callias's or Damon's -- no Socrates in the city, nor in Piraeus, nor above Ilissus, under that beautiful plane tree -- only the cicadas will be singing there; no Socrates at Potidaea, nor at Delium; no discussion with Thrasymachus on justice, with Charmides on temperance, with Laches on courage, with Chaerephon on brotherly love, with Meno on virtue, with Hippias on beauty, with Gorgias on rhetoric, with Protagorus on the practice of virtue, with Euthyphro on piety, or with Xenophon on not kissing the beautiful young man. You will indeed have your fill of the absence of Socrates. He will have so many silences.

[26] So now, while he is with us, allow him to talk, for this day or two. Now is the supreme test of Socrates' wisdom -- if he feels no pain even in his chains, if he utters no lament when he is about to die, if he still practices philosophy as the end comes upon him. Let him speak, even in his chains. I commend Xenophon, because when he was a prisoner at Thebes he did not neglect Prodicus' teaching, but found a surety and attended the lecture. Do you expect the pupil to be more of a philosopher than the teacher? Are you compelling Socrates to be silent when he will soon cease to be altogether? Why do make him like a man in pain? Let him speak above all now, just before death, when he is nearer truth.

[27] Let Socrates philosophize now; let him also prophesy, I beg you. Swans sing before they die, and release their soul; the death of a musical bird is a musical death. Let the Attic nightingale and the swan sing. Socrates is their fellow slave, he too is consecrated to Apollo. The god of Pytho once proclaimed "Socrates is the wisest of all men." And now the wisest of all men is under order to die without wisdom!

[28] There have been unjust judgments before now. It was decided once that Palamedes, the wisest of the Greeks of those days, should die unjustly. At Ilium too there were men like Anytus and Miletus. But even Palamedes was not ordered to be silent before he died; he was allowed to speak and write. He wrote the story of his misfortune on the oar ans sent his father Nauplius the letter telling of death. 

[29] Socrates never writes a malicious or bitter word, he bears the court no grudge, but dies happily and is convinced he is going to join the gods. He devotes himself even now to discussion, as he did in life. Do not be surprised. Such is the nature of the wise. Their wisdom does not fail even in hard times. 

[30] Music did not desert Orpheus even after death. The women of Thrace rent him to pieces, as these wrongful accusers have done to Socrates, but he kept on singing, though his body was torn apart. Orpheus' head floated down the river Strymon, recalling its own songs. Marsyas, the Phrygian piper, who was punished wants to return gift for gift; he cannot do so, but he hears someone else play, and the song brings him to life. Such is Socrates' case also.

[31] So do not be grudging, do not distrust philosophy. What are you afraid of? That he is going to pray to the gods against you all, if he is allowed to talk? When he spoke, he said nothing of that kind; and one could make such a prayer without speaking. Are you afraid to give him the hemlock when he is talking? If he is silent, he is not Socrates. Let him talk, as though he were at a party. Let him respond to the loving cup which the divine power gives him.

[32] I thought that the strongest refutation of Socrates' false accusers was produced just now, when he was seen cheerful and happy in the midst of misfortune, and when he expounded arguments like those which he is expressing now. For what arguments do you order him to be silent? What does he say that is against the constitution or the laws or the authorities or the ways of our fathers? He gives us in fact a most pious philosophical defense of the laws, and says he will never run away from these his masters, nor take up residence as an alien in Megara or Boeotia or be a foreign guest of Peloponnesians or Thessalians, but will stay here and obey the Athenians' decision.

[33] Socrates -- most lawful of men, most patriotic of any Athenian I have ever known -- even now you do not want to leave Athens! He is practicing and composing poetry, writing hymns to the gods in his prison, making poems to Apollo. In his last hours Socrates has become a poet too. And yet you are telling Socrates to be silent even in prose! 

[34] Your orders are contrary to the god's. You, Apollo, are deliberately holding back the Delian festival as a hostage for Socrates, you are not sending the Athenians the sacred ship, because you want to prolong your servant's days of life; you have commanded the winds not to bear her to Athens, so that Socrates can be a philosopher longer. Yet these men make your favor useless!

[35] "Let him not speak," says the prosecution, "not even if there is an audience there, not even if Socrates chooses." Is he not to speak when he puts up his leg or rests because of the pain of his fetters? Is he not to theorize about the kinship of pleasure and pain? Simmias and Cebes ask him a question about the soul: is he not to speak about that? Are Athenians to practice philosophy and one individual Athenian to stay silent? He is cheerful in the prospect of death. His friends marvel at that. He is not to talk? Why? Not even if a man believes the soul is immortal? If he owes a god a sacrifice may he not even tell one of his friends to pay it? If he is to drink the hemlock, may he not pour a libation or say his customary prayer? 

[36] What is he saying that is pointless or out of season? Some people, when they die, give instructions about property or children, the disposal of their body, or the grave; Socrates sits there saying that one should not weep or groan or think that the present is to be our only life, but rather that another life follows, longer than that which we share with the body; when we are freed from bones and flesh and this whole prison, be it body or tomb, we shall all go to our rightful destiny; where we live, therefore, we must practice philosophy and make our lives a rehearsal for death, seeking to recall much of the ancient learning in which we seem to persist in this life; then, when our destined lot comes, we shall be carried hence, lightly borne aloft, toward gods who are our masters and spirits who will judge our souls. To those who have lived purely and justly and have endured their earthly life with true philosophy they assign the company of gods, the voyage above heaven, the vision of real justice, beauty, immortality, and blessed souls; whereas for those who have lived lawlessly and unjustly and whose souls are burdened with many wickednesses, there await Tartarus and Cocytus and Pyriphlegethon, ghastly chastisements and enduring punishments where they are driven unceasingly along in fire and darkness and strange streams. 

[37] This is what Socrates says, this is his instruction to us, this is his testament. Who shall grudge us Socratic immortality? Let us hear him again and have confirmation of these hopes of blessedness. It is no harm to Socrates if he does not speak: a long life awaits him, many discussions, gods to listen to him; he will speak to them, he will practice philosophy when he is freed, he will tell them everything. It is for us, who will be left behind as Socrates' orphans, that it is so dreadful that he is never again to answer our doubts, and none of us is again to enjoy his presence here.

[38] Hold back the ship a little longer, Apollo; let the sacred delegation be delayed again at Delos. I have a question to ask Socrates about words and silence and salvation. False accusers, let us have benefit from Socrates while he is alive. Alas, maybe the ship will arrive today. Socrates dreamed that it would. Do not grudge us this one day. Indeed, while I am busy here, Socrates is talking to his companions. I shall be able to hear about it from these companions who have heard his words; but there is nothing to compare with hearing Socrates himself.

[39] My request to you, Socrates, is the opposite of these men's commands: it is to go on talking not only in your lifetime nor only with your own lips, but to talk even after the hemlock, not to stop even when you die. Every soul is immortal -- I believe you -- and yours more than any other. If any wise spirit visits the souls of his friends, do not keep silent, Socrates, but speak to us in dreams, as the gods do now.

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