Laws, by Plato

BOOK III

Athenian Stranger. Enough of this. And what, then, is to be regarded as the origin of government? Will not a man be able to judge of it best from a point of view in which he may behold the progress of states and their transitions to good or evil?

Cleinias. What do you mean?

Athenian. I mean that he might watch them from the point of view of time, and observe the changes which take place in them during infinite ages.

Cleinias. How so?

Athenian. Why, do you think that you can reckon the time which has elapsed since cities first existed and men were citizens of them?

Cleinias. Hardly.

Athenian. But are sure that it must be vast and incalculable?

Cleinias. Certainly.

Athenian. And have not thousands and thousands of cities come into being during this period and as many perished? And has not each of them had every form of government many times over, now growing larger, now smaller, and again improving or declining?

Cleinias. To be sure.

Athenian. Let us endeavour to ascertain the cause of these changes; for that will probably explain the first origin and development of forms of government.

Cleinias. Very good. You shall endeavour to impart your thoughts to us, and we will make an effort to understand you.

Athenian. Do you believe that there is any truth in ancient traditions?

Cleinias. What traditions?

Athenian. The traditions about the many destructions of mankind which have been occasioned by deluges and pestilences, and in many other ways, and of the survival of a remnant?

Cleinias. Every one is disposed to believe them.

Athenian. Let us consider one of them, that which was caused by the famous deluge.

Cleinias. What are we to observe about it?

Athenian. I mean to say that those who then escaped would only be hill shepherds — small sparks of the human race preserved on the tops of mountains.

Cleinias. Clearly.

Athenian. Such survivors would necessarily be unacquainted with the arts and the various devices which are suggested to the dwellers in cities by interest or ambition, and with all the wrongs which they contrive against one another.

Cleinias. Very true.

Athenian. Let us suppose, then, that the cities in the plain and on the sea-coast were utterly destroyed at that time.

Cleinias. Very good.

Athenian. Would not all implements have then perished and every other excellent invention of political or any other sort of wisdom have utterly disappeared?

Cleinias. Why, yes, my friend; and if things had always continued as they are at present ordered, how could any discovery have ever been made even in the least particular? For it is evident that the arts were unknown during ten thousand times ten thousand years. And no more than a thousand or two thousand years have elapsed since the discoveries of Daedalus, Orpheus and Palamedes — since Marsyas and Olympus invented music, and Amphion the lyre — not to speak of numberless other inventions which are but of yesterday.

Athenian. Have you forgotten, Cleinias, the name of a friend who is really of yesterday?

Cleinias. I suppose that you mean Epimenides.

Athenian. The same, my friend; he does indeed far overleap the heads of all mankind by his invention; for he carried out in practice, as you declare, what of old Hesiod only preached.

Cleinias. Yes, according to our tradition.

Athenian. After the great destruction, may we not suppose that the state of man was something of this sort:— In the beginning of things there was a fearful illimitable desert and a vast expanse of land; a herd or two of oxen would be the only survivors of the animal world; and there might be a few goats, these too hardly enough to maintain the shepherds who tended them?

Cleinias. True.

Athenian. And of cities or governments or legislation, about which we are now talking, do you suppose that they could have any recollection at all?

Cleinias. None whatever.

Athenian. And out of this state of things has there not sprung all that we now are and have: cities and governments, and arts and laws, and a great deal of vice and a great deal of virtue?

Cleinias. What do you mean?

Athenian. Why, my good friend, how can we possibly suppose that those who knew nothing of all the good and evil of cities could have attained their full development, whether of virtue or of vice?

Cleinias. I understand your meaning, and you are quite right.

Athenian. But, as time advanced and the race multiplied, the world came to be what the world is.

Cleinias. Very true.

Athenian. Doubtless the change was not made all in a moment, but little by little, during a very long period of time.

Cleinias. A highly probable supposition.

Athenian. At first, they would have a natural fear ringing in their ears which would prevent their descending from the heights into the plain.

Cleinias. Of course.

Athenian. The fewness of the survivors at that time would have made them all the more desirous of seeing one another; but then the means of travelling either by land or sea had been almost entirely lost, as I may say, with the loss of the arts, and there was great difficulty in getting at one another; for iron and brass and all metals were jumbled together and had disappeared in the chaos; nor was there any possibility of extracting ore from them; and they had scarcely any means of felling timber. Even if you suppose that some implements might have been preserved in the mountains, they must quickly have worn out and vanished, and there would be no more of them until the art of metallurgy had again revived.

Cleinias. There could not have been.

Athenian. In how many generations would this be attained?

Cleinias. Clearly, not for many generations.

Athenian. During this period, and for some time afterwards, all the arts which require iron and brass and the like would disappear.

Cleinias. Certainly.

Athenian. Faction and war would also have died out in those days, and for many reasons.

Cleinias. How would that be?

Athenian. In the first place, the desolation of these primitive men would create in them a feeling of affection and good-will towards one another; and, secondly, they would have no occasion to quarrel about their subsistence, for they would have pasture in abundance, except just at first, and in some particular cases; and from their pasture-land they would obtain the greater part of their food in a primitive age, having plenty of milk and flesh; moreover they would procure other food by the chase, not to be despised either in quantity or quality. They would also have abundance of clothing, and bedding, and dwellings, and utensils either capable of standing on the fire or not; for the plastic and weaving arts do not require any use of iron: and God has given these two arts to man in order to provide him with all such things, that, when reduced to the last extremity, the human race may still grow and increase. Hence in those days mankind were not very poor; nor was poverty a cause of difference among them; and rich they could not have been, having neither gold nor silver:— such at that time was their condition. And the community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles; in it there is no insolence or injustice, nor, again, are there any contentions or envyings. And therefore they were good, and also because they were what is called simple-minded; and when they were told about good and evil, they in their simplicity believed what they heard to be very truth and practised it. No one had the wit to suspect another of a falsehood, as men do now; but what they heard about Gods and men they believed to be true, and lived accordingly; and therefore they were in all respects such as we have described them.

