Laws Book 1 - Plato

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360 BC


by Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett


Cretan; MEGILLUS, a Lacedaemonian 
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, Megillus? 
Megillus. Certainly. 
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 on cheerily. 
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 conquerors. 
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 meaning? 
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? 
Cle. Yes. 
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? 
Ath. Yes. 
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 
deny it. 
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 were speaking? 
Cle. Certainly. 
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 of war. 
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 
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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
Ath. And would not every one always make laws for the sake of the 
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 of peace. 
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 
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 this. 
Cle. Evidently. 
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 
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 like ourselves. 
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? 
Meg. Yes. 
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 is clear. 
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 be endless. 
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, Cleinias? 
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 by pain. 
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 
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 
Cle. You are quite right, Athenian Stranger, and we will do as you 
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 for it. 
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 particular constitution. 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? 
Meg. Impossible. 
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 him? 
Cle. Assuredly. 
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. 
Cle. True. 
Ath. And that sort of meeting, if attended with drunkenness, is 
apt to be unquiet. 
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 great evil. 
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 constitutions. 
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 commanded. 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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
Ath. Then let us not leave the meaning of education ambiguous or 
ill-defined. 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. 
Cle. Proceed. 
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 pain. 
Cle. Exactly. 
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 called Law. 
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. 
Cle. Proceed. 
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 this-Does 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 young child? 
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 a child? 
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? 
Cle. Yes. 
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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
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 
Cle. Yes, all that is well known. 
Ath. Also that they go of their own accord for the sake of the 
subsequent benefit? 
Cle. Very good. 
Ath. And we may conceive this to be true in the same way of other 
Cle. Certainly. 
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 pain. 
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 
Cle. What are they? 
Ath. There is the fear of expected evil. 
Cle. Yes. 
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. 
Cle. Certainly. 
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. 
Cle. True. 
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. 
Cle. Certainly. 
Ath. And when we want to make any one fearless, we and the law bring 
him face to face with many fears. 
Cle. Clearly. 
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 temperate? 
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 men? 
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 potion. 
Cle. Yes, Stranger, in that last case, too, he might equally show 
his self-control. 
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 
Meg. Certainly. 
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 
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 
Cle. True. 
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. 

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