Laws Book 8 - Plato

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BOOK VIII

Athenian Stranger. Next, with the help of the Delphian oracle, we 
have to institute festivals and make laws about them, and to determine 
what sacrifices will be for the good of the city, and to what Gods 
they shall be offered; but when they shall be offered, and how 
often, may be partly regulated by us. 
Cleinias. The number-yes. 
Ath. Then we will first determine the number; and let the whole 
number be 365-one for every day-so that one magistrate at least will 
sacrifice daily to some God or demi-god on behalf of the city, and the 
citizens, and their possessions. And the interpreters, and priests, 
and priestesses, and prophets shall meet, and, in company with the 
guardians of the law, ordain those things which the legislator of 
necessity omits; and I may remark that they are the very persons who 
ought to take note of what is omitted. The law will say that there are 
twelve feasts dedicated to the twelve Gods, after whom the several 
tribes are named; and that to each of them they shall sacrifice 
every month, and appoint choruses, and musical and gymnastic contests, 
assigning them so as to suit the Gods and seasons of the year. And 
they shall have festivals for women, distinguishing those which 
ought to be separated from the men's festivals, and those which 
ought not. Further, they shall not confuse the infernal deities and 
their rites with the Gods who are termed heavenly and their rites, but 
shall separate them, giving to Pluto his own in the twelfth month, 
which is sacred to him, according to the law. To such a deity 
warlike men should entertain no aversion, but they should honour him 
as being always the best friend of man. For the connection of soul and 
body is no way better than the dissolution of them, as I am ready to 
maintain quite seriously. Moreover, those who would regulate these 
matters rightly should consider, that our city among existing cities 
has fellow, either in respect of leisure or comin and of the 
necessaries of life, and that like an individual she ought to live 
happily. And those who would live happily should in the first place do 
no wrong to one another, and ought not themselves to be wronged by 
others; to attain the first is not difficult, but there is great 
difficulty, in acquiring the power of not being wronged. No man can be 
perfectly secure against wrong, unless he has become perfectly good; 
and cities are like individuals in this, for a city if good has a life 
of peace, but if evil, a life of war within and without. Wherefore the 
citizens ought to practise war-not in time of war, but rather while 
they are at peace. And every city which has any sense, should take the 
field at least for one day in every month; and for more if the 
magistrates think fit, having no regard to winter cold or summer heat; 
and they should go out en masse, including their wives and their 
children, when the magistrates determine to lead forth the whole 
people, or in separate portions when summoned by them; and they should 
always provide that there should be games and sacrificial feasts, 
and they should have tournaments, imitating in as lively a manner as 
they can real battles. And they should distribute prizes of victory 
and valour to the competitors, passing censures and encomiums on one 
another according to the characters which they bear in the contests 
and their whole life, honouring him who seems to be the best, and 
blaming him who is the opposite. And let poets celebrate the 
victors-not however every poet, but only one who in the first place is 
not less than fifty years of age; nor should he be one who, although 
he may have musical and poetical gifts, has never in his life done any 
noble or illustrious action; but those who are themselves good and 
also honourable in the state, creators of noble actions-let their 
poems be sung, even though they be not very musical. And let the 
judgment of them rest with the instructor of youth and the other 
guardians of the laws, who shall give them this privilege, and they 
alone shall be free to sing; but the rest of the world shall not 
have this liberty. Nor shall any one dare to sing a song which has not 
been approved by the judgment of the guardians of the laws, not even 
if his strain be sweeter than the songs of Thamyras and Orpheus; but 
only and Orpheus; but only such poems as have been judged sacred and 
dedicated to the Gods, and such as are the works of good men, which 
praise of blame has been awarded and which have been deemed to 
fulfil their design fairly. 
The regulations about and about liberty of speech in poitry, ought 
to apply equally to men and women. The legislator may be supposed to 
argue the question in his own mind:-Who are my citizens for whom I 
have set in order the city? Are they not competitors in the greatest 
of all contests, and have they not innumerable rivals? To be sure, 
will be the natural, reply. Well, but if we were training boxers, or 
pancratiasts, or any other sort of athletes, would they never meet 
until the hour of contest arrived; and should we do nothing to prepare 
ourselves previously by daily practice? Surely, if we were boxers we 
should have been learning to fight for many days before, and 
exercising ourselves in imitating all those blows and wards which we 
were intending to use in the hour of conflict; and in order that we 
might come as near to reality as possible, instead of cestuses we 
should put on boxing gloves, that the blows and the wards might be 
practised by us to the utmost of our power. And if there were a lack 
of competitors, the ridicule of fools would ryot deter us from hanging 
up a lifeless image and practising at that. Or if we had no 
adversary at all, animate or inanimate, should we not venture in the 
dearth of antagonists to spar by ourselves? In what other manner could 
we ever study the art of self-defence? 