Cleinias. That quite accords with my views, and with those of my friend here.

Athenian. Would not many generations living on in a simple manner, although ruder, perhaps, and more ignorant of the arts generally, and in particular of those of land or naval warfare, and likewise of other arts, termed in cities legal practices and party conflicts, and including all conceivable ways of hurting one another in word and deed; — although inferior to those who lived before the deluge, or to the men of our day in these respects, would they not, I say, be simpler and more manly, and also more temperate and altogether more just? The reason has been already explained.

Cleinias. Very true.

Athenian. I should wish you to understand that what has preceded and what is about to follow, has been, and will be said, with the intention of explaining what need the men of that time had of laws, and who was their lawgiver.

Cleinias. And thus far what you have said has been very well said.

Athenian. They could hardly have wanted lawgivers as yet; nothing of that sort was likely to have existed in their days, for they had no letters at this early period; they lived by habit and the customs of their ancestors, as they are called.

Cleinias. Probably.

Athenian. But there was already existing a form of government which, if I am not mistaken, is generally termed a lordship, and this still remains in many places, both among Hellenes and barbarians, and is the government which is declared by Homer to have prevailed among the Cyclopes:

They have neither councils nor judgments, but they dwell in hollow caves on the tops of high mountains, and every one gives law to his wife and children, and they do not busy themselves about one another.

Cleinias. That seems to be a charming poet of yours; I have read some other verses of his, which are very clever; but I do not know much of him, for foreign poets are very little read among the Cretans.

Megillus. But they are in Lacedaemon, and he appears to be the prince of them all; the manner of life, however, which he describes is not Spartan, but rather Ionian, and he seems quite to confirm what you are saying, when he traces up the ancient state of mankind by the help of tradition to barbarism.

Athenian. Yes, he does confirm it; and we may accept his witness to the fact that such forms of government sometimes arise.

Cleinias. We may.

Athenian. And were not such states composed of men who had been dispersed in single habitations and families by the poverty which attended the devastations; and did not the eldest then rule among them, because with them government originated in the authority of a father and a mother, whom, like a flock of birds, they followed, forming one troop under the patriarchal rule and sovereignty of their parents, which of all sovereignties is the most just?

Cleinias. Very true.

Athenian. After this they came together in greater numbers, and increased the size of their cities, and betook themselves to husbandry, first of all at the foot of the mountains, and made enclosures of loose walls and works of defence, in order to keep off wild beasts; thus creating a single large and common habitation.

Cleinias. Yes; at least we may suppose so.

Athenian. There is another thing which would probably happen.

Cleinias. What?

Athenian. When these larger habitations grew up out of the lesser original ones, each of the lesser ones would survive in the larger; every family would be under the rule of the eldest, and, owing to their separation from one another, would have peculiar customs in things divine and human, which they would have received from their several parents who had educated them; and these customs would incline them to order, when the parents had the element of order in their nature, and to courage, when they had the element of courage. And they would naturally stamp upon their children, and upon their children’s children, their own likings; and, as we are saying, they would find their way into the larger society, having already their own peculiar laws.

Cleinias. Certainly.

Athenian. And every man surely likes his own laws best, and the laws of others not so well.

Cleinias. True.

Athenian. Then now we seem to have stumbled upon the beginnings of legislation.

Cleinias. Exactly.

Athenian. The next step will be that these persons who have met together, will select some arbiters, who will review the laws of all of them, and will publicly present such as they approve to the chiefs who lead the tribes, and who are in a manner their kings, allowing them to choose those which they think best. These persons will themselves be called legislators, and will appoint the magistrates, framing some sort of aristocracy, or perhaps monarchy, out of the dynasties or lordships, and in this altered state of the government they will live.

Cleinias. Yes, that would be the natural order of things.

Athenian. Then, now let us speak of a third form of government, in which all other forms and conditions of polities and cities concur.

Cleinias. What is that?

Athenian. The form which in fact Homer indicates as following the second. This third form arose when, as he says, Dardanus founded Dardania:

For not as yet had the holy Ilium been built on the plain to be a city of speaking men; but they were still dwelling at the foot of many-fountained Ida. For indeed, in these verses, and in what he said of the Cyclopes, he speaks the words of God and nature; for poets are a divine race and often in their strains, by the aid of the Muses and the Graces, they attain truth.

Cleinias. Yes.

Athenian. Then now let us proceed with the rest of our tale, which will probably be found to illustrate in some degree our proposed design:— Shall we do so?

Cleinias. By all means.

Athenian. Ilium was built, when they descended from the mountain, in a large and fair plain, on a sort of low hill, watered by many rivers descending from Ida.

Cleinias. Such is the tradition.

Athenian. And we must suppose this event to have taken place many ages after the deluge?

Athenian. A marvellous forgetfulness of the former destruction would appear to have come over them, when they placed their town right under numerous streams flowing from the heights, trusting for their security to not very high hills, either.

Cleinias. There must have been a long interval, clearly.

Athenian. And, as population increased, many other cities would begin to be inhabited.

Cleinias. Doubtless.

Athenian. Those cities made war against Troy — by sea as well as land — for at that time men were ceasing to be afraid of the sea.

Cleinias. Clearly.

Athenian. The Achaeans remained ten years, and overthrew Troy.

Cleinias. True.

Athenian. And during the ten years in which the Achaeans were besieging Ilium, the homes of the besiegers were falling into an evil plight. Their youth revolted; and when the soldiers returned to their own cities and families, they did not receive them properly, and as they ought to have done, and numerous deaths, murders, exiles, were the consequence. The exiles came again, under a new name, no longer Achaeans, but Dorians — a name which they derived from Dorieus; for it was he who gathered them together. The rest of the story is told by you Lacedaemonians as part of the history of Sparta.

Megillus. To be sure.

