Commentary on Plato's
Apology of Socrates


The Master said, "To know when you know,
and when you do not know; that is wisdom."

Confucius, Analects II:17, translation after James Legge [1893], Arthur Waley [1938], D.C. Lau [1979], and Joanna C. Lee [2010]

It was one of the rules which, above all others, made Doctor Franklin the most amiable of men in society, "never to contradict anybody." If he was urged to announce an opinion, he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Jefferson's grandson), November 24, 1808.

ἐλεύθεροι παρρησίᾳ θάλλοντες οἰκοῖεν πόλιν κλεινῶν Ἀθηνῶν.
Free, outspoken, and flourishing, let them live in the city of famous Athens.

Phaedra, Hippolytus, by Eurpides, lines 421-423, translated by David Kovacs, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1995, pp.164-165, translation modified.

There is, therefore, no fundamental irony in Socrates. Rather he is -- like Cassandra, that other misunderstood servant of Apollo -- someone it has proved very difficult to take at his word...

On trial for his life, Socrates neither argues fallaciously nor evades the real charges or their real basis nor intentionally provokes the jury. His response to the formal charges may not be the best one he could have made. That is an open question. But it is part of a reasonable and intelligible defense compatible with his deepest principles, and it establishes his innocence...

If, on the other hand, it was Socrates' association with Alcibiades and Critias and his supposed antidemocracy that told against him with the jury, then the verdict was not only unjust because irrelevant to the charges he faced, it was also, because of the Amnesty of 403, in violation of Athenian law.

C.D.C. Reeve, Socrates in the Apology, Hackett Publishing Company, 1989, pp.184-185, boldface added.

ὁ ἄναξ οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς
οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει ἀλλὰ σημαίνει.

The lord whose oracle is in Delphi
neither speaks nor conceals but gives a sign.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, quoted by Plutarch, De Pythiae oraculis 21, 404 E, The Presocratic Philosophers, G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, Cambridge, 1964, p.211

Unless Plato had already written some short dialogues to illustrate Socrates' technique of questioning (like the Euthyphro), the Apology of Socrates is the earliest thing by him that we have. This would mean that it is the oldest extant document of Greek philosophy -- everything earlier (e.g. Parmenides) was lost and is known only through quoted fragments in later works, like those of Plato himself. There is something fitting in this. Socrates substantially refounded philosophy, and the Apology is still, all by itself, about the best introduction to Western philosophy that there is.

At the trial for his life in 399 BC, Socrates, Σωκράτης, astonished his listeners by appearing, despite his vigorous defense, to deliberately provoke the jury and get himself found guilty and condemned to death. What he had said was then a matter of some curiosity, but there were no Greek court reporters, and of course no audio or video tape, so there was no official record, or news recording, of the trial. No film at 11. If Socrates' words were going to be remembered, the spectators were going to have to record them. This is what happened, and various versions of the Apology of Socrates were produced. Only two survive, Plato's and one by Xenophon, Ξενοφῶν ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, Xenophon of Athens.

A friend of Socrates, Xenophon also produced the valuable Recollections of Socrates (or Memorabilia). Unfortunately, Xenophon was not a philosopher, did not, I expect, understand Socrates very well, also, as he admits, was not at the trial, and did not try to reproduce the whole speech. Plato has his own presence at the trial affirmed by Socrates himself, who mentions Plato by name twice in Plato's Apology. Xenophon's Apology thus is an abbreviated and disappointing document next to Plato's, but it does tell us a couple of things that we might not know otherwise. These will be noted at the appropriate points in the course of Socrates' speech. Some scholars seem to think that Xenophon understood Socrates better than Plato did, and other scholars that Xenophon's information is not worth considering. Neither kind seems well motivated.

Now, although the word "apology" is the direct descendant into English of the Greek word ἀπολογία, apología, the meaning has changed. Socrates was not apologizing or making excuses. He wasn't sorry. The Greek word apología simply and precisely meant a defense, or a defense speech. This meaning has been preserved in English in some related words:  An "apologist" is still someone who argues a defense of someone or something, and "apologetics" is still a discipline or system of argued defense of something, usually a doctrine, cause, or institution. Socrates' speech thus might be translated The Defense of Socrates without the possible confusion over the modern meaning; but after long usage, it is hard to imagine calling the Apology anything else.

