Persons of THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER; CLEINIAS, a Cretan; MEGILLUS, a
Athenian Stranger. Tell me,
Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to be the author of your
Cleinias. A God, Stranger; in
very truth a, God: among us Cretans he is said to have been Zeus,
but in Lacedaemon, whence our friend here comes, I believe they
would say that Apollo is their lawgiver: would they not, Megillus?
Ath. And do you, Cleinias,
believe, as Homer tells, that every ninth year Minos went to
converse with his Olympian sire, and was inspired by him to make
laws for your cities?
Cle. Yes, that is our tradition;
and there was Rhadamanthus, a brother of his, with whose name you
are familiar; he is reputed to have been the justest of men, and we
Cretans are of opinion that he earned this reputation from his
righteous administration of justice when he was alive.
Ath. Yes, and a noble reputation
it was, worthy of a son of Zeus. As you and Megillus have been
trained in these institutions, I dare say that you will not be
unwilling to give an account of your government and laws; on our
way we can pass the time pleasantly in about them, for I am told
that the distance from Cnosus to the cave and temple of Zeus is
considerable; and doubtless there are shady places under the lofty
trees, which will protect us from this scorching sun. Being no
longer young, we may often stop to rest beneath them, and get over
the whole journey without difficulty, beguiling the time by
Cle. Yes, Stranger, and if we
proceed onward we shall come to groves of cypresses, which are of
rare height and beauty, and there are green meadows, in which we
may repose and converse.
Ath. Very good.
Cle. Very good, indeed; and still
better when we see them; let us move on cheerily.
Ath. I am willing-And first, I
want to know why the law has ordained that you shall have common
meals and gymnastic exercises, and wear arms.
Cle. I think, Stranger, that the
aim of our institutions is easily intelligible to any one. Look at
the character of our country: Crete is not like Thessaly, a large
plain; and for this reason they have horsemen in Thessaly, and we
have runners-the inequality of the ground in our country is more
adapted to locomotion on foot; but then, if you have runners you
must have light arms-no one can carry a heavy weight when running,
and bows and arrows are convenient because they are light. Now all
these regulations have been made with a view to war, and the
legislator appears to me to have looked to this in all his
arrangements:-the common meals, if I am not mistaken, were
instituted by him for a similar reason, because he saw that while
they are in the field the citizens are by the nature of the case
compelled to take their meals together for the sake of mutual
protection. He seems to me to have thought the world foolish in not
understanding that all are always at war with one another; and if
in war there ought to be common meals and certain persons regularly
appointed under others to protect an army, they should be continued
in peace. For what men in general term peace would be said by him
to be only a name; in reality every city is in a natural state of
war with every other, not indeed proclaimed by heralds, but
everlasting. And if you look closely, you will find that this was
the intention of the Cretan legislator; all institutions, private
as well as public, were arranged by him with a view to war; in
giving them he was under the impression that no possessions or
institutions are of any value to him who is defeated in battle; for
all the good things of the conquered pass into the hands of the
Ath. You appear to me, Stranger,
to have been thoroughly trained in the Cretan institutions, and to
be well informed about them; will you tell me a little more
explicitly what is the principle of government which you would lay
down? You seem to imagine that a well governed state ought to be so
ordered as to conquer all other states in war: am I right in
supposing this to be your meaning?
Cle. Certainly; and our
Lacedaemonian friend, if I am not mistaken, will agree with me.
Meg. Why, my good friend, how
could any Lacedaemonian say anything else?
Ath. And is what you say
applicable only to states, or also to villages?
Cle. To both alike.
Ath. The case is the same?
Ath. And in the village will
there be the same war of family against family, and of individual
Cle. The same.
Ath. And should each man conceive
himself to be his own enemy:-what shall we say?
Cle. O Athenian
Stranger-inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, for you seem to
deserve rather to be named after the goddess herself, because you
go back to first principles you have thrown a light upon the
argument, and will now be better able to understand what I was just
saying-that all men are publicly one another's enemies, and each
man privately his own.
(Ath. My good sir, what do you
Cle..... Moreover, there is a
victory and defeat-the first and best of victories, the lowest and
worst of defeats-which each man gains or sustains at the hands, not
of another, but of himself; this shows that there is a war against
ourselves going on within every one of us.
Ath. Let us now reverse the order
of the argument: Seeing that every individual is either his own
superior or his own inferior, may we say that there is the same
principle in the house, the village, and the state?
Cle. You mean that in each of
them there is a principle of superiority or inferiority to self?
Cle. You are quite right in
asking the question, for there certainly is such a principle, and
above all in states; and the state in which the better citizens win
a victory over the mob and over the inferior classes may be truly
said to be better than itself, and may be justly praised, where
such a victory is gained, or censured in the opposite case.
Ath. Whether the better is ever
really conquered by the worse, is a question which requires more
discussion, and may be therefore left for the present. But I now
quite understand your meaning when you say that citizens who are of
the same race and live in the same cities may unjustly conspire,
and having the superiority in numbers may overcome and enslave the
few just; and when they prevail, the state may be truly called its
own inferior and therefore bad; and when they are defeated, its own
superior and therefore good.
Cle. Your remark, Stranger, is a
paradox, and yet we cannot possibly deny it.
Ath. Here is another case for
consideration;-in a family there may be several brothers, who are
the offspring of a single pair; very possibly the majority of them
may be unjust, and the just may be in a minority.
Cle. Very possibly.
Ath. And you and I ought not to
raise a question of words as to whether this family and household
are rightly said to be superior when they conquer, and inferior
when they are conquered; for we are not now considering what may or
may not be the proper or customary way of speaking, but we are
considering the natural principles of right and wrong in laws.
Cle. What you say, Stranger, is
Meg. Quite excellent, in my
opinion, as far as we have gone.
