Laws (Excerpts) 

by Plato (381 B.C.)

[Plato. Laws. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Project Gutenberg. 29 October 2008. Book 1, 624a–632c; Book 10, 884c–899d. (Accessed 8 June 2010). In the Public Domain.]


BOOK I. (Excerpt) 

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: An Athenian Stranger, Cleinias (a Cretan), Megillus (a Lacedaemonian).

ATHENIAN: Tell me, Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to be the author of your laws?

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?

MEGILLUS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: 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?

CLEINIAS: 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.

ATHENIAN: 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 talking 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 conversation.

CLEINIAS: 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.

ATHENIAN: Very good.

CLEINIAS: Very good, indeed; and still better when we see them; let us move on cheerily.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: 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 men 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 conquerors.

ATHENIAN: 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?

CLEINIAS: Certainly; and our Lacedaemonian friend, if I am not mistaken, will agree with me.

MEGILLUS: Why, my good friend, how could any Lacedaemonian say anything else?

ATHENIAN: And is what you say applicable only to states, or also to villages?

CLEINIAS: To both alike.

ATHENIAN: The case is the same?


ATHENIAN: And in the village will there be the same war of family against family, and of individual against individual?

CLEINIAS: The same.

ATHENIAN: And should each man conceive himself to be his own enemy:—what shall we say?

CLEINIAS: 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.

(ATHENIAN: My good sir, what do you mean?)—

CLEINIAS:...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.

ATHENIAN: 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?

CLEINIAS: You mean that in each of them there is a principle of superiority or inferiority to self?


CLEINIAS: 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.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: Your remark, Stranger, is a paradox, and yet we cannot possibly deny it.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: Very possibly.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: What you say, Stranger, is most true.

MEGILLUS: Quite excellent, in my opinion, as far as we have gone.

ATHENIAN: Again; might there not be a judge over these brethren, of whom we were speaking?

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: 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 friends.

CLEINIAS: The last would be by far the best sort of judge and legislator.

ATHENIAN: And yet the aim of all the laws which he gave would be the reverse of war.

CLEINIAS: Very true.

ATHENIAN: 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?

CLEINIAS: He would have the latter chiefly in view.

ATHENIAN: 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?

CLEINIAS: Every one would desire the latter in the case of his own state.

ATHENIAN: And would not that also be the desire of the legislator?

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: And would not every one always make laws for the sake of the best?

CLEINIAS: To be sure.

ATHENIAN: 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 peace.

CLEINIAS: 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.

ATHENIAN: 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.

MEGILLUS: Very true.

CLEINIAS: And they have found their way from Lacedaemon to Crete.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: Certainly, far milder.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: Evidently.

ATHENIAN: 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 says, “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 rate (i.e., it ranks after justice, temperance, and wisdom.).

CLEINIAS: Stranger, we are degrading our inspired lawgiver to a rank which is far beneath him.

ATHENIAN: 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.

CLEINIAS: What ought we to say then?

ATHENIAN: What truth and what justice require of us, if I am not mistaken, when speaking in behalf of divine excellence;—that 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 matter?

CLEINIAS: By all means.

ATHENIAN: You ought to have said, Stranger—The Cretan laws are with reason famous among the Hellenes; for they fulfill 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 class 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.

CLEINIAS: How shall we proceed, Stranger?

ATHENIAN: 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.

BOOK X. (Excerpt) 

And now having spoken of assaults, let us sum up all acts of violence under a single law, which shall be as follows: No one shall take or carry away any of his neighbour’s goods, neither shall he use anything which is his neighbour’s without the consent of the owner; for these are the offences which are and have been, and will ever be, the source of all the aforesaid evils. The greatest of them are excesses and insolences of youth, and are offences against the greatest when they are done against religion; and especially great when in violation of public and holy rites, or of the partly-common rites in which tribes and phratries share; and in the second degree great when they are committed against private rites and sepulchers, and in the third degree (not to repeat the acts formerly mentioned), when insults are offered to parents; the fourth kind of violence is when any one, regardless of the authority of the rulers, takes or carries away or makes use of anything which belongs to them, not having their consent; and the fifth kind is when the violation of the civil rights of an individual demands reparation. There should be a common law embracing all these cases. For we have already said in general terms what shall be the punishment of sacrilege, whether fraudulent or violent, and now we have to determine what is to be the punishment of those who speak or act insolently toward the Gods. But first we must give them an admonition which may be in the following terms: No one who in obedience to the laws believed that there were Gods, ever intentionally did any unholy act, or uttered any unlawful word; but he who did must have supposed one of three things—either that they did not exist—which is the first possibility, or secondly, that, if they did, they took no care of man, or thirdly, that they were easily appeased and turned aside from their purpose by sacrifices and prayers.