Athenian. Thus, after digressing from the original subject of laws into music and drinking-bouts, the argument has, providentially, come back to the same point, and presents to us another handle. For we have reached the settlement of Lacedaemon; which, as you truly say, is in laws and in institutions the sister of Crete. And we are all the better for the digression, because we have gone through various governments and settlements, and have been present at the foundation of a first, second, and third state, succeeding one another in infinite time. And now there appears on the horizon a fourth state or nation which was once in process of settlement and has continued settled to this day. If, out of all this, we are able to discern what is well or ill settled, and what laws are the salvation and what are the destruction of cities, and what changes would make a state happy, O Megillus and Cleinias, we may now begin again, unless we have some fault to find with the previous discussion.

Megillus. If some God, Stranger, would promise us that our new enquiry about legislation would be as good and full as the present, I would go a great way to hear such another, and would think that a day as long as this — and we are now approaching the longest day of the year — was too short for the discussion.

Athenian. Then I suppose that we must consider this subject?

Megillus. Certainly.

Athenian. Let us place ourselves in thought at the moment when Lacedaemon and Argos and Messene and the rest of the Peloponnesus were all in complete subjection, Megillus, to your ancestors; for afterwards, as the legend informs us, they divided their army into three portions, and settled three cities, Argos, Messene, Lacedaemon.

Megillus. True.

Athenian. Temenus was the king of Argos, Cresphontes of Messene, Procles and Eurysthenes of Lacedaemon.

Megillus. Certainly.

Athenian. To these kings all the men of that day made oath that they would assist them, if any one subverted their kingdom.

Megillus. True.

Athenian. But can a kingship be destroyed, or was any other form of government ever destroyed, by any but the rulers themselves? No indeed, by Zeus. Have we already forgotten what was said a little while ago?

Megillus. No.

Athenian. And may we not now further confirm what was then mentioned? For we have come upon facts which have brought us back again to the same principle; so that, in resuming the discussion, we shall not be enquiring about an empty theory, but about events which actually happened. The case was as follows:— Three royal heroes made oath to three cities which were under a kingly government, and the cities to the kings, that both rulers and subjects should govern and be governed according to the laws which were common to all of them: the rulers promised that as time and the race went forward they would not make their rule more arbitrary; and the subjects said that, if the rulers observed these conditions, they would never subvert or permit others to subvert those kingdoms; the kings were to assist kings and peoples when injured, and the peoples were to assist peoples and kings in like manner. Is not this the fact?

Megillus. Yes.

Athenian. And the three states to whom these laws were given, whether their kings or any others were the authors of them, had therefore the greatest security for the maintenance of their constitutions?

Megillus. What security?

Athenian. That the other two states were always to come to the rescue against a rebellious third.

Megillus. True.

Athenian. Many persons say that legislators ought to impose such laws as the mass of the people will be ready to receive; but this is just as if one were to command gymnastic masters or physicians to treat or cure their pupils or patients in an agreeable manner.

Megillus. Exactly.

Athenian. Whereas the physician may often be too happy if he can restore health, and make the body whole, without any very great infliction of pain.

Megillus. Certainly.

Athenian. There was also another advantage possessed by the men of that day, which greatly lightened the task of passing laws.

Megillus. What advantage?

Athenian. The legislators of that day, when they equalized property, escaped the great accusation which generally arises in legislation, if a person attempts to disturb the possession of land, or to abolish debts, because he sees that without this reform there can never be any real equality. Now, in general, when the legislator attempts to make a new settlement of such matters, every one meets him with the cry, that “he is not to disturb vested interests”— declaring with imprecations that he is introducing agrarian laws and cancelling of debts, until a man is at his wits end; whereas no one could quarrel with the Dorians for distributing the land — there was nothing to hinder them; and as for debts, they had none which were considerable or of old standing.

Megillus. Very true.

Athenian. But then, my good friends, why did the settlement and legislation of their country turn out so badly?

Megillus. How do you mean; and why do you blame them?

Athenian. There were three kingdoms, and of these, two quickly corrupted their original constitution and laws, and the only one which remained was the Spartan.

Megillus. The question which you ask is not easily answered.

Athenian. And yet must be answered when we are enquiring about laws, this being our old man’s sober game of play, whereby we beguile the way, as I was saying when we first set out on our journey.

Megillus. Certainly; and we must find out why this was.

Athenian. What laws are more worthy of our attention than those which have regulated such cities? or what settlements of states are greater or more famous?

Megillus. I know of none.

Athenian. Can we doubt that your ancestors intended these institutions not only for the protection of Peloponnesus, but of all the Hellenes. in case they were attacked by the barbarian? For the inhabitants of the region about Ilium, when they provoked by their insolence the Trojan war, relied upon the power of the Assyrians and the Empire of Ninus, which still existed and had a great prestige; the people of those days fearing the united Assyrian Empire just as we now fear the Great King. And the second capture of Troy was a serious offence against them, because Troy was a portion of the Assyrian Empire. To meet the danger the single army was distributed between three cities by the royal brothers, sons of Heracles — a fair device, as it seemed, and a far better arrangement than the expedition against Troy. For, firstly, the people of that day had, as they thought, in the Heraclidae better leaders than the Pelopidae; in the next place, they considered that their army was superior in valour to that which went against Troy; for, although the latter conquered the Trojans, they were themselves conquered by the Heraclidae — Achaeans by Dorians. May we not suppose that this was the intention with which the men of those days framed the constitutions of their states?

Megillus. Quite true.

Athenian. And would not men who had shared with one another many dangers, and were governed by a single race of royal brothers, and had taken the advice of oracles, and in particular of the Delphian Apollo, be likely to think that such states would be firmly and lastingly established?

Megillus. Of course they would.

Athenian. Yet these institutions, of which such great expectations were entertained, seem to have all rapidly vanished away; with the exception, as I was saying, of that small part of them which existed in yourland.And this third part has never to this day ceased warring against the two others; whereas, if the original idea had been carried out, and they had agreed to be one, their power would have been invincible in war.

Megillus. No doubt.

Athenian. But what was the ruin of this glorious confederacy? Here is a subject well worthy of consideration.

Megillus. Certainly, no one will ever find more striking instances of laws or governments being the salvation or destruction of great and noble interests, than are here presented to his view.

Athenian. Then now we seem to have happily arrived at a real and important question.

Megillus. Very true.

Athenian. Did you never remark, sage friend, that all men, and we ourselves at this moment, often fancy that they see some beautiful thing which might have effected wonders if any one had only known how to make a right use of it in some way; and yet this mode of looking at things may turn out after all to be a mistake, and not according to nature, either in our own case or in any other?

Megillus. To what are you referring, and what do you mean?

Athenian. I was thinking of my own admiration of the aforesaid Heracleid expedition, which was so noble, and might have had such wonderful results for the Hellenes, if only rightly used; and I was just laughing at myself.

Megillus. But were you not right and wise in speaking as you did, and we in assenting to you?

Athenian. Perhaps; and yet I cannot help observing that any one who sees anything great or powerful, immediately has the feeling that —”If the owner only knew how to use his great and noble possession, how happy would he be, and what great results would he achieve!”

Megillus. And would he not be justified?

Athenian. Reflect; in what point of view does this sort of praise appear just: First, in reference to the question in hand:— If the then commanders had known how to arrange their army properly, how would they have attained success? Would not this have been the way? They would have bound them all firmly together and preserved them for ever, giving them freedom and dominion at pleasure, combined with the power of doing in the whole world, Hellenic and barbarian, whatever they and their descendants desired. What other aim would they have had?

Megillus. Very good.

Athenian. Suppose any one were in the same way to express his admiration at the sight of great wealth or family honour, or the like, he would praise them under the idea that through them he would attain either all or the greater and chief part of what he desires.

Megillus. He would.

Athenian. Well, now, and does not the argument show that there is one common desire of all mankind?

Megillus. What is it?

Athenian. The desire which a man has, that all things, if possible — at any rate, things human — may come to pass in accordance with his soul’s desire.

Megillus. Certainly.

Athenian. And having this desire always, and at every time of life, in youth, in manhood, in age, he cannot help always praying for the fulfilment of it.

Megillus. No doubt.

Athenian. And we join in the prayers of our friends, and ask for them what they ask for themselves.

Megillus. We do.

Athenian. Dear is the son to the father — the younger to the elder.

Megillus. Of course.

Athenian. And yet the son often prays to obtain things which the father prays that he may not obtain.

Megillus. When the son is young and foolish, you mean?

Athenian. Yes; or when the father, in the dotage of age or the heat of youth, having no sense of right and justice, prays with fervour, under the influence of feelings akin to those of Theseus when he cursed the unfortunate Hippolytus, do you imagine that the son, having a sense of right and justice, will join in his father’s prayers?

Megillus. I understand you to mean that a man should not desire or be in a hurry to have all things according to his wish, for his wish may be at variance with his reason. But every state and every individual ought to pray and strive for wisdom.

Athenian. Yes; and I remember, and you will remember, what I said at first, that a statesman and legislator ought to ordain laws with a view to wisdom; while you were arguing that the good lawgiver ought to order all with a view to war. And to this I replied that there were four virtues, but that upon your view one of them only was the aim of legislation; whereas you ought to regard all virtue, and especially that which comes first, and is the leader of all the rest — I mean wisdom and mind and opinion, having affection and desire in their train. And now the argument returns to the same point, and I say once more, in jest if you like, or in earnest if you like, that the prayer of a fool is full of danger, being likely to end in the opposite of what he desires. And if you would rather receive my words in earnest, I am willing that you should; and you will find, I suspect, as I have said already, that not cowardice was the cause of the ruin of the Dorian kings and of their whole design, nor ignorance of military matters, either on the part of the rulers or of their subjects; but their misfortunes were due to their general degeneracy, and especially to their ignorance of the most important human affairs. That was then, and is still, and always will be the case, as I will endeavour, if you will allow me, to make out and demonstrate as well as I am able to you who are my friends, in the course of the argument.

Cleinias. Pray go on, Stranger; — compliments are troublesome, but we will show, not in word but in deed, how greatly we prize your words, for we will give them our best attention; and that is the way in which a freeman best shows his approval or disapproval.

Megillus. Excellent, Cleinias; let us do as you say.

Cleinias. By all means, if Heaven wills. Go on.

Athenian. Well, then, proceeding in the same train of thought, I say that the greatest ignorance was the ruin of the Dorian power, and that now, as then, ignorance is ruin. And if this be true, the legislator must endeavour to implant wisdom in states, and banish ignorance to the utmost of his power.

Cleinias. That is evident.

Athenian. Then now consider what is really the greatest ignorance. I should like to know whether you and Megillus would agree with me in what I am about to say; for my opinion is —

Cleinias. What?

Athenian. That the greatest ignorance is when a man hates that which he nevertheless thinks to be good and noble, and loves and embraces that which he knows to be unrighteous and evil. This disagreement between the sense of pleasure and the judgment of reason in the soul is, in my opinion, the worst ignorance; and also the greatest, because affecting the great mass of the human soul; for the principle which feels pleasure and pain in the individual is like the mass or populace in a state. And when the soul is opposed to knowledge, or opinion, or reason, which are her natural lords, that I call folly, just as in the state, when the multitude refuses to obey their rulers and the laws; or, again, in the individual, when fair reasonings have their habitation in the soul and yet do no good, but rather the reverse of good. All these cases I term the worst ignorance, whether in individuals or in states. You will understand, Stranger, that I am speaking of something which is very different from the ignorance of handicraftsmen.

Cleinias. Yes, my friend, we understand and agree.

Athenian. Let us, then, in the first place declare and affirm that the citizen who does not know these things ought never to have any kind of authority entrusted to him: he must be stigmatized as ignorant, even though he be versed in calculation and skilled in all sorts of accomplishments, and feats of mental dexterity; and the opposite are to be called wise, even although, in the words of the proverb, they know neither how to read nor how to swim; and to them, as to men of sense, authority is to be committed. For, O my friends, how can there be the least shadow of wisdom when there is no harmony? There is none; but the noblest and greatest of harmonies may be truly said to be the greatest wisdom; and of this he is a partaker who lives according to reason; whereas he who is devoid of reason is the destroyer of his house and the very opposite of a saviour of the state: he is utterly ignorant of political wisdom. Let this, then, as I was saying, be laid down by us.

Cleinias. Let it be so laid down.

Athenian. I suppose that there must be rulers and subjects in states?

Cleinias. Certainly.

Athenian. And what are the principles on which men rule and obey in cities, whether great or small; and similarly in families? What are they, and how many in number? Is there not one claim of authority which is always just — that of fathers and mothers and in general of progenitors to rule over their offspring?

Cleinias. There is.

Athenian. Next follows the principle that the noble should rule over the ignoble; and, thirdly, that the elder should rule and the younger obey?

Cleinias. To be sure.

Athenian. And, fourthly, that slaves should be ruled, and their masters rule?

Cleinias. Of course.

Athenian. Fifthly, if I am not mistaken, comes the principle that the stronger shall rule, and the weaker be ruled?

Cleinias. That is a rule not to be disobeyed.

Athenian. Yes, and a rule which prevails very widely among all creatures, and is according to nature, as the Theban poet Pindar once said; and the sixth principle, and the greatest of all, is, that the wise should lead and command, and the ignorant follow and obey; and yet, O thou most wise Pindar, as I should reply him, this surely is not contrary to nature, but according to nature, being the rule of law over willing subjects, and not a rule of compulsion.

Cleinias. Most true.

Athenian. There is a seventh kind of rule which is awarded by lot, and is dear to the Gods and a token of good fortune: he on whom the lot falls is a ruler, and he who fails in obtaining the lot goes away and is the subject; and this we affirm to be quite just.

Cleinias. Certainly.

Athenian. “Then now,” as we say playfully to any of those who lightly undertake the making of laws, “you see, legislator, the principles of government, how many they are, and that they are naturally opposed to each other. There we have discovered a fountain-head of seditions, to which you must attend. And, first, we will ask you to consider with us, how and in what respect the kings of Argos and Messene violated these our maxims, and ruined themselves and the great and famous Hellenic power of the olden time. Was it because they did not know how wisely Hesiod spoke when he said that the half is often more than the whole? His meaning was, that when to take the whole would be dangerous, and to take the half would be the safe and moderate course, then the moderate or better was more than the immoderate or worse.”

Cleinias. Very true.

Athenian. And may we suppose this immoderate spirit to be more fatal when found among kings than when among peoples?

Cleinias. The probability is that ignorance will be a disorder especially prevalent among kings, because they lead a proud and luxurious life.

Athenian. Is it not palpable that the chief aim of the kings of that time was to get the better of the established laws, and that they were not in harmony with the principles which they had agreed to observe by word and oath? This want of harmony may have had the appearance of wisdom, but was really, as we assert, the greatest ignorance, and utterly overthrew the whole empire by dissonance and harsh discord.

Cleinias. Very likely.

Athenian. Good; and what measures ought the legislator to have then taken in order to avert this calamity? Truly there is no great wisdom in knowing, and no great difficulty in telling, after the evil has happened; but to have foreseen the remedy at the time would have taken a much wiser head than ours.

Megillus. What do you mean?

Athenian. Any one who looks at what has occurred with you Lacedaemonians, Megillus, may easily know and may easily say what ought to have been done at that time.

Megillus. Speak a little more clearly.

Athenian. Nothing can be clearer than the observation which I am about to make.

Megillus. What is it?

Athenian. That if any one gives too great a power to anything, too large a sail to a vessel, too much food to the body, too much authority to the mind, and does not observe the mean, everything is overthrown, and, in the wantonness of excess runs in the one case to disorders, and in the other to injustice, which is the child of excess. I mean to say, my dear friends, that there is no soul of man, young and irresponsible, who will be able to sustain the temptation of arbitrary power — no one who will not, under such circumstances, become filled with folly, that worst of diseases, and be hated by his nearest and dearest friends: when this happens, his kingdom is undermined, and all his power vanishes from him. And great legislators who know the mean should take heed of the danger. As far as we can guess at this distance of time, what happened was as follows:—

Megillus. What?

Athenian. A God, who watched over Sparta, seeing into the future, gave you two families of kings instead of one; and thus brought you more within the limits of moderation. In the next place, some human wisdom mingled with divine power, observing that the constitution of your government was still feverish and excited, tempered your inborn strength and pride of birth with the moderation which comes of age, making the power of your twenty-eight elders equal with that of the kings in the most important matters. But your third saviour, perceiving that your government was still swelling and foaming, and desirous to impose a curb upon it, instituted the Ephors, whose power he made to resemble that of magistrates elected by lot; and by this arrangement the kingly office, being compounded of the right elements and duly moderated, was preserved, and was the means of preserving all the rest. Since, if there had been only the original legislators, Temenus, Cresphontes, and their contemporaries, as far as they were concerned not even the portion of Aristodemus would have been preserved; for they had no proper experience in legislation, or they would surely not have imagined that oaths would moderate a youthful spirit invested with a power which might be converted into a tyranny. Now that God has instructed us what sort of government would have been or will be lasting, there is no wisdom, as I have already said, in judging after the event; there is no difficulty in learning from an example which has already occurred. But if any one could have foreseen all this at the time, and had been able to moderate the government of the three kingdoms and unite them into one, he might have saved all the excellent institutions which were then conceived; and no Persian or any other armament would have dared to attack us, or would have regarded Hellas as a power to be despised.

Cleinias. True.