Ath. Again; might there not be a
judge over these brethren, of whom we were speaking?
Ath. Now, which would be the
better judge-one who destroyed the bad and appointed the good to
govern themselves; or one who, while allowing the good to govern,
let the bad live, and made them voluntarily submit? Or third, I
suppose, in the scale of excellence might be placed a judge, who,
finding the family distracted, not only did not destroy any one,
but reconciled them to one another for ever after, and gave them
laws which they mutually observed, and was able to keep them
Cle. The last would be by far the
best sort of judge and legislator.
Ath. And yet the aim of all the
laws which he gave would be the reverse of war.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And will he who constitutes
the state and orders the life of man have in view external war, or
that kind of intestine war called civil, which no one, if he could
prevent, would like to have occurring in his own state; and when
occurring, every one would wish to be quit of as soon as possible?
Cle. He would have the latter
chiefly in view.
Ath. And would he prefer that
this civil war should be terminated by the destruction of one of
the parties, and by the victory of the other, or that peace and
friendship should be re-established, and that, being reconciled,
they should give their attention to foreign enemies?
Cle. Every one would desire the
latter in the case of his own state.
Ath. And would not that also be
the desire of the legislator?
Ath. And would not every one
always make laws for the sake of the best?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. But war, whether external or
civil, is not the best, and the need of either is to be deprecated;
but peace with one another, and good will, are best. Nor is the
victory of the state over itself to be regarded as a really good
thing, but as a necessity; a man might as well say that the body
was in the best state when sick and purged by medicine, forgetting
that there is also a state of the body which needs no purge. And in
like manner no one can be a true statesman, whether he aims at the
happiness of the individual or state, who looks only, or first of
all, to external warfare; nor will he ever be a sound legislator
who orders peace for the sake of war, and not war for the sake of
Cle. I suppose that there is
truth, Stranger, in that remark of yours; and yet I am greatly
mistaken if war is not the entire aim and object of our own
institutions, and also of the Lacedaemonian.
Ath. I dare say; but there is no
reason why we should rudely quarrel with one another about your
legislators, instead of gently questioning them, seeing that both
we and they are equally in earnest. Please follow me and the
argument closely:-And first I will put forward Tyrtaeus, an
Athenian by birth, but also a Spartan citizen, who of all men was
most eager about war: Well, he says, "I sing not, I care not, about
any man, even if he were the richest of men, and possessed every
good (and then he gives a whole list of them), if he be not at all
times a brave warrior." I imagine that you, too, must have heard
his poems; our Lacedaemonian friend has probably heard more than
enough of them.
Meg. Very true.
Cle. And they have found their
way from Lacedaemon to Crete.
Ath. Come now and let us all join
in asking this question of Tyrtaeus: O most divine poet, we will
say to him, the excellent praise which you have bestowed on those
who excel in war sufficiently proves that you are wise and good,
and I and Megillus and Cleinias of Cnosus do, as I believe,
entirely agree with you. But we should like to be quite sure that
we are speaking of the same men; tell us, then, do you agree with
us in thinking that there are two kinds of war; or what would you
say? A far inferior man to Tyrtaeus would have no difficulty in
replying quite truly, that war is of two kinds one which is
universally called civil war, and is as we were just now saying, of
all wars the worst; the other, as we should all admit, in which we
fall out with other nations who are of a different race, is a far
milder form of warfare.
Cle. Certainly, far milder.
Ath. Well, now, when you praise
and blame war in this high-flown strain, whom are you praising or
blaming, and to which kind of war are you referring? I suppose that
you must mean foreign war, if I am to judge from expressions of
yours in which you say that you abominate those
Who refuse to look upon fields of
blood, and will not draw near and strike at their enemies. And we
shall naturally go on to say to him-You, Tyrtaeus, as it seems,
praise those who distinguish themselves in external and foreign
war; and he must admit this.
Ath. They are good; but we say
that there are still better men whose virtue is displayed in the
greatest of all battles. And we too have a poet whom we summon as a
witness, Theognis, citizen of Megara in Sicily:
Cyrnus, he who is faithful in a
civil broil is worth his weight in gold and silver. And such an one
is far better, as we affirm, than the other in a more difficult
kind of war, much in the same degree as justice and temperance and
wisdom, when united with courage, are better than courage only; for
a man cannot be faithful and good in civil strife without having
all virtue. But in the war of which Tyrtaeus speaks, many a
mercenary soldier will take his stand and be ready to die at his
post, and yet they are generally and almost without exception
insolent, unjust, violent men, and the most senseless of human
beings. You will ask what the conclusion is, and what I am seeking
to prove: I maintain that the divine legislator of Crete, like any
other who is worthy of consideration, will always and above all
things in making laws have regard to the greatest virtue; which,
according to Theognis, is loyalty in the hour of danger, and may be
truly called perfect justice. Whereas, that virtue which Tyrtaeus
highly praises is well enough, and was praised by the poet at the
right time, yet in place and dignity may be said to be only fourth
Cle. Stranger, we are degrading
our inspired lawgiver to a rank which is far beneath him.
Ath. Nay, I think that we degrade
not him but ourselves, if we imagine that Lycurgus and Minos laid
down laws both in Lacedaemon and Crete mainly with a view to war.
Cle. What ought we to say then?
Ath. What truth and what justice
require of us, if I am not mistaken, when speaking in behalf of
divine excellence;-at the legislator when making his laws had in
view not a part only, and this the lowest part of virtue, but all
virtue, and that he devised classes of laws answering to the kinds
of virtue; not in the way in which modern inventors of laws make
the classes, for they only investigate and offer laws whenever a
want is felt, and one man has a class of laws about allotments and
heiresses, another about assaults; others about ten thousand other
such matters. But we maintain that the right way of examining into
laws is to proceed as we have now done, and I admired the spirit of
your exposition; for you were quite right in beginning with virtue,
and saying that this was the aim of the giver of the law, but I
thought that you went wrong when you added that all his legislation
had a view only to a part, and the least part of virtue, and this
called forth my subsequent remarks. Will you allow me then to
explain how I should have liked to have heard you expound the
Cle. By all means.
