About The Apology and The Symposium by Plato Free eBook
The Apology of Socrates begins with Socrates addressing the jury to ask if the men of Athens (the jury) have been persuaded by the Orators Lycon, Anytus, and Meletus, who have accused Socrates of corrupting the young people of the city and of impiety against the pantheon of Athens. The first sentence of his speech establishes the theme of the dialogue — that philosophy begins with an admission of ignorance. Socrates later clarifies that point of philosophy when he says that whatever wisdom he possesses comes from knowing that he knows nothing.
In the course of the trial, Socrates imitates, parodies, and corrects the Orators, his accusers, and asks the jury to judge him by the truth of his statements, not by his oratorical skill. Socrates says he will not use sophistic language — carefully arranged ornate words and phrases — but will speak using the common idiom of the Greek language. He affirms that he will speak in the manner he is heard using in the agora and at the money tables. Despite his claim of ignorance, Socrates speaks masterfully, correcting the Orators and showing them what they should have done — speak the truth persuasively and with wisdom. Although offered the opportunity to appease the prejudices of the jury, with a minimal concession to the charges of corruption and impiety, Socrates does not yield his integrity to avoid the penalty of death. Accordingly, the jury condemns Socrates to death.
The Symposium is considered a dialogue – a form used by Plato in more than thirty works – but in fact it is predominantly a series of essay-like speeches from differing points of view. So dialogue plays a smaller role in the Symposium than it does in Plato’s other dialogues. With dialogue, Socrates is renowned for his dialectic, which is his ability to ask questions that encourage others to think deeply about what they care about, and articulate their ideas. In the Symposium the dialectic exists among the speeches: in seeing how the ideas conflict from speech-to-speech, and in the effort to resolve the contradictions and see the philosophy that underlies them all.
It is important to understand that the Symposium is, like all of Plato’s dialogues, fiction. The characters and the settings are to some degree based on history, but they are not reports of events that actually occurred or words that were actually spoken. There is no reason to think they were not composed entirely by Plato. The reader, understanding that Plato was not governed by the historical record, can read the Symposium, and ask why the author, Plato, arranged the story the way he did, and what he meant by including the various aspects of setting, composition, characters, and theme, etc.
For a very long time it was widely believed that Socrates was presented in the dialogues by his admiring disciple, Plato, as an ideal philosopher and ideal human being. It was thought that what Socrates said was what Plato agreed with or approved of. Then in the late 20th Century another interpretation began to challenge that idea. This new idea considers that the Symposium is intended to criticize Socrates, and his philosophy, and to reject certain aspects of his behavior. It also considers that Socratic philosophy may have lost touch with the actual individual as it devoted itself to abstract principles.