Updated (see below); Updated 2 (typos and *); Updated 3 (grammar)

See my previous post for a description and first batch of notes on Plato’s dialogue, Euthyphro.

Let’s unpack in more detail the depiction of the charges against Socrates as depicted at the beginning of the Euthyphro (2a-3e; Grube translation):

Euthyphro: What’s new, Socrates, to make you leave your usual haunts in the Lyceum and spend your time here by the king-archon’s court? Surely you are not prosecuting anyone before the king-archon as I am?

Socrates: The Athenians do not call this a prosecution but an indictment, Euthyphro.

Euthyphro: What is this you say? Someone must have indicted you, for you are not going to tell me that you have indicted someone else.

Socrates: No indeed.

Euthyphro: But someone else has indicted you?

Socrates: Quite so.

Euthyphro: Who is he?

Socrates: I do not really know him myself, Euthyphro. He is apparently young and unknown. They call him Meletus, I believe. He belongs to the Pitthean deme, if you know anyone from that deme named Meletus, with long hair, not much of a beard, and a rather aquiline nose.

Euthyphro: I don’t know him, Socrates. What charge does he bring against you?

Socrates: What charge? A not ignoble one I think, for it is no small thing for a young man to have knowledge of such an important subject. He says he knows how our young men are corrupted and who corrupts them. He is likely to be wise, and when he sees my ignorance corrupting his contemporaries, he proceeds to accuse me to the city as to their mother. I think he is the only one of our public men to start out the right way, for it is right to care first that the young should be as good as possible, just as a good farmer is likely to take care of the young plants first, and of the others later. So, too, Meletus first gets rid of us who corrupt the young shoots, as he says, and then afterwards he will obviously take care of the older ones and become a source of great blessings for the city, as seems likely to happen to one who started out this way.

Euthyphro: I could wish this were true, Socrates, but I fear the opposite may happen. He seems to me to start out by harming the very heart of the city by attempting to wrong you. Tell me, what does he say you do to corrupt the young?

Socrates: Strange things, to hear him tell it, for he says that I am a maker of gods, and on the ground that I create new gods while not believing in the old gods, he has indicted me for their sake, as he puts it.

Euthyphro: I understand, Socrates. This is because you say that the divine sign keeps coming to you. So he has written this indictment against you as one who makes innovations in religious matters, and he comes to court to slander you, knowing that such things are easily misrepresented to the crowd. The same is true in my case. Whenever I speak of divine matters in the assembly and foretell the future, they laugh me down as if I were crazy; and yet I have foretold nothing that did not happen. Nevertheless, they envy all of us who do this. One need not worry about them, but meet them head-on.

Socrates: My dear Euthyphro, to be laughed at does not matter perhaps, for the Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as he does not teach his own wisdom, but if they think that he makes others to be like himself they get angry, whether through envy, as you say, or for some other reason.

Euthyphro: I have certainly no desire to test their feelings towards me in this matter.

Socrates: Perhaps you seem to make yourself but rarely available, and not be willing to teach your own wisdom, but I’m afraid that my liking for people makes them think that I pour out to anybody anything I have to say, not only not charging a fee but even glad to reward anyone who is willing to listen. If then they were intending to laugh at me, as you say they laugh at you, there would be nothing unpleasant in their spending their time in court laughing and jesting, but if they are going to be serious, the outcome is not clear except to you prophets.

Euthyphro: Perhaps it will come to nothing, Socrates, and you will fight your case as you think best, as I think I will mine.

Translation always involves choices that flatten out and obscure the full meaning of the original language. Let’s see what the Greek has to offer. My commentary:

Euthyphro asks Socrates why he has come to the ‘stoa of the king’ (τὴν τοῦ βασιλέως στοάν) and doubts that he too has a ‘case, trial, judgment’ (δίκη). Socrates and Euthyphro have come before the king ruler commander for a legal judgment. In the altered state we come before the judge ruler to have our thinking judged. The egoic claim to wielding control power over one’s own thinking is repudiated and condemned to die.

Socrates’ accuser, Meletus, is portrayed as young, immature, and inexperienced. He is long-haired and without much of a beard. These are signs of youth. Because of his youth, it is ironic that he knows so much about what corrupts the young.

‘corrupts’: the typical way of translating the accusation against Socrates, but the basic meaning of the word that it derives from, διαφθείρω, is ‘destroy’. So, ‘corrupting the youth’ means ‘killing the youth’ means ‘ending the youthful self-concept of claiming to wielding control power over one’s own thinking.’ The word is also used in the context of moral corruption.

Socrates calls Meletus ‘wise’ (σόφος) and says that he must see Socrates’ ‘ignorant/unknowingness’ (ἀμαθίαν). So, we have an ironic reversal, in which the young and inexperienced Meletus is wise, while the adult experienced Socrates is ignorant. But also, Socrates’ ignorance works as the agent of destabilizing loose cog thinking. Socrates knows nothing himself and destroys freewill moralism, which he reveals to have no true knowledge of itself.

Meletus seeks protection from the city as from a mother to protect the youth / egos from the dangerous destruction that Socrates brings.

Socrates agrees that it is best to care for the youth that they become as good as can be. The Greek word for ‘care’ (ἐπιμελέω / epimeleo) plays on Meletus’ name. The care will be like a farmer caring for plants. This is analogous to god caring for the branching paths of plant growth. Meletus will ‘cleanse, purify’ (ἐκκαθαίρει) those who destroy the youth, remove the egodeath destruction of the plant branching paths and so rescue the youths. Then he will care for the older people and will be a source of great good for the city. This is an ironic inversion. The youth become as good as possible, not by avoiding egodeath and thereby staying in perpetual youth, but by passing through it into true adult maturity.

