Socrates is afraid that Crito is but pressing upon him the opinions of the
many: whereas all his life long he has followed the dictates of reason
only and the opinion of the one wise or skilled man. There was a time when
Crito himself had allowed the propriety of this. And although some one
will say 'the many can kill us' that makes no difference; but a good life
in other words a just and honourable life is alone to be valued. All
considerations of loss of reputation or injury to his children should be
dismissed: the only question is whether he would be right in attempting to
escape. Crito who is a disinterested person not having the fear of death
before his eyes shall answer this for him. Before he was condemned they
had often held discussions in which they agreed that no man should either
do evil or return evil for evil or betray the right. Are these
principles to be altered because the circumstances of Socrates are altered?
Crito admits that they remain the same. Then is his escape consistent with
the maintenance of them? To this Crito is unable or unwilling to reply.
Socrates proceeds:--Suppose the Laws of Athens to come and remonstrate with
him: they will ask 'Why does he seek to overturn them?' and if he replies
'they have injured him' will not the Laws answer 'Yes but was that the
agreement? Has he any objection to make to them which would justify him in
overturning them? Was he not brought into the world and educated by their
help and are they not his parents? He might have left Athens and gone
where he pleased but he has lived there for seventy years more constantly
than any other citizen.' Thus he has clearly shown that he acknowledged
the agreement which he cannot now break without dishonour to himself and
danger to his friends. Even in the course of the trial he might have
proposed exile as the penalty but then he declared that he preferred death
to exile. And whither will he direct his footsteps? In any well-ordered
state the Laws will consider him as an enemy. Possibly in a land of
misrule like Thessaly he may be welcomed at first and the unseemly
narrative of his escape will be regarded by the inhabitants as an amusing
tale. But if he offends them he will have to learn another sort of lesson.
Will he continue to give lectures in virtue? That would hardly be decent.
And how will his children be the gainers if he takes them into Thessaly
and deprives them of Athenian citizenship? Or if he leaves them behind
does he expect that they will be better taken care of by his friends
because he is in Thessaly? Will not true friends care for them equally
whether he is alive or dead?
Finally they exhort him to think of justice first and of life and
children afterwards. He may now depart in peace and innocence a sufferer
and not a doer of evil. But if he breaks agreements and returns evil for
evil they will be angry with him while he lives; and their brethren the
Laws of the world below will receive him as an enemy. Such is the mystic
voice which is always murmuring in his ears.
That Socrates was not a good citizen was a charge made against him during
his lifetime which has been often repeated in later ages. The crimes of
Alcibiades Critias and Charmides who had been his pupils were still
recent in the memory of the now restored democracy. The fact that he had
been neutral in the death-struggle of Athens was not likely to conciliate
popular good-will. Plato writing probably in the next generation
undertakes the defence of his friend and master in this particular not to
the Athenians of his day but to posterity and the world at large.
Whether such an incident ever really occurred as the visit of Crito and the
proposal of escape is uncertain: Plato could easily have invented far more
than that (Phaedr.); and in the selection of Crito the aged friend as the
fittest person to make the proposal to Socrates we seem to recognize the
hand of the artist. Whether any one who has been subjected by the laws of
his country to an unjust judgment is right in attempting to escape is a
thesis about which casuists might disagree. Shelley (Prose Works) is of
opinion that Socrates 'did well to die' but not for the 'sophistical'
reasons which Plato has put into his mouth. And there would be no
difficulty in arguing that Socrates should have lived and preferred to a
glorious death the good which he might still be able to perform. 'A
rhetorician would have had much to say upon that point.' It may be
observed however that Plato never intended to answer the question of
casuistry but only to exhibit the ideal of patient virtue which refuses to
do the least evil in order to avoid the greatest and to show his master
maintaining in death the opinions which he had professed in his life. Not
'the world' but the 'one wise man' is still the paradox of Socrates in
his last hours. He must be guided by reason although her conclusions may
be fatal to him. The remarkable sentiment that the wicked can do neither
good nor evil is true if taken in the sense which he means of moral
evil; in his own words 'they cannot make a man wise or foolish.'
This little dialogue is a perfect piece of dialectic in which granting the
'common principle' there is no escaping from the conclusion. It is
anticipated at the beginning by the dream of Socrates and the parody of
Homer. The personification of the Laws and of their brethren the Laws in
the world below is one of the noblest and boldest figures of speech which
occur in Plato.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates Crito.
SCENE: The Prison of Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why have you come at this hour Crito? it must be quite early.
CRITO: Yes certainly.
SOCRATES: What is the exact time?
CRITO: The dawn is breaking.
SOCRATES: I wonder that the keeper of the prison would let you in.
CRITO: He knows me because I often come Socrates; moreover. I have done
him a kindness.
SOCRATES: And are you only just arrived?
CRITO: No I came some time ago.
SOCRATES: Then why did you sit and say nothing instead of at once
CRITO: I should not have liked myself Socrates to be in such great
trouble and unrest as you are--indeed I should not: I have been watching
with amazement your peaceful slumbers; and for that reason I did not awake
you because I wished to minimize the pain. I have always thought you to
be of a happy disposition; but never did I see anything like the easy
tranquil manner in which you bear this calamity.
SOCRATES: Why Crito when a man has reached my age he ought not to be
repining at the approach of death.
CRITO: And yet other old men find themselves in similar misfortunes and
age does not prevent them from repining.
SOCRATES: That is true. But you have not told me why you come at this
CRITO: I come to bring you a message which is sad and painful; not as I
believe to yourself but to all of us who are your friends and saddest of
all to me.
SOCRATES: What? Has the ship come from Delos on the arrival of which I
am to die?
CRITO: No the ship has not actually arrived but she will probably be
here to-day as persons who have come from Sunium tell me that they have
left her there; and therefore to-morrow Socrates will be the last day of
SOCRATES: Very well Crito; if such is the will of God I am willing; but
my belief is that there will be a delay of a day.
CRITO: Why do you think so?
SOCRATES: I will tell you. I am to die on the day after the arrival of
CRITO: Yes; that is what the authorities say.
SOCRATES: But I do not think that the ship will be here until to-morrow;
this I infer from a vision which I had last night or rather only just now
when you fortunately allowed me to sleep.
CRITO: And what was the nature of the vision?
SOCRATES: There appeared to me the likeness of a woman fair and comely
clothed in bright raiment who called to me and said: O Socrates
'The third day hence to fertile Phthia shalt thou go.' (Homer Il.)
CRITO: What a singular dream Socrates!
SOCRATES: There can be no doubt about the meaning Crito I think.
CRITO: Yes; the meaning is only too clear. But oh! my beloved Socrates
let me entreat you once more to take my advice and escape. For if you die
I shall not only lose a friend who can never be replaced but there is
another evil: people who do not know you and me will believe that I might
have saved you if I had been willing to give money but that I did not
care. Now can there be a worse disgrace than this--that I should be
thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will
not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape and that you refused.