Philosophy can be considered a mere discipline but to one great thinker, Socrates it was more than that. Socrates was considered the father of modern philosophy and to many of his students, like Plato, the importance of questioning everything was raised. As an Athenian, Socrates was considered an important figure as he held strong opinions about the society, which pitted him against the leaders. When Socrates was placed on trial, he referred to himself as a gadfly, and claimed that he was sent by the gods to the people of Athens. Socrates, who saw the state as a “great and noble steed” considered himself the “gadfly” or the disturbance that would remind Athens of its proper duties. As the insect (gadfly), Socrates considered his beliefs, thoughts, and criticisms to be a defence and a path through which Athenians could hold their leaders accountable.
However, the idea of being a gadfly is both a simile and a metaphor, as explained by Socrates’ most famous student, Plato. Taking the word from the context of his trial, Plato compared himself to a gadfly as a reference to both his status and the effect of his behavior as a philosopher. The first interpretation is that indeed, Athens was a horse that needed to be bit to stay in its rightful path, where Socrates was the insightful influence. While many people thought his words were bound to cause chaos, such as proposed by his accuser at trial, in Socrates’ view, he did what needed to be done.
The second interpretation of the meaning in “gadfly” is the effect of the insect’s actions against the horse. We all know that words are power and to the Athenian elite, who were Socrates’ main target, his words “stinged.” In Apology, Plato portrays Socrates as a stingray which sting everyone, including Socrates himself. This is an allusion to the fact that Socrates’ questioning of his time’s morals and values caused paralysis, since everyone who heard him, including himself, became numb. When one is numb, they are forced to reflect and contemplate, which is an effect that the new thoughts and proclamations by Socrates had on the way of thinking. He was the gadfly that encouraged others to think, which he felt was the only way to truly live. As Socrates himself said, “the unexamined life is not worth living” and when one admits that they know nothing, they begin to know.
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