*Or Socrates needs to purged like the egoic claim to independent self-control needs to be purged, to allow the plant shoots to grow.

Socrates is said to be a ‘maker, poet, author, composer, creator of gods’ (φησὶ γάρ με ποιητήν εἶναι θεῶν), to make strange new gods and not to believe, esteem, honor the old gods (καινοὺς ποιοῦντα θεούς, τοὺς δ᾽ ἀρχαίους οὐ νομίζοντα). Socrates is thus accused of elevating himself above normal human agency.

The charge of corrupting/destroying the youth by introducing new gods goes both ways: either the old gods are determinism and Socrates is wrong ego creating new ones OR the old gods are ego and Socrates creates new deterministic ones. Better still to say that this is a competition between transcendent knowledge systems, between the ‘old gods’ of the city and Socrates’ ‘new gods’. The charge of ‘corrupting the youth’ is a cover, a pretext, that uses the threat of egodeath and the desire for protection and rescue from that as a cover/pretext for punishing Socrates’ innovations and undermining of traditional religious cults and the societal set-up tied to those cults.

Socrates frequently talks of the ‘divine sign’ coming to him. The ‘divine sign’ is a poor translation of τὸ δαιμόνιον, which refers to something divine, marvelous, a heaven-sent messenger. So, Socrates talks of a direct messenger from the divine to him, an individual relation to the divine outside of the jurisdiction of the traditional collective cults.

Euthyphro points this out and links it to his own activity as a self-proclaimed prophet. He looks down on the majority, saying that it is easy to misrepresent innovations about the divine to them. He complains that they laugh at him in the assembly (of citizens gathered to discuss matters of public policy) and are jealous of them. Euthyphro characterizes himself and Socrates as outsiders to the majority of Athenians with respect to their relation to the divine. Here we can see emerge the combativeness that will be typical of his characterization in the dialogue.

Socrates reminds Euthyphro that his case has more serious consequences than being laughed at. He hypothesizes that Euthyphro is not in the same sort of danger because he does teach his wisdom. This foreshadows Socrates’ repeated complaint later in the dialogue that Euthyphro is not teaching him very well when he questions him about piety.

Nonetheless, Socrates criticizes the rest of the Athenians for their hostility to sincere teachers. He suspects that his own ‘liking for people’ (φιλανθρωπίας) and habit of refusing money has lead them to be angry with him. All this is a typical Platonic inversion of the other public intellectuals of the time, conventionally called Sophists. It is a trope of Plato’s that the other public intellectuals didn’t believe what they taught and that their teaching was compromised because they accepted money for it. Hence the suspicion that they only taught what they taught to make money, not to truly improve the student.

Update:

To sum up the competing mystic state interpretations of the accusations against Socrates as depicted in the Euthyphro:

  • Plato alludes to the mytheme of a court-room judgment, in which we weigh the case of the ego and judge its claims to cross-time control power. The ego is condemned for its claims and imprisoned or killed. But another part of us is mercifully saved. The judge is both harsh and benevolent.
  • Socrates is accused of corrupting/destroying the young by introducing new gods and ignoring/not believing in/not honoring the old.
  • Euthyphro attributes the charge of innovation to Socrates’ claims that a divine voice speaks to him. While Socrates does often speak of a divine voice, this is precisely the sort of feature that Euthyphro as a prophet would single out and focus on. Socrates neither confirms nor denies Euthyphro’s attribution.
  • The accusation that Socrates corrupts/destroys the youth can allude to the destruction of the youthful claim to independent self-control; Socrates is a dangerous destabilizing element in the city and needs to be purged. The accusation that Socrates corrupts the youth can allude to the confusion caused by re-introducing egoic thinking into a deterministic system; Socrates is a dangerous destabilizing element in the city that needs to be purged.
  • As a matter of context we have to recognize that the disproving in the altered state of the youthful claim to independent self-command was present in the city already. We have evidence from the Eleusinian mysteries, from the other cults of the traditional gods, from civic rituals that allude to altered state initiation, from symposium drinking parties, from poetry, from magic and other smaller-scale and/or unofficial religious practices.
  • What, then, do we make of the accusation against Socrates and of his eventual condemnation? Socrates is brought to trial not for teaching the youth about eternalism, but for the way he teaches eternalism. The specific charges are too some extent a cover. The accusation against Socrates can work both ways in a dichotomy of egoic/determinism. Either Socrates introduces a deterministic system (new gods) and disbelieves in the egoic system (old gods) and thereby destroys the youth; or Socrates rebelliously disbelieves in the traditional deterministic system (old gods) and teaches the innovation of freewillist thinking (new gods), which confuses and corrupts the youth.
  • If Euthyphro is correct that Socrates’ divine voice is the root cause, then we may conclude that the problem was related to this more individualized system of relation with the divine, as opposed to the mass rituals of the various state and community-oriented cults and practices.
  • From other evidence it is clear that there was a political motive to the accusations. Socrates’ youthful associates were primarily aristocratic youth, many of whom took part in anti-democratic, pro-oligarchic activity. Socrates became viewed as a cause of their sedition and his influence needed to be removed. Politics and religion were intertwined, so the legal charges against Socrates were religious in nature.
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