translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER;
CLEINIAS, a Cretan;
MEGILLUS, a Lacedaemonian
[Athenian Stranger] 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?
[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
[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
[Ath.] And is what you say applicable only to states, or also
[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 against 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 mean?)--
[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 most true.
[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 friends.
[Cle.] The last would be by far the best sort of judge and
[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
[Cle.] Every one would desire the latter in the case of his
[Ath.] And would not that also be the desire of the
[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
[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 rate.
[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 matter?
[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
[Cle.] How shall we proceed, Stranger?
[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
[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 be
[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
[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 the right?
[Cle.] Able to meet both, I should say.
[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 most true.
[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 simple.
[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
[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
[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 among us.
[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 before us.
[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
[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 sea-sickness.
[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
[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 quiet.
[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
[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 evil.
[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
[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
[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 constitutions.
[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
[Cle.] Let us proceed, if you please.
[Ath.] Well, then, if I tell you what are my notions of
education, will you consider whether they satisfy you?
[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 are not.
[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
[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 loves?
[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 drink?
[Cle.] Yes, they entirely desert him.
[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
[Cle.] The least.
[Ath.] And will he not be in a most wretched plight?
[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 hear me.
[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 soul?
[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, decrepitude?
[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
[Ath.] And the same view may be taken of the pastime of
drinking wine, if we are right in supposing that the same good
[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 from them.
[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 expected evil.
[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 shame.
[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 of pleasures.
[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 friends.
[Cle.] There are.
[Ath.] Then each of us should be fearless and also fearful;
and why we should be either has now been determined.
[Ath.] And when we want to make any one fearless, we and the
law bring him face to face with many fears.
[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 perfectly temperate?
[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
[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 reverse?"
[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
[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
[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 fear-
[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
[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
[Cle.] Exactly so.
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