Athenian. There was small credit to us, Cleinias, in defeating them; and the discredit was, not that the conquerors did not win glorious victories both by land and sea, but what, in my opinion, brought discredit was, first of all, the circumstance that of the three cities one only fought on behalf of Hellas, and the two others were so utterly good for nothing that the one was waging a mighty war against Lacedaemon, and was thus preventing her from rendering assistance, while the city of Argos, which had the precedence at the time of the distribution, when asked to aid in repelling the barbarian, would not answer to the call, or give aid. Many things might be told about Hellas in connection with that war which are far from honourable; nor, indeed, can we rightly say that Hellas repelled the invader; for the truth is, that unless the Athenians and Lacedaemonians, acting in concert, had warded off the impending yoke, all the tribes of Hellas would have been fused in a chaos of Hellenes mingling with one another, of barbarians mingling with Hellenes, and Hellenes with barbarians; just as nations who are now subject to the Persian power, owing to unnatural separations and combinations of them, are dispersed and scattered, and live miserably. These, Cleinias and Megillus, are the reproaches which we have to make against statesmen and legislators, as they are called, past and present, if we would analyse the causes of their failure, and find out what else might have been done. We said, for instance, just now, that there ought to be no great and unmixed powers; and this was under the idea that a state ought to be free and wise and harmonious, and that a legislator ought to legislate with a view to this end. Nor is there any reason to be surprised at our continually proposing aims for the legislator which appear not to be always the same; but we should consider when we say that temperance is to be the aim, or wisdom is to be the aim, or friendship is to be the aim, that all these aims are really the same; and if so, a variety in the modes of expression ought not to disturb us.

Cleinias. Let us resume the argument in that spirit. And now, speaking of friendship and wisdom and freedom, I wish that you would tell me at what, in your opinion, the legislator should aim.

Athenian. Hear me, then: there are two mother forms of states from which the rest may be truly said to be derived; and one of them may be called monarchy and the other democracy: the Persians have the highest form of the one, and we of the other; almost all the rest, as I was saying, are variations of these. Now, if you are to have liberty and the combination of friendship with wisdom, you must have both these forms of government in a measure; the argument emphatically declares that no city can be well governed which is not made up of both.

Cleinias. Impossible.

Athenian. Neither the one, if it be exclusively and excessively attached to monarchy, nor the other, if it be similarly attached to freedom, observes moderation; but your states, the Laconian and Cretan, have more of it; and the same was the case with the Athenians and Persians of old time, but now they have less. Shall I tell you why?

Cleinias. By all means, if it will tend to elucidate our subject.

Athenian. Hear, then:— There was a time when the Persians had more of the state which is a mean between slavery and freedom. In the reign of Cyrus they were freemen and also lords of many others: the rulers gave a share of freedom to the subjects, and being treated as equals, the soldiers were on better terms with their generals, and showed themselves more ready in the hour of danger. And if there was any wise man among them, who was able to give good counsel, he imparted his wisdom to the public; for the king was not jealous, but allowed him full liberty of speech, and gave honour to those who could advise him in any matter. And the nation waxed in all respects, because there was freedom and friendship and communion of mind among them.

Cleinias. That certainly appears to have been the case.

Athenian. How, then, was this advantage lost under Cambyses, and again recovered under Darius? Shall I try to divine?

Cleinias. The enquiry, no doubt, has a bearing upon our subject.

Athenian. I imagine that Cyrus, though a great and patriotic general, had never given his mind to education, and never attended to the order of his household.

Cleinias. What makes you say so?

Athenian. I think that from his youth upwards he was a soldier, and entrusted the education of his children to the women; and they brought them up from their childhood as the favourites of fortune, who were blessed already, and needed no more blessings. They thought that they were happy enough, and that no one should be allowed to oppose them in any way, and they compelled every one to praise all that they said or did. This was how they brought them up.

Cleinias. A splendid education truly!

Athenian. Such an one as women were likely to give them, and especially princesses who had recently grown rich, and in the absence of the men, too, who were occupied in wars and dangers, and had no time to look after them.

Cleinias. What would you expect?

Athenian. Their father had possessions of cattle and sheep, and many herds of men and other animals, but he did not consider that those to whom he was about to make them over were not trained in his own calling, which was Persian; for the Persians are shepherds — sons of a rugged land, which is a stern mother, and well fitted to produce sturdy race able to live in the open air and go without sleep, and also to fight, if fighting is required. He did not observe that his sons were trained differently; through the so-called blessing of being royal they were educated in the Median fashion by women and eunuchs, which led to their becoming such as people do become when they are brought up unreproved. And so, after the death of Cyrus, his sons, in the fulness of luxury and licence, took the kingdom, and first one slew the other because he could not endure a rival; and, afterwards, the slayer himself, mad with wine and brutality, lost his kingdom through the Medes and the Eunuch, as they called him, who despised the folly of Cambyses.

Cleinias. So runs the tale, and such probably were the facts.

Athenian. Yes; and the tradition says, that the empire came back to the Persians, through Darius and the seven chiefs.

Cleinias. True.

Athenian. Let us note the rest of the story. Observe, that Darius was not the son of a king, and had not received a luxurious education. When he came to the throne, being one of the seven, he divided the country into seven portions, and of this arrangement there are some shadowy traces still remaining; he made laws upon the principle of introducing universal equality in the order of the state, and he embodied in his laws the settlement of the tribute which Cyrus promised — thus creating a feeling of friendship and community among all the Persians, and attaching the people to him with money and gifts. Hence his armies cheerfully acquired for him countries as large as those which Cyrus had left behind him. Darius was succeeded by his son Xerxes; and he again was brought up in the royal and luxurious fashion. Might we not most justly say: “O Darius, how came you to bring up Xerxes in the same way in which Cyrus brought up Cambyses, and not to see his fatal mistake?” For Xerxes, being the creation of the same education, met with much the same fortune as Cambyses; and from that time until now there has never been a really great king among the Persians, although they are all called Great. And their degeneracy is not to be attributed to chance, as I maintain; the reason is rather the evil life which is generally led by the sons of very rich and royal persons; for never will boy or man, young or old, excel in virtue, who has been thus educated. And this, I say, is what the legislator has to consider, and what at the present moment has to be considered by us. Justly may you, O Lacedaemonians, be praised, in that you do not give special honour or a special education to wealth rather than to poverty, or to a royal rather than to a private station, where the divine and inspired lawgiver has not originally commanded them to be given. For no man ought to have pre-eminent honour in a state because he surpasses others in wealth, any more than because he is swift of foot or fair or strong, unless he have some virtue in him; nor even if he have virtue, unless he have this particular virtue of temperance.

