Laws Book 4 - Plato

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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 
Cle. Like the rest of Crete in that. 
Ath. You mean to say that there is more rock than plain? 
Cle. Exactly. 
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 right. 
Ath. Well, but let me ask, how is the country supplied with timber 
for ship-building? 
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 speaking? 
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 
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. 
Cle. Yes. 
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 
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 the Peloponnesus. 
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 
co-operate 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? 
Cle. Yes. 
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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
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? 
Cle. Yes. 
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 meaning. 
Cle. Certainly. 
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 blessings follow. 
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 elder? 
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 
Cle. How? 
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?" 
Cle. True. 
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?" 
Cle. Naturally. 
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? 
Cle. Certainly. 
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. 
Cle. Certainly. 
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. 
Cle. Proceed. 
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 state." 
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 
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 
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 in legislation? 
Cle. Certainly I should. 
Ath. What will be our first law? Will not the 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 marriage? 
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 
already given. 
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 lawgiver. 
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? 
Cle. Exactly. 
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. 

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