The Apology is one of Plato’s best known and most studied dialogues, written around 399 BCE, shortly after the trial and death of Socrates. It presents a dramatic account of Socrates’s defense during his trial in Athens. The dialogue takes its name from the Greek word apologia, meaning “defense” or “justification.” Set against the historical and political backdrop of ancient Athens, the work captures the trial and subsequent condemnation of Socrates, a prominent philosopher, for impiety and allegedly corrupting the youth. In The Apology, Socrates coolly and steadfastly defends his way of life as unassailably just—and certainly does not apologize for it. The dialogue is less concerned with asserting specific philosophical doctrines than it is with creating a portrait of the ideal philosopher.

The setting is the Athenian law courts, where Socrates addresses the jury and defends his philosophical pursuits. Throughout the dialogue, Socrates engages in a method of questioning, known as the Socratic method, to demonstrate that he is not intentionally corrupting the youth or disrespecting the city’s gods. Instead, he argues that his role as a philosopher is to seek wisdom and challenge conventional beliefs.

The Apology, which is believed to be based on notes taken by Plato during the trial, provides insight into the political and philosophical climate of Athens in the 5th century BCE, reflecting the tensions between traditional beliefs and the spirit of philosophical inquiry. Contemporary relevance can be found in discussions on freedom of speech, the role of dissent in society, and the ethical responsibilities of individuals in the pursuit of truth.

The Apology—along with Euthyphro, Crito, and Phaedo—comprise the quartet of  Plato’s works that are sometimes collectively called The Trial and Death of Socrates.

Read the free full text of the work, the overall summary, and an explanation of the Socratic irony in the context of The Apology. Or, learn more by studying SparkNotes guides to other works by Plato.

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