Megillus. What do you mean, Stranger?

Athenian. I suppose that courage is a part of virtue?

Megillus. To be sure.

Athenian. Then, now hear and judge for yourself:— Would you like to have for a fellow — lodger or neighbour a very courageous man, who had no control over himself?

Megillus. Heaven forbid!

Athenian. Or an artist, who was clever in his profession, but a rogue?

Megillus. Certainly not.

Athenian. And surely justice does not grow apart from temperance?

Megillus. Impossible.

Athenian. Any more than our pattern wise man, whom we exhibited as having his pleasures and pains in accordance with and corresponding to true reason, can be intemperate?

Megillus. No.

Athenian. There is a further consideration relating to the due and undue award of honours in states.

Megillus. What is it?

Athenian. I should like to know whether temperance without the other virtues, existing alone in the soul of man, is rightly to be praised or blamed?

Megillus. I cannot tell.

Athenian. And that is the best answer; for whichever alternative you had chosen, I think that you would have gone wrong.

Megillus. I am fortunate.

Athenian. Very good; a quality, which is a mere appendage of things which can be praised or blamed, does not deserve an expression of opinion, but is best passed over in silence.

Megillus. You are speaking of temperance?

Athenian. Yes; but of the other virtues, that which having this appendage is also most beneficial, will be most deserving of honour, and next that which is beneficial in the next degree; and so each of them will be rightly honoured according to a regular order.

Megillus. True.

Athenian. And ought not the legislator to determine these classes?

Megillus. Certainly he should.

Athenian. Suppose that we leave to him the arrangement of details. But the general division of laws according to their importance into a first and second and third class, we who are lovers of law may make ourselves.

Megillus. Very; good.

Athenian. We maintain, then, that a State which would be safe and happy, as far as the nature of man allows, must and ought to distribute honour and dishonour in the right way. And the right way is to place the goods of the soul first and highest in the scale, always assuming temperance to be the condition of them; and to assign the second place to the goods of the body; and the third place to money and property. And it any legislator or state departs from this rule by giving money the place of honour, or in any way preferring that which is really last, may we not say, that he or the state is doing an unholy and unpatriotic thing?

Megillus. Yes; let that be plainly declared.

Athenian. The consideration of the Persian governments led us thus far to enlarge. We remarked that the Persians grew worse and worse. And we affirm the reason of this to have been, that they too much diminished the freedom of the people, and introduced too much of despotism, and so destroyed friendship and community of feeling. And when there is an end of these, no longer do the governors govern on behalf of their subjects or of the people, but on behalf of themselves; and if they think that they can gain ever so small an advantage for themselves, they devastate cities, and send fire and desolation among friendly races. And as they hate ruthlessly and horribly, so are they hated; and when they want the people to fight for them, they find no community of feeling or willingness to risk their lives on their behalf; their untold myriads are useless to them on the field of battle, and they think that their salvation depends on the employment of mercenaries and strangers whom they hire, as if they were in want of more men. And they cannot help being stupid, since they proclaim by actions that the ordinary distinctions of right and wrong which are made in a state are a trifle, when compared with gold and silver.

Megillus. Quite true.

Athenian. And now enough of the Persians, and their present maladministration of their government, which is owing to the excess of slavery and despotism among them.

Megillus. Good.

Athenian. Next, we must pass in review the government of Attica in like manner, and from this show that entire freedom and the absence of all superior authority is not by any means so good as government by others when properly limited, which was our ancient Athenian constitution at the time when the Persians made their attack on Hellas, or, speaking more correctly, on the whole continent of Europe. There were four classes, arranged according to a property census, and reverence was our queen and mistress, and made us willing to live in obedience to the laws which then prevailed. Also the vastness of the Persian armament, both by sea and on land, caused a helpless terror, which made us more and more the servants of our rulers and of the laws; and for all these reasons an exceeding harmony prevailed among us. About ten years before the naval engagement at Salamis, Datis came, leading a Persian host by command of Darius, which was expressly directed against the Athenians and Eretrians, having orders to carry them away captive; and these orders he was to execute under pain of death. Now Datis and his myriads soon became complete masters of Eretria, and he sent a fearful report to Athens that no Eretrian had escaped him; for the soldiers of Datis had joined hands and netted the whole of Eretria. And this report, whether well or ill founded, was terrible to all the Hellenes, and above all to the Athenians, and they dispatched embassies in all directions, but no one was willing to come to their relief, with the exception of the Lacedaemonians; and they, either because they were detained by the Messenian war, which was then going on, or for some other reason of which we are not told, came a day too late for the battle of Marathon. After a while, the news arrived of mighty preparations being made, and innumerable threats came from the king. Then, as time went on, a rumour reached us that Darius had died, and that his son, who was young and hot-headed, had come to the throne and was persisting in his design. The Athenians were under the impression that the whole expedition was directed against them, in consequence of the battle of Marathon; and hearing of the bridge over the Hellespont, and the canal of Athos, and the host of ships, considering that there was no salvation for them either by land or by sea, for there was no one to help them, and remembering that in the first expedition, when the Persians destroyed Eretria, no one came to their help, or would risk the danger of an alliance with them, they thought that this would happen again, at least on land; nor, when they looked to the sea, could they descry any hope of salvation; for they were attacked by a thousand vessels and more. One chance of safety remained, slight indeed and desperate, but their only one. They saw that on the former occasion they had gained a seemingly impossible victory, and borne up by this hope, they found that their only refuge was in themselves and in the Gods. All these things created in them the spirit of friendship; there was the fear of the moment, and there was that higher fear, which they had acquired by obedience to their ancient laws, and which I have several times in the preceding discourse called reverence, of which the good man ought to be a willing servant, and of which the coward is independent and fearless. If this fear had not possessed them, they would never have met the enemy, or defended their temples and sepulchres and their country, and everything that was near and dear to them, as they did; but little by little they would have been all scattered and dispersed.

