Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Plato (~428-~348 BC) — One of the greatest and most
influential Greek philosophers, he was a disciple of Socrates and the teacher
of Aristotle. Most of his works are written dialogues, many with Socrates as
the main character. Plato founded a school of philosophy known as the Academy.
Laws (348 BC) — Plato concentrated his declining powers on recording a
code of laws which he hoped some Hellenic state might sanction. The Laws were
thought to have been in the process of publication at the time of his
Table Of Contents
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE................................. 3
BOOK III .................................................................
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER
CLEINIAS, a Cretan;
Athenian Stranger. Tell me, Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to
be the author of your laws?
Cleinias. A God, Stranger; in very truth a, God: among us Cretans he is
said to have been Zeus, but in Lacedaemon, whence our friend here comes, I
believe they would say that Apollo is their lawgiver: would they not,
Ath. And do you, Cleinias, believe, as Homer tells, that every ninth
year Minos went to converse with his Olympian sire, and was inspired by him to
make laws for your cities?
Cle. Yes, that is our tradition; and there was Rhadamanthus, a brother
of his, with whose name you are familiar; he is reputed to have been the
justest of men, and we Cretans are of opinion that he earned this reputation
from his righteous administration of justice when he was alive.
Ath. Yes, and a noble reputation it was, worthy of a son of Zeus. As you
and Megillus have been trained in these institutions, I dare say that you will
not be unwilling to give an account of your government and laws; on our way we
can pass the time pleasantly in about them, for I am told that the distance
from Cnosus to the cave and temple of Zeus is considerable; and doubtless there
are shady places under the lofty trees, which will protect us from this
scorching sun. Being no longer young, we may often stop to rest beneath them,
and get over the whole journey without difficulty, beguiling the time by
Cle. Yes, Stranger, and if we proceed onward we shall come to groves of
cypresses, which are of rare height and beauty, and there are green meadows, in
which we may repose and converse.
Ath. Very good.
Cle. Very good, indeed; and still better when we see them; let us move
Ath. I am willing — And first, I want to know why the law has
ordained that you shall have common meals and gymnastic exercises, and wear
Cle. I think, Stranger, that the aim of our institutions is easily
intelligible to any one. Look at the character of our country: Crete is not
like Thessaly, a large plain; and for this reason they have horsemen in
Thessaly, and we have runners — the inequality of the ground in our
country is more adapted to locomotion on foot; but then, if you have runners
you must have light arms — no one can carry a heavy weight when running,
and bows and arrows are convenient because they are light. Now all these
regulations have been made with a view to war, and the legislator appears to me
to have looked to this in all his arrangements: the common meals, if I am not
mistaken, were instituted by him for a similar reason, because he saw that
while they are in the field the citizens are by the nature of the case
compelled to take their meals together for the sake of mutual protection. He
seems to me to have thought the world foolish in not understanding that all are
always at war with one another; and if in war there ought to be common meals
and certain persons regularly appointed under others to protect an army, they
should be continued in peace. For what men in general term peace would be said
by him to be only a name; in reality every city is in a natural state of war
with every other, not indeed proclaimed by heralds, but everlasting. And if you
look closely, you will find that this was the intention of the Cretan
legislator; all institutions, private as well as public, were arranged by him
with a view to war; in giving them he was under the impression that no
possessions or institutions are of any value to him who is defeated in battle;
for all the good things of the conquered pass into the hands of the
Ath. You appear to me, Stranger, to have been thoroughly trained in the
Cretan institutions, and to be well informed about them; will you tell me a
little more explicitly what is the principle of government which you would lay
down? You seem to imagine that a well governed state ought to be so ordered as
to conquer all other states in war: am I right in supposing this to be your
Cle. Certainly; and our Lacedaemonian friend, if I am not mistaken, will
agree with me.
Meg. Why, my good friend, how could any Lacedaemonian say anything
Ath. And is what you say applicable only to states, or also to
Cle. To both alike.
Ath. The case is the same?
Ath. And in the village will there be the same war of family against
family, and of individual against individual?
Cle. The same.
Ath. And should each man conceive himself to be his own enemy: what
shall we say?
Cle. O Athenian Stranger — inhabitant of Attica I will not call
you, for you seem to deserve rather to be named after the goddess herself,
because you go back to first principles you have thrown a light upon the
argument, and will now be better able to understand what I was just saying
— that all men are publicly one another’s enemies, and each man
privately his own.
(Ath. My good sir, what do you mean?) —
Cle. ... Moreover, there is a victory and defeat — the first and
best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats — which each man gains
or sustains at the hands, not of another, but of himself; this shows that there
is a war against ourselves going on within every one of us.
Ath. Let us now reverse the order of the argument: Seeing that every
individual is either his own superior or his own inferior, may we say that
there is the same principle in the house, the village, and the state?
Cle. You mean that in each of them there is a principle of superiority
or inferiority to self?
Cle. You are quite right in asking the question, for there certainly is
such a principle, and above all in states; and the state in which the better
citizens win a victory over the mob and over the inferior classes may be truly
said to be better than itself, and may be justly praised, where such a victory
is gained, or censured in the opposite case.
Ath. Whether the better is ever really conquered by the worse, is a
question which requires more discussion, and may be therefore left for the
present. But I now quite understand your meaning when you say that citizens who
are of the same race and live in the same cities may unjustly conspire, and
having the superiority in numbers may overcome and enslave the few just; and
when they prevail, the state may be truly called its own inferior and therefore
bad; and when they are defeated, its own superior and therefore good.
Cle. Your remark, Stranger, is a paradox, and yet we cannot possibly
Ath. Here is another case for consideration; — in a family there
may be several brothers, who are the offspring of a single pair; very possibly
the majority of them may be unjust, and the just may be in a minority.
Cle. Very possibly.
Ath. And you and I ought not to raise a question of words as to whether
this family and household are rightly said to be superior when they conquer,
and inferior when they are conquered; for we are not now considering what may
or may not be the proper or customary way of speaking, but we are considering
the natural principles of right and wrong in laws.
Cle. What you say, Stranger, is most true.
Meg. Quite excellent, in my opinion, as far as we have gone.
Ath. Again; might there not be a judge over these brethren, of whom we
Ath. Now, which would be the better judge — one who destroyed the
bad and appointed the good to govern themselves; or one who, while allowing the
good to govern, let the bad live, and made them voluntarily submit? Or third, I
suppose, in the scale of excellence might be placed a judge, who, finding the
family distracted, not only did not destroy any one, but reconciled them to one
another for ever after, and gave them laws which they mutually observed, and
was able to keep them friends.
Cle. The last would be by far the best sort of judge and legislator.
Ath. And yet the aim of all the laws which he gave would be the reverse
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And will he who constitutes the state and orders the life of man
have in view external war, or that kind of intestine war called civil, which no
one, if he could prevent, would like to have occurring in his own state; and
when occurring, every one would wish to be quit of as soon as possible?
Cle. He would have the latter chiefly in view.
Ath. And would he prefer that this civil war should be terminated by the
destruction of one of the parties, and by the victory of the other, or that
peace and friendship should be re-established, and that, being reconciled, they
should give their attention to foreign enemies?
Cle. Every one would desire the latter in the case of his own state.
Ath. And would not that also be the desire of the legislator?
Ath. And would not every one always make laws for the sake of the best?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. But war, whether external or civil, is not the best, and the need
of either is to be deprecated; but peace with one another, and good will, are
best. Nor is the victory of the state over itself to be regarded as a really
good thing, but as a necessity; a man might as well say that the body was in
the best state when sick and purged by medicine, forgetting that there is also
a state of the body which needs no purge. And in like manner no one can be a
true statesman, whether he aims at the happiness of the individual or state,
who looks only, or first of all, to external warfare; nor will he ever be a
sound legislator who orders peace for the sake of war, and not war for the sake
Cle. I suppose that there is truth, Stranger, in that remark of yours;
and yet I am greatly mistaken if war is not the entire aim and object of our
own institutions, and also of the Lacedaemonian.
Ath. I dare say; but there is no reason why we should rudely quarrel
with one another about your legislators, instead of gently questioning them,
seeing that both we and they are equally in earnest.
Please follow me and the argument closely: And first I will put forward
Tyrtaeus, an Athenian by birth, but also a Spartan citizen, who of all men was
most eager about war: Well, he says, “I sing not, I care not, about any
man, even if he were the richest of men, and possessed every good (and then he
gives a whole list of them), if he be not at all times a brave warrior.” I
imagine that you, too, must have heard his poems; our Lacedaemonian friend has
probably heard more than enough of them.
Meg. Very true.
Cle. And they have found their way from Lacedaemon to Crete.
Ath. Come now and let us all join in asking this question of Tyrtaeus: O
most divine poet, we will say to him, the excellent praise which you have
bestowed on those who excel in war sufficiently proves that you are wise and
good, and I and Megillus and Cleinias of Cnosus do, as I believe, entirely
agree with you. But we should like to be quite sure that we are speaking of the
same men; tell us, then, do you agree with us in thinking that there are two
kinds of war; or what would you say? A far inferior man to Tyrtaeus would have
no difficulty in replying quite truly, that war is of two kinds one which is
universally called civil war, and is as we were just now saying, of all wars
the worst; the other, as we should all admit, in which we fall out with other
nations who are of a different race, is a far milder form of warfare.
Cle. Certainly, far milder.
Ath. Well, now, when you praise and blame war in this high-flown strain,
whom are you praising or blaming, and to which kind of war are you referring? I
suppose that you must mean foreign war, if I am to judge from expressions of
yours in which you say that you abominate those Who refuse to look upon fields
of blood, and will not draw near and strike at their enemies. — And we
shall naturally go on to say to him — You, Tyrtaeus, as it seems, praise
those who distinguish themselves in external and foreign war; and he must admit
Ath. They are good; but we say that there are still better men whose
virtue is displayed in the greatest of all battles. And we too have a poet whom
we summon as a witness, Theognis, citizen of Megara in Sicily: Cyrnus, he who
is faithful in a civil broil is worth his weight in gold and silver. — And
such an one is far better, as we affirm, than the other in a more difficult
kind of war, much in the same degree as justice and temperance and wisdom, when
united with courage, are better than courage only; for a man cannot be faithful
and good in civil strife without having all virtue. But in the war of which
Tyrtaeus speaks, many a mercenary soldier will take his stand and be ready to
die at his post, and yet they are generally and almost without exception
insolent, unjust, violent men, and the most senseless of human beings. You will
ask what the conclusion is, and what I am seeking to prove: I maintain that the
divine legislator of Crete, like any other who is worthy of consideration, will
always and above all things in making laws have regard to the greatest virtue;
which, according to Theognis, is loyalty in the hour of danger, and may be
truly called perfect justice. Whereas, that virtue which Tyrtaeus highly
praises is well enough, and was praised by the poet at the right time, yet in
place and dignity may be said to be only fourth rate.
Cle. Stranger, we are degrading our inspired lawgiver to a rank which is
far beneath him.
Ath. Nay, I think that we degrade not him but ourselves, if we imagine
that Lycurgus and Minos laid down laws both in Lacedaemon and Crete mainly with
a view to war.
Cle. What ought we to say then?
Ath. What truth and what justice require of us, if I am not mistaken,
when speaking in behalf of divine excellence; — at the legislator when
making his laws had in view not a part only, and this the lowest part of
virtue, but all virtue, and that he devised classes of laws answering to the
kinds of virtue; not in the way in which modern inventors of laws make the
classes, for they only investigate and offer laws whenever a want is felt, and
one man has a class of laws about allotments and heiresses, another about
assaults; others about ten thousand other such matters. But we maintain that
the right way of examining into laws is to proceed as we have now done, and I
admired the spirit of your exposition; for you were quite right in beginning
with virtue, and saying that this was the aim of the giver of the law, but I
thought that you went wrong when you added that all his legislation had a view
only to a part, and the least part of virtue, and this called forth my
subsequent remarks. Will you allow me then to explain how I should have liked
to have heard you expound the matter?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. You ought to have said, Stranger — The Cretan laws are with
reason famous among the Hellenes; for they fulfil the object of laws, which is
to make those who use them happy; and they confer every sort of good. Now goods
are of two kinds: there are human and there are divine goods, and the human
hang upon the divine; and the state which attains the greater, at the same time
acquires the less, or, not having the greater, has neither. Of the lesser goods
the first is health, the second beauty, the third strength, including swiftness
in running and bodily agility generally, and the fourth is wealth, not the
blind god [Pluto], but one who is keen of sight, if only he has wisdom for his
companion. For wisdom is chief and leader of the divine dass of goods, and next
follows temperance; and from the union of these two with courage springs
justice, and fourth in the scale of virtue is courage.
All these naturally take precedence of the other goods, and this is the
order in which the legislator must place them, and after them he will enjoin
the rest of his ordinances on the citizens with a view to these, the human
looking to the divine, and the divine looking to their leader mind. Some of his
ordinances will relate to contracts of marriage which they make one with
another, and then to the procreation and education of children, both male and
female; the duty of the lawgiver will be to take charge of his citizens, in
youth and age, and at every time of life, and to give them punishments and
rewards; and in reference to all their intercourse with one another, he ought
to consider their pains and pleasures and desires, and the vehemence of all
their passions; he should keep a watch over them, and blame and praise them
rightly by the mouth of the laws themselves. Also with regard to anger and
terror, and the other perturbations of the soul, which arise out of misfortune,
and the deliverances from them which prosperity brings, and the experiences
which come to men in diseases, or in war, or poverty, or the opposite of these;
in all these states he should determine and teach what is the good and evil of
the condition of each. In the next place, the legislator has to be careful how
the citizens make their money and in what way they spend it, and to have an eye
to their mutual contracts and dissolutions of contracts, whether voluntary or
involuntary: he should see how they order all this, and consider where justice
as well as injustice is found or is wanting in their several dealings with one
another; and honour those who obey the law, and impose fixed penalties on those
who disobey, until the round of civil life is ended, and the time has come for
the consideration of the proper funeral rites and honours of the dead. And the
lawgiver reviewing his work, will appoint guardians to preside over these
things — some who walk by intelligence, others by true opinion only, and
then mind will bind together all his ordinances and show them to be in harmony
with temperance and justice, and not with wealth or ambition.
This is the spirit, Stranger, in which I was and am desirous that you
should pursue the subject. And I want to know the nature of all these things,
and how they are arranged in the laws of Zeus, as they are termed, and in those
of the Pythian Apollo, which Minos and Lycurgus gave; and how the order of them
is discovered to his eyes, who has experience in laws gained either by study or
habit, although they are far from being self-evident to the rest of mankind
Cle. How shall we proceed, Stranger?
Ath. I think that we must begin again as before, and first consider the
habit of courage; and then we will go on and discuss another and then another
form of virtue, if you please. In this way we shall have a model of the whole;
and with these and similar discourses we will beguile the way. And when we have
gone through all the virtues, we will show, by the grace of God, that the
institutions of which I was speaking look to virtue.
Meg. Very good; and suppose that you first criticize this praiser of
Zeus and the laws of Crete.
Ath. I will try to criticize you and myself, as well as him, for the
argument is a common concern. Tell me — were not first the syssitia, and
secondly the gymnasia, invented by your legislator with a view to war?
Ath. And what comes third, and what fourth? For that, I think, is the
sort of enumeration which ought to be made of the remaining parts of virtue, no
matter whether you call them parts or what their name is, provided the meaning
Meg. Then I, or any other Lacedaemonian, would reply that hunting is
third in order.
Ath. Let us see if we can discover what comes fourth and fifth.
Meg. I think that I can get as far as the fouth head, which is the
frequent endurance of pain, exhibited among us Spartans in certain hand-to-hand
fights; also in stealing with the prospect of getting a good beating; there is,
too, the so-called Crypteia, or secret service, in which wonderful endurance is
shown — our people wander over the whole country by day and by night, and
even in winter have not a shoe to their foot, and are without beds to lie upon,
and have to attend upon themselves. Marvellous, too, is the endurance which our
citizens show in their naked exercises, contending against the violent summer
heat; and there are many similar practices, to speak of which in detail would
Ath. Excellent, O Lacedaemonian Stranger. But how ought we to define
courage? Is it to be regarded only as a combat against fears and pains, or also
against desires and pleasures, and against flatteries; which exercise such a
tremendous power, that they make the hearts even of respectable citizens to
melt like wax?
Meg. I should say the latter.
Ath. In what preceded, as you will remember, our Cnosian friend was
speaking of a man or a city being inferior to themselves: Were you not,
Cle. I was.
Ath. Now, which is in the truest sense inferior, the man who is overcome
by pleasure or by pain?
Cle. I should say the man who is overcome by pleasure; for all men deem
him to be inferior in a more disgraceful sense, than the other who is overcome
Ath. But surely the lawgivers of Crete and Lacedaemon have not
legislated for a courage which is lame of one leg, able only to meet attacks
which come from the left, but impotent against the insidious flatteries which
come from the right?
Cle. Able to meet both, I should say.
Ath. Then let me once more ask, what institutions have you in either of
your states which give a taste of pleasures, and do not avoid them any more
than they avoid pains; but which set a person in the midst of them, and compel
or induce him by the prospect of reward to get the better of them? Where is an
ordinance about pleasure similar to that about pain to be found in your laws?
Tell me what there is of this nature among you: What is there which makes your
citizen equally brave against pleasure and pain, conquering what they ought to
conquer, and superior to the enemies who are most dangerous and nearest home?
Meg. I was able to tell you, Stranger, many laws which were directed
against pain; but I do not know that I can point out any great or obvious
examples of similar institutions which are concerned with pleasure; there are
some lesser provisions, however, which I might mention.
Cle. Neither can I show anything of that sort which is at all equally
prominent in the Cretan laws.
Ath. No wonder, my dear friends; and if, as is very likely, in our
search after the true and good, one of us may have to censure the laws of the
others, we must not be offended, but take kindly what another says.
Cle. You are quite right, Athenian Stranger, and we will do as you say.
Ath. At our time of life, Cleinias, there should be no feeling of
Cle. Certainly not.
Ath. I will not at present determine whether he who censures the Cretan
or Lacedaemonian polities is right or wrong. But I believe that I can tell
better than either of you what the many say about them.
For assuming that you have reasonably good laws, one of the best of them
will be the law forbidding any young men to enquire which of them are right or
wrong; but with one mouth and one voice they must all agree that the laws are
all good, for they came from God; and any one who says the contrary is not to
be listened to. But an old man who remarks any defect in your laws may
communicate his observation to a ruler or to an equal in years when no young
man is present.
Cle. Exactly so, Stranger; and like a diviner, although not there at the
time, you seem to me quite to have hit the meaning of the legislator, and to
say what is most true.
Ath. As there are no young men present, and the legislator has given old
men free licence, there will be no impropriety in our discussing these very
matters now that we are alone.
Cle. True. And therefore you may be as free as you like in your censure
of our laws, for there is no discredit in knowing what is wrong; he who
receives what is said in a generous and friendly spirit will be all the better
Ath. Very good; however, I am not going to say anything against your
laws until to the best of my ability I have examined them, but I am going to
raise doubts about them. For you are the only people known to us, whether Greek
or barbarian, whom the legislator commanded to eschew all great pleasures and
amusements and never to touch them; whereas in the matter of pains or fears
which we have just been discussing, he thought that they who from infancy had
always avoided pains and fears and sorrows, when they were compelled to face
them would run away from those who were hardened in them, and would become
their subjects. Now the legislator ought to have considered that this was
equally true of pleasure; he should have said to himself, that if our citizens
are from their youth upward unacquainted with the greatest pleasures, and
unused to endure amid the temptations of pleasure, and are not disciplined to
refrain from all things evil, the sweet feeling of pleasure will overcome them
just as fear would overcome the former class; and in another, and even a worse
manner, they will be the slaves of those who are able to endure amid pleasures,
and have had the opportunity of enjoying them, they being often the worst of
mankind. One half of their souls will be a slave, the other half free; and they
will not be worthy to be called in the true sense men and freemen. Tell me
whether you assent to my words?
Cle. On first hearing, what you say appears to be the truth; but to be
hasty in coming to a conclusion about such important matters would be very
childish and simple.
Ath. Suppose, Cleinias and Megillus, that we consider the virtue which
follows next of those which we intended to discuss (for after courage comes
temperance), what institutions shall we find relating to temperance, either in
Crete or Lacedaemon, which, like your military institutions, differ from those
of any ordinary state.
Meg. That is not an easy question to answer; still I should say that the
common meals and gymnastic exercises have been excellently devised for the
promotion both of temperance and courage.
Ath. There seems to be a difficulty, Stranger, with regard to states, in
making words and facts coincide so that there can be no dispute about them. As
in the human body, the regimen which does good in one way does harm in another;
and we can hardly say that any one course of treatment is adapted to a
Now the gymnasia and common meals do a great deal of good, and yet they
are a source of evil in civil troubles; as is shown in the case of the
Milesian, and Boeotian, and Thurian youth, among whom these institutions seem
always to have had a tendency to degrade the ancient and natural custom of love
below the level, not only of man, but of the beasts. The charge may be fairly
brought against your cities above all others, and is true also of most other
states which especially cultivate gymnastics. Whether such matters are to be
regarded jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed
natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the
intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and
that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust. The Cretans are
always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they
wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the
practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver. Leaving the
story, we may observe that any speculation about laws turns almost entirely on
pleasure and pain, both in states and in individuals: these are two fountains
which nature lets flow, and he who draws from them where and when, and as much
as he ought, is happy; and this holds of men and animals — of individuals
as well as states; and he who indulges in them ignorantly and at the wrong
time, is the reverse of happy.
Meg. I admit, Stranger, that your words are well spoken, and I hardly
know what to say in answer to you; but still I think that the Spartan lawgiver
was quite right in forbidding pleasure. Of the Cretan laws, I shall leave the
defence to my Cnosian friend. But the laws of Sparta, in as far as they relate
to pleasure, appear to me to be the best in the world; for that which leads
mankind in general into the wildest pleasure and licence, and every other
folly, the law has clean driven out; and neither in the country nor in towns
which are under the control of Sparta, will you find revelries and the many
incitements of every kind of pleasure which accompany them; and any one who
meets a drunken and disorderly person, will immediately have him most severely
punished, and will not let him off on any pretence, not even at the time of a
Dionysiac festival; although I have remarked that this may happen at your
performances “on the cart,” as they are called; and among our
Tarentine colonists I have seen the whole city drunk at a Dionysiac festival;
but nothing of the sort happens among us.
Ath. O Lacedaemonian Stranger, these festivities are praiseworthy where
there is a spirit of endurance, but are very senseless when they are under no
regulations. In order to retaliate, an Athenian has only to point out the
licence which exists among your women. To all such accusations, whether they
are brought against the Tarentines, or us, or you, there is one answer which
exonerates the practice in question from impropriety. When a stranger expresses
wonder at the singularity of what he sees, any inhabitant will naturally answer
him: Wonder not, O stranger; this is our custom, and you may very likely have
some other custom about the same things. Now we are speaking, my friends, not
about men in general, but about the merits and defects of the lawgivers
themselves. Let us then discourse a little more at length about intoxication,
which is a very important subject, and will seriously task the discrimination
of the legislator.
I am not speaking of drinking, or not drinking, wine at all, but of
intoxication. Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and
Carthaginians, and Celts, and Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike
nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain?
But the Scythians and Thracians, both men and women, drink unmixed wine, which
they pour on their garments, and this they think a happy and glorious
institution. The Persians, again, are much given to other practices of luxury
which you reject, but they have more moderation in them than the Thracians and
Meg. O best of men, we have only to take arms into our hands, and we
send all these nations flying before us.
Ath. Nay, my good friend, do not say that; there have been, as there
always will be, flights and pursuits of which no account can be given, and
therefore we cannot say that victory or defeat in battle affords more than a
doubtful proof of the goodness or badness of institutions. For when the greater
states conquer and enslave the lesser, as the Syracusans have done the
Locrians, who appear to be the best-governed people in their part of the world,
or as the Athenians have done the Ceans (and there are ten thousand other
instances of the same sort of thing), all this is not to the point; let us
endeavour rather to form a conclusion about each institution in itself and say
nothing, at present, of victories and defeats. Let us only say that such and
such a custom is honourable, and another not. And first permit me to tell you
how good and bad are to be estimated in reference to these very matters.
Meg. How do you mean?
Ath. All those who are ready at a moment’s notice to praise or
censure any practice which is matter of discussion, seem to me to proceed in a
wrong way. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean: You may suppose a
person to be praising wheat as a good kind of food, whereupon another person
instantly blames wheat, without ever enquiring into its effect or use, or in
what way, or to whom, or with what, or in what state and how, wheat is to be
given. And that is just what we are doing in this discussion. At the very
mention of the word intoxication, one side is ready with their praises and the
other with their censures; which is absurd. For either side adduce their
witnesses and approvers, and some of us think that we speak with authority
because we have many witnesses; and others because they see those who abstain
conquering in battle, and this again is disputed by us. Now I cannot say that I
shall be satisfied, if we go on discussing each of the remaining laws in the
same way. And about this very point of intoxication I should like to speak in
another way, which I hold to be the right one; for if number is to be the
criterion, are there not myriads upon myriads of nations ready to dispute the
point with you, who are only two cities?
Meg. I shall gladly welcome any method of enquiry which is right.
Ath. Let me put the matter thus: Suppose a person to praise the keeping
of goats, and the creatures themselves as capital things to have, and then some
one who had seen goats feeding without a goatherd in cultivated spots, and
doing mischief, were to censure a goat or any other animal who has no keeper,
or a bad keeper, would there be any sense or justice in such censure?
Meg. Certainly not.
Ath. Does a captain require only to have nautical knowledge in order to
be a good captain, whether he is sea-sick or not? What do you say?
Meg. I say that he is not a good captain if, although he have nautical
skill, he is liable to sea-sickness.
Ath. And what would you say of the commander of an army? Will he be able
to command merely because he has military skill if he be a coward, who, when
danger comes, is sick and drunk with fear?
Ath. And what if besides being a coward he has no skill?
Meg. He is a miserable fellow, not fit to be a commander of men, but
only of old women.
Ath. And what would you say of some one who blames or praises any sort
of meeting which is intended by nature to have a ruler, and is well enough when
under his presidency? The critic, however, has never seen the society meeting
together at an orderly feast under the control of a president, but always
without a ruler or with a bad one: when observers of this class praise or blame
such meetings, are we to suppose that what they say is of any value?
Meg. Certainly not, if they have never seen or been present at such a
meeting when rightly ordered.
Ath. Reflect; may not banqueters and banquets be said to constitute a
kind of meeting?
Meg. Of course.
Ath. And did any one ever see this sort of convivial meeting rightly
ordered? Of course you two will answer that you have never seen them at all,
because they are not customary or lawful in your country; but I have come
across many of them in many different places, and moreover I have made
enquiries about them wherever I went, as I may say, and never did I see or hear
of anything of the kind which was carried on altogether rightly; in some few
particulars they might be right, but in general they were utterly wrong.
Cle. What do you mean, Stranger, by this remark? Explain; For we, as you
say, from our inexperience in such matters, might very likely not know, even if
they came in our way, what was right or wrong in such societies.
Ath. Likely enough; then let me try to be your instructor: You would
acknowledge, would you not, that in all gatherings of man, kind, of whatever
sort, there ought to be a leader?
Cle. Certainly I should.
Ath. And we were saying just now, that when men are at war the leader
ought to be a brave man?
Cle. We were.
Ath. The brave man is less likely than the coward to be disturbed by
Cle. That again is true.
Ath. And if there were a possibility of having a general of an army who
was absolutely fearless and imperturbable, should we not by all means appoint
Ath. Now, however, we are speaking not of a general who is to command an
army, when foe meets foe in time of war, but of one who is to regulate meetings
of another sort, when friend meets friend in time of peace.
Ath. And that sort of meeting, if attended with drunkenness, is apt to
Cle. Certainly; the reverse of quiet.
Ath. In the first place, then, the revellers as well as the soldiers
will require a ruler?
Cle. To be sure; no men more so.
Ath. And we ought, if possible, to provide them with a quiet ruler?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And he should be a man who understands society; for his duty is to
preserve the friendly feelings which exist among the company at the time, and
to increase them for the future by his use of the occasion.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Must we not appoint a sober man and a wise to be our master of the
revels? For if the ruler of drinkers be himself young and drunken, and not
over-wise, only by some special good fortune will he be saved from doing some
Cle. It will be by a singular good fortune that he is saved.
Ath. Now suppose such associations to be framed in the best way possible
in states, and that some one blames the very fact of their existence — he
may very likely be right. But if he blames a practice which he only sees very
much mismanaged, he shows in the first place that he is not aware of the
mismanagement, and also not aware that everything done in this way will turn
out to be wrong, because done without the superintendence of a sober ruler. Do
you not see that a drunken pilot or a drunken ruler of any sort will ruin ship,
chariot, army — anything, in short, of which he has the direction?
Cle. The last remark is very true, Stranger; and I see quite clearly the
advantage of an army having a good leader — he will give victory in war to
his followers, which is a very great advantage; and so of other things. But I
do not see any similar advantage which either individuals or states gain from
the good management of a feast; and I want you to tell me what great good will
be effected, supposing that this drinking ordinance is duly established.
