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The pursuit of wisdom formed the daily lives of the ancient Greeks. In this part of the world, every important person in society had to be a philosopher. This is because philosophy offered explanations to things that would otherwise be difficult to understand. However, in the same way, philosophy of pursuit of wisdom also led to confusion, especially to those who did not understand logic. One of the major aspects of search for and pursuit of wisdom was the use of language. Since there were many philosophers at the time, it was apparent that differences among them were evident in their writings. In responding to accusations or views by others, ‘wisdom-mongers’ often used a lot of figurative language, irony and sarcasm. One such monger was Socrates. In his ‘apology’ as written by Plato, he uses a great deal of irony. This essay seeks to demystify the ironic twist in the popular ‘apology’. In the apology, Socrates presents ‘human wisdom’ as opposed to mere wisdom. According to Socrates, human wisdom enables men to realize that they do not know.


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“Men of Athens do not interrupt me, but hear me…” were Socrates words at his trial. He says so because he knew he was not wise but possessed ‘human wisdom’ which is ironically presented. Plato’s Apology presents several ironies that are inherent in Socrates’ thoughts. In fact, the entire document is full of either inherent or manifest ironies. To begin with, the connotation of an ‘apology’ is ironical. Usually, one apologizes if he or she has done something wrong against another or others. However, in this case, Socrates has not done something wrong. Therefore, by referring to his statement as an apology sends one thinking on whether Socrates was actually wrong of his accusers were. The second instance of irony is manifest early in the apology. He states that his accusers told men of Athens not to be deceived by his rhetorical eloquence (Plato 18). On the contrary, Socrates never considered himself wise and, by extension, therefore, rhetorically eloquent. Therefore, his accusers were rhetorically eloquent that Socrates was ‘deceiving’ men of Athens. Their rhetorical eloquence was seen in their premeditated public speeches as opposed to Socrates’ on-spot thinking and response to issues.

Human wisdom was the main ‘wisdom’ of Socrates. Through human wisdom, the ability to know that one does not know, Socrates was able to know that his accusers were not wise. In addition to the above, in his ‘defense’ before the court of law, Socrates points out that in spite of being over 70 years old, he had never appeared before a court of law, thus he did not understand ‘the ways of the place’. The irony he is bringing out is that after living for such a long time, the accusers were only able to see his faults at his sunset years. Moreover, it was even more ironical that his accusers pushed for his killing as if his killing would solve any of the evils in the world. In fact, killing him would only add more evils in the world, the evil being killing of righteous people. In his own words, he says that "and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed...but the envy and detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and will probably, be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the last of them".

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Perhaps one of the most significant ironies is the fact that people who were not as wise as Socrates would justify why he was to be killed. It was crystal clear that Socrates was literally the wisest man in the City. However, some people felt that he was demeaning them either as being less wise or not being wise at all. Socrates life was a testimony that he was wiser than the jurors. He spent a good part of his life searching answers to questions life and ultimate source of truth. According to him, it would be useless foe any person to waste a lot of time doing that which was not true and just- the way the jurors were doing. Therefore, it was ironical that instead of them giving him a chance to relay the answers he found during his life, they wanted to kill him yet they did not know the truth. It was further ironical that although he knew he would be killed, he went ahead to say things as they were. He says thus "a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong".

By reading Plato’s Apology, one initially wonders if Socrates was wise at all. However, as the reader progresses, it becomes clear that Socrates was not only wise but was also capable of making fun out of wisdom. Moreover, a closer look into Socrates’ irony in the Apology shows that the irony lost humor at some point. The ironies were a succinct way of presenting the truth. Socrates, for instance, says that "I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you". Under normal circumstances, it is expected that one obeys the people he or she loves. Perhaps such circumstances would not be ‘wise’. On the contrary, Socrates had learnt that all human beings, righteous and wrongdoers, including his accusers, had invaluable and inestimable worth. He had also understood the role of the people in authority. That is why he respected them. But if they did not stand for truth, Socrates would not agree with them. This leads to the other irony, that people in authority are not always right. Ironically further, during his trial, although the jurors did not know as much as he did, they did not want to listen to him. They were merely prejudiced. This made Socrates wonder how the selfish leaders would ever seek and realize the ultimate truth.

Plato presents a latent irony in the life of Socrates culminating in his trial as evident in his apology. The problems afflicting Socrates began when an inquiry was begun on who was the wisest. A series of these investigations led to his death. Ironically, Plato presents this period as the one that actually saw the start of Socrates’ life. When asked, the oracle said that none was wiser. But Socrates differed with the Oracle because he believed he was not wise at all and that others were wise. After asking those who believed were wise, he discovered that they were not; none was wiser then the other. Thus, the oracle was right. However, Socrates was ultimately the wisest because he was the only one who was aware that he was not wise. These series of ironies led to accusation that Socrates was fuelling the youth with impiety and not believing in Greek gods. It was also ironical that although he had a chance to escape from prison, he decided to accept being killed because it was the right time for him to die. Besides, if he fled, his teaching would not be grounded in any country as they were in Greece.


Plato’s Apology presents a series of ironies evident in Socrates’ words and statements during his life and specifically at the trial. One of the ironies was that while the jurors were prosecuting him for his wisdom, he did not consider himself wise. In addition, it was ironical that those who were killing him did not know a thing about life. There were also other ironies such as the fact that those with authority in society did not stand for justice or truth. Finally, it appears ironical that Plato’s discourse should be referred to as an apology of Socrates while actually his accusers were supposed to apologize to him or his followers. In the final analysis, Socrates may be referred to as the greatest irony-monger of all the times. This was not only evident in his apology but also by his entire life.

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