CLEINIAS: What shall we say or do to these persons?

ATHENIAN: My good friend, let us first hear the jests which I suspect that they in their superiority will utter against us.

CLEINIAS: What jests?

ATHENIAN: They will make some irreverent speech of this sort: “O inhabitants of Athens, and Sparta, and Cnosus,” they will reply, “in that you speak truly; for some of us deny the very existence of the Gods, while others, as you say, are of opinion that they do not care about us; and others that they are turned from their course by gifts. Now we have a right to claim, as you yourself allowed, in the matter of laws, that before you are hard upon us and threaten us, you should argue with us and convince us—you should first attempt to teach and persuade us that there are Gods by reasonable evidences, and also that they are too good to be unrighteous, or to be propitiated, or turned from their course by gifts. For when we hear such things said of them by those who are esteemed to be the best of poets, and orators, and prophets, and priests, and by innumerable others, the thoughts of most of us are not set upon abstaining from unrighteous acts, but upon doing them and atoning for them. When lawgivers profess that they are gentle and not stern, we think that they should first of all use persuasion to us, and show us the existence of Gods, if not in a better manner than other men, at any rate in a truer; and who knows but that we shall hearken to you? If then our request is a fair one, please to accept our challenge.

CLEINIAS: But is there any difficulty in proving the existence of the Gods?

ATHENIAN: How would you prove it?

CLEINIAS: How? In the first place, the earth and the sun, and the stars and the universe, and the fair order of the seasons, and the division of them into years and months, furnish proofs of their existence, and also there is the fact that all Hellenes and barbarians believe in them.

ATHENIAN: I fear, my sweet friend, though I will not say that I much regard, the contempt with which the profane will be likely to assail us. For you do not understand the nature of their complaint, and you fancy that they rush into impiety only from a love of sensual pleasure.

CLEINIAS: Why, Stranger, what other reason is there?

ATHENIAN: One which you who live in a different atmosphere would never guess.

CLEINIAS: What is it?

ATHENIAN: A very grievous sort of ignorance which is imagined to be the greatest wisdom.

CLEINIAS: What do you mean?

ATHENIAN: At Athens there are tales preserved in writing which the virtue of your state, as I am informed, refuses to admit. They speak of the Gods in prose as well as verse, and the oldest of them tell of the origin of the heavens and of the world, and not far from the beginning of their story they proceed to narrate the birth of the Gods, and how after they were born they behaved to one another. Whether these stories have in other ways a good or a bad influence, I should not like to be severe upon them, because they are ancient; but, looking at them with reference to the duties of children to their parents, I cannot praise them, or think that they are useful, or at all true. Of the words of the ancients I have nothing more to say; and I should wish to say of them only what is pleasing to the Gods. But as to our younger generation and their wisdom, I cannot let them off when they do mischief. For do but mark the effect of their words: when you and I argue for the existence of the Gods, and produce the sun, moon, stars, and earth, claiming for them a divine being, if we would listen to the aforesaid philosophers we should say that they are earth and stones only, which can have no care at all of human affairs, and that all religion is a cooking up of words and a make-believe.

CLEINIAS: One such teacher, O stranger, would be bad enough, and you imply that there are many of them, which is worse.

ATHENIAN: Well, then; what shall we say or do? Shall we assume that some one is accusing us among unholy men, who are trying to escape from the effect of our legislation; and that they say of us—How dreadful that you should legislate on the supposition that there are Gods! Shall we make a defence of ourselves? or shall we leave them and return to our laws, lest the prelude should become longer than the law? For the discourse will certainly extend to great length, if we are to treat the impiously disposed as they desire, partly demonstrating to them at some length the things of which they demand an explanation, partly making them afraid or dissatisfied, and then proceed to the requisite enactments.

CLEINIAS: Yes, Stranger; but then how often have we repeated already that on the present occasion there is no reason why brevity should be preferred to length; for who is “at our heels?” as the saying goes, and it would be paltry and ridiculous to prefer the shorter to the better. It is a matter of no small consequence, in some way or other to prove that there are Gods, and that they are good, and regard justice more than men do. The demonstration of this would be the best and noblest prelude of all our laws. And therefore, without impatience, and without hurry, let us unreservedly consider the whole matter, summoning up all the power of persuasion which we possess.