The meaning of "apologetics" has drifted somewhat. Calling someone an "apologist," or speaking of an "apologetic" or "apologia," now may imply an element of dishonesty, bias, or a distorted form of special pleading. This may have happened for a couple of reasons. (1) as "defense" and "defender" do adequate jobs of expressing the meaning of defense, "apologetic" is free to assume a slightly different meaning, perhaps because of (2) that "apologetics" is tainted by associations, e.g. with the traditional defenses of Christianity, that have become targets of skepticism or condemnation. An "apologist" may now be viewed as a kind of Sophist or hack. By the same token the neutral meaning of "dogma," as embodying religious doctrine, has became tainted with a sense of the arbitrary, the irrational, and the dictatorial.

The opposite of an "apologetic" is a "polemic," from Greek πόλεμος, pólemos, "war." "Polemics" is the systematic attack on a doctrine, position, cause, or institution. A "polemic" is a particular such attack; and the "polemicist" does such an attack. Apologetics and polemics are easily combined, as we see in the Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas, who defends Christianity by attacking the "gentiles," i.e. Jews and Muslims.

Part of the tradition of the Apology is that it is the first complete text read in the formal study of Classical Greek. This was not the case with me, since my Greek professor at UCLA in 1968 decided that we should break with tradition and read the Euthyphro and Crito instead. I'm not sure that was an improvement on tradition -- more like variety for the sake of variety -- though that meant variety for the professor rather than for us students. I think that the Apology is far too important to be skipped over like that.

Although Socrates is on trial for his life, his prosecutors (Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon) are private individuals. There is no public prosecutor at Athens, no District Attorney. All actions are brought by private individuals, although they themselves might be politically prominent, or officials. If there is a murder, and basically no one cares about the victim, there might be no prosecution -- though the city did take an interest in murder cases, because of the pollution, and from an early date the Council of the Areopagus, the ancient senate of the aristocracy, undertook to protect the state from vengeful spirits.

It is also noteworthy in the Apology that Socrates never mentions a judge. All his remarks are addressed to the jury, and from the evidence of this text alone, we might not know whether there was a judge or not. We do know, however, even from the Euthyphro, that Socrates is in the court of one of the major officials of Athens, the "King Archon."

There were nine archons (ἄρχων, árkhon = ruler, regent, commander) in the classic constitution at Athens. Six were judges, the Thesmothetae. The other three were the Eponymous Archon, after whom the year was named (Athenian dates were in the form "the year so-and-so was Archon"), the Polemarch, who was the commander-in-chief, and the King, Βασιλεύς, who succeeded to the religious duties of the original Kings of Athens. One of these duties was to preside over court cases involving religion. That included murders, which involved the pollution of spilled blood, and accusations of impiety. That is why Socrates was in the King's court. He was accused of impiety.

The King Archon, the judge, is not mentioned by Socrates because he has almost no power. Most of the power in the courtroom is in the hands of the jury, which is said to be 501 jurors. There is no screening of jurors. The jury is pretty much any free adult male citizen who shows up. However, whether you got on a jury, and which case it would be, was a matter of chance. Individual jurors for a particular jury were drawn by lot. Given that, there were otherwise no challenges. The comedy The Wasps by Aristophanes is about an old man who amuses himself by getting on a jury every day, and by voting everyone guilty.

The jury has all but absolute power. At the same time, there was not much in the way of rules of evidence. The prosecution and defense could say pretty much whatever they wanted. Thus, ironically, Socrates, who in a sense was put to death for practicing free speech (παῤῥησία, parrhêsía, or ἐλευθερία παῤῥησίᾳ, eleuthería parrhêsíai, the "freedom of speech"), nevertheless had more freedom of speech at his trial than most defendants do in the courts of the United States of America, where judges can prohibit defendants from making certain kinds of defenses, e.g. that the law under which they are charged is unjust or unconstitutional.