Ath. You ought to have said,
Stranger-The Cretan laws are with reason famous among the Hellenes;
for they fulfil the object of laws, which is to make those who use
them happy; and they confer every sort of good. Now goods are of
two kinds: there are human and there are divine goods, and the
human hang upon the divine; and the state which attains the
greater, at the same time acquires the less, or, not having the
greater, has neither. Of the lesser goods the first is health, the
second beauty, the third strength, including swiftness in running
and bodily agility generally, and the fourth is wealth, not the
blind god [Pluto], but one who is keen of sight, if only he has
wisdom for his companion. For wisdom is chief and leader of the
divine dass of goods, and next follows temperance; and from the
union of these two with courage springs justice, and fourth in the
scale of virtue is courage. All these naturally take precedence of
the other goods, and this is the order in which the legislator must
place them, and after them he will enjoin the rest of his
ordinances on the citizens with a view to these, the human looking
to the divine, and the divine looking to their leader mind. Some of
his ordinances will relate to contracts of marriage which they make
one with another, and then to the procreation and education of
children, both male and female; the duty of the lawgiver will be to
take charge of his citizens, in youth and age, and at every time of
life, and to give them punishments and rewards; and in reference to
all their intercourse with one another, he ought to consider their
pains and pleasures and desires, and the vehemence of all their
passions; he should keep a watch over them, and blame and praise
them rightly by the mouth of the laws themselves. Also with regard
to anger and terror, and the other perturbations of the soul, which
arise out of misfortune, and the deliverances from them which
prosperity brings, and the experiences which come to men in
diseases, or in war, or poverty, or the opposite of these; in all
these states he should determine and teach what is the good and
evil of the condition of each. In the next place, the legislator
has to be careful how the citizens make their money and in what way
they spend it, and to have an eye to their mutual contracts and
dissolutions of contracts, whether voluntary or involuntary: he
should see how they order all this, and consider where justice as
well as injustice is found or is wanting in their several dealings
with one another; and honour those who obey the law, and impose
fixed penalties on those who disobey, until the round of civil life
is ended, and the time has come for the consideration of the proper
funeral rites and honours of the dead. And the lawgiver reviewing
his work, will appoint guardians to preside over these things-some
who walk by intelligence, others by true opinion only, and then
mind will bind together all his ordinances and show them to be in
harmony with temperance and justice, and not with wealth or
ambition. This is the spirit, Stranger, in which I was and am
desirous that you should pursue the subject. And I want to know the
nature of all these things, and how they are arranged in the laws
of Zeus, as they are termed, and in those of the Pythian Apollo,
which Minos and Lycurgus gave; and how the order of them is
discovered to his eyes, who has experience in laws gained either by
study or habit, although they are far from being self-evident to
the rest of mankind like ourselves.
Cle. How shall we proceed,
Ath. I think that we must begin
again as before, and first consider the habit of courage; and then
we will go on and discuss another and then another form of virtue,
if you please. In this way we shall have a model of the whole; and
with these and similar discourses we will beguile the way. And when
we have gone through all the virtues, we will show, by the grace of
God, that the institutions of which I was speaking look to virtue.
Meg. Very good; and suppose that
you first criticize this praiser of Zeus and the laws of Crete.
Ath. I will try to criticize you
and myself, as well as him, for the argument is a common concern.
Tell me-were not first the syssitia, and secondly the gymnasia,
invented by your legislator with a view to war?
Ath. And what comes third, and
what fourth? For that, I think, is the sort of enumeration which
ought to be made of the remaining parts of virtue, no matter
whether you call them parts or what their name is, provided the
meaning is clear.
Meg. Then I, or any other
Lacedaemonian, would reply that hunting is third in order.
Ath. Let us see if we can
discover what comes fourth and fifth.
Meg. I think that I can get as
far as the fouth head, which is the frequent endurance of pain,
exhibited among us Spartans in certain hand-to-hand fights; also in
stealing with the prospect of getting a good beating; there is,
too, the so-called Crypteia, or secret service, in which wonderful
endurance is shown-our people wander over the whole country by day
and by night, and even in winter have not a shoe to their foot, and
are without beds to lie upon, and have to attend upon themselves.
Marvellous, too, is the endurance which our citizens show in their
naked exercises, contending against the violent summer heat; and
there are many similar practices, to speak of which in detail would
Ath. Excellent, O Lacedaemonian
Stranger. But how ought we to define courage? Is it to be regarded
only as a combat against fears and pains, or also against desires
and pleasures, and against flatteries; which exercise such a
tremendous power, that they make the hearts even of respectable
citizens to melt like wax?
Meg. I should say the latter.
Ath. In what preceded, as you
will remember, our Cnosian friend was speaking of a man or a city
being inferior to themselves:-Were you not, Cleinias?
Cle. I was.
Ath. Now, which is in the truest
sense inferior, the man who is overcome by pleasure or by pain?
Cle. I should say the man who is
overcome by pleasure; for all men deem him to be inferior in a more
disgraceful sense, than the other who is overcome by pain.
Ath. But surely the lawgivers of
Crete and Lacedaemon have not legislated for a courage which is
lame of one leg, able only to meet attacks which come from the
left, but impotent against the insidious flatteries which come from
Cle. Able to meet both, I should
Ath. Then let me once more ask,
what institutions have you in either of your states which give a
taste of pleasures, and do not avoid them any more than they avoid
pains; but which set a person in the midst of them, and compel or
induce him by the prospect of reward to get the better of them?