ATHENIAN: Seeing you thus in earnest, I would fain offer up a prayer that I may succeed: but I must proceed at once. Who can be calm when he is called upon to prove the existence of the Gods? Who can avoid hating and abhorring the men who are and have been the cause of this argument; I speak of those who will not believe the tales which they have heard as babes and sucklings from their mothers and nurses, repeated by them both in jest and earnest, like charms, who have also heard them in the sacrificial prayers, and seen sights accompanying them—sights and sounds delightful to children—and their parents during the sacrifices showing an intense earnestness on behalf of their children and of themselves, and with eager interest talking to the Gods, and beseeching them, as though they were firmly convinced of their existence; who likewise see and hear the prostrations and invocations which are made by Hellenes and barbarians at the rising and setting of the sun and moon, in all the vicissitudes of life, not as if they thought that there were no Gods, but as if there could be no doubt of their existence, and no suspicion of their non-existence; when men, knowing all these things, despise them on no real grounds, as would be admitted by all who have any particle of intelligence, and when they force us to say what we are now saying, how can any one in gentle terms remonstrate with the like of them, when he has to begin by proving to them the very existence of the Gods? Yet the attempt must be made; for it would be unseemly that one half of mankind should go mad in their lust of pleasure, and the other half in their indignation at such persons. Our address to these lost and perverted natures should not be spoken in passion; let us suppose ourselves to select some one of them, and gently reason with him, smothering our anger: O my son, we will say to him, you are young, and the advance of time will make you reverse many of the opinions which you now hold. Wait awhile, and do not attempt to judge at present of the highest things; and that is the highest of which you now think nothing—to know the Gods rightly and to live accordingly. And in the first place let me indicate to you one point which is of great importance, and about which I cannot be deceived: You and your friends are not the first who have held this opinion about the Gods. There have always been persons more or less numerous who have had the same disorder. I have known many of them, and can tell you, that no one who had taken up in youth this opinion, that the Gods do not exist, ever continued in the same until he was old; the two other notions certainly do continue in some cases, but not in many; the notion, I mean, that the Gods exist, but take no heed of human things, and the other notion that they do take heed of them, but are easily propitiated with sacrifices and prayers. As to the opinion about the Gods which may some day become clear to you, I advise you to wait and consider if it be true or not; ask of others, and above all of the legislator. In the meantime take care that you do not offend against the Gods. For the duty of the legislator is and always will be to teach you the truth of these matters.

CLEINIAS: Our address, Stranger, thus far, is excellent.

ATHENIAN: Quite true, Megillus and Cleinias, but I am afraid that we have unconsciously lighted on a strange doctrine.

CLEINIAS: What doctrine do you mean?

ATHENIAN: The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many.

CLEINIAS: I wish that you would speak plainer.

ATHENIAN: The doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.

CLEINIAS: Is not that true?

ATHENIAN: Well, philosophers are probably right; at any rate we may as well follow in their track, and examine what is the meaning of them and their disciples.

CLEINIAS: By all means.

ATHENIAN: They say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art, which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial.

CLEINIAS: How is that?

ATHENIAN: I will explain my meaning still more clearly. They say that fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order—earth, and sun, and moon, and stars—they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them—of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. Art sprang up afterwards and out of these, mortal and of mortal birth, and produced in play certain images and very partial imitations of the truth, having an affinity to one another, such as music and painting create and their companion arts. And there are other arts which have a serious purpose, and these co-operate with nature, such, for example, as medicine, and husbandry, and gymnastic. And they say that politics co-operate with nature, but in a less degree, and have more of art; also that legislation is entirely a work of art, and is based on assumptions which are not true.

CLEINIAS: How do you mean?

ATHENIAN: In the first place, my dear friend, these people would say that the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made. These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might, and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions, these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others, and not in legal subjection to them.

CLEINIAS: What a dreadful picture, Stranger, have you given, and how great is the injury which is thus inflicted on young men to the ruin both of states and families!