If the modern jury rules on considerations of Constitutionality or justice, they are practicing what is called "nullification," something hated by almost all judges, prosecutors, law professors, and politicians, even though it is endorsed by all the Founding Fathers, even political enemies like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Supreme Court did not begin to undermine the power of juries until Sparf and Hansen v. United States in 1894. All Socrates had to worry about was how to appeal to the jury, but he then made his defense in such a way as to antagonize the jury instead.

The procedure of the trial is that the prosecutor or prosecutors make their speeches, accusing the defendant, then the defendant makes his defense speech. This is where the Apology begins, as we can tell, since Socrates initially comments on what he has just heard from his prosecutors. After the defense, the jury votes innocent or guilty. Only a bare majority is needed, though, as Socrates mentions, the prosecution is fined if it does not get a fifth of the vote. In this case, Socrates is barely (by 30 votes) found guilty. Then we get what today is called the "penalty phase of the trial." The prosecution proposes a punishment it thinks is fitting, in this case death. Then Socrates proposes a counter-penalty. The jury again votes to pick which penalty to impose. Socrates is condemned to death. The final part of the Apology, then, is what Socrates has to say after that vote, after he knows that he is sentenced to die.

Greek words here are rendered with their accents, but ētas and ōmegas, i.e. long e's and o's, are shown with a circumflex, just to indicate length, unless they otherwise have an acute or grave accent, which is then shown instead. Greek accents indicated tones, just like in Chinese, except that a polysyllabic Greek word usually only has one tone. Acúte accents were rising tones, gràve falling, and circûmflexes rising and falling. Iota subscripts are not, regretfully, indicated. Consult the full treatment of The Pronunciation of Greek. Also, see the discussion of disputes over Greek transcription here. With Unicode, combinations of macrons for long vowels and acute or grave accents can be properly rendered. Thus an eta with an acute can be and with a grave . An omega with an acute can be and with a grave . I have been slowly upgrading the Greek transcriptions with these Unicode symbols, but there is no urgency about it. I would rather simply add the word in Greek. And, unfortunately, there is no provision for iota subscripts in Unicode.

This commentary is largely based on lectures given on the Apology at Los Angeles Valley College from 1987 to 2009, using the G.M.A. Grube translation, in different editions [Plato, Five Dialogues, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, Hackett Publishing Company, 1981, pp. 24-44]. The original commentary was written up and posted on line while I was on sabbatical in the academic year 1999-2000, and it has been updated at intervals since then, down to the present -- μέχρι τοῦ νῦν in Greek. Some comment and complaint will be made below about Grube's translation, but it does seem to me overall a fine rendering. A postumous edition altered the translation, in some cases badly, in other cases well -- especially well on the issue of the δαιμόνια καινά, at 26c. Although it may be possible to read this commentary independent of the Apology itself, it would probably be better to have read the text first.

Indeed, it was my custom, not just to lecture on the Apology, but to read the entire text to all my Introduction to Philosophy classes. Over the years, as the commentary increased, I started skipping some parts of the text, but the earliest parts I would always read in full. I told classes that this is how teaching was done in the Middle Ages, when books were rare and expensive, and it was the professor's job to read the text as well as talk about it. As it happened, this could not be done with the Apology in the universities of Francia, because the Greek text was not available there until the Renaissance, when it was rescued from the Fall of Constantinople [note].

The Defense (17a-35e)

The Sentence (35e-38c)

Last Thoughts (38c-42a)

"The Death of Socrates," La Mort de Socrate, 1787, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Socrate Soda Fountain, Beirut, Lebanon, 1970

"The Impiety of Socrates," by M.F. Burnyeat, Ancient Philosophy, 17, No. 1, 1997

Euripides & the Gods, by Mary Lefkowitz, Oxford, 2016

History of Philosophy

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 1

In Memoriam:

Jeannine O'Brien Parvati Baker

Reading the text in class actually began in my high school, in the Fall 1966 "World Literature" class of Frank Cousens, whose course sparked my interest in philosophy, as I recount elsewhere. There were many very bright people in that class, ready to go on to college the next year, some of whom already knew their Plato, and much else. Cousens had students read the texts we studied aloud in class, so everyone got to voice a bit of the Apology, Antigone, and a lot more. Some of these people I never saw again after graduation. Others I might run into at UCLA years later. A couple were friends I kept in touch with. And there were others I wasn't in touch with but met at class reunions years later.

