BY GARY CORSERI
Esteemed gentlemen of Athens, colleagues, friends, and less-than-friends.
I thank you for this opportunity to speak in my defense against the charges brought against me by the Network of Spies of Athens, our NSA.
You want, I believe, something of an apologia. And I shall offer nothing less.
But, I forewarn you: if you think me tedious, recall that I have now seen 70 winters; recall, as well, the battles I have seen – those fought with valor for our city’s sake… and for the sake of our democracy. Recall the years of penury I’ve known because I could not stop from answering the honest questioning of youthful minds; think that I was self-impelled to guide – not for a name or fame, but for our future’s sake.
Well… enough of that. So… without ado, let me apologize for…. let me apologize for…. (A long silence.)
Anorexia (impatiently): Yes, Socrates, we are waiting!
Socrates: I’m sure it will come back to me; I had it on the tip of my tongue. And I must spit it out… because it is a poison!
Bulimius (sticking his finger down his throat; retching): What’s that? What does he say? I told you all it was dangerous to let him speak!
Socrates: Ah, yes… I remember…. I wanted to apologize… for a surfeit of belief—the wrong kind of belief in the Justice of the State. How could I ever have doubted that the gods would not forsake us? All my reasoning has led me into labyrinths – even as Jason was led. But, I have no golden fleece to show you… only more conundrums.
Honestly, I am confused. I know not for what I should apologize… because the charges against me are so… impalpable!
It is alleged that I have corrupted the youth. But… who alleges it? No one has come forth. Testimony has been read before the Council… but neither I nor those who would speak in my behalf have the right of “cross-examination”!
Anorexia: Are you impugning the integrity of the Council?
Socrates: I impugn nothing, only wonder. Wonder, for example, about the testimony of tortured prisoners of war? Or, tortured slaves? Is it not reasonable to assume that tortured prisoners or slaves will say anything to stop the torture?
Bulimius (sticking his finger down his throat; retching) We have heard these arguments before – from you and others…. And we have explained – we are at war! The Spartans, the Persians, even now, challenge us on land and sea. Surely you can understand, Man, the necessities of these temporary measures?
Socrates: I am sorry…. I am slow of understanding…. What I have learned in my long life is this: “temporary measures” have a way of stretching out. People become comfortable with the uncomfortable – even with the absurd.
Anorexia: Speak plainly, Socrates. Do not try our patience, we are trying to hear you out!
Socrates: Hear me out, or stretch me out? Hearing me out is the problem! Invisible spies assault my words, twist my meanings, redact and cut; they highlight my asides, stress ironies, misinterpret. Every word I say collected and stored – not for “hearing me out,” but for hear-say evidence against me.
Consider: A man has some objection to his neighbor’s dog! The dog barks every morning – not once as the noble roosters do. But, over and over. The man asks his neighbor: Can he not quiet his dog? Keep him in the cellar where it will not see the disturbing light? Perhaps he can muzzle the dog – just at night. He can train the dog. All reasonable requests. But, the neighbor harrumphs, spits, turns his back on him, farts upwind of him, and proceeds on his un-merry way.
Bulimius: Can we get on with this, puh-leaze?!
Socrates: Forgive me. I am a little vexed considering what tomorrow brings. But, let’s stretch things thus: the very next day, 19 racing charioteers kill the dog beneath their spinning wheels. It is an accident, plain and simple. But, the neighbor, sick with grief, perhaps, does not blame the unskilled charioteers, but blames the “ill will” of the man who suggested the dog be muzzled! Now, did the dog bark before the charioteers ran over it? No, it happened too quickly! But, the dog’s owner is convinced that the mere thought of muzzling the dog somehow found its way into dog’s mind and precluded its barking! The grieving owner spreads this fantastic tale and the gullible multitudes believe him! (They have troubles of their own with their neighbors and each of them has heard at least one fantastic tale or another that later turned out to be true! (Or so they believe.) Plus, there’s the grieving owner’s biased reporting. Well, without further ado, the gullible find the complainant and kill him.
Bulimius (sticking his finger down his throat; retching): All well done, I’d say!
Anorexia: And your point is?
Socrates: That men may be led by their noses. That reason, in this fair city built in homage to the goddess of Reason, is rare as the fabled unicorn. Consider: Did the mob that murdered the complainant hear the man out? Did they get his side of the story?
Now… I am brought before this Council, charged with certain crimes. It is alleged against me that…. And it is alleged against me that…. Well, you see, it is all very vague. Spies say that I have done this or that, but they do not appear before this Council. It is bruited that if they should appear, it will endanger the State! Is the State so fragile? Is not the very basis of democracy open debate and “due process”?
Bulimius (sticking his finger down his throat; retching): It is not for you to question the basis of our democracy, Socrates! You are here to apologize. Wind it up!
Socrates: Yes, I must wind it up. So, I shall apologize… for my lack of “due process.”
Socrates: I have failed to explain my syllogisms. I was not clear enough to show how A leads to B leads to C. I could not break through the mold of these times, the ague and fear in the hearts of those condemned to die.
Bulimius (sticking his finger down his throat; retching): It is only you who are condemned to die, Socrates.
Socrates: Forgive an old man’s folly, sir, but we are all condemned and must make our peace with that fact… before that fact has made a “piece” of us…. It has been urged on me by some… I have heard murmurings – even before I came before you today – that I should escape; to hightail it to Sicily, etc….. But, I am old…. Where should I “start over”? I have a long-term marriage to a quarrelsome wife who berates my eternal philosophizing, my poor provisioning, lack of a good living…. Where should I escape? I have grown used to the old girl’s quarreling… and I would not have her fret about me, worrying if I am well in exile. Better let her be at peace, thinking I am at peace, with my bones in my homeland…. Let me go now, with my apology to every future generation: that we were not good or wise enough to clear the brambles for you. You must fight these Minotaurs again. That is your destiny…. Gentlemen, let me go now to the other world while you tarry here. Who can say who will be in a better place tomorrow?
–with editorial apologies to the writer on the vague charges of truncating and twisting the piece