According to wikipedia:

"In general in ancient Greece, each state, city or village possessed its own central hearth and sacred fire, representing the unity and vitality of the community. The fire was kept alight continuously, tended by the king or members of his family. The building in which this fire was kept was the Prytaneum, and the chieftain (the king or prytanis) probably made it his residence."

"The Prytaneum was regarded as the religious and political center of the community and was thus the nucleus of all government, and the official "home" of the whole people."

In Plato's book "Apology", Socrates said to the Athenians that the best reward for him is the maintenance in the Prytaneum. WHy ?

  • 3
    The Athenians want to punish Socrates after the conviction, so they let him name his punishment. Basically, they are offering to let him choose to be banished, rather than executed. He's refusing, by saying that he should be punished by being publicly honored, and fed at the Athenian's expense as if he were a great benefactor. It's irony, together with a little bit of spite.
    – user5172
    Oct 6, 2015 at 1:34

4 Answers 4


Socrates claims to be rewarded with free feeding at the Prytaneum because he has served well the State by teaching. A Socratic irony.

The Prytaneion was a building on the Acropolis of Athens. {...}

It was dedicated to Athena Polias and served as Archives. Here dined ambassadors and official people, and Αείσιτοι (aeisitoi - permanent feeding) who were public servants of the Parliament and the City, and because of their position had the right of permanent feeding to the Prytaneion throughout the duration of their mandate*. Socrates in his defense countered instead of conviction to death the feeding at the Prytaneion. {..}

Translated from Greek Wikipedia https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%A0%CF%81%CF%85%CF%84%CE%B1%CE%BD%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF

*"and Athenians who had especially well served the State, were entertained as public guests"


One of the key features when teaching the Apology (which many philosophers don't teach in intro courses, because it's somewhat sparse on arguments) is basically whether Socrates is defending himself in full earnest or toying (perhaps trolling) the Athenians who are putting him on trial.

There are several features of this toying:

  1. The list of people Socrates says he tested to see whether they knew anything includes the occupations of his main accusers.
  2. Socrates' response to the accusation of atheism is not a clear denial of atheism but rather depends on his opponents drawing a conclusion that is potentially fallacious based on wordplay.
  3. When he loses, he asks for the punishment of being lauded like those who win in the Olympics with free food at expense of the Athenians (the case in question).

There's more but these are the instances I can remember off the top of my head having not used the text for two semesters.


In ancient Athens, once a person was convicted of a crime, the prosecutor and the defendant both had the opportunity to propose a just sentence, with the jury to vote on which to take. In theory, the prosecutor would not propose a sentence too harsh, and the defendant would not propose a sentence too light, because of the danger of pushing the jury towards the opposition's option.

In the case of Socrates' trial, however, the prosecutor opted for the flamboyant gesture of asking for death, hoping to force Socrates into proposing some humiliatingly large penalty in fear of his life. Socrates equally abused the system by counter-proposing that the appropriate penalty for his "crime" was to be given free meals --at public expense --for the rest of his life! This was obviously a reward, not a punishment (reflecting Socrates' contention that his actions were a public good, not a public harm).

Even though his friends quickly strong-armed him into proposing a more reasonable penalty, his clear lack of contrition pushed the jury into opting for an option that the prosecutor had probably never dreamed would actually be selected --execution.

  • Thanks for a nice explanation - I never knew that Socrates tragedy was such a stupid misunderstanding between all parties involved. Socrates was right by 100% - such justice system was doomed from the start. Because as Socrates had demonstrated, jury is forced to take inadequate decision in both cases - be it prosecutors or defendant offer. Feb 27, 2019 at 14:50

