Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 3;
Burnet's gloss on Apology 41d,
Harold Ravitch, Los Angeles Valley College

John Burnet [1] considers apêllákhthai pragmátôn [] colloquial and renders it "to rest from my labours" [note]. By citing 22a7, Burnet recognizes that Socrates views the divine mission as a Herculean task. James Riddell's appeal to Xenophon Apology 32 ("the wants and hardships of old age") [8, p.107, n.20] is dismissed. Does any translator follow Burnet? Grube has "escape from trouble" but does not specify what the trouble is [4]. Gallop relegates his agreement with Riddell to a footnote [3]; West to a comment [12, p. 230, n. 18). Gallop hedges with "probably" -- West with "may" [3, p.103]. Wagner quotes Riddell after citing Republic 406e (""pragmaton denotes human life in its stir and commotions") [11, p.111].

Tredennick has "released from my distractions" but does not cite what these are or by whom [10, p.75]. Jowett has "released from trouble" [5, p.84]. Here "released" in the sense of manumit permits reference to Cratylus 404e-406a. Apollo "washes" away "evil impurities" and "releases [apolúôn, ] us" from them. Apollo is "the one who destroys" [7, p.38 and n.64]. Apollo is the terminator.

At 20c5 Socrates describes the divine mission as his prâgma [], i.e., his business. Burnet observes that prâgma can mean "philosophy regarded as a 'way of life'." Phaedo 61c8 and Theaetetus 168a8 are cited. When Socrates emphasizes that he will defy a court order to cease and desist from the divine mission (29d), he states that he will not give up the practice of philosophy. Hence: the divine mission = Socrates' prâgma = Socrates' practice of philosophy = Socrates' "journeyings as if they were labours" = Socrates' investigation in the service of the god and includes troubles caused by the divine mission (slander, enmity, unpopularity, loss of leisure, neglect of family, poverty). Burnet notes that Socrates continues until he is released, citing Phaedo 62c7 [note].

From this the following conclusion is obtained: (*) ... it is better for me to die now and be released from the divine mission which is terminated by Apollo. In addition (*) constitutes the answer Socrates ought to give to Crito's objections (at Crito 45e) about going to court, the handling of the trial, and "this absurd ending." Plato does not allow Socrates to address these charges directly. The students in the Academy are expected to do this for homework.


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Copyright (c) 2014 Harold Ravitch, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 3a

Burnet says [p.171, n.41d4]:

almost 'to rest from my labours', though the phrase is quite colloquial. I cannot believe that it refers to the tourbles of old age, a Riddell suggests. That is Xenophon's ideas, not Plato's. I should rather compare 22 a 7 .

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Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 3b

Given Burnet's gloss on 20c5, an appeal to Strong's Greek Dictionary [9] strengthens the claim that pragmátôn represents the divine mission. Strong connects prâgma with pragmátôn (the genitive plural) as well as pragmateía [] (an enterprise that requires diligence), also employed as a description of philosophy. Cf. Strong's 4229, 4230, 4231.

Also, Liddell and Scott [6] s.v. , "III. in pl. ," translated as "to be quit of the business of life" [Intermediate Lexicon, pp.665-666]. This long antedates the modern translations of "trouble," including Jowett, and Burnet's objection to them.

Compare "Aristotle's Metaphysics 987a30:  he Plátonos... pagmateía, "Plato's system." The present author recalls that Prof. Gregory Vlastos, when asked about apêllákhthai pragmátôn, stated, "be done with this thing" [NEH Seminar, "The Philosophy of Socrates," Summer 1981]. Readers who discover a translation containing "rest from my labours" are requested to email

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Commentary on the Apology of Socrates, Note 3 Bibliography

  1. Burnet, John, Plato's Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, edited with notes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924, 1967.

  2. _______, Plato's Phaedo, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

  3. Gallop, David, trans. Plato: Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, Crito, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

  4. Grube, G. M. A., trans., rev. by John M. Cooper, The Trial and Death of Socrates, 2nd edition, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981, 1986, 2002.

  5. Jowett, Benjamin, ed. by Irwin Edman, The Works of Plato, New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1928.

  6. Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott, rev. by Sir Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968; or An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889, 1964.

  7. Reeve, C. D. C., trans., Plato: Cratylus, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998.

  8. Riddell, James, The Apology of Plato, New York: Arno Press, 1973.

  9. Strong's Greek Dictionary,

  10. Tredennick, Hugh, trans., Plato: The Last Days of Socrates, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1959.

  11. Wagner, W., Plato's Apology of Socrates and Crito, 2nd ed., Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1949.

  12. West, Thomas G., trans., Plato's Apology of Socrates, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979.

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