Written c. 360 B.C.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue:
The Prison of Socrates.
Socrates. WHY have you come at this hour, Crito? it must be
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?
Cr. Why, indeed, Socrates, I myself would rather not have all
this sleeplessness and sorrow. But I have been wondering at your peaceful
slumbers, and that was the reason why I did not awaken you, because I
wanted you to be out of pain. I have always thought you happy in the
calmness of your temperament; but never did I see the like of the easy,
cheerful way in which you bear this calamity.
Soc. Why, Crito, when a man has reached my age he ought not to
be repining at the prospect of death.
Cr. And yet other old men find themselves in similar
misfortunes, and age does not prevent them from repining.
Soc. That may be. But you have not told me why you come at this
Cr. I come to bring you a message which is sad and painful; not,
as I believe, to yourself but to all of us who are your friends, and
saddest of all to me.
Soc. What! I suppose that the ship has come from Delos, on the
arrival of which I am to die?
Cr. No, the ship has not actually arrived, but she will probably
be here to-day, as persons who have come from Sunium tell me that they
have left her there; and therefore to-morrow, Socrates, will be the last
day of your life.
Soc. Very well, Crito; if such is the will of God, I am willing;
but my belief is that there will be a delay of a day.
Cr. Why do you say this?
Soc. I will tell you. I am to die on the day after the arrival
of the ship?
Cr. Yes; that is what the authorities say.
Soc. But I do not think that the ship will be here until
to-morrow; this I gather from a vision which I had last night, or rather
only just now, when you fortunately allowed me to sleep.
Cr. And what was the nature of the vision?
Soc. There came to me the likeness of a woman, fair and comely,
clothed in white raiment, who called to me and said: O Socrates —
"The third day hence, to Phthia shalt thou go."
Cr. What a singular dream, Socrates!
Soc. There can be no doubt about the meaning Crito, I think.
Cr. Yes: the meaning is only too clear. But, O! my beloved
Socrates, let me entreat you once more to take my advice and escape. For
if you die I shall not only lose a friend who can never be replaced, but
there is another evil: people who do not know you and me will believe that
I might have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did
not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than this — that I
should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the
many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you
Soc. But why, my dear Crito, should we care about the opinion of
the many? Good men, and they are the only persons who are worth
considering, will think of these things truly as they happened.
Cr. But do you see. Socrates, that the opinion of the many must
be regarded, as is evident in your own case, because they can do the very
greatest evil to anyone who has lost their good opinion?
Soc. I only wish, Crito, that they could; for then they could
also do the greatest good, and that would be well. But the truth is, that
they can do neither good nor evil: they cannot make a man wise or make him
foolish; and whatever they do is the result of chance.
Cr. Well, I will not dispute about that; but please to tell me,
Socrates, whether you are not acting out of regard to me and your other
friends: 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? Now, if this is your fear, be at ease; for in order to save
you, we ought surely to run this or even a greater risk; be persuaded,
then, and do as I say.
Soc. Yes, Crito, that is one fear which you mention, but by no
means the only one.
Cr. Fear not. There are persons who at no great cost are willing
to save you and bring you out of prison; and as for the informers, you may
observe that they are far from being exorbitant in their demands; a little
money will satisfy them. My means, which, as I am sure, are ample, are at
your service, and if you have a scruple about spending all mine, here are
strangers who will give you the use of theirs; and one of them, Simmias
the Theban, has brought a sum of money for this very purpose; and Cebes
and many others are willing to spend their money too. I say, therefore, do
not on that account hesitate about making your escape, and do not say, as
you did in the court, that you will have a difficulty in knowing what to
do with yourself if you escape. For men will love you in other places to
which you may go, and not in Athens only; there are friends of mine in
Thessaly, if you like to go to them, who will value and protect you, and
no Thessalian will give you any trouble. Nor can I think that you are
justified, Socrates, in betraying your own life when you might be saved;
this is playing into the hands of your enemies and destroyers; and
moreover I should say that you were betraying your children; for you might
bring them up and educate them; instead of which you go away and leave
them, and they will have to take their chance; and if they do not meet
with the usual fate of orphans, there will be small thanks to you. No man
should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the
end in their nurture and education. But you are choosing the easier part,
as I think, not the better and manlier, which would rather have become one
who professes virtue in all his actions, like yourself. And, indeed, I am
ashamed not only of you, but of us who are your friends, when I reflect
that this entire business of yours will be attributed to our want of
courage. The trial need never have come on, or might have been brought to
another issue; and the end of all, which is the crowning absurdity, will
seem to have been permitted by us, through cowardice and baseness, who
might have saved you, as you might have saved yourself, if we had been
good for anything (for there was no difficulty in escaping); and we did
not see how disgraceful, Socrates, and also miserable all this will be to
us as well as to you. Make your mind up then, or rather have your mind
already made up, for the time of deliberation is over, and there is only
one thing to be done, which must be done, if at all, this very night, and
which any delay will render all but impossible; I beseech you therefore,
Socrates, to be persuaded by me, and to do as I say.
