June 14: Crito and the Man

It's probably pronounced "Cry-to," isn't it? I'm too in love with this cheesy joke to check.

Having previously watched the admirable, yet dickish, Socrates immolate himself for his principles in the "Apology," we now turn to the Holy Saturday of the Socratic passion, the Crito.

The Crito is like the travel day in the World Series of Martyred Philosophers, for it takes place between the trial and the execution, and is itself an argument for inaction. Indeed it can be summarized like this:
Crito: Golly, Socrates, don't you want to escape?
Socrates: No.
Done!

Actually it begins in a more literary way:

Socrates. WHY have you come at this hour, Crito? it must be quite early.
Crito. Yes, certainly.
Soc. What is the exact time?
Cr. The dawn is breaking.
Soc. I wonder the keeper of the prison would let you in.
Cr. He knows me because I often come, Socrates; moreover, I have done him a kindness.
Soc. And are you only just come?
Cr. No, I came some time ago.
Soc. Then why did you sit and say nothing, instead of awakening me at once?
(his is funnier if you cast Grandpa Simpson in your head in the role of Socrates.

The detail of Socrates sleeping -- to show how peaceful he is even as the deal is going down -- is choice. But once Socrates wakes up and does his deep knee bends, etc. this kind of back-and-forth ends, and we have "Socratic dialogue," which means that Socrates says one thousand words and Crito says three, and Crito, like a good Socratic straight-man, throws Socrates batting-practice fastballs, e.g., "Are you not afraid that if you escape hence we may get into trouble with the informers for having stolen you away, and lose either the whole or a great part of our property; or that even a worse evil may happen to us?" Or, my favorite, that Socrates should escape because "the many" -- and you get the sense that Plato can't even write that without shuddering -- will think that Crito could have helped him escape, but decided not to.

To me the question Crito should ask is, "Don't you think this whole business is rather self-serving on your part? Aren't you basically engineering your own martyrdom in order to prove how much better you are than the rabble?" It's answerable, I think (Socrates is going to death as a form of civil disobedience, perhaps) but Plato prefers the softball questions.

My favorite part is at the end, after Socrates gives a 920-word speech, Crito says: "I have nothing to say, Socrates." Of course not.

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