The Dialogues of Plato — Translation by David Horan

Plato’s Crito

Persons in the Dialogue: Socrates, Crito

43A Socrates: Why have you arrived at this hour, Crito? Isn’t it still early?

Crito: It certainly is.

Soc: What time is it, then?

Crito: Just before dawn.

Soc: I am surprised the prison guard was willing to answer the door for you.

Crito: He knows me well at this stage, Socrates, because I visit the place so often and, what’s more, I have done him a favour.

Soc: Did you arrive just now, or some time ago?

Crito: Quite some time ago.

Soc: 43B Then why did you not wake me immediately, instead of sitting there in silence?

Crito: No, by Zeus, I wouldn’t do that; I only wish I weren’t so sleepless, and so troubled myself, but I am also amazed at you, when I notice how sweetly you sleep, and I deliberately refrained from waking you, so that you might pass the time as pleasantly as possible. Yes, on many occasions before this, all through your life, I have counted you blessed for your manner, and especially now that this misfortune has befallen you, for how easily and calmly you are bearing it.

Soc: Actually, Crito, it would be most odd, at my age, to be troubled because I now had to die.

Crito: 43C But, Socrates, other men of your age have been overtaken by similar misfortunes, yet their age does not free them from being troubled over their predicament.

Soc: That’s true; but why have you come so early?

Crito: Socrates, I am the bearer of painful news, not painful for you, apparently, but for me and all your associates it is both painful and grievous, and I think I am the one who bears it most grievously of all.

Soc: What news is this? Has the ship arrived from Delos; the one whose arrival 43D means that I must die?

Crito: Well it has not actually arrived but I think it will be here today, based on reports from some people who have come from Sounion and who left the ship there. So it is clear, from these reports, that it will be here today and so, Socrates, tomorrow your life must come to an end.

Soc: Well, Crito, may it be for the best; if this pleases the gods, so be it. However, I do not think it will be here today.

Crito: 44A What makes you say that?

Soc: I’ll tell you. Presumably I am to die the day after the ship arrives.

Crito: That is what the responsible officials say, in any case.

Soc: Well I do not think it will be here today, but tomorrow. My evidence is a dream I had a little earlier, during the night, perhaps when you decided not to wake me.

Crito: What was the dream?

Soc: I thought that a noble and beautiful 44B woman wearing a white robe approached me, called out and said:

“Socrates, on the third day thou shalt reach fertile Phthia.”

Crito: What a strange dream, Socrates.

Soc: Well now Crito, it seems clear enough to me anyway.

Crito: It seems all too clear, but, dearest Socrates, even at this stage, heed me, and save yourself. For if you die it is not just a single misfortune for me; no, quite apart from being deprived of a friend, the like of whom I shall never find again, many people who do not know you and me at all well, will think that I was able 44C to save you, if I was willing to spend my money, but I did not care. And what reputation could be more disgraceful than this: a reputation for setting higher value on money than on friends? For most people won’t believe that although we were willing to help, you yourself were not willing to quit this place.

Soc: But bless you, Crito, why does popular opinion concern us so much? The best people, whose opinions are more worthy of consideration, will believe the business has been conducted exactly as it will be conducted.

Crito: 44D But, Socrates, surely you can see that it is indeed necessary to care about popular opinion. The very situation we are now in demonstrates that, if someone is discredited in their eyes, the multitude can do harm; not only on the smallest of scales, but well-nigh the greatest harm of all.

Soc: I really wish the multitude were able to do the greatest harm, Crito, so that they might also be able to do the greatest good, and all would be well. As it is, they are not able to do either, for they cannot make someone either wise or foolish, and they do whatever occurs to them.

Crito: 44E Let’s accept all that, Socrates, but just tell me, are you concerned for me and for your other associates, in case the informers make trouble for us after you escape from here, because we stole you away, and we are made to forfeit all our property, or a lot of money, or suffer some worse fate at their hands? For if you are afraid of any such 45A outcome, bid it farewell, for it is only right that we run these risks to save you, and even greater risks if necessary. So heed me and just do as I say.

Soc: Yes, I am concerned about this, Crito, and much else besides.

