From Philosophy Archive
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?
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
Cle. I remember, and am of opinion that we both were and are in
Ath. Well, but let me ask, how is the country supplied with timber
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
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.
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?
Ath. And does not a like principle apply to legislation as well as
to other things: even supposing all the conditions to be favourable
which are needed for the happiness of the state, yet the true
legislator must from time to time appear on the scene?
Cle. Most true.
Ath. In each case the artist would be able to pray rightly for
certain conditions, and if these were granted by fortune, he would
then only require to exercise his art?
Ath. And all the other artists just now mentioned, if they were
bidden to offer up each their special prayer, would do so?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And the legislator would do likewise?
Cle. I believe that he would.
Ath. "Come, legislator," we will say to him; "what are the
conditions which you require in a state before you can organize it?"
How ought he to answer this question? Shall I give his answer?
Ath. He will say-"Give me a state which is governed by a tyrant, and
let the tyrant be young and have a good memory; let him be quick at
learning, and of a courageous and noble nature; let him have that
quality which, as I said before, is the inseparable companion of all
the other parts of virtue, if there is to be any good in them."
Cle. I suppose, Megillus, that this companion virtue of which the
Stranger speaks, must be temperance?
Ath. Yes, Cleinias, temperance in the vulgar sense; not that which
in the forced and exaggerated language of some philosophers is
called prudence, but that which is the natural gift of children and
animals, of whom some live continently and others incontinently, but
when isolated, was as we said, hardly worth reckoning in the catalogue
of goods. I think that you must understand my meaning.
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
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
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
Ath. Justice is said by them to be the interest of the stronger.
Cle. Speak plainer.
Ath. I will:-"Surely," they say, "the governing power makes whatever
laws have authority in any state?"
Ath. "Well," they would add, "and do you suppose that tyranny or
democracy, or any other conquering power, does not make the
continuance of the power which is possessed by them the first or
principal object of their laws?"
Cle. How can they have any other?
Ath. "And whoever transgresses these laws is punished as an
evil-doer by the legislator, who calls the laws just?"
Ath. "This, then, is always the mode and fashion in which justice
Cle. Certainly, if they are correct in their view.
Ath. Why, yes, this is one of those false principles of government
to which we were referring.
Cle. Which do you mean?
Ath. Those which we were examining when we spoke of who ought to
govern whom. Did we not arrive at the conclusion that parents ought to
govern their children, and the elder the younger, and the noble the
ignoble? And there were many other principles, if you remember, and
they were not always consistent. One principle was this very principle
of might, and we said that Pindar considered violence natural and
Cle. Yes; I remember.
Ath. Consider, then, to whom our state is to be entrusted. For there
is a thing which has occurred times without number in states-
Cle. What thing?
Ath. That when there has been a contest for power, those who gain
the upper hand so entirely monopolize the government, as to refuse all
share to the defeated party and their descendants-they live watching
one another, the ruling class being in perpetual fear that some one
who has a recollection of former wrongs will come into power and
rise up against them. Now, according to our view, such governments are
not polities at all, nor are laws right which are passed for the
good of particular classes and not for the good of the whole state.
States which have such laws are not polities but parties, and their
notions of justice are simply unmeaning. I say this, because I am
going to assert that we must not entrust the government in your
state to any one because he is rich, or because he possesses any other
advantage, such as strength, or stature, or again birth: but he who is
most obedient to the laws of the state, he shall win the palm; and
to him who is victorious in the first degree shall be given the
highest office and chief ministry of the gods; and the second to him
who bears the second palm; and on a similar principle shall all the
other be assigned to those who come next in order. And when I call the
rulers servants or ministers of the law, I give them this name not for
the sake of novelty, but because I certainly believe that upon such
service or ministry depends the well- or ill-being of the state. For
that state in which the law is subject and has no authority, I
perceive to be on the highway to ruin; but I see that the state in
which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of
the law, has salvation, and every blessing which the Gods can confer.
Cle. Truly, Stranger, you see with the keen vision of age.