Cle. The way which you mention Stranger, would be the only way. 
Ath. And shall the warriors of our city, who are destined when 
occasion calli to enter the greatest of all contests, and to fight for 
their lives, and their children, and their property, and the whole 
city, be worse prepared than boxers? And will the legislator, 
because he is afraid that their practising with one another may appear 
to some ridiculous, abstain from commanding them to go out and 
fight; will he not ordain that soldiers shall perform lesser exercises 
without arms every day, making dancing and all gymnastic tend to 
this end; and also will he not require that they shall practise some 
gymnastic exercises, greater as well as lesser, as often as every 
month; and that they shall have contests one with another in every 
part of the country, seizing upon posts and lying in ambush, and 
imitating in every respect the reality of war; fighting with 
boxing-gloves and hurling javelins, and using weapons somewhat 
dangerous, and as nearly as possible like the true ones, in order that 
the sport may not be altogether without fear, but may have terrors and 
to a certain degree show the man who has and who has not courage; 
and that the honour and dishonour which are assigned to them 
respectively, may prepare the whole city for the true conflict of 
life? If any one dies in these mimic contests, the homicide is 
involuntary, and we will make the slayer, when he has been purified 
according to law, to be pure of blood, considering that if a few men 
should die, others as good as they will be born; but that if fear is 
dead then the citizens will never find a test of superior and inferior 
natures, which is a far greater evil to the state than the loss of a 
few. 
Cle. We are quite agreed, Stranger, that we should legislate about 
such things, and that the whole state should practise them supposed 
Ath. And what is the reason that dances and contests of this sort 
hardly ever exist in states, at least not to any extent worth speaking 
of? Is this due to the ignorance of mankind and their legislators? 
Cle. Perhaps. 
Ath. Certainly not, sweet Cleinias; there are two causes, which 
are quite enough to account for the deficiency. 
Cle. What are they? 
Ath. One cause is the love of wealth, which wholly absorbs men, 
and never for a moment allows them to think of anything but their 
own private possessions; on this the soul of every citizen hangs 
suspended, and can attend to nothing but his daily gain; mankind are 
ready to learn any branch of knowledge, and to follow any pursuit 
which tends to this end, and they laugh at every other:-that is one 
reason why a city will not be in earnest about such contests or any 
other good and honourable pursuit. But from an insatiable love of gold 
and silver, every man will stoop to any art or contrivance, seemly 
or unseemly, in the hope of becoming rich; and will make no 
objection to performing any action, holy, or unholy and utterly 
base, if only like a beast he have the power of eating and drinking 
all kinds of things, and procuring for himself in every sort of way 
the gratification of his lusts. 
Cle. True. 
Ath. Let this, then, be deemed one of the causes which prevent 
states from pursuing in an efficient manner the art of war, or any 
other noble aim, but makes the orderly and temperate part of mankind 
into merchants, and captains of ships, and servants, and converts 
the valiant sort into thieves and burglars and robbers of temples, and 
violent, tyrannical persons; many of whom are not without ability, but 
they are unfortunate. 
Cle. What do you mean? 
Ath. Must not they be truly unfortunate whose souls are compelled to 
pass through life always hungering? 
Cle. Then that is one cause, Stranger; but you spoke of another. 
Ath. Thank you for reminding me. 
Cle. The insatiable life long love of wealth, as you were saying 
is one clause which absorbs mankind, and prevents them from rightly 
practising the arts of war:-Granted; and now tell me, what is the 
other? 
Ath. Do you imagine that I delay because I am in a perplexity? 
Cle. No; but we think that you are too severe upon the 
money-loving temper, of which you seem in the present discussion to 
have a peculiar dislike. 
Ath. That is a very fair rebuke, Cleinias; and I will now proceed 
to the second cause. 
Cle. Proceed. 
Ath. I say that governments are a cause-democracy, oligarchy, 
tyranny, concerning which I have often spoken in the previous 
discourse; or rather governments they are not, for none of them 
exercises a voluntary rule over voluntary subjects; but they may be 
truly called states of discord, in which while the government is 
voluntary, the subjects always obey against their will, and have to be 
coerced; and the ruler fears the subject, and will not, if he can 
help, allow him to become either noble, or rich, or strong, or 
valiant, or warlike at all. These two are the chief causes of almost 
all evils, and of the evils of which I have been speaking they are 
notably the causes. But our state has escaped both of them; for her 
citizens have the greatest leisure, and they are not subject to one 
another, and will, I think, be made by these laws the reverse of 
lovers of money. Such a constitution may be reasonably supposed to 
be the only one existing which will accept the education which we have 
described, and the martial pastimes which have been perfected 
according to our idea. 
Cle. True. 
Ath. Then next we must remember, about all gymnastic contests, 
that only the warlike sort of them are to be practised and to have 
prizes of victory; and those which are not military are to be given 
up. The military sort had better be completely described and 
established by law; and first, let us speak of running and swiftness. 
Cle. Very good. 
Ath. Certainly the most military of all qualities is general 
activity of body, whether of foot or hand. For escaping or for 
capturing an enemy, quickness of foot is required; but hand-to-hand 
conflict and combat need vigour and strength. 
Cle. Very true. 
Ath. Neither of them can attain their greatest efficiency without 
arms. 
Cle. How can they? 
Ath. Then our herald, in accordance with the prevailing practice, 
will first summon the runner;-he will appear armed, for to an 
unarmed competitor we will not give a prize. And he shall enter 
first who is to run the single course bearing arms; next, he who is to 
run the double course; third, he who is to run the horse-course; and 
fourthly, he who is to run the long course; the fifth whom we start, 
shall be the first sent forth in heavy armour, and shall run a 
course of sixty stadia to some temple of Ares-and we will send forth 
another, whom we will style the more heavily armed, to run over 
smoother ground. There remains the archer; and he shall run in the 
full equipments of an archer a distance of 100 stadia over 
mountains, and across every sort of country, to a temple of Apollo and 
Artemis; this shall be the order of the contest, and we will wait 
for them until they return, and will give a prize to the conqueror 
in each. 
Cle. Very good. 
Ath. Let us suppose that there are three kinds of contests-one of 
boys, another of beardless youths, and a third of men. For the 
youths we will fix the length of the contest at two-thirds, and for 
the boys at half of the entire course, whether they contend as archers 
or as heavy armed. Touching the women, let the girls who are not grown 
up compete naked in the stadium and the double course, and the 
horse-course and the long course, and let them run on the 
race-ground itself; those who are thirteen years of age and upwards 
until their marriage shall continue to share in contests if they are 
not more than twenty, and shall be compelled to run up to eighteen; 
and they shall descend into the arena in suitable dresses. Let these 
be the regulations about contests in running both for men and women. 
Respecting contests of strength, instead of wrestling and similar 
contests of the heavier sort, we will institute conflicts in armour of 
one against one, and two against two, and so on up to ten against ten. 
As to what a man ought not to suffer or do, and to what extent, in 
order to gain the victory-as in wrestling, the masters of the art have 
laid down what is fair and what is not fair, so in fighting in 
armour-we ought to call in skilful persons, who shall judge for us and 
be our assessors in the work of legislation; they shall say who 
deserves to be victor in combats of this sort, and what he is not to 
do or have done to him, and in like manner what rule determines who is 
defeated; and let these ordinances apply to women until they married 
as well as to men. The pancration shall have a counterpart in a combat 
of the light armed; they shall contend with bows and with light 
shields and with javelins and in the throwing of stones by slings 
and by hand: and laws shall be made about it, and rewards and prizes 
given to him who best fulfils the ordinances of the law. 
Next in order we shall have to legislate about the horse contests. 
Now we do not need many horses, for they cannot be of much use in a 
country like Crete, and hence we naturally do not take great pains 
about the rearing of them or about horse races. There is no one who 
keeps a chariot among us, and any rivalry in such matters would be 
altogether out of place; there would be no sense nor any shadow of 
sense in instituting contests which are not after the manner of our 
country. And therefore we give our prizes for single horses-for 
colts who have not yet cast their teeth, and for those who are 
intermediate, and for the full-grown horses themselves; and thus our 
equestrian games will accord with the nature of the country. Let 
them have conflict and rivalry in these matters in accordance with the 
law, and let the colonels and generals of horse decide together 
about all courses and about the armed competitors in them. But we have 
nothing to say to the unarmed either in gymnastic exercises or in 
these contests. On the other hand, the Cretan bowman or javelin-man 
who fights in armour on horseback is useful, and therefore we may as 
well place a competition of this sort among amusements. Women are 
not to be forced to compete by laws and ordinances; but if from 
previous training they have acquired the habit and are strong enough 
and like to take part, let them do so, girls as well as boys, and no 
blame to them. 
Thus the competition in gymnastic and the mode of learning it have 
been described; and we have spoken also of the toils of the contest, 
and of daily exercises under the superintendence of masters. Likewise, 
what relates to music has been, for the most part, completed. But as 
to rhapsodes and the like, and the contests of choruses which are to 
perform at feasts, all this shall be arranged when the months and days 
and years have been appointed for Gods and demi-gods, whether every 
third year, or again every fifth year, or in whatever way or manner 
the Gods may put into men's minds the distribution and order of 
them. At the same time, we may expect that the musical contests will 
be celebrated in their turn by the command of the judges and the 
director of education and the guardians of the law meeting together 
for this purpose, and themselves becoming legislators of the times and 
nature and conditions of the choral contests and of dancing in 
general. What they ought severally to be in language and song, and 
in the admixture of harmony with rhythm and the dance, has been 
often declared by the original legislator; and his successors ought to 
follow him, making the games and sacrifices duly to correspond at 
fitting times, and appointing public festivals. It is not difficult to 
determine how these and the like matters may have a regular order; 
nor, again, will the alteration of them do any great good or harm to 
the state. There is, however, another matter of great importance and 
difficulty, concerning which God should legislate, if there were any 
possibility of obtaining from him an ordinance about it. But seeing 
that divine aid is not to be had, there appears to be a need of some 
bold man who specially honours plainness of speech, and will say 
outright what he thinks best for the city and citizens-ordaining 
what is good and convenient for the whole state amid the corruptions 
of human souls, opposing the mightiest lusts, and having no man his 
helper but himself standing alone and following reason only. 
Cle. What is this, Stranger, that you are saying? For we do not as 
yet understand your meaning. 
Ath. Very likely; I will endeavour to explain myself more clearly. 
When I came to the subject of education, I beheld young men and 
maidens holding friendly intercourse with one another. And there 
naturally arose in my mind a sort of apprehension-I could not help 
thinking how one is to deal with a city in which youths and maidens 
are well nurtured, and have nothing to do, and are not undergoing 
the excessive and servile toils which extinguish wantonness, and whose 
only cares during their whole life are sacrifices and festivals and 
dances. How, in such a state as this, will they abstain from desires 
which thrust many a man and woman into perdition; and from which 
reason, assuming the functions of law, commands them to abstain? The 
ordinances already made may possibly get the better of most of these 
desires; the prohibition of excessive wealth is a very considerable 
gain in the direction of temperance, and the whole education of our 
youth imposes a law of moderation on them; moreover, the eye of the 
rulers is required always to watch over the young, and never to lose 
sight of them; and these provisions do, as far as human means can 
effect anything, exercise a regulating influence upon the desires in 
general. But how can we take precautions against the unnatural loves 
of either sex, from which innumerable evils have come upon individuals 
and cities? How shall we devise a remedy and way of escape out of so 
great a danger? Truly, Cleinias, here is a difficulty. In many ways 
Crete and Lacedaemon furnish a great help to those who make peculiar 
laws; but in the matter of love, as we are alone, I must confess 
that they are quite against us. For if any one following nature should 
lay down the law which existed before the days of Laius, and 
denounce these lusts as contrary to nature, adducing the animals as 
a proof that such unions were monstrous, he might prove his point, but 
he would be wholly at variance with the custom of your states. 
Further, they are repugnant to a principle which we say that a 
legislator should always observe; for we are always enquiring which of 
our enactments tends to virtue and which not. And suppose we grant 
that these loves are accounted by law to be hono 

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