Crito: Then don’t be afraid: in fact the people who can save you and get you out of here are not looking for a lot of money. Besides, you see, don’t you, that these informers are so easily bought, that we won’t need to spend much money 45B on them either? My own funds are at your disposal and I believe they are adequate. What’s more, if you are concerned about me, and don’t believe you should spend my money, there are friends here, from abroad, willing to spend theirs. One of them, Simmias the Theban, has brought sufficient money for this very purpose; Cebes too is ready, and very many others.

So, as I say, don’t give up on saving yourself, for fear of these issues, nor should what you said in court present a difficulty for you; that you would not know what to do with yourself 45C if you went into exile. For, there are lots of places where they will welcome you, wherever you go. And if you want to go to Thessaly, I have friends there who will make much of you, and provide you with protection so that you are not bothered by any of the Thessalonians.

What’s more, Socrates, I don’t even think that what you are attempting is right; betraying yourself when you could save yourself, eager to bring upon yourself the sort of thing your enemies would be eager for, and were eager for; to destroy you. As well as this, I also think you are betraying 45D your own sons by going off and abandoning them when you could rear them and educate them. For all you care, they will meet whatever fate they meet, and they will quite likely, meet the sort of fate that usually befalls orphans in these situations. In fact, one should either not beget children at all, or else face the difficulties of rearing and educating them; and I think you are choosing the easy way out, when you should choose whatever a good and courageous man would choose, especially when you spend your entire life speaking of concern for excellence. So I am ashamed both on your behalf and on behalf of ourselves, your associates, lest this entire situation in which you are involved may seem to have developed because of some cowardice on our part; the fact that the action went to court when it was possible that it not go to court; how the trial of the action itself unfolded, and to cap it all, as the most absurd aspect of the matter, people will think that an opportunity escaped 46A us, due to our own baseness and cowardice, since we did not save you nor did you save yourself, when we were well able to do so if we were of any use at all. So beware, Socrates, in case these matters bring, not just evil upon yourself and others, but disgrace too. So make your decision; no, the time for making decisions is past, just decide; there is only one decision. Yes, everything must happen this very night, and if we delay any longer it won’t be possible. So heed me, Socrates, you must do exactly as I say.

Soc: 46B Crito, my friend, your eagerness would be very worthy, if it had right on its side, but if not, then the greater the eagerness, the greater the problem. Now we need to consider whether we should adopt this course of action or not, as I am, now and ever, the sort of person who heeds nothing else but the reasoning that, on reflection, appears best to me. So I cannot now cast aside the reasoned arguments I have stated before, because of what has just happened to me; no, they seem 46C much the same, and I honour and respect the same principles as before. And if we have no better arguments to offer at the moment, then, rest assured, I shall not go along with your plan, not even if the power of the populace scares us, like children, to an even greater extent than now, by threatening either imprisonment, execution or confiscation of property.

So how may we consider the issues in the most balanced way? What if we first take up the argument you proposed in relation to opinions? Were we right or were we not, when we said, 46D on many occasions, that we should pay attention to some opinions but not to others? Or were we right before I was condemned to death, and has it now become quite evident that this was said, idly, for the sake of argument, and was, in truth, childish nonsense? And I am eager to consider, along with you, Crito, whether the argument appears in a different light since this has happened to me, or remains the same; whether we should bid it farewell, or heed it. It used often to be said, I believe, by those of us who thought they had a point, that, as I have just said, some opinions that people 46E arrive at should be valued highly, others not. By the gods, Crito, don’t you think this is a fair statement? For you, humanly speaking, are not expected to die 47A tomorrow, and the present situation should not unhinge you, so think about this; don’t you think it is enough to say that we should not respect all the opinions of mankind, but some only and not others, and not the opinions of all people but of some people and not others? What do you say? Is it right to say this?

Crito: It is right.

Soc: Shouldn’t we respect the worthy opinions and not the bad ones?

Crito: Yes.

Soc: Aren’t the worthy ones the opinions of the wise, and the bad ones the opinions of the foolish?

Crito: They must be.

Soc: Come on then, what did we also used say about situations like these? When a man is in training 47B and is working at it, does he pay attention to the praise and censure, and the opinions of anyone at all, or to one person alone, the person who happens to be a physician or a trainer?