Where is an ordinance about pleasure similar to that about pain to
be found in your laws? Tell me what there is of this nature among
you:-What is there which makes your citizen equally brave against
pleasure and pain, conquering what they ought to conquer, and
superior to the enemies who are most dangerous and nearest home?
Meg. I was able to tell you,
Stranger, many laws which were directed against pain; but I do not
know that I can point out any great or obvious examples of similar
institutions which are concerned with pleasure; there are some
lesser provisions, however, which I might mention.
Cle. Neither can I show anything
of that sort which is at all equally prominent in the Cretan laws.
Ath. No wonder, my dear friends;
and if, as is very likely, in our search after the true and good,
one of us may have to censure the laws of the others, we must not
be offended, but take kindly what another says.
Cle. You are quite right,
Athenian Stranger, and we will do as you say.
Ath. At our time of life,
Cleinias, there should be no feeling of irritation.
Cle. Certainly not.
Ath. I will not at present
determine whether he who censures the Cretan or Lacedaemonian
polities is right or wrong. But I believe that I can tell better
than either of you what the many say about them. For assuming that
you have reasonably good laws, one of the best of them will be the
law forbidding any young men to enquire which of them are right or
wrong; but with one mouth and one voice they must all agree that
the laws are all good, for they came from God; and any one who says
the contrary is not to be listened to. But an old man who remarks
any defect in your laws may communicate his observation to a ruler
or to an equal in years when no young man is present.
Cle. Exactly so, Stranger; and
like a diviner, although not there at the time, you seem to me
quite to have hit the meaning of the legislator, and to say what is
Ath. As there are no young men
present, and the legislator has given old men free licence, there
will be no impropriety in our discussing these very matters now
that we are alone.
Cle. True. And therefore you may
be as free as you like in your censure of our laws, for there is no
discredit in knowing what is wrong; he who receives what is said in
a generous and friendly spirit will be all the better for it.
Ath. Very good; however, I am not
going to say anything against your laws until to the best of my
ability I have examined them, but I am going to raise doubts about
them. For you are the only people known to us, whether Greek or
barbarian, whom the legislator commanded to eschew all great
pleasures and amusements and never to touch them; whereas in the
matter of pains or fears which we have just been discussing, he
thought that they who from infancy had always avoided pains and
fears and sorrows, when they were compelled to face them would run
away from those who were hardened in them, and would become their
subjects. Now the legislator ought to have considered that this was
equally true of pleasure; he should have said to himself, that if
our citizens are from their youth upward unacquainted with the
greatest pleasures, and unused to endure amid the temptations of
pleasure, and are not disciplined to refrain from all things evil,
the sweet feeling of pleasure will overcome them just as fear would
overcome the former class; and in another, and even a worse manner,
they will be the slaves of those who are able to endure amid
pleasures, and have had the opportunity of enjoying them, they
being often the worst of mankind. One half of their souls will be a
slave, the other half free; and they will not be worthy to be
called in the true sense men and freemen. Tell me whether you
assent to my words?
Cle. On first hearing, what you
say appears to be the truth; but to be hasty in coming to a
conclusion about such important matters would be very childish and
Ath. Suppose, Cleinias and
Megillus, that we consider the virtue which follows next of those
which we intended to discuss (for after courage comes temperance),
what institutions shall we find relating to temperance, either in
Crete or Lacedaemon, which, like your military institutions, differ
from those of any ordinary state.
Meg. That is not an easy question
to answer; still I should say that the common meals and gymnastic
exercises have been excellently devised for the promotion both of
temperance and courage.
Ath. There seems to be a
difficulty, Stranger, with regard to states, in making words and
facts coincide so that there can be no dispute about them. As in
the human body, the regimen which does good in one way does harm in
another; and we can hardly say that any one course of treatment is
adapted to a particular constitution. Now the gymnasia and common
meals do a great deal of good, and yet they are a source of evil in
civil troubles; as is shown in the case of the Milesian, and
Boeotian, and Thurian youth, among whom these institutions seem
always to have had a tendency to degrade the ancient and natural
custom of love below the level, not only of man, but of the beasts.
The charge may be fairly brought against your cities above all
others, and is true also of most other states which especially
cultivate gymnastics. Whether such matters are to be regarded
jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed
natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women;
but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women,
is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due
to unbridled lust. The Cretans are always accused of having
invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to
justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the
practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver.
Leaving the story, we may observe that any speculation about laws
turns almost entirely on pleasure and pain, both in states and in
individuals: these are two fountains which nature lets flow, and he
who draws from them where and when, and as much as he ought, is
happy; and this holds of men and animals-of individuals as well as
states; and he who indulges in them ignorantly and at the wrong
time, is the reverse of happy.
Meg. I admit, Stranger, that your
words are well spoken, and I hardly know what to say in answer to
you; but still I think that the Spartan lawgiver was quite right in
forbidding pleasure. Of the Cretan laws, I shall leave the defence
to my Cnosian friend. But the laws of Sparta, in as far as they
relate to pleasure, appear to me to be the best in the world; for
that which leads mankind in general into the wildest pleasure and
licence, and every other folly, the law has clean driven out; and
neither in the country nor in towns which are under the control of
Sparta, will you find revelries and the many incitements of every
kind of pleasure which accompany them; and any one who meets a
drunken and disorderly person, will immediately have him most
severely punished, and will not let him off on any pretence, not
even at the time of a Dionysiac festival; although I have remarked
that this may happen at your performances "on the cart," as they
are called; and among our Tarentine colonists I have seen the whole
city drunk at a Dionysiac festival; but nothing of the sort happens
Ath. O Lacedaemonian Stranger,
these festivities are praiseworthy where there is a spirit of
endurance, but are very senseless when they are under no
regulations. In order to retaliate, an Athenian has only to point
out the licence which exists among your women. To all such
accusations, whether they are brought against the Tarentines, or
us, or you, there is one answer which exonerates the practice in
question from impropriety. When a stranger expresses wonder at the
singularity of what he sees, any inhabitant will naturally answer
him:-Wonder not, O stranger; this is our custom, and you may very
likely have some other custom about the same things. Now we are
speaking, my friends, not about men in general, but about the
merits and defects of the lawgivers themselves. Let us then
discourse a little more at length about intoxication, which is a
very important subject, and will seriously task the discrimination
of the legislator. I am not speaking of drinking, or not drinking,
wine at all, but of intoxication. Are we to follow the custom of
the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians, and Celts, and
Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of
your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain? But the
Scythians and Thracians, both men and women, drink unmixed wine,
which they pour on their garments, and this they think a happy and
glorious institution. The Persians, again, are much given to other
practices of luxury which you reject, but they have more moderation
in them than the Thracians and Scythians.