Soc. Dear Crito, your zeal is invaluable, if a right one; but if
wrong, the greater the zeal the greater the evil; and therefore we ought
to consider whether these things shall be done or not. For I am and always
have been one of those natures who must be guided by reason, whatever the
reason may be which upon reflection appears to me to be the best; and now
that this fortune has come upon me, I cannot put away the reasons which I
have before given: the principles which I have hitherto honored and
revered I still honor, and unless we can find other and better principles
on the instant, I am certain not to agree with you; no, not even if the
power of the multitude could inflict many more imprisonments,
confiscations, deaths, frightening us like children with hobgoblin
terrors. But what will be the fairest way of considering the question?
Shall I return to your old argument about the opinions of men, some of
which are to be regarded, and others, as we were saying, are not to be
regarded? Now were we right in maintaining this before I was condemned?
And has the argument which was once good now proved to be talk for the
sake of talking; in fact an amusement only, and altogether vanity? That is
what I want to consider with your help, Crito: whether, under my present
circumstances, the argument appears to be in any way different or not; and
is to be allowed by me or disallowed. That argument, which, as I believe,
is maintained by many who assume to be authorities, was to the effect, as
I was saying, that the opinions of some men are to be regarded, and of
other men not to be regarded. Now you, Crito, are a disinterested person
who are not going to die to-morrow — at least, there is no human
probability of this, and you are therefore not liable to be deceived by
the circumstances in which you are placed. Tell me, then, whether I am
right in saying that some opinions, and the opinions of some men only, are
to be valued, and other opinions, and the opinions of other men, are not
to be valued. I ask you whether I was right in maintaining this?
Soc. The good are to be regarded, and not the bad?
Soc. And the opinions of the wise are good, and the opinions of
the unwise are evil?
Soc. And what was said about another matter? Was the disciple in
gymnastics supposed to attend to the praise and blame and opinion of every
man, or of one man only — his physician or trainer, whoever that was?
Cr. Of one man only.
Soc. And he ought to fear the censure and welcome the praise of
that one only, and not of the many?
Cr. That is clear.
Soc. And he ought to live and train, and eat and drink in the
way which seems good to his single master who has understanding, rather
than according to the opinion of all other men put together?
Soc. And if he disobeys and disregards the opinion and approval
of the one, and regards the opinion of the many who have no understanding,
will he not suffer evil?
Cr. Certainly he will.
Soc. And what will the evil be, whither tending and what
affcting, in the disobedient person?
Cr. Clearly, affecting the body; that is what is destroyed by
Soc. Very good; and is not this true, Crito, of other things
which we need not separately enumerate? In the matter of just and unjust,
fair and foul, good and evil, which are the subjects of our present
consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them;
or the opinion of the one man who has understanding, and whom we ought to
fear and reverence more than all the rest of the world: and whom deserting
we shall destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to
be improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice; is there not such a
Cr. Certainly there is, Socrates.
Soc. Take a parallel instance; if, acting under the advice of
men who have no understanding, we destroy that which is improvable by
health and deteriorated by disease — when that has been destroyed, I
say, would life be worth having? And that is — the body?
Soc. Could we live, having an evil and corrupted body?
Cr. Certainly not.
Soc. And will life be worth having, if that higher part of man
be depraved, which is improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice?
Do we suppose that principle, whatever it may be in man, which has to do
with justice and injustice, to be inferior to the body?
Cr. Certainly not.
Soc. More honored, then?
Cr. Far more honored.
Soc. Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of
us: but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust,
will say, and what the truth will say. And therefore you begin in error
when you suggest that we should regard the opinion of the many about just
and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable. Well, someone will
say, "But the many can kill us."
Cr. Yes, Socrates; that will clearly be the answer.
Soc. That is true; but still I find with surprise that the old
argument is, as I conceive, unshaken as ever. And I should like to know
Whether I may say the same of another proposition — that not life,
but a good life, is to be chiefly valued?
Cr. Yes, that also remains.
Soc. And a good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one —
that holds also?
Cr. Yes, that holds.