Crito: To one person alone.

Soc: Therefore, he should fear the censure and delight in the praise of that one person, and not those of the majority?

Crito: Obviously.

Soc: So he should go about it as follows; exercise, and even eat and drink in the way that, that one person, his trainer, the knowledgeable person, thinks he should, rather than all the others.

Crito: This is so.

Soc: 47C So be it. But if he doesn’t heed that one person, and disrespects his opinion and his praise, and respects those of the majority who are not at all knowledgeable, won’t he suffer harm?

Crito: Inevitably.

Soc: What is this harm, to what is it directed, and what part of the heedless person does it affect?

Crito: Obviously it affects his body, since it ruins it.

Soc: That’s right. And without going through them all, Crito, doesn’t the same issue arise in other cases too, and especially when it comes to justice and injustice, disgrace and nobility, good and evil, with which our deliberations are now concerned? Should we follow the opinion of the majority 47D and fear it, or the opinion of one person, if there is someone who is knowledgeable, and feel more shame and fear before him than before all the others put together? And if we do not follow him, shan’t we corrupt and maim that which, we agreed, is made better by justice and ruined by injustice? Or is this nothing?

Crito: I agree with you, Socrates.

Soc: Come on then, if by paying no heed to the opinion of knowledgeable people, we ruin that which is improved by health and corrupted by disease, would our life be worth living when this had been corrupted? And “this”, presumably, is the body, isn’t it?

Crito: Yes.

Soc: So, for us, is life worth living with a degenerate and corrupted body?

Crito: Not at all.

Soc: Then, is our life worth living, when that which injustice maims and justice improves, has been corrupted? Or do we believe that the part of 48A us, whatever it is, that is associated with injustice and justice, to be less honourable than the body?

Crito: Not at all.

Soc: Is it more honourable?

Crito: Very much so.

Soc: So, best of men, we should not give any thought to what most people will say of us. No, we should heed what the person who knows justice and injustice says: that one person; and truth itself. So your first proposal was not right, when you proposed that we should take account of popular opinion concerning what is just, noble and good, and their opposites. Yet someone might still say: “Yes, but the multitude is able to put us to death!”

Crito: 48B Of course someone would say that, Socrates.

Soc: What you say is true. But, my friend, the argument we have just gone through still seems much the same to me, as it did previously. And we should also consider, further, whether this principle of ours still stands; that we should not attach importance to living, but to living well.

Crito: It still stands.

Soc: And to live well is to live nobly and justly; does this stand or not?

Crito: It stands.

Soc: In that case, based upon what has been agreed, we should consider whether I am justified, in trying to get out of here without permission 48C from the Athenians, or not. And if it turns out to be justified, we should make the attempt, and if not, we should let it be. But the considerations you introduce, concerning financial expenditure, opinion, and the upbringing of my children, these, I truly suspect, Crito, are the notions of those who would readily put a man to death, and then bring him back to life again, if they could, notions devoid of reason, the notions of the multitude. But we, since the argument so convinces us, should consider nothing except what we said just now; whether we shall be acting justly in bestowing money and favours upon the people who will get me out 48D of here, and in escaping and aiding the escape ourselves. Or shall we, in truth, be acting unjustly in doing all this? And if it is evident that we shall be acting unjustly, there is no need to consider whether we should quietly stand our ground and face death, or suffer any other fate whatsoever; we should only consider the injustice of the act.

Crito: What you are saying is all very well, Socrates, but you still need to decide what we should do.

Soc: Let’s consider this together, good man, and if you are able to contradict 48E what I am saying, in any way, do so, and I shall heed you. Otherwise, at this stage, blessed man, please stop presenting the same argument to me, over and over, that I need to get out of here without the permission of the Athenians, for it is very important to me that I do all this with your approval and not against your will. Now look at the principle of the inquiry, and whether it is stated adequately, 49A and try to answer the questions you are asked, as you think best.

Crito: Well, I’ll try.