One of the latter was Jeannine O'Brien, who had sat right across the aisle from me in Cousens' class. Not only was she never a friend, but she seemed to take a strong dislike to me almost immediately. I found her attactive, but we never talked. Once, on some occasion I can't remember, she expressed her dislike out loud in detail, some of which at the time may have been merited, since I was going through a phase of being more than a bit of an arrogant jerk. Some might think that phase never ended.

Then years later, my high school class had its ten year reunion in 1977. One classmate who interested me was Ariela Harber, who I had sat near in Mr. Falb's chemistry class, and with whom I had been somewhat friendly. For a while I had unintentionally kept calling her "Mary Ellen" instead of "Ariela" (). She got me straightened out. She seemed about the only person at the reunion who was still dressing as a hippie. I was a graduate student in Austin at the time, but I was still dressing Hawaiian from my years living there. It may have been the only Hawaiian shirt at the reunion -- many others were wearing suits.

I made a date with Ariela to go see the newly released movie Star Wars, which was playing at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I had just read the review in Time magazine and had a good impression about it. The reviewer thought that it was some sort of revolutionary movie.

Someone else that Ariela connected with at the reunion was Jeannine O'Brien, who had adopted the name "Pârvatî" (), with the addition of a married name, "Baker." Ariela and Jeannine had been living rural and had both, I think, been raising goats. Their interests seemed to overlap. Jeannine still wasn't talking to me. Which became awkward, because Ariela and I ran into her and her whole family in the line at the movie theater. We ended up all sitting together to see Star Wars for the first time. The audience cheered. Quite an experience. Jeannine barely glanced my way the whole time.

Ariela and I went our separate ways, but we both turned up again at the 20th year class reunion in 1987. We got a table, which ended up including Jeannine Parvati Baker and her family. I have never understood it, but as soon as Jeannine saw me, I was suddenly her long lost best friend ever. I had no objection, since I had never had anything against her, except that she didn't like me. Now that was all different. We got along fine, and afterwards kept in touch. Jeannine was living in Utah, while I already had my job at Valley College, across the street from our old high school, and was back living in LA.

Before long I was getting ready to get married, and Jeannine had a gift. Her book. This was Conscious Conception [1986]. Jeannine had given birth to many children. I have forgotten how many, but it was a lot. The Wikipedia page about her does not mention them, or how many. Thus, she had gotten involved in midwifery and other issues about childbirth. She also was involved in Yoga and various features of Indian philosophy or religion, including astra projection. She believed that it was possible to search for a soul waiting rebirth, in the "interim state," and invite it to be her next child. I suspend judgment on the reality of such things, but I am always willing to hear out sincere believers -- especially with people I like, as in this case. I had been teaching Indian philosophy for years and am more than willing to entertain the possibility of reincarnation.

I saw Jeannine and Ariela again at the 30th year reunion in 1997. It was fun, but nothing new came up. We had all been married a while by then. It was nice to see everybody. I had just started this website, and we all had begun using e-mail.

The next news was not so good. Jeannine thought she was pregnant again, and was excited, but it turned out to be an illness instead. Without specifics, I got the impression that it was cancer, but now I see on her Wikipedia page that it was actually Hepatitis C, from which she died in 2005. Sadly, this can now be cured in a substantial percentage of cases. The 40th reunion in 2007 featured her photograph among those classmates we had lost.

As with some other people I've known who I write about here, Jeannine's was a productive and interesting life cut short. I didn't have a whole lot to do with it; but after we seemed to become friends, I was happy that this had happened. I hope that Jeannine has passed through the Bardo to Enlighenment or an advanced rebirth. If she was reborn after 40 days, she is already about 15 years old by now, about ready to set out on new adventures. Maybe she (or he) will find this webpage, and maybe it will mean something out of the ordinary.