Ath. If you mean to ask what great good accrues to the state from the
right training of a single youth, or of a single chorus — when the
question is put in that form, we cannot deny that the good is not very great in
any particular instance. But if you ask what is the good of education in
general, the answer is easy — that education makes good men, and that good
men act nobly, and conquer their enemies in battle, because they are good.
Education certainly gives victory, although victory sometimes produces
forgetfulness of education; for many have grown insolent from victory in war,
and this insolence has engendered in them innumerable evils; and many a victory
has been and will be suicidal to the victors; but education is never suicidal.
Cle. You seem to imply, my friend, that convivial meetings, when rightly
ordered, are an important element of education.
Ath. Certainly I do.
Cle. And can you show that what you have been saying is true?
Ath. To be absolutely sure of the truth of matters concerning which
there are many opinions, is an attribute of the Gods not given to man,
Stranger; but I shall be very happy to tell you what I think, especially as we
are now proposing to enter on a discussion concerning laws and
Cle. Your opinion, Stranger, about the questions which are now being
raised, is precisely what we want to hear.
Ath. Very good; I will try to find a way of explaining my meaning, and
you shall try to have the gift of understanding me. But first let me make an
apology. The Athenian citizen is reputed among all the Hellenes to be a great
talker, whereas Sparta is renowned for brevity, and the Cretans have more wit
than words. Now I am afraid of appearing to elicit a very long discourse out of
very small materials. For drinking indeed may appear to be a slight matter, and
yet is one which cannot be rightly ordered according to nature, without correct
principles of music; these are necessary to any clear or satisfactory treatment
of the subject, and music again runs up into education generally, and there is
much to be said about all this.
What would you say then to leaving these matters for the present, and
passing on to some other question of law?
Meg. O Athenian Stranger, let me tell you what perhaps you do not know,
that our family is the proxenus of your state. I imagine that from their
earliest youth all boys, when they are told that they are the proxeni of a
particular state, feel kindly towards their second and this has certainly been
my own feeling. I can well remember from the days of my boyhood, how, when any
Lacedaemonians praised or blamed the Athenians, they used to say to me —
“See, Megillus, how ill or how well,” as the case might be, “has
your state treated us”; and having always had to fight your battles
against detractors when I heard you assailed, I became warmly attached to you.
And I always like to hear the Athenian tongue spoken; the common saying is
quite true, that a good Athenian is more than ordinarily good, for he is the
only man who is freely and genuinely good by the divine inspiration of his own
nature, and is not manufactured. Therefore be assured that I shall like to hear
you say whatever you have to say.
Cle. Yes, Stranger; and when you have heard me speak, say boldly what is
in your thoughts. Let me remind you of a tie which unites you to Crete. You
must have heard here the story of the prophet Epimenides, who was of my family,
and came to Athens ten years before the Persian war, in accordance with the
response of the Oracle, and offered certain sacrifices which the God
The Athenians were at that time in dread of the Persian invasion; and he
said that for ten years they would not come, and that when they came, they
would go away again without accomplishing any of their objects, and would
suffer more evil than they inflicted. At that time my forefathers formed ties
of hospitality with you; thus ancient is the friendship which I and my parents
have had for you.
Ath. You seem to be quite ready to listen; and I am also ready to
perform as much as I can of an almost impossible task, which I will
nevertheless attempt. At the outset of the discussion, let me define the nature
and power of education; for this is the way by which our argument must travel
onwards to the God Dionysus.
Cle. Let us proceed, if you please.
Ath. Well, then, if I tell you what are my notions of education, will
you consider whether they satisfy you?
Cle. Let us hear.
Ath. According to my view, any one who would be good at anything must
practise that thing from his youth upwards, both in sport and earnest, in its
several branches: for example, he who is to be a good builder, should play at
building children’s houses; he who is to be a good husbandman, at tilling
the ground; and those who have the care of their education should provide them
when young with mimic tools. They should learn beforehand the knowledge which
they will afterwards require for their art. For example, the future carpenter
should learn to measure or apply the line in play; and the future warrior
should learn riding, or some other exercise, for amusement, and the teacher
should endeavour to direct the children’s inclinations and pleasures, by
the help of amusements, to their final aim in life. The most important part of
education is right training in the nursery. The soul of the child in his play
should be guided to the love of that sort of excellence in which when he grows
up to manhood he will have to be perfected. Do you agree with me thus far?
Ath. Then let us not leave the meaning of education ambiguous or
illdefined. At present, when we speak in terms of praise or blame about the
bringing-up of each person, we call one man educated and another uneducated,
although the uneducated man may be sometimes very well educated for the calling
of a retail trader, or of a captain of a ship, and the like. For we are not
speaking of education in this narrower sense, but of that other education in
virtue from youth upwards, which makes a man eagerly pursue the ideal
perfection of citizenship, and teaches him how rightly to rule and how to obey.
This is the only education which, upon our view, deserves the name; that other
sort of training, which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength,
or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice, is mean and illiberal,
and is not worthy to be called education at all. But let us not quarrel with
one another about a word, provided that the proposition which has just been
granted hold good: to wit, that those who are rightly educated generally become
good men. Neither must we cast a slight upon education, which is the first and
fairest thing that the best of men can ever have, and which, though liable to
take a wrong direction, is capable of reformation. And this work of reformation
is the great business of every man while he lives.
Cle. Very true; and we entirely agree with you.
Ath. And we agreed before that they are good men who are able to rule
themselves, and bad men who are not.
Cle. You are quite right.
Ath. Let me now proceed, if I can, to clear up the subject a little
further by an illustration which I will offer you.
Ath. Do we not consider each of ourselves to be one?
Cle. We do.
Ath. And each one of us has in his bosom two counsellors, both foolish
and also antagonistic; of which we call the one pleasure, and the other
Ath. Also there are opinions about the future, which have the general
name of expectations; and the specific name of fear, when the expectation is of
pain; and of hope, when of pleasure; and further, there is reflection about the
good or evil of them, and this, when embodied in a decree by the State, is
Cle. I am hardly able to follow you; proceed, however, as if I were.
Meg. I am in the like case.
Ath. Let us look at the matter thus: May we not conceive each of us
living beings to be a puppet of the Gods, either their plaything only, or
created with a purpose — which of the two we cannot certainly know? But we
do know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull us
different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the
difference between virtue and vice. According to the argument there is one
among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull
with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason,
called by us the common law of the State; there are others which are hard and
of iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several other
kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the best, which is
law. For inasmuch as reason is beautiful and gentle, and not violent, her rule
must needs have ministers in order to help the golden principle in vanquishing
the other principles. And thus the moral of the tale about our being puppets
will not have been lost, and the meaning of the expression “superior or
inferior to a man’s self” will become clearer; and the individual,
attaining to right reason in this matter of pulling the strings of the puppet,
should live according to its rule; while the city, receiving the same from some
god or from one who has knowledge of these things, should embody it in a law,
to be her guide in her dealings with herself and with other states. In this way
virtue and vice will be more clearly distinguished by us. And when they have
become clearer, education and other institutions will in like manner become
clearer; and in particular that question of convivial entertainment, which may
seem, perhaps, to have been a very trifling matter, and to have taken a great
many more words than were necessary.
Cle. Perhaps, however, the theme may turn out not to be unworthy of the
length of discourse.
Ath. Very good; let us proceed with any enquiry which really bears on
our present object.
Ath. Suppose that we give this puppet of ours drink — what will be
the effect on him?
Cle. Having what in view do you ask that question?
Ath. Nothing as yet; but I ask generally, when the puppet is brought to
the drink, what sort of result is likely to follow. I will endeavour to explain
my meaning more clearly: what I am now asking is thisDoes the drinking of wine
heighten and increase pleasures and pains, and passions and loves?
Cle. Very greatly.
Ath. And are perception and memory, and opinion and prudence, heightened
and increased? Do not these qualities entirely desert a man if he becomes
saturated with drink?
Cle. Yes, they entirely desert him.
Ath. Does he not return to the state of soul in which he was when a
Cle. He does.
Ath. Then at that time he will have the least control over himself?
Cle. The least.
Ath. And will he not be in a most wretched plight?
Cle. Most wretched.
Ath. Then not only an old man but also a drunkard becomes a second time
Cle. Well said, Stranger.
Ath. Is there any argument which will prove to us that we ought to
encourage the taste for drinking instead of doing all we can to avoid it?
Cle. I suppose that there is; you at any rate, were just now saying that
you were ready to maintain such a doctrine.
Ath. True, I was; and I am ready still, seeing that you have both
declared that you are anxious to hear me.
Cle. To sure we are, if only for the strangeness of the paradox, which
asserts that a man ought of his own accord to plunge into utter degradation.
Ath. Are you speaking of the soul?
Ath. And what would you say about the body, my friend? Are you not
surprised at any one of his own accord bringing upon himself deformity,
leanness, ugliness, decrepitude?
Ath. Yet when a man goes of his own accord to a doctor’s shop, and
takes medicine, is he not aware that soon, and for many days afterwards, he
will be in a state of body which he would die rather than accept as the
permanent condition of his life? Are not those who train in gymnasia, at first
beginning reduced to a state of weakness?
Cle. Yes, all that is well known.
Ath. Also that they go of their own accord for the sake of the
Cle. Very good.
Ath. And we may conceive this to be true in the same way of other
Ath. And the same view may be taken of the pastime of drinking wine, if
we are right in supposing that the same good effect follows?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. If such convivialities should turn out to have any advantage equal
in importance to that of gymnastic, they are in their very nature to be
preferred to mere bodily exercise, inasmuch as they have no accompaniment of
Cle. True; but I hardly think that we shall be able to discover any such
benefits to be derived from them.
Ath. That is just what we must endeavour to show. And let me ask you a
question: Do we not distinguish two kinds of fear, which are very different?
Cle. What are they?
Ath. There is the fear of expected evil.
Ath. And there is the fear of an evil reputation; we are afraid of being
thought evil, because we do or say some dishonourable thing, which fear we and
all men term shame.
Ath. These are the two fears, as I called them; one of which is the
opposite of pain and other fears, and the opposite also of the greatest and
most numerous sort of pleasures.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And does not the legislator and every one who is good for anything,
hold this fear in the greatest honour? This is what he terms reverence, and the
confidence which is the reverse of this he terms insolence; and the latter he
always deems to be a very great evil both to individuals and to states.
Ath. Does not this kind of fear preserve us in many important ways? What
is there which so surely gives victory and safety in war? For there are two
things which give victory — confidence before enemies, and fear of
disgrace before friends.
Cle. There are.
Ath. Then each of us should be fearless and also fearful; and why we
should be either has now been determined.
Ath. And when we want to make any one fearless, we and the law bring him
face to face with many fears.
Ath. And when we want to make him rightly fearful, must we not introduce
him to shameless pleasures, and train him to take up arms against them, and to
overcome them? Or does this principle apply to courage only, and must he who
would be perfect in valour fight against and overcome his own natural character
— since if he be unpractised and inexperienced in such conflicts, he will
not be half the man which he might have been — and are we to suppose, that
with temperance it is otherwise, and that he who has never fought with the
shameless and unrighteous temptations of his pleasures and lusts, and conquered
them, in earnest and in play, by word, deed, and act, will still be perfectly
Cle. A most unlikely supposition.
Ath. Suppose that some God had given a fear-potion to men, and that the
more a man drank of this the more he regarded himself at every draught as a
child of misfortune, and that he feared everything happening or about to happen
to him; and that at last the most courageous of men utterly lost his presence
of mind for a time, and only came to himself again when he had slept off the
influence of the draught.
Cle. But has such a draught, Stranger, ever really been known among
Ath. No; but, if there had been, might not such a draught have been of
use to the legislator as a test of courage? Might we not go and say to him,
“O legislator, whether you are legislating for the Cretan, or for any
other state, would you not like to have a touchstone of the courage and
cowardice of your citizens?”
Cle. “I should,” will be the answer of every one.
Ath. “And you would rather have a touchstone in which there is no
risk and no great danger than the reverse?”
Cle. In that proposition every one may safely agree.
Ath. “And in order to make use of the draught, you would lead them
amid these imaginary terrors, and prove them, when the affection of fear was
working upon them, and compel them to be fearless, exhorting and admonishing
them; and also honouring them, but dishonouring any one who will not be
persuaded by you to be in all respects such as you command him; and if he
underwent the trial well and manfully, you would let him go unscathed; but if
ill, you would inflict a punishment upon him? Or would you abstain from using
the potion altogether, although you have no reason for abstaining?”
Cle. He would be certain, Stranger, to use the potion.
Ath. This would be a mode of testing and training which would be
wonderfully easy in comparison with those now in use, and might be applied to a
single person, or to a few, or indeed to any number; and he would do well who
provided himself with the potion only, rather than with any number of other
things, whether he preferred to be by himself in solitude, and there contend
with his fears, because he was ashamed to be seen by the eye of man until he
was perfect; or trusting to the force of his own nature and habits, and
believing that he had been already disciplined sufficiently, he did not
hesitate to train himself in company with any number of others, and display his
power in conquering the irresistible change effected by the draught — his
virtue being such, that he never in any instance fell into any great
unseemliness, but was always himself, and left off before he arrived at the
last cup, fearing that he, like all other men, might be overcome by the
Cle. Yes, Stranger, in that last case, too, he might equally show his
Ath. Let us return to the lawgiver, and say to him:
“Well, lawgiver, there is certainly no such fear-potion which man
has either received from the Gods or himself discovered; for witchcraft has no
place at our board. But is there any potion which might serve as a test of
overboldness and excessive and indiscreet boasting?"
Cle. I suppose that he will say, Yes — meaning that wine is such a
Ath. Is not the effect of this quite the opposite of the effect of the
other? When a man drinks wine he begins to be better pleased with himself, and
the more he drinks the more he is filled full of brave hopes, and conceit of
his power, and at last the string of his tongue is loosened, and fancying
himself wise, he is brimming over with lawlessness, and has no more fear or
respect, and is ready to do or say anything.
Cle. I think that every one will admit the truth of your description.
Ath. Now, let us remember, as we were saying, that there are two things
which should be cultivated in the soul: first, the greatest courage; secondly,
the greatest fear.
Cle. Which you said to be characteristic of reverence, if I am not
Ath. Thank you for reminding me. But now, as the habit of courage and
fearlessness is to be trained amid fears, let us consider whether the opposite
quality is not also to be trained among opposites.
Cle. That is probably the case.
Ath. There are times and seasons at which we are by nature more than
commonly valiant and bold; now we ought to train ourselves on these occasions
to be as free from impudence and shamelessness as possible, and to be afraid to
say or suffer or do anything that is base.
Ath. Are not the moments in which we are apt to be bold and shameless
such as these? — when we are under the influence of anger, love, pride,
ignorance, avarice, cowardice? or when wealth, beauty, strength, and all the
intoxicating workings of pleasure madden us? What is better adapted than the
festive use of wine, in the first place to test, and in the second place to
train the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it? What is there
cheaper, or more innocent? For do but consider which is the greater risk: Would
you rather test a man of a morose and savage nature, which is the source of ten
thousand acts of injustice, by making bargains with him at a risk to yourself,
or by having him as a companion at the festival of Dionysus? Or would you, if
you wanted to apply a touchstone to a man who is prone to love, entrust your
wife, or your sons, or daughters to him, perilling your dearest interests in
order to have a view of the condition of his soul? I might mention numberless
cases, in which the advantage would be manifest of getting to know a character
in sport, and without paying dearly for experience. And I do not believe that
either a Cretan, or any other man, will doubt that such a test is a fair test,
and safer, cheaper, and speedier than any other.
Cle. That is certainly true.
Ath. And this knowledge of the natures and habits of men’s souls
will be of the greatest use in that art which has the management of them; and
that art, if I am not mistaken, is politics.
Cle. Exactly so.
Athenian Stranger. And now we have to consider whether the insight into
human nature is the only benefit derived from well ordered potations, or
whether there are not other advantages great and much to be desired. The
argument seems to imply that there are. But how and in what way these are to be
attained, will have to be considered attentively, or we may be entangled in
Ath. Let me once more recall our doctrine of right education; which, if
I am not mistaken, depends on the due regulation of convivial intercourse.
Cle. You talk rather grandly.
Ath. Pleasure and pain I maintain to be the first perceptions of
children, and I say that they are the forms under which virtue and vice are
originally present to them. As to wisdom and true and fixed opinions, happy is
the man who acquires them, even when declining in years; and we may say that he
who possesses them, and the blessings which are contained in them, is a perfect
man. Now I mean by education that training which is given by suitable habits to
the first instincts of virtue in children; — when pleasure, and
friendship, and pain, and hatred, are rightly implanted in souls not yet
capable of understanding the nature of them, and who find them, after they have
attained reason, to be in harmony with her. This harmony of the soul, taken as
a whole, is virtue; but the particular training in respect of pleasure and
pain, which leads you always to hate what you ought to hate, and love what you
ought to love from the beginning of life to the end, may be separated off; and,
in my view, will be rightly called education.
Cle. I think, Stranger, that you are quite right in all that you have
said and are saying about education.
Ath. I am glad to hear that you agree with me; for, indeed, the
discipline of pleasure and pain which, when rightly ordered, is a principle of
education, has been often relaxed and corrupted in human life. And the Gods,
pitying the toils which our race is born to undergo, have appointed holy
festivals, wherein men alternate rest with labour; and have given them the
Muses and Apollo, the leader of the Muses, and Dionysus, to be companions in
their revels, that they may improve their education by taking part in the
festivals of the Gods, and with their help. I should like to know whether a
common saying is in our opinion true to nature or not.
For men say that the young of all creatures cannot be quiet in their
bodies or in their voices; they are always wanting to move and cry out; some
leaping and skipping, and overflowing with sportiveness and delight at
something, others uttering all sorts of cries. But, whereas the animals have no
perception of order or disorder in their movements, that is, of rhythm or
harmony, as they are called, to us, the Gods, who, as we say, have been
appointed to be our companions in the dance, have given the pleasurable sense
of harmony and rhythm; and so they stir us into life, and we follow them,
joining hands together in dances and songs; and these they call choruses, which
is a term naturally expressive of cheerfulness.
Shall we begin, then, with the acknowledgment that education is first
given through Apollo and the Muses? What do you say?
Cle. I assent.
Ath. And the uneducated is he who has not been trained in the chorus,
and the educated is he who has been well trained?
Ath. And the chorus is made up of two parts, dance and song?
Ath. Then he who is well educated will be able to sing and dance well?
Cle. I suppose that he will.
Ath. Let us see; what are we saying?
Ath. He sings well and dances well; now must we add that he sings what
is good and dances what is good?
Cle. Let us make the addition.
Ath. We will suppose that he knows the good to be good, and the bad to
be bad, and makes use of them accordingly: which now is the better trained in
dancing and music — he who is able to move his body and to use his voice
in what is understood to be the right manner, but has no delight in good or
hatred of evil; or he who is incorrect in gesture and voice, but is right in
his sense of pleasure and pain, and welcomes what is good, and is offended at
what is evil?
Cle. There is a great difference, Stranger, in the two kinds of
Ath. If we three know what is good in song and dance, then we truly know
also who is educated and who is uneducated; but if not, then we certainly shall
not know wherein lies the safeguard of education, and whether there is any or
Ath. Let us follow the scent like hounds, and go in pursuit of beauty of
figure, and melody, and song, and dance; if these escape us, there will be no
use in talking about true education, whether Hellenic or barbarian.
Ath. And what is beauty of figure, or beautiful melody? When a manly
soul is in trouble, and when a cowardly soul is in similar case, are they
likely to use the same figures and gestures, or to give utterance to the same
Cle. How can they, when the very colours of their faces differ?
Ath. Good, my friend; I may observe, however, in passing, that in music
there certainly are figures and there are melodies: and music is concerned with
harmony and rhythm, so that you may speak of a melody or figure having good
rhythm or good harmony — the term is correct enough; but to speak
metaphorically of a melody or figure having a “good colour,” as the
masters of choruses do, is not allowable, although you can speak of the
melodies or figures of the brave and the coward, praising the one and censuring
the other. And not to be tedious, let us say that the figures and melodies
which are expressive of virtue of soul or body, or of images of virtue, are
without exception good, and those which are expressive of vice are the reverse
Cle. Your suggestion is excellent; and let us answer that these things
Ath. Once more, are all of us equally delighted with every sort of
Cle. Far otherwise.
Ath. What, then, leads us astray? Are beautiful things not the same to
us all, or are they the same in themselves, but not in our opinion of them? For
no one will admit that forms of vice in the dance are more beautiful than forms
of virtue, or that he himself delights in the forms of vice, and others in a
muse of another character. And yet most persons say, that the excellence of
music is to give pleasure to our souls. But this is intolerable and
blasphemous; there is, however, a much more plausible account of the
Ath. The adaptation of art to the characters of men. Choric movements
are imitations of manners occurring in various actions, fortunes, dispositions
— each particular is imitated, and those to whom the words, or songs, or
dances are suited, either by nature or habit or both, cannot help feeling
pleasure in them and applauding them, and calling them beautiful. But those
whose natures, or ways, or habits are unsuited to them, cannot delight in them
or applaud them, and they call them base. There are others, again, whose
natures are right and their habits wrong, or whose habits are right and their
natures wrong, and they praise one thing, but are pleased at another. For they
say that all these imitations are pleasant, but not good. And in the presence
of those whom they think wise, they are ashamed of dancing and singing in the
baser manner, or of deliberately lending any countenance to such proceedings;
and yet, they have a secret pleasure in them.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And is any harm done to the lover of vicious dances or songs, or
any good done to the approver of the opposite sort of pleasure?
Cle. I think that there is.
Ath. “I think” is not the word, but I would say, rather,
“I am certain.” For must they not have the same effect as when a man
associates with bad characters, whom he likes and approves rather than
dislikes, and only censures playfully because he has a suspicion of his own
badness? In that case, he who takes pleasure in them will surely become like
those in whom he takes pleasure, even though he be ashamed to praise them. And
what greater good or evil can any destiny ever make us undergo?
Cle. I know of none.
Ath. Then in a city which has good laws, or in future ages is to have
them, bearing in mind the instruction and amusement which are given by music,
can we suppose that the poets are to be allowed to teach in the dance anything
which they themselves like, in the way of rhythm, or melody, or words, to the
young children of any wellconditioned parents? Is the poet to train his
choruses as he pleases, without reference to virtue or vice?
Cle. That is surely quite unreasonable, and is not to be thought of.
Ath. And yet he may do this in almost any state with the exception of
Cle. And what are the laws about music and dancing in Egypt?
Ath. You will wonder when I tell you: Long ago they appear to have
recognized the very principle of which we are now speaking — that their
young citizens must be habituated to forms and strains of virtue. These they
fixed, and exhibited the patterns of them in their temples; and no painter or
artist is allowed to innovate upon them, or to leave the traditional forms and
invent new ones. To this day, no alteration is allowed either in these arts, or
in music at all. And you will find that their works of art are painted or
moulded in the same forms which they had ten thousand years ago; — this is
literally true and no exaggeration — their ancient paintings and
sculptures are not a whit better or worse than the work of to-day, but are made
with just the same skill.
Cle. How extraordinary!
Ath. I should rather say, How statesmanlike, how worthy of a legislator!
I know that other things in Egypt are nat so well. But what I am telling you
about music is true and deserving of consideration, because showing that a
lawgiver may institute melodies which have a natural truth and correctness
without any fear of failure. To do this, however, must be the work of God, or
of a divine person; in Egypt they have a tradition that their ancient chants
which have been preserved for so many ages are the composition of the Goddess
Isis. And therefore, as I was saying, if a person can only find in any way the
natural melodies, he may confidently embody them in a fixed and legal form. For
the love of novelty which arises out of pleasure in the new and weariness of
the old, has not strength enough to corrupt the consecrated song and dance,
under the plea that they have become antiquated. At any rate, they are far from
being corrupted in Egypt.
Cle. Your arguments seem to prove your point.
Ath. May we not confidently say that the true use of music and of choral
festivities is as follows: We rejoice when we think that we prosper, and again
we think that we prosper when we rejoice?
Ath. And when rejoicing in our good fortune, we are unable to be still?
Ath. Our young men break forth into dancing and singing, and we who are
their elders deem that we are fulfilling our part in life when we look on at
them. Having lost our agility, we delight in their sports and merry-making,
because we love to think of our former selves; and gladly institute contests
for those who are able to awaken in us the memory of our youth.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Is it altogether unmeaning to say, as the common people do about
festivals, that he should be adjudged the wisest of men, and the winner of the
palm, who gives us the greatest amount of pleasure and mirth? For on such
occasions, and when mirth is the order of the day, ought not he to be honoured
most, and, as I was saying, bear the palm, who gives most mirth to the greatest
number? Now is this a true way of speaking or of acting?
Ath. But, my dear friend, let us distinguish between different cases,
and not be hasty in forming a judgment: One way of considering the question
will be to imagine a festival at which there are entertainments of all sorts,
including gymnastic, musical, and equestrian contests: the citizens are
assembled; prizes are offered, and proclamation is made that any one who likes
may enter the lists, and that he is to bear the palm who gives the most
pleasure to the spectators — there is to be no regulation about the manner
how; but he who is most successful in giving pleasure is to be crowned victor,
and deemed to be the pleasantest of the candidates: What is likely to be the
result of such a proclamation?
Cle. In what respect?
Ath. There would be various exhibitions: one man, like Homer, will
exhibit a rhapsody, another a performance on the lute; one will have a tragedy,
and another a comedy. Nor would there be anything astonishing in some one
imagining that he could gain the prize by exhibiting a puppet-show. Suppose
these competitors to meet, and not these only, but innumerable others as well
can you tell me who ought to be the victor?
Cle. I do not see how any one can answer you, or pretend to know, unless
he has heard with his own ears the several competitors; the question is
Ath. Well, then, if neither of you can answer, shall I answer this
question which you deem so absurd?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. If very small children are to determine the question, they will
decide for the puppet show.
Cle. Of course.
Ath. The older children will be advocates of comedy; educated women, and
young men, and people in general, will favour tragedy.
Cle. Very likely.
Ath. And I believe that we old men would have the greatest pleasure in
hearing a rhapsodist recite well the Iliad and Odyssey, or one of the Hesiodic
poems, and would award the victory to him. But, who would really be the victor?
— that is the question.
Ath. Clearly you and I will have to declare that those whom we old men
adjudge victors ought to win; for our ways are far and away better than any
which at present exist anywhere in the world.
Ath. Thus far I too should agree with the many, that the excellence of
music is to be measured by pleasure. But the pleasure must not be that of
chance persons; the fairest music is that which delights the best and best
educated, and especially that which delights the one man who is pre-eminent in
virtue and education. And therefore the judges must be men of character, for
they will require both wisdom and courage; the true judge must not draw his
inspiration from the theatre, nor ought he to be unnerved by the clamour of the
many and his own incapacity; nor again, knowing the truth, ought he through
cowardice and unmanliness carelessly to deliver a lying judgment, with the very
same lips which have just appealed to the Gods before he judged. He is sitting
not as the disciple of the theatre, but, in his proper place, as their
instructor, and he ought to be the enemy of all pandering to the pleasure of
the spectators. The ancient and common custom of Hellas, which still prevails
in Italy and Sicily, did certainly leave the judgment to the body of
spectators, who determined the victor by show of hands.
But this custom has been the destruction of the poets; for they are now
in the habit of composing with a view to please the bad taste of their judges,
and the result is that the spectators instruct themselves; — and also it
has been the ruin of the theatre; they ought to be having characters put before
them better than their own, and so receiving a higher pleasure, but now by
their own act the opposite result follows. What inference is to be drawn from
all this? Shall I tell you?
Ath. The inference at which we arrive for the third or fourth time is,
that education is the constraining and directing of youth towards that right
reason, which the law affirms, and which the experience of the eldest and best
has agreed to be truly right. In order, then, that the soul of the child may
not be habituated to feel joy and sorrow in a manner at variance with the law,
and those who obey the law, but may rather follow the law and rejoice and
sorrow at the same things as the aged — in order, I say, to produce this
effect, chants appear to have been invented, which really enchant, and are
designed to implant that harmony of which we speak. And, because the mind of
the child is incapable of enduring serious training, they are called plays and
songs, and are performed in play; just as when men are sick and ailing in their
bodies, their attendants give them wholesome diet in pleasant meats and drinks,
but unwholesome diet in disagreeable things, in order that they may learn, as
they ought, to like the one, and to dislike the other. And similarly the true
legislator will persuade, and, if he cannot persuade, will compel the poet to
express, as he ought, by fair and noble words, in his rhythms, the figures, and
in his melodies, the music of temperate and brave and in every way good
Cle. But do you really imagine, Stranger, that this is the way in which
poets generally compose in States at the present day? As far as I can observe,
except among us and among the Lacedaemonians, there are no regulations like
those of which you speak; in other places novelties are always being introduced
in dancing and in music, generally not under the authority of any law, but at
the instigation of lawless pleasures; and these pleasures are so far from being
the same, as you describe the Egyptian to be, or having the same principles,
that they are never the same.
Ath. Most true, Cleinias; and I daresay that I may have expressed myself
obscurely, and so led you to imagine that I was speaking of some really
existing state of things, whereas I was only saying what regulations I would
like to have about music; and hence there occurred a misapprehension on your
part. For when evils are far gone and irremediable, the task of censuring them
is never pleasant, although at times necessary. But as we do not really differ,
will you let me ask you whether you consider such institutions to be more
prevalent among the Cretans and Lacedaemonians than among the other
Cle. Certainly they are.