Soc: Are we saying that injustice should not be done intentionally in any way, or should injustice be done in one way but not in another? Or is unjust action not at all good or noble, as we have agreed so often on previous occasions? Or has everything we previously agreed been cast aside in these past few days, and have we, at our age, Crito, despite conversing earnestly with one another for so long, overlooked the fact that we 49B are no better than children? Or is it very much the case, as we said then, that whether the multitude say so or not, and whether we must suffer more grievous afflictions, or even milder ones, doing injustice is evil in any case, and disgraceful, in every way, for the one who acts unjustly? Do we accept this or not?

Crito: We do.

Soc: So we should never act unjustly?

Crito: Of course not.

Soc: Nor since we should never act unjustly, should we return an injustice if we are treated unjustly, as most people think.

Crito: 49C Apparently not.

Soc: What about this, Crito; should we do harm or not?

Crito: Of course we shouldn’t, Socrates.

Soc: And if we suffer harm, is it just to do harm in return, as most people assert, or is it not just?

Crito: Not at all.

Soc: Presumably because doing harm to people is no different from acting unjustly.

Crito: That’s true.

Soc: So we should neither return an injustice, nor do harm to any man, regardless of what we suffer at his hands. And take care, Crito, 49D in accepting this, in case you agree to something that goes against your own opinion, since I know that these opinions are held, and will be held, by few. Now there is no common counsel between those who hold this view and those who do not, and they must, of necessity, despise one another, when they see one another’s decisions. So you too should consider, very carefully, whether you share this view and agree with it, and we should begin our deliberations from this; is it never right to do injustice, or to return an injustice, or to defend yourself from suffering harm by doing harm in return; or do you dissent and do you not share 49E this principle? I have long held this view and I still do so now, but if you hold a different one, speak and explain it. However if you stand by what we agreed earlier, hear what follows.

Crito: Well I stand by it and I agree with you, so speak on.

Soc: Then the next thing I say, or rather ask, is whether a person should do whatever he agrees with someone to do, provided it is just, or should he cheat him?

Crito: He should do it.

Soc: Then look at the matter based on these principles. In leaving this place without having convinced 50A the city, are we doing harm, even to those we should harm least of all? Or are we not doing harm, and are we abiding by our agreements, since they are just?

Crito: I can’t answer your question Socrates, because I do not understand it.

Soc: Well consider this; if as we were about to run away from here, or call it what you will, the laws and the commonality of the city were to arrive, stand before us and ask; “Tell me Socrates, what are you intending to do? Do you have anything else in mind than to destroy us, the laws, and the entire city too, as far as in you lies, by 50B your plan of action? Or do you think any city can exist and not be overthrown, when its just enactments have no force, and are rendered ineffective by private citizens, and set at naught?” What answer would we give, Crito, to these questions and others like them? Someone, especially a rhetorician might have a lot to say about the subversion of this law; that judgements, once delivered, stand supreme. 50C Or shall we reply that “the city did us an injustice and did not decide the case aright”? Shall we say this or something else?

Crito: This, by Zeus, Socrates.

Soc: Well what if the laws were to reply: “Socrates, was this also agreed between yourself and ourselves, or did you agree to abide by the judgements the city pronounced?” Now if I were surprised that they asked this, they would probably say: “Socrates, don’t be surprised at the question, just answer it, since you make such a habit of asking and answering questions. Come on, you are attempting to destroy ourselves and the city; on what grounds? 50D Firstly, didn’t we bring you to birth, since, through us, your father married your mother and begot you. So tell us, do you find any fault in those of us who are the laws concerning marriage, because they are unsound?” “I find no fault”, would be my reply. “What about those concerning the upbringing of children once they are born, and the education you yourself received? Or did those of us who were established for this purpose not issue good instructions when they directed your father to educate you in music and gymnastics?” 50E “They were good”, I would say. “So be it. But since you were begotten, reared and educated in this way, can you say, firstly, that you are not our offspring and our servant, yourself and your ancestors? And if this is the case, do you think that justice between yourself and ourselves is on an equal basis, and that you are justified in retaliating to anything we set about doing to you? You did not have such equality towards your father or your master, if you had one, so that you could retaliate for whatever might be done to you, either 51A by responding to any harsh words, striking back when struck, or doing anything else of that sort. So do you think this will be permitted towards your homeland and the laws, so that if we set about destroying you because we think it just to do so, you may also set about destroying us, the laws and your homeland, to the best of your ability, and may claim that you are justified in doing so, you, a man who, truly, cares so much about excellence?”