Someone earlier said that the prytaneum was a fire in the middle of a city or town. Another earlier comment said that because it is a fire, it always needed to be tended to. Socrates believed the purpose of humans was to tend to their soul, add knowledge to their soul, because the soul was eternal. Meaning Socrates believed that one would tend to their soul while alive, but because it is eternal, they would also tend or maintain their soul after death as well. Socrates believed that needing to work, often the same task over and over, help with the family, or worry about individuals lying or trying to be deceitful, was a waste of time and just got in the way of someone who wanted to add knowledge to their soul. In Athens, if found guilty, the prosecution would suggest a punishment to the jury, and then the defendant would suggest a punishment. The prosecution, in Socrates' trial, went full out and said the only fitting punishment was the death penalty. Socrates essentially states two punishments. His first answer was that he (Socrates) should receive free meals such that are given to heroes of the Olympian games. However, immediately after he says this, he gives a soliloquy where in which he states: "there can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in the prytaneum". Socrates/Plato is being very clever with this response. Because this response was "crafted" in such a way to ensure that Socrates would benefit irrespective of the juries decision. Because this statement has two meanings. It has a direct, rational meaning, and it also has an after death, metaphorical meaning. Socrates was charged with corruption and impiety. Socrates' defense was that his teachings were good for the city, its just the city leaders are too tied up in money, war, food etc. to - I am only using this for simplicity not quoting Socrates - "see the forest for the trees", and actually understand that Socrates is providing a good service to Athens. The immediate, actual meaning of "There can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in the prytaneum" means that if, by chance, the jury actually does realize that Socrates is providing good teachings for the city, and allows him to live, tending, or maintaining the "prytaneum" is a fitting punishment/reward. Because it is work that does have to be done in the city, meaning that "working" for the city for free would, technically speaking, be a punishment, which is what Socrates is supposed to be offering the jury, but, for Socrates, this would actually be rewarding. Because he would be performing a government task, which would benefit the city that he loves, but this task would not require him to converse with many people, work with many people, or worry about anyone else. More Fitting is used to mean that there could not be any other work or task that Socrates could do for the community that would also give him the time, and the best opportunity to also work on maintaining his soul, adding knowledge. Because, and I know someone will be offended, there is just no other way to say this, maintaining the "prytaneum" was considered easy. It didn't require a lot of thought, or physical strength. Allowing Socrates to add as much knowledge as possible while still "working". Which he then in turn, could share with the rest of the city, if the jury did think his teachings were useful. "There is no more fitting reward than maintaining the prytaneum", also has, in case the more probable verdict of death was chosen, an after death, and metaphorical connotation. Socrates is using the city and the prytaneum as a metaphor for a human. Metaphorically speaking, he is saying that the prytaneum is the "soul" of the city. Meaning the city was a metaphor for a human, and the prytaneum within the city was a metaphor for a human's soul. Socrates is using the prytaneum as a metaphor for HIS OWN SOUL in this sentence. The main "after death" meaning of this sentence is that death would be a reward for Socrates. "Maintenance in the prytaneum" is a metaphor Socrates is using to state that, if the death penalty is chosen, he can now concentrate only on maintenance of his soul. His soul would then be free from mundane activities of the living, and after he is dead, his soul will be free to do nothing but take in knowledge. Which to Socrates is a reward. "More fitting" is used in the "getting what you deserve" aspect. Take someone today, that insanely tries to keep their house fire proof. 90% of their time is spent on this, 90% of their communicating is spent on trying to fire proof their house. Their children are forbidden to do "normal" activities other children in the neighbourhood are doing and other "crazy" things. If this person's house does have a fire, and the fire is BECAUSE of one the ridiculously unnecessary fire prevention objects they added to the house. Some people would say that this person got what they deserve. Because they "cannot see the forest for the trees", they didn't understand that concentrating on only one thing, they never noticed that by adding too many precautionary devices, they were actually doing exactly the opposite of what they intended. They actually ended up making the house more prone to starting a fire. Some would call this "fitting". The government of Athens doing exactly the opposite of what they are saying they want to do is, if the death sentence is chosen, what Socrates/Plato means by "fitting". The government's claim for even putting Socrates on trial in the first place is to restore clarity and proper teaching to Athens. "Fitting", in respect to the death penalty, Socrates/Plato means that the governing body within Athens, by killing and ridding the city of Socrates, is in fact, going to do exactly the opposite of what they want, they will hurt the city, and decrease the knowledge of the public in the city, because they will have been responsible for killing the one man who was actually teaching clarity and true knowledge. The government also believes that the death penalty will hurt, or scare Socrates. Again, exactly the opposite happens because Socrates believes that freeing himself, freeing his soul from, ignorant, non reasonable, individuals whose entire goal in life is to have the most power, or have the most wealth, or have the most sex, or eat the most food, is a reward. The "prytaneum statement" was worded to specifically ensure that a positive outlook, or positive spin, would be placed on Socrates irrespective of what verdict the jury actually chose.

  • 1
    Greetings, have you considered adding paragraph breaks to this? Right now, it reads like a wall of text. You can add paragraph breaks by hitting the return character twice between parts.
    – virmaior
    Feb 27, 2019 at 8:51
  • If you have references that take a similar view to yours this would be an opportunity to share them with the reader and in the process guide the reader in seeking more information. Feb 27, 2019 at 11:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.