Ath. Why, yes; every man when he is young has that sort of vision
dullest, and when he is old keenest.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And now, what is to be the next step? May we not suppose the
colonists to have arrived, and proceed to make our speech to them?
Ath. "Friends," we say to them,-"God, as the old tradition declares,
holding in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is,
travels according to his nature in a straight line towards the
accomplishment of his end. Justice always accompanies him, and is
the punisher of those who fall short of the divine law. To justice, he
who would be happy holds fast, and follows in her company with all
humility and order; but he who is lifted up with pride, or elated by
wealth or rank, or beauty, who is young and foolish, and has a soul
hot with insolence, and thinks that he has no need of any guide or
ruler, but is able himself to be the guide of others, he, I say, is
left deserted of God; and being thus deserted, he takes to him
others who are like himself, and dances about, throwing all things
into confusion, and many think that he is a great man, but in a
short time he pays a penalty which justice cannot but approve, and
is utterly destroyed, and his family and city with him. Wherefore,
seeing that human things are thus ordered, what should a wise man do
or think, or not do or think?
Cle. Every man ought to make up his mind that he will be one of
the followers of God; there can be no doubt of that.
Ath. Then what life is agreeable to God, and becoming in his
followers? One only, expressed once for all in the old saying that
"like agrees with like, with measure measure," but things which have
no measure agree neither with themselves nor with the things which
have. Now God ought to be to us the measure of all things, and not
man, as men commonly say (Protagoras): the words are far more true
of him. And he who would be dear to God must, as far as is possible,
be like him and such as he is. Wherefore the temperate man is the
friend of God, for he is like him; and the intemperate man is unlike
him, and different from him, and unjust. And the same applies to other
things; and this is the conclusion, which is also the noblest and
truest of all sayings-that for the good man to offer sacrifice to
the Gods, and hold converse with them by means of prayers and
offerings and every kind of service, is the noblest and best of all
things, and also the most conducive to a happy life, and very fit
and meet. But with the bad man, the opposite of this is true: for
the bad man has an impure soul, whereas the good is pure; and from one
who is polluted, neither good man nor God can without impropriety
receive gifts. Wherefore the unholy do only waste their much service
upon the Gods, but when offered by any holy man, such service is
most acceptable to them. This is the mark at which we ought to aim.
But what weapons shall we use, and how shall we direct them? In the
first place, we affirm that next after the Olympian Gods and the
Gods of the State, honour should be given to the Gods below; they
should receive everything in even and of the second choice, and ill
omen, while the odd numbers, and the first choice, and the things of
lucky omen, are given to the Gods above, by him who would rightly
hit the mark of piety. Next to these Gods, a wise man will do
service to the demons or spirits, and then to the heroes, and after
them will follow the private and ancestral Gods, who are worshipped as
the law prescribes in the places which are sacred to them. Next
comes the honour of living parents, to whom, as is meet, we have to
pay the first and greatest and oldest of all debts, considering that
all which a man has belongs to those who gave him birth and brought
him up, and that he must do all that he can to minister to them,
first, in his property, secondly, in his person, and thirdly, in his
soul, in return for the endless care and travail which they bestowed
upon him of old, in the days of his infancy, and which he is now to
pay back to them when they are old and in the extremity of their need.
And all his life long he ought never to utter, or to have uttered,
an unbecoming word to them; for of light and fleeting words the
penalty is most severe; Nemesis, the messenger of justice, is
appointed to watch over all such matters. When they are angry and want
to satisfy their feelings in word or deed, he should give way to them;
for a father who thinks that he has been wronged by his son may be
reasonably expected to be very angry. At their death, the most
moderate funeral is best, neither exceeding the customary expense, nor
yet falling short of the honour which has been usually shown by the
former generation to their parents. And let a man not forget to pay
the yearly tribute of respect to the dead, honouring them chiefly by
omitting nothing that conduces to a perpetual remembrance of them, and
giving a reasonable portion of his fortune to the dead. Doing this,
and living after this manner, we shall receive our reward from the
Gods and those who are above us [i.e., the demons]; and we shall spend
our days for the most part in good hope. And how a man ought to
order what relates to his descendants and his kindred and friends
and fellow-citizens, and the rites of hospitality taught by Heaven,
and the intercourse which arises out of all these duties, with a
view to the embellishment and orderly regulation of his own life-these
things, I say, the laws, as we proceed with them, will accomplish,
partly persuading, and partly when natures do not yield to the
persuasion of custom, chastising them by might and right, and will
thus render our state, if the Gods co-operate with us, prosperous
and happy. But of what has to be said, and must be said by the
legislator who is of my way of thinking, and yet, if said in the
form of law, would be out of place-of this I think that he may give
a sample for the instruction of himself and of those for whom he is
legislating; and then when, as far as he is able, he has gone
through all the preliminaries, he may proceed to the work of
legislation. Now, what will be the form of such prefaces? There may be
a difficulty in including or describing them all under a single
form, but I think that we may get some notion of them if we can
guarantee one thing.
Cle. What is that?
Ath. I should wish the citizens to be as readily persuaded to virtue
as possible; this will surely be the aim of the legislator in all
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
But before virtue the immortal Gods have placed the sweat of labour,
and long and steep is the way thither, and rugged at first; but when
you have reached the top, although difficult before, it is then easy.
Cle. Yes; and he certainly speaks well.
Ath. Very true: and now let me tell you the effect which the
preceding discourse has had upon me.
Ath. Suppose that we have a little conversation with the legislator,
and say to him-"O, legislator, speak; if you know what we ought to say
and do, you can surely tell."
Cle. Of course he can.
Ath. "Did we not hear you just now saying, that the legislator ought
not to allow the poets to do what they liked? For that they would
not know in which of their words they went against the laws, to the
hurt of the 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
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
Cle. What is it?
Ath. A point arising out of our previous discussion, which comes
into my mind in some mysterious way. All this time, from early dawn
until noon, have we been talking about laws in this charming
retreat: now we are going to promulgate our laws, and what has
preceded was only the prelude of them. Why do I mention this? For this
reason:-Because all discourses and vocal exercises have preludes and
overtures, which are a sort of artistic beginnings intended to help
the strain which is to be performed; lyric measures and music of every
other kind have preludes framed with wonderful care. But of the
truer and higher strain of law and politics, no one has ever yet
uttered any prelude, or composed or published any, as though there was
no such thing in nature. Whereas our present discussion seems to me to
imply that there is;-these double laws, of which we were speaking, are
not exactly double, but they are in two parts, the law and the prelude
of the law. The arbitrary command, which was compared to the
commands of doctors, whom we described as of the meaner sort, was
the law pure and simple; and that which preceded, and was described by
our friend here as being hortatory only, was, although in fact, an
exhortation, likewise analogous to the preamble of a discourse. For
I imagine that all this language of conciliation, which the legislator
has been uttering in the preface of the law, was intended to create
goodwill in the person whom he addressed, in order that, by reason
of this good-will, he might more intelligently receive his command,
that is to say, the law. And therefore, in my way of speaking, this is
more rightly described as the preamble than as the matter of the
law. And I must further proceed to observe, that to all his laws,
and to each separately, the legislator should prefix a preamble; he
should remember how great will be the difference between them,
according as they have, or have not, such preambles, as in the case
Cle. The lawgiver, if he asks my opinion, will certainly legislate
in the form which you advise.
Ath. I think that you are right, Cleinias, in affirming that all
laws have preambles, and that throughout the whole of this work of
legislation every single law should have a suitable preamble at the
beginning; for that which is to follow is most important, and it makes
all the difference whether we clearly remember the preambles or not.
Yet we should be wrong in requiring that all laws, small and great
alike, should have preambles of the same kind, any more than all songs
or speeches; although they may be natural to all, they are not
always necessary, and whether they are to be employed or not has in
each case to be left to the judgment of the speaker or the musician,
or, in the present instance, of the 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
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
Cle. Very good.