In Memoriam

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Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 2;
The Olympic Games and the Other Panhellenic Games

The Olympic Games were the first and the most important of the four Panhellenic Games. The other three games were the Pythian, at Delphi, the Isthmian, near Corinth, and the Nemean, at Nemea near Argos (where Heracles killed the Nemean lion).
Model of the temple precinct at Olympia, 1970
These were also the "stephanitic" games, where competition was only for a crown (στέφος, stéphos), not for some other kind of award, such as money or prizes. Like the Olympics, the Pythian Games were only held every four years, but the others were held every two years, meaning that victories there were less prestigious. But then the Nemean and Isthmian Games also provided valuable training in the years before the Olympic and Pythian Games. Where the Olympic Games were supposed to have begun in 776 BC, the Pythian began, or joined the cycle, in 586, the Isthmian in 580, and the Nemean in 573.

The circuit of the games, which many athletes seem to have followed, was the περίοδος, periodos, the "period," which literally means the "way around."
The stadium and race course at Olympia, 1970
This is curious given the principal modern meaning of the word, which is to end a sentence -- or to express finality or completeness, as when
Barack Obama (falsely) said, "You can keep your doctor -- period." However, the Greek word already had a range of meanings that often have modern forms, including "a cycle of time," a geographical "chart," a menstrual "period," the "orbit" of objects in the heavens, a "course" at a dinner, and a "well-rounded sentence." A "period" can still mean a sentence or passage of text or rhetoric, for which the "period" as punctuation -- not invented until the 9th century -- marks the culmination. As such, "period" means an ending, but in Greek that was παῦσις, paûsis, which survives as "pause," meaning, not an end, but just a delay. Nevertheless, "pause" as an end is still found in "menopause," the end of menstruation, and "heliopause," where the solar wind becomes indistinguishable from the interestellar medium. Paûsis is thus the opposite of ἀρχή, arché, "beginning," as in "menarche," the beginning of menstruation.

An athlete (ἀθλητής, athlêtés) following the περίοδος, who wins his event in all the Stephanic games, becomes a περιοδονίκης, periodoníkês, or "circuit victor." Curiously, this was a term not used before well into the Roman period. It is thus nice evidence about the popularity of the games in Roman times.

The actual crowns for these stephanitic games were made of leaves and small branches of particular plants. For the Olympic games, these were from the
olive (left); for the Pythian, the laurel (bayleaf, right); for the Isthmian, pine (below left) or parsley (or celery); and for the Nemean, parsley (below right).

Although we think of the Olympic games as the most prestigious, it is definitely the laurel crown that is now remembered as the most symbolic of victory. Indeed, the laurel has a strong tie to the god Apollo in Greek mythology. Daphne (Δάφνη, Greek for "laurel") as it happens was a nymph who attracted the attention of Apollo (perhaps as the result of some mischief by Eros). This was unwelcome attention, and Daphne fled, calling on her father Peneus, a river god, for help. He changed her into a tree (as we see in Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture at left; click for larger image popup -- and see here for his immortal sculpture of St. Teresa of Ávila), whose leaves Apollo then adopted as his own symbol. Since Athena created the olive tree, its association with Zeus at Olympia seems less direct.

The Olympic, Pythian, and Nemean Games were held in the Summer, but the Isthmian were in the Spring.
the Four Stephanitic Games,
the 75th Olympiad
0481 BCZero Year, -480 AD
1480 BCJuly-AugustOlympic Games
2479 BCJuly-AugustNemean Games
478 BCApril-MayIsthmian Games
3July-AugustPythian Games
4477 BCJuly-AugustNemean Games
476 BCApril-MayIsthmian Games
1July-AugustOlympic Games
This introduces a bit of a complication in keeping track of the Games, since many Greek cities, such as Athens, began their year in between the Spring Games and the Summer. Other Greek calendars, such as that used by the Hellenistic Seleucid Kings, began in the Autumn, which would make the task here simpler. However, the table addresses the reckoning as it would have been done at Athens.

The table distinguishes between the Greek years of the Olympiad and the calendar years BC. The table also includes the year 0 of the Olympiad, which would be year 4 of the previous Olympiad, since this simplifies calculation.

To determine the Olympiad, we need to convert the BC year into an AD year. This is done by subtracting 1 and making the number negative. Thus, 481 BC is -480 AD. Divide this by 4 and add 195:  -480/4 = -120, + 195 = 75. So 481 is year 0 of the 75th Olympiad. With 2004, we already have the AD year, so we just divide by 4 and add 195, so it is year 0 of the 696th Olympiad. As noted in the text, this is the year in which the modern Olympics are now held. 2005 is the 1st year of the Olympiad, when the Olympic Games would originally have been held; and 2007 is the 3rd year of the Olympiad, when the Pythian Games would originally have been held.