Ath. And if they were extended to the other Hellenes, would it be an
improvement on the present state of things?
Cle. A very great improvement, if the customs which prevail among them
were such as prevail among us and the Lacedaemonians, and such as you were just
now saying ought to prevail.
Ath. Let us see whether we understand one another: Are not the
principles of education and music which prevail among you as follows: you
compel your poets to say that the good man, if he be temperate and just, is
fortunate and happy; and this whether he be great and strong or small and weak,
and whether he be rich or poor; and, on the other hand, if he have a wealth
passing that of Cinyras or Midas, and be unjust, he is wretched and lives in
misery? As the poet says, and with truth: I sing not, I care not about him who
accomplishes all noble things, not having justice; let him who “draws near
and stretches out his hand against his enemies be a just man.” But if he
be unjust, I would not have him “look calmly upon bloody death,” nor
“surpass in swiftness the Thracian Boreas”; and let no other thing
that is called good ever be his. For the goods of which the many speak are not
really good: first in the catalogue is placed health, beauty next, wealth
third; and then innumerable others, as for example to have a keen eye or a
quick ear, and in general to have all the senses perfect; or, again, to be a
tyrant and do as you like; and the final consummation of happiness is to have
acquired all these things, and when you have acquired them to become at once
immortal. But you and I say, that while to the just and holy all these things
are the best of possessions, to the unjust they are all, including even health,
the greatest of evils. For in truth, to have sight, and hearing, and the use of
the senses, or to live at all without justice and virtue, even though a man be
rich in all the so-called goods of fortune, is the greatest of evils, if life
be immortal; but not so great, if the bad man lives only a very short time.
These are the truths which, if I am not mistaken, you will persuade or compel
your poets to utter with suitable accompaniments of harmony and rhythm, and in
these they must train up your youth. Am I not right? For I plainly declare that
evils as they are termed are goods to the unjust, and only evils to the just,
and that goods are truly good to the good, but evil to the evil.
Let me ask again, Are you and I agreed about this?
Cle. I think that we partly agree and partly do not.
Ath. When a man has health and wealth and a tyranny which lasts, and
when he is preeminent in strength and courage, and has the gift of immortality,
and none of the so-called evils which counter-balance these goods, but only the
injustice and insolence of his own natureof such an one you are, I suspect,
unwilling to believe that he is miserable rather than happy.
Cle. That is quite true.
Ath. Once more: Suppose that he be valiant and strong, and handsome and
rich, and does throughout his whole life whatever he likes, still, if he be
unrighteous and insolent, would not both of you agree that he will of necessity
live basely? You will surely grant so much?
Ath. And an evil life too?
Cle. I am not equally disposed to grant that.
Ath. Will he not live painfully and to his own disadvantage?
Cle. How can I possibly say so?
Ath. How! Then may Heaven make us to be of one mind, for now we are of
two. To me, dear Cleinias, the truth of what I am saying is as plain as the
fact that Crete is an island. And, if I were a lawgiver, I would try to make
the poets and all the citizens speak in this strain, and I would inflict the
heaviest penalties on any one in all the land who should dare to say that there
are bad men who lead pleasant lives, or that the profitable and gainful is one
thing, and the just another; and there are many other matters about which I
should make my citizens speak in a manner different from the Cretans and
Lacedaemonians of this age, and I may say, indeed, from the world in general.
For tell me, my good friends, by Zeus and Apollo tell me, if I were to ask
these same Gods who were your legislators — Is not the most just life also
the pleasantest? or are there two lives, one of which is the justest and the
other the pleasantest? — and they were to reply that there are two; and
thereupon I proceeded to ask, (that would be the right way of pursuing the
enquiry), Which are the happier — those who lead the justest, or those who
lead the pleasantest life? and they replied, Those who lead the pleasantest
— that would be a very strange answer, which I should not like to put into
the mouth of the Gods. The words will come with more propriety from the lips of
fathers and legislators, and therefore I will repeat my former questions to one
of them, and suppose him to say again that he who leads the pleasantest life is
the happiest. And to that I rejoin: O my father, did you not wish me to live as
happily as possible? And yet you also never ceased telling me that I should
live as justly as possible. Now, here the giver of the rule, whether he be
legislator or father, will be in a dilemma, and will in vain endeavour to be
consistent with himself. But if he were to declare that the justest life is
also the happiest, every one hearing him would enquire, if I am not mistaken,
what is that good and noble principle in life which the law approves, and which
is superior to pleasure.
For what good can the just man have which is separated from pleasure?
Shall we say that glory and fame, coming from Gods and men, though good and
noble, are nevertheless unpleasant, and infamy pleasant? Certainly not, sweet
legislator. Or shall we say that the not-doing of wrong and there being no
wrong done is good and honourable, although there is no pleasure in it, and
that the doing wrong is pleasant, but evil and base?
Ath. The view which identifies the pleasant and the pleasant and the
just and the good and the noble has an excellent moral and religious tendency.
And the opposite view is most at variance with the designs of the legislator,
and is, in his opinion, infamous; for no one, if he can help, will be persuaded
to do that which gives him more pain than pleasure. But as distant prospects
are apt to make us dizzy, especially in childhood, the legislator will try to
purge away the darkness and exhibit the truth; he will persuade the citizens,
in some way or other, by customs and praises and words, that just and unjust
are shadows only, and that injustice, which seems opposed to justice, when
contemplated by the unjust and evil man appears pleasant and the just most
unpleasant; but that from the just man’s point of view, the very opposite
is the appearance of both of them.
Ath. And which may be supposed to be the truer judgment — that of
the inferior or of the better soul?
Cle. Surely, that of the better soul.
Ath. Then the unjust life must not only be more base and depraved, but
also more unpleasant than the just and holy life?
Cle. That seems to be implied in the present argument.
Ath. And even supposing this were otherwise, and not as the argument has
proven, still the lawgiver, who is worth anything, if he ever ventures to tell
a lie to the young for their good, could not invent a more useful lie than
this, or one which will have a better effect in making them do what is right,
not on compulsion but voluntarily.
Cle. Truth, Stranger, is a noble thing and a lasting, but a thing of
which men are hard to be persuaded.
Ath. And yet the story of the Sidonian Cadmus, which is so improbable,
has been readily believed, and also innumerable other tales.
Cle. What is that story?
Ath. The story of armed men springing up after the sowing of teeth,
which the legislator may take as a proof that he can persuade the minds of the
young of anything; so that he has only to reflect and find out what belief will
be of the greatest public advantage, and then use all his efforts to make the
whole community utter one and the same word in their songs and tales and
discourses all their life long. But if you do not agree with me, there is no
reason why you should not argue on the other side.
Cle. I do not see that any argument can fairly be raised by either of us
against what you are now saying.
Ath. The next suggestion which I have to offer is, that all our three
choruses shall sing to the young and tender souls of children, reciting in
their strains all the noble thoughts of which we have already spoken, or are
about to speak; and the sum of them shall be, that the life which is by the
Gods deemed to be the happiest is also the best; — we shall affirm this to
be a most certain truth; and the minds of our young disciples will be more
likely to receive these words of ours than any others which we might address to
Cle. I assent to what you say.
Ath. First will enter in their natural order the sacred choir composed
of children, which is to sing lustily the heaven-taught lay to the whole city.
Next will follow the choir of young men under the age of thirty, who will call
upon the God Paean to testify to the truth of their words, and will pray him to
be gracious to the youth and to turn their hearts. Thirdly, the choir of elder
men, who are from thirty to sixty years of age, will also sing. There remain
those who are too old to sing, and they will tell stories, illustrating the
same virtues, as with the voice of an oracle.
Cle. Who are those who compose the third choir, Stranger? for I do not
clearly understand what you mean to say about them.
Ath. And yet almost all that I have been saying has said with a view to
Cle. Will you try to be a little plainer?
Ath. I was speaking at the commencement of our discourse, as you will
remember, of the fiery nature of young creatures: I said that they were unable
to keep quiet either in limb or voice, and that they called out and jumped
about in a disorderly manner; and that no other animal attained to any
perception of order, but man only.
Now the order of motion is called rhythm, and the order of the voice, in
which high and low are duly mingled, is called harmony; and both together are
termed choric song. And I said that the Gods had pity on us, and gave us Apollo
and the Muses to be our playfellows and leaders in the dance; and Dionysus, as
I dare say that you will remember, was the third.
Cle. I quite remember.
Ath. Thus far I have spoken of the chorus of Apollo and the Muses, and I
have still to speak of the remaining chorus, which is that of Dionysus.
Cle. How is that arranged? There is something strange, at any rate on
first hearing, in a Dionysiac chorus of old men, if you really mean that those
who are above thirty, and may be fifty, or from fifty to sixty years of age,
are to dance in his honour.
Ath. Very true; and therefore it must be shown that there is good reason
for the proposal.
Ath. Are we agreed thus far?
Cle. About what?
Ath. That every man and boy, slave and free, both sexes, and the whole
city, should never cease charming themselves with the strains of which we have
spoken; and that there should be every sort of change and variation of them in
order to take away the effect of sameness, so that the singers may always
receive pleasure from their hymns, and may never weary of them?
Cle. Every one will agree.
Ath. Where, then, will that best part of our city which, by reason of
age and intelligence, has the greatest influence, sing these fairest of
strains, which are to do so much good? Shall we be so foolish as to let them
off who would give us the most beautiful and also the most useful of songs?
Cle. But, says the argument, we cannot let them off.
Ath. Then how can we carry out our purpose with decorum? Will this be
Ath. When a man is advancing in years, he is afraid and reluctant to
sing; — he has no pleasure in his own performances; and if compulsion is
used, he will be more and more ashamed, the older and more discreet he grows;
— is not this true?
Ath. Well, and will he not be yet more ashamed if he has to stand up and
sing in the theatre to a mixed audience? — and if moreover when he is
required to do so, like the other choirs who contend for prizes, and have been
trained under a singing master, he is pinched and hungry, he will certainly
have a feeling of shame and discomfort which will make him very unwilling to
Cle. No doubt.
Ath. How, then, shall we reassure him, and get him to sing? Shall we
begin by enacting that boys shall not taste wine at all until they are eighteen
years of age; we will tell them that fire must not be poured upon fire, whether
in the body or in the soul, until they begin to go to work — this is a
precaution which has to be taken against the excitableness of youth; —
afterwards they may taste wine in moderation up to the age of thirty, but while
a man is young he should abstain altogether from intoxication and from excess
of wine; when, at length, he has reached forty years, after dinner at a public
mess, he may invite not only the other Gods, but Dionysus above all, to the
mystery and festivity of the elder men, making use of the wine which he has
given men to lighten the sourness of old age; that in age we may renew our
youth, and forget our sorrows; and also in order that the nature of the soul,
like iron melted in the fire, may become softer and so more impressible. In the
first place, will not any one who is thus mellowed be more ready and less
ashamed to sing — I do not say before a large audience, but before a
moderate company; nor yet among strangers, but among his familiars, and, as we
have often said, to chant, and to enchant?
Cle. He will be far more ready.
Ath. There will be no impropriety in our using such a method of
persuading them to join with us in song.
Cle. None at all.
Ath. And what strain will they sing, and what muse will they hymn? The
strain should clearly be one suitable to them.
Ath. And what strain is suitable for heroes? Shall they sing a choric
Cle. Truly, Stranger, we of Crete and Lacedaemon know no strain other
than that which we have learnt and been accustomed to sing in our chorus.
Ath. I dare say; for you have never acquired the knowledge of the most
beautiful kind of song, in your military way of life, which is modelled after
the camp, and is not like that of dwellers in cities; and you have your young
men herding and feeding together like young colts. No one takes his own
individual colt and drags him away from his fellows against his will, raging
and foaming, and gives him a groom to attend to him alone, and trains and rubs
him down privately, and gives him the qualities in education which will make
him not only a good soldier, but also a governor of a state and of cities. Such
an one, as we said at first, would be a greater warrior than he of whom
Tyrtaeus sings; and he would honour courage everywhere, but always as the
fourth, and not as the first part of virtue, either in individuals or states.
Cle. Once more, Stranger, I must complain that you depreciate our
Ath. Not intentionally, if at all, my good friend; but whither the
argument leads, thither let us follow; for if there be indeed some strain of
song more beautiful than that of the choruses or the public theatres, I should
like to impart it to those who, as we say, are ashamed of these, and want to
have the best.
Ath. When things have an accompanying charm, either the best thing in
them is this very charm, or there is some rightness or utility possessed by
them; — for example, I should say that eating and drinking, and the use of
food in general, have an accompanying charm which we call pleasure; but that
this rightness and utility is just the healthfulness of the things served up to
us, which is their true rightness.
Cle. Just so.
Ath. Thus, too, I should say that learning has a certain accompanying
charm which is the pleasure; but that the right and the profitable, the good
and the noble, are qualities which the truth gives to it.
Ath. And so in the imitative arts — if they succeed in making
likenesses, and are accompanied by pleasure, may not their works be said to
have a charm?
Ath. But equal proportions, whether of quality or quantity, and not
pleasure, speaking generally, would give them truth or rightness.
Ath. Then that only can be rightly judged by the standard of pleasure,
which makes or furnishes no utility or truth or likeness, nor on the other hand
is productive of any hurtful quality, but exists solely for the sake of the
accompanying charm; and the term “pleasure” is most appropriately
applied to it when these other qualities are absent.
Cle. You are speaking of harmless pleasure, are you not?
Ath. Yes; and this I term amusement, when doing neither harm nor good in
any degree worth speaking of.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Then, if such be our principles, we must assert that imitation is
not to be judged of by pleasure and false opinion; and this is true of all
equality, for the equal is not equal or the symmetrical symmetrical, because
somebody thinks or likes something, but they are to be judged of by the
standard of truth, and by no other whatever.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. Do we not regard all music as representative and imitative?
Ath. Then, when any one says that music is to be judged of by pleasure,
his doctrine cannot be admitted; and if there be any music of which pleasure is
the criterion, such music is not to be sought out or deemed to have any real
excellence, but only that other kind of music which is an imitation of the
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And those who seek for the best kind of song and music ought not to
seek for that which is pleasant, but for that which is true; and the truth of
imitation consists, as we were saying, in rendering the thing imitated
according to quantity and quality.
Ath. And every one will admit that musical compositions are all
imitative and representative. Will not poets and spectators and actors all
agree in this?
Cle. They will.
Ath. Surely then he who would judge correctly must know what each
composition is; for if he does not know what is the character and meaning of
the piece, and what it represents, he will never discern whether the intention
is true or false.
Cle. Certainly not.
Ath. And will he who does not know what is true be able to distinguish
what is good and bad? My statement is not very clear; but perhaps you will
understand me better if I put the matter in another way.
Ath. There are ten thousand likenesses of objects of sight?
Ath. And can he who does not know what the exact object is which is
imitated, ever know whether the resemblance is truthfully executed? I mean, for
example, whether a statue has the proportions of a body, and the true situation
of the parts; what those proportions are, and how the parts fit into one
another in due order; also their colours and conformations, or whether this is
all confused in the execution: do you think that any one can know about this,
who does not know what the animal is which has been imitated?
Ath. But even if we know that the thing pictured or sculptured is a man,
who has received at the hand of the artist all his proper parts and colours and
shapes, must we not also know whether the work is beautiful or in any respect
deficient in beauty?
Cle. If this were not required, Stranger, we should all of us be judges
Ath. Very true; and may we not say that in everything imitated, whether
in drawing, music, or any other art, he who is to be a competent judge must
possess three things; — he must know, in the first place, of what the
imitation is; secondly, he must know that it is true; and thirdly, that it has
been well executed in words and melodies and rhythms?
Ath. Then let us not faint in discussing the peculiar difficulty of
Music is more celebrated than any other kind of imitation, and therefore
requires the greatest care of them all. For if a man makes a mistake here, he
may do himself the greatest injury by welcoming evil dispositions, and the
mistake may be very difficult to discern, because the poets are artists very
inferior in character to the Muses themselves, who would never fall into the
monstrous error of assigning to the words of men the gestures and songs of
women; nor after combining the melodies with the gestures of freemen would they
add on the rhythms of slaves and men of the baser sort; nor, beginning with the
rhythms and gestures of freemen, would they assign to them a melody or words
which are of an opposite character; nor would they mix up the voices and sounds
of animals and of men and instruments, and every other sort of noise, as if
they were all one. But human poets are fond of introducing this sort of
inconsistent mixture, and so make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of those
who, as Orpheus says, “are ripe for true pleasure.” The experienced
see all this confusion, and yet the poets go on and make still further havoc by
separating the rhythm and the figure of the dance from the melody, setting bare
words to metre, and also separating the melody and the rhythm from the words,
using the lyre or the flute alone. For when there are no words, it is very
difficult to recognize the meaning of the harmony and rhythm, or to see that
any worthy object is imitated by them.
And we must acknowledge that all this sort of thing, which aims only at
swiftness and smoothness and a brutish noise, and uses the flute and the lyre
not as the mere accompaniments of the dance and song, is exceedingly coarse and
tasteless. The use of either instrument, when unaccompanied, leads to every
sort of irregularity and trickery. This is all rational enough. But we are
considering not how our choristers, who are from thirty to fifty years of age,
and may be over fifty, are not to use the Muses, but how they are to use them.
And the considerations which we have urged seem to show in what way these fifty
year-old choristers who are to sing, may be expected to be better trained. For
they need to have a quick perception and knowledge of harmonies and rhythms;
otherwise, how can they ever know whether a melody would be rightly sung to the
Dorian mode, or to the rhythm which the poet has assigned to it?
Cle. Clearly they cannot.
Ath. The many are ridiculous in imagining that they know what is in
proper harmony and rhythm, and what is not, when they can only be made to sing
and step in rhythm by force; it never occurs to them that they are ignorant of
what they are doing. Now every melody is right when it has suitable harmony and
rhythm, and wrong when unsuitable.
Cle. That is most certain.
Ath. But can a man who does not know a thing, as we were saying, know
that the thing is right?
Ath. Then now, as would appear, we are making the discovery that our
newly-appointed choristers, whom we hereby invite and, although they are their
own masters, compel to sing, must be educated to such an extent as to be able
to follow the steps of the rhythm and the notes of the song, that they may know
the harmonies and rhythms, and be able to select what are suitable for men of
their age and character to sing; and may sing them, and have innocent pleasure
from their own performance, and also lead younger men to welcome with dutiful
delight good dispositions. Having such training, they will attain a more
accurate knowledge than falls to the lot of the common people, or even of the
poets themselves. For the poet need not know the third point, viz., whether the
imitation is good or not, though he can hardly help knowing the laws of melody
and rhythm. But the aged chorus must know all the three, that they may choose
the best, and that which is nearest to the best; for otherwise they will never
be able to charm the souls of young men in the way of virtue. And now the
original design of the argument which was intended to bring eloquent aid to the
Chorus of Dionysus, has been accomplished to the best of our ability, and let
us see whether we were right: I should imagine that a drinking assembly is
likely to become more and more tumultuous as the drinking goes on: this, as we
were saying at first, will certainly be the case.
Ath. Every man has a more than natural elevation; his heart is glad
within him, and he will say anything and will be restrained by nobody at such a
time; he fancies that he is able to rule over himself and all mankind.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. Were we not saying that on such occasions the souls of the drinkers
become like iron heated in the fire, and grow softer and younger, and are
easily moulded by him who knows how to educate and fashion them, just as when
they were young, and that this fashioner of them is the same who prescribed for
them in the days of their youth, viz., the good legislator; and that he ought
to enact laws of the banquet, which, when a man is confident, bold, and
impudent, and unwilling to wait his turn and have his share of silence and
speech, and drinking and music, will change his character into the opposite
— such laws as will infuse into him a just and noble fear, which will take
up arms at the approach of insolence, being that divine fear which we have
called reverence and shame?
Ath. And the guardians of these laws and fellow-workers with them are
the calm and sober generals of the drinkers; and without their help there is
greater difficulty in fighting against drink than in fighting against enemies
when the commander of an army is not himself calm; and he who is unwilling to
obey them and the commanders of Dionysiac feasts who are more than sixty years
of age, shall suffer a disgrace as great as he who disobeys military leaders,
or even greater.
Ath. If, then, drinking and amusement were regulated in this way, would
not the companions of our revels be improved? they would part better friends
than they were, and not, as now enemies. Their whole intercourse would be
regulated by law and observant of it, and the sober would be the leaders of the
Cle. I think so too, if drinking were regulated as you propose.
Ath. Let us not then simply censure the gift of Dionysus as bad and
unfit to be received into the State. For wine has many excellences, and one
pre-eminent one, about which there is a difficulty in speaking to the many,
from a fear of their misconceiving and misunderstanding what is said.
Cle. To what do you refer?
Ath. There is a tradition or story, which has somehow crept about the
world, that Dionysus was robbed of his wits by his stepmother Here, and that
out of revenge he inspires Bacchic furies and dancing madnesses in others; for
which reason he gave men wine. Such traditions concerning the Gods I leave to
those who think that they may be safely uttered; I only know that no animal at
birth is mature or perfect in intelligence; and in the intermediate period, in
which he has not yet acquired his own proper sense, he rages and roars without
rhyme or reason; and when he has once got on his legs he jumps about without
rhyme or reason; and this, as you will remember, has been already said by us to
be the origin of music and gymnastic.
Cle. To be sure, I remember.
Ath. And did we not say that the sense of harmony and rhythm sprang from
this beginning among men, and that Apollo and the Muses and Dionysus were the
Gods whom we had to thank for them?
Ath. The other story implied that wine was given man out of revenge, and
in order to make him mad; but our present doctrine, on the contrary, is, that
wine was given him as a balm, and in order to implant modesty in the soul, and
health and strength in the body.
Cle. That, Stranger, is precisely what was said.
Ath. Then half the subject may now be considered to have been discussed;
shall we proceed to the consideration of the other half?
Cle. What is the other half, and how do you divide the subject?
Ath. The whole choral art is also in our view the whole of education;
and of this art, rhythms and harmonies form the part which has to do with the
Ath. The movement of the body has rhythm in common with the movement of
the voice, but gesture is peculiar to it, whereas song is simply the movement
of the voice.
Cle. Most true.
Ath. And the sound of the voice which reaches and educates the soul, we
have ventured to term music.
Cle. We were right.
Ath. And the movement of the body, when regarded as an amusement, we
termed dancing; but when extended and pursued with a view to the excellence of
the body, this scientific training may be called gymnastic.
Ath. Music, which was one half of the choral art, may be said to have
been completely discussed. Shall we proceed to the other half or not? What
would you like?
Cle. My good friend, when you are talking with a Cretan and
Lacedaemonian, and we have discussed music and not gymnastic, what answer are
either of us likely to make to such an enquiry?
Ath. An answer is contained in your question; and I understand and
accept what you say not only as an answer, but also as a command to proceed
Cle. You quite understand me; do as you say.
Ath. I will; and there will not be any difficulty in speaking
intelligibly to you about a subject with which both of you are far more
familiar than with music.
Cle. There will not.
Ath. Is not the origin of gymnastics, too, to be sought in the tendency
to rapid motion which exists in all animals; man, as we were saying, having
attained the sense of rhythm, created and invented dancing; and melody arousing
and awakening rhythm, both united formed the choral art?
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And one part of this subject has been already discussed by us, and
there still remains another to be discussed?
Ath. I have first a final word to add to my discourse about drink, if
you will allow me to do so.
Cle. What more have you to say?
Ath. I should say that if a city seriously means to adopt the practice
of drinking under due regulation and with a view to the enforcement of
temperance, and in like manner, and on the same principle, will allow of other
pleasures, designing to gain the victory over them in this way all of them may
be used. But if the State makes drinking an amusement only, and whoever likes
may drink whenever he likes, and with whom he likes, and add to this any other
indulgences, I shall never agree or allow that this city or this man should
practise drinking. I would go further than the Cretans and Lacedaemonians, and
am disposed rather to the law of the Carthaginians, that no one while he is on
a campaign should be allowed to taste wine at all, but that he should drink
water during all that time, and that in the city no slave, male or female,
should ever drink wine; and that no magistrates should drink during their year
of office, nor should pilots of vessels or judges while on duty taste wine at
all, nor any one who is going to hold a consultation about any matter of
importance; nor in the daytime at all, unless in consequence of exercise or as
medicine; nor again at night, when any one, either man or woman, is minded to
get children. There are numberless other cases also in which those who have
good sense and good laws ought not to drink wine, so that if what I say is
true, no city will need many vineyards. Their husbandry and their way of life
in general will follow an appointed order, and their cultivation of the vine
will be the most limited and the least common of their employments. And this,
Stranger, shall be the crown of my discourse about wine, if you agree.
Cle. Excellent: we agree.
Athenian Stranger. Enough of this. And what, then, is to be regarded as
the origin of government? Will not a man be able to judge of it best from a
point of view in which he may behold the progress of states and their
transitions to good or evil?
Cleinias. What do you mean?
Ath. I mean that he might watch them from the point of view of time, and
observe the changes which take place in them during infinite ages.
Cle. How so?
Ath. Why, do you think that you can reckon the time which has elapsed
since cities first existed and men were citizens of them?
Ath. But are sure that it must be vast and incalculable?
Ath. And have not thousands and thousands of cities come into being
during this period and as many perished? And has not each of them had every
form of government many times over, now growing larger, now smaller, and again
improving or declining?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. Let us endeavour to ascertain the cause of these changes; for that
will probably explain the first origin and development of forms of government.
Cle. Very good. You shall endeavour to impart your thoughts to us, and
we will make an effort to understand you.
Ath. Do you believe that there is any truth in ancient traditions?
Cle. What traditions?
Ath. The traditions about the many destructions of mankind which have
been occasioned by deluges and pestilences, and in many other ways, and of the
survival of a remnant?
Cle. Every one is disposed to believe them.
Ath. Let us consider one of them, that which was caused by the famous
Cle. What are we to observe about it?
Ath. I mean to say that those who then escaped would only be hill
shepherds — small sparks of the human race preserved on the tops of
Ath. Such survivors would necessarily be unacquainted with the arts and
the various devices which are suggested to the dwellers in cities by interest
or ambition, and with all the wrongs which they contrive against one
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Let us suppose, then, that the cities in the plain and on the
seacoast were utterly destroyed at that time.
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Would not all implements have then perished and every other
excellent invention of political or any other sort of wisdom have utterly
Cle. Why, yes, my friend; and if things had always continued as they are
at present ordered, how could any discovery have ever been made even in the
least particular? For it is evident that the arts were unknown during ten
thousand times ten thousand years. And no more than a thousand or two thousand
years have elapsed since the discoveries of Daedalus, Orpheus and Palamedes
— since Marsyas and Olympus invented music, and Amphion the lyre —
not to speak of numberless other inventions which are but of yesterday.
Ath. Have you forgotten, Cleinias, the name of a friend who is really of
Cle. I suppose that you mean Epimenides.
Ath. The same, my friend; he does indeed far overleap the heads of all
mankind by his invention; for he carried out in practice, as you declare, what
of old Hesiod only preached.
Cle. Yes, according to our tradition.
Ath. After the great destruction, may we not suppose that the state of
man was something of this sort: In the beginning of things there was a fearful
illimitable desert and a vast expanse of land; a herd or two of oxen would be
the only survivors of the animal world; and there might be a few goats, these
too hardly enough to maintain the shepherds who tended them?
Ath. And of cities or governments or legislation, about which we are now
talking, do you suppose that they could have any recollection at all?
Cle. None whatever.
Ath. And out of this state of things has there not sprung all that we
now are and have: cities and governments, and arts and laws, and a great deal
of vice and a great deal of virtue?
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. Why, my good friend, how can we possibly suppose that those who
knew nothing of all the good and evil of cities could have attained their full
development, whether of virtue or of vice?
Cle. I understand your meaning, and you are quite right.
Ath. But, as time advanced and the race multiplied, the world came to be
what the world is.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Doubtless the change was not made all in a moment, but little by
little, during a very long period of time.
Cle. A highly probable supposition.
Ath. At first, they would have a natural fear ringing in their ears
which would prevent their descending from the heights into the plain.
Cle. Of course.
Ath. The fewness of the survivors at that time would have made them all
the more desirous of seeing one another; but then the means of travelling
either by land or sea had been almost entirely lost, as I may say, with the
loss of the arts, and there was great difficulty in getting at one another; for
iron and brass and all metals were jumbled together and had disappeared in the
chaos; nor was there any possibility of extracting ore from them; and they had
scarcely any means of felling timber. Even if you suppose that some implements
might have been preserved in the mountains, they must quickly have worn out and
vanished, and there would be no more of them until the art of metallurgy had
Cle. There could not have been.
Ath. In how many generations would this be attained?
Cle. Clearly, not for many generations.
Ath. During this period, and for some time afterwards, all the arts
which require iron and brass and the like would disappear.
Ath. Faction and war would also have died out in those days, and for
Cle. How would that be?
