Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave" as Means to Explain "The Apology"

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Michael Ehrecke
Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” As Means to Explain “The Apology”
Authors sometimes use one work to explain or elaborate on the intricacies of another piece of theirs. Plato is one such example as he uses “The Allegory of the Cave” as means to better decipher “The Apology of Socrates.” Plato himself never appears in either dialogue, but it is clear that he disagrees with how Socrates’s trial ended and hopes to prevent another unneeded execution in the future. In “The Apology of Socrates,” Socrates is accused of not recognizing the gods of the state and of corrupting the youth of Athens. Despite the many instances in which these allegations are challenged and, quite frankly, disproved, Socrates is still put to death. “The Allegory of the Cave” is a hypothetical scenario that not only explains what happens to Socrates in “The Apology,” but also offers some insight into why Socrates lives his life the way he does.

Many parallels can be drawn between “The Allegory of the Cave” and “The Apology of Socrates.” The man who is released from the chains that bound his intellect and full understanding of what is truly Good can be connected to Socrates himself. His description of this imaginary man’s journey out of the cave and into the daylight is painful and disorienting, but undeniably rewarding: “Then if he called to mind his fellow prisoners and what passed for wisdom in his former dwelling-place, he would surely think himself happy in the change and be sorry for them.” Socrates has made the ascent, and has made his life mission to liberate the others left in the bleak darkness of the cave. The chained prisoners in the cave are like the Athenian councilmen who are judging Socrates’s trial. Socrates describes the prisoners as having been in the cave since childhood, “… chained by the leg and also by the neck, so that they cannot move and can see only what is in front of them, because the chains will not let them turn their heads.” In “The Apology of Socrates,” Socrates further elaborates on how the men have been conditioned since childhood not to believe or take faith in his questioning ways: “But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause.” Although this may not be what Plato intended for the reader to interpret, it can be speculated that the men behind the parapet in the cave are Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. The men behind the parapet are still in the cave, but are definitely Socrates describes his journey to challenge those who are commonly regarded as wise and intelligent, and acknowledges the fact that he has made numerous enemies. He asserts that three men have led the charge to persecute Socrates in a court of law, in an attempt to discredit or do away with him and his ways: “Meletus, who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen; [and] Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians.” Socrates accuses Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon of taking advantage of the somewhat narrow-minded councilmen and their misconceptions about him in order to heal their egos and regain their dignity. The connections between “The Allegory of the Cave” and “The Apology of Socrates” aid the reader’s understanding of why Socrates receives the ultimate punishment in “The Apology of Socrates.”

“The Apology of Socrates” is an account of Socrates defending himself against the allegations being brought against him, and leads the reader to sympathize with the wise old man. He cleverly begins by reminding the councilmen that he has never had any run-ins with the law up until this point in his life: “I am more than seventy years of age, and this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am quite a stranger to the ways of the place…” He hopes this will...
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