Although Greek historians began to use the Olympiads to date events, this was never done in daily or political life. For instance, at Athens, dating was done by the Eponymous Archons, for which, of course, you needed a list.

The Winter Olympics are now held two years later than the Summer Games, as in 2006, which would be the 2nd year of the 696th Olmpiad. Since the Winter Olympics are thus offset from the Summer Olympics, as the Pythian Games were offset from the Olympic, the authorities might consider renaming the Winter Olympics the Pythian Games and carrying the torch for them, not from Olympia, but from Delphi. With Mt. Parnassus in the background, Delphi would be more suitable for the mountain venues of the Winter Games, and snow falling there is not unheard of.
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, 1970
There is not much elevation in the land around Olympia, and so, snow or no, there will be none to see on any mountain slopes.

Not much is left of the actual temple of Zeus at Olympia, as we see at left, when I visited in 1970. However, the fame of the temple rested mainly on the statue of Zeus, done by Phidias, Φειδίας, in ivory and gold, to be found in the interior. This was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Emperor Constantine is said to have moved the statue to Constantinople, where it was kept at the Lauseion, Λαυσεῖον, Palace, owned by the eunuch and imperial chaimberlain Lausus, Λαῦσος (d.436 AD). The palace burned down in 475, apparently with the statue of Zeus and other Classical figures, including the famous, or infamous, Aphrodite of Cnidus. Later the Emperor Justinian II built a Lausiakos, Λαυσιακός Hall in the Great Palace, some two hundred years later; but I am unaware how this structure got its name and if there was any connection, conceptually or physically, to the earlier building.
Apollo on the West Pediment of
the Temple of Zeus, 1970
It is also sometimes doubted that the statue of Zeus was moved at all, although we also hear that images of Christ were modeled on the face that Phidias gave Zeus and that Constantinopolitan artists could thus inspect nearby.

Collected from the ruins of the temple were fragments of the pedimental and other sculpture with which it was originally decorated. Of particular interest are the sculptures from the West Pediment, seen at right. Here we find Apollo, with a commanding gesture, halting the battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths. The image of this Apollo is actually used on the cover of Euripides & the Gods, by Mary Lefkowitz. It comes in for notice because it is thus a well attested mythological example of the deus ex machina, the sudden appearance of a god that resolves the conflict of a Greek play. This was frequently used by Euripides, with Apollo himself appearing in the Orestes, and has been an object of criticism, derision, or dismissal by both ancient and modern commentators, with the moderns thinking that is part of the ironic atheism of Euripides himself.
Atlas on metope, μετόπη, from
the Temple of Zeus, 1970
However, the thesis of Lefkowitz seems sound, that humans are frequently unable to resolve their own conflicts and that the gods, whose regard is often reluctant or indifferent, or who actually initiated the problems, sometimes must do an "intervention" to sort things out, where Apollo himself is often abrupt and impatient. Euripides was thus perfectly orthodox in his presentations, and the modern confusion is largely an artifact of the moralization and humanization of the gods in later religion.

A striking feature of the ancient Olympic Games is that deaths in the competition were not considered unfortunate. Indeed, since boxing matches did not end until one contestant yielded, a particularly stubborn competitor might fight to the death. Today, deaths in athletic contests are viewed with alarm, even horror, with suggestions that sports like boxing be abolished because of the potential for fatal injuries. The Greek attitude was very different. Athletic contests and games had a ritual origin. Games are mentioned for the funeral of Achilles in the Iliad. As such, there was always an overtone that games were substitutes for sacrifices, even human sacrifices.
the Four Stephanitic Games,
the 700th Olympiad
XXXII Modern Olympiad
02020 ADZero Year, 2020 ADSummer Games, Tokyo, delayed
12021 ADJuly-AugustOlympic
22022 ADJuly-AugustNemeanWinter Games, Beijing
2023 ADApril-MayIsthmian
42024 ADJuly-AugustNemeanSummer Games, Paris
2025 ADApril-MayIsthmian
An athlete who then dies in the competition is himself, unintentionally, an offering to the god. He is fortunate, and the event renders the Games themselves particularly auspicious.

