Re: "sent" and Socrates

Carl W. Conrad (
Sat, 3 Aug 1996 07:00:12 -0400

At 1:54 PM -0400 8/2/96, wrote:
>I would agree with Carl (my apologies for not citing his comments, due to
>tations in my software) that John 8:58 is a better place to look for preexis-
>tence than in the NT use of "sent", and I also think he is probably right
>about Plato's (Socrates') use of the word "sent" to refer to Socrate's
>But the thought occurred to me that there might be a remote possibility that
>Plato would be referring to a kind of preexistence, given such sources as the
>"myth of Er" in the Republic and relative passages in the Phaedrus and Timaeus
>Perhaps Plato would have viewed Socrates as an exceptional person with a
>mission, who was not incarnated for the normal reasons but in consequence of
>his mission. This is all speculation, of course, but it mitigates the value of
>comparing Plato's use of "sent" with NT usage, I think.

There's no question that Plato deeemed Socrates to be an exceptional person
with a divine mission. Since this matter is really extraneous to B-Greek, I
don't want to expand at length upon this matter, but I think that when
Plato, in the _Timaeus_ sets forth the notion that the creative process in
nature is to be understood as the persuasive action of divinity upon a
reluctant and resisting chaotic matter (which he terms ANAGKH,
"compulsion," "necessity"), he is projecting his perception of Socrates'
life-long "mission" to Athens into a cosmic theology of his own.
Nevertheless, although the Orphic/Pythagorean notion of reincarnation and
transmigration of souls becomes a cornerstone of Platonic thought in the
middle dialogues (beginning with the _Meno_ and set forth most explicitly
in the _Phaedo_), the earlier dialogues are generally thought to reflect
the historical Socrates more accurately; among them is the _Apology of
Socrates_, Plato's version of the speech Socrates presented in his own
trial for impiety when he was convicted and sentenced to drink the hemlock.
It is in the _Apology_ that Socrates speaks of himself as sent by "the god"
as a gadfly to Athens. Later in the _Apology_, after he has been convicted
and sentenced, Socrates expresses a kind of agnosticism about what is
beyond death, asserting that it cannot be something bad but must be good:
either non-existence or migration to a land of reunion with those who have
lived earlier. So--when Socrates speaks of his "mission" in the _Apology_,
there can hardly be any notion of pre-existence implicit in the background.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR