From Philosophy Archive
And now, assuming children of both sexes to have been born, it
will be proper for us to consider, in the next place, their nurture
and education; this cannot be left altogether unnoticed, and yet may
be thought a subject fitted rather for precept and admonition than for
law. In private life there are many little things, not always
apparent, arising out of the pleasures and pains and desires of
individuals, which run counter to the intention of the legislator, and
make the characters of the citizens various and dissimilar:-this is an
evil in states; for by reason of their smallness and frequent
occurrence, there would be an unseemliness and want of propriety in
making them penal by law; and if made penal, they are the
destruction of the written law because mankind get the habit of
frequently transgressing the law in small matters. The result is
that you cannot legislate about them, and still less can you be
silent. I speak somewhat darkly, but I shall endeavour also to bring
my wares into the light of day, for I acknowledge that at present
there is a want of clearness in what I am saying.
Cleinias. Very true.
Athenian. Stranger. Am I not right in maintaining that a good
education is that which tends most, to the improvement of mind and
Ath. And nothing can be plainer than that the fairest bodies are
those which grow up from infancy in the best and straightest manner?
Ath. And do we not further observe that the first shoot of every
living thing is by far the greatest and fullest? Many will even
contend that a man at twenty-five does not reach twice the height
which he attained at five.
Ath. Well, and is not rapid growth without proper and abundant
exercise the source endless evils in the body?
Ath. And the body should have the most exercise when it receives
Cle. But, Stranger, are we to impose this great amount of exercise
upon newly-born infants?
Ath. Nay, rather on the bodies of infants still unborn.
Cle. What do you mean, my good sir? In the process of gestation?
Ath. Exactly. I am not at all surprised that you have never heard of
this very peculiar sort of gymnastic applied to such little creatures,
which, although strange, I will endeavour to explain to you.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. The practice is more easy for us to understand than for you, by
reason of certain amusements which are carried to excess by us at
Athens. Not only boys, but often older persons, are in the habit of
keeping quails and cocks, which they train to fight one another. And
they are far from thinking that the contests in which they stir them
up to fight with one another are sufficient exercise; for, in addition
to this, they carry them about tucked beneath their armpits, holding
the smaller birds in their hands, the larger under their arms, and
go for a walk of a great many miles for the sake of health, that is to
say, not their own, health, but the health of the birds; whereby
they prove to any intelligent person, that all bodies are benefited by
shakings and movements, when they are moved without weariness, whether
motion proceeds from themselves, or is caused by a swing, or at sea,
or on horseback, or by other bodies in whatever way moving, and that
thus gaining the mastery over food and drink, they are able to
impart beauty and health and strength. But admitting all this, what
follows? Shall we make a ridiculous law that the pregnant woman
shall walk about and fashion the embryo within as we fashion wax
before it hardens, and after birth swathe the infant for two years?
Suppose that we compel nurses, under penalty of a legal fine, to be
always carrying the children somewhere or other, either to the
temples, or into the country, or to their relations, houses, until
they are well able to stand, and to take care that their limbs are not
distorted by leaning on them when they are too young-they should
continue to carry them until the infant has completed its third
year; the nurses should be strong, and there should be more than one
of them. Shall these be our rules, and shall we impose a penalty for
the neglect of them? No, no; the penalty of which we were speaking
will fall upon our own heads more than enough.
Cle. What penalty?
Ath. Ridicule, and the difficulty of getting the feminine and
servant-like dispositions of the nurses to comply.
Cle. Then why was there any need to speak of the matter at all?
Ath. The reason is that masters and freemen in states, when they
hear of it, are very likely to arrive at a true conviction that
without due regulation of private life in cities, stability in the
laying down of laws is hardly to be expected; and he who makes this
reflection may himself adopt the laws just now mentioned, and,
adopting them, may order his house and state well and be happy.
Cle. Likely enough.
Ath. And therefore let us proceed with our legislation until we have
determined the exercises which are suited to the souls of young
children, in the same manner in which we have begun to go through
the rules relating to their bodies.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Let us assume, then, as a first principle in relation both to
the body and soul of very young creatures, that nursing and moving
about by day and night is good for them all, and that the younger they
are, the more they will need it; infants should live, if that were
possible, as if they were always rocking at sea. This is the lesson
which we may gather from the experience of nurses, and likewise from
the use of the remedy of motion in the rites of the Corybantes; for
when mothers want their restless children to go to sleep they do not
employ rest, but, on the contrary, motion-rocking them in their
arms; nor do they give them silence, but they sing to them and lap
them in sweet strains; and the Bacchic women are cured of their frenzy
in the same manner by the use of the dance and of music.
Cle. Well, Stranger, and what is the reason of this?
Ath. The reason is obvious.
Ath. The affection both of the Bacchantes and of the children is
an emotion of fear, which springs out of an evil habit of the soul.
And when some one applies external agitation to affections of this
sort, the motion coming from without gets the better of the terrible
and violent internal one, and produces a peace and calm in the soul,
and quiets the restless palpitation of the heart, which is a thing
much to be desired, sending the children to sleep, and making the
Bacchantes, although they remain awake, to dance to the pipe with
the help of the Gods to whom they offer acceptable sacrifices, and
producing in them a sound mind, which takes the place of their frenzy.
And, to express what I mean in a word, there is a good deal to be said
in favour of this treatment.
Ath. But if fear has such a power we ought to infer from these
facts, that every soul which from youth upward has been familiar
with fears, will be made more liable to fear, and every one will allow
that this is the way to form a habit of cowardice and not of courage.
Cle. No doubt.
Ath. And, on the other hand, the habit of overcoming, from our youth
upwards, the fears and terrors which beset us, may be said to be an
exercise of courage.
Ath. And we may say that the use of exercise and motion in the
earliest years of life greatly contributes to create a part of
virtue in the soul.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. Further, a cheerful temper, or the reverse, may be regarded
as having much to do with high spirit on the one hand, or with
cowardice on the other.
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. Then now we must endeavour to show how and to what extent we
may, if we please, without difficulty implant either character in
Ath. There is a common opinion, that luxury makes the disposition of
youth discontented and irascible and vehemently excited by trifles;
that on the other hand excessive and savage servitude makes men mean
and abject, and haters of their kind, and therefore makes them
Cle. But how must the state educate those who do not as yet
understand the language of the country, and are therefore incapable of
appreciating any sort of instruction?
Ath. I will tell you how:-Every animal that is born is wont to utter
some cry, and this is especially the case with man, and he is also
affected with the inclination to weep more than any other animal.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. Do not nurses, when they want to know what an infant desires,
judge by these signs?-when anything is brought to the infant and he is
silent, then he is supposed to be pleased, but, when he weeps and
cries out, then he is not pleased. For tears and cries are the
inauspicious signs by which children show what they love and hate. Now
the time which is thus spent is no less than three years, and is a
very considerable portion of life to be passed ill or well.
Ath. Does not the discontented and ungracious nature appear to you
to be full of lamentations and sorrows more than a good man ought to
Ath. Well, but if during these three years every possible care
were taken that our nursling should have as little of sorrow and fear,
and in general of pain as was possible, might we not expect in early
childhood to make his soul more gentle and cheerful?
Cle. To be sure, Stranger-more especially if we could procure him
a variety of pleasures.
Ath. There I can no longer agree, Cleinias: you amaze me. To bring
him up in such a way would be his utter ruin; for the beginning is
always the most critical part of education. Let us see whether I am
Ath. The point about which you and I differ is of great
importance, and I hope that you, Megillus, will help to decide between
us. For I maintain that the true life should neither seek for
pleasures, nor, on the other hand, entirely avoid pains, but should
embrace the middle state, which I just spoke of as gentle and
benign, and is a state which we by some divine presage and inspiration
rightly ascribe to God. Now, I say, he among men, too, who would be
divine ought to pursue after this mean habit-he should not rush
headlong into pleasures, for he will not be free from pains; nor
should we allow any one, young or old, male or female, to be thus
given any more than ourselves, and least of all the newly-born infant,
for in infancy more than at any other time the character is
engrained by habit. Nay, more, if I were not afraid of appearing to be
ridiculous, I would say that a woman during her year of pregnancy
should of all women be most carefully tended, and kept from violent or
excessive pleasures and pains, and should at that time cultivate
gentleness and benevolence and kindness.
Cle. You need not, ask Megillus, Stranger, which of us has most
truly spoken; for I myself agree that all men ought to avoid the
life of unmingled pain or pleasure, and pursue always a middle course.
And having spoken well, may I add that you have been well answered?
Ath. Very good, Cleinias; and now let us all three consider a
Cle. What is it?
Ath. That all the matters which we are now describing are commonly
called by the general name of unwritten customs, and what are termed
the laws of our ancestors are all of similar nature. And the
reflection which lately arose in our minds, that we can neither call
these things laws, nor yet leave them unmentioned, is justified; for
they are the bonds of the whole state, and come in between the written
laws which are or are hereafter to be laid down; they are just
ancestral customs of great antiquity, which, if they are rightly
ordered and made habitual, shield and preserve the previously existing
written law; but if they depart from right and fall into disorder,
then they are like the props of builders which slip away out of
their Place and cause a universal ruin-one part drags another down,
and the fair super-structure falls because the old foundations are
undermined. Reflecting upon this, Cleinias, you ought to bind together
the new state in every possible way, omitting nothing, whether great
or small, of what are called laws or manners or pursuits, for by these
means a city is bound together, and all these things are only
lasting when they depend upon one another; and, therefore, we must not
wonder if we find that many apparently trifling customs or usages come
pouring in and lengthening out our laws.
Cle. Very true: we are disposed to agree with you.
Ath. Up to the age of three years, whether of boy or girl, if a
person strictly carries out our previous regulations and makes them
a principal aim, he will do much for the advantage of the young
creatures. But at three, four, five, and even six years the childish
nature will require sports; now is the time to get rid of self-will in
him, punishing him, but not so as to disgrace him. We were saying
about slaves, that we ought neither to add insult to punishment so
as to anger them, nor yet to leave them unpunished lest they become
self-willed; and a like rule is to be observed in the case of the
free-born. Children at that age have certain natural modes of
amusement which they find out for themselves when they meet. And all
the children who are between the ages of three and six ought to meet
at the temples the villages, the several families of a village uniting
on one spot. The nurses are to see that the children behave properly
and orderly-they themselves and all their companies are to be under
the control of twelve matrons, one for each company, who are
annually selected to inspect them from the women previously mentioned,
[i.e., the women who have authority over marriage], whom the guardians
of the law appoint. These matrons shall be chosen by the women who
have authority over marriage, one out of each tribe; all are to be
of the same age; and let each of them, as soon as she is appointed,
hold office and go to the temples every day, punishing all
offenders, male or female, who are slaves or strangers, by the help of
some of the public slaves; but if any citizen disputes the punishment,
let her bring him before the wardens of the city; or, if there be no
dispute, let her punish him herself. After the age of six years the
time has arrived for the separation of the sexes-let boys live with
boys, and girls in like manner with girls. Now they must begin to
learn-the boys going to teachers of horsemanship and the use of the
bow, the javelin, and sling, and the girls too, if they do not object,
at any rate until they know how to manage these weapons, and
especially how to handle heavy arms; for I may note, that the practice
which now prevails is almost universally misunderstood.
Cle. In what respect?
Ath. In that the right and left hand are supposed to be by nature
differently suited for our various uses of them; whereas no difference
is found in the use of the feet and the lower limbs; but in the use of
the hands we are, as it were, maimed by the folly of nurses and
mothers; for although our several limbs are by nature balanced, we
create a difference in them by bad habit. In some cases this is of
no consequence, as, for example, when we hold the lyre in the left
hand, and the plectrum in the right, but it is downright folly to make
the same distinction in other cases. The custom of the Scythians
proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the
left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use
either hand for both purposes. And there are many similar examples
in charioteering and other things, from which we may learn that
those who make the left side weaker than the right act contrary to
nature. In the case of the plectrum, which is of horn only, and
similar instruments, as I was saying, it is of no consequence, but
makes a great difference, and may be of very great importance to the
warrior who has to use iron weapons, bows and javelins, and the
like; above all, when in heavy armour, he has to fight against heavy
armour. And there is a very great difference between one who has
learnt and one who has not, and between one who has been trained in
gymnastic exercises and one who has not been. For as he who is
perfectly skilled in the Pancratium or boxing or wrestling, is not
unable to fight from his left side, and does not limp and draggle in
confusion when his opponent makes him change his position, so in
heavy-armed fighting, and in all other things if I am not mistaken,
the like holds-he who has these double powers of attack and defence
ought not in any case to leave them either unused or untrained, if
he can help; and if a person had the nature of Geryon or Briareus he
ought to be able with his hundred hands to throw a hundred darts. Now,
the magistrates, male and female, should see to all these things,
the women superintending the nursing and amusements of the children,
and the men superintending their education, that all of them, boys and
girls alike, may be sound hand and foot, and may not, if they can
help, spoil the gifts of nature by bad habits.
Education has two branches-one of gymnastic, which is concerned with
the body, and the other of music, which is designed for the
improvement of the soul. And gymnastic has also two branches-dancing
and wrestling; and one sort of dancing imitates musical recitation,
and aims at preserving dignity and freedom, the other aims at
producing health, agility, and beauty in the limbs and parts of the
body, giving the proper flexion and extension to each of them, a
harmonious motion being diffused everywhere, and forming a suitable
accompaniment to the dance. As regards wrestling, the tricks which
Antaeus and Cercyon devised in their systems out of a vain spirit of
competition, or the tricks of boxing which Epeius or Amycus
invented, are useless and unsuitable for war, and do not deserve to
have much said about them; but the art of wrestling erect and
keeping free the neck and hands and sides, working with energy and
constancy, with a composed strength, and for the sake of
health-these are always useful, and are not to be neglected, but to be
enjoined alike on masters and scholars, when we reach that part of
legislation; and we will desire the one to give their instructions
freely, and the others to receive them thankfully. Nor, again, must we
omit suitable imitations of war in our choruses; here in Crete you
have the armed dances if the Curetes, and the Lacedaemonians have
those of the Dioscuri. And our virgin lady, delighting in the
amusement of the dance, thought it not fit to amuse herself with empty
hands; she must be clothed in a complete suit of armour, and in this
attire go through the dance; and youths and maidens should in every
respect imitate her, esteeming highly the favour of the Goddess,
both with a view to the necessities of war, and to festive
occasions: it will be right also for the boys, until such time as they
go out to war, to make processions and supplications to all the Gods
in goodly array, armed and on horseback, in dances, and marches,
fast or slow, offering up prayers to the Gods and to the sons of Gods;
and also engaging in contests and preludes of contests, if at all,
with these objects: For these sorts of exercises, and no others, are
useful both in peace and war, and are beneficial alike to states and
to private houses. But other labours and sports and exercises of the
body are unworthy of freemen, O Megillus and Cleinias.
I have now completely described the kind of gymnastic which I said
at first ought to be described; if you know of any better, will you
communicate your thoughts?
Cle. It is not easy, Stranger, to put aside these principles of
gymnastic and wrestling and to enunciate better ones.
Ath. Now we must say what has yet to be said about the gifts of
the Muses and of Apollo: before, we fancied that we had said all,
and that gymnastic alone remained; but now we see clearly what
points have been omitted, and should be first proclaimed; of these,
then, let us proceed to speak.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Let me tell you once more-although you have heard me say the
same before that caution must be always exercised, both by the speaker
and by the hearer, about anything that is very singular and unusual.
For my tale is one, which many a man would be afraid to tell, and
yet I have a confidence which makes me go on.
Cle. What have you to say, Stranger?
Ath. I say that in states generally no one has observed that the
plays of childhood have a great deal to do with the permanence or want
of permanence in legislation. For when plays are ordered with a view
to children having the same plays, and amusing themselves after the
same manner, and finding delight in the same playthings, the more
solemn institutions of the state are allowed to remain undisturbed.
Whereas if sports are disturbed, and innovations are made in them, and
they constantly change, and the young never speak of their having
the same likings, or the same established notions of good and bad
taste, either in the bearing of their bodies or in their dress, but he
who devises something new and out of the way in figures and colours
and the like is held in special honour, we may truly say that no
greater evil can happen in a state; for he who changes the sports is
secretly changing the manners of the young, and making the old to be
dishonoured among them and the new to be honoured. And I affirm that
there is nothing which is a greater injury to all states than saying
or thinking thus. Will you hear me tell how great I deem the evil to
Cle. You mean the evil of blaming antiquity in states?
Cle. If you are speaking of that, you will find in us hearers who
are disposed to receive what you say not unfavourably but most
Ath. I should expect so.
Ath. Well, then, let us give all the greater heed to one another's
words. The argument affirms that any change whatever except from
evil is the most dangerous of all things; this is true in the case
of the seasons and of the winds, in the management of our bodies and
the habits of our minds-true of all things except, as I said before,
of the bad. He who looks at the constitution of individuals accustomed
to eat any sort of meat, or drink any drink, or to do any work which
they can get, may see that they are at first disordered by them, but
afterwards, as time goes on, their bodies grow adapted to them, and
they learn to know and like variety, and have good health and
enjoyment of life; and if ever afterwards they are confined again to a
superior diet, at first they are troubled with disorders, and with
difficulty become habituated to their new food. A similar principle we
may imagine to hold good about the minds of men and the natures of
their souls. For when they have been brought up in certain laws, which
by some Divine Providence have remained unchanged during long ages, so
that no one has any memory or tradition of their ever having been
otherwise than they are, then every one is afraid and ashamed to
change that which is established. The legislator must somehow find a
way of implanting this reverence for antiquity, and I would propose
the following way:-People are apt to fancy, as I was saying before,
that when the plays of children are altered they are merely plays, not
seeing that the most serious and detrimental consequences arise out of
the change; and they readily comply with the child's wishes instead of
deterring him, not considering that these children who make
innovations in their games, when they grow up to be men, will be
different from the last generation of children, and, being
different, will desire a different sort of life, and under the
influence of this desire will want other institutions and laws; and no
one of them reflects that there will follow what I just now called the
greatest of evils to states. Changes in bodily fashions are no such
serious evils, but frequent changes in the praise and censure of
manners are the greatest of evils, and require the utmost prevision.
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And now do we still hold to our former assertion, that
rhythms and music in general are imitations of good and evil
characters in men? What say you?
Cle. That is the only doctrine which we can admit.
Ath. Must we not, then, try in every possible way to prevent our
youth from even desiring to imitate new modes either in dance or song?
nor must any one be allowed to offer them varieties of pleasures.
Cle. Most true.
Ath. Can any of us imagine a better mode of effecting this object
than that of the Egyptians?
Cle. What is their method?
Ath. To consecrate every sort of dance or melody. First we should
ordain festivals-calculating for the year what they ought to be, and
at what time, and in honour of what Gods, sons of Gods, and heroes
they ought to be celebrated; and, in the next place, what hymns
ought to be sung at the several sacrifices, and with what dances the
particular festival is to be honoured. This has to be arranged at
first by certain persons, and, when arranged, the whole assembly of
the citizens are to offer sacrifices and libations to the Fates and
all the other Gods, and to consecrate the several odes to gods and
heroes: and if any one offers any other hymns or dances to any one
of the Gods, the priests and priestesses, acting in concert with the
guardians of the law, shall, with the sanction of religion and the
law, exclude him, and he who is excluded, if he do not submit, shall
be liable all his life long to have a suit of impiety brought
against him by any one who likes.
Cle. Very good.
Ath. In the consideration of this subject, let us remember what is
due to ourselves.
Cle. To what are you referring?
Ath. I mean that any young man, and much more any old one, when he
sees or hears anything strange or unaccustomed, does not at once run
to embrace the paradox, but he stands considering, like a person who
is at a place where three paths meet, and does not very well know
his way-he may be alone or he may be walking with others, and he
will say to himself and them, "Which is the way?" and will not move
forward until he is satisfied that he is going right. And this is what
we must do in the present instance:-A strange discussion on the
subject of law has arisen, which requires the utmost consideration,
and we should not at our age be too ready to speak about such great
matters, or be confident that we can say anything certain all in a
Cle. Most true.
Ath. Then we will allow time for reflection, and decide when we have
given the subject sufficient consideration. But that we may not be
hindered from completing the natural arrangement of our laws, let us
proceed to the conclusion of them in due order; for very possibly,
if God will, the exposition of them, when completed, may throw light
on our present perplexity.
Cle. Excellent, Stranger; let us do as you propose.
Ath. Let us then affirm the paradox that strains of music are our
laws (nomoi), and this latter being the name which the ancients gave
to lyric songs, they probably would not have very much objected to our
proposed application of the word. Some one, either asleep or awake,
must have had a dreamy suspicion of their nature. And let our decree
be as follows:-No one in singing or dancing shall offend against
public and consecrated models, and the general fashion among the
youth, any more than he would offend against any other law. And he who
observes this law shall be blameless; but he who is disobedient, as
I was saying, shall be punished by the guardians of the laws, and by
the priests and priestesses. Suppose that we imagine this to be our
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Can any one who makes such laws escape ridicule? Let us see.
I think that our only safety will be in first framing certain models
for composers. One of these models shall be as follows:-If when a
sacrifice is going on, and the victims are being burnt according to
law-if, I say, any one who may be a son or brother, standing by
another at the altar and over the victims, horribly blasphemes, will
not his words inspire despondency and evil omens and forebodings in
the mind of his father and of his other kinsmen?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And this is just what takes place in almost all our cities. A
magistrate offers a public sacrifice, and there come in not one but
many choruses, who take up a position a little way from the altar, and
from time to time pour forth all sorts of horrible blasphemies on
the sacred rites, exciting the souls of the audience with words and
rhythms and melodies most sorrowful to hear; and he who at the
moment when the city is offering sacrifice makes the citizens weep
most, carries away the palm of victory. Now, ought we not to forbid
such strains as these? And if ever our citizens must hear such
lamentations, then on some unblest and inauspicious day let there be
choruses of foreign and hired minstrels, like those hirelings who
accompany the departed at funerals with barbarous Carian chants.
That is the sort of thing which will be appropriate if we have such
strains at all; and let the apparel of the singers be, not circlets
and ornaments of gold, but the reverse. Enough of all this. I will
simply ask once more whether we shall lay down as one of our
principles of song-
Ath. That we should avoid every word of evil omen; let that kind
of song which is of good omen be heard everywhere and always in our
state. I need hardly ask again, but shall assume that you agree with
Cle. By all means; that law is approved by the suffrages of us all.
Ath. But what shall be our next musical law or type? Ought not
prayers to be offered up to the Gods when we sacrifice?
Ath. And our third law, if I am not mistaken, will be to the
effect that our poets, understanding prayers to be requests which we
make to the Gods, will take especial heed that they do not by
mistake ask for evil instead of good. To make such a prayer would
surely be too ridiculous.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Were we not a little while ago quite convinced that no silver
or golden Plutus should dwell in our state?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And what has it been the object of our argument to show? Did we
not imply that the poets are not always quite capable of knowing
what is good or evil? And if one of them utters a mistaken prayer in
song or words, he will make our citizens pray for the opposite of what
is good in matters of the highest import; than which, as I was saying,
there can be few greater mistakes. Shall we then propose as one of our
laws and models relating to the Muses-
Cle. What?-will you explain the law more precisely?
Ath. Shall we make a law that the poet shall compose nothing
contrary to the ideas of the lawful, or just, or beautiful, or good,
which are allowed in the state? nor shall he be permitted to
communicate his compositions to any private individuals, until he
shall have shown them to the appointed judges and the guardians of the
law, and they are satisfied with them. As to the persons whom we
appoint to be our legislators about music and as to the director of
education, these have been already indicated. Once more then, as I
have asked more than once, shall this be our third law, and type,
and model-What do you say?
Cle. Let it be so, by all means.
Ath. Then it will be proper to have hymns and praises of the Gods,
intermingled with prayers; and after the Gods prayers and praises
should be offered in like manner to demigods and heroes, suitable to
their several characters.
Ath. In the next place there will be no objection to a law, that
citizens who are departed and have done good and energetic deeds,
either with their souls or with their bodies, and have been obedient
to the laws, should receive eulogies; this will be very fitting.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. But to honour with hymns and panegyrics those who are still
alive is not safe; a man should run his course, and make a fair
ending, and then we will praise him; and let praise be given equally
to women as well as men who have been distinguished in virtue. The
order of songs and dances shall be as follows:-There are many
ancient musical compositions and dances which are excellent, and
from these the newly-founded city may freely select what is proper and
suitable; and they shall choose judges of not less than fifty years of
age, who shall make the selection, and any of the old poems which they
deem sufficient they shall include; any that are deficient or
altogether unsuitable, they shall either utterly throw aside, or
examine and amend, taking into their counsel poets and musicians,
and making use of their poetical genius; but explaining to them the
wishes of the legislator in order that they may regulate dancing,
music, and all choral strains, according to the mind of the judges;
and not allowing them to indulge, except in some few matters, their
individual pleasures and fancies. Now the irregular strain of music is
always made ten thousand times better by attaining to law and order,
and rejecting the honeyed Muse-not however that we mean wholly to
exclude pleasure, which is the characteristic of all music. And if a
man be brought up from childhood to the age of discretion and maturity
in the use of the orderly and severe music, when he hears the opposite
he detests it, and calls it illiberal; but if trained in the sweet and
vulgar music, he deems the severer kind cold and displeasing. So that,
as I was saying before, while he who hears them gains no more pleasure
from the one than from the other, the one has the advantage of
making those who are trained in it better men, whereas the other makes
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Again, we must distinguish and determine on some general
principle what songs are suitable to women, and what to men, and
must assign to them their proper melodies and rhythms. It is
shocking for a whole harmony to be inharmonical, or for a rhythm to be
unrhythmical, and this will happen when the melody is inappropriate to
them. And therefore the legislator must assign to these also their
forms. Now both sexes have melodies and rhythms which of necessity
belong to them; and those of women are clearly enough indicated by
their natural difference. The grand, and that which tends to
courage, may be fairly called manly; but that which inclines to
moderation and temperance, may be declared both in law and in ordinary
speech to be the more womanly quality. This, then, will be the general
order of them.
Let us now speak of the manner of teaching and imparting them, and
the persons to whom, and the time when, they are severally to be
imparted. As the shipwright first lays down the lines of the keel, and
thus, as it were, draws the ship in outline, so do I seek to
distinguish the patterns of life, and lay down their keels according
to the nature of different men's souls; seeking truly to consider by
what means, and in what ways, we may go through the voyage of life
best. Now human affairs are hardly worth considering in earnest, and
yet we must be in earnest about them-a sad necessity constrains us.
And having got thus far, there will be a fitness in our completing the
matter, if we can only find some suitable method of doing so. But what
do I mean? Some one may ask this very question, and quite rightly,
Ath. I say that about serious matters a man should be serious, and
about a matter which is not serious he should not be, serious; and
that God is the natural and worthy object of our most serious and
blessed endeavours, for man, as I said before, is made to be the
plaything of God, and this, truly considered, is the best of him;
wherefore also every man and woman should walk seriously, and pass
life in the noblest of pastimes, and be of another mind from what they
are at present.
Cle. In what respect?
Ath. At present they think that their serious suits should be for
the sake of their sports, for they deem war a serious. pursuit,
which must be managed well for the sake of peace; but the truth is,
that there neither is, nor has been, nor ever will be, either
amusement or instruction in any degree worth, speaking of in war,
which is nevertheless deemed by us to be the most serious of our
pursuits. And therefore, as we say, every one of us should live the
life of peace as long and as well as he can. And what is the right way
of living? Are we to live in sports always? If so, in what kind of
sports? We ought to live sacrificing, and singing, and dancing, and
then a man will be able to propitiate the Gods, and to defend
himself against his enemies and conquer them in battle. The type of
song or dance by which he will propitiate them has been described, and
the paths along which he is to proceed have been cut for him. He
will go forward in the spirit of the poet:
Telemachus, some things thou wilt thyself find in thy heart, but
other things God will suggest; for I deem that thou wast not brought
up without the will of the Gods.
And this ought to be the view of our alumni; they ought to think
that what has been said is enough for them, and that any other
things their Genius and God will suggest to them-he will tell them
to whom, and when, and to what Gods severally they are to sacrifice
and perform dances, and how they may propitiate the deities, and
live according to the appointment of nature; being for the most part
puppets, but having some little share of reality.
Megillus. You have a low opinion of mankind, Stranger.
Ath. Nay, Megillus, be not amazed, but forgive me:-I was comparing
them with the Gods; and under that feeling I spoke. Let us grant, if
you wish, that the human race is not to be despised, but is worthy
of some consideration.
Next follow the buildings for gymnasia and schools open to all;
these are to be in three places in the midst of the city; and
outside the city and in the surrounding country, also in three places,
there shall be schools for horse exercise, and large grounds
arranged with a view to archery and the throwing of missiles, at which
young men may learn and practise. Of these mention has already been
made, and if the mention be not sufficiently explicit, let us speak,
further of them and embody them in laws. In these several schools
let there be dwellings for teachers, who shall be brought from foreign
parts by pay, and let them teach those who attend the schools the
art of war and the art of music, and the children shall come not
only if their parents please, but if they do not please; there shall
be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far
this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the
state rather than to their parents. My law would apply to females as
well as males; they shall both go through the same exercises. I assert
without fear of contradiction that gymnastic and horsemanship are as
suitable to women as to men. Of the truth of this I am persuaded
from ancient tradition, and at the present day there are said to be
countless myriads of women in the neighbourhood of the Black Sea,
called Sauromatides, who not only ride on horseback like men, but have
enjoined upon them the use of bows and other weapons equally with
the men. And I further affirm, that if these things are possible,
nothing can be more absurd than the practice which prevails in our own
country, of men and women not following the same pursuits with all
their strength and with one mind, for thus the state, instead of being
a whole, is reduced to a half, but has the same imposts to pay and the
same toils to undergo; and what can be a greater mistake for any
legislator to make than this?
Cle. Very true; yet much of what has been asserted by us, Stranger
is contrary to the custom of states; still, in saying that the
discourse should be allowed to proceed, and that when the discussion
is completed, we should choose what seems best, you spoke very
properly, and I now feel compunction for what I have said. Tell me,
then, what you would next wish to say.
Ath. I should wish to say, Cleinias, as I said before, that if the
possibility of these things were not sufficiently proven in fact, then
there might be an objection to the argument, but the fact being as I
have said, he who rejects the law must find some other ground of
objection; and, failing this, our exhortation will still hold good,
nor will any one deny that women ought to share as far as possible
in education and in other ways with men. For consider;-if women do not
share in their whole life with men, then they must have some other
order of life.
Ath. And what arrangement of life to be found anywhere is preferable
to this community which we are now assigning to them? Shall we
prefer that which is adopted by the Thracians and many other races who
use their women to till the ground and to be shepherds of their
herds and flocks, and to minister to them like slaves?-Or shall we
do as we and people in our part of the world do-getting together, as
the phrase is, all our goods and chattels into one dwelling, we
entrust them to our women, who are the stewards of them, and who
also preside over the shuttles and the whole art of spinning? Or shall
we take a middle course, in Lacedaemon, Megillus-letting the girls
share in gymnastic and music, while the grown-up women, no longer
employed in spinning wool, are hard at work weaving the web of life,
which will be no cheap or mean employment, and in the duty of
serving and taking care of the household and bringing up children,
in which they will observe a sort of mean, not participating in the
toils of war; and if there were any necessity that they should fight
for their city and families, unlike the Amazons, they would be
unable to take part in archery or any other skilled use of missiles,
nor could they, after the example of the Goddess, carry shield or
spear, or stand up nobly for their country when it was being
destroyed, and strike terror into their enemies, if only because
they were seen in regular order? Living as they do, they would never
dare at all to imitate the Sauromatides, who, when compared with
ordinary women, would appear to be like men. Let him who will,
praise your legislators, but I must say what I think. The legislator
ought to be whole and perfect, and not half a man only; he ought not
to let the female sex live softly and waste money and have no order of
life, while he takes the utmost care of the male sex, and leaves
half of life only blest with happiness, when he might have made the
whole state happy.
Meg. What shall we do, Cleinias? Shall we allow a stranger to run
down Sparta in this fashion?
Cle. Yes; for as we have given him liberty of speech we must let him
go on until we have perfected the work of legislation.
Meg. Very true.
Ath. Then now I may proceed?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. What will be the manner of life among men who may be supposed
to have their food and clothing provided for them in moderation, and
who have entrusted the practice of the arts to others, and whose
husbandry, committed to slaves paying a part of the produce, brings
them a return sufficient for men living temperately; who, moreover,
have common tables in which the men are placed apart, and near them
are the common tables of their families, of their daughters and
mothers, which day by day, the officers, male and female, are to
inspect-they shall see to the behaviour of the company, and so dismiss
them; after which the presiding magistrate and his attendants shall
honour with libations those Gods to whom that day and night are
dedicated, and then go home? To men whose lives are thus ordered, is
there no work remaining to be done which is necessary and fitting, but
shall each one of them live fattening like a beast? Such a life is
neither just nor honourable, nor can he who lives it fail of meeting
his due; and the due reward of the idle fatted beast is that he should
be torn in pieces by some other valiant beast whose fatness is worn
down by brave deeds and toil. These regulations, if we duly consider
them, will never be exactly carried into execution under present
circumstances, nor as long as women and children and houses and all
other things are the private property of individuals; but if we can
attain the second-best form of polity, we shall be very well off.
And to men living under this second polity there remains a work to
be accomplished which is far from being small or insignificant, but is
the greatest of all works, and ordained by the appointment of
righteous law. For the life which may be truly said to be concerned
with the virtue of body and soul is twice, or more than twice, as full
of toil and trouble as the pursuit after Pythian and Olympic
victories, which debars a man from every employment of life. For there
ought to be no bye-work interfering with the greater work of providing
the necessary exercise and nourishment for the body, and instruction
and education for the soul. Night and day are not long enough for
the accomplishment of their perfection and consummation; and therefore
to this end all freemen ought to arrange the way in which they will
spend their time during the whole course of the day, from morning till
evening and from evening till the morning of the next sunrise. There
may seem to be some impropriety in the legislator determining minutely
the numberless details of the management of the house, including
such particulars as the duty of wakefulness in those who are to be
perpetual watchmen of the whole city; for that any citizen should
continue during the whole of any night in sleep, instead of being seen
by all his servants, always the first to awake and get up-this,
whether the regulation is to be called a law or only a practice,
should be deemed base and unworthy of a freeman; also that the
mistress of the house should be awakened by her handmaidens instead of
herself first awakening them, is what the slaves, male and female, and
the serving-boys, and, if that were possible, everybody and everything
in the house should regard as base. If they rise early, they may all
of them do much of their public and of their household business, as
magistrates in the city, and masters and mistresses in their private
houses, before the sun is up. Much sleep is not required by nature,
either for our souls or bodies, or for the actions which they perform.
For no one who is asleep is good for anything, any more than if he
were dead; but he of us who has the most regard for life and reason
keeps awake as long he can, reserving only so much time for sleep as
is expedient for health; and much sleep is not required, if the
habit of moderation be once rightly formed. Magistrates in states
who keep awake at night are terrible to the bad, whether enemies or
citizens, and are honoured and reverenced by the just and temperate,
and are useful to themselves and to the whole state.
A night which is passed in such a manner, in addition to all the
above-mentioned advantages, infuses a sort of courage into the minds
of the citizens. When the day breaks, the time has arrived for youth
to go to their schoolmasters. Now neither sheep nor any other
animals can live without a shepherd, nor can children be left
without tutors, or slaves without masters. And of all animals the
boy is the most unmanageable, inasmuch as he has the fountain of
reason in him not yet regulated; he is the most insidious,
sharp-witted, and insubordinate of animals. Wherefore he must be bound
with many bridles; in the first place, when he gets away from
mothers and nurses, he must be under the management of tutors on
account of his childishness and foolishness; then, again, being a
freeman, he must be controlled by teachers, no matter what they teach,
and by studies; but he is also a slave, and in that regard any freeman
who comes in his way may punish him and his tutor and his
instructor, if any of them does anything wrong; and he who comes
across him and does not inflict upon him the punishment which he
deserves, shall incur the greatest disgrace; and let the guardian of
the law, who is the director of education, see to him who coming in
the way of the offences which we have mentioned, does not chastise
them when he ought, or chastises them in a way which he ought not; let
him keep a sharp look-out, and take especial care of the training of
our children, directing their natures, and always turning them to good
according to the law.
But how can our law sufficiently train the director of education.
himself; for as yet all has been imperfect, and nothing has been
said either clear or satisfactory? Now, as far as possible, the law
ought to leave nothing to him, but to explain everything, that he
may be an interpreter and tutor to others. About dances and music
and choral strains, I have already spoken both to the character of the
selection of them, and the manner in which they are to be amended
and consecrated. But we have not as yet spoken, O illustrious guardian
of education, of the manner in which your pupils are to use those
strains which are written in prose, although you have been informed
what martial strains they are to learn and practise; what relates in
the first place to the learning of letters, and secondly, to the lyre,
and also to calculation, which, as we were saying, is needful for them
all to learn, and any other things which are required with a view to
war and the management of house and city, and, looking to the same
object, what is useful in the revolutions of the heavenly bodies-the
stars and sun and moon, and the various regulations about these
matters which are necessary for the whole state-I am speaking of the
arrangements of; days in periods of months, and of months in years,
which are to be observed, in order that seasons and sacrifices and
festivals may have their regular and natural order, and keep the
city alive and awake, the Gods receiving the honours due to them,
and men having a better understanding about them: all these things,
O my friend, have not yet been sufficiently declared to you by the
legislator. Attend, then, to what I am now going to say:-We were
telling you, in the first place, that you were not sufficiently
informed about letters, and the objection was to this effect-that
you were never told whether he who was meant to be a respectable
citizen should apply himself in detail to that sort of learning, or
not apply himself at all; and the same remark holds good of the
study of the lyre. But now we say that he ought to attend to them. A
fair time for a boy of ten years old to spend in letters is three
years; the age of thirteen is the proper time for him to begin to
handle the lyre, and he may continue at this for another three
years, neither more nor less, and whether his father or himself like
or dislike the study, he is not to be allowed to spend more or less
time in learning music than the law allows. And let him who disobeys
the law be deprived of those youthful honours of which we shall
hereafter speak. Hear, however, first of all, what the young ought
to learn in the early years of life, and what their instructors
ought to teach them. They ought to be occupied with their letters
until they are to read and write; but the acquisition of perfect
beauty or quickness in writinig, if nature has not stimulated them
to acquire these accomplishments in the given number of years, they
should let alone. And as to the learning of compositions committed
to writing which are not set to the lyre, whether metrical or
without rhythmical divisions, compositions in prose, as they are
termed, having no rhythm or harmony-seeing how dangerous are the
writings handed down to us by many writers of this class-what will you
do with them, O most excellent guardians of the law? or how can the
lawgiver rightly direct you about them? I believe that he will be in
Cle. What troubles you, Stranger? and why are you so perplexed in
Ath. You naturally ask, Cleinias, and to you and Megillus, who are
my partners in the work of legislation, I must state the more
difficult as well as the easier parts of the task.
Cle. To what do you refer in this instance?
Ath. I will tell you. There is a difficulty in opposing many myriads
Cle. Well, and have we not already opposed the popular voice in many
Ath. That is quite true; and you mean to imply, that the road
which we are taking may be disagreeable to some but is agreeable to as
many others, or if not to as many, at any rate to persons not inferior
to the others, and in company with them you bid me, at whatever
risk, to proceed along the path of legislation which has opened out of
our present discourse, and to be of good cheer, and not to faint.
Ath. And I do not faint; I say, indeed, that we have a great many
poets writing in hexameter, trimeter, and all sorts of measures-some
who are serious, others who aim only at raising a laugh-and all
mankind declare that the youth who are rightly educated should be
brought up in them and saturated with them; some insist that they
should be constantly hearing them read aloud, and always learning
them, so as to get by heart entire poets; while others select choice
passages and long speeches, and make compendiums of them, saying
that these ought to be committed to memory, if a man is to be made
good and wise by experience and learning of many things. And you
want me now to tell them plainly in what they are right and in what
they are wrong.
Cle. Yes, I do.
Ath. But how can I in one word rightly comprehend all of them? I am
of opinion, and, if I am not mistaken, there is a general agreement,
that every one of these poets has said many things well and many
things the reverse of well; and if this be true, then I do affirm that
much learning is dangerous to youth.
Cle. How would you advise the guardian of the law to act?
Ath. In what respect?
Cle. I mean to what pattern should he look as his guide in
permitting the young to learn some things and forbidding them to learn
others. Do not shrink from answering.
Ath. My good Cleinias, I rather think that I am fortunate.
Cle. How so?
Ath. I think that I am not wholly in want of a pattern, for when I
consider the words which we have spoken from early dawn until now, and
which, as I believe, have been inspired by Heaven, they appear to me
to be quite like a poem. When I reflected upon all these words of
ours. I naturally felt pleasure, for of all the discourses which I
have ever learnt or heard, either in poetry or prose, this seemed to
me to be the justest, and most suitable for young men to hear; I
cannot imagine any better pattern than this which the guardian of
the law who is also the director of education can have. He cannot do
better than advise the teachers to teach the young these words and any
which are of a like nature, if he should happen to find them, either
in poetry or prose, or if he come across unwritten discourses akin
to ours, he should certainly preserve them, and commit them to
writing. And, first of all, he shall constrain the teachers themselves
to learn and approve them, and any of them who will not, shall not
be employed by him, but those whom he finds agreeing in his
judgment, he shall make use of and shall commit to them the
instruction and education of youth. And here and on this wise let my
fanciful tale about letters and teachers of letters come to an end.
Cle. I do not think, Stranger, that we have wandered out of the
proposed limits of the argument; but whether we are right or not in
our whole conception, I cannot be very certain.
Ath. The truth, Cleinias, may be expected to become clearer when, as
we have often said, we arrive at the end of the whole discussion about
Ath. And now that we have done with the teacher of letters, the
teacher of the lyre has to receive orders from us.
Ath. I think that we have only to recollect our previous
discussions, and we shall be able to give suitable regulations
touching all this part of instruction and education to the teachers of
Cle. To what do you refer?
Ath. We were saying, if I remember rightly, that the
sixty-year-old choristers of Dionysus were to be specially quick in
their perceptions of rhythm and musical composition, that they might
be able to distinguish good and bad imitation, that is to say, the
imitation of the good or bad soul when under the influence of passion,
rejecting the one and displaying the other in hymns and songs,
charming the souls of youth, and inviting them to follow and attain
virtue by the way of imitation.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And with this view, the teacher and the learner ought to use
the sounds of the lyre, because its notes are pure, the player who
teaches and his pupil rendering note for note in unison; but
complexity, and variation of notes, when the strings give one sound
and the poet or composer of the melody gives another-also when they
make concords and harmonies in which lesser and greater intervals,
slow and quick, or high and low notes, are combined-or, again, when
they make complex variations of rhythms, which they adapt to the notes
of the lyre-all that sort of thing is not suited to those who have
to acquire a speedy and useful knowledge of music in three years;
for opposite principles are confusing, and create a difficulty in
learning, and our young men should learn quickly, and their mere
necessary acquirements are not few or trifling, as will be shown in
due course. Let the director of education attend to the principles
concerning music which we are laying down. As to the songs and words
themselves which the masters of choruses are to teach and the
character of them, they have been already described by us, and are the
same which, when consecrated and adapted to the different festivals,
we said were to benefit cities by affording them an innocent
Cle. That, again, is true.
Ath. Then let him who has been elected a director of music receive
these rules from us as containing the very truth; and may he prosper
in his office! Let us now proceed to lay down other rules in
addition to the preceding about dancing and gymnastic exercise in
general. Having said what remained to be said about the teaching of
music, let us speak in like manner about gymnastic. For boys and girls
ought to learn to dance and practise gymnastic exercises-ought they
Ath. Then the boys ought to have dancing masters, and the girls
dancing mistresses to exercise them.
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Then once more let us summon him who has the chief concern in
the business, the superintendent of youth [i.e., the director of
education]; he will have plenty to do, if he is to have the charge
of music and gymnastic.
Cle. But how will old man be able to attend to such great charges?
Ath. O my friend, there will be no difficulty, for the law has
already given and will give him permission to select as his assistants
in this charge any citizens, male or female, whom he desires; and he
will know whom he ought to choose, and will be anxious not to make a
mistake, from a due sense of responsibility, and from a
consciousness of the importance of his office, and also because he
will consider that if young men have been and are well brought up,
then all things go swimmingly, but if not, it is not meet to say,
nor do we say, what will follow, lest the regarders of omens should
take alarm about our infant state. Many things have been said by us
about dancing and about gymnastic movements in general; for we include
under gymnastics all military exercises, such as archery, and all
hurling of weapons, and the use of the light shield, and all
fighting with heavy arms, and military evolutions, and movements of
armies, and encampings, and all that relates to horsemanship. Of all
these things there ought to be public teachers, receiving pay from the
state, and their pupils should be the men and boys in the state, and
also the girls and women, who are to know all these things. While they
are yet girls they should have practised dancing in arms and the whole
art of fighting-when grown-up women, they should apply themselves to
evolutions and tactics, and the mode of grounding and taking up
arms; if for no other reason, yet in case the whole military force
should have to leave the city and carry on operations of war
outside, that those who will have to guard the young and the rest of
the city may be equal to the task; and, on the other hand, when
enemies, whether barbarian or Hellenic, come from without with
mighty force and make a violent assault upon them, and thus compel
them to fight for the possession of the city, which is far from
being an impossibility, great would be the disgrace to the state, if
the women had been so miserably trained that they could not fight
for their young, as birds will, against any creature however strong,
and die or undergo any danger, but must instantly rush to the
temples and crowd at the altars and shrines, and bring upon human
nature the reproach, that of all animals man is the most cowardly!
Cle. Such a want of education, Stranger, is certainly an unseemly
thing to happen in a state, as well as a great misfortune.
Ath. Suppose that we carry our law to the extent of saying that
women ought not to neglect military matters, but that all citizens,
male and female alike, shall attend to them?
Cle. I quite agree.
Ath. Of wrestling we have spoken in part, but of what I should
call the most important part we have not spoken, and cannot easily
speak without showing at the same time by gesture as well as in word
what we mean; when word and action combine, and not till then, we
shall explain clearly what has been said, pointing out that of all
movements wrestling is most akin to the military art, and is to be
pursued for the sake of this, and not this for the sake of wrestling.
Ath. Enough of wrestling; we will now proceed to speak of other
movements of the body. Such motion may be in general called dancing,
and is of two kinds: one of nobler figures, imitating the
honourable, the other of the more ignoble figures, imitating the mean;
and of both these there are two further subdivisions. Of the
serious, one kind is of those engaged in war and vehement action,
and is the exercise of a noble person and a manly heart; the other
exhibits a temperate soul in the enjoyment of prosperity and modest
pleasures, and may be truly called and is the dance of peace. The
warrior dance is different from the peaceful one, and may be rightly
termed Pyrrhic; this imitates the modes of avoiding blows and missiles
by dropping or giving way, or springing aside, or rising up or falling
down; also the opposite postures which are those of action, as, for
example, the imitation of archery and the hurling of javelins, and
of all sorts of blows. And when the imitation is of brave bodies and
souls, and the action is direct and muscular, giving for the most part
a straight movement to the limbs of the body-that, I say, is the
true sort; but the opposite is not right. In the dance of peace what
we have to consider is whether a man bears himself naturally and
gracefully, and after the manner of men who duly conform to the law.
But before proceeding I must distinguish the dancing about which there
is any doubt, from that about which there is no doubt. Which is the
doubtful kind, and how are the two to be distinguished? There are
dances of the Bacchic sort, both those in which, as they say, they
imitate drunken men, and which are named after the Nymphs, and Pan,
and Silenuses, and Satyrs; and also those in which purifications are
made or mysteries celebrated-all this sort of dancing cannot be
rightly defined as having either a peaceful or a warlike character, or
indeed as having any meaning whatever and may, I think, be most
truly described as distinct from the warlike dance, and distinct
from the peaceful, and not suited for a city at all. There let it lie;
and so leaving it to lie, we will proceed to the dances of war and
peace, for with these we are undoubtedly concerned. Now the
unwarlike muse, which honours in dance the Gods and the sons of the
Gods, is entirely associated with the consciousness of prosperity;
this class may be subdivided into two lesser classes, of which one
is expressive of an escape from some labour or danger into good, and
has greater pleasures, the other expressive of preservation and
increase of former good, in which the pleasure is less exciting;-in
all these cases, every man when the pleasure is greater, moves his
body more, and less when the pleasure is less; and, again, if he be
more orderly and has learned courage from discipline he waves less,
but if he be a coward, and has no training or self-control, he makes
greater and more violent movements, and in general when he is speaking
or singing he is not altogether able to keep his body still; and so
out of the imitation of words in gestures the whole art of dancing has
arisen. And in these various kinds of imitation one man moves in an
orderly, another in a disorderly manner; and as the ancients may be
observed to have given many names which are according to nature and
deserving of praise, so there is an excellent one which they have
given to the dances of men who in their times of prosperity are
moderate in their pleasures-the giver of names, whoever he was,
assigned to them a very true, and poetical, and rational name, when he
called them Emmeleiai, or dances of order, thus establishing two kinds
of dances of the nobler sort, the dance of war which he called the
Pyrrhic, and the dance of peace which he called Emmeleia, or the dance
of order; giving to each their appropriate and becoming name. These
things the legislator should indicate in general outline, and the
guardian of the law should enquire into them and search them out,
combining dancing with music, and assigning to the several sacrificial
feasts that which is suitable to them; and when he has consecrated all
of them in due order, he shall for the future change nothing,
whether of dance or song. Thenceforward the city and the citizens
shall continue to have the same pleasures, themselves being as far
as possible alike, and shall live well and happily.
I have described the dances which are appropriate to noble bodies
and generous souls. But it is necessary also to consider and know
uncomely persons and thoughts, and those which are intended to produce
laughter in comedy, and have a comic character in respect of style,
song, and dance, and of the imitations which these afford. For serious
things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at
all without opposites, if a man is really to have intelligence of
either; but he can not carry out both in action, if he is to have
any degree of virtue. And for this very reason he should learn them
both, in order that he may not in ignorance do or say anything which
is ridiculous and out of place-he should command slaves and hired
strangers to imitate such things, but he should never take any serious
interest in them himself, nor should any freeman or freewoman be
discovered taking pains to learn them; and there should always be some
element of novelty in the imitation. Let these then be laid down, both
in law and in our discourse, as the regulations of laughable
amusements which are generally called comedy. And, if any of the
serious poets, as they are termed, who write tragedy, come to us and
say-"O strangers, may we go to your city and country or may we not,
and shall we bring with us our poetry-what is your will about these
matters?"-how shall we answer the divine men? I think that our
answer should be as follows:-Best of strangers, we will say to them,
we also according to our ability are tragic poets, and our tragedy
is the best and noblest; for our whole state is an imitation of the
best and noblest life, which we affirm to be indeed the very truth
of tragedy. You are poets and we are poets, both makers of the same
strains, rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas, which true
law can alone perfect, as our hope is. Do not then suppose that we
shall all in a moment allow you to erect your stage in the agora, or
introduce the fair voices of your actors, speaking above our own,
and permit you to harangue our women and children, and the common
people, about our institutions, in language other than our own, and
very often the opposite of our own. For a state would be mad which
gave you this licence, until the magistrates had determined whether
your poetry might be recited, and was fit for publication or not.
Wherefore, O ye sons and scions of the softer Muses, first of all show
your songs to the magistrates, and let them compare them with our own,
and if they are the same or better we will give you a chorus; but if
not, then, my friends, we cannot. Let these, then, be the customs
ordained by law about all dances and the teaching of them, and let
matters relating to slaves be separated from those relating to
masters, if you do not object.
Cle. We can have no hesitation in assenting when you put the
Ath. There still remain three studies suitable for freemen.
Arithmetic is one of them; the measurement of length, surface, and
depth is the second; and the third has to do with the revolutions of
the stars in relation to one another. Not every one has need to toil
through all these things in a strictly scientific manner, but only a
few, and who they are to be we will hereafter indicate at the end,
which will be the proper place; not to know what is necessary for
mankind in general, and what is the truth, is disgraceful to every
one: and yet to enter into these matters minutely is neither easy, nor
at all possible for every one; but there is something in them which is
necessary and cannot be set aside, and probably he who made the
proverb about God originally had this in view when he said, that
"not even God himself can fight against necessity";-he meant, if I
am not mistaken, divine necessity; for as to the human necessities
of which the many speak, when they talk in this manner, nothing can be
more ridiculous than such an application of the words.
Cle. And what necessities of knowledge are there, Stranger, which
are divine and not human?
Ath. I conceive them to be those of which he who has no use nor
any knowledge at all cannot be a God, or demi-god, or hero to mankind,
or able to take any serious thought or charge of them. And very unlike
a divine man would he be, who is unable to count one, two, three, or
to distinguish odd and even numbers, or is unable to count at all,
or reckon night and day, and who is totally unacquainted with the
revolution of the sun and moon, and the other stars. There would be
great folly in supposing that all these are not necessary parts of
knowledge to him who intends to know anything about the highest
kinds of knowledge; but which these are, and how many there are of
them, and when they are to be learned, and what is to be learned
together and what apart, and the whole correlation of them, must be
rightly apprehended first; and these leading the way we may proceed to
the other parts of knowledge. For so necessity grounded in nature
constrains us, against which we say that no God contends, or ever will
Cle. I think, Stranger, that what you have now said is very true and
agreeable to nature.
Ath. Yes, Cleinias, that is so. But it is difficult for the
legislator to begin with these studies; at a more convenient time we
will make regulations for them.
Cle. You seem, Stranger, to be afraid of our habitual ignorance of
the subject: there is no reason why that should prevent you from
Ath. I certainly am afraid of the difficulties to which you
allude, but I am still more afraid of those who apply themselves to
this sort of knowledge, and apply themselves badly. For entire
ignorance is not so terrible or extreme an evil, and is far from being
the greatest of all; too much cleverness and too much learning,
accompanied with an ill bringing up, are far more fatal.
Ath. All freemen, I conceive, should learn as much of these branches
of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the
alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for
the use of mere children, which they learn as a pleasure and
amusement. They have to distribute apples and garlands, using the same
number sometimes for a larger and sometimes for a lesser number of
persons; and they arrange pugilists, and wrestlers as they pair
together by lot or remain over, and show how their turns come in
natural order. Another mode of amusing them is to distribute
vessels, sometimes of gold, brass, silver, and the like, intermixed
with one another, sometimes of one metal only; as I was saying they
adapt to their amusement the numbers in common use, and in this way
make more intelligible to their pupils the arrangements and
movements of armies and expeditions, in the management of a
household they make people more useful to themselves, and more wide
awake; and again in measurements of things which have length, and
breadth, and depth, they free us from that natural ignorance of all
these things which is so ludicrous and disgraceful.
Cle. What kind of ignorance do you mean?
Ath. O my dear Cleinias, I, like yourself, have late in life heard
with amazement of our ignorance in these matters; to me we appear to
be more like pigs than men, and I am quite ashamed, not only of
myself, but of all Hellenes.
Cle. About what? Say, Stranger, what you mean.
Ath. I will; or rather I will show you my meaning by a question, and
do you please to answer me: You know, I suppose, what length is?
Ath. And what breadth is?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And you know that these are two distinct things, and that there
is a third thing called depth?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And do not all these seem to you to be commensurable with
Ath. That is to say, length is naturally commensurable with
length, and breadth with breadth, and depth in like manner with depth?
Ath. But if some things are commensurable and others wholly
incommensurable, and you think that all things are commensurable, what
is your position in regard to them?
Cle. Clearly, far from good.
Ath. Concerning length and breadth when compared with depth, or
breadth when and length when compared with one another, are not all
the Hellenes agreed that these are commensurable with one in some way?
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. But if they are absolutely incommensurable, and yet all of us
regard them as commensurable, have we not reason to be ashamed of
our compatriots; and might we not say to them:-O ye best of
Hellenes, is not this one of the things of which we were saying that
not to know them is disgraceful, and of which to have a bare knowledge
only is no great distinction?
Ath. And there are other things akin to these, in which there spring
up other errors of the same family.
Cle. What are they?
Ath. The natures of commensurable and incommensurable quantities
in their relation to one another. A man who is good for a thing
ought to be able, when he thinks, to distinguish them; and different
persons should compete with one another in asking questions, which
will be a fair, better and more graceful way of passing their time
than the old man's game of draughts.
Cle. I dare say; and these pastimes are not so very unlike a game of
Ath. And these, as I maintain, Cleinias, are the studies which our
youth ought to learn, for they are innocent and not difficult; the
learning of them will be an amusement, and they will benefit the
state. If anyone is of another mind, let him say what he has to say.
Ath. Then if these studies are such as we maintain we will include
them; if not, they shall be excluded.
Cle. Assuredly: but may we not now, Stranger, prescribe these
studies as necessary, and so fill up the lacunae of our laws?
Ath. They shall be regarded as pledges which may be hereafter
redeemed and removed from our state, if they do not please either us
who give them, or you who accept them.
Cle. A fair condition.
Ath. Next let us see whether we are or are not willing that the
study of astronomy shall be proposed for our youth.
Ath. Here occurs a strange phenomenon, which certainly cannot in any
point of view be tolerated.
Cle. To what are you referring?
Ath. Men say that we ought not to enquire into the supreme God and
the nature of the universe, nor busy ourselves in searching out the
causes of things, and that such enquiries are impious; whereas the
very opposite is the truth.
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. Perhaps what I am saying may seem paradoxical, and at
variance with the usual language of age. But when any one has any good
and true notion which is for the advantage of the state and in every
way acceptable to God, he cannot abstain from expressing it.
Cle. Your words are reasonable enough; but shall we find any good or
true notion about the stars?
Ath. My good friends, at this hour all of us Hellenes tell lies,
if I may use such an expression, about those great Gods, the Sun and
Cle. Lies of what nature?
Ath. We say that they and divers other stars do not keep the same
path, and we call them planets or wanderers.
Cle. Very true, Stranger; and in the course of my life I have
often myself seen the morning star and the evening star and divers
others not moving in their accustomed course, but wandering out of
their path in all manner of ways, and I have seen the sun and moon
doing what we all know that they do.
Ath. Just so, Megillus and Cleinias; and I maintain that our
citizens and our youth ought to learn about the nature of the Gods
in heaven, so far as to be able to offer sacrifices and pray to them
in pious language, and not to blaspheme about them.
Cle. There you are right if such a knowledge be only attainable; and
if we are wrong in our mode of speaking now, and can be better
instructed and learn to use better language, then I quite agree with
you that such a degree of knowledge as will enable us to speak rightly
should be acquired by us. And now do you try to explain to us your
whole meaning, and we, on our part, will endeavour to understand you.
Ath. There is some difficulty in understanding my meaning, but not a
very great one, nor will any great length of time be required. And
of this I am myself a proof; for I did not know these things long ago,
nor in the days of my youth, and yet I can explain them to you in a
brief space of time; whereas if they had been difficult I could
certainly never have explained them all, old as I am, to old men
Cle. True; but what is this study which you describe as wonderful
and fitting for youth to learn, but of which we are ignorant? Try
and explain the nature of it to us as clearly as you can.
Ath. I will. For, O my good friends, that other doctrine about the
wandering of the sun and the moon and the other stars is not the
truth, but the very reverse of the truth. Each of them moves in the
same path-not in many paths, but in one only, which is circular, and
the varieties are only apparent. Nor are we right in supposing that
the swiftest of them is the slowest, nor conversely, that the
slowest is the quickest. And if what I say is true, only just
imagine that we had a similar notion about horses running at
Olympia, or about men who ran in the long course, and that we
addressed the swiftest as the slowest and the slowest as the swiftest,
and sang the praises of the vanquished as though he were the
victor,-in that case our praises would not be true, nor very agreeable
to the runners, though they be but men; and now, to commit the same
error about the Gods which would have been ludicrous and erroneous
in the case of men-is not that ludicrous and erroneous?
Cle. Worse than ludicrous, I should say.
Ath. At all events, the Gods cannot like us to be spreading a
false report of them.
Cle. Most true, if such is the fact.
Ath. And if we can show that such is really the fact, then all these
matters ought to be learned so far as is necessary for the avoidance
of impiety; but if we cannot, they may be let alone, and let this be
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Enough of laws relating to education and learning. But
hunting and similar pursuits in like manner claim our attention. For
the legislator appears to have a duty imposed upon him which goes
beyond mere legislation. There is something over and above law which
lies in a region between admonition and law, and has several times
occurred to us in the course of discussion; for example, in the
education of very young children there were things, as we maintain,
which are not to be defined, and to regard them as matters of positive
law is a great absurdity. Now, our laws and the whole constitution
of our state having been thus delineated, the praise of the virtuous
citizen is not complete when he is described as the person who
serves the laws best and obeys them most, but the higher form of
praise is that which describes him as the good citizen who passes
through life undefiled and is obedient to the words of the legislator,
both when he is giving laws and when he assigns praise and blame. This
is the truest word that can be spoken in praise of a citizen; and
the true legislator ought not only to write his laws, but also to
interweave with them all such things as seem to him honourable and
dishonourable. And the perfect citizen ought to seek to strengthen
these no less than the principles of law which are sanctioned by
punishments. I will adduce an example which will clear up my
meaning, and will be a sort of witness to my words. Hunting is of wide
extent, and has a name under which many things are included, for there
is a hunting of creatures in the water, and of creatures in the air,
and there is a great deal of hunting of land animals of all kinds, and
not of wild beasts only. The hunting after man is also worthy of
consideration; there is the hunting after him in war, and there is
often a hunting after him in the way of friendship, which is praised
and also blamed; and there is thieving, and the hunting which is
practised by robbers, and that of armies against armies. Now the
legislator, in laying down laws about hunting, can neither abstain
from noting these things, nor can he make threatening ordinances which
will assign rules and penalties about all of them. What is he to do?
He will have to praise and blame hunting with a view to the exercise
and pursuits of youth. And, on the other hand, the young man must
listen obediently; neither pleasure nor pain should hinder him, and he
should regard as his standard of action the praises and injunctions of
the legislator rather than the punishments which he imposes by law.
This being premised, there will follow next in order moderate praise
and censure of hunting; the praise being assigned to that kind which
will make the souls of young men better, and the censure to that which
has the opposite effect.
And now let us address young men in the form of a prayer for their
welfare: O friends, we will say to them, may no desire or love of
hunting in the sea, or of angling or of catching the creatures in
the waters, ever take possession of you, either when you are awake
or when you are asleep, by hook or with weels, which latter is a
very lazy contrivance; and let not any desire of catching men and of
piracy by sea enter into your souls and make you cruel and lawless
hunters. And as to the desire of thieving in town or country, may it
never enter into your most passing thoughts; nor let the insidious
fancy of catching birds, which is hardly worthy of freemen, come
into the head of any youth. There remains therefore for our athletes
only the hunting and catching of land animals, of which the one sort
is called hunting by night, in which the hunters sleep in turn and are
lazy; this is not to be commended any more than that which has
intervals of rest, in which the will strength of beasts is subdued
by nets and snares, and not by the victory of a laborious spirit.
Thus, only the best kind of hunting is allowed at all-that of
quadrupeds, which is carried on with horses and dogs and men's own
persons, and they get the victory over the animals by running them
down and striking them and hurling at them, those who have a care of
godlike manhood taking them with their own hands. The praise and blame
which is assigned to all these things has now been declared; and let
the law be as follows:-Let no one hinder these who verily are sacred
hunters from following the chase wherever and whither soever they
will; but the hunter by night, who trusts to his nets and gins,
shall not be allowed to hunt anywhere. The fowler in the mountains and
waste places shall be permitted, but on cultivated ground and on
consecrated wilds he shall not be permitted; and any one who meets him
may stop him. As to the hunter in waters, he may hunt anywhere
except in harbours or sacred streams or marshes or pools, provided
only that he do not pollute the water with poisonous juices. And now
we may say that all our enactments about education are complete.
Cle. Very good.