Plato: Crito 

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Written cir. 380 B.C.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett, modernized 

Characters of the dialogue
SOCRATES
CRITO

Scene
The jail cell of Socrates, near dawn.


Socrates. Crito? Why have you come at this hour? It must be very early.

Crito. Yes, it is.

Soc. What's the time?

Cr. Dawn is breaking.

Soc. I'm surprised that my keeper let you in.

Cr. He knows me, Socrates. I come here often. Besides, I've done him a kindness.

Soc. How long have you been here?

Cr. For some time.

Soc. Then why did you sit here so quietly, instead of waking me at once? 

Cr. Why would I disturb you when you are out of pain, Socrates? I wish that I could sleep so soundly to forget every sorrow. I've wondered at you, how you can sleep so peacefully. I've always marveled at your tranquility. Yet I've never seen you so calm and cheerful as you are now in your trouble. 

Soc. Why, Crito, when a man has reached my age he shouldn't sorrow at the prospect of death.

Cr. And yet age does not stop other old men from grieving. 

Soc. That may be. But why have you come here so early? 

Cr. I bring a message that is sad and painful--not to yourself, I think, but to all of us who are your friends. And it is saddest of all to me.

Soc. What! I suppose that the ship has arrived from Delos, so that now I am to die?

Cr. The ship hasn't come in yet, but she probably will be here later today. Some people who came from Sunium tell me that they have left her there. And so, Socrates, tomorrow will be the last day of your life. 

Soc. Very well, Crito, if that's the will of God. But I think that there will be a delay of one more day. 

Cr. Why?

Soc. I'll tell you. I am to die on the day after the arrival of the ship? 

Cr. That's what the authorities say.

Soc. The ship will not be here until tomorrow. I know it from a vision that I had last night, or rather just now, when happily you let me sleep.

Cr. What kind of vision?

Soc. There came to me the likeness of a woman, very fair and beautiful, clothed in white raiment, who called to me and said: "On the third day hence must thou come to Phthia, O Socrates."

Cr. What a dream, Socrates!

Soc. There can't be any doubt about its meaning, Crito.

Cr. No, the meaning seems clear enough. So, my dear Socrates, let me urge you once again to take my advice and escape from this place. If you stay here and die, I'll lose a friend who can never be replaced, but people who don't know the two of us will think that I could have saved you if I had been willing to put up the money, but that I didn't care. What a disgrace that would be to me--that I should be thought to value money more than my friend's life? The many never will believe that I asked you to escape, but you refused.

Soc. But Crito, why worry about the false opinion of the many? Any good person, whose opinions are worth considering, will know what really happened.

Cr. But don't you see, Socrates, popular opinion must be considered, too. Look at your own trial. The multitude can do the greatest of all evils to anyone who has lost their good opinion. 

Soc. I wish that they could, my friend, for then they could also do the greatest good, and that would be well. But the truth is that they can do neither good nor evil. They cannot make a man wise or foolish, and whatever they do is the result of chance.

Cr. Well, I will not dispute with you about that. But tell me honestly, Socrates, are you not acting out of consideration for me and your other friends? I think you're afraid that your escape will make trouble for us with the informers, for having stolen you away, and that our property will be confiscated--or some greater evil will happen to us. If that's your fear, put it aside. It's only right for your friends to take risks to save you. Be persuaded, then, and do as I say.

Soc. I have more fears than these, Crito.