Meg. O best of men, we have only
to take arms into our hands, and we send all these nations flying
Ath. Nay, my good friend, do not
say that; there have been, as there always will be, flights and
pursuits of which no account can be given, and therefore we cannot
say that victory or defeat in battle affords more than a doubtful
proof of the goodness or badness of institutions. For when the
greater states conquer and enslave the lesser, as the Syracusans
have done the Locrians, who appear to be the best-governed people
in their part of the world, or as the Athenians have done the Ceans
(and there are ten thousand other instances of the same sort of
thing), all this is not to the point; let us endeavour rather to
form a conclusion about each institution in itself and say nothing,
at present, of victories and defeats. Let us only say that such and
such a custom is honourable, and another not. And first permit me
to tell you how good and bad are to be estimated in reference to
these very matters.
Meg. How do you mean?
Ath. All those who are ready at a
moment's notice to praise or censure any practice which is matter
of discussion, seem to me to proceed in a wrong way. Let me give
you an illustration of what I mean:-You may suppose a person to be
praising wheat as a good kind of food, whereupon another person
instantly blames wheat, without ever enquiring into its effect or
use, or in what way, or to whom, or with what, or in what state and
how, wheat is to be given. And that is just what we are doing in
this discussion. At the very mention of the word intoxication, one
side is ready with their praises and the other with their censures;
which is absurd. For either side adduce their witnesses and
approvers, and some of us think that we speak with authority
because we have many witnesses; and others because they see those
who abstain conquering in battle, and this again is disputed by us.
Now I cannot say that I shall be satisfied, if we go on discussing
each of the remaining laws in the same way. And about this very
point of intoxication I should like to speak in another way, which
I hold to be the right one; for if number is to be the criterion,
are there not myriads upon myriads of nations ready to dispute the
point with you, who are only two cities?
Meg. I shall gladly welcome any
method of enquiry which is right.
Ath. Let me put the matter
thus:-Suppose a person to praise the keeping of goats, and the
creatures themselves as capital things to have, and then some one
who had seen goats feeding without a goatherd in cultivated spots,
and doing mischief, were to censure a goat or any other animal who
has no keeper, or a bad keeper, would there be any sense or justice
in such censure?
Meg. Certainly not.
Ath. Does a captain require only
to have nautical knowledge in order to be a good captain, whether
he is sea-sick or not? What do you say?
Meg. I say that he is not a good
captain if, although he have nautical skill, he is liable to
Ath. And what would you say of
the commander of an army? Will he be able to command merely because
he has military skill if he be a coward, who, when danger comes, is
sick and drunk with fear?
Ath. And what if besides being a
coward he has no skill?
Meg. He is a miserable fellow,
not fit to be a commander of men, but only of old women.
Ath. And what would you say of
some one who blames or praises any sort of meeting which is
intended by nature to have a ruler, and is well enough when under
his presidency? The critic, however, has never seen the society
meeting together at an orderly feast under the control of a
president, but always without a ruler or with a bad one:-when
observers of this class praise or blame such meetings, are we to
suppose that what they say is of any value?
Meg. Certainly not, if they have
never seen or been present at such a meeting when rightly ordered.
Ath. Reflect; may not banqueters
and banquets be said to constitute a kind of meeting?
Meg. Of course.
Ath. And did any one ever see
this sort of convivial meeting rightly ordered? Of course you two
will answer that you have never seen them at all, because they are
not customary or lawful in your country; but I have come across
many of them in many different places, and moreover I have made
enquiries about them wherever I went, as I may say, and never did I
see or hear of anything of the kind which was carried on altogether
rightly; in some few particulars they might be right, but in
general they were utterly wrong.
Cle. What do you mean, Stranger,
by this remark? Explain; For we, as you say, from our inexperience
in such matters, might very likely not know, even if they came in
our way, what was right or wrong in such societies.
Ath. Likely enough; then let me
try to be your instructor: You would acknowledge, would you not,
that in all gatherings of man, kind, of whatever sort, there ought
to be a leader?
Cle. Certainly I should.
Ath. And we were saying just now,
that when men are at war the leader ought to be a brave man?
Cle. We were.
Ath. The brave man is less likely
than the coward to be disturbed by fears?
Cle. That again is true.
Ath. And if there were a
possibility of having a general of an army who was absolutely
fearless and imperturbable, should we not by all means appoint him?
Ath. Now, however, we are
speaking not of a general who is to command an army, when foe meets
foe in time of war, but of one who is to regulate meetings of
another sort, when friend meets friend in time of peace.
Ath. And that sort of meeting, if
attended with drunkenness, is apt to be unquiet.
Cle. Certainly; the reverse of
Ath. In the first place, then,
the revellers as well as the soldiers will require a ruler?
Cle. To be sure; no men more so.
Ath. And we ought, if possible,
to provide them with a quiet ruler?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And he should be a man who
understands society; for his duty is to preserve the friendly
feelings which exist among the company at the time, and to increase
them for the future by his use of the occasion.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Must we not appoint a sober
man and a wise to be our master of the revels? For if the ruler of
drinkers be himself young and drunken, and not over-wise, only by
some special good fortune will he be saved from doing some great
Cle. It will be by a singular
good fortune that he is saved.
Ath. Now suppose such
associations to be framed in the best way possible in states, and
that some one blames the very fact of their existence-he may very
likely be right. But if he blames a practice which he only sees
very much mismanaged, he shows in the first place that he is not
aware of the mismanagement, and also not aware that everything done
in this way will turn out to be wrong, because done without the
superintendence of a sober ruler. Do you not see that a drunken
pilot or a drunken ruler of any sort will ruin ship, chariot,
army-anything, in short, of which he has the direction?
Cle. The last remark is very
true, Stranger; and I see quite clearly the advantage of an army
having a good leader-he will give victory in war to his followers,
which is a very great advantage; and so of other things. But I do
not see any similar advantage which either individuals or states
gain from the good management of a feast; and I want you to tell me
what great good will be effected, supposing that this drinking
ordinance is duly established.
Ath. If you mean to ask what
great good accrues to the state from the right training of a single
youth, or of a single chorus-when the question is put in that form,
we cannot deny that the good is not very great in any particular
instance. But if you ask what is the good of education in general,
the answer is easy-that education makes good men, and that good men
act nobly, and conquer their enemies in battle, because they are
good. Education certainly gives victory, although victory sometimes
produces forgetfulness of education; for many have grown insolent
from victory in war, and this insolence has engendered in them
innumerable evils; and many a victory has been and will be suicidal
to the victors; but education is never suicidal.
Cle. You seem to imply, my
friend, that convivial meetings, when rightly ordered, are an
important element of education.
Ath. Certainly I do.
Cle. And can you show that what
you have been saying is true?
Ath. To be absolutely sure of the
truth of matters concerning which there are many opinions, is an
attribute of the Gods not given to man, Stranger; but I shall be
very happy to tell you what I think, especially as we are now
proposing to enter on a discussion concerning laws and
Cle. Your opinion, Stranger,
about the questions which are now being raised, is precisely what
we want to hear.
Ath. Very good; I will try to
find a way of explaining my meaning, and you shall try to have the
gift of understanding me. But first let me make an apology. The
Athenian citizen is reputed among all the Hellenes to be a great
talker, whereas Sparta is renowned for brevity, and the Cretans
have more wit than words. Now I am afraid of appearing to elicit a
very long discourse out of very small materials. For drinking
indeed may appear to be a slight matter, and yet is one which
cannot be rightly ordered according to nature, without correct
principles of music; these are necessary to any clear or
satisfactory treatment of the subject, and music again runs up into
education generally, and there is much to be said about all this.
What would you say then to leaving these matters for the present,
and passing on to some other question of law?
Meg. O Athenian Stranger, let me
tell you what perhaps you do not know, that our family is the
proxenus of your state. I imagine that from their earliest youth
all boys, when they are told that they are the proxeni of a
particular state, feel kindly towards their second and this has
certainly been my own feeling. I can well remember from the days of
my boyhood, how, when any Lacedaemonians praised or blamed the
Athenians, they used to say to me-"See, Megillus, how ill or how
well," as the case might be, "has your state treated us"; and
having always had to fight your battles against detractors when I
heard you assailed, I became warmly attached to you. And I always
like to hear the Athenian tongue spoken; the common saying is quite
true, that a good Athenian is more than ordinarily good, for he is
the only man who is freely and genuinely good by the divine
inspiration of his own nature, and is not manufactured. Therefore
be assured that I shall like to hear you say whatever you have to
Cle. Yes, Stranger; and when you
have heard me speak, say boldly what is in your thoughts. Let me
remind you of a tie which unites you to Crete. You must have heard
here the story of the prophet Epimenides, who was of my family, and
came to Athens ten years before the Persian war, in accordance with
the response of the Oracle, and offered certain sacrifices which
the God commanded. The Athenians were at that time in dread of the
Persian invasion; and he said that for ten years they would not
come, and that when they came, they would go away again without
accomplishing any of their objects, and would suffer more evil than
they inflicted. At that time my forefathers formed ties of
hospitality with you; thus ancient is the friendship which I and my
parents have had for you.
Ath. You seem to be quite ready
to listen; and I am also ready to perform as much as I can of an
almost impossible task, which I will nevertheless attempt. At the
outset of the discussion, let me define the nature and power of
education; for this is the way by which our argument must travel
onwards to the God Dionysus.
Cle. Let us proceed, if you
Ath. Well, then, if I tell you
what are my notions of education, will you consider whether they
Cle. Let us hear.
Ath. According to my view, any
one who would be good at anything must practise that thing from his
youth upwards, both in sport and earnest, in its several branches:
for example, he who is to be a good builder, should play at
building children's houses; he who is to be a good husbandman, at
tilling the ground; and those who have the care of their education
should provide them when young with mimic tools. They should learn
beforehand the knowledge which they will afterwards require for
their art. For example, the future carpenter should learn to
measure or apply the line in play; and the future warrior should
learn riding, or some other exercise, for amusement, and the
teacher should endeavour to direct the children's inclinations and
pleasures, by the help of amusements, to their final aim in life.
The most important part of education is right training in the
nursery. The soul of the child in his play should be guided to the
love of that sort of excellence in which when he grows up to
manhood he will have to be perfected. Do you agree with me thus
Ath. Then let us not leave the
meaning of education ambiguous or ill-defined. At present, when we
speak in terms of praise or blame about the bringing-up of each
person, we call one man educated and another uneducated, although
the uneducated man may be sometimes very well educated for the
calling of a retail trader, or of a captain of a ship, and the
like. For we are not speaking of education in this narrower sense,
but of that other education in virtue from youth upwards, which
makes a man eagerly pursue the ideal perfection of citizenship, and
teaches him how rightly to rule and how to obey. This is the only
education which, upon our view, deserves the name; that other sort
of training, which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily
strength, or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice,
is mean and illiberal, and is not worthy to be called education at
all. But let us not quarrel with one another about a word, provided
that the proposition which has just been granted hold good: to wit,
that those who are rightly educated generally become good men.
Neither must we cast a slight upon education, which is the first
and fairest thing that the best of men can ever have, and which,
though liable to take a wrong direction, is capable of reformation.
And this work of reformation is the great business of every man
while he lives.
Cle. Very true; and we entirely
agree with you.
Ath. And we agreed before that
they are good men who are able to rule themselves, and bad men who
Cle. You are quite right.
Ath. Let me now proceed, if I
can, to clear up the subject a little further by an illustration
which I will offer you.
Ath. Do we not consider each of
ourselves to be one?
Cle. We do.
Ath. And each one of us has in
his bosom two counsellors, both foolish and also antagonistic; of
which we call the one pleasure, and the other pain.
Ath. Also there are opinions
about the future, which have the general name of expectations; and
the specific name of fear, when the expectation is of pain; and of
hope, when of pleasure; and further, there is reflection about the
good or evil of them, and this, when embodied in a decree by the
State, is called Law.
Cle. I am hardly able to follow
you; proceed, however, as if I were.
Meg. I am in the like case.
Ath. Let us look at the matter
thus: May we not conceive each of us living beings to be a puppet
of the Gods, either their plaything only, or created with a
purpose-which of the two we cannot certainly know? But we do know,
that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull
us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein
lies the difference between virtue and vice. According to the
argument there is one among these cords which every man ought to
grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest;
and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the
common law of the State; there are others which are hard and of
iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several
other kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the
best, which is law. For inasmuch as reason is beautiful and gentle,
and not violent, her rule must needs have ministers in order to
help the golden principle in vanquishing the other principles. And
thus the moral of the tale about our being puppets will not have
been lost, and the meaning of the expression "superior or inferior
to a man's self" will become clearer; and the individual, attaining
to right reason in this matter of pulling the strings of the
puppet, should live according to its rule; while the city,
receiving the same from some god or from one who has knowledge of
these things, should embody it in a law, to be her guide in her
dealings with herself and with other states. In this way virtue and
vice will be more clearly distinguished by us. And when they have
become clearer, education and other institutions will in like
manner become clearer; and in particular that question of convivial
entertainment, which may seem, perhaps, to have been a very
trifling matter, and to have taken a great many more words than
Cle. Perhaps, however, the theme
may turn out not to be unworthy of the length of discourse.
Ath. Very good; let us proceed
with any enquiry which really bears on our present object.
Ath. Suppose that we give this
puppet of ours drink-what will be the effect on him?
Cle. Having what in view do you
ask that question?
Ath. Nothing as yet; but I ask
generally, when the puppet is brought to the drink, what sort of
result is likely to follow. I will endeavour to explain my meaning
more clearly: what I am now asking is this-Does the drinking of
wine heighten and increase pleasures and pains, and passions and
Cle. Very greatly.
Ath. And are perception and
memory, and opinion and prudence, heightened and increased? Do not
these qualities entirely desert a man if he becomes saturated with
Cle. Yes, they entirely desert
Ath. Does he not return to the
state of soul in which he was when a young child?
Cle. He does.
Ath. Then at that time he will
have the least control over himself?
Cle. The least.
Ath. And will he not be in a most
Cle. Most wretched.
Ath. Then not only an old man but
also a drunkard becomes a second time a child?
Cle. Well said, Stranger.
Ath. Is there any argument which
will prove to us that we ought to encourage the taste for drinking
instead of doing all we can to avoid it?
Cle. I suppose that there is; you
at any rate, were just now saying that you were ready to maintain
such a doctrine.
Ath. True, I was; and I am ready
still, seeing that you have both declared that you are anxious to
Cle. To sure we are, if only for
the strangeness of the paradox, which asserts that a man ought of
his own accord to plunge into utter degradation.
Ath. Are you speaking of the
Ath. And what would you say about
the body, my friend? Are you not surprised at any one of his own
accord bringing upon himself deformity, leanness, ugliness,
Ath. Yet when a man goes of his
own accord to a doctor's shop, and takes medicine, is he not aware
that soon, and for many days afterwards, he will be in a state of
body which he would die rather than accept as the permanent
condition of his life? Are not those who train in gymnasia, at
first beginning reduced to a state of weakness?
Cle. Yes, all that is well known.
Ath. Also that they go of their
own accord for the sake of the subsequent benefit?
Cle. Very good.
Ath. And we may conceive this to
be true in the same way of other practices?
Ath. And the same view may be
taken of the pastime of drinking wine, if we are right in supposing
that the same good effect follows?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. If such convivialities
should turn out to have any advantage equal in importance to that
of gymnastic, they are in their very nature to be preferred to mere
bodily exercise, inasmuch as they have no accompaniment of pain.
Cle. True; but I hardly think
that we shall be able to discover any such benefits to be derived
Ath. That is just what we must
endeavour to show. And let me ask you a question:-Do we not
distinguish two kinds of fear, which are very different?
Cle. What are they?
Ath. There is the fear of
Ath. And there is the fear of an
evil reputation; we are afraid of being thought evil, because we do
or say some dishonourable thing, which fear we and all men term
Ath. These are the two fears, as
I called them; one of which is the opposite of pain and other
fears, and the opposite also of the greatest and most numerous sort
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And does not the legislator
and every one who is good for anything, hold this fear in the
greatest honour? This is what he terms reverence, and the
confidence which is the reverse of this he terms insolence; and the
latter he always deems to be a very great evil both to individuals
and to states.
