Socrates was charged by Melitus, Anytus and Lycon others of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. The affidavit signed by Meletus made two charges against Socrates: refusing to recognize gods recognized by the state and instead introducing alien gods and corrupting the youth. He had to defend himself against those charges in the People’s Court. His defense is contained in Plato’s Apology.
In the Apology Socrates first acknowledges that his accusers are persuasive but he is not guilty of the charges they level against him. Socrates denies the charge of corrupting the youth by teaching his subversive doctrines by saying that he has nothing to do with physical speculation.
He challenges the accusers to seek the views of those who have heard him speak and their neighbors as far as the charges are concerned. He points out that he teaches and receives remuneration, Ceos, Hippias, Gorgias, Elis and Prodicus who teach and charge young men like him attract no accusations.
The defense against this charge cannot be said to be successful. Fist, he does not appear to be apologetic and to the contrary confirms the general opinion held by majority of his jury that he thinks he is the wisest. He informs the jury that he has been searching for a wise man ever since his friend Chaerophon visited the oracle of Delphi which revealed that there is no wiser man than he is.
He details how, after receiving the oracle he traversed Athens in search of a wiser man but did not come across any. He says that he discovered that rhetoricians like Lycon, poets like Meletus, craftsmen like Anytus and politicians are not wise; the less esteemed are wiser instead.
He tells the jury that after meeting people who are extremely proud yet they do not know much about themselves, he has surely confirmed that he is the wisest since he knows that he knows very little. This flies in the face of his defense as it annoys them since it implies that they are more foolish. To the jury, instead of the accused exonerating himself, he goes ahead to affirm the charges and makes it worse by offering them as examples.
As if to add salt to an injury, when asked about his penalty, he suggests that he should be honored like Athenian Olympic heroes by giving him free meals until he denies. This is more likely to annoy the jury as they may consider it arrogance on the part of the accused.
The fact that Socrates begs the jury not to interrupt him three times in the Apology shows that they have developed some anger and are probably unwilling to listen to his endless philosophizing while displaying utter disrespect for them. The level of irritation that his words visit on the jury seals his fate. What is important for him is not an acquittal but his philosophical convictions. I don’t think that he could have apologized at all.
Even when faced with the prospect of dying, Socrates, in his element, does not consider a lesser punishment. He informs his audience that he is not afraid of dying which can only embolden them further in their resolve to punish him. He actually looks forward to the chance death will grant him to meet with Paramedes, Ajax and other heroes who according to him, suffered death through unjust judgments. By stating that their deaths were unjust, he prejudices his chances of an acquittal
Nevertheless, there are instances where he almost convinces the jury. The first instance is when he cross-examines Meletus. He gets Meletus to almost contradict himself by agreeing that the good do their neighbors good and the bad do their neighbors bad. He wonders how a man who knows that he would be corrupted by him (Socrates) would accept to be corrupted intentionally. He argues that he could only have done it unintentionally and since the law has no cognizance of an unintentional offence, he did nothing wrong.
On the charge of impiety, he asks Meletus to clarify whether he teaches others to acknowledge some gods, and therefore does not believe in gods (is an atheist) or simply that his gods are different from the ones whish the state recognizes. When Meletus answers saying that he means Socrates is a complete atheist, Socrates refutes that by exposing the contradictory nature of Meletus’ argument: that Socrates is a complete atheist yet he believes in some gods.
In addition, he asks Meletus whether it would be possible for someone to believe in horsemanship and not horses or in flute playing and not flute players. In the same vein, he argues that it would be impossible for a man to believe in spiritual and divine outfit yet fail to recognize what he calls spirits and demigods. In his final submission on the issue, Socrates points out that even if he believes in demigods, they are sons of gods.
Even if they would not be legitimate sons of the gods, the fact that they are offspring of gods implies that their parents, who are gods, exist. Such arguments seem to have placed Meletus in a corner and were it not for the anger his earlier comments attracted earlier, probably the jury would have followed his line of reasoning and acquitted him since he is able to make his accusers contradict themselves.
Also, the inability of the youth whom he was said to have corrupted to step forward could have worked for him but it seems to have been ignored. In my view, majority of the jury had already reached their verdict even as he challenged the youth who might have received bad advice to step forward and be seen.
He suggests that in the event that the youth he spoke to earlier are absent, their fathers, brothers or kinsmen may testify and say what their family suffered at his hands. At this point he calls upon those that he can see in court including Crito, his son Critobulus, Lysanias, Antiphon, Nicostratus, Paralus and Plato.
In addition, he argues that he could have paraded his three sons in order to elicit sympathy but he does not alleging that he feels that it is discreditable to the state. This could be taken as a proof that he regards the state highly; the same state that he is accused of disrespecting.
In conclusion, it can be said that though he puts up a spirited defense based on logic, he ends up annoying his audience by implying that none of them is wiser than he and by displaying no fear of death: their mode of punishment. The fact that the jury finds him guilty on a relatively close vote of 280 to220 indicates that Socrates’ defense, though not successful, is quite convincing.