Plato in Apology and Aeschylus in Eumenides

Charged with being an associate of the Thirty and with subverting the thinking of Athenians, Socrates was brought to trial in 399 BCE. Plato’s Apology is his account of the proceedings against Socrates and, in particular, Socrates’ oratory at trial in his own defense.1 Thus, the Apology must be understood in the context of dramatic social changes taking place in Athens, particularly, the restoration of the Athenian tradition of democratic rule, and a pogrom to drive from Athens any vestige of the radical thinking associated with the Thirty. So, when we speak of reactionary sentiment in Athens at the time of Socrates’ trial, we are speaking of the force of the newly-restored democracy to return the city-state to the tradition of democratic principles.2 Plato’s Apology and Aeschylus’ Eumenides both present the transition from an old order to a new one and, in different ways, embody the human condition of duality. Whereas in the Apology Socrates pleads his case by asking questions that probe the deeper recesses of the mind, Aeschylus presents us with characters who engage in spirited debate and accusation. Thus, we are presented with two very different definitions of and perspectives on the subject of justice. Yet the entire spectrum of motivation toward and contemplation of justice is addressed in both. Let us first look at Aeschylus’ work. In Eumenides, the third in Aeschylus’ Oreseias trilogy, Apollo leads Orestes to kill his mother, Clytemnestra, who had previously killed her husband and Orestes’ father, Agamemnon.

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