ATHENIAN: True, Cleinias; but then what should the lawgiver do when this evil is of long standing? should he only rise up in the state and threaten all mankind, proclaiming that if they will not say and think that the Gods are such as the law ordains (and this may be extended generally to the honourable, the just, and to all the highest things, and to all that relates to virtue and vice), and if they will not make their actions conform to the copy which the law gives them, then he who refuses to obey the law shall die, or suffer stripes and bonds, or privation of citizenship, or in some cases be punished by loss of property and exile? Should he not rather, when he is making laws for men, at the same time infuse the spirit of persuasion into his words, and mitigate the severity of them as far as he can?

CLEINIAS: Why, Stranger, if such persuasion be at all possible, then a legislator who has anything in him ought never to weary of persuading men; he ought to leave nothing unsaid in support of the ancient opinion that there are Gods, and of all those other truths which you were just now mentioning; he ought to support the law and also art, and acknowledge that both alike exist by nature, and no less than nature, if they are the creations of mind in accordance with right reason, as you appear to me to maintain, and I am disposed to agree with you in thinking.

ATHENIAN: Yes, my enthusiastic Cleinias; but are not these things when spoken to a multitude hard to be understood, not to mention that they take up a dismal length of time?

CLEINIAS: Why, Stranger, shall we, whose patience failed not when drinking or music were the themes of discourse, weary now of discoursing about the Gods, and about divine things? And the greatest help to rational legislation is that the laws when once written down are always at rest; they can be put to the test at any future time, and therefore, if on first hearing they seem difficult, there is no reason for apprehension about them, because any man however dull can go over them and consider them again and again; nor if they are tedious but useful, is there any reason or religion, as it seems to me, in any man refusing to maintain the principles of them to the utmost of his power.

MEGILLUS: Stranger, I like what Cleinias is saying.

ATHENIAN: Yes, Megillus, and we should do as he proposes; for if impious discourses were not scattered, as I may say, throughout the world, there would have been no need for any vindication of the existence of the Gods—but seeing that they are spread far and wide, such arguments are needed; and who should come to the rescue of the greatest laws, when they are being undermined by bad men, but the legislator himself?

MEGILLUS: There is no more proper champion of them.

ATHENIAN: Well, then, tell me, Cleinias—for I must ask you to be my partner—does not he who talks in this way conceive fire and water and earth and air to be the first elements of all things? these he calls nature, and out of these he supposes the soul to be formed afterwards; and this is not a mere conjecture of ours about his meaning, but is what he really means.

CLEINIAS: Very true.

ATHENIAN: Then, by Heaven, we have discovered the source of this vain opinion of all those physical investigators; and I would have you examine their arguments with the utmost care, for their impiety is a very serious matter; they not only make a bad and mistaken use of argument, but they lead away the minds of others: that is my opinion of them.

CLEINIAS: You are right; but I should like to know how this happens.

ATHENIAN: I fear that the argument may seem singular.

CLEINIAS: Do not hesitate, Stranger; I see that you are afraid of such a discussion carrying you beyond the limits of legislation. But if there be no other way of showing our agreement in the belief that there are Gods, of whom the law is said now to approve, let us take this way, my good sir.

ATHENIAN: Then I suppose that I must repeat the singular argument of those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions; they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods.

CLEINIAS: Still I do not understand you.

ATHENIAN: Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul, especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul’s kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body?

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: Then thought and attention and mind and art and law will be prior to that which is hard and soft and heavy and light; and the great and primitive works and actions will be works of art; they will be the first, and after them will come nature and works of nature, which however is a wrong term for men to apply to them; these will follow, and will be under the government of art and mind.

CLEINIAS: But why is the word “nature” wrong?

ATHENIAN: Because those who use the term mean to say that nature is the first creative power; but if the soul turn out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise.

CLEINIAS: You are quite right.

ATHENIAN: Shall we, then, take this as the next point to which our attention should be directed?

CLEINIAS: By all means.

ATHENIAN: Let us be on our guard lest this most deceptive argument with its youthful looks, beguiling us old men, give us the slip and make a laughing-stock of us. Who knows but we may be aiming at the greater, and fail of attaining the lesser? Suppose that we three have to pass a rapid river, and I, being the youngest of the three and experienced in rivers, take upon me the duty of making the attempt first by myself; leaving you in safety on the bank, I am to examine whether the river is passable by older men like yourselves, and if such appears to be the case then I shall invite you to follow, and my experience will help to convey you across; but if the river is impassable by you, then there will have been no danger to anybody but myself—would not that seem to be a very fair proposal? I mean to say that the argument in prospect is likely to be too much for you, out of your depth and beyond your strength, and I should be afraid that the stream of my questions might create in you who are not in the habit of answering, giddiness and confusion of mind, and hence a feeling of unpleasantness and unsuitableness might arise. I think therefore that I had better first ask the questions and then answer them myself while you listen in safety; in that way I can carry on the argument until I have completed the proof that the soul is prior to the body.