Ath. In the first place, the desolation of these primitive men would
create in them a feeling of affection and good-will towards one another; and,
secondly, they would have no occasion to quarrel about their subsistence, for
they would have pasture in abundance, except just at first, and in some
particular cases; and from their pasture-land they would obtain the greater
part of their food in a primitive age, having plenty of milk and flesh;
moreover they would procure other food by the chase, not to be despised either
in quantity or quality. They would also have abundance of clothing, and
bedding, and dwellings, and utensils either capable of standing on the fire or
not; for the plastic and weaving arts do not require any use of iron: and God
has given these two arts to man in order to provide him with all such things,
that, when reduced to the last extremity, the human race may still grow and
increase. Hence in those days mankind were not very poor; nor was poverty a
cause of difference among them; and rich they could not have been, having
neither gold nor silver: such at that time was their condition. And the
community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest
principles; in it there is no insolence or injustice, nor, again, are there any
contentions or envyings. And therefore they were good, and also because they
were what is called simple-minded; and when they were told about good and evil,
they in their simplicity believed what they heard to be very truth and
practised it. No one had the wit to suspect another of a falsehood, as men do
now; but what they heard about Gods and men they believed to be true, and lived
accordingly; and therefore they were in all respects such as we have described
Cle. That quite accords with my views, and with those of my friend
Ath. Would not many generations living on in a simple manner, although
ruder, perhaps, and more ignorant of the arts generally, and in particular of
those of land or naval warfare, and likewise of other arts, termed in cities
legal practices and party conflicts, and including all conceivable ways of
hurting one another in word and deed; — although inferior to those who
lived before the deluge, or to the men of our day in these respects, would they
not, I say, be simpler and more manly, and also more temperate and altogether
more just? The reason has been already explained.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. I should wish you to understand that what has preceded and what is
about to follow, has been, and will be said, with the intention of explaining
what need the men of that time had of laws, and who was their lawgiver.
Cle. And thus far what you have said has been very well said.
Ath. They could hardly have wanted lawgivers as yet; nothing of that
sort was likely to have existed in their days, for they had no letters at this
early period; they lived by habit and the customs of their ancestors, as they
Ath. But there was already existing a form of government which, if I am
not mistaken, is generally termed a lordship, and this still remains in many
places, both among Hellenes and barbarians, and is the government which is
declared by Homer to have prevailed among the Cyclopes: They have neither
councils nor judgments, but they dwell in hollow caves on the tops of high
mountains, and every one gives law to his wife and children, and they do not
busy themselves about one another.
Cle. That seems to be a charming poet of yours; I have read some other
verses of his, which are very clever; but I do not know much of him, for
foreign poets are very little read among the Cretans.
Megillus. But they are in Lacedaemon, and he appears to be the prince of
them all; the manner of life, however, which he describes is not Spartan, but
rather Ionian, and he seems quite to confirm what you are saying, when he
traces up the ancient state of mankind by the help of tradition to
Ath. Yes, he does confirm it; and we may accept his witness to the fact
that such forms of government sometimes arise.
Cle. We may.
Ath. And were not such states composed of men who had been dispersed in
single habitations and families by the poverty which attended the devastations;
and did not the eldest then rule among them, because with them government
originated in the authority of a father and a mother, whom, like a flock of
birds, they followed, forming one troop under the patriarchal rule and
sovereignty of their parents, which of all sovereignties is the most just?
Cle. Very true.
Ath. After this they came together in greater numbers, and increased the
size of their cities, and betook themselves to husbandry, first of all at the
foot of the mountains, and made enclosures of loose walls and works of defence,
in order to keep off wild beasts; thus creating a single large and common
Cle. Yes; at least we may suppose so.
Ath. There is another thing which would probably happen.
Ath. When these larger habitations grew up out of the lesser original
ones, each of the lesser ones would survive in the larger; every family would
be under the rule of the eldest, and, owing to their separation from one
another, would have peculiar customs in things divine and human, which they
would have received from their several parents who had educated them; and these
customs would incline them to order, when the parents had the element of order
in their nature, and to courage, when they had the element of courage. And they
would naturally stamp upon their children, and upon their children’s
children, their own likings; and, as we are saying, they would find their way
into the larger society, having already their own peculiar laws.
Ath. And every man surely likes his own laws best, and the laws of
others not so well.
Ath. Then now we seem to have stumbled upon the beginnings of
Ath. The next step will be that these persons who have met together,
will select some arbiters, who will review the laws of all of them, and will
publicly present such as they approve to the chiefs who lead the tribes, and
who are in a manner their kings, allowing them to choose those which they think
best. These persons will themselves be called legislators, and will appoint the
magistrates, framing some sort of aristocracy, or perhaps monarchy, out of the
dynasties or lordships, and in this altered state of the government they will
Cle. Yes, that would be the natural order of things.
Ath. Then, now let us speak of a third form of government, in which all
other forms and conditions of polities and cities concur.
Cle. What is that?
Ath. The form which in fact Homer indicates as following the second.
This third form arose when, as he says, Dardanus founded Dardania: For
not as yet had the holy Ilium been built on the plain to be a city of speaking
men; but they were still dwelling at the foot of many-fountained Ida. —
For indeed, in these verses, and in what he said of the Cyclopes, he speaks the
words of God and nature; for poets are a divine race and often in their
strains, by the aid of the Muses and the Graces, they attain truth.
Ath. Then now let us proceed with the rest of our tale, which will
probably be found to illustrate in some degree our proposed design: Shall we do
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Ilium was built, when they descended from the mountain, in a large
and fair plain, on a sort of low hill, watered by many rivers descending from
Cle. Such is the tradition.
Ath. And we must suppose this event to have taken place many ages after
Ath. A marvellous forgetfulness of the former destruction would appear
to have come over them, when they placed their town right under numerous
streams flowing from the heights, trusting for their security to not very high
Cle. There must have been a long interval, clearly.
Ath. And, as population increased, many other cities would begin to be
Ath. Those cities made war against Troy — by sea as well as land
— for at that time men were ceasing to be afraid of the sea.
Ath. The Achaeans remained ten years, and overthrew Troy.
Ath. And during the ten years in which the Achaeans were besieging
Ilium, the homes of the besiegers were falling into an evil plight.
Their youth revolted; and when the soldiers returned to their own cities
and families, they did not receive them properly, and as they ought to have
done, and numerous deaths, murders, exiles, were the consequence. The exiles
came again, under a new name, no longer Achaeans, but Dorians — a name
which they derived from Dorieus; for it was he who gathered them together. The
rest of the story is told by you Lacedaemonians as part of the history of
Meg. To be sure.
Ath. Thus, after digressing from the original subject of laws into music
and drinking-bouts, the argument has, providentially, come back to the same
point, and presents to us another handle. For we have reached the settlement of
Lacedaemon; which, as you truly say, is in laws and in institutions the sister
of Crete. And we are all the better for the digression, because we have gone
through various governments and settlements, and have been present at the
foundation of a first, second, and third state, succeeding one another in
infinite time. And now there appears on the horizon a fourth state or nation
which was once in process of settlement and has continued settled to this day.
If, out of all this, we are able to discern what is well or ill settled, and
what laws are the salvation and what are the destruction of cities, and what
changes would make a state happy, O Megillus and Cleinias, we may now begin
again, unless we have some fault to find with the previous discussion.
Meg. If some God, Stranger, would promise us that our new enquiry about
legislation would be as good and full as the present, I would go a great way to
hear such another, and would think that a day as long as this — and we are
now approaching the longest day of the year — was too short for the
Ath. Then I suppose that we must consider this subject?
Ath. Let us place ourselves in thought at the moment when Lacedaemon and
Argos and Messene and the rest of the Peloponnesus were all in complete
subjection, Megillus, to your ancestors; for afterwards, as the legend informs
us, they divided their army into three portions, and settled three cities,
Argos, Messene, Lacedaemon.
Ath. Temenus was the king of Argos, Cresphontes of Messene, Procles and
Eurysthenes of Lacedaemon.
Ath. To these kings all the men of that day made oath that they would
assist them, if any one subverted their kingdom.
Ath. But can a kingship be destroyed, or was any other form of
government ever destroyed, by any but the rulers themselves? No indeed, by
Zeus. Have we already forgotten what was said a little while ago?
Ath. And may we not now further confirm what was then mentioned? For we
have come upon facts which have brought us back again to the same principle; so
that, in resuming the discussion, we shall not be enquiring about an empty
theory, but about events which actually happened. The case was as follows:
Three royal heroes made oath to three cities which were under a kingly
government, and the cities to the kings, that both rulers and subjects should
govern and be governed according to the laws which were common to all of them:
the rulers promised that as time and the race went forward they would not make
their rule more arbitrary; and the subjects said that, if the rulers observed
these conditions, they would never subvert or permit others to subvert those
kingdoms; the kings were to assist kings and peoples when injured, and the
peoples were to assist peoples and kings in like manner. Is not this the fact?
Ath. And the three states to whom these laws were given, whether their
kings or any others were the authors of them, had therefore the greatest
security for the maintenance of their constitutions?
Meg. What security?
Ath. That the other two states were always to come to the rescue against
a rebellious third.
Ath. Many persons say that legislators ought to impose such laws as the
mass of the people will be ready to receive; but this is just as if one were to
command gymnastic masters or physicians to treat or cure their pupils or
patients in an agreeable manner.
Ath. Whereas the physician may often be too happy if he can restore
health, and make the body whole, without any very great infliction of pain.
Ath. There was also another advantage possessed by the men of that day,
which greatly lightened the task of passing laws.
Meg. What advantage?
Ath. The legislators of that day, when they equalized property, escaped
the great accusation which generally arises in legislation, if a person
attempts to disturb the possession of land, or to abolish debts, because he
sees that without this reform there can never be any real equality. Now, in
general, when the legislator attempts to make a new settlement of such matters,
every one meets him with the cry, that “he is not to disturb vested
interests” — declaring with imprecations that he is introducing
agrarian laws and cancelling of debts, until a man is at his wits end; whereas
no one could quarrel with the Dorians for distributing the land — there
was nothing to hinder them; and as for debts, they had none which were
considerable or of old standing.
Meg. Very true.
Ath. But then, my good friends, why did the settlement and legislation
of their country turn out so badly?
Meg. How do you mean; and why do you blame them?
Ath. There were three kingdoms, and of these, two quickly corrupted
their original constitution and laws, and the only one which remained was the
Meg. The question which you ask is not easily answered.
Ath. And yet must be answered when we are enquiring about laws, this
being our old man’s sober game of play, whereby we beguile the way, as I
was saying when we first set out on our journey.
Meg. Certainly; and we must find out why this was.
Ath. What laws are more worthy of our attention than those which have
regulated such cities? or what settlements of states are greater or more
Meg. I know of none.
Ath. Can we doubt that your ancestors intended these institutions not
only for the protection of Peloponnesus, but of all the Hellenes. in case they
were attacked by the barbarian? For the inhabitants of the region about Ilium,
when they provoked by their insolence the Trojan war, relied upon the power of
the Assyrians and the Empire of Ninus, which still existed and had a great
prestige; the people of those days fearing the united Assyrian Empire just as
we now fear the Great King. And the second capture of Troy was a serious
offence against them, because Troy was a portion of the Assyrian Empire. To
meet the danger the single army was distributed between three cities by the
royal brothers, sons of Heracles — a fair device, as it seemed, and a far
better arrangement than the expedition against Troy. For, firstly, the people
of that day had, as they thought, in the Heraclidae better leaders than the
Pelopidae; in the next place, they considered that their army was superior in
valour to that which went against Troy; for, although the latter conquered the
Trojans, they were themselves conquered by the HeraclidaeAchaeans by Dorians.
May we not suppose that this was the intention with which the men of those days
framed the constitutions of their states?
Meg. Quite true.
Ath. And would not men who had shared with one another many dangers, and
were governed by a single race of royal brothers, and had taken the advice of
oracles, and in particular of the Delphian Apollo, be likely to think that such
states would be firmly and lastingly established?
Meg. Of course they would.
Ath. Yet these institutions, of which such great expectations were
entertained, seem to have all rapidly vanished away; with the exception, as I
was saying, of that small part of them which existed in yourland.And this third
part has never to this day ceased warring against the two others; whereas, if
the original idea had been carried out, and they had agreed to be one, their
power would have been invincible in war.
Meg. No doubt.
Ath. But what was the ruin of this glorious confederacy? Here is a
subject well worthy of consideration.
Meg. Certainly, no one will ever find more striking instances of laws or
governments being the salvation or destruction of great and noble interests,
than are here presented to his view.
Ath. Then now we seem to have happily arrived at a real and important
Meg. Very true.
Ath. Did you never remark, sage friend, that all men, and we ourselves
at this moment, often fancy that they see some beautiful thing which might have
effected wonders if any one had only known how to make a right use of it in
some way; and yet this mode of looking at things may turn out after all to be a
mistake, and not according to nature, either in our own case or in any
Meg. To what are you referring, and what do you mean?
Ath. I was thinking of my own admiration of the aforesaid Heracleid
expedition, which was so noble, and might have had such wonderful results for
the Hellenes, if only rightly used; and I was just laughing at myself.
Meg. But were you not right and wise in speaking as you did, and we in
assenting to you?
Ath. Perhaps; and yet I cannot help observing that any one who sees
anything great or powerful, immediately has the feeling that — “If
the owner only knew how to use his great and noble possession, how happy would
he be, and what great results would he achieve!”
Meg. And would he not be justified?
Ath. Reflect; in what point of view does this sort of praise appear
just: First, in reference to the question in hand: If the then commanders had
known how to arrange their army properly, how would they have attained success?
Would not this have been the way? They would have bound them all firmly
together and preserved them for ever, giving them freedom and dominion at
pleasure, combined with the power of doing in the whole world,
Hellenic and barbarian, whatever they and their descendants desired.
What other aim would they have had?
Meg. Very good.
Ath. Suppose any one were in the same way to express his admiration at
the sight of great wealth or family honour, or the like, he would praise them
under the idea that through them he would attain either all or the greater and
chief part of what he desires.
Meg. He would.
Ath. Well, now, and does not the argument show that there is one common
desire of all mankind?
Meg. What is it?
Ath. The desire which a man has, that all things, if possible — at
any rate, things human — may come to pass in accordance with his
Ath. And having this desire always, and at every time of life, in youth,
in manhood, in age, he cannot help always praying for the fulfilment of it.
Meg. No doubt.
Ath. And we join in the prayers of our friends, and ask for them what
they ask for themselves.
Meg. We do.
Ath. Dear is the son to the father — the younger to the elder.
Meg. Of course.
Ath. And yet the son often prays to obtain things which the father prays
that he may not obtain.
Meg. When the son is young and foolish, you mean?
Ath. Yes; or when the father, in the dotage of age or the heat of youth,
having no sense of right and justice, prays with fervour, under the influence
of feelings akin to those of Theseus when he cursed the unfortunate Hippolytus,
do you imagine that the son, having a sense of right and justice, will join in
his father’s prayers?
Meg. I understand you to mean that a man should not desire or be in a
hurry to have all things according to his wish, for his wish may be at variance
with his reason. But every state and every individual ought to pray and strive
Ath. Yes; and I remember, and you will remember, what I said at first,
that a statesman and legislator ought to ordain laws with a view to wisdom;
while you were arguing that the good lawgiver ought to order all with a view to
war. And to this I replied that there were four virtues, but that upon your
view one of them only was the aim of legislation; whereas you ought to regard
all virtue, and especially that which comes first, and is the leader of all the
rest — I mean wisdom and mind and opinion, having affection and desire in
their train. And now the argument returns to the same point, and I say once
more, in jest if you like, or in earnest if you like, that the prayer of a fool
is full of danger, being likely to end in the opposite of what he desires. And
if you would rather receive my words in earnest, I am willing that you should;
and you will find, I suspect, as I have said already, that not cowardice was
the cause of the ruin of the Dorian kings and of their whole design, nor
ignorance of military matters, either on the part of the rulers or of their
subjects; but their misfortunes were due to their general degeneracy, and
especially to their ignorance of the most important human affairs. That was
then, and is still, and always will be the case, as I will endeavour, if you
will allow me, to make out and demonstrate as well as I am able to you who are
my friends, in the course of the argument.
Cle. Pray go on, Stranger; — compliments are troublesome, but we
will show, not in word but in deed, how greatly we prize your words, for we
will give them our best attention; and that is the way in which a freeman best
shows his approval or disapproval.
Meg. Excellent, Cleinias; let us do as you say.
Cle. By all means, if Heaven wills. Go on.
Ath. Well, then, proceeding in the same train of thought, I say that the
greatest ignorance was the ruin of the Dorian power, and that now, as then,
ignorance is ruin. And if this be true, the legislator must endeavour to
implant wisdom in states, and banish ignorance to the utmost of his power.
Cle. That is evident.
Ath. Then now consider what is really the greatest ignorance. I should
like to know whether you and Megillus would agree with me in what I am about to
say; for my opinion is.
Ath. That the greatest ignorance is when a man hates that which he
nevertheless thinks to be good and noble, and loves and embraces that which he
knows to be unrighteous and evil. This disagreement between the sense of
pleasure and the judgment of reason in the soul is, in my opinion, the worst
ignorance; and also the greatest, because affecting the great mass of the human
soul; for the principle which feels pleasure and pain in the individual is like
the mass or populace in a state. And when the soul is opposed to knowledge, or
opinion, or reason, which are her natural lords, that I call folly, just as in
the state, when the multitude refuses to obey their rulers and the laws; or,
again, in the individual, when fair reasonings have their habitation in the
soul and yet do no good, but rather the reverse of good. All these cases I term
the worst ignorance, whether in individuals or in states. You will understand,
Stranger, that I am speaking of something which is very different from the
ignorance of handicraftsmen.
Cle. Yes, my friend, we understand and agree.
Ath. Let us, then, in the first place declare and affirm that the
citizen who does not know these things ought never to have any kind of
authority entrusted to him: he must be stigmatized as ignorant, even though he
be versed in calculation and skilled in all sorts of accomplishments, and feats
of mental dexterity; and the opposite are to be called wise, even although, in
the words of the proverb, they know neither how to read nor how to swim; and to
them, as to men of sense, authority is to be committed. For, O my friends, how
can there be the least shadow of wisdom when there is no harmony? There is
none; but the noblest and greatest of harmonies may be truly said to be the
greatest wisdom; and of this he is a partaker who lives according to reason;
whereas he who is devoid of reason is the destroyer of his house and the very
opposite of a saviour of the state: he is utterly ignorant of political wisdom.
Let this, then, as I was saying, be laid down by us.
Cle. Let it be so laid down.
Ath. I suppose that there must be rulers and subjects in states?
Ath. And what are the principles on which men rule and obey in cities,
whether great or small; and similarly in families? What are they, and how many
in number? Is there not one claim of authority which is always just — that
of fathers and mothers and in general of progenitors to rule over their
Cle. There is.
Ath. Next follows the principle that the noble should rule over the
ignoble; and, thirdly, that the elder should rule and the younger obey?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And, fourthly, that slaves should be ruled, and their masters
Cle. Of course.
Ath. Fifthly, if I am not mistaken, comes the principle that the
stronger shall rule, and the weaker be ruled?
Cle. That is a rule not to be disobeyed.
Ath. Yes, and a rule which prevails very widely among all creatures, and
is according to nature, as the Theban poet Pindar once said; and the sixth
principle, and the greatest of all, is, that the wise should lead and command,
and the ignorant follow and obey; and yet, O thou most wise Pindar, as I should
reply him, this surely is not contrary to nature, but according to nature,
being the rule of law over willing subjects, and not a rule of compulsion.
Cle. Most true.
Ath. There is a seventh kind of rule which is awarded by lot, and is
dear to the Gods and a token of good fortune: he on whom the lot falls is a
ruler, and he who fails in obtaining the lot goes away and is the subject; and
this we affirm to be quite just.
Ath. “Then now,” as we say playfully to any of those who
lightly undertake the making of laws, “you see, legislator, the principles
of government, how many they are, and that they are naturally opposed to each
other. There we have discovered a fountain-head of seditions, to which you must
attend. And, first, we will ask you to consider with us, how and in what
respect the kings of Argos and Messene violated these our maxims, and ruined
themselves and the great and famous Hellenic power of the olden time. Was it
because they did not know how wisely Hesiod spoke when he said that the half is
often more than the whole? His meaning was, that when to take the whole would
be dangerous, and to take the half would be the safe and moderate course, then
the moderate or better was more than the immoderate or worse.”
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And may we suppose this immoderate spirit to be more fatal when
found among kings than when among peoples?
Cle. The probability is that ignorance will be a disorder especially
prevalent among kings, because they lead a proud and luxurious life.
Ath. Is it not palpable that the chief aim of the kings of that time was
to get the better of the established laws, and that they were not in harmony
with the principles which they had agreed to observe by word and oath? This
want of harmony may have had the appearance of wisdom, but was really, as we
assert, the greatest ignorance, and utterly overthrew the whole empire by
dissonance and harsh discord.
Cle. Very likely.
Ath. Good; and what measures ought the legislator to have then taken in
order to avert this calamity? Truly there is no great wisdom in knowing, and no
great difficulty in telling, after the evil has happened; but to have foreseen
the remedy at the time would have taken a much wiser head than ours.
Meg. What do you mean?
Ath. Any one who looks at what has occurred with you Lacedaemonians,
Megillus, may easily know and may easily say what ought to have been done at
Meg. Speak a little more clearly.
Ath. Nothing can be clearer than the observation which I am about to
Meg. What is it?
Ath. That if any one gives too great a power to anything, too large a
sail to a vessel, too much food to the body, too much authority to the mind,
and does not observe the mean, everything is overthrown, and, in the wantonness
of excess runs in the one case to disorders, and in the other to injustice,
which is the child of excess. I mean to say, my dear friends, that there is no
soul of man, young and irresponsible, who will be able to sustain the
temptation of arbitrary power — no one who will not, under such
circumstances, become filled with folly, that worst of diseases, and be hated
by his nearest and dearest friends: when this happens, his kingdom is
undermined, and all his power vanishes from him. And great legislators who know
the mean should take heed of the danger. As far as we can guess at this
distance of time, what happened was as follows:
Ath. A God, who watched over Sparta, seeing into the future, gave you
two families of kings instead of one; and thus brought you more within the
limits of moderation. In the next place, some human wisdom mingled with divine
power, observing that the constitution of your government was still feverish
and excited, tempered your inborn strength and pride of birth with the
moderation which comes of age, making the power of your twenty-eight elders
equal with that of the kings in the most important matters. But your third
saviour, perceiving that your government was still swelling and foaming, and
desirous to impose a curb upon it, instituted the Ephors, whose power he made
to resemble that of magistrates elected by lot; and by this arrangement the
kingly office, being compounded of the right elements and duly moderated, was
preserved, and was the means of preserving all the rest. Since, if there had
been only the original legislators, Temenus, Cresphontes, and their
contemporaries, as far as they were concerned not even the portion of
Aristodemus would have been preserved; for they had no proper experience in
legislation, or they would surely not have imagined that oaths would moderate a
youthful spirit invested with a power which might be converted into a tyranny.
Now that God has instructed us what sort of government would have been or will
be lasting, there is no wisdom, as I have already said, in judging after the
event; there is no difficulty in learning from an example which has already
occurred. But if any one could have foreseen all this at the time, and had been
able to moderate the government of the three kingdoms and unite them into one,
he might have saved all the excellent institutions which were then conceived;
and no Persian or any other armament would have dared to attack us, or would
have regarded Hellas as a power to be despised.
Ath. There was small credit to us, Cleinias, in defeating them; and the
discredit was, not that the conquerors did not win glorious victories both by
land and sea, but what, in my opinion, brought discredit was, first of all, the
circumstance that of the three cities one only fought on behalf of Hellas, and
the two others were so utterly good for nothing that the one was waging a
mighty war against Lacedaemon, and was thus preventing her from rendering
assistance, while the city of Argos, which had the precedence at the time of
the distribution, when asked to aid in repelling the barbarian, would not
answer to the call, or give aid. Many things might be told about Hellas in
connection with that war which are far from honourable; nor, indeed, can we
rightly say that Hellas repelled the invader; for the truth is, that unless the
Athenians and Lacedaemonians, acting in concert, had warded off the impending
yoke, all the tribes of Hellas would have been fused in a chaos of Hellenes
mingling with one another, of barbarians mingling with Hellenes, and Hellenes
with barbarians; just as nations who are now subject to the Persian power,
owing to unnatural separations and combinations of them, are dispersed and
scattered, and live miserably. These, Cleinias and Megillus, are the reproaches
which we have to make against statesmen and legislators, as they are called,
past and present, if we would analyse the causes of their failure, and find out
what else might have been done. We said, for instance, just now, that there
ought to be no great and unmixed powers; and this was under the idea that a
state ought to be free and wise and harmonious, and that a legislator ought to
legislate with a view to this end. Nor is there any reason to be surprised at
our continually proposing aims for the legislator which appear not to be always
the same; but we should consider when we say that temperance is to be the aim,
or wisdom is to be the aim, or friendship is to be the aim, that all these aims
are really the same; and if so, a variety in the modes of expression ought not
to disturb us.
Cle. Let us resume the argument in that spirit. And now, speaking of
friendship and wisdom and freedom, I wish that you would tell me at what, in
your opinion, the legislator should aim.
Ath. Hear me, then: there are two mother forms of states from which the
rest may be truly said to be derived; and one of them may be called monarchy
and the other democracy: the Persians have the highest form of the one, and we
of the other; almost all the rest, as I was saying, are variations of these.
Now, if you are to have liberty and the combination of friendship with wisdom,
you must have both these forms of government in a measure; the argument
emphatically declares that no city can be well governed which is not made up of
Ath. Neither the one, if it be exclusively and excessively attached to
monarchy, nor the other, if it be similarly attached to freedom, observes
moderation; but your states, the Laconian and Cretan, have more of it; and the
same was the case with the Athenians and Persians of old time, but now they
have less. Shall I tell you why?
Cle. By all means, if it will tend to elucidate our subject.
Ath. Hear, then: There was a time when the Persians had more of the
state which is a mean between slavery and freedom. In the reign of Cyrus they
were freemen and also lords of many others: the rulers gave a share of freedom
to the subjects, and being treated as equals, the soldiers were on better terms
with their generals, and showed themselves more ready in the hour of danger.
And if there was any wise man among them, who was able to give good counsel, he
imparted his wisdom to the public; for the king was not jealous, but allowed
him full liberty of speech, and gave honour to those who could advise him in
any matter. And the nation waxed in all respects, because there was freedom and
friendship and communion of mind among them.
Cle. That certainly appears to have been the case.
Ath. How, then, was this advantage lost under Cambyses, and again
recovered under Darius? Shall I try to divine?
Cle. The enquiry, no doubt, has a bearing upon our subject.
Ath. I imagine that Cyrus, though a great and patriotic general, had
never given his mind to education, and never attended to the order of his
Cle. What makes you say so?
Ath. I think that from his youth upwards he was a soldier, and entrusted
the education of his children to the women; and they brought them up from their
childhood as the favourites of fortune, who were blessed already, and needed no
more blessings. They thought that they were happy enough, and that no one
should be allowed to oppose them in any way, and they compelled every one to
praise all that they said or did. This was how they brought them up.
Cle. A splendid education truly!
Ath. Such an one as women were likely to give them, and especially
princesses who had recently grown rich, and in the absence of the men, too, who
were occupied in wars and dangers, and had no time to look after them.
Cle. What would you expect?
Ath. Their father had possessions of cattle and sheep, and many herds of
men and other animals, but he did not consider that those to whom he was about
to make them over were not trained in his own calling, which was Persian; for
the Persians are shepherdssons of a rugged land, which is a stern mother, and
well fitted to produce sturdy race able to live in the open air and go without
sleep, and also to fight, if fighting is required. He did not observe that his
sons were trained differently; through the so-called blessing of being royal
they were educated in the Median fashion by women and eunuchs, which led to
their becoming such as people do become when they are brought up unreproved.
And so, after the death of Cyrus, his sons, in the fulness of luxury and
licence, took the kingdom, and first one slew the other because he could not
endure a rival; and, afterwards, the slayer himself, mad with wine and
brutality, lost his kingdom through the Medes and the Eunuch, as they called
him, who despised the folly of Cambyses.
Cle. So runs the tale, and such probably were the facts.
Ath. Yes; and the tradition says, that the empire came back to the
Persians, through Darius and the seven chiefs.
Ath. Let us note the rest of the story. Observe, that Darius was not the
son of a king, and had not received a luxurious education. When he came to the
throne, being one of the seven, he divided the country into seven portions, and
of this arrangement there are some shadowy traces still remaining; he made laws
upon the principle of introducing universal equality in the order of the state,
and he embodied in his laws the settlement of the tribute which Cyrus promised
— thus creating a feeling of friendship and community among all the
Persians, and attaching the people to him with money and gifts. Hence his
armies cheerfully acquired for him countries as large as those which Cyrus had
left behind him. Darius was succeeded by his son Xerxes; and he again was
brought up in the royal and luxurious fashion. Might we not most justly say:
“O Darius, how came you to bring up Xerxes in the same way in which Cyrus
brought up Cambyses, and not to see his fatal mistake?” For Xerxes, being
the creation of the same education, met with much the same fortune as Cambyses;
and from that time until now there has never been a really great king among the
Persians, although they are all called Great. And their degeneracy is not to be
attributed to chance, as I maintain; the reason is rather the evil life which
is generally led by the sons of very rich and royal persons; for never will boy
or man, young or old, excel in virtue, who has been thus educated. And this, I
say, is what the legislator has to consider, and what at the present moment has
to be considered by us. Justly may you, O Lacedaemonians, be praised, in that
you do not give special honour or a special education to wealth rather than to
poverty, or to a royal rather than to a private station, where the divine and
inspired lawgiver has not originally commanded them to be given. For no man
ought to have pre-eminent honour in a state because he surpasses others in
wealth, any more than because he is swift of foot or fair or strong, unless he
have some virtue in him; nor even if he have virtue, unless he have this
particular virtue of temperance.