This is an attitude whose character today is hard to recover. Of course, the Romans developed the practice into deliberate killing during their Games, with very little left of its religious origin. The Games became no more than a spectacle for public entertainment. But the auspicious nature of an accidental death in religious ritual was not confined to Greek religion. The Chinese had annual "dragon boat" races in honor of various river gods. As with the Greeks, it was not at all a bad sign if a participant died during the races. Similarly, in Japan, there are contests involving sliding down the mountains on logs. This is dangerous, and deaths sometimes result. This is not always viewed as unfortunate. The mountains, after all, are where the gods, the kami, , live.

The table at right brings us down to the present. The Greek (ordinalist) reckoning of the 700th Olympiad is in the year 2021 AD. As it happens, the XXXII Modern Olympiad, which was scheduled in the zero year of the 700th Olympiad, 2020, has been delayed until 2021 because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Travel spreads the virus, so the idea of the world traveling to Tokyo in 2020 was rejected. The XXXII Modern Olympiad Winter Games are still scheduled for China early in 2022. The next Summer Olympics, the XXXIII Modern Olympiad, is scheduled for Paris in 2024. It is still the case that no one has suggested, or noticed, that the Pythian Games were offset from the Olympic by two years and could be used to correspond to the Winter Olympics.

Eponymous Archons of Athens

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Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 3

According to Anthony Kaldellis:

The first person in history to call women who engaged in homosexual acts "Lesbians" was Arethas, the bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor, in 914. [A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities, Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History's Most Orthodox Empire, Oxford University Press, 2017, p.17]

Kadlellis cites a Scholion on Clement of Alexandria's Pedagogos "Lesbian" in the masculine is ὁ Λέσβιος; but there would be more than one Greek word for "Lesbian" in the feminine -- e.g. Λεσβίς, Lesbis (plural Λεσβίδες, Lesbides) or Λεσβία, Lesbia (plural Λεσβίαι, Lesbiai) -- but Kaldellis does not indicate which one is used by Arethas. Modern Greek uses Λεσβία.

The absence of this use of "Lesbian" earlier did not mean there was no Greek word for homosexual women. There were at least two, τριβάς, tribas (plural τριβάδες, tribades), defined by Liddell and Scott as "a woman who practices unnatural vice with herself or with other women," and διεταρίστρια, dietaristria (plural διεταρίστριαι, dietaristriai), glossed by Liddell and Scott as simply the equivalent of τριβάς. Both words are of obscure etymology, but τριβάς likely comes from τρίβω, tribô, "to rub." Liddell and Scott give the earliest use of τριβάς as in, of all things, the Egyptian historian Manethô. Their lone citation for διεταρίστρια is a Roman writer, Hesychius Lexicographus, questionably in the 5th century AD.

"Lesbian" gets used in its modern meaning in the first place because of the poetess Sapphô (Σαπφώ). She was much admired for her poetry. It was also noted that, as teacher of girls, some of her poems seemed to express love and sexual desire for some of them. This was interesting to pagan Greeks but disturbing to Christians. Nevertheless, her poetry was reproduced and admired into the Middle Ages. Since she was from the island of Lesbos (Λέσβος), we get the association of female homosexuality with the island. However, since there a lot of people living on Lesbos, there would have been a difficulty in implying that all the women of Lesbos were attracted to other women. Hence the delay in the introduction of the modern meaning of "Lesbian." There was no need for the word, since others were available, and the potential for perhaps insulting confusion was considerable.

Arethas is called "Arethas of Patras," Ἀρέθας ὁ Πατρεύς, because that is where he was born. The word Πατρεύς has that form because it is the habitation name. See discussion of this kind of thing for Alexandria. The city of Patras itself was Πάτραι in Classical Greek, the plural of Πάτρας, Patras, which tends to be used in English, but is now Πάτρα in Modern Greek. As the Archbishop of Caesarea, however, Arethas is also known as Ἀρέθας ὁ Καισάρειος, using the habitation name (or just the adjective) for Caesarea. Patras, on the Gulf of Corinth, is now the third largest city in Greece. It is where I took an overnight ferry to Brindisi (Greek Βρεντέσιον) in Italy in 1970, after coming in on the train from Olympia.