CLEINIAS: Excellent, Stranger, and I hope that you will do as you propose.

ATHENIAN: Come, then, and if ever we are to call upon the Gods, let us call upon them now in all seriousness to come to the demonstration of their own existence. And so holding fast to the rope we will venture upon the depths of the argument. When questions of this sort are asked of me, my safest answer would appear to be as follows: Some one says to me, “O Stranger, are all things at rest and nothing in motion, or is the exact opposite of this true, or are some things in motion and others at rest?” To this I shall reply that some things are in motion and others at rest. “And do not things which move move in a place, and are not the things which are at rest at rest in a place?” Certainly. “And some move or rest in one place and some in more places than one?” You mean to say, we shall rejoin, that those things which rest at the centre move in one place, just as the circumference goes round of globes which are said to be at rest? “Yes.” And we observe that, in the revolution, the motion which carries round the larger and the lesser circle at the same time is proportionally distributed to greater and smaller, and is greater and smaller in a certain proportion. Here is a wonder which might be thought an impossibility, that the same motion should impart swiftness and slowness in due proportion to larger and lesser circles. “Very true.” And when you speak of bodies moving in many places, you seem to me to mean those which move from one place to another, and sometimes have one centre of motion and sometimes more than one because they turn upon their axis; and whenever they meet anything, if it be stationary, they are divided by it; but if they get in the midst between bodies which are approaching and moving towards the same spot from opposite directions, they unite with them. “I admit the truth of what you are saying.” Also when they unite they grow, and when they are divided they waste away—that is, supposing the constitution of each to remain, or if that fails, then there is a second reason of their dissolution. “And when are all things created and how?” Clearly, they are created when the first principle receives increase and attains to the second dimension, and from this arrives at the one which is neighbour to this, and after reaching the third becomes perceptible to sense. Everything which is thus changing and moving is in process of generation; only when at rest has it real existence, but when passing into another state it is destroyed utterly. Have we not mentioned all motions that there are, and comprehended them under their kinds and numbered them with the exception, my friends, of two?

CLEINIAS: Which are they?

ATHENIAN: Just the two, with which our present enquiry is concerned.

CLEINIAS: Speak plainer.

ATHENIAN: I suppose that our enquiry has reference to the soul?

CLEINIAS: Very true.

ATHENIAN: Let us assume that there is a motion able to move other things, but not to move itself; that is one kind; and there is another kind which can move itself as well as other things, working in composition and decomposition, by increase and diminution and generation and destruction—that is also one of the many kinds of motion.

CLEINIAS: Granted.

ATHENIAN: And we will assume that which moves other, and is changed by other, to be the ninth, and that which changes itself and others, and is coincident with every action and every passion, and is the true principle of change and motion in all that is—that we shall be inclined to call the tenth.

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: And which of these ten motions ought we to prefer as being the mightiest and most efficient?

CLEINIAS: I must say that the motion which is able to move itself is ten thousand times superior to all the others.

ATHENIAN: Very good; but may I make one or two corrections in what I have been saying?

CLEINIAS: What are they?

ATHENIAN: When I spoke of the tenth sort of motion, that was not quite correct.

CLEINIAS: What was the error?

ATHENIAN: According to the true order, the tenth was really the first in generation and power; then follows the second, which was strangely enough termed the ninth by us.

CLEINIAS: What do you mean?

ATHENIAN: I mean this: when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle?

CLEINIAS: Very true, and I quite agree.

ATHENIAN: Or, to put the question in another way, making answer to ourselves: If, as most of these philosophers have the audacity to affirm, all things were at rest in one mass, which of the above-mentioned principles of motion would first spring up among them?

CLEINIAS: Clearly the self-moving; for there could be no change in them arising out of any external cause; the change must first take place in themselves.

ATHENIAN: Then we must say that self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

CLEINIAS: Quite true.

ATHENIAN: At this stage of the argument let us put a question.

CLEINIAS: What question?

ATHENIAN: If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound—how should we describe it?

CLEINIAS: You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?


CLEINIAS: Certainly we should.