Cr. Don't worry! There are people here ready to save you and bring you safely out of prison, and it will not be costly. The informers are far from exorbitant in their demands. A little money will satisfy them. My means are ample, and they are at your service, but if you are concerned about spending so much of my money, here are strangers who will give you theirs. One of them, Simmias the Theban, has brought with him a purse full of money for this very purpose, and Cebes and many others are prepared to spend their money too. So, look, don't worry about making your escape, and don't say, as you said in court, that you won't know what to do with yourself if you go abroad. Wherever you go, you will be loved. I have friends in Thessaly, if you like to go to them, and they will value and protect you so that no Thessalian will give you any trouble at all... Think, Socrates, how can you be justified in betraying your own life when you can be saved? Your death plays into the hands of your enemies. It betrays your children. Anyone who brings children into the world must see to their nurture and education. You can't bring up your children and educate them, if you die and leave them to their chance in the world, and if they do not meet with the usual fate of orphans, it will be small thanks to you.  Look, if you choose to die you are choosing the easier part, not the better and manlier part that would become anyone like yourself who teaches virtue. I'll be ashamed of you, and of all of us who are your friends, because this whole business of yours will be blamed on our lack of courage. Your trial need never have come on, or it might have been brought to another verdict, and the end of it all, which is the crowning absurdity, will seem to have been permitted by us, through our cowardice and baseness, for we might have saved you, if we had been good for anything. See how disgraceful and miserable all of this will be for us as well as for you. Make up your mind then, or rather be decided already now, for there's no more time to deliberate here. There is only one thing to be done, and it must be done this very night, or else never. Socrates, I beg you, be persuaded by me, and do as I say with no more delays.

Soc. Dear Crito, your zeal is invaluable, if it is right, but if wrong, the greater the zeal the greater the evil. That is why we have considered whether this thing should be done or not. My nature is guided by reason, by whatever reason appears best to me after reflection, and now I can hardly forget the conclusions that we reached before. Unless we can find other and better principles now, I will not agree with you--no, not even if the power of the multitude could inflict many more imprisonments, confiscations, and deaths, frightening us like children with hobgoblin terrors. But what's the fairest way to consider the question again? Shall we return to our old argument about the opinions of men, some of which are to be regarded, and others, as we were saying, are not to be regarded? Were we right in maintaining this before I was condemned? Or was our argument then nothing more than idle talk or worthless amusement? I'll consider the whole question again with your help, Crito: whether, in my present situation, the argument now appears to be in any way different than it was before. I think the argument is accepted by many who claim to be authorities: the opinions of some men are to be regarded, while the opinions of others are not to be regarded. Now you, Crito, are a disinterested person who is not scheduled to die tomorrow--and so you are not likely to be deceived by the circumstances in which you are placed. Tell me, then, your opinion. Am I right in saying that some opinions, and the opinions of some men only, are to be valued, while other opinions, and the opinions of other men, are not to be valued. Have I been right in maintaining this?

Cr. Certainly.

Soc. The good are to be regarded, and not the bad?

Cr. Yes.

Soc. And the opinions of those with knowledge are good, and the opinions of those without knowledge are bad?

Cr. Yes.

Soc. And so for instance what about the disciple in gymnastics? Should he regard the praise and blame and opinion of every man, or of only one man--that is, his physical trainer or gymnast, whoever that is?

Cr. Of one man only.

Soc. And he ought to fear the censure and welcome the praise of that one only, and not of the many?

Cr. That's clear.

Soc. And he ought to live and train, and eat and drink in the way which seems good to this single expert who has understanding, rather than according to the opinion of all other men put together?

Cr. True.

Soc. And if he disobeys and disregards the opinion and approval of the expert, and regards the opinion of the many who have no understanding, he will suffer evil, won't he?

Cr. Certainly he will.

Soc. And what kind of evil will he suffer for this disobedience?

Cr. Well, the kind affecting the body. That is what will be destroyed by the evil.

Soc. Yes, very good, Crito! And is this not true also of other things? In any case of just and unjust, fair and foul, or good and evil (of which we were speaking just now), should we follow the opinion of the many and fear them, or the opinion of the one person who has understanding, and who should be feared and reverenced more than all the rest of the world, the person who cannot be ignored without destroying or injuring that principle of justice within us--is there not such a principle?

Cr. Surely there is, Socrates.

Soc. Now take a parallel case. If we act under the advice of men who have no understanding, and so we destroy that which is improvable by health and deteriorated by disease, will our life be maintained? That is, bodily life?