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Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 4;
The Rivers of Hades

The Underworld, Hades, ᾍδης (or Ἅιδης), is supposed to have five rivers:  the Ἀχέρων, Acheron, "Woe," Κωκυτός, Cocytus, "Wailing," Λήθη, Lethe, "Forgetful," Φλεγέθων, Phlegethon, "Fire," and Στύξ, Styx, "Hateful."

The Styx is clearly at the border of the Underworld, since the dead are ferried across it into Hades. Otherwise, there is not a very clear geography or function for all the rivers. Plato could use the Lethe in his own vision of the afterlife, where each person, before rebirth, would drink of the river and forget all they knew. This complemented his theory of knowledge as Recollection.

In Dante's Inferno, from the Divine Comedy, we get an elaborate version of all this. The Acheron is at the top of Hell, outside the First Circle, surrounding all of it. The Styx occupies the Fifth Circle, surrounding the City of Dis, which is Nether Hell. The Phlegthon, which burns, is part of the Seventh Circle. The Cocytus forms a frozen lake, the Ninth Circle, surrounding Satan. The Lethe is not actually part of Hell but flows out of Purgatory, down through the Earth, and empties into the Cocytus. If souls were coming up out to Hell to be reborn, as in Plato's cosmology, this arrangement would make some sense. But in Dante's world, there is no regular traffic along this river -- souls neither leave Hell nor journey to it from Purtagory -- so the mythical quality of the river is rather wasted. However, the Lethe then does provide the avenue by which Dante and Virgil can leave Hell and ascend to Purtagory.

Why did Dante reverse the order of the Styx and the Acheron? I don't know. Upper Hell, however, is not entirely a place of punishment. The First Circle, Limbo, holds those unbaptized and the "Virtuous Pagans," who are morally deserving of no punishment, including the noble Sulṭân of Egypt, Saladin. This inspired a novel, The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [1968, 2009], about Russian political prisoners who have not been sent to prison or labor camps in Siberia. Dante, however, does have the dead ferried over the Acheron by Charon, Χάρων, the traditional boatman of the Styx. At his own Styx, Dante's boatman is Phlegyas, Φλεγύας, who was not a boatman in Greek mythology, but King of the Lapiths, a legendary tribe from Thessaly.

In one version of the mythology, Phlegyas was the brother of Centaurus, Κένταυρος, who mated with mares and sired the race of Centaurs. Later, at a wedding, a battle erupted, the "Centauromachy," Κενταυρομαχία, between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, who tried to abduct the bride. The Greeks took the battle to symbolize the conflict between civilization and bestiality, with many representations of it, including one by Michelangelo.

I don't remember any reference, but I am under the impression that the waters of the Styx are supposed to be black. The Phlegethon, as fire, must be red. Some Mediaeval Christian texts do speak of the Acheron as white. Blue I have assigned to the Cocytus by default; and green seems appropriate for the Lethe because of a much later association with the drink absinthe, "the green fairy," la fée verte.

Absinthe gained the reputation of being hallucinogenic or toxic, for which it came to often be banned. However, the real drink has neither qualities; but sometimes inferior or fake brands were colored with toxic agents, like copper salts. Properly prepared absinthe indeed is naturally green. The "forgetfulness" associated with the drink may be from the power of suggestion, and its up to 148 proof (74%) alcohol.

For making the Cocytus blue, I do have a real world inspiration. In Dante, the Cocytus is the only river that is actually frozen. As it happens, old ice in glaciers and icebergs can become blue, sometimes a very deep and rich blue -- or green. This color can be revealed, in dramatic fashion, when the upper part of an iceberg melts and the whole thing rolls over. Dante, of course, living in Italy, never would have seen or known of anything of the sort, and we naturally don't get any description of such events in the Ninth Circle of Hell. But it is tempting, and the Cocytus must be somewhat disturbed by the inflow of water from the Lethe.

Dante's Purgatory

Dante's Tomb, Ravenna

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