Ath. Does not this kind of fear
preserve us in many important ways? What is there which so surely
gives victory and safety in war? For there are two things which
give victory-confidence before enemies, and fear of disgrace before
Cle. There are.
Ath. Then each of us should be
fearless and also fearful; and why we should be either has now been
Ath. And when we want to make any
one fearless, we and the law bring him face to face with many
Ath. And when we want to make him
rightly fearful, must we not introduce him to shameless pleasures,
and train him to take up arms against them, and to overcome them?
Or does this principle apply to courage only, and must he who would
be perfect in valour fight against and overcome his own natural
character-since if he be unpractised and inexperienced in such
conflicts, he will not be half the man which he might have been-and
are we to suppose, that with temperance it is otherwise, and that
he who has never fought with the shameless and unrighteous
temptations of his pleasures and lusts, and conquered them, in
earnest and in play, by word, deed, and act, will still be
Cle. A most unlikely supposition.
Ath. Suppose that some God had
given a fear-potion to men, and that the more a man drank of this
the more he regarded himself at every draught as a child of
misfortune, and that he feared everything happening or about to
happen to him; and that at last the most courageous of men utterly
lost his presence of mind for a time, and only came to himself
again when he had slept off the influence of the draught.
Cle. But has such a draught,
Stranger, ever really been known among men?
Ath. No; but, if there had been,
might not such a draught have been of use to the legislator as a
test of courage? Might we not go and say to him, "O legislator,
whether you are legislating for the Cretan, or for any other state,
would you not like to have a touchstone of the courage and
cowardice of your citizens?"
Cle. "I should," will be the
answer of every one.
Ath. "And you would rather have a
touchstone in which there is no risk and no great danger than the
Cle. In that proposition every
one may safely agree.
Ath. "And in order to make use of
the draught, you would lead them amid these imaginary terrors, and
prove them, when the affection of fear was working upon them, and
compel them to be fearless, exhorting and admonishing them; and
also honouring them, but dishonouring any one who will not be
persuaded by you to be in all respects such as you command him; and
if he underwent the trial well and manfully, you would let him go
unscathed; but if ill, you would inflict a punishment upon him? Or
would you abstain from using the potion altogether, although you
have no reason for abstaining?"
Cle. He would be certain,
Stranger, to use the potion.
Ath. This would be a mode of
testing and training which would be wonderfully easy in comparison
with those now in use, and might be applied to a single person, or
to a few, or indeed to any number; and he would do well who
provided himself with the potion only, rather than with any number
of other things, whether he preferred to be by himself in solitude,
and there contend with his fears, because he was ashamed to be seen
by the eye of man until he was perfect; or trusting to the force of
his own nature and habits, and believing that he had been already
disciplined sufficiently, he did not hesitate to train himself in
company with any number of others, and display his power in
conquering the irresistible change effected by the draught-his
virtue being such, that he never in any instance fell into any
great unseemliness, but was always himself, and left off before he
arrived at the last cup, fearing that he, like all other men, might
be overcome by the potion.
Cle. Yes, Stranger, in that last
case, too, he might equally show his self-control.
Ath. Let us return to the
lawgiver, and say to him:-"Well, lawgiver, there is certainly no
such fear-potion which man has either received from the Gods or
himself discovered; for witchcraft has no place at our board. But
is there any potion which might serve as a test of overboldness and
excessive and indiscreet boasting?
Cle. I suppose that he will say,
Yes-meaning that wine is such a potion.
Ath. Is not the effect of this
quite the opposite of the effect of the other? When a man drinks
wine he begins to be better pleased with himself, and the more he
drinks the more he is filled full of brave hopes, and conceit of
his power, and at last the string of his tongue is loosened, and
fancying himself wise, he is brimming over with lawlessness, and
has no more fear or respect, and is ready to do or say anything.
Cle. I think that every one will
admit the truth of your description.
Ath. Now, let us remember, as we
were saying, that there are two things which should be cultivated
in the soul: first, the greatest courage; secondly, the greatest
Cle. Which you said to be
characteristic of reverence, if I am not mistaken.
Ath. Thank you for reminding me.
But now, as the habit of courage and fearlessness is to be trained
amid fears, let us consider whether the opposite quality is not
also to be trained among opposites.
Cle. That is probably the case.
Ath. There are times and seasons
at which we are by nature more than commonly valiant and bold; now
we ought to train ourselves on these occasions to be as free from
impudence and shamelessness as possible, and to be afraid to say or
suffer or do anything that is base.
Ath. Are not the moments in which
we are apt to be bold and shameless such as these?-when we are
under the influence of anger, love, pride, ignorance, avarice,
cowardice? or when wealth, beauty, strength, and all the
intoxicating workings of pleasure madden us? What is better adapted
than the festive use of wine, in the first place to test, and in
the second place to train the character of a man, if care be taken
in the use of it? What is there cheaper, or more innocent? For do
but consider which is the greater risk:-Would you rather test a man
of a morose and savage nature, which is the source of ten thousand
acts of injustice, by making bargains with him at a risk to
yourself, or by having him as a companion at the festival of
Dionysus? Or would you, if you wanted to apply a touchstone to a
man who is prone to love, entrust your wife, or your sons, or
daughters to him, perilling your dearest interests in order to have
a view of the condition of his soul? I might mention numberless
cases, in which the advantage would be manifest of getting to know
a character in sport, and without paying dearly for experience. And
I do not believe that either a Cretan, or any other man, will doubt
that such a test is a fair test, and safer, cheaper, and speedier
than any other.
Cle. That is certainly true.
Ath. And this knowledge of the
natures and habits of men's souls will be of the greatest use in
that art which has the management of them; and that art, if I am
not mistaken, is politics.
Cle. Exactly so.