Soc. From these premises I proceed to argue the question whether
I ought or ought not to try to escape without the consent of the
Athenians: and if I am clearly right in escaping, then I will make the
attempt; but if not, I will abstain. The other considerations which you
mention, of money and loss of character, and the duty of educating
children, are, I fear, only the doctrines of the multitude, who would be
as ready to call people to life, if they were able, as they are to put
them to death — and with as little reason. But now, since the
argument has thus far prevailed, the only question which remains to be
considered is, whether we shall do rightly either in escaping or in
suffering others to aid in our escape and paying them in money and thanks,
or whether we shan not do rightly; and if the latter, then death or any
other calamity which may ensue on my remaining here must not be allowed to
enter into the calculation.
Cr. I think that you are right, Socrates; how then shall we
Soc. Let us consider the matter together, and do you either
refute me if you can, and I will be convinced; or else cease, my dear
friend, from repeating to me that I ought to escape against the wishes of
the Athenians: for I am extremely desirous to be persuaded by you, but not
against my own better judgment. And now please to consider my first
position, and do your best to answer me.
Cr. I will do my best.
Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong,
or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong,
or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying,
and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions
which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our
age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to
discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured,
in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether
better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is
always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm
Soc. Then we must do no wrong?
Cr. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for
we must injure no one at all?
Cr. Clearly not.
Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil?
Cr. Surely not, Socrates.
Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the
morality of the many — is that just or not?
Cr. Not just.
Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?
Cr. Very true.
Soc. Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to
anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him. But I would have you
consider, Crito, whether you really mean what you are saying. For this
opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any considerable
number of persons; and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed
upon this point have no common ground, and can only despise one another,
when they see how widely they differ. Tell me, then, whether you agree
with and assent to my first principle, that neither injury nor retaliation
nor warding off evil by evil is ever right. And shall that be the premise
of our agreement? Or do you decline and dissent from this? For this has
been of old and is still my opinion; but, if you are of another opinion,
let me hear what you have to say. If, however, you remain of the same mind
as formerly, I will proceed to the next step.
Cr. You may proceed, for I have not changed my mind.
Soc. Then I will proceed to the next step, which may be put in
the form of a question: Ought a man to do what he admits to be right, or
ought he to betray the right?
Cr. He ought to do what he thinks right.
Soc. But if this is true, what is the application? In leaving
the prison against the will of the Athenians, do I wrong any? or rather do
I not wrong those whom I ought least to wrong? Do I not desert the
principles which were acknowledged by us to be just? What do you say?
Cr. I cannot tell, Socrates, for I do not know.
Soc. Then consider the matter in this way: Imagine that I am
about to play truant (you may call the proceeding by any name which you
like), and the laws and the government come and interrogate me: "Tell
us, Socrates," they say; "what are you about? are you going by
an act of yours to overturn us — the laws and the whole State, as far
as in you lies? Do you imagine that a State can subsist and not be
overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside
and overthrown by individuals?" What will be our answer, Crito, to
these and the like words? Anyone, and especially a clever rhetorician,
will have a good deal to urge about the evil of setting aside the law
which requires a sentence to be carried out; and we might reply, "Yes;
but the State has injured us and given an unjust sentence." Suppose I
Cr. Very good, Socrates.
Soc. "And was that our agreement with you?" the law would sar,
"or were you to abide by the sentence of the State?" And if I
were to express astonishment at their saying this, the law would probably
add: "Answer, Socrates, instead of opening your eyes: you are in the
habit of asking and answering questions. Tell us what complaint you have
to make against us which justifies you in attempting to destroy us and the
State? In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father
married your mother by our aid and begat you. Say whether you have any
objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?" None, I
should reply. "Or against those of us who regulate the system of
nurture and education of children in which you were trained? Were not the
laws, who have the charge of this, right in commanding your father to
train you in music and gymnastic?" Right, I should reply. "Well,
then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by
us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as
your fathers were before you? And if this is true you are not on equal
terms with us; nor can you think that you have a right to do to us what we
are doing to you. Would you have any right to strike or revile or do any
other evil to a father or to your master, if you had one, when you have
been struck or reviled by him, or received some other evil at his hands? —
you would not say this? And because we think right to destroy you, do you
think that you have any right to destroy us in return, and your country as
far as in you lies? And will you, O professor of true virtue, say that you
are justified in this? Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that
our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or
father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods
and of men of understanding? also to be soothed, and gently and reverently
entreated when angry, even more than a father, and if not persuaded,
obeyed? And when we are punished by her, whether with imprisonment or
stripes, the punishment is to be endured in silence; and if she leads us
to wounds or death in battle, thither we follow as is right; neither may
anyone yield or retreat or leave his rank, but whether in battle or in a
court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his
country order him; or he must change their view of what is just: and if he
may do no violence to his father or mother, much less may he do violence
to his country." What answer shall we make to this, Crito? Do the
laws speak truly, or do they not?
Cr. I think that they do.
Soc. Then the laws will say: "Consider, Socrates, if this
is true, that in your present attempt you are going to do us wrong. For,
after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you,
and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to
give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he
does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the
city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his
goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him.