Meg. What do you mean, Stranger?
Ath. I suppose that courage is a part of virtue?
Meg. To be sure.
Ath. Then, now hear and judge for yourself: Would you like to have for a
fellow-lodger or neighbour a very courageous man, who had no control over
Meg. Heaven forbid!
Ath. Or an artist, who was clever in his profession, but a rogue?
Meg. Certainly not.
Ath. And surely justice does not grow apart from temperance?
Ath. Any more than our pattern wise man, whom we exhibited as having his
pleasures and pains in accordance with and corresponding to true reason, can be
Ath. There is a further consideration relating to the due and undue
award of honours in states.
Meg. What is it?
Ath. I should like to know whether temperance without the other virtues,
existing alone in the soul of man, is rightly to be praised or blamed?
Meg. I cannot tell.
Ath. And that is the best answer; for whichever alternative you had
chosen, I think that you would have gone wrong.
Meg. I am fortunate.
Ath. Very good; a quality, which is a mere appendage of things which can
be praised or blamed, does not deserve an expression of opinion, but is best
passed over in silence.
Meg. You are speaking of temperance?
Ath. Yes; but of the other virtues, that which having this appendage is
also most beneficial, will be most deserving of honour, and next that which is
beneficial in the next degree; and so each of them will be rightly honoured
according to a regular order.
Ath. And ought not the legislator to determine these classes?
Meg. Certainly he should.
Ath. Suppose that we leave to him the arrangement of details. But the
general division of laws according to their importance into a first and second
and third class, we who are lovers of law may make ourselves.
Meg. Very; good.
Ath. We maintain, then, that a State which would be safe and happy, as
far as the nature of man allows, must and ought to distribute honour and
dishonour in the right way. And the right way is to place the goods of the soul
first and highest in the scale, always assuming temperance to be the condition
of them; and to assign the second place to the goods of the body; and the third
place to money and property. And it any legislator or state departs from this
rule by giving money the place of honour, or in any way preferring that which
is really last, may we not say, that he or the state is doing an unholy and
Meg. Yes; let that be plainly declared.
Ath. The consideration of the Persian governments led us thus far to
enlarge. We remarked that the Persians grew worse and worse. And we affirm the
reason of this to have been, that they too much diminished the freedom of the
people, and introduced too much of despotism, and so destroyed friendship and
community of feeling. And when there is an end of these, no longer do the
governors govern on behalf of their subjects or of the people, but on behalf of
themselves; and if they think that they can gain ever so small an advantage for
themselves, they devastate cities, and send fire and desolation among friendly
races. And as they hate ruthlessly and horribly, so are they hated; and when
they want the people to fight for them, they find no community of feeling or
willingness to risk their lives on their behalf; their untold myriads are
useless to them on the field of battle, and they think that their salvation
depends on the employment of mercenaries and strangers whom they hire, as if
they were in want of more men. And they cannot help being stupid, since they
proclaim by actions that the ordinary distinctions of right and wrong which are
made in a state are a trifle, when compared with gold and silver.
Meg. Quite true.
Ath. And now enough of the Persians, and their present maladministration
of their government, which is owing to the excess of slavery and despotism
Ath. Next, we must pass in review the government of Attica in like
manner, and from this show that entire freedom and the absence of all superior
authority is not by any means so good as government by others when properly
limited, which was our ancient Athenian constitution at the time when the
Persians made their attack on Hellas, or, speaking more correctly, on the whole
continent of Europe.
There were four classes, arranged according to a property census, and
reverence was our queen and mistress, and made us willing to live in obedience
to the laws which then prevailed. Also the vastness of the Persian armament,
both by sea and on land, caused a helpless terror, which made us more and more
the servants of our rulers and of the laws; and for all these reasons an
exceeding harmony prevailed among us. About ten years before the naval
engagement at Salamis, Datis came, leading a Persian host by command of Darius,
which was expressly directed against the Athenians and Eretrians, having orders
to carry them away captive; and these orders he was to execute under pain of
death. Now Datis and his myriads soon became complete masters of Eretria, and
he sent a fearful report to Athens that no Eretrian had escaped him; for the
soldiers of Datis had joined hands and netted the whole of Eretria. And this
report, whether well or ill founded, was terrible to all the Hellenes, and
above all to the Athenians, and they dispatched embassies in all directions,
but no one was willing to come to their relief, with the exception of the
Lacedaemonians; and they, either because they were detained by the Messenian
war, which was then going on, or for some other reason of which we are not
told, came a day too late for the battle of Marathon. After a while, the news
arrived of mighty preparations being made, and innumerable threats came from
the king. Then, as time went on, a rumour reached us that Darius had died, and
that his son, who was young and hot-headed, had come to the throne and was
persisting in his design. The Athenians were under the impression that the
whole expedition was directed against them, in consequence of the battle of
Marathon; and hearing of the bridge over the Hellespont, and the canal of
Athos, and the host of ships, considering that there was no salvation for them
either by land or by sea, for there was no one to help them, and remembering
that in the first expedition, when the Persians destroyed Eretria, no one came
to their help, or would risk the danger of an alliance with them, they thought
that this would happen again, at least on land; nor, when they looked to the
sea, could they descry any hope of salvation; for they were attacked by a
thousand vessels and more. One chance of safety remained, slight indeed and
desperate, but their only one.
They saw that on the former occasion they had gained a seemingly
impossible victory, and borne up by this hope, they found that their only
refuge was in themselves and in the Gods. All these things created in them the
spirit of friendship; there was the fear of the moment, and there was that
higher fear, which they had acquired by obedience to their ancient laws, and
which I have several times in the preceding discourse called reverence, of
which the good man ought to be a willing servant, and of which the coward is
independent and fearless. If this fear had not possessed them, they would never
have met the enemy, or defended their temples and sepulchres and their country,
and everything that was near and dear to them, as they did; but little by
little they would have been all scattered and dispersed.
Meg. Your words, Athenian, are quite true, and worthy of yourself and of
Ath. They are true, Megillus; and to you, who have inherited the virtues
of your ancestors, I may properly speak of the actions of that day.
And I would wish you and Cleinias to consider whether my words have not
also a bearing on legislation; for I am not discoursing only for the pleasure
of talking, but for the argument’s sake. Please to remark that the
experience both of ourselves and the Persians was, in a certain sense, the
same; for as they led their people into utter servitude, so we too led ours
into all freedom. And now, how shall we proceed? for I would like you to
observe that our previous arguments have good deal to say for themselves.
Meg. True; but I wish that you would give us a fuller explanation.
Ath. I will. Under the ancient laws, my friends, the people was not as
now the master, but rather the willing servant of the laws.
Meg. What laws do you mean?
Ath. In the first place, let us speak of the laws about music —
that is to say, such music as then existed — in order that we may trace
the growth of the excess of freedom from the beginning. Now music was early
divided among us into certain kinds and manners. One sort consisted of prayers
to the Gods, which were called hymns; and there was another and opposite sort
called lamentations, and another termed paeans, and another, celebrating the
birth of Dionysus, called, I believe, “dithyrambs.” And they used the
actual word “laws,” or nomoi, for another kind of song; and to this
they added the term “citharoedic.” All these and others were duly
distinguished, nor were the performers allowed to confuse one style of music
with another. And the authority which determined and gave judgment, and
punished the disobedient, was not expressed in a hiss, nor in the most
unmusical shouts of the multitude, as in our days, nor in applause and clapping
of hands. But the directors of public instruction insisted that the spectators
should listen in silence to the end; and boys and their tutors, and the
multitude in general, were kept quiet by a hint from a stick. Such was the good
order which the multitude were willing to observe; they would never have dared
to give judgment by noisy cries. And then, as time went on, the poets
themselves introduced the reign of vulgar and lawless innovation. They were men
of genius, but they had no perception of what is just and lawful in music;
raging like Bacchanals and possessed with inordinate delights — mingling
lamentations with hymns, and paeans with dithyrambs; imitating the sounds of
the flute on the lyre, and making one general confusion; ignorantly affirming
that music has no truth, and, whether good or bad, can only be judged of
rightly by the pleasure of the hearer. And by composing such licentious works,
and adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitude with
lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they can judge for
themselves about melody and song. And in this way the theatres from being mute
have become vocal, as though they had understanding of good and bad in music
and poetry; and instead of an aristocracy, an evil sort of theatrocracy has
grown up. For if the democracy which judged had only consisted of educated
persons, no fatal harm would have been done; but in music there first arose the
universal conceit of omniscience and general lawlessness; — freedom came
following afterwards, and men, fancying that they knew what they did not know,
had no longer any fear, and the absence of fear begets shamelessness. For what
is this shamelessness, which is so evil a thing, but the insolent refusal to
regard the opinion of the better by reason of an over-daring sort of
Meg. Very true.
Ath. Consequent upon this freedom comes the other freedom, of
disobedience to rulers; and then the attempt to escape the control and
exhortation of father, mother, elders, and when near the end, the control of
the laws also; and at the very end there is the contempt of oaths and pledges,
and no regard at all for the Gods — herein they exhibit and imitate the
old so called Titanic nature, and come to the same point as the Titans when
they rebelled against God, leading a life of endless evils. But why have I said
all this? I ask, because the argument ought to be pulled up from time to time,
and not be allowed to run away, but held with bit and bridle, and then we shall
not, as the proverb says, fall off our ass. Let us then once more ask the
question, To what end has all this been said?
Meg. Very good.
Ath. This, then, has been said for the sake
Meg. Of what?
Ath. We were maintaining that the lawgiver ought to have three things in
view: first, that the city for which he legislates should be free; and
secondly, be at unity with herself; and thirdly, should have understanding;
— these were our principles, were they not?
Ath. With a view to this we selected two kinds of government, the
despotic, and the other the most free; and now we are considering which of them
is the right form: we took a mean in both cases, of despotism in the one, and
of liberty in the other, and we saw that in a mean they attained their
perfection; but that when they were carried to the extreme of either, slavery
or licence, neither party were the gainers.
Meg. Very true.
Ath. And that was our reason for considering the settlement of the
Dorian army, and of the city built by Dardanus at the foot of the mountains,
and the removal of cities to the seashore, and of our mention of the first men,
who were the survivors of the deluge. And all that was previously said about
music and drinking, and what preceded, was said with the view of seeing how a
state might be best administered, and how an individual might best order his
own life. And now, Megillus and Cleinias, how can we put to the proof the value
of our words?
Cle. Stranger, I think that I see how a proof of their value may be
obtained. This discussion of ours appears to me to have been singularly
fortunate, and just what I at this moment want; most auspiciously have you and
my friend Megillus come in my way.
For I will tell you what has happened to me; and I regard the
coincidence as a sort of omen. The greater part of Crete is going to send out a
colony, and they have entrusted the management of the affair to the Cnosians;
and the Cnosian government to me and nine others. And they desire us to give
them any laws which we please, whether taken from the Cretan model or from any
other; and they do not mind about their being foreign if they are better. Grant
me then this favour, which will also be a gain to yourselves: Let us make a
selection from what has been said, and then let us imagine a State of which we
will suppose ourselves to be the original founders. Thus we shall proceed with
our enquiry, and, at the same time, I may have the use of the framework which
you are constructing, for the city which is in contemplation.
Ath. Good news, Cleinias; if Megillus has no objection, you may be sure
that I will do all in my power to please you.
Cle. Thank you.
Meg. And so will I.
Cle. Excellent; and now let us begin to frame the State.
Athenian Stranger. And now, what will this city be? I do not mean to ask
what is or will hereafter be the name of the place; that may be determined by
the accident of locality or of the original settlement — a river or
fountain, or some local deity may give the sanction of a name to the
newly-founded city; but I do want to know what the situation is, whether
maritime or inland.
Cleinias. I should imagine, Stranger, that the city of which we are
speaking is about eighty stadia distant from the sea.
Ath. And are there harbours on the seaboard?
Cle. Excellent harbours, Stranger; there could not be better.
Ath. Alas! what a prospect! And is the surrounding country productive,
or in need of importations?
Cle. Hardly in need of anything.
Ath. And is there any neighbouring State?
Cle. None whatever, and that is the reason for selecting the place; in
days of old, there was a migration of the inhabitants, and the region has been
deserted from time immemorial.
Ath. And has the place a fair proportion of hill, and plain, and wood?
Cle. Like the rest of Crete in that.
Ath. You mean to say that there is more rock than plain?
Ath. Then there is some hope that your citizens may be virtuous: had you
been on the sea, and well provided with harbours, and an importing rather than
a producing country, some mighty saviour would have been needed, and lawgivers
more than mortal, if you were ever to have a chance of preserving your state
from degeneracy and discordance of manners. But there is comfort in the eighty
stadia; although the sea is too near, especially if, as you say, the harbours
are so good. Still we may be content. The sea is pleasant enough as a daily
companion, but has indeed also a bitter and brackish quality; filling the
streets with merchants and shopkeepers, and begetting in the souls of men
uncertain and unfaithful ways — making the state unfriendly and unfaithful
both to her own citizens, and also to other nations. There is a consolation,
therefore, in the country producing all things at home; and yet, owing to the
ruggedness of the soil, not providing anything in great abundance. Had there
been abundance, there might have been a great export trade, and a great return
of gold and silver; which, as we may safely affirm, has the most fatal results
on a State whose aim is the attainment of just and noble sentiments: this was
said by us, if you remember, in the previous discussion.
Cle. I remember, and am of opinion that we both were and are in the
Ath. Well, but let me ask, how is the country supplied with timber for
Cle. There is no fir of any consequence, nor pine, and not much cypress;
and you will find very little stone-pine or plane-wood, which shipwrights
always require for the interior of ships.
Ath. These are also natural advantages.
Cle. Why so?
Ath. Because no city ought to be easily able to imitate its enemies in
what is mischievous.
Cle. How does that bear upon any of the matters of which we have been
Ath. Remember, my good friend, what I said at first about the Cretan
laws, that they look to one thing only, and this, as you both agreed, was war;
and I replied that such laws, in so far as they tended to promote virtue, were
good; but in that they regarded a part only, and not the whole of virtue, I
disapproved of them. And now I hope that you in your turn will follow and watch
me if I legislate with a view to anything but virtue, or with a view to a part
of virtue only. For I consider that the true lawgiver, like an archer, aims
only at that on which some eternal beauty is always attending, and dismisses
everything else, whether wealth or any other benefit, when separated from
virtue. I was saying that the imitation of enemies was a bad thing; and I was
thinking of a case in which a maritime people are harassed by enemies, as the
Athenians were by Minos (I do not speak from any desire to recall past
grievances); but he, as we know, was a great naval potentate, who compelled the
inhabitants of Attica to pay him a cruel tribute; and in those days they had no
ships of war as they now have, nor was the country filled with ship-timber, and
therefore they could not readily build them. Hence they could not learn how to
imitate their enemy at sea, and in this way, becoming sailors themselves,
directly repel their enemies. Better for them to have lost many times over the
seven youths, than that heavy-armed and stationary troops should have been
turned into sailors, and accustomed to be often leaping on shore, and again to
come running back to their ships; or should have fancied that there was no
disgrace in not awaiting the attack of an enemy and dying boldly; and that
there were good reasons, and plenty of them, for a man throwing away his arms,
and betaking himself to flight — which is not dishonourable, as people
say, at certain times. This is the language of naval warfare, and is anything
but worthy of extraordinary praise. For we should not teach bad habits, least
of all to the best part of the citizens. You may learn the evil of such a
practice from Homer, by whom Odysseus is introduced, rebuking Agamemnon because
he desires to draw down the ships to the sea at a time when the Achaeans are
hard pressed by the Trojans — he gets angry with him, and says: Who, at a
time when the battle is in full cry, biddest to drag the well-benched ships
into the sea, that the prayers of the Trojans may be accomplished yet more, and
high ruin falls upon us. For the Achaeans will not maintain the battle, when
the ships are drawn into the sea, but they will look behind and will cease from
strife; in that the counsel which you give will prove injurious. You see that
he quite knew triremes on the sea, in the neighbourhood of fighting men, to be
an evil; — lions might be trained in that way to fly from a herd of deer.
Moreover, naval powers which owe their safety to ships, do not give honour to
that sort of warlike excellence which is most deserving of it. For he who owes
his safety to the pilot and the captain, and the oarsman, and all sorts of
rather inferior persons cannot rightly give honour to whom honour is due. But
how can a state be in a right condition which cannot justly award honour?
Cle. It is hardly possible, I admit; and yet, Stranger, we Cretans are
in the habit of saying that the battle of Salamis was the salvation of Hellas.
Ath. Why, yes; and that is an opinion which is widely spread both among
Hellenes and barbarians. But Megillus and I say rather, that the battle of
Marathon was the beginning, and the battle of Plataea the completion, of the
great deliverance, and that these battles by land made the Hellenes better;
whereas the sea-fights of Salamis and Artemisium — for I may as well put
them both together — made them no better, if I may say so without offence
about the battles which helped to save us. And in estimating the goodness of a
state, we regard both the situation of the country and the order of the laws,
considering that the mere preservation and continuance of life is not the most
honourable thing for men, as the vulgar think, but the continuance of the best
life, while we live; and that again, if I am jot mistaken, is remark which has
been made already.
Ath. Then we have only to ask whether we are taking the course which we
acknowledge to be the best for the settlement and legislation of states.
Cle. The best by far.
Ath. And now let me proceed to another question: Who are to be the
colonists? May any one come out of all Crete; and is the idea that the
population in the several states is too numerous for the means of subsistence?
For I suppose that you are not going to send out a general invitation to any
Hellene who likes to come. And yet I observe that to your country settlers have
come from Argos and Aegina and other parts of Hellas. Tell me, then, whence do
you draw your recruits in the present enterprise?
Cle. They will come from all Crete; and of other Hellenes,
Peloponnesians will be most acceptable. For, as you truly observe, there are
Cretans of Argive descent; and the race of Cretans which has the highest
character at the present day is the Gortynian, and this has come from Gortys in
Ath. Cities find colonization in some respects easier if the colonists
are one race, which like a swarm of bees is sent out from a single country,
either when friends leave friends, owing to some pressure of population or
other similar necessity, or when a portion of a state is driven by factions to
emigrate. And there have been whole cities which have taken flight when utterly
conquered by a superior power in war. This, however, which is in one way an
advantage to the colonist or legislator, in another point of view creates a
difficulty. There is an element of friendship in the community of race, and
language, and language, and laws, and in common temples and rites of worship;
but colonies which are of this homogeneous sort are apt to kick against any
laws or any form of constitution differing from that which they had at home;
and although the badness of their own laws may have been the cause of the
factions which prevailed among them, yet from the force of habit they would
fain preserve the very customs which were their ruin, and the leader of the
colony, who is their legislator, finds them troublesome and rebellious. On the
other hand, the conflux of several populations might be more disposed to listen
to new laws; but then, to make them combine and pull together, as they say of
horses, is a most difficult task, and the work of years. And yet there is
nothing which tends more to the improvement of mankind than legislation and
Cle. No doubt; but I should like to know why you say so.
Ath. My good friend, I am afraid that the course of my speculations is
leading me to say something depreciatory of legislators; but if the word be to
the purpose, there can be no harm. And yet, why am I disquieted, for I believe
that the same principle applies equally to all human things?
Cle. To what are you referring?
Ath. I was going to say that man never legislates, but accidents of all
sorts, which legislate for us in all sorts of ways. The violence of war and the
hard necessity of poverty are constantly overturning governments and changing
laws. And the power of discase has often caused innovations in the state, when
there have been pestilences, or when there has been a succession of bad seasons
continuing during many years. Any one who sees all this, naturally rushes to
the conclusion of which I was speaking, that no mortal legislates in anything,
but that in human affairs chance is almost everything. And this may be said of
the arts of the sailor, and the pilot, and the physician, and the general, and
may seem to be well said; and yet there is another thing which may be said with
equal truth of all of them.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. That God governs all things, and that chance and opportunity
cooperate with him in the government of human affairs. There is, however, a
third and less extreme view, that art should be there also; for I should say
that in a storm there must surely be a great advantage in having the aid of the
pilot’s art. You would agree?
Ath. And does not a like principle apply to legislation as well as to
other things: even supposing all the conditions to be favourable which are
needed for the happiness of the state, yet the true legislator must from time
to time appear on the scene?
Cle. Most true.
Ath. In each case the artist would be able to pray rightly for certain
conditions, and if these were granted by fortune, he would then only require to
exercise his art?
Ath. And all the other artists just now mentioned, if they were bidden
to offer up each their special prayer, would do so?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And the legislator would do likewise?
Cle. I believe that he would.
Ath. “Come, legislator,” we will say to him; “what are
the conditions which you require in a state before you can organize it?”
How ought he to answer this question? Shall I give his answer?
Ath. He will say — “Give me a state which is governed by a
tyrant, and let the tyrant be young and have a good memory; let him be quick at
learning, and of a courageous and noble nature; let him have that quality
which, as I said before, is the inseparable companion of all the other parts of
virtue, if there is to be any good in them.”
Cle. I suppose, Megillus, that this companion virtue of which the
Stranger speaks, must be temperance?
Ath. Yes, Cleinias, temperance in the vulgar sense; not that which in
the forced and exaggerated language of some philosophers is called prudence,
but that which is the natural gift of children and animals, of whom some live
continently and others incontinently, but when isolated, was as we said, hardly
worth reckoning in the catalogue of goods. I think that you must understand my
Ath. Then our tyrant must have this as well as the other qualities, if
the state is to acquire in the best manner and in the shortest time the form of
government which is most conducive to happiness; for there neither is nor ever
will be a better or speedier way of establishing a polity than by a tyranny.
Cle. By what possible arguments, Stranger, can any man persuade himself
of such a monstrous doctrine?
Ath. There is surely no difficulty in seeing, Cleinias, what is in
accordance with the order of nature?
Cle. You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young, temperate,
quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a noble nature?
Ath. Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be that
he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy chance brings
them together. When this has been accomplished, God has done all that he ever
does for a state which he desires to be eminently prosperous; He has done
second best for a state in which there are two such rulers, and third best for
a state in which there are three. The difficulty increases with the increase,
and diminishes with the diminution of the number.
Cle. You mean to say, I suppose, that the best government is produced
from a tyranny, and originates in a good lawgiver and an orderly tyrant, and
that the change from such a tyranny into a perfect form of government takes
place most easily; less easily when from an oligarchy; and, in the third
degree, from a democracy: is not that your meaning?
Ath. Not so; I mean rather to say that the change is best made out of a
tyranny; and secondly, out of a monarchy; and thirdly, out of some sort of
democracy: fourth, in the capacity for improvement, comes oligarchy, which has
the greatest difficulty in admitting of such a change, because the government
is in the hands of a number of potentates. I am supposing that the legislator
is by nature of the true sort, and that his strength is united with that of the
chief men of the state; and when the ruling element is numerically small, and
at the same time very strong, as in a tyranny, there the change is likely to be
easiest and most rapid.
Cle. How? I do not understand.
Ath. And yet I have repeated what I am saying a good many times; but I
suppose that you have never seen a city which is under a tyranny?
Cle. No, and I cannot say that I have any great desire to see one.
Ath. And yet, where there is a tyranny, you might certainly see that of
which I am now speaking.
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. I mean that you might see how, without trouble and in no very long
period of time, the tyrant, if he wishes, can change the manners of a state: he
has only to go in the direction of virtue or of vice, whichever he prefers, he
himself indicating by his example the lines of conduct, praising and rewarding
some actions and reproving others, and degrading those who disobey.
Cle. But how can we imagine that the citizens in general will at once
follow the example set to them; and how can he have this power both of
persuading and of compelling them?
Ath. Let no one, my friends, persuade us that there is any quicker and
easier way in which states change their laws than when the rulers lead: such
changes never have, nor ever will, come to pass in any other way. The real
impossibility or difficulty is of another sort, and is rarely surmounted in the
course of ages; but when once it is surmounted, ten thousand or rather all
Cle. Of what are you speaking?
Ath. The difficulty is to find the divine love of temperate and just
institutions existing in any powerful forms of government, whether in a
monarchy or oligarchy of wealth or of birth. You might as well hope to
reproduce the character of Nestor, who is said to have excelled all men in the
power of speech, and yet more in his temperance. This, however, according to
the tradition, was in the times of Troy; in our own days there is nothing of
the sort; but if such an one either has or ever shall come into being, or is
now among us, blessed is he and blessed are they who hear the wise words that
flow from his lips. And this may be said of power in general: When the supreme
power in man coincides with the greatest wisdom and temperance, then the best
laws and the best constitution come into being; but in no other way. And let
what I have been saying be regarded as a kind of sacred legend or oracle, and
let this be our proof that, in one point of view, there may be a difficulty for
a city to have good laws, but that there is another point of view in which
nothing can be easier or sooner effected, granting our supposition.
Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. Let us try to amuse ourselves, old boys as we are, by moulding in
words the laws which are suitable to your state.
Cle. Let us proceed without delay.
Ath. Then let us invoke God at the settlement of our state; may he hear
and be propitious to us, and come and set in order the State and the laws!
Cle. May he come!
Ath. But what form of polity are we going to give the city?
Cle. Tell us what you mean a little more clearly. Do you mean some form
of democracy, or oligarchy, or aristocracy, or monarchy? For we cannot suppose
that you would include tyranny.
Ath. Which of you will first tell me to which of these classes his own
government is to be referred? Megillus Ought I to answer first, since I am the
Cle. Perhaps you should.
Meg. And yet, Stranger, I perceive that I cannot say, without more
thought, what I should call the government of Lacedaemon, for it seems to me to
be like a tyranny — the power of our Ephors is marvellously tyrannical;
and sometimes it appears to me to be of all cities the most democratical; and
who can reasonably deny that it is an aristocracy? We have also a monarchy
which is held for life, and is said by all mankind, and not by ourselves only,
to be the most ancient of all monarchies; and, therefore, when asked on a
sudden, I cannot precisely say which form of government the Spartan is.
Cle. I am in the same difficulty, Megillus; for I do not feel confident
that the polity of Cnosus is any of these.
Ath. The reason is, my excellent friends, that you really have polities,
but the states of which we were just now speaking are merely aggregations of
men dwelling in cities who are the subjects and servants of a part of their own
state, and each of them is named after the dominant power; they are not
polities at all. But if states are to be named after their rulers, the true
state ought to be called by the name of the God who rules over wise men.
Cle. And who is this God?
Ath. May I still make use of fable to some extent, in the hope that I
may be better able to answer your question: shall I?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. In the primeval world, and a long while before the cities came into
being whose settlements we have described, there is said to have been in the
time of Cronos a blessed rule and life, of which the best-ordered of existing
states is a copy.
Cle. It will be very necessary to hear about that.
Ath. I quite agree with you; and therefore I have introduced the
Cle. Most appropriately; and since the tale is to the point, you will do
well in giving us the whole story.
Ath. I will do as you suggest. There is a tradition of the happy life of
mankind in days when all things were spontaneous and abundant. And of this the
reason is said to have been as follows: Cronos knew what we ourselves were
declaring, that no human nature invested with supreme power is able to order
human affairs and not overflow with insolence and wrong. Which reflection led
him to appoint not men but demigods, who are of a higher and more divine race,
to be the kings and rulers of our cities; he did as we do with flocks of sheep
and other tame animals. For we do not appoint oxen to be the lords of oxen, or
goats of goats; but we ourselves are a superior race, and rule over them. In
like manner God, in his love of mankind, placed over us the demons, who are a
superior race, and they with great case and pleasure to themselves, and no less
to us, taking care us and giving us peace and reverence and order and justice
never failing, made the tribes of men happy and united. And this tradition,
which is true, declares that cities of which some mortal man and not God is the
ruler, have no escape from evils and toils. Still we must do all that we can to
imitate the life which is said to have existed in the days of Cronos, and, as
far as the principle of immortality dwells in us, to that we must hearken, both
in private and public life, and regulate our cities and houses according to
law, meaning by the very term “law,” the distribution of mind. But if
either a single person or an oligarchy or a democracy has a soul eager after
pleasures and desires — wanting to be filled with them, yet retaining none
of them, and perpetually afflicted with an endless and insatiable disorder; and
this evil spirit, having first trampled the laws under foot, becomes the master
either of a state or of an individual — then, as I was saying, salvation
is hopeless. And now, Cleinias, we have to consider whether you will or will
not accept this tale of mine.
Cle. Certainly we will.
Ath. You are aware — are you not? — that there are of said to
be as many forms of laws as there are of governments, and of the latter we have
already mentioned all those which are commonly recognized.
Now you must regard this as a matter of first-rate importance. For what
is to be the standard of just and unjust, is once more the point at issue. Men
say that the law ought not to regard either military virtue, or virtue in
general, but only the interests and power and preservation of the established
form of government; this is thought by them to be the best way of expressing
the natural definition of justice.
Ath. Justice is said by them to be the interest of the stronger.
Cle. Speak plainer.
Ath. I will: “Surely,” they say, “the governing power
makes whatever laws have authority in any state?”