ATHENIAN: And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same—must we not admit that this is life?

CLEINIAS: We must.

ATHENIAN: And now, I beseech you, reflect—you would admit that we have a threefold knowledge of things?

CLEINIAS: What do you mean?

ATHENIAN: I mean that we know the essence, and that we know the definition of the essence, and the name—these are the three; and there are two questions which may be raised about anything.

CLEINIAS: How two?

ATHENIAN: Sometimes a person may give the name and ask the definition; or he may give the definition and ask the name. I may illustrate what I mean in this way.


ATHENIAN: Number like some other things is capable of being divided into equal parts; when thus divided, number is named “even,” and the definition of the name “even” is “number divisible into two equal parts”?


ATHENIAN: I mean, that when we are asked about the definition and give the name, or when we are asked about the name and give the definition—in either case, whether we give name or definition, we speak of the same thing, calling “even” the number which is divided into two equal parts.

CLEINIAS: Quite true.

ATHENIAN: And what is the definition of that which is named “soul”? Can we conceive of any other than that which has been already given—the motion which can move itself?

CLEINIAS: You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

ATHENIAN: Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?

CLEINIAS: Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

ATHENIAN: And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?

CLEINIAS: Exactly.

ATHENIAN: Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

CLEINIAS: Nothing can be more true.

ATHENIAN: Do you remember our old admission, that if the soul was prior to the body the things of the soul were also prior to those of the body?

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: Then characters and manners, and wishes and reasonings, and true opinions, and reflections, and recollections are prior to length and breadth and depth and strength of bodies, if the soul is prior to the body.

CLEINIAS: To be sure.

ATHENIAN: In the next place, we must not of necessity admit that the soul is the cause of good and evil, base and honourable, just and unjust, and of all other opposites, if we suppose her to be the cause of all things?

CLEINIAS: We must.

ATHENIAN: And as the soul orders and inhabits all things that move, however moving, must we not say that she orders also the heavens?

CLEINIAS: Of course.

ATHENIAN: One soul or more? More than one—I will answer for you; at any rate, we must not suppose that there are less than two—one the author of good, and the other of evil.

CLEINIAS: Very true.

ATHENIAN: Yes, very true; the soul then directs all things in heaven, and earth, and sea by her movements, and these are described by the terms—will, consideration, attention, deliberation, opinion true and false, joy and sorrow, confidence, fear, hatred, love, and other primary motions akin to these; which again receive the secondary motions of corporeal substances, and guide all things to growth and decay, to composition and decomposition, and to the qualities which accompany them, such as heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, hardness and softness, blackness and whiteness, bitterness and sweetness, and all those other qualities which the soul uses, herself a goddess, when truly receiving the divine mind she disciplines all things rightly to their happiness; but when she is the companion of folly, she does the very contrary of all this. Shall we assume so much, or do we still entertain doubts?

CLEINIAS: There is no room at all for doubt.

ATHENIAN: Shall we say then that it is the soul which controls heaven and earth, and the whole world? that it is a principle of wisdom and virtue, or a principle which has neither wisdom nor virtue? Suppose that we make answer as follows:

CLEINIAS: How would you answer?

ATHENIAN: If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path.


ATHENIAN: But if the world moves wildly and irregularly, then the evil soul guides it.

CLEINIAS: True again.

ATHENIAN: Of what nature is the movement of mind? To this question it is not easy to give an intelligent answer; and therefore I ought to assist you in framing one.

CLEINIAS: Very good.

ATHENIAN: Then let us not answer as if we would look straight at the sun, making ourselves darkness at midday—I mean as if we were under the impression that we could see with mortal eyes, or know adequately the nature of mind—it will be safer to look at the image only.

CLEINIAS: What do you mean?

ATHENIAN: Let us select of the ten motions the one which mind chiefly resembles; this I will bring to your recollection, and will then make the answer on behalf of us all.

CLEINIAS: That will be excellent.

ATHENIAN: You will surely remember our saying that all things were either at rest or in motion?


ATHENIAN: And that of things in motion some were moving in one place, and others in more than one?


ATHENIAN: Of these two kinds of motion, that which moves in one place must move about a centre like globes made in a lathe, and is most entirely akin and similar to the circular movement of mind.

CLEINIAS: What do you mean?

ATHENIAN: In saying that both mind and the motion which is in one place move in the same and like manner, in and about the same, and in relation to the same, and according to one proportion and order, and are like the motion of a globe, we invented a fair image, which does no discredit to our ingenuity.

