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What Socrates did NOT say.

τί δεν είπε ο Σώκράτης

1) the only thing I know is that I know nothing.

Perhaps the most famous phrase that is reproduced and accompanies Socrates to this day. But is that the case?

No matter how many texts we read, we will not find these words written by Socrates anywhere. Here it should be known that Socrates never wrote a single word to him. What we know about Socrates comes mainly from Plato's Pupil and Xenophon. Plato wrote about the life and the life of the greatest Greek philosopher. To him we also owe the apology of Socrates during his trial.

Let's see things from the beginning though.

It all started from the Oracle of Delphi where, according to his oracle, he states that Socrates is the wisest of all men - the wisest of all men. When he was informed of this, Socrates made a great impression on him since he himself did not consider himself wiser than others. Then he did the following: He went to acquaintances who were considered wise and asked them questions. The answers he received were demonstrably wrong. So Socrates came to the conclusion that for something I do not know, I do not say that I know it.

The paraphrase comes from the text of Socrates' apology, which I quote with its translation.

Ancient text:

«πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν δ᾽ οὖν ἀπιὼν ἐλογιζόμην ὅτι τούτου μὲν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐγὼ σοφώτερός εἰμι· κινδυνεύει μὲν γὰρ ἡμῶν οὐδέτερος οὐδὲν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν εἰδέναι, ἀλλ᾽ οὗτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴομαι· ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι».


"Therefore, as I was leaving, I reflected that I am wiser than this man; for I am afraid that neither of us knows any 'good thing,' but he thinks he knows something without knowing it, and I, as I do not know it, neither do I think ∙ so it seems to me from this that I am certainly a little wiser than him, as far as what I do not know nor think that I know".


2) "I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a Citizen of the World".

Another paraphrase of what Socrates said.

In Plutarch's book about flight, the author mentions the death of man, where flight means that he will not return to Earth when the cycle of reincarnations is over. He mentions features in his book about Socrates, and I quote the text as is below, that Socrates is not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a cosmopolitan.

"ὁ δὲ Σωκράτης βέλτιον, οὐκ Ἀθηναῖος οὐδ᾽ Ἕλλην ἀλλὰ κόσμιος εἶναι φήσας"

We borrow the word cosmos (world) from Pythagoras. Pythagoras was the one who first called the universe cosmos because it is perfect and adorned with infinite beauty and living beings. Cosmos, then, in Ancient Greece is the universe.

So we understand that after Socrates leaves, he no longer belongs to earthly events but to another dimension, that of the universe, that of the cosmos.

Plutarch's text "peri figis", in ancient Greek. I quote here for anyone who wants to study it.


3) The belief that Socrates never left Athens.

Αποδημίας δε ουκ εδεήθη.

They say that Socrates loved Athens so much as a city of philosophy and democracy that he never left the city.

But this is beyond absurd as we know very well that Socrates took part in the battle of Potidea and even saved the life of his student, Alcibiades.

He also took part in the battle of Delion, today's Delesi Boeotia, where this time Alcibiades saved his life, and in the battle of Amphipolis.

The misinterpretation that Socrates never went outside of Athens comes from the writings of Diogenes Laertes who writes about Socrates:

"Ἀποδημίας δὲ οὐκ ἐδεήθη, καθάπερ οἱ πλείους, πλὴν εἰ μὴ στρατεύεσθαι ἔδει."

(The full text of Diogenes Laertes on Socrates can be read here.)

The etymology of the word apodemia for ancient Athens is as follows:

ἀπο + δῆμος, where δήμος - municipality: the assembly of citizens as a sovereign political body:

↪the parliament and the municipality: to the parliament and the municipality

↪glorify the council and the municipality

So by the word apodemia he means the one who never missed the meetings of his Municipality since Socrates embodied the duty of the Athenian citizen as an active member with his participation in the commons.

4) "no one is voluntarily wicked".

Allow me here my personal comment that this phrase is a perfect excuse for those who knowingly do harm. A perfect justification on the authority of Socrates. Is it possible that Socrates meant something like this?

In Protagoras, which is a dialogue by Plato, it is characteristically mentioned:

Ancient text:

"οὐδ᾽ ἔστι τοῦτο, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἐν ἀνθρώπου φύσει, ἐπὶ ἃ οἴεται κακὰ εἶναι ἐθέλειν ἰέναι ἀντὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν"

source: here


"and in fact such a thing is contrary to the nature of man - as things show - that is, to walk willingly towards evil and not towards good"

For Socrates, when someone does evil, it means that he is possessed by a deficient conscience and ignorance.

He who does evil has no free will in contrast to him who does good who has free will and has freed himself from selfish attitudes.

In conclusion, he who does evil has a self given over to passions and ignorance of true happiness. A self subject to the will of anyone other than its own self. But he who has free will does not do evil, and to reach the point of free will we should reach philosophically high levels.

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