Any of you who does not like us and the city, and who wants to go to a
colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, and take his goods
with him. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order
justice and administer the State, and still remains, has entered into an
implied contract that he will do as we command him. And he who disobeys us
is, as we maintain, thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is
disobeying his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his
education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us that he will
duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys them nor convinces us that
our commands are wrong; and we do not rudely impose them, but give him the
alternative of obeying or convincing us; that is what we offer and he does
neither. These are the sort of accusations to which, as we were saying,
you, Socrates, will be exposed if you accomplish your intentions; you,
above all other Athenians." Suppose I ask, why is this? they will
justly retort upon me that I above all other men have acknowledged the
agreement. "There is clear proof," they will say, "Socrates,
that we and the city were not displeasing to you. Of all Athenians you
have been the most constant resident in the city, which, as you never
leave, you may be supposed to love. For you never went out of the city
either to see the games, except once when you went to the Isthmus, or to
any other place unless when you were on military service; nor did you
travel as other men do. Nor had you any curiosity to know other States or
their laws: your affections did not go beyond us and our State; we were
your especial favorites, and you acquiesced in our government of you; and
this is the State in which you begat your children, which is a proof of
your satisfaction. Moreover, you might, if you had liked, have fixed the
penalty at banishment in the course of the trial — the State which
refuses to let you go now would have let you go then. But you pretended
that you preferred death to exile, and that you were not grieved at death.
And now you have forgotten these fine sentiments, and pay no respect to
us, the laws, of whom you are the destroyer; and are doing what only a
miserable slave would do, running away and turning your back upon the
compacts and agreements which you made as a citizen. And first of all
answer this very question: Are we right in saying that you agreed to be
governed according to us in deed, and not in word only? Is that true or
not?" How shall we answer that, Crito? Must we not agree?
Cr. There is no help, Socrates.
Soc. Then will they not say: "You, Socrates, are breaking
the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not
in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but having had seventy
years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the
city, if we were not to your mind, or if our covenants appeared to you to
be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon
or Crete, which you often praise for their good government, or to some
other Hellenic or foreign State. Whereas you, above all other Athenians,
seemed to be so fond of the State, or, in other words, of us her laws (for
who would like a State that has no laws?), that you never stirred out of
her: the halt, the blind, the maimed, were not more stationary in her than
you were. And now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so,
Socrates, if you will take our advice; do not make yourself ridiculous by
escaping out of the city.
"For just consider, if you transgress and err in this sort of way,
what good will you do, either to yourself or to your friends? That your
friends will be driven into exile and deprived of citizenship, or will
lose their property, is tolerably certain; and you yourself, if you fly to
one of the neighboring cities, as, for example, Thebes or Megara, both of
which are well-governed cities, will come to them as an enemy, Socrates,
and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will
cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of the laws, and you will confirm
in the minds of the judges the justice of their own condemnation of you.
For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be corrupter
of the young and foolish portion of mankind. Will you then flee from
well-ordered cities and virtuous men? and is existence worth having on
these terms? Or will you go to them without shame, and talk to them,
Socrates? And what will you say to them? What you say here about virtue
and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men?
Would that be decent of you? Surely not. But if you go away from
well-governed States to Crito's friends in Thessaly, where there is great
disorder and license, they will be charmed to have the tale of your escape
from prison, set off with ludicrous particulars of the manner in which you
were wrapped in a goatskin or some other disguise, and metamorphosed as
the fashion of runaways is — that is very likely; but will there be
no one to remind you that in your old age you violated the most sacred
laws from a miserable desire of a little more life? Perhaps not, if you
keep them in a good temper; but if they are out of temper you will hear
many degrading things; you will live, but how? — as the flatterer of
all men, and the servant of all men; and doing what? — eating and
drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad in order that you may get a
dinner. And where will be your fine sentiments about justice and virtue
then? Say that you wish to live for the sake of your children, that you
may bring them up and educate them — will you take them into Thessaly
and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is that the benefit which you
would confer upon them? Or are you under the impression that they will be
better cared for and educated here if you are still alive, although absent
from them; for that your friends will take care of them? Do you fancy that
if you are an inhabitant of Thessaly they will take care of them, and if
you are an inhabitant of the other world they will not take care of them?
Nay; but if they who call themselves friends are truly friends, they
"Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not
of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice
first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below.
For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or
juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now
you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not
of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and
injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have
made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to
say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with
you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will
receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best
to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito."
This is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the
sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is
humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. And I know
that anything more which you will say will be in vain. Yet speak, if you
have anything to say.
Cr. I have nothing to say, Socrates.
Soc. Then let me follow the intimations of the will of God.