Ath. “Well,” they would add, “and do you suppose that
tyranny or democracy, or any other conquering power, does not make the
continuance of the power which is possessed by them the first or principal
object of their laws?”
Cle. How can they have any other?
Ath. “And whoever transgresses these laws is punished as an
evil-doer by the legislator, who calls the laws just?”
Ath. “This, then, is always the mode and fashion in which justice
Cle. Certainly, if they are correct in their view.
Ath. Why, yes, this is one of those false principles of government to
which we were referring.
Cle. Which do you mean?
Ath. Those which we were examining when we spoke of who ought to govern
whom. Did we not arrive at the conclusion that parents ought to govern their
children, and the elder the younger, and the noble the ignoble? And there were
many other principles, if you remember, and they were not always consistent.
One principle was this very principle of might, and we said that Pindar
considered violence natural and justified it.
Cle. Yes; I remember.
Ath. Consider, then, to whom our state is to be entrusted. For there is
a thing which has occurred times without number in states.
Cle. What thing?
Ath. That when there has been a contest for power, those who gain the
upper hand so entirely monopolize the government, as to refuse all share to the
defeated party and their descendants — they live watching one another, the
ruling class being in perpetual fear that some one who has a recollection of
former wrongs will come into power and rise up against them. Now, according to
our view, such governments are not polities at all, nor are laws right which
are passed for the good of particular classes and not for the good of the whole
state. States which have such laws are not polities but parties, and their
notions of justice are simply unmeaning. I say this, because I am going to
assert that we must not entrust the government in your state to any one because
he is rich, or because he possesses any other advantage, such as strength, or
stature, or again birth: but he who is most obedient to the laws of the state,
he shall win the palm; and to him who is victorious in the first degree shall
be given the highest office and chief ministry of the gods; and the second to
him who bears the second palm; and on a similar principle shall all the other
be assigned to those who come next in order.
And when I call the rulers servants or ministers of the law, I give them
this name not for the sake of novelty, but because I certainly believe that
upon such service or ministry depends the well- or ill-being of the state. For
that state in which the law is subject and has no authority, I perceive to be
on the highway to ruin; but I see that the state in which the law is above the
rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of the law, has salvation, and every
blessing which the Gods can confer.
Cle. Truly, Stranger, you see with the keen vision of age.
Ath. Why, yes; every man when he is young has that sort of vision
dullest, and when he is old keenest.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And now, what is to be the next step? May we not suppose the
colonists to have arrived, and proceed to make our speech to them?
Ath. “Friends,” we say to them, — “God, as the old
tradition declares, holding in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all
that is, travels according to his nature in a straight line towards the
accomplishment of his end. Justice always accompanies him, and is the punisher
of those who fall short of the divine law. To justice, he who would be happy
holds fast, and follows in her company with all humility and order; but he who
is lifted up with pride, or elated by wealth or rank, or beauty, who is young
and foolish, and has a soul hot with insolence, and thinks that he has no need
of any guide or ruler, but is able himself to be the guide of others, he, I
say, is left deserted of God; and being thus deserted, he takes to him others
who are like himself, and dances about, throwing all things into confusion, and
many think that he is a great man, but in a short time he pays a penalty which
justice cannot but approve, and is utterly destroyed, and his family and city
with him. Wherefore, seeing that human things are thus ordered, what should a
wise man do or think, or not do or think?
Cle. Every man ought to make up his mind that he will be one of the
followers of God; there can be no doubt of that.
Ath. Then what life is agreeable to God, and becoming in his followers?
One only, expressed once for all in the old saying that “like agrees with
like, with measure measure,” but things which have no measure agree
neither with themselves nor with the things which have. Now God ought to be to
us the measure of all things, and not man, as men commonly say (Protagoras):
the words are far more true of him. And he who would be dear to God must, as
far as is possible, be like him and such as he is. Wherefore the temperate man
is the friend of God, for he is like him; and the intemperate man is unlike
him, and different from him, and unjust. And the same applies to other things;
and this is the conclusion, which is also the noblest and truest of all sayings
— that for the good man to offer sacrifice to the Gods, and hold converse
with them by means of prayers and offerings and every kind of service, is the
noblest and best of all things, and also the most conducive to a happy life,
and very fit and meet. But with the bad man, the opposite of this is true: for
the bad man has an impure soul, whereas the good is pure; and from one who is
polluted, neither good man nor God can without impropriety receive gifts.
Wherefore the unholy do only waste their much service upon the Gods, but when
offered by any holy man, such service is most acceptable to them. This is the
mark at which we ought to aim. But what weapons shall we use, and how shall we
direct them? In the first place, we affirm that next after the Olympian Gods
and the Gods of the State, honour should be given to the Gods below; they
should receive everything in even and of the second choice, and ill omen, while
the odd numbers, and the first choice, and the things of lucky omen, are given
to the Gods above, by him who would rightly hit the mark of piety.
Next to these Gods, a wise man will do service to the demons or spirits,
and then to the heroes, and after them will follow the private and ancestral
Gods, who are worshipped as the law prescribes in the places which are sacred
to them. Next comes the honour of living parents, to whom, as is meet, we have
to pay the first and greatest and oldest of all debts, considering that all
which a man has belongs to those who gave him birth and brought him up, and
that he must do all that he can to minister to them, first, in his property,
secondly, in his person, and thirdly, in his soul, in return for the endless
care and travail which they bestowed upon him of old, in the days of his
infancy, and which he is now to pay back to them when they are old and in the
extremity of their need. And all his life long he ought never to utter, or to
have uttered, an unbecoming word to them; for of light and fleeting words the
penalty is most severe; Nemesis, the messenger of justice, is appointed to
watch over all such matters. When they are angry and want to satisfy their
feelings in word or deed, he should give way to them; for a father who thinks
that he has been wronged by his son may be reasonably expected to be very
angry. At their death, the most moderate funeral is best, neither exceeding the
customary expense, nor yet falling short of the honour which has been usually
shown by the former generation to their parents. And let a man not forget to
pay the yearly tribute of respect to the dead, honouring them chiefly by
omitting nothing that conduces to a perpetual remembrance of them, and giving a
reasonable portion of his fortune to the dead. Doing this, and living after
this manner, we shall receive our reward from the Gods and those who are above
us [i.e., the demons]; and we shall spend our days for the most part in good
hope. And how a man ought to order what relates to his descendants and his
kindred and friends and fellow-citizens, and the rites of hospitality taught by
Heaven, and the intercourse which arises out of all these duties, with a view
to the embellishment and orderly regulation of his own life — these
things, I say, the laws, as we proceed with them, will accomplish, partly
persuading, and partly when natures do not yield to the persuasion of custom,
chastising them by might and right, and will thus render our state, if the Gods
co-operate with us, prosperous and happy. But of what has to be said, and must
be said by the legislator who is of my way of thinking, and yet, if said in the
form of law, would be out of place — of this I think that he may give a
sample for the instruction of himself and of those for whom he is legislating;
and then when, as far as he is able, he has gone through all the preliminaries,
he may proceed to the work of legislation. Now, what will be the form of such
prefaces? There may be a difficulty in including or describing them all under a
single form, but I think that we may get some notion of them if we can
guarantee one thing.
Cle. What is that?
Ath. I should wish the citizens to be as readily persuaded to virtue as
possible; this will surely be the aim of the legislator in all his laws.
Ath. The proposal appears to me to be of some value; and I think that a
person will listen with more gentleness and good-will to the precepts addressed
to him by the legislator, when his soul is not altogether unprepared to receive
them. Even a little done in the way of conciliation gains his ear, and is
always worth having. For there is no great inclination or readiness on the part
of mankind to be made as good, or as quickly good, as possible. The case of the
many proves the wisdom of Hesiod, who says that the road to wickedness is
smooth and can be travelled without perspiring, because it is so very short:
But before virtue the immortal Gods have placed the sweat of labour, and long
and steep is the way thither, and rugged at first; but when you have reached
the top, although difficult before, it is then easy.
Cle. Yes; and he certainly speaks well.
Ath. Very true: and now let me tell you the effect which the preceding
discourse has had upon me.
Ath. Suppose that we have a little conversation with the legislator, and
say to him — “O, legislator, speak; if you know what we ought to say
and do, you can surely tell.”
Cle. Of course he can.
Ath. “Did we not hear you just now saying, that the legislator
ought not to allow the poets to do what they liked? For that they would not
know in which of their words they went against the laws, to the hurt of the
Cle. That is true.
Ath. May we not fairly make answer to him on behalf of the poets?
Cle. What answer shall we make to him?
Ath. That the poet, according to the tradition which has ever prevailed
among us, and is accepted of all men, when he sits down on the tripod of the
muse, is not in his right mind; like a fountain, he allows to flow out freely
whatever comes in, and his art being imitative, he is often compelled to
represent men of opposite dispositions, and thus to contradict himself; neither
can he tell whether there is more truth in one thing that he has said than in
another. this is not the case in a law; the legislator must give not two rules
about the same thing, but one only. Take an example from what you have just
been saying. Of three kinds of funerals, there is one which is too extravagant,
another is too niggardly, the third is a mean; and you choose and approve and
order the last without qualification.
But if I had an extremely rich wife, and she bade me bury her and
describe her burial in a poem, I should praise the extravagant sort; and a poor
miserly man, who had not much money to spend, would approve of the niggardly;
and the man of moderate means, who was himself moderate, would praise a
moderate funeral. Now you in the capacity of legislator must not barely say
“a moderate funeral,” but you must define what moderation is, and how
much; unless you are definite, you must not suppose that you are speaking a
language that can become law.
Cle. Certainly not.
Ath. And is our legislator to have no preface to his laws, but to say at
once Do this, avoid that — and then holding the penalty in terrorem to go
on to another law; offering never a word of advice or exhortation to those for
whom he is legislating, after the manner of some doctors? For of doctors, as I
may remind you, some have a gentler, others a ruder method of cure; and as
children ask the doctor to be gentle with them, so we will ask the legislator
to cure our disorders with the gentlest remedies. What I mean to say is, that
besides doctors there are doctors’ servants, who are also styled doctors.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And whether they are slaves or freemen makes no difference; they
acquire their knowledge of medicine by obeying and observing their masters;
empirically and not according to the natural way of learning, as the manner of
freemen is, who have learned scientifically themselves the art which they
impart scientifically to their pupils. You are aware that there are these two
classes of doctors?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And did you ever observe that there are two classes of patients in
states, slaves and freemen; and the slave doctors run about and cure the
slaves, or wait for them in the dispensaries — practitioners of this sort
never talk to their patients individually, or let them talk about their own
individual complaints? The slave doctor prescribes what mere experience
suggests, as if he had exact knowledge; and when he has given his orders, like
a tyrant, he rushes off with equal assurance to some other servant who is ill;
and so he relieves the master of the house of the care of his invalid slaves.
But the other doctor, who is a freeman, attends and practises upon freemen; and
he carries his enquiries far back, and goes into the nature of the disorder; he
enters into discourse with the patient and with his friends, and is at once
getting information from the sick man, and also instructing him as far as he is
able, and he will not prescribe for him until he has first convinced him; at
last, when he has brought the patient more and more under his persuasive
influences and set him on the road to health, he attempts to effect a cure. Now
which is the better way of proceeding in a physician and in a trainer? Is he
the better who accomplishes his ends in a double way, or he who works in one
way, and that the ruder and inferior?
Cle. I should say, Stranger, that the double way is far better.
Ath. Should you like to see an example of the double and single method
Cle. Certainly I should.
Ath. What will be our first law? Will not the legislature, observing the
order of nature, begin by making regulations for states about births?
Cle. He will.
Ath. In all states the birth of children goes back to the connection of
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And, according to the true order, the laws relating to marriage
should be those which are first determined in every state?
Cle. Quite so.
Ath. Then let me first give the law of marriage in a simple form; it may
run as follows: A man shall marry between the ages of thirty and thirty-five,
or, if he does not, he shall pay such and such a fine, or shall suffer the loss
of such and such privileges. This would be the simple law about marriage. The
double law would run thus: A man shall marry between the ages of thirty and
thirty-five, considering that in a manner the human race naturally partakes of
immortality, which every man is by nature inclined to desire to the utmost; for
the desire of every man that he may become famous, and not lie in the grave
without a name, is only the love of continuance. Now mankind are coeval with
all time, and are ever following, and will ever follow, the course of time; and
so they are immortal, because they leave children’s children behind them,
and partake of immortality in the unity of generation. And for a man
voluntarily to deprive himself of this gift, as he deliberately does who will
not have a wife or children, is impiety. He who obeys the law shall be free,
and shall pay no fine; but he who is disobedient, and does not marry, when he
has arrived at the age of thirty-five, shall pay a yearly fine of a certain
amount, in order that he may not imagine his celibacy to bring ease and profit
to him; and he shall not share in the honours which the young men in the state
give to the aged. Comparing now the two forms of the law, you will be able to
arrive at a judgment about any other laws — whether they should be double
in length even when shortest, because they have to persuade as well as
threaten, or whether they shall only threaten and be of half the length.
Meg. The shorter form, Stranger, would be more in accordance with
Lacedaemonian custom; although, for my own part, if any one were to ask me
which I myself prefer in the state, I should certainly determine in favour of
the longer; and I would have every law made after the same pattern, if I had to
choose. But I think that Cleinias is the person to be consulted, for his is the
state which is going to use these laws.
Cle. Thank you, Megillus.
Ath. Whether, in the abstract, words are to be many or few, is a very
foolish question; the best form, and not the shortest, is to be approved; nor
is length at all to be regarded. Of the two forms of law which have been
recited, the one is not only twice as good in practical usefulness as the
other, but the case is like that of the two kinds of doctors, which I was just
now mentioning. And yet legislators never appear to have considered that they
have two instruments which they might use in legislation — persuasion and
force; for in dealing with the rude and uneducated multitude, they use the one
only as far as they can; they do not mingle persuasion with coercion, but
employ force pure and simple. Moreover, there is a third point, sweet friends,
which ought to be, and never is, regarded in our existing laws.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. A point arising out of our previous discussion, which comes into my
mind in some mysterious way. All this time, from early dawn until noon, have we
been talking about laws in this charming retreat: now we are going to
promulgate our laws, and what has preceded was only the prelude of them. Why do
I mention this? For this reason: Because all discourses and vocal exercises
have preludes and overtures, which are a sort of artistic beginnings intended
to help the strain which is to be performed; lyric measures and music of every
other kind have preludes framed with wonderful care. But of the truer and
higher strain of law and politics, no one has ever yet uttered any prelude, or
composed or published any, as though there was no such thing in nature. Whereas
our present discussion seems to me to imply that there is; — these double
laws, of which we were speaking, are not exactly double, but they are in two
parts, the law and the prelude of the law. The arbitrary command, which was
compared to the commands of doctors, whom we described as of the meaner sort,
was the law pure and simple; and that which preceded, and was described by our
friend here as being hortatory only, was, although in fact, an exhortation,
likewise analogous to the preamble of a discourse. For I imagine that all this
language of conciliation, which the legislator has been uttering in the preface
of the law, was intended to create goodwill in the person whom he addressed, in
order that, by reason of this good-will, he might more intelligently receive
his command, that is to say, the law.
And therefore, in my way of speaking, this is more rightly described as
the preamble than as the matter of the law. And I must further proceed to
observe, that to all his laws, and to each separately, the legislator should
prefix a preamble; he should remember how great will be the difference between
them, according as they have, or have not, such preambles, as in the case
Cle. The lawgiver, if he asks my opinion, will certainly legislate in
the form which you advise.
Ath. I think that you are right, Cleinias, in affirming that all laws
have preambles, and that throughout the whole of this work of legislation every
single law should have a suitable preamble at the beginning; for that which is
to follow is most important, and it makes all the difference whether we clearly
remember the preambles or not.
Yet we should be wrong in requiring that all laws, small and great
alike, should have preambles of the same kind, any more than all songs or
speeches; although they may be natural to all, they are not always necessary,
and whether they are to be employed or not has in each case to be left to the
judgment of the speaker or the musician, or, in the present instance, of the
Cle. That I think is most true. And now, Stranger, without delay let us
return to the argument, and, as people say in play, make a second and better
beginning, if you please, with the principles which we have been laying down,
which we never thought of regarding as a preamble before, but of which we may
now make a preamble, and not merely consider them to be chance topics of
discourse. Let us acknowledge, then, that we have a preamble. About the honour
of the Gods and the respect of parents, enough has been already said; and we
may proceed to the topics which follow next in order, until the preamble is
deemed by you to be complete; and after that you shall go through the laws
Ath. I understand you to mean that we have made a sufficient preamble
about Gods and demi-gods, and about parents living or dead; and now you would
have us bring the rest of the subject into the light of day?
Ath. After this, as is meet and for the interest of us all, I the
speaker, and you the listeners, will try to estimate all that relates to the
souls and bodies and properties of the citizens, as regards both their
occupations and arrive, as far as in us lies, at the nature of education. These
then are the topics which follow next in order.
Cle. Very good.
Athenian Stranger. Listen, all ye who have just now heard the laws
about Gods, and about our dear forefathers: Of all the things which a man has,
next to the Gods, his soul is the most divine and most truly his own. Now in
every man there are two parts: the better and superior, which rules, and the
worse and inferior, which serves; and the ruling part of him is always to be
preferred to the subject. Wherefore I am right in bidding every one next to the
Gods, who are our masters, and those who in order follow them [i.e., the
demons], to honour his own soul, which every one seems to honour, but no one
honours as he ought; for honour is a divine good, and no evil thing is
honourable; and he who thinks that he can honour the soul by word or gift, or
any sort of compliance, without making her in any way better, seems to honour
her, but honours her not at all. For example, every man, from his very boyhood,
fancies that he is able to know everything, and thinks that he honours his soul
by praising her, and he is very ready to let her do whatever she may like. But
I mean to say that in acting thus he injures his soul, and is far from
honouring her; whereas, in our opinion, he ought to honour her as second only
to the Gods. Again, when a man thinks that others are to be blamed, and not
himself, for the errors which he has committed from time to time, and the many
and great evils which befell him in consequence, and is always fancying himself
to be exempt and innocent, he is under the idea that he is honouring his soul;
whereas the very reverse is the fact, for he is really injuring her. And when,
disregarding the word and approval of the legislator, he indulges in pleasure,
then again he is far from honouring her; he only dishonours her, and fills her
full of evil and remorse; or when he does not endure to the end the labours and
fears and sorrows and pains which the legislator approves, but gives way before
them, then, by yielding, he does not honour the soul, but by all such conduct
he makes her to be dishonourable; nor when he thinks that life at any price is
a good, does he honour her, but yet once more he dishonours her; for the soul
having a notion that the world below is all evil, he yields to her, and does
not resist and teach or convince her that, for aught she knows, the world of
the Gods below, instead of being evil, may be the greatest of all goods.
Again, when any one prefers beauty to virtue, what is this but the real
and utter dishonour of the soul? For such a preference implies that the body is
more honourable than the soul; and this is false, for there is nothing of
earthly birth which is more honourable than the heavenly, and he who thinks
otherwise of the soul has no idea how greatly he undervalues this wonderful
possession; nor, again, when a person is willing, or not unwilling, to acquire
dishonest gains, does he then honour his soul with gifts — far otherwise;
he sells her glory and honour for a small piece of gold; but all the gold which
is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue. In a
word, I may say that he who does not estimate the base and evil, the good and
noble, according to the standard of the legislator, and abstain in every
possible way from the one and practise the other to the utmost of his power,
does not know that in all these respects he is most foully and disgracefully
abusing his soul, which is the divinest part of man; for no one, as I may say,
ever considers that which is declared to be the greatest penalty of evil-doing
— namely, to grow into the likeness of bad men, and growing like them to
fly from the conversation of the good, and be cut off from them, and cleave to
and follow after the company of the bad. And he who is joined to them must do
and suffer what such men by nature do and say to one another — a suffering
which is not justice but retribution; for justice and the just are noble,
whereas retribution is the suffering which waits upon injustice; and whether a
man escape or endure this, he is miserable — in the former case, because
he is not cured; while in the latter, he perishes in order that the rest of
mankind may be saved.
Speaking generally, our glory is to follow the better and improve the
inferior, which is susceptible of improvement, as far as this is possible. And
of all human possessions, the soul is by nature most inclined to avoid the
evil, and track out and find the chief good; which when a man has found, he
should take up his abode with it during the remainder of his life. Wherefore
the soul also is second [or next to God] in honour; and third, as every one
will perceive, comes the honour of the body in natural order. Having determined
this, we have next to consider that there is a natural honour of the body, and
that of honours some are true and some are counterfeit.
To decide which are which is the business of the legislator; and he, I
suspect, would intimate that they are as follows: Honour is not to be given to
the fair body, or to the strong or the swift or the tall, or to the healthy
body (although many may think otherwise), any more than to their opposites; but
the mean states of all these habits are by far the safest and most moderate;
for the one extreme makes the soul braggart and insolent, and the other,
illiberal and base; and money, and property, and distinction all go to the same
tune. The excess of any of these things is apt to be a source of hatreds and
divisions among states and individuals; and the defect of them is commonly a
cause of slavery. And, therefore, I would not have any one fond of heaping up
riches for the sake of his children, in order that he may leave them as rich as
For the possession of great wealth is of no use, either to them or to
the state. The condition of youth which is free from flattery, and at the same
time not in need of the necessaries of life, is the best and most harmonious of
all, being in accord and agreement with our nature, and making life to be most
entirely free from sorrow. Let parents, then, bequeath to their children not a
heap of riches, but the spirit of reverence. We, indeed, fancy that they will
inherit reverence from us, if we rebuke them when they show a want of
reverence. But this quality is not really imparted to them by the present style
of admonition, which only tells them that the young ought always to be
A sensible legislator will rather exhort the elders to reverence the
younger, and above all to take heed that no young man sees or hears one of
themselves doing or saying anything disgraceful; for where old men have no
shame, there young men will most certainly be devoid of reverence. The best way
of training the young is to train yourself at the same time; not to admonish
them, but to be always carrying out your own admonitions in practice. He who
honours his kindred, and reveres those who share in the same Gods and are of
the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the Gods who preside over
generation will be propitious to him, and will quicken his seed. And he who
deems the services which his friends and acquaintances do for him, greater and
more important than they themselves deem them, and his own favours to them less
than theirs to him, will have their good-will in the intercourse of life. And
surely in his relations to the state and his fellow citizens, he is by far the
best, who rather than the Olympic or any other victory of peace or war, desires
to win the palm of obedience to the laws of his country, and who, of all
mankind, is the person reputed to have obeyed them best through life. In his
relations to strangers, a man should consider that a contract is a most holy
thing, and that all concerns and wrongs of strangers are more directly
dependent on the protection of God, than wrongs done to citizens; for the
stranger, having no kindred and friends, is more to be pitied by Gods and men.
Wherefore, also, he who is most able to avenge him is most zealous in his
cause; and he who is most able is the genius and the god of the stranger, who
follow in the train of Zeus, the god of strangers. And for this reason, he who
has a spark of caution in him, will do his best to pass through life without
sinning against the stranger. And of offences committed, whether against
strangers or fellow-countrymen, that against suppliants is the greatest. For
the god who witnessed to the agreement made with the suppliant, becomes in a
special manner the guardian of the sufferer; and he will certainly not suffer
Thus we have fairly described the manner in which a man is to act about
his parents, and himself, and his own affairs; and in relation to the state,
and his friends, and kindred, both in what concerns his own countrymen, and in
what concerns the stranger. We will now consider what manner of man he must be
who would best pass through life in respect of those other things which are not
matters of law, but of praise and blame only; in which praise and blame educate
a man, and make him more tractable and amenable to the laws which are about to
Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to Gods and men; and he
who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the
truth, that he may live a true man as long as possible, for then he can be
trusted; but he is not to be trusted who loves voluntary falsehood, and he who
loves involuntary falsehood is a fool. Neither condition is enviable, for the
untrustworthy and ignorant has no friend, and as time advances he becomes
known, and lays up in store for himself isolation in crabbed age when life is
on the wane: so that, whether his children or friends are alive or not, he is
equally solitary. — Worthy of honour is he who does no injustice, and of
more than twofold honour, if he not only does no injustice himself, but hinders
others from doing any; the first may count as one man, the second is worth many
men, because he informs the rulers of the injustice of others. And yet more
highly to be esteemed is he who co-operates with the rulers in correcting the
citizens as far as he can — he shall be proclaimed the great and perfect
citizen, and bear away the palm of virtue. The same praise may be given about
temperance and wisdom, and all other goods which may be imparted to others, as
well as acquired by a man for himself; he who imparts them shall be honoured as
the man of men, and he who is willing, yet is not able, may be allowed the
second place; but he who is jealous and will not, if he can help, allow others
to partake in a friendly way of any good, is deserving of blame: the good,
however, which he has, is not to be undervalued by us because it is possessed
by him, but must be acquired by us also to the utmost of our power. Let every
man, then, freely strive for the prize of virtue, and let there be no envy. For
the unenvious nature increases the greatness of states — he himself
contends in the race, blasting the fair fame of no man; but the envious, who
thinks that he ought to get the better by defaming others, is less energetic
himself in the pursuit of true virtue, and reduces his rivals to despair by his
unjust slanders of them. And so he makes the whole city to enter the arena
untrained in the practice of virtue, and diminishes her glory as far as in him
lies. Now every man should be valiant, but he should also be gentle. From the
cruel, or hardly curable, or altogether incurable acts of injustice done to him
by others, a man can only escape by fighting and defending himself and
conquering, and by never ceasing to punish them; and no man who is not of a
noble spirit is able to accomplish this. As to the actions of those who do
evil, but whose evil is curable, in the first place, let us remember that the
unjust man is not unjust of his own free will.
For no man of his own free will would choose to possess the greatest of
evils, and least of all in the most honourable part of himself.
And the soul, as we said, is of a truth deemed by all men the most
honourable. In the soul, then, which is the most honourable part of him, no
one, if he could help, would admit, or allow to continue the greatest of evils.
The unrighteous and vicious are always to be pitied in any case; and one can
afford to forgive as well as pity him who is curable, and refrain and calm
one’s anger, not getting into a passion, like a woman, and nursing
ill-feeling. But upon him who is incapable of reformation and wholly evil, the
vials of our wrath should be poured out; wherefore I say that good men ought,
when occasion demands, to be both gentle and passionate.
Of all evils the greatest is one which in the souls of most men is
innate, and which a man is always excusing in himself and never correcting;
mean, what is expressed in the saying that “Every man by nature is and
ought to be his own friend.” Whereas the excessive love of self is in
reality the source to each man of all offences; for the lover is blinded about
the beloved, so that he judges wrongly of the just, the good, and the
honourable, and thinks that he ought always to prefer himself to the truth. But
he who would be a great man ought to regard, not himself or his interests, but
what is just, whether the just act be his own or that of another. Through a
similar error men are induced to fancy that their own ignorance is wisdom, and
thus we who may be truly said to know nothing, think that we know all things;
and because we will not let others act for us in what we do not know, we are
compelled to act amiss ourselves. Wherefore let every man avoid excess of
self-love, and condescend to follow a better man than himself, not allowing any
false shame to stand in the way. There are also minor precepts which are often
repeated, and are quite as useful; a man should recollect them and remind
himself of them. For when a stream is flowing out, there should be water
flowing in too; and recollection flows in while wisdom is departing. Therefore
I say that a man should refrain from excess either of laughter or tears, and
should exhort his neighbour to do the same; he should veil his immoderate
sorrow or joy, and seek to behave with propriety, whether the genius of his
good fortune remains with him, or whether at the crisis of his fate, when he
seems to be mounting high and steep places, the Gods oppose him in some of his
enterprises. Still he may ever hope, in the case of good men, that whatever
afflictions are to befall them in the future God will lessen, and that present
evils he will change for the better; and as to the goods which are the opposite
of these evils, he will not doubt that they will be added to them, and that
they will be fortunate. Such should be men’s hopes, and such should be the
exhortations with which they admonish one another, never losing an opportunity,
but on every occasion distinctly reminding themselves and others of all these
things, both in jest and earnest.