Megillus. Your words, Athenian, are quite true, and worthy of yourself and of your country.

Athenian. They are true, Megillus; and to you, who have inherited the virtues of your ancestors, I may properly speak of the actions of that day. And I would wish you and Cleinias to consider whether my words have not also a bearing on legislation; for I am not discoursing only for the pleasure of talking, but for the argument’s sake. Please to remark that the experience both of ourselves and the Persians was, in a certain sense, the same; for as they led their people into utter servitude, so we too led ours into all freedom. And now, how shall we proceed? for I would like you to observe that our previous arguments have good deal to say for themselves.

Megillus. True; but I wish that you would give us a fuller explanation.

Athenian. I will. Under the ancient laws, my friends, the people was not as now the master, but rather the willing servant of the laws.

Megillus. What laws do you mean?

Athenian. In the first place, let us speak of the laws about music — that is to say, such music as then existed — in order that we may trace the growth of the excess of freedom from the beginning. Now music was early divided among us into certain kinds and manners. One sort consisted of prayers to the Gods, which were called hymns; and there was another and opposite sort called lamentations, and another termed paeans, and another, celebrating the birth of Dionysus, called, I believe, “dithyrambs.” And they used the actual word “laws,” or nomoi, for another kind of song; and to this they added the term “citharoedic.” All these and others were duly distinguished, nor were the performers allowed to confuse one style of music with another. And the authority which determined and gave judgment, and punished the disobedient, was not expressed in a hiss, nor in the most unmusical shouts of the multitude, as in our days, nor in applause and clapping of hands. But the directors of public instruction insisted that the spectators should listen in silence to the end; and boys and their tutors, and the multitude in general, were kept quiet by a hint from a stick. Such was the good order which the multitude were willing to observe; they would never have dared to give judgment by noisy cries. And then, as time went on, the poets themselves introduced the reign of vulgar and lawless innovation. They were men of genius, but they had no perception of what is just and lawful in music; raging like Bacchanals and possessed with inordinate delights — mingling lamentations with hymns, and paeans with dithyrambs; imitating the sounds of the flute on the lyre, and making one general confusion; ignorantly affirming that music has no truth, and, whether good or bad, can only be judged of rightly by the pleasure of the hearer. And by composing such licentious works, and adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitude with lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they can judge for themselves about melody and song. And in this way the theatres from being mute have become vocal, as though they had understanding of good and bad in music and poetry; and instead of an aristocracy, an evil sort of theatrocracy has grown up. For if the democracy which judged had only consisted of educated persons, no fatal harm would have been done; but in music there first arose the universal conceit of omniscience and general lawlessness; — freedom came following afterwards, and men, fancying that they knew what they did not know, had no longer any fear, and the absence of fear begets shamelessness. For what is this shamelessness, which is so evil a thing, but the insolent refusal to regard the opinion of the better by reason of an over-daring sort of liberty?

Megillus. Very true.

Athenian. Consequent upon this freedom comes the other freedom, of disobedience to rulers; and then the attempt to escape the control and exhortation of father, mother, elders, and when near the end, the control of the laws also; and at the very end there is the contempt of oaths and pledges, and no regard at all for the Gods — herein they exhibit and imitate the old so called Titanic nature, and come to the same point as the Titans when they rebelled against God, leading a life of endless evils. But why have I said all this? I ask, because the argument ought to be pulled up from time to time, and not be allowed to run away, but held with bit and bridle, and then we shall not, as the proverb says, fall off our ass. Let us then once more ask the question, To what end has all this been said?

Megillus. Very good.

Athenian. This, then, has been said for the sake —

Megillus. Of what?

Athenian. We were maintaining that the lawgiver ought to have three things in view: first, that the city for which he legislates should be free; and secondly, be at unity with herself; and thirdly, should have understanding; — these were our principles, were they not?

Megillus. Certainly.

Athenian. With a view to this we selected two kinds of government, the despotic, and the other the most free; and now we are considering which of them is the right form: we took a mean in both cases, of despotism in the one, and of liberty in the other, and we saw that in a mean they attained their perfection; but that when they were carried to the extreme of either, slavery or licence, neither party were the gainers.

Megillus. Very true.

Athenian. And that was our reason for considering the settlement of the Dorian army, and of the city built by Dardanus at the foot of the mountains, and the removal of cities to the seashore, and of our mention of the first men, who were the survivors of the deluge. And all that was previously said about music and drinking, and what preceded, was said with the view of seeing how a state might be best administered, and how an individual might best order his own life. And now, Megillus and Cleinias, how can we put to the proof the value of our words?

Cleinias. Stranger, I think that I see how a proof of their value may be obtained. This discussion of ours appears to me to have been singularly fortunate, and just what I at this moment want; most auspiciously have you and my friend Megillus come in my way. For I will tell you what has happened to me; and I regard the coincidence as a sort of omen. The greater part of Crete is going to send out a colony, and they have entrusted the management of the affair to the Cnosians; and the Cnosian government to me and nine others. And they desire us to give them any laws which we please, whether taken from the Cretan model or from any other; and they do not mind about their being foreign if they are better. Grant me then this favour, which will also be a gain to yourselves:— Let us make a selection from what has been said, and then let us imagine a State of which we will suppose ourselves to be the original founders. Thus we shall proceed with our enquiry, and, at the same time, I may have the use of the framework which you are constructing, for the city which is in contemplation.

Athenian. Good news, Cleinias; if Megillus has no objection, you may be sure that I will do all in my power to please you.

Cleinias. Thank you.

Megillus. And so will I.

Cleinias. Excellent; and now let us begin to frame the State.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:17