Crito is a relatively short dialogue that should be read in conjunction with and between Apologia Skratous (early period, 399-390 b.c.e.; Apology, 1675) and Phaedn (middle period, 388-368 b.c.e.; Phaedo, 1675). Apology gives an account of Socrates’ trial and condemnation; Phaedo describes his last conversations and death; Crito recounts a friend’s urgent plea for Socrates to avail himself of the ample opportunity to escape and the latter’s justification on moral grounds for remaining in prison voluntarily, although the execution will occur two days later. The dialogue is probably meant to explain Socrates’ personal reasons for taking this course of inaction, rather than to prescribe a universally applicable norm for the individual unjustly condemned by the state, and some writers have suggested that Plato himself would probably have chosen to escape rather than to accept the sentence. Yet profound political, social, and moral issues are raised to which there are no easy solutions; their complications are such that readers may find their own judgments falling on either side of an exceedingly fine line.
A Discussion of Escape
When the dialogue opens, Socrates has been in prison a month, for no death sentences could be carried out in Athens during the annual voyage of the state vessel to Delos, in commemoration of the legendary deliverance of the city from the Minotaur by Theseus. However, the ship is reportedly about to return, and Crito, having arrived at the prison before dawn, is waiting for Socrates to awake, in order to break the news and try to convince him to escape while there is yet time. It is typical of Socrates that he slumbers peacefully while Crito is wakeful and desperate, and that in the ensuing discussion it is Socrates who is the more rational and objective, though it is his own life that is at stake.
Crito’s reasons for urging Socrates to escape, though perhaps on a less lofty plane than the latter’s rebuttal, are not specious but are rather quite practical and persuasive. It is the weight of these, plus that of the circumstances under which Socrates was condemned, which gives the dialogue its moral significance. Crito begins by pointing out that if Socrates dies, an irreplaceable friend will have been lost, and besides, Crito will gain a reputation for loving money more than his friends, since many people will think he could have saved Socrates had he only been willing to put up the necessary cash; they will not believe that Socrates stayed in prison voluntarily.
Socrates answers that people of reason will believe only the truth; why should one regard majority opinion? Crito then points out that popular opinion is not to be taken lightly, which fact is confirmed by Socrates’ present circumstances. However, the philosopher replies that common people, unfortunately, are of limited capacity to do evil—because otherwise they could likewise do great good. This segment of the dialogue reveals the Socratic identification of wisdom and virtue, and his belief that no real evil can happen to a good person even if one’s body is destroyed.
Crito acquiesces in this point but continues by assuring Socrates that he need not be concerned about any consequences to his friends if he chooses to escape (which apparently would have been quite easy under the circumstances, if not actually desired or intended by those who brought Socrates to trial). They are prepared to risk a large fine, loss of property, or other punishment. There is plenty of money available to buy off informers, and Crito knows people who will take Socrates out of the country for a moderate fee. Not only Crito’s money, but also that of Simmias and Cebes—foreigners who would not be so liable to punishment—is at Socrates’ disposal. At his trial, Socrates had rejected banishment to a foreign society, but Crito assures him of comfort and protection among friends in Thessaly.
Furthermore, he continues, Socrates will do a wrong in voluntarily neglecting to save his life; he will be...
(The entire section is 3,098 words.)