Cr. Well...

Soc. Could we live, having an evil and corrupted body? 

Cr. No.

Soc. And will life be worth having, if that higher part of man is depraved, the part that is improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice? Do we suppose that principle--whatever it may be in man--which has to do with justice and injustice, do we suppose it to be inferior to the body?

Cr. Certainly not.

Soc. More honored, then?

Cr. Far more honored.

Soc. Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many will say about us. We must regard what will be said by the one person who has understanding of the just and unjust, for that person will speak the truth. And so you begin in error when you suggest that we should worry about the opinion of the many, or whatever they say is just or unjust, good or evil, honorable or dishonorable. And yet, someone then will argue, "But the many can kill us."

Cr. Yes, Socrates, now there's the point...

Soc. Yes, but still the old argument is, surprisingly, unshaken as ever. And now it remains to ask if the same is true in one more case. Is life, or a good life, to be chiefly valued?

Cr. A good life.

Soc. And a good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one--correct?

Cr. Yes.

Soc. Well then, from these premises we should be prepared to answer the question whether I ought or ought not to try to escape without the consent of the Athenians. If escape is good and just and honorable, then I will attempt it, but if not, I will remain here. These other arguments that you make--about money and loss of character, and the duty of educating children--I'm afraid they are only the doctrines of the multitude, who would be as quick to call people back to life, if they were able, as they are to put them to death, and with as little reason. So now, the only question that remains is whether it is good to escape, or to allow others to aid my escape, and to pay them in money and thanks, or whether these things are not good. If they are not good, then death or any other consequence of my remaining here must not be allowed to enter into the calculation.

Cr. I think that you are right about that, Socrates. So how will we proceed? 

Soc. Let's consider the matter together. Refute me if you can, and I will be convinced, or else, my dear friend, stop pressing me to escape against the wishes of the Athenians. I hope to be persuaded by you, but it cannot be against my own better judgment. So now consider my first position, and do your best to answer me. 

Cr. I will.

Soc. What shall we say: that we never should do intentional wrong, or that in one way we should and in another way we should not do wrong? Isn't the doing of wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as we have acknowledged before? Are all our former conclusions to be thrown away? And have we, all these years of our long lives, been talking with one another only to discover now in our old age that we are no better than children? Or can we believe, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of the personal consequences, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that? 

Cr. Yes.

Soc. Then we must do no wrong?

Cr. Certainly not.

Soc. Nor when injured should we injure in return, as the many imagine, for we must not injure any one at all?

Cr. Clearly not.

Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil?

Cr. Surely not, Socrates.

Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many, is that just or not? 

Cr. Not just.

Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring

Cr. Very true.

Soc. Then we should not retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him. But I would have you consider whether you really mean what you are saying, Crito. For this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any great number of people, and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed on this point have no common ground, and they can only despise one another when they differ so much. Tell me, then, whether you agree with and assent to my first principle, that neither injury nor retaliation nor warding off evil by evil is ever right. And shall that be the premise of our agreement? Or do you decline and dissent from this? For this has been of old and is still my opinion, but if you are of a different opinion, let me hear what you have to say. If, however, you remain of the same mind as formerly, I will go forward to the next step.

Cr. Go ahead. I haven't changed my mind. 

Soc. All right, the next step may be put in the form of a question: should a man to do what he admits to be right, or should he to betray the right?

Cr. He should do what he thinks is right.

Soc. Well, if this is true, then what's the application? In leaving the prison against the will of the Athenians, do I wrong any one? Do I wrong those whom I ought least to wrong? Do I not abandon the principles which we have acknowledged to be just? What do you say?

Cr. I can't tell, Socrates. I don't know.