Enough has now been said of divine matters, both as touching the
practices which men ought to follow, and as to the sort of persons who they
ought severally to be. But of human things we have not as yet spoken, and we
must; for to men we are discoursing and not to Gods. Pleasures and pains and
desires are a part of human nature, and on them every mortal being must of
necessity hang and depend with the most eager interest. And therefore we must
praise the noblest life, not only as the fairest in appearance, but as being
one which, if a man will only taste, and not, while still in his youth, desert
for another, he will find to surpass also in the very thing which we all of us
desire — I mean in having a greater amount of pleasure and less of pain
during the whole of life. And this will be plain, if a man has a true taste of
them, as will be quickly and clearly seen. But what is a true taste? That we
have to learn from the argument — the point being what is according to
nature, and what is not according to nature. One life must be compared with
another, the more pleasurable with the more painful, after this manner: We
desire to have pleasure, but we neither desire nor choose pain; and the neutral
state we are ready to take in exchange, not for pleasure but for pain; and we
also wish for less pain and greater pleasure, but less pleasure and greater
pain we do not wish for; and an equal balance of either we cannot venture to
assert that we should desire. And all these differ or do not differ severally
in number and magnitude and intensity and equality, and in the opposites of
these when regarded as objects of choice, in relation to desire. And such being
the necessary order of things, we wish for that life in which there are many
great and intense elements of pleasure and pain, and in which the pleasures are
in excess, and do not wish for that in which the opposites exceed; nor, again,
do we wish for that in which the clements of either are small and few and
feeble, and the pains exceed. And when, as I said before, there is a balance of
pleasure and pain in life, this is to be regarded by us as the balanced life;
while other lives are preferred by us because they exceed in what we like, or
are rejected by us because they exceed in what we dislike. All the lives of men
may be regarded by us as bound up in these, and we must also consider what sort
of lives we by nature desire. And if we wish for any others, I say that we
desire them only through some ignorance and inexperience of the lives which
Now, what lives are they, and how many in which, having searched out and
beheld the objects of will and desire and their opposites, and making of them a
law, choosing, I say, the dear and the pleasant and the best and noblest, a man
may live in the happiest way possible? Let us say that the temperate life is
one kind of life, and the rational another, and the courageous another, and the
healthful another; and to these four let us oppose four other livesthe foolish,
the cowardly, the intemperate, the diseased. He who knows the temperate life
will describe it as in all things gentle, having gentle pains and gentle
pleasures, and placid desires and loves not insane; whereas the intemperate
life is impetuous in all things, and has violent pains and pleasures, and
vehement and stinging desires, and loves utterly insane; and in the temperate
life the pleasures exceed the pains, but in the intemperate life the pains
exceed the pleasures in greatness and number and frequency. Hence one of the
two lives is naturally and necessarily more pleasant and the other more
painful, and he who would live pleasantly cannot possibly choose to live
intemperately. And if this is true, the inference clearly is that no man is
voluntarily intemperate; but that the whole multitude of men lack temperance in
their lives, either from ignorance, or from want of self-control, or both. And
the same holds of the diseased and healthy life; they both have pleasures and
pains, but in health the pleasure exceeds the pain, and in sickness the pain
exceeds the pleasure. Now our intention in choosing the lives is not that the
painful should exceed, but the life in which pain is exceeded by pleasure we
have determined to be the more pleasant life. And we should say that the
temperate life has the elements both of pleasure and pain fewer and smaller and
less frequent than the intemperate, and the wise life than the foolish life,
and the life of courage than the life of cowardice; one of each pair exceeding
in pleasure and the other in pain, the courageous surpassing the cowardly, and
the wise exceeding the foolish. And so the one dass of lives exceeds the other
class in pleasure; the temperate and courageous and wise and healthy exceed the
cowardly and foolish and intemperate and diseased lives; and generally
speaking, that which has any virtue, whether of body or soul, is pleasanter
than the vicious life, and far superior in beauty and rectitude and excellence
and reputation, and causes him who lives accordingly to be infinitely happier
than the opposite.
Enough of the preamble; and now the laws should follow; or, to speak
more correctly, outline of them. As, then, in the case of a web or any other
tissue, the warp and the woof cannot be made of the same materials, but the
warp is necessarily superior as being stronger, and having a certain character
of firmness, whereas the woof is softer and has a proper degree of elasticity;
— in a similar manner those who are to hold great offices in states,
should be distinguished truly in each case from those who have been but
slenderly proven by education. Let us suppose that there are two parts in the
constitution of a state — one the creation of offices, the other the laws
which are assigned to them to administer.
But, before all this, comes the following consideration: The shepherd or
herdsman, or breeder of horses or the like, when he has received his animals
will not begin to train them until he has first purified them in a manner which
befits a community of animals; he will divide the healthy and unhealthy, and
the good breed and the bad breed, and will send away the unhealthy and badly
bred to other herds, and tend the rest, reflecting that his labours will be
vain and have no effect, either on the souls or bodies of those whom nature and
ill nurture have corrupted, and that they will involve in destruction the pure
and healthy nature and being of every other animal, if he should neglect to
purify them. Now the case of other animals is not so important — they are
only worth introducing for the sake of illustration; but what relates to man is
of the highest importance; and the legislator should make enquiries, and
indicate what is proper for each one in the way of purification and of any
other procedure. Take, for example, the purification of a city — there are
many kinds of purification, some easier and others more difficult; and some of
them, and the best and most difficult of them, the legislator, if he be also a
despot, may be able to effect; but the legislator, who, not being a despot,
sets up a new government and laws, even if he attempt the mildest of
purgations, may think himself happy if he can complete his work. The best kind
of purification is painful, like similar cures in medicine, involving righteous
punishment and inflicting death or exile in the last resort.
For in this way we commonly dispose of great sinners who are incurable,
and are the greatest injury of the whole state. But the milder form of
purification is as follows: when men who have nothing, and are in want of food,
show a disposition to follow their leaders in an attack on the property of the
rich — these, who are the natural plague of the state, are sent away by
the legislator in a friendly spirit as far as he is able; and this dismissal of
them is euphemistically termed a colony. And every legislator should contrive
to do this at once. Our present case, however, is peculiar. For there is no
need to devise any colony or purifying separation under the circumstances in
which we are placed. But as, when many streams flow together from many sources,
whether springs or mountain torrents, into a single lake, we ought to attend
and take care that the confluent waters should be perfectly clear, and in order
to effect this, should pump and draw off and divert impurities, so in every
political arrangement there may be trouble and danger. But, seeing that we are
now only discoursing and not acting, let our selection be supposed to be
completed, and the desired purity attained. Touching evil men, who want to join
and be citizens of our state, after we have tested them by every sort of
persuasion and for a sufficient time, we will prevent them from coming; but the
good we will to the utmost of our ability receive as friends with open
Another piece of good fortune must not be forgotten, which, as we were
saying, the Heraclid colony had, and which is also ours — that we have
escaped division of land and the abolition of debts; for these are always a
source of dangerous contention, and a city which is driven by necessity to
legislate upon such matters can neither allow the old ways to continue, nor yet
venture to alter them.
We must have recourse to prayers, so to speak, and hope that a slight
change may be cautiously effected in a length of time. And such a change can be
accomplished by those who have abundance of land, and having also many debtors,
are willing, in a kindly spirit, to share with those who are in want, sometimes
remitting and sometimes giving, holding fast in a path of moderation, and
deeming poverty to be the increase of a man’s desires and not the
diminution of his property. For this is the great beginning of salvation to a
state, and upon this lasting basis may be erected afterwards whatever political
order is suitable under the circumstances; but if the change be based upon an
unsound principle, the future administration of the country will be full of
difficulties. That is a danger which, as I am saying, is escaped by us, and yet
we had better say how, if we had not escaped, we might have escaped; and we may
venture now to assert that no other way of escape, whether narrow or broad, can
be devised but freedom from avarice and a sense of justice — upon this
rock our city shall be built; for there ought to be no disputes among citizens
about property. If there are quarrels of long standing among them, no
legislator of any degree of sense will proceed a step in the arrangement of the
state until they are settled. But that they to whom God has given, as he has to
us, to be the founders of a new state as yet free from enmity — that they
should create themselves enmities by their mode of distributing lands and
houses, would be superhuman folly and wickedness.
How then can we rightly order the distribution of the land? In the first
place, the number of the citizens has to be determined, and also the number and
size of the divisions into which they will have to be formed; and the land and
the houses will then have to be apportioned by us as fairly as we can. The
number of citizens can only be estimated satisfactorily in relation to the
territory and the neighbouring states. The territory must be sufficient to
maintain a certain number of inhabitants in a moderate way of life — more
than this is not required; and the number of citizens should be sufficient to
defend themselves against the injustice of their neighbours, and also to give
them the power of rendering efficient aid to their neighbours when they are
wronged. After having taken a survey of theirs and their neighbours’
territory, we will determine the limits of them in fact as well as in theory.
And now, let us proceed to legislate with a view to perfecting the form and
outline of our state.
The number of our citizens shall be 5040 — this will be a
convenient number; and these shall be owners of the land and protectors of the
allotment. The houses and the land will be divided in the same way, so that
every man may correspond to a lot. Let the whole number be first divided into
two parts, and then into three; and the number is further capable of being
divided into four or five parts, or any number of parts up to ten. Every
legislator ought to know so much arithmetic as to be able to tell what number
is most likely to be useful to all cities; and we are going to take that number
which contains the greatest and most regular and unbroken series of divisions.
The whole of number has every possible division, and the number 5040 can be
divided by exactly fifty-nine divisors, and ten of these proceed without
interval from one to ten: this will furnish numbers for war and peace, and for
all contracts and dealings, including taxes and divisions of the land. These
properties of number should be ascertained at leisure by those who are bound by
law to know them; for they are true, and should be proclaimed at the foundation
of the city, with a view to use. Whether the legislator is establishing a new
state or restoring an old and decayed one, in respect of Gods and temples
— the temples which are to be built in each city, and the Gods or
demi-gods after whom they are to be called — if he be a man of sense, he
will make no change in anything which the oracle of Delphi, or Dodona, or the
God Ammon, or any ancient tradition has sanctioned in whatever manner, whether
by apparitions or reputed inspiration of Heaven, in obedience to which mankind
have established sacrifices in connection with mystic rites, either originating
on the spot, or derived from Tyrrhenia or Cyprus or some other place, and on
the strength of which traditions they have consecrated oracles and images, and
altars and temples, and portioned out a sacred domain for each of them. The
least part of all these ought not to be disturbed by the legislator; but he
should assign to the several districts some God, or demi-god, or hero, and, in
the distribution of the soil, should give to these first their chosen domain
and all things fitting, that the inhabitants of the several districts may meet
at fixed times, and that they may readily supply their various wants, and
entertain one another with sacrifices, and become friends and acquaintances;
for there is no greater good in a state than that the citizens should be known
to one another. When not light but darkness and ignorance of each other’s
characters prevails among them, no one will receive the honour of which he is
deserving, or the power or the justice to which he is fairly entitled:
wherefore, in every state, above all things, every man should take heed that he
have no deceit in him, but that he be always true and simple; and that no
deceitful person take any advantage of him.
The next move in our pastime of legislation, like the withdrawal of the
stone from the holy line in the game of draughts, being an unusual one, will
probably excite wonder when mentioned for the first time. And yet, if a man
will only reflect and weigh the matter with care, he will see that our city is
ordered in a manner which, if not the best, is the second best. Perhaps also
some one may not approve this form, because he thinks that such a constitution
is ill adapted to a legislator who has not despotic power. The truth is, that
there are three forms of government, the best, the second and the third best,
which we may just mention, and then leave the selection to the ruler of the
settlement. Following this method in the present instance, let us speak of the
states which are respectively first, second, and third in excellence, and then
we will leave the choice to Cleinias now, or to any one else who may hereafter
have to make a similar choice among constitutions, and may desire to give to
his state some feature which is congenial to him and which he approves in his
The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the
law is that in which there prevails most widely the ancient saying, that
“Friends have all things in common.” Whether there is anywhere now,
or will ever be, this communion of women and children and of property, in which
the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which
are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and
in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and
blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions, and whatever laws there
are unite the city to the utmost — whether all this is possible or not, I
say that no man, acting upon any other principle, will ever constitute a state
which will be truer or better or more exalted in virtue. Whether such a state
is governed by Gods or sons of Gods, one, or more than one, happy are the men
who, living after this manner, dwell there; and therefore to this we are to
look for the pattern of the state, and to cling to this, and to seek with all
our might for one which is like this. The state which we have now in hand, when
created, will be nearest to immortality and the only one which takes the second
place; and after that, by the grace of God, we will complete the third one. And
we will begin by speaking of the nature and origin of the second.
Let the citizens at once distribute their land and houses, and not till
the land in common, since a community of goods goes beyond their proposed
origin, and nurture, and education. But in making the distribution, let the
several possessors feel that their particular lots also belong to the whole
city; and seeing that the earth is their parent, let them tend her more
carefully than children do their mother. For she is a goddess and their queen,
and they are her mortal subjects. Such also are the feelings which they ought
to entertain to the Gods and demi-gods of the country. And in order that the
distribution may always remain, they ought to consider further that the present
number of families should be always retained, and neither increased nor
diminished. This may be secured for the whole city in the following manner: Let
the possessor of a lot leave the one of his children who is his best beloved,
and one only, to be the heir of his dwelling, and his successor in the duty of
ministering to the Gods, the state and the family, as well the living members
of it as those who are departed when he comes into the inheritance; but of his
other children, if he have more than one, he shall give the females in marriage
according to the law to be hereafter enacted, and the males he shall distribute
as sons to those citizens who have no children and are disposed to receive
them; or if there should be none such, and particular individuals have too many
children, male or female, or too few, as in the case of barrenness — in
all these cases let the highest and most honourable magistracy created by us
judge and determine what is to be done with the redundant or deficient, and
devise a means that the number of 5040 houses shall always remain the same.
There are many ways of regulating numbers; for they in whom generation is
affluent may be made to refrain, and, on the other hand, special care may be
taken to increase the number of births by rewards and stigmas, or we may meet
the evil by the elder men giving advice and administering rebuke to the younger
— in this way the object may be attained. And if after all there be very
great difficulty about the equal preservation of the 5040 houses, and there be
an excess of citizens, owing to the too great love of those who live together,
and we are at our wits’ end, there is still the old device often mentioned
by us of sending out a colony, which will part friends with us, and be composed
of suitable persons. If, on the other hand, there come a wave bearing a deluge
of disease, or a plague of war, and the inhabitants become much fewer than the
appointed number by reason of bereavement, we ought not to introduce citizens
of spurious birth and education, if this can be avoided; but even God is said
not to be able to fight against necessity.
Wherefore let us suppose this “high argument” of ours to
address us in the following terms: Best of men, cease not to honour according
to nature similarity and equality and sameness and agreement, as regards number
and every good and noble quality. And, above all, observe the aforesaid number
5040 throughout life; in the second place, do not disparage the small and
modest proportions of the inheritances which you received in the distribution,
by buying and selling them to one another. For then neither will the God who
gave you the lot be your friend, nor will the legislator; and indeed the law
declares to the disobedient that these are the terms upon which he may or may
not take the lot. In the first place, the earth as he is informed is sacred to
the Gods; and in the next place, priests and priestesses will offer up prayers
over a first, and second, and even a third sacrifice, that he who buys or sells
the houses or lands which he has received, may suffer the punishment which he
deserves; and these their prayers they shall write down in the temples, on
tablets of cypress-wood, for the instruction of posterity. Moreover they will
set a watch over all these things, that they may be observed; — the
magistracy which has the sharpest eyes shall keep watch that any infringement
of these commands may be discovered and punished as offences both against the
law and the God. How great is the benefit of such an ordinance to all those
cities, which obey and are administered accordingly, no bad man can ever know,
as the old proverb says; but only a man of experience and good habits. For in
such an order of things there will not be much opportunity for making money; no
man either ought, or indeed will be allowed, to exercise any ignoble
occupation, of which the vulgarity is a matter of reproach to a freeman, and
should never want to acquire riches by any such means.
Further, the law enjoins that no private man shall be allowed to possess
gold and silver, but only coin for daily use, which is almost necessary in
dealing with artisans, and for payment of hirelings, whether slaves or
immigrants, by all those persons who require the use of them. Wherefore our
citizens, as we say, should have a coin passing current among themselves, but
not accepted among the rest of mankind; with a view, however, to expeditions
and journeys to other lands — for embassies, or for any other occasion
which may arise of sending out a herald, the state must also possess a common
Hellenic currency. If a private person is ever obliged to go abroad, let him
have the consent of the magistrates and go; and if when he returns he has any
foreign money remaining, let him give the surplus back to the treasury, and
receive a corresponding sum in the local currency. And if he is discovered to
appropriate it, let it be confiscated, and let him who knows and does not
inform be subject to curse and dishonour equally him who brought the money, and
also to a fine not less in amount than the foreign money which has been brought
back. In marrying and giving in marriage, no one shall give or receive any
dowry at all; and no one shall deposit money with another whom he does not
trust as a friend, nor shall he lend money upon interest; and the borrower
should be under no obligation to repay either capital or interest. That these
principles are best, any one may see who compares them with the first principle
and intention of a state.
The intention, as we affirm, of a reasonable statesman, is not what the
many declare to be the object of a good legislator, namely, that the state for
the true interests of which he is advising should be as great and as rich as
possible, and should possess gold and silver, and have the greatest empire by
sea and land; — this they imagine to be the real object of legislation, at
the same time adding, inconsistently, that the true legislator desires to have
the city the best and happiest possible. But they do not see that some of these
things are possible, and some of them are impossible; and he who orders the
state will desire what is possible, and will not indulge in vain wishes or
attempts to accomplish that which is impossible. The citizen must indeed be
happy and good, and the legislator will seek to make him so; but very rich and
very good at the same time he cannot be, not, at least, in the sense in which
the many speak of riches. For they mean by “the rich” the few who
have the most valuable possessions, although the owner of them may quite well
be a rogue. And if this is true, I can never assent to the doctrine that the
rich man will be happy — he must be good as well as rich.
And good in a high degree, and rich in a high degree at the same time,
he cannot be. Some one will ask, why not? And we shall answer — Because
acquisitions which come from sources which are just and unjust indifferently,
are more than double those which come from just sources only; and the sums
which are expended neither honourably nor disgracefully, are only half as great
as those which are expended honourably and on honourable purposes. Thus, if the
one acquires double and spends half, the other who is in the opposite case and
is a good man cannot possibly be wealthier than he. The first — I am
speaking of the saver and not of the spender — is not always bad; he may
indeed in some cases be utterly bad, but, as I was saying, a good man he never
is. For he who receives money unjustly as well as justly, and spends neither
nor unjustly, will be a rich man if he be also thrifty. On the other hand, the
utterly bad is in general profligate, and therefore very poor; while he who
spends on noble objects, and acquires wealth by just means only, can hardly be
remarkable for riches, any more than he can be very poor.
Our statement, then, is true, that the very rich are not good, and, if
they are not good, they are not happy. But the intention of our laws was that
the citizens should be as happy as may be, and as friendly as possible to one
another. And men who are always at law with one another, and amongst whom there
are many wrongs done, can never be friends to one another, but only those among
whom crimes and lawsuits are few and slight. Therefore we say that gold and
silver ought not to be allowed in the city, nor much of the vulgar sort of
trade which is carried on by lending money, or rearing the meaner kinds of live
stock; but only the produce of agriculture, and only so much of this as will
not compel us in pursuing it to neglect that for the sake of which riches exist
— I mean, soul and body, which without gymnastics, and without education,
will never be worth anything; and therefore, as we have said not once but many
times, the care of riches should have the last place in our thoughts.
For there are in all three things about which every man has an interest;
and the interest about money, when rightly regarded, is the third and lowest of
them: midway comes the interest of the body; and, first of all, that of the
soul; and the state which we are describing will have been rightly constituted
if it ordains honours according to this scale. But if, in any of the laws which
have been ordained, health has been preferred to temperance, or wealth to
health and temperate habits, that law must clearly be wrong.
Wherefore, also, the legislator ought often to impress upon himself the
question — “What do I want?” and “Do I attain my aim, or do
I miss the mark?” In this way, and in this way only, he ma acquit himself
and free others from the work of legislation.
Let the allottee then hold his lot upon the conditions which we have
It would be well that every man should come to the colony having all
things equal; but seeing that this is not possible, and one man will have
greater possessions than another, for many reasons and in particular in order
to preserve equality in special crises of the state, qualifications of property
must be unequal, in order that offices and contributions and distributions may
be proportioned to the value of each person’s wealth, and not solely to
the virtue of his ancestors or himself, nor yet to the strength and beauty of
his person, but also to the measure of his wealth or poverty; and so by a law
of inequality, which will be in proportion to his wealth, he will receive
honours and offices as equally as possible, and there will be no quarrels and
disputes. To which end there should be four different standards appointed
according to the amount of property: there should be a first and a second and a
third and a fourth class, in which the citizens will be placed, and they will
be called by these or similar names: they may continue in the same rank, or
pass into another in any individual case, on becoming richer from being,
poorer, or poorer from being richer. The form of law which I should propose as
the natural sequel would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being
saved from the greatest of all plagues — not faction, but rather
distraction; — here should exist among the citizens neither extreme
poverty, nor, again, excess of wealth, for both are productive of both these
evils. Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty
Let the limit of poverty be the value of the lot; this ought to be
preserved, and no ruler, nor any one else who aspires after a reputation for
virtue, will allow the lot to be impaired in any case. This the legislator
gives as a measure, and he will permit a man to acquire double or triple, or as
much as four times the amount of this.
But if a person have yet greater riches, whether he has found them, or
they have been given to him, or he has made them in business, or has acquired
by any stroke of fortune that which is in excess of the measure, if he give
back the surplus to the state, and to the Gods who are the patrons of the
state, he shall suffer no penalty or loss of reputation; but if he disobeys
this our law any one who likes may inform against him and receive half the
value of the excess, and the delinquent shall pay a sum equal to the excess out
of his own property, and the other half of the excess shall belong to the Gods.
And let every possession of every man, with the exception of the lot, be
publicly registered before the magistrates whom the law appoints, so that all
suits about money may be easy and quite simple.
The next thing to be noted is, that the city should be placed as nearly
as possible in the centre of the country; we should choose a place which
possesses what is suitable for a city, and this may easily be imagined and
described. Then we will divide the city into twelve portions, first founding
temples to Hestia, to Zeus and to Athene, in a spot which we will call the
Acropolis, and surround with a circular wall, making the division of the entire
city and country radiate from this point. The twelve portions shall be
equalized by the provision that those which are of good land shall be smaller.
while those of inferior quality shall be larger. The number of the lots shall
be 5040, and each of them shall be divided into two, and every allotment shall
be composed of two such sections; one of land near the city, the other of land
which is at a distance.
This arrangement shall be carried out in the following manner: The
section which is near the city shall be added to that which is on borders, and
form one lot, and the portion which is next nearest shall be added to the
portion which is next farthest; and so of the rest. Moreover, in the two
sections of the lots the same principle of equalization of the soil ought to be
maintained; the badness and goodness shall be compensated by more and less. And
the legislator shall divide the citizens into twelve parts, and arrange the
rest of their property, as far as possible, so as to form twelve equal parts;
and there shall be a registration of all. After this they shall assign twelve
lots to twelve Gods, and call them by their names, and dedicate to each God
their several portions, and call the tribes after them. And they shall
distribute the twelve divisions of the city in the same way in which they
divided the country; and every man shall have two habitations, one in the
centre of the country, and the other at the extremity. Enough of the manner of
Now we ought by all means to consider that there can never be such a
happy concurrence of circumstances as we have described; neither can all things
coincide as they are wanted. Men who will not take offence at such a mode of
living together, and will endure all their life long to have their property
fixed at a moderate limit, and to beget children in accordance with our
ordinances, and will allow themselves to be deprived of gold and other things
which the legislator, as is evident from these enactments, will certainly
forbid them; and will endure, further, the situation of the land with the city
in the middle and dwellings round about; — all this is as if the
legislator were telling his dreams, or making a city and citizens of wax. There
is truth in these objections, and therefore every one should take to heart what
I am going to say. Once more, then, the legislator shall appear and address us:
“O my friends,” he will say to us, “do not suppose me ignorant
that there is a certain degree of truth in your words; but I am of opinion
that, in matters which are not present but future, he who exhibits a pattern of
that at which he aims, should in nothing fall short of the fairest and truest;
and that if he finds any part of this work impossible of execution he should
avoid and not execute it, but he should contrive to carry out that which is
nearest and most akin to it; you must allow the legislator to perfect his
design, and when it is perfected, you should join with him in considering what
part of his legislation is expedient and what will arouse opposition; for
surely the artist who is to be deemed worthy of any regard at all, ought always
to make his work self-consistent.” Having determined that there is to be a
distribution into twelve parts, let us now see in what way this may be
accomplished. There is no difficulty in perceiving that the twelve parts admit
of the greatest number of divisions of that which they include, or in seeing
the other numbers which are consequent upon them, and are produced out of them
up to 5040; wherefore the law ought to order phratries and demes and villages,
and also military ranks and movements, as well as coins and measures, dry and
liquid, and weights, so as to be commensurable and agreeable to one
Nor should we fear the appearance of minuteness, if the law commands
that all the vessels which a man possesses should have a common measure, when
we consider generally that the divisions and variations of numbers have a use
in respect of all the variations of which they are susceptible, both in
themselves and as measures of height and depth, and in all sounds, and in
motions, as well those which proceed in a straight direction, upwards or
downwards, as in those which go round and round. The legislator is to consider
all these things and to bid the citizens, as far as possible, not to lose sight
of numerical order; for no single instrument of youthful education has such
mighty power, both as regards domestic economy and politics, and in the arts,
as the study of arithmetic.
Above all, arithmetic stirs up him who is by nature sleepy and dull, and
makes him quick to learn, retentive, shrewd, and aided by art divine he makes
progress quite beyond his natural powers.
All such things, if only the legislator, by other laws and institutions,
can banish meanness and covetousness from the souls of men, so that they can
use them properly and to their own good, will be excellent and suitable
instruments of education. But if he cannot, he will unintentionally create in
them, instead of wisdom, the habit of craft, which evil tendency may be
observed in the Egyptians and Phoenicians, and many other races, through the
general vulgarity of their pursuits and acquisitions, whether some unworthy
legislator theirs has been the cause, or some impediment of chance or nature.
For we must not fail to observe, O Megillus and Cleinias, that there is a
difference in places, and that some beget better men and others worse; and we
must legislate accordingly.
Some places are subject to strange and fatal influences by reason of
diverse winds and violent heats, some by reason of waters; or, again, from the
character of the food given by the earth, which not only affects the bodies of
men for good or evil, but produces similar results in their souls. And in all
such qualities those spots excel in which there is a divine inspiration, and in
which the demi-gods have their appointed lots, and are propitious, not adverse,
to the settlers in them. To all these matters the legislator, if he have any
sense in him, will attend as far as man can, and frame his laws accordingly.
And this is what you, Cleinias, must do, and to matters of this kind you must
turn your mind since you are going to colonize a new country. Cleinias Your
words, Athenian Stranger, are excellent, and I will do as you say.
Athenian Stranger. And now having made an end of the preliminaries we
will proceed to the appointment of magistracies.
Cleinias. Very good.
Ath. In the ordering of a state there are two parts: first, the number
of the magistracies, and the mode of establishing them; and, secondly, when
they have been established, laws again will have to be provided for each of
them, suitable in nature and number. But before electing the magistrates let us
stop a little and say a word in season about the election of them.
Cle. What have you got to say?
Ath. This is what I have to say; every one can see, that although the
work of legislation is a most important matter, yet if a well-ordered city
superadd to good laws unsuitable offices, not only will there be no use in
having the good laws — not only will they be ridiculous and useless, but
the greatest political injury and evil will accrue from them.
Cle. Of course.
Ath. Then now, my friend, let us observe what will happen in the
constitution of out intended state. In the first place, you will acknowledge
that those who are duly appointed to magisterial power, and their families,
should severally have given satisfactory proof of what they are, from youth
upward until the time of election; in the next place, those who are to elect
should have been trained in habits of law, and be well educated, that they may
have a right judgment, and may be able to select or reject men whom they
approve or disapprove, as they are worthy of either. But how can we imagine
that those who are brought together for the first time, and are strangers to
one another, and also uneducated, will avoid making mistakes in the choice of
Ath. The matter is serious, and excuses will not serve the turn. I will
tell you, then, what you and I will have to do, since you, as you tell me, with
nine others, have offered to settle the new state on behalf of the people of
Crete, and I am to help you by the invention of the present romance. I
certainly should not like to leave the tale wandering all over the world
without a head; — a headless monster is such a hideous thing.
Cle. Excellent, Stranger.
Ath. Yes; and I will be as good as my word.
Cle. Let us by all means do as you propose.
Ath. That we will, by the grace of God, if old age will only permit
Cle. But God will be gracious.
Ath. Yes; and under his guidance let us consider further point.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. Let us remember what a courageously mad and daring creation this
our city is.
Cle. What had you in your mind when you said that?
Ath. I had in my mind the free and easy manner in which we are ordaining
that the inexperienced colonists shall receive our laws. Now a man need not be
very wise, Cleinias, in order to see that no one can easily receive laws at
their first imposition. But if we could anyhow wait until those who have been
imbued with them from childhood, and have been nurtured in them, and become
habituated to them, take their part in the public elections of the state; I
say, if this could be accomplished, and rightly accomplished by any way or
contrivance — then, I think that there would be very little danger, at the
end of the time, of a state thus trained not being permanent.
Cle. A reasonable supposition.
Ath. Then let us consider if we can find any way out of the difficulty;
for I maintain, Cleinias, that the Cnosians, above all the other Cretans,
should not be satisfied with barely discharging their duty to the colony, but
they ought to take the utmost pains to establish the offices which are first
created by them in the best and surest manner. Above all, this applies to the
selection of the guardians of the law, who must be chosen first of all, and
with the greatest care; the others are of less importance.
Cle. What method can we devise of electing them?
Ath. This will be the method: Sons of the Cretans, I shall say to them,
inasmuch as the Cnosians have precedence over the other states, they should, in
common with those who join this settlement, choose a body of thirty-seven in
all, nineteen of them being taken from the settlers, and the remainder from the
citizens of Cnosus. Of those latter the Cnosians shall make a present to your
colony, and you yourself shall be one of the eighteen, and shall become a
citizen of the new state; and if you and they cannot be persuaded to go, the
Cnosians may fairly use a little violence in order to make you.
