Socrates - Xenophon Apology - His divine sign interposes
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Xenophon - Apology of Socrates
It seems to me fitting to hand down to memory, how Socrates, on being indicted, deliberated on his defence and on his end. It is true that others have written about this, and that all of them have reproduced the loftiness of his words,—a fact which proves that his utterance really was of the character intimated;—but they have not shown clearly that he had now come to the conclusion that for him death was more to be desired than life; and hence his lofty utterance appears rather ill-considered.
Hermogenes, the son of Hipponicus, however, was a companion of his and has given us reports of such a nature as to show that the sublimity of his speech was appropriate to the resolve he had made.
For he stated that on seeing Socrates discussing any and every subject rather than the trial, he had said:
“Socrates, ought you not to be giving some thought to what defence you are going to make?”
That Socrates had at first replied, “Why, do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in preparing to defend myself?” Then when he asked, “How so?” he had said, “Because all my life I have been guiltless of wrong-doing; and that I consider the finest preparation for a defence.”
Then when Hermogenes again asked, “Do you not observe that the Athenian courts have often been carried away by an eloquent speech and have condemned innocent men to death, and often on the other hand the guilty have been acquitted either because their plea aroused compassion or because their speech was witty?” “Yes, indeed!” he had answered; “and I have tried twice already to meditate on my defence, but my divine sign interposes.”
And when Hermogenes observed, “That is a surprising statement,” he had replied, “Do you think it surprising that even God holds it better for me to die now? Do you not know that I would refuse to concede that any man has lived a better life than I have up to now? For I have realized that my whole life has been spent in righteousness toward God and man,—a fact that affords the greatest satisfaction; and so I have felt a deep self-respect and have discovered that my associates hold corresponding sentiments toward me.
But now, if my years are prolonged, I know that the frailties of old age will inevitably be realized,—that my vision must be less perfect and my hearing less keen, that I shall be slower to learn and more forgetful of what I have learned. If I perceive my decay and take to complaining, how,” he had continued, “could I any longer take pleasure in life?
Perhaps,” he added, “God in his kindness is taking my part and securing me the opportunity of ending my life not only in season but also in the way that is easiest. For if I am condemned now, it will clearly be my privilege to suffer a death that is adjudged by those who have superintended this matter to be not only the easiest but also the least irksome to one's friends and one that implants in them the deepest feeling of loss for the dead. For when a person leaves behind in the hearts of his companions no remembrance to cause a blush or a pang, but dissolution comes while he still possesses a sound body and a spirit capable of showing kindliness, how could such a one fail to be sorely missed?
It was with good reason,” Socrates had continued, “that the gods opposed my studying up my speech at the time when we held that by fair means or foul we must find some plea that would effect my acquittal. For if I had achieved this end, it is clear that instead of now passing out of life, I should merely have provided for dying in the throes of illness or vexed by old age, the sink into which all distresses flow, unrelieved by any joy.
As Heaven is my witness, Hermogenes,” he had gone on, “I shall never court that fate; but if I am going to offend the jury by declaring all the blessings that I feel gods and men have bestowed on me, as well as my personal opinion of myself, I shall prefer death to begging meanly for longer life and thus gaining a life far less worthy in exchange for death.”