Soc. Then consider the matter in this way: Imagine that I am about to play truant (truant in whatever way you care to imagine it), and The Laws and The State come and interrogate me. "Tell us, Socrates," they say; "what are you doing? Are you trying to overturn us, The Laws and The State? Do you imagine that any state can continue and not be overturned, when the decisions of law have no power, but are ignored by individuals?" What will be our answer, Crito, to these words or to words like these? Nobody, and especially no clever rhetorician, will have any trouble describing the evil of our overturning a law that requires my sentence to be carried out. Of course, I might reply, "Yes, but The State has injured me and given an unjust sentence." Suppose I say that?

Cr. Very good point, Socrates.

Soc. But then The Laws would say: "And was that our agreement with you? Or were you to abide by the sentence of the State?" And if I looked astonished, then The Laws might add: "Answer, Socrates, instead of opening your eyes so wide like that. You are in the habit of asking and answering questions. Tell us then what complaint you have to make against us that justifies your attempt to destroy us and The State? In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father married your mother by our aid and begat you. Do you have any objection against those of us who regulate marriage? No, we suppose not. Or against those of us who regulate the nurture and education of children in which you were reared and trained? Were not those orders right that commanded your father to train you in music and gymnastics?" They were right, I would have to admit. "Well, then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you? And if this is true you are not on equal terms with us. You cannot think that you have any right to do to us what we are doing to you. You have no right to strike or revile or do any other evil to your father or to your master, if you had one, even when you have been struck or reviled by him, or when you have received some other evil at his hands. Isn't that true? Even if we think that it is right to destroy you, you have no right to destroy us in return, or to destroy The State if you have might enough to do it. How can a professor of wisdom be justified in this? How can any philosopher like you have failed to discover that our country is more to be valued, higher, and holier by far than any mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding? Our country is to be soothed, and gently and reverently entreated when it is angry, even more than a father, and unless it can be persuaded of its error, it must be obeyed. When we are punished, whether with imprisonment or stripes, the punishment is to be endured in silence; and if our country leads us to wounds or death in battle, there we follow as is right; neither may anyone yield or retreat or leave his rank in the fighting, but whether in battle or in a court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his country order him; or he must change their view of what is just. He may no more do violence against his city than he may do violence against his father or mother." Crito, what answer shall we make to this? Do The Laws speak the truth, or don't they?

Cr. I think that they do.

Soc. Then The Laws will say: "If this is true, Socrates, then in your truancy you will do us wrong. For, after we have brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and after we have given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we have to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age, and seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Any of those who do not like us or the city, and who want to go to a colony or to any other city, they may go where they like, and take their goods with them. But anyone who has experienced how we order justice and administer The State, and still remains here, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command. And whoever disobeys us, we say, is thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents; second, because we are the authors of his education; third, because he has made an agreement with us that he will duly obey our commands or else he will convince us that our commands are wrong. We give him the alternative of obeying or convincing us, but he does neither. These are the sort of accusations that will be made against you, Socrates, if you go forward with your truancy, and the accusations will be stronger against you, than against any other Athenian."

Well then, suppose I ask why my truancy would be the worse than any other Athenian's? They will answer me that I above all other men have acknowledged the agreement. They will say, "Socrates, there is clear proof that we and the city were not displeasing to you. Of all Athenians you have been the most constant resident in the city. You never leave it, so you must love it. You never went out of the city either to see the games or to travel, as other men do. You never left the city at all, except once when you went to the Isthmus, or when you were on military service. You never had the curiosity to know other states or their laws. Your affections did not go beyond us and The State: we were your favorites, and you acquiesced in our government of you. This is the city in which you begat your children, which is a proof of your satisfaction. Moreover, if you had liked, you might have fixed the penalty at banishment in the course of your trial. The State which refuses to let you go now would have let you go then. But you claimed that you preferred death to exile, and that you were not grieved at death. And now you have forgotten these fine sentiments, and pay no respect to us, The Laws. To us you are the destroyer; and you are doing what only a miserable slave would do, running away and turning your back upon the compacts and agreements which you made as a citizen. So answer our question. In both your words and your deeds, didn't you agree to be governed by us? Is that true or not?" How shall we answer that, Crito? Must we not agree?