“Or have you, as wise as you are, overlooked the following facts; that your homeland is more worthy of respect than your mother or father or all of your other ancestors, and is more august, and sacred 51B and more exalted in status, in the eyes of the gods and of men of intelligence; that when your homeland is angry, she should be revered, obeyed and assuaged, even more than an angry father, and you should either persuade her otherwise, or do as she commands, and suffer in silence if she prescribes any suffering, by being beaten or imprisoned; that if she sends you to war to be wounded or slain, this is what you must do, for justice consists in this, and you must not surrender or withdraw or desert your post; that in war, in a courtroom or anywhere else you must do what your city and your homeland commands or else persuade 51C her as to where justice lies; that it is unholy to use force against your father or mother, but much more so against your homeland?”

Soc: What will be our reply to all this, Crito? Are the laws speaking the truth, or not?

Crito: I think so.

Soc: “Then consider, Socrates”, the laws might say, “whether we are speaking the truth in saying that your actions are unjust when you set about doing what you are now doing to us. For although we begot you, nurtured you, educated you and gave a share of all the benefits we could, 51D to yourself and all your fellow citizens, nevertheless we make an open declaration, giving permission, allowing any Athenian who wishes, to take what is his and go wherever he wishes, if he is displeased with us, once he has come of age and has seen what goes on in the city, and has seen ourselves, its laws. None of us laws will prevent it or forbid it, if any of you want to go to a colony, or go to live somewhere 51E else as a foreigner, because we and the city are not to your liking; you may go wherever you want, and take your possessions with you.”

“But should any of you remain, seeing the way that we administer justice and manage the city in general, we then declare that the person has agreed with us, by his action, to do whatever we order him to do, and we maintain that anyone who disobeys, commits a threefold injustice: he disobeys us, we who begot him, he disobeys us, we who nurtured him, and having agreed to obey us, he neither obeys us nor persuades us otherwise, if we are not acting aright, even though we lay 52A the options before him and do not issue rough commands to do what we tell him, no, we offer two alternatives; either do as we say or persuade us otherwise; but he does neither of these.”

“Well, Socrates, we declare that if you do what you have in mind, you will be just as open to these allegations as any other Athenian; more so, in fact.” And if I were to ask; “Why is that?” they would probably rebuke me, quite justifiably, saying that I, more so than any Athenian, have accepted this agreement with them, 52B for they would declare: “Socrates, we have strong evidence that you are fond of us and of the city, for you would never have spent more time at home here, than any other Athenian, unless you were especially fond of her. Indeed you have neither yet left the city to go to a festival, except once to the Isthmus, nor did you go anywhere else, except on military service, nor have you ever made any other journey abroad, like other Athenians, nor have you been taken with a desire to know about another city or any different laws; no, we were good enough 52C for you, and so was our city. You chose us, and you agreed to live under us as a citizen, with such eagerness that you even begot your children here, so much did the city please you. And even at the trial itself, you could have proposed exile as a penalty if you wanted to, and you would then have had the city’s permission to do what you are now trying to do against her will. At the time you made out that you would not be troubled if you had to die, and said you would choose death before exile. But now you are neither ashamed at your own words, nor do you show any respect for us, the laws. In an attempt to destroy 52D us, you are doing what the basest slave might do, trying to run away, contrary to the contracts and agreements under which you undertook to live as a citizen. So answer this question for us first; are we speaking the truth when we declare that you have agreed, by your actions if not by your words, to live as a citizen in accordance with us, or is this not true?”

Soc: What shall we say to this, Crito? Shall we do something else, or shall we agree?

Crito: We must agree, Socrates.