CLEINIAS: It does us great credit.

ATHENIAN: And the motion of the other sort which is not after the same manner, nor in the same, nor about the same, nor in relation to the same, nor in one place, nor in order, nor according to any rule or proportion, may be said to be akin to senselessness and folly?

CLEINIAS: That is most true.

ATHENIAN: Then, after what has been said, there is no difficulty in distinctly stating, that since soul carries all things round, either the best soul or the contrary must of necessity carry round and order and arrange the revolution of the heaven.

CLEINIAS: And judging from what has been said, Stranger, there would be impiety in asserting that any but the most perfect soul or souls carries round the heavens.

ATHENIAN: You have understood my meaning right well, Cleinias, and now let me ask you another question.

CLEINIAS: What are you going to ask?

ATHENIAN: If the soul carries round the sun and moon, and the other stars, does she not carry round each individual of them?

CLEINIAS: Certainly.

ATHENIAN: Then of one of them let us speak, and the same argument will apply to all.

CLEINIAS: Which will you take?

ATHENIAN: Every one sees the body of the sun, but no one sees his soul, nor the soul of any other body living or dead; and yet there is great reason to believe that this nature, unperceived by any of our senses, is circumfused around them all, but is perceived by mind; and therefore by mind and reflection only let us apprehend the following point.

CLEINIAS: What is that?

ATHENIAN: If the soul carries round the sun, we shall not be far wrong in supposing one of three alternatives.

CLEINIAS: What are they?

ATHENIAN: Either the soul which moves the sun this way and that, resides within the circular and visible body, like the soul which carries us about every way; or the soul provides herself with an external body of fire or air, as some affirm, and violently propels body by body; or thirdly, she is without such a body, but guides the sun by some extraordinary and wonderful power.

CLEINIAS: Yes, certainly; the soul can only order all things in one of these three ways.

ATHENIAN: And this soul of the sun, which is therefore better than the sun, whether taking the sun about in a chariot to give light to men, or acting from without, or in whatever way, ought by every man to be deemed a God.

CLEINIAS: Yes, by every man who has the least particle of sense.

ATHENIAN: And of the stars too, and of the moon, and of the years and months and seasons, must we not say in like manner, that since a soul or souls having every sort of excellence are the causes of all of them, those souls are Gods, whether they are living beings and reside in bodies, and in this way order the whole heaven, or whatever be the place and mode of their existence—and will any one who admits all this venture to deny that all things are full of Gods?

CLEINIAS: No one, Stranger, would be such a madman.

ATHENIAN: And now, Megillus and Cleinias, let us offer terms to him who has hitherto denied the existence of the Gods, and leave him.

CLEINIAS: What terms?

ATHENIAN: Either he shall teach us that we were wrong in saying that the soul is the original of all things, and arguing accordingly; or, if he be not able to say anything better, then he must yield to us and live for the remainder of his life in the belief that there are Gods. Let us see, then, whether we have said enough or not enough to those who deny that there are Gods.

CLEINIAS: Certainly, quite enough, Stranger.

ATHENIAN: Then to them we will say no more. And now we are to address him who, believing that there are Gods, believes also that they take no heed of human affairs: To him we say—O thou best of men, in believing that there are Gods you are led by some affinity to them, which attracts you towards your kindred and makes you honour and believe in them. But the fortunes of evil and unrighteous men in private as well as public life, which, though not really happy, are wrongly counted happy in the judgment of men, and are celebrated both by poets and prose writers—these draw you aside from your natural piety. Perhaps you have seen impious men growing old and leaving their children’s children in high offices, and their prosperity shakes your faith—you have known or heard or been yourself an eyewitness of many monstrous impieties, and have beheld men by such criminal means from small beginnings attaining to sovereignty and the pinnacle of greatness; and considering all these things you do not like to accuse the Gods of them, because they are your relatives; and so from some want of reasoning power, and also from an unwillingness to find fault with them, you have come to believe that they exist indeed, but have no thought or care of human things. Now, that your present evil opinion may not grow to still greater impiety, and that we may if possible use arguments which may conjure away the evil before it arrives, we will add another argument to that originally addressed to him who utterly denied the existence of the Gods. And do you, Megillus and Cleinias, answer for the young man as you did before; and if any impediment comes in our way, I will take the word out of your mouths, and carry you over the river as I did just now.



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