Cle. But why, Stranger, do not you and Megillus take a part in our new
Ath. O, Cleinias, Athens is proud, and Sparta too; and they are both a
long way off. But you and likewise the other colonists are conveniently
situated as you describe. I have been speaking of the way in which the new
citizens may be best managed under present circumstances; but in after-ages, if
the city continues to exist, let the election be on this wise. All who are
horse or foot soldiers, or have seen military service at the proper ages when
they were severally fitted for it, shall share in the election of magistrates;
and the election shall be held in whatever temple the state deems most
venerable, and every one shall carry his vote to the altar of the God, writing
down on a tablet the name of the person for whom he votes, and his
father’s name, and his tribe, and ward; and at the side he shall write his
own name in like manner. Any one who pleases may take away any tablet which he
does not think properly filled up, and exhibit it in the Agara for a period of
not less than thirty days. The tablets which are judged to be first, to the
number of 300, shall be shown by the magistrates to the whole city, and the
citizens shall in like manner select from these the candidates whom they
prefer; and this second selection, to the number of 100, shall be again
exhibited to the citizens; in the third, let any one who pleases select whom
pleases out of the 100, walking through the parts of victims, and let them
choose for magistrates and proclaim the seven and thirty who have the greatest
number of votes.
But who, Cleinias and Megillus, will order for us in the colony all this
matter of the magistrates, and the scrutinies of them? If we reflect, we shall
see that cities which are in process of construction like ours must have some
such persons, who cannot possibly be elected before there are any magistrates;
and yet they must be elected in some way, and they are not to be inferior men,
but the best possible. For as the proverb says, “a good beginning is half
the business”; and “to have begun well” is praised by all, and
in my opinion is a great deal more than half the business, and has never been
praised by any one enough.
Cle. That is very true.
Ath. Then let us recognize the difficulty, and make clear to our own
minds how the beginning is to be accomplished. There is only one proposal which
I have to offer, and that is one which, under our circumstances, is both
necessary and expedient.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. I maintain that this colony of ours has a father and mother, who
are no other than the colonizing state. Well I know that many colonies have
been, and will be, at enmity with their parents. But in early days the child,
as in a family, loves and is beloved; even if there come a time later when the
tie is broken, still, while he is in want of education, he naturally loves his
parents and is beloved by them, and flies to his relatives for protection, and
finds in them his only natural allies in time of need; and this parental
feeling already exists in the Cnosians, as is shown by their care of the new
city; and there is a similar feeling on the part of the young city towards
Cnosus. And I repeat what I was saying — for there is no harm in repeating
a good thing — that the Cnosians should take a common interest in all
these matters, and choose, as far as they can, the eldest and best of the
colonists, to the number of not less than a hundred; and let there be another
hundred of the Cnosians themselves.
These, I say, on their arrival, should have a joint care that the
magistrates should be appointed according to law, and that when they are
appointed they should undergo a scrutiny. When this has been effected, the
Cnosians shall return home, and the new city do the best she can for her own
preservation and happiness. I would have the seven-and-thirty now, and in all
future time, chosen to fulfil the following duties: Let them, in the first
place, be the guardians of the law; and, secondly, of the registers in which
each one registers before the magistrate the amount of his property, excepting
four minae which are allowed to citizens of the first class, three allowed to
the second, two to the third, and a single mina to the fourth. And if any one,
despising the laws for the sake of gain, be found to possess anything more
which has not been registered, let all that he has in excess be confiscated,
and let him be liable to a suit which shall be the reverse of honourable or
fortunate. And let any one who will, indict him on the charge of loving base
gains, and proceed against him before the guardians of the law. And if he be
cast, let him lose his share of the public possessions, and when there is any
public distribution, let him have nothing but his original lot; and let him be
written down a condemned man as long as he lives, in some place in which any
one who pleases can read about his onces. The guardian of the law shall not
hold office longer than twenty years, and shall not be less than fifty years of
age when he is elected; or if he is elected when he is sixty years of age, he
shall hold office for ten years only; and upon the same principle, he must not
imagine that he will be permitted to hold such an important office as that of
guardian of the laws after he is seventy years of age, if he live so long.
These are the three first ordinances about the guardians of the law; as
the work of legislation progresses, each law in turn will assign to them their
further duties. And now we may proceed in order to speak of the election of
other officers; for generals have to be elected, and these again must have
their ministers, commanders, and colonels of horse, and commanders of brigades
of foot, who would be more rightly called by their popular name of
The guardians of the law shall propose as generals men who are natives
of the city, and a selection from the candidates proposed shall be made by
those who are or have been of the age for military service. And if one who is
not proposed is thought by somebody to be better than one who is, let him name
whom he prefers in the place of whom, and make oath that he is better, and
propose him; and whichever of them is approved by vote shall be admitted to the
final selection; and the three who have the greatest number of votes shall be
appointed generals, and superintendents of military affairs, after previously
undergoing a scrutiny, like the guardians of the law. And let the generals thus
elected propose twelve brigadiers, one for each tribe; and there shall be a
right of counterproposal as in the case of the generals, and the voting and
decision shall take place in the same way. Until the prytanes and council are
elected, the guardians of the law shall convene the assembly in some holy spot
which is suitable to the purpose, placing the hoplites by themselves, and the
cavalry by themselves, and in a third division all the rest of the army. All
are to vote for the generals [and for the colonels of horse], but the
brigadiers are to be voted for only by those who carry shields [i.e. the
hoplites]. Let the body of cavalry choose phylarchs for the generals; but
captains of light troops, or archers, or any other division of the army, shall
be appointed by the generals for themselves. There only remains the appointment
of officers of cavalry: these shall be proposed by the same persons who
proposed the generals, and the election and the counter-proposal of other
candidates shall be arranged in the same way as in the case of the generals,
and let the cavalry vote and the infantry look on at the election; the two who
have the greatest number of votes shall be the leaders of all the horse.
Disputes about the voting may be raised once or twice; but if the dispute be
raised a third time, the officers who preside at the several elections shall
The council shall consist of 30 x 12 members — 360 will be a
convenient number for sub-division. If we divide the whole number into four
parts of ninety each, we get ninety counsellors for each class. First, all the
citizens shall select candidates from the first class; they shall be compelled
to vote, and, if they do not, shall be duly fined. When the candidates have
been selected, some one shall mark them down; this shall be the business of the
And on the following day, candidates shall be selected from the second
class in the same manner and under the same conditions as on the previous day;
and on the third day a selection shall be made from the third class, at which
every one may, if he likes, vote, and the three first classes shall be
compelled to vote; but the fourth and lowest class shall be under no
compulsion, and any member of this class who does not vote shall not be
punished. On the fourth day candidates shall be selected from the fourth and
smallest class; they shall be selected by all, but he who is of the fourth
class shall suffer no penalty, nor he who is of the third, if he be not willing
to vote; but he who is of the first or second class, if he does not vote shall
be punished; — he who is of the second class shall pay a fine of triple
the amount which was exacted at first, and he who is of the first class
quadruple. On the fifth day the rulers shall bring out the names noted down,
for all the citizens to see, and every man shall choose out of them, under
pain, if he do not, of suffering the first penalty; and when they have chosen
out of each of the classes, they shall choose one-half of them by lot, who
shall undergo a scrutiny: These are to form the council for the year. The mode
of election which has been described is in a mean between monarchy and
democracy, and such a mean the state ought always to observe; for servants and
masters never can be friends, nor good and bad, merely because they are
declared to have equal privileges. For to unequals equals become unequal, if
they are not harmonized by measure; and both by reason of equality, and by
reason of inequality, cities are filled with seditions. The old saying, that
“equality makes friendship,” is happy and also true; but there is
obscurity and confusion as to what sort of equality is meant. For there are two
equalities which are called by the same name, but are in reality in many ways
almost the opposite of one another; one of them may be introduced without
difficulty, by any state or any legislator in the distribution of honours: this
is the rule of measure, weight, and number, which regulates and apportions
them. But there is another equality, of a better and higher kind, which is not
so easily recognized. This is the judgment of Zeus; among men it avails but
little; that little, however, is the source of the greatest good to individuals
and states. For it gives to the greater more, and to the inferior less and in
proportion to the nature of each; and, above all, greater honour always to the
greater virtue, and to the less less; and to either in proportion to their
respective measure of virtue and education. And this is justice, and is ever
the true principle of states, at which we ought to aim, and according to this
rule order the new city which is now being founded, and any other city which
may be hereafter founded. To this the legislator should looknot to the
interests of tyrants one or more, or to the power of the people, but to justice
always; which, as I was saying, the distribution of natural equality among
unequals in each case. But there are times at which every state is compelled to
use the words, “just,” “equal,” in a secondary sense, in
the hope of escaping in some degree from factions. For equity and indulgence
are infractions of the perfect and strict rule of justice. And this is the
reason why we are obliged to use the equality of the lot, in order to avoid the
discontent of the people; and so we invoke God and fortune in our prayers, and
beg that they themselves will direct the lot with a view to supreme justice.
And therefore, although we are compelled to use both equalities, we should use
that into which the element of chance enters as seldom as possible.
Thus, O my friends, and for the reasons given, should a state act which
would endure and be saved. But as a ship sailing on the sea has to be watched
night and day, in like manner a city also is sailing on a sea of politics, and
is liable to all sorts of insidious assaults; and therefore from morning to
night, and from night to morning, rulers must join hands with rulers, and
watchers with watchers, receiving and giving up their trust in a perpetual
succession. Now a multitude can never fulfil a duty of this sort with anything
like energy. Moreover, the greater number of the senators will have to be left
during the greater part of the year to order their concerns at their own homes.
They will therefore have to be arranged in twelve portions, answering to the
twelve months, and furnish guardians of the state, each portion for a single
Their business is to be at hand and receive any foreigner or citizen who
comes to them, whether to give information, or to put one of those questions,
to which, when asked by other cities, a city should give an answer, and to
which, if she ask them herself, she should receive an answer; or again, when
there is a likelihood of internal commotions, which are always liable to happen
in some form or other, they will, if they can, prevent their occurring; or if
they have already occurred, will lose time in making them known to the city,
and healing the evil. Wherefore, also, this which is the presiding body of the
state ought always to have the control of their assemblies, and of the
dissolutions of them, ordinary as well as extraordinary. All this is to be
ordered by the twelfth part of the council, which is always to keep watch
together with the other officers of the state during one portion of the year,
and to rest during the remaining eleven portions.
Thus will the city be fairly ordered. And now, who is to have, the
superintendence of the country, and what shall be the arrangement? Seeing that
the whole city and the entire country have been both of them divided into
twelve portions, ought there not to be appointed superintendents of the streets
of the city, and of the houses, and buildings, and harbours, and the agora, and
fountains, and sacred domains, and temples, and the like?
Cle. To be sure there ought.
Ath. Let us assume, then, that there ought to be servants of the
temples, and priests and priestesses. There must also be superintendents of
roads and buddings, who will have a care of men, that they may do no harm, and
also of beasts, both within the enclosure and in the suburbs. Three kinds of
officers will thus have to be appointed, in order that the city may be suitably
provided according to her needs. Those who have the care of the city shall be
called wardens of the city; and those who have the care of the agora shall be
called wardens of the agora; and those who have the care of the temples shall
be called priests. Those who hold hereditary offices as priests or priestesses,
shall not be disturbed; but if there be few or none such, as is probable at the
foundation of a new city, priests and priestesses shall be appointed to be
servants of the Gods who have no servants. Some of our officers shall be
elected, and others appointed by lot, those who are of the people and those who
are not of the people mingling in a friendly manner in every place and city,
that the state may be as far as possible of one mind. The officers of the
temples shall be appointed by lot; in this way their election will be committed
to God, that he may do what is agreeable to him. And he who obtains a lot shall
undergo a scrutiny, first, as to whether he is sound of body and of legitimate
birth; and in the second place, in order to show that he is of a perfectly pure
family, not stained with homicide or any similar impiety in his own person, and
also that his father and mother have led a similar unstained life. Now the laws
about all divine things should be brought from Delphi, and interpreters
appointed, under whose direction they should be used. The tenure of the
priesthood should always be for a year and no longer; and he who will duly
execute the sacred office, according to the laws of religion, must be not less
than sixty years of age — the laws shall be the same about priestesses. As
for the interpreters, they shall be appointed thus: Let the twelve tribes be
distributed into groups of four, and let each group select four, one out of
each tribe within the group, three times; and let the three who have the
greatest number of votes [out of the twelve appointed by each group], after
undergoing a scrutiny, nine in all, be sent to Delphi, in order that the God
may return one out of each triad; their age shall be the same as that of the
priests, and the scrutiny of them shall be conducted in the same manner; let
them be interpreters for life, and when any one dies let the four tribes select
another from the tribe of the deceased. Moreover, besides priests and
interpreters, there must be treasurers, who will take charge of the property of
the several temples, and of the sacred domains, and shall have authority over
the produce and the letting of them; and three of them shall be chosen from the
highest classes for the greater temples, and two for the lesser, and one for
the least of all; the manner of their election and the scrutiny of them shall
be the same as that of the generals. This shall be the order of the
Let everything have a guard as far as possible. Let the defence of the
city be commited to the generals, and taxiarchs, and hipparchs, and phylarchs,
and prytanes, and the wardens of the city, and of the agora, when the election
of them has been completed. The defence of the country shall be provided for as
follows: The entire land has been already distributed into twelve as nearly as
possible equal parts, and let the tribe allotted to a division provide annually
for it five wardens of the country and commanders of the watch; and let each
body of five have the power of selecting twelve others out of the youth of
their own tribe — these shall be not less than twenty-five years of age,
and not more than thirty. And let there be allotted to them severally every
month the various districts, in order that they may all acquire knowledge and
experience of the whole country. The term of service for commanders and for
watchers shall continue during two years. After having had their stations
allotted to them, they will go from place to place in regular order, making
their round from left to right as their commanders direct them; (when I speak
of going to the right, I mean that they are to go to the east). And at the
commencement of the second year, in order that as many as possible of the
guards may not only get a knowledge of the country at any one season of the
year, but may also have experience of the manner in which different places are
affected at different seasons of the year, their then commanders shall lead
them again towards the left, from place to place in succession, until they have
completed the second year. In the third year other wardens of the country shall
be chosen and commanders of the watch, five for each division, who are to be
the superintendents of the bands of twelve. While on service at each station,
their attention shall be directed to the following points: In the first place,
they shall see that the country is well protected against enemies; they shall
trench and dig wherever this is required, and, as far as they can, they shall
by fortifications keep off the evil-disposed, in order to prevent them from
doing any harm to the country or the property; they shall use the beasts of
burden and the labourers whom they find on the spot: these will be their
instruments whom they will superintend, taking them, as far as possible, at the
times when they are not engaged in their regular business.
They shall make every part of the country inaccessible to enemies, and
as accessible as possible to friends; there shall be ways for man and beasts of
burden and for cattle, and they shall take care to have them always as smooth
as they can; and shall provide against the rains doing harm instead of good to
the land, when they come down from the mountains into the hollow dells; and
shall keep in the overflow by the help of works and ditches, in order that the
valleys, receiving and drinking up the rain from heaven, and providing
fountains and streams in the fields and regions which lie underneath, may
furnish even to the dry places plenty of good water. The fountains of water,
whether of rivers or of springs, shall be ornamented with plantations and
buildings for beauty; and let them bring together the streams in subterraneous
channels, and make all things plenteous; and if there be a sacred grove or
dedicated precinct in the neighbourhood, they shall conduct the water to the
actual temples of the Gods, and so beautify them at all seasons of the year.
Everywhere in such places the youth shall make gymnasia for themselves, and
warm baths for the aged, placing by them abundance of dry wood, for the benefit
of those labouring under disease — there the weary frame of the rustic,
worn with toil, will receive a kindly welcome, far better than he would at the
hands of a not over-wise doctor.
The building of these and the like works will be useful and ornamental;
they will provide a pleasing amusement, but they will be a serious employment
too; for the sixty wardens will have to guard their several divisions, not only
with a view to enemies, but also with an eye to professing friends. When a
quarrel arises among neighbours or citizens, and any one, whether slave or
freeman wrongs another, let the five wardens decide small matters on their own
authority; but where the charge against another relates to greater matters, the
seventeen composed of the fives and twelves, shall determine any charges which
one man brings against another, not involving more than three minae. Every
judge and magistrate shall be liable to give an account of his conduct in
office, except those who, like kings, have the final decision. Moreover, as
regards the aforesaid wardens of the country, if they do any wrong to those of
whom they have the care, whether by imposing upon them unequal tasks, or by
taking the produce of the soil or implements of husbandry without their
consent; also if they receive anything in the way of a bribe, or decide suits
unjustly, or if they yield to the influences of flattery, let them be publicly
dishonoured; and in regard to any other wrong which they do to the inhabitants
of the country, if the question be of a mina, let them submit to the decision
of the villagers in the neighbourhood; but in suits of greater amount, or in
case of lesser, if they refuse to submit, trusting that their monthly removal
into another part of the country will enable them to escape — in such
cases the injured party may bring his suit in the common court, and if he
obtain a verdict he may exact from the defendant, who refused to submit, a
The wardens and the overseers of the country, while on their two years
service, shall have common meals at their several stations, and shall all live
together; and he who is absent from the common meal, or sleeps out, if only for
one day or night, unless by order of his commanders, or by reason of absolute
necessity, if the five denounce him and inscribe his name the agora as not
having kept his guard, let him be deemed to have betrayed the city, as far as
lay in his power, and let him be disgraced and beaten with impunity by any one
who meets him and is willing to punish him. If any of the commanders is guilty
of such an irregularity, the whole company of sixty shall see to it, and he who
is cognizant of the offence, and does not bring the offender to trial, shall be
amenable to the same laws as the younger offender himself, and shall pay a
heavier fine, and be incapable of ever commanding the young. The guardians of
the law are to be careful inspectors of these matters, and shall either prevent
or punish offenders. Every man should remember the universal rule, that he who
is not a good servant will not be a good master; a man should pride himself
more upon serving well than upon commanding well: first upon serving the laws,
which is also the service of the Gods; in the second place, upon having. served
ancient and honourable men in the days of his youth. Furthermore, during the
two years in which any one is a warden of the country, his daily food ought to
be of a simple and humble kind.
When the twelve have been chosen, let them and the five meet together,
and determine that they will be their own servants, and, like servants, will
not have other slaves and servants for their own use, neither will they use
those of the villagers and husbandmen for their private advantage, but for the
public service only; and in general they should make up their minds to live
independently by themselves, servants of each other and of themselves. Further,
at all seasons of the year, summer and winter alike, let them be under arms and
survey minutely the whole country; thus they will at once keep guard, and at
the same time acquire a perfect knowledge of every locality. There can be no
more important kind of information than the exact knowledge of a man’s own
country; and for this as well as for more general reasons of pleasure and
advantage, hunting with dogs and other kinds of sports should be pursued by the
young. The service to whom this is committed may be called the secret police,
or wardens of the country; the name does not much signify, but every one who
has the safety of the state at heart will use his utmost diligence in this
After the wardens of the country, we have to speak of the election of
wardens of the agora and of the city. The wardens of the country were sixty in
number, and the wardens of the city will be three, and will divide the twelve
parts of the city into three; like the former, they shall have care of the
ways, and of the different high roads which lead out of the country into the
city, and of the buildings, that they may be all made according to law; —
also of the waters, which the guardians of the supply preserve and convey to
them, care being taken that they may reach the fountains pure and abundant, and
be both an ornament and a benefit to the city. These also should be men of
influence, and at leisure to take care of the public interest. Let every man
propose as warden of the city any one whom he likes out of the highest class,
and when the vote has been given on them, and the number is reduced to the six
who have the greatest number of votes, let the electing officers choose by lot
three out of the six, and when they have undergone a scrutiny let them hold
office according to the laws laid down for them.
Next, let the wardens of the agora be elected in like manner, out of the
first and second class, five in number: ten are to be first elected, and out of
the ten five are to be chosen by lot, as in the election of the wardens of the
city: these when they have undergone a scrutiny are to be declared magistrates.
Every one shall vote for every one, and he who will not vote, if he be informed
against before the magistrates, shall be fined fifty drachmae, and shall also
be deemed a bad citizen. Let any one who likes go to the assembly and to the
general council; it shall be compulsory to go on citizens of the first and
second class, and they shall pay a fine of ten drachmae if they be found not
answering to their names at the assembly. the third and fourth class shall be
under no compulsion, and shall be let off without a fine, unless the
magistrates have commanded all to be present, in consequence of some urgent
necessity. The wardens of the agora shall observe the order appointed by law
for the agora, and shall have the charge of the temples and fountains which are
in the agora; and they shall see that no one injures anything, and punish him
who does, with stripes and bonds, if he be a slave or stranger; but if he be a
citizen who misbehaves in this way, they shall have the power themselves of
inflicting a fine upon him to the amount of a hundred drachmae, or with the
consent of the wardens of the city up to double that amount. And let the
wardens of the city have a similar power of imposing punishments and fines in
their own department; and let them impose fines by their own department; and
let them impose fines by their own authority, up to a mina, or up to two minae
with the consent of the wardens of the agora.
In the next place, it will be proper to appoint directors of music and
gymnastic, two kinds of each — of the one kind the business will be
education, of the other, the superintendence of contests. In speaking of
education, the law means to speak of those who have the care of order and
instruction in gymnasia and schools, and of the going to school, and of school
buildings for boys and girls; and in speaking of contests, the law refers to
the judges of gymnastics and of music; these again are divided into two
classes, the one having to do with music, the other with gymnastics; and the
same who judge of the gymnastic contests of men, shall judge of horses; but in
music there shall be one set of judges of solo singing, and of imitation —
I mean of rhapsodists, players on the harp, the flute and the like, and another
who shall judge of choral song.
First of all, we must choose directors for the choruses of boys, and
men, and maidens, whom they shall follow in the amusement of the dance, and for
our other musical arrangements; — one director will be enough for the
choruses, and he should be not less than forty years of age. One director will
also be enough to introduce the solo singers, and to give judgment on the
competitors, and he ought not to be less than thirty years of age. The director
and manager of the choruses shall be elected after the following manner: Let
any persons who commonly take an interest in such matters go to the meeting,
and be fined if they do not go (the guardians of the law shall judge of their
fault), but those who have no interest shall not be compelled. The elector
shall propose as director some one who understands music, and he in the
scrutiny may be challenged on the one part by those who say he has no skill,
and defended on the other hand by those who say that he has. Ten are to be
elected by vote, and he of the ten who is chosen by lot shall undergo a
scrutiny, and lead the choruses for a year according to law. And in like manner
the competitor who wins the lot shall be leader of the solo and concert music
for that year; and he who is thus elected shall deliver the award to the
judges. In the next place, we have to choose judges in the contests of horses
and of men; these shall be selected from the third and also from the second
class of citizens, and three first classes shall be compelled to go to the
election, but the lowest may stay away with impunity; and let there be three
elected by lot out of the twenty who have been chosen previously, and they must
also have the vote and approval of the examiners.
But if any one is rejected in the scrutiny at any ballot or decision,
others shall be chosen in the same manner, and undergo a similar scrutiny.
There remains the minister of the education of youth, male and female;
he too will rule according to law; one such minister will be sufficient, and he
must be fifty years old, and have children lawfully begotten, both boys and
girls by preference, at any rate, one or the other. He who is elected, and he
who is the elector, should consider that of all the great offices of state,
this is the greatest; for the first shoot of any plant, if it makes a good
start towards the attainment of its natural excellence, has the greatest effect
on its maturity; and this is not only true of plants, but of animals wild and
tame, and also of men. Man, as we say, is a tame or civilized animal;
nevertheless, he requires proper instruction and a fortunate nature, and then
of all animals he becomes the most divine and most civilized; but if he be
insufficiently or ill educated he is the most savage of earthly creatures.
Wherefore the legislator ought not to allow the education of children to become
a secondary or accidental matter. In the first place, he who would be rightly
provident about them, should begin by taking care that he is elected, who of
all the citizens is in every way best; him the legislator shall do his utmost
to appoint guardian and superintendent. To this end all the magistrates, with
the exception of the council and prytanes, shall go to the temple of Apollo,
and elect by ballot him of the guardians of the law whom they severally think
will be the best superintendent of education. And he who has the greatest
number of votes, after he has undergone a scrutiny at the hands of all the
magistrates who have been his electors, with the exception of the guardians of
the law — shall hold office for five years; and in the sixth year let
another be chosen in like manner to fill his office.
If any one dies while he is holding a public office, and more than
thirty days before his term of office expires, let those whose business it is
elect another to the office in the same manner as before.
And if any one who is entrusted with orphans dies, let the relations
both on the father’s and mother’s side, who are residing at home,
including cousins, appoint another guardian within ten days, or be fined a
drachma a day for neglect to do so.
A city which has no regular courts of law ceases to be a city; and
again, if a judge is silent and says no more in preliminary proceedings than
the litigants, as is the case in arbitrations, he will never be able to decide
justly; wherefore a multitude of judges will not easily judge well, nor a few
if they are bad. The point in dispute between the parties should be made clear;
and time, and deliberation, and repeated examination, greatly tend to clear up
doubts. For this reason, he who goes to law with another should go first of all
to his neighbours and friends who know best the questions at issue.
And if he be unable to obtain from them a satisfactory decision, let him
have recourse to another court; and if the two courts cannot settle the matter,
let a third put an end to the suit.
Now the establishment of courts of justice may be regarded as a choice
of magistrates, for every magistrate must also be a judge of some things; and
the judge, though he be not a magistrate, yet in certain respects is a very
important magistrate on the day on which he is determining a suit. Regarding
then the judges also as magistrates, let us say who are fit to be judges, and
of what they are to be judges, and how many of them are to judge in each suit.
Let that be the supreme tribunal which the litigants appoint in common for
themselves, choosing certain persons by agreement. And let there be two other
tribunals: one for private causes, when a citizen accuses another of wronging
him and wishes to get a decision; the other for public causes, in which some
citizen is of opinion that the public has been wronged by an individual, and is
willing to vindicate the common interests. And we must not forget to mention
how the judges are to be qualified, and who they are to be. In the first place,
let there be a tribunal open to all private persons who are trying causes one
against another for the third time, and let this be composed as follows: All
the officers of state, as well annual as those holding office for a longer
period, when the new year is about to commence, in the month following after
the summer solstice, on the last day but one of the year, shall meet in some
temple, and calling God to witness, shall dedicate one judge from every
magistracy to be their firstfruits, choosing in each office him who seems to
them to be the best, and whom they deem likely to decide the causes of his
fellowcitizens during the ensuing year in the best and holiest manner.
And when the election is completed, a scrutiny shall be held in the
presence of the electors themselves, and if any one be rejected another shall
be chosen in the same manner. Those who have undergone the scrutiny shall judge
the causes of those who have declined the inferior courts, and shall give their
vote openly. The councillors and other magistrates who have elected them shall
be required to be hearers and spectators of the causes; and any one else may be
present who pleases. If one man charges another with having intentionally
decided wrong, let him go to the guardians of the law and lay his accusation
before them, and he who is found guilty in such a case shall pay damages to the
injured party equal to half the injury; but if he shall appear to deserve a
greater penalty, the judges shall determine what additional punishment he shall
suffer, and how much more he ought to pay to the public treasury, and to the
party who brought the suit.
In the judgment of offences against the state, the people ought to
participate, for when any one wrongs the state all are wronged, and may
reasonably complain if they are not allowed to share in the decision. Such
causes ought to originate with the people, and the ought also to have the final
decision of them, but the trial of them shall take place before three of the
highest magistrates, upon whom the plaintiff and the defendant shall agree; and
if they are not able to come to an agreement themselves, the council shall
choose one of the two proposed. And in private suits, too, as far as is
possible, all should have a share; for he who has no share in the
administration of justice, is apt to imagine that he has no share in the state
at all. And for this reason there shall be a court of law in every tribe, and
the judges shall be chosen by lot; — they shall give their decisions at
once, and shall be inaccessible to entreaties. The final judgment shall rest
with that court which, as we maintain, has been established in the most
incorruptible form of which human things admit: this shall be the court
established for those who are unable to get rid of their suits either in the
courts of neighbours or of the tribes.
Thus much of the courts of law, which, as I was saying, cannot be
precisely defined either as being or not being offices; a superficial sketch
has been given of them, in which some things have been told and others omitted.
For the right place of an exact statement of the laws respecting suits, under
their several heads, will be at the end of the body of legislation; — let
us then expect them at the end. Hitherto our legislation has been chiefly
occupied with the appointment of offices. Perfect unity and exactness,
extending to the whole and every particular of political administration, cannot
be attained to the full, until the discussion shall have a beginning, middle,
and end, and is complete in every part. At present we have reached the election
of magistrates, and this may be regarded as a sufficient termination of what
preceded. And now there need no longer be any delay or hesitation in beginning
the work of legislation.
Cle. I like what you have said, Stranger — and I particularly like
your manner of tacking on the beginning of your new discourse to the end of the
Ath. Thus far, then, the old men’s rational pastime has gone off
Cle. You mean, I suppose, their serious and noble pursuit?
Ath. Perhaps; but I should like to know whether you and I are agreed
about a certain thing.
Cle. About what thing?
Ath. You know. the endless labour which painters expend upon their
pictures — they are always putting in or taking out colours, or whatever
be the term which artists employ; they seem as if they would never cease
touching up their works, which are always being made brighter and more