Cr. There is no help, Socrates.

Soc. Then, The Laws will say: "Socrates, you are breaking the covenants and agreements that you made with us, not made in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but having had seventy years to think about them. During all of that time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not acceptable to your mind, or if our covenants seemed to you to be unfair. You had your choice. You could have gone to Sparta or Crete, which you so often praise for their good governments, or to some other Hellenic or foreign city. But no. You never went anywhere else, you were so fond of The State and of us, The Laws. The crippled, the blind, the maimed, were not more stationary in the city than you were. And now you would run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice. Do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city.

"Just consider, if you transgress and err in this way, what good it will do, either for yourself or for your friends. Your friends almost certainly will be driven into exile and deprived of citizenship, and they will lose their property. And you yourself, if you escape to one of the neighboring cities, maybe Thebes or Megara, both of which are well-governed cities, you will come to them as an enemy, Socrates, and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of laws, and you will confirm in the minds of the Athenian judges too the justice of their own condemnation of you. For he who is a corrupter of laws is more than likely to be corrupter of the young and foolish portion of humankind. Will you then flee? And will your life be worth living on these terms? If you go to any well-ordered city, and talk to any virtuous people, what will you say to them, Socrates? What will you say to them about virtue and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men? Will you be so shameless? Or suppose that you avoid well-ordered states and go to Crito's friends in Thessaly, where there is great disorder and license. They will be charmed to have the tale of your escape from prison, set off with ludicrous particulars about how you were wrapped in a goatskin or some other silly disguise, metamorphosed like a runaway. But will there be no one there to remind you that in your old age you violated the most sacred laws from a miserable desire of a little more life? Perhaps not, if you keep them in a good temper. But if they grow out of temper you will hear many degrading things said against you. You will live, but how? As the flatterer of all men, and the servant of all men? Doing what? Eating and drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad to get dinner? And where will be all of your fine sentiments about justice and virtue then? Say that you want to live for the sake of your children, so that you can bring them up and educate them: will you take them to Thessaly and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is that the up-bringing that you would give them? Or, since they will be better cared for and educated here in Athens, will you leave them here for you friends to take of them? Do you think that they will care for your children if you are living in Thessaly, but not if you are an inhabitant of the Next World? No, if you have true friends, they surely will care for your children after your death.

"Then listen to us, Socrates, for we have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards. Think of justice first, so that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. If you do as Crito bids, you will not be happier in the Next World, and your family and friends will not be happier or holier or more just in this life. If you stay and accept your sentence, you will depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil--a victim not of The Laws, but of men. But if you leave, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements that you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong--that is, yourself, your friends, your city, and us--we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. So listen to us and not to Crito."

This is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic. The voice keeps humming in my ears so that I can't hear any other. And I know that anything more that you may say will be in vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.

Cr. I have nothing more to say, Socrates.

Soc. Then let me follow the intimations of the will of God.

THE END


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READINGS for Powers of Literature
(with Lesson numbers):

1. Genesis 1
Creation Story

1. Genesis 11
Babel Story

2. Odyssey 8
Odysseus' voyage 1

3. Iliad 1-2
Achilles' anger

4. Iliad 9
Mission to Achilles

4. Peleus & Thetis
ancient sources

5. Iliad 15 ff
Death of Patroklos

6. Iliad 20 ff
Burial of Hektor

7. Odyssey 13-18
Return of Odysseus

8. Odyssey 20-24
City of Dreams

9. Life of Alexander
the Homeric king

10. Origins of writing
ancient sources

11. Plato, Euthyphro
Socrates gets busted

12. Plato, Apology
Socrates on trial

13. Plato, Crito
Socrates in jail

14. Plato, Phaedo
Socrates in heaven

15. Luke, Acts
Paul does Christ

16. Saint Francis
gospel without text

17. Chretien, The Knight of the Cart
Sire Lance's genes

18. Virgil, Aeneid
Aeneas & Dido