A direct follow up to Plato’s Apology, Crito takes place after Socrates’ trial. The Greek state of Athens, through a jury of 500 Athenians has ruled that he is guilty and has scheduled him for execution. Crito, a wealthy and influential Athenian, is a loyal friend and an ardent supporter of Socrates and visits him in prison in order to convince him to make an escape and take exile in a different Greek state.
While Socrates makes convincing arguements for why he should accept his punishment at the end of the Apology, Crito is a reinforcement of those arguments through the dialogue between Crito and Socrates in prison.
The Ship from Delos
What the Ship From Delos might have looked like.
When Crito visits Socrates, he tells him that he has a painful message for him. Socrates asks him if the ship from Delos has come yet. Socrates knows that one day after the return of the ship, he is scheduled to be executed. Socrates tells Crito that he had a vision of a woman, “fair and comely, clothed in bright raiment, who called to [him] and said: O Socrates, ‘the third day hence to fertile Phthia shalt thou go'” (Plato, Crito, 213). This means that tomorrow is the day the ship will return, and that the day after Socrates shall be executed.
What is the Ship of Delos?
Delos was a sacred island in the Aegean Sea, associated with the gods Apollo and Artemis. It had an annual religious festival called the Delian games, and people would travel there to participate in religious rituals. The woman in Socrates’ vision tells him that he will go to fertile Phthia.
Interestingly, Phthia is also the home island of Achilles, and this isn’t the first time Socrates is compared to the Greek hero of the Trojan war. He talks extensively about him in the Apology. The reason this is significant is because Achilles is fated to die if he becomes a hero in the war and goes to slay Hector in Troy, just as Socrates is fated to die if he persists in seeking his own true nature and the questioning of others. Socrates sees no way around this, he has no choice but to obey god and his own nature, just as he assumes Achilles had no choice but to be a hero and a legend in the Trojan war. For more of my explanation of the comparisons between Achilles and Socrates, visit my article on Plato’s Apology.
Crito’s First Arguement
Crito’s first attempt to persuade Socrates to escape is that it will hurt Crito’s public image. He states:
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 (Crito 213).
What do you think? Is this a persuasive argument? It seems a little selfish to me. Socrates has just been through a tough trial, and has defended himself vigorously only to understand that he has no choice but to die, as he and the state are at odds that cannot be resolved. For the Athenian state wants to deny Socrates the right to be himself, an examiner of human nature and his own being, and he has resolved that he cannot obey the state, but can only follow the divine decree of following his own nature. If Socrates ceased to question the nature of wisdom and being, he would no longer be Socrates and that would be worse than death itself. How can then a man like Socrates care about what the public thinks about him and his friend Crito?
Socrates reply confirms this state of mind, as he replies, “should we care about the opinion of the many? Good men, and they are the only persons who are worth considering, will think of these things truly as they occurred” (Crito 214). After an existential battle in court, the opinion of the many is neither important to him, nor should be important to Crito. He values only the judgment of good men, for they understand the crux of his conflict with the state, and only those who understand can credibly have an opinion on his fate.
Crito’s Second Temptation
Crito asks Socrates if he doesn’t perhaps fear that his friends will get in trouble for abetting his escape. Socrates admits that this is one of his fears, though not the only one. Crito tells Socrates that there are many men who are willing to contribute to his escape, and that if anyone wants to inform on them, even a small amount of money would be enough to keep them quiet.
His method of persuasion is to convince Socrates that by not escaping he would be “playing into the hands of [his] enemies” (Crito 214) who wish for nothing more but his destruction. He also says that Socrates would be deserting his children, who may become orphans. He also states that Socrates may be choosing the easier path and not one that is more virtuous and manly.
Socrates responds to this by asking various questions of Crito to dive deeper into the idea of only finding value in the opinions of those who are wise and knowledgeable. And he attributes Crito’s previous concerns of deserting his children, and strength of character as the “doctrines of the multitude” (215), and not of those who are morally correct.
Since Crito agrees with Socrates that the opinion of the few who are wise and knowledgeable is more important than the opinion of the unwise masses, for Socrates there is only one question left to be considered:
Whether we shall do rightly either in escaping or in suffering others to aid in our escape and paying them in money and thanks, or whether in reality we shall not do rightly; and if the latter, then death or any other calamity which may ensue on my remaining here must not be allowed to enter into the calculation. (Crito 216)
This is Socrates second method of dismissing Crito’s fear of what people may think of either Socrates or his friends, and places the emphasis solely on what is right and what is wrong, regardless of personal consequence.
Socrates Takes over the Argument
Socrates sets up some premises for Crito that they both agree on, and that give a nice overview of the morality that Socrates holds:
- We must do no wrong
- Nor when injured injure in return
- May not do evil
- doing evil in return for evil is unjust
- A man ought to do what he thinks is right (216)
After establishing these premises with Crito, he asks Crito if in escaping prison against the will of the Athenians he is wronging them. Crito answers that he does not know. Socrates taking up the argument of the state, asks “Do you imagine that a state can subsist and not be overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?” (216) To counter argue this question, Socrates replies that he was injured by an unjust sentence, but then takes up the state’s side again and establishes that he was raised and nurtured by the state, and given liberty to stay in or leave the state if he thought it unjust.
By having grown up in Athens, Socrates has seen the courts work, experienced life there, and by staying has entered into an agreement with the state to obey its decisions and decrees. He has raised his children in the state, and has rarely traveled. He hasn’t expressed curiosity in the laws of other states and municipalities, and even at his trial had the choice of requesting exile, which he is sure the state would have granted him.
Socrates’ Vision of the Future if he Escapes
Speaking as the state, Socrates lays out the consequences of his escape, to drive the point even further to convince Crito how wrong and foolish of him it would be to escape. He lays out a future wherein his friends are driven into exile and have their property confiscated, and imagines a neighboring city such as Thebes and Megara viewing him with suspicion as a subverter of laws and people.
Socrates visualizes himself and the strength of his morality and beliefs and then imagines how he would feel as a refugee going against his morals, attempting to get one more meal or one more day alive simply for not wanting to die, even as an old man.
In counting on others’ generosity, and ability to keep him safe, he must become a flatterer of men, and not an unwavering seeker of truth and wisdom. It would be a betrayal of himself and his essence, to go against the values he believes in and give them up for only a few more years of life that wouldn’t even satisfy the truthfulness of who he is and what he believes in.
This vision is enough to silence and convince Crito, who leaves upon Socrates request, to allow Socrates to “fulfill the will of God, and to follow whither he leads” (219).
Author: Kristap Baltin
The Version of Plato’s Crito I used for this Article
GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD: VOLUME 7. Plato: Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor: Amazon.com: Books
If you enjoyed this article, please read my explanation of Plato’s Apology.