Laws Book 2 - Plato

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BOOK II

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 error. 
Cleinias. Proceed. 
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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
Ath. And the chorus is made up of two parts, dance and song? 
Cle. True. 
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? 
Cle. What? 
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 
education. 
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 not. 
Cle. True. 
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. 
Cle. Yes. 
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 sounds? 
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 
of good. 
Cle. Your suggestion is excellent; and let us answer that these 
things are so. 
Ath. Once more, are all of us equally delighted with every sort of 
dance? 
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 delusion. 
Cle. What? 
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 
well-conditioned 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 Egypt. 
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? 
Cle. Exactly. 
Ath. And when rejoicing in our good fortune, we are unable to be 
still? 
Cle. True. 
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? 
Cle. Possibly. 
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 absurd. 
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. 
Cle. Yes. 
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. 
Cle. Certainly. 
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? 
Cle. What? 
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 men. 
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 Hellenes? 
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

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