Soc: “In that case,” they might say, “aren’t you contravening your contracts and agreements with us? 52E You were not forced or deceived into agreeing, nor were you compelled to decide in a hurry; no, you had seventy years during which you could have departed, if we were not to your liking or if the agreements seemed unjust to you. But you did not prefer either Sparta or Crete, whom you have often declared to be well regulated, 53A or any other Greek city, or any barbarian city either, instead you spent less time outside the city than the lame, the blind and the other disabled folk. So you, more so than your fellow Athenians, are pleased with the city and, obviously, with us, the laws; for who would be pleased with a city devoid of laws? And now, will you not abide by your agreements? You will if you heed us, Socrates, and you won’t become a laughing stock by leaving the city.”

“Yes, indeed, consider what good you will do to yourself or any of your own 53B associates, if you contravene these agreements or fall short of them in any respect. Indeed it is quite obvious that your associates themselves also run the risk of exile, losing their status in the city, or confiscation of their property. But taking your own case first, if you go to a nearby city such as Thebes or Megara, both of which are well regulated, you will arrive there as an enemy to their constitution, Socrates, and anyone there who cares for their own city will view you with suspicion, regarding you as a subverter of their laws, and you will confirm the opinion of the jurors and make it seem 53C that they decided the case correctly. For presumably anyone who is a subverter of the laws will seem, most emphatically, to be a corrupter of young, unreasoning people. But what if you avoid the well regulated cities and the men who are most orderly? And if you do this, will you have any reason to live on? Or will you associate with these people and, without any shame, discuss … what ideas, Socrates? The same ones you discuss here; that excellence and justice, regulations and the laws are of the utmost value to people? And don’t you think that the conduct 53D of Socrates will appear unseemly? You should think so.”

“Will you then keep away from these places and go instead to Thessaly, to Crito’s friends, where there is, indeed, plenty of disorder and unrestrained behaviour, and they will probably be delighted to hear you tell of the comical way you ran away from the prison, having put on some disguise, or wearing the leather garment of a peasant, or the sort of thing that runaways are usually dressed in, and how you changed your own appearance. But will no one mention the fact that, as an old man, probably 53E without much of his life remaining, you had such a greedy desire for life that you dared transgress the most important laws? Perhaps not, not if you don’t upset someone; but if you do, you will hear much that is unworthy of yourself. So you will live on, the fawning slave of everyone, doing what? Eating your fill in Thessaly, having travelled all that way, for a dinner? And what will come of those 54A arguments of ours about justice and excellence in general?”

“Well then, do you want to live on for the sake of your children, so that you can rear them and educate them? What about this? And once you have brought them to Thessaly, will you rear them, educate them and also make exiles of them, so that they may share in this advantage too? Or if you don’t do this and they are brought up here, while you are still alive, will they be better brought up and educated when you are not with them? In fact, these associates of yours will care for them. Is it the case, that, if you go off to Thessaly they will care for them, but if you go off to the next world, they will not care for them? If any of those 54B who claim to be associates of yours, are actually of any use at all, you must believe they will care for them.”

“So, Socrates, heed us, we who reared you, and do not reckon children or life or anything else to be more important than justice, so that when you arrive in Hades you will be able to say all this, in your own defence, to those who rule there. For even here, if you do this, it will not prove better, more just, or more holy, either for you or any of those who belong to you, nor will it be better when you arrive there. Rather, as matters stand, if you depart this world, you depart 54C unjustly treated by your fellow men and not by us, the laws. But if you escape, having returned injustice for injustice and evil for evil, in such a disgraceful manner, contravening your own agreements and contracts with ourselves and inflicting harm upon those whom you should harm least, yourself, your friends, your homeland and us, then we will be angry with you whilst you are alive and, in the next world, our brothers, the laws in Hades, will not receive you graciously, knowing that you also undertook to destroy us as best you could. 54D So do not heed Crito and do not do what he says; do what we say.”

So take note, dear friend Crito, these are the words I seem to be hearing, just as the frenzied dancers seem to be hearing the pipes, and the very sound of these words is reverberating within me, and makes me incapable of hearing anything else. Mark my words then, if you say anything contrary to the views I now hold, you will speak in vain. Nevertheless, if you think it will achieve anything, speak.

Crito: No, Socrates, I have nothing to say.

Soc: 54E Well then, Crito, let it be, and let’s act accordingly, since this is the way god leads us.