translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER;
CLEINIAS, a Cretan;
MEGILLUS, a Lacedaemonian
[Athenian Stranger] 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 sepulchres, 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?
[Ath.] My good friend, let us first hear the jests which I
suspect that they in their superiority will utter against us.
[Cle.] What jests?
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] But is there any difficulty in proving the existence of
[Ath.] How would you prove it?
[Cle.] 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.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Why, Stranger, what other reason is there?
[Ath.] One which you who live in a different atmosphere would
[Cle.] What is it?
[Ath.] A very grievous sort of ignorance which is imagined to
be the greatest wisdom.
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] One such teacher, O Stranger, would be bad enough, and
you imply that there are many of them, which is worse.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] 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; 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.
[Ath.] 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 may 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 go 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.
[Cle.] Our address, Stranger, thus far, is excellent.
[Ath.] Quite true, Megillus and Cleinias, but I am afraid that
we have unconsciously lighted on a strange doctrine.
[Cle.] What doctrine do you mean?
[Ath.] The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many.
[Cle.] I wish that you would speak plainer.
[Ath.] The doctrine that all things do become, have become,
and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.
[Cle.] Is not that true?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] How is that?
[Ath.] 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 cooperate 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
[Cle.] How do you mean?
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] 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!
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] 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, you appear to me to
maintain, and I am disposed to agree with you in thinking.
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] 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.
[Ath.] 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?
[Meg.] There is no more proper champion of them.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] You are right; but I should like to know how this
[Ath.] I fear that the argument may seem singular.
[Cle.] 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.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Still I do not understand you.
[Ath.] 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
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] But why is the word "nature" wrong?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] You are quite right.
[Ath.] Shall we, then, take this as the next point to which
our attention should be directed?
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Excellent, Stranger, and I hope that you will do as you
[Ath.] 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 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?
[Cle.] Which are they?
[Ath.] Just the two, with which our present enquiry is
[Cle.] Speak plainer.
[Ath.] I suppose that our enquiry has reference to the soul?
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] 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.
[Ath.] 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 co-incident 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.
[Ath.] And which of these ten motions ought we to prefer as
being the mightiest and most efficient?
[Cle.] I must say that the motion which is able to move itself
is ten thousand times superior to all the others.
[Ath.] Very good; but may I make one or two corrections in
what I have been saying?
[Cle.] What are they?
[Ath.] When I spoke of the tenth sort of motion, that was not
[Cle.] What was the error?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] Very true, and I quite agree.
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] 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.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] At this stage of the argument let us put a question.
[Cle.] What question?
[Ath.] If we were to see this power existing in any earthy,
watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we
[Cle.] You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving
[Ath.] I do.
[Cle.] Certainly we should.
[Ath.] And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the
same-must we not admit that this is life?
[Cle.] We must.
[Ath.] And now, I beseech you, reflect;-you would admit that
we have a threefold knowledge of things?
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] How two?
[Ath.] 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.
[Ath.] 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"?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] You mean to say that the essence which is defined as
the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion,
has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.
[Ath.] 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?
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] Nothing can be more true.
[Ath.] 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?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] In the next place, must we 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?
[Cle.] We must.
[Ath.] And as the soul orders and inhabits all things that
move, however moving, must we not say that she orders also the
[Cle.] Of course.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] 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?
[Cle.] There is no room at all for doubt.
[Ath.] 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:-
[Cle.] How would you answer?
[Ath.] 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.
[Ath.] But if the world moves wildly and irregularly, then the
evil soul guides it.
[Cle.] True again.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Very good.
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] That will be excellent.
[Ath.] You will surely remember our saying that all things
were either at rest or in motion?
[Cle.] I do.
[Ath.] And that of things in motion some were moving in one
place, and others in more than one?
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] It does us great credit.
[Ath.] 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
[Cle.] That is most true.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] 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.
[Ath.] You have understood my meaning right well, Cleinias,
and now let me ask you another question.
[Cle.] What are you going to ask?
[Ath.] If the soul carries round the sun and moon, and the
other stars, does she not carry round each individual of them?
[Ath.] Then of one of them let us speak, and the same argument
will apply to all.
[Cle.] Which will you take?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] What is that?
[Ath.] If the soul carries round the sun, we shall not be far
wrong in supposing one of three alternatives.
[Cle.] What are they?
[Ath.] 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 abody, but
guides the sun by some extraordinary and wonderful power.
[Cle.] Yes, certainly; the soul can only order all things in
one of these three ways.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Yes, by every man who has the least particle of sense.
[Ath.] 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 full of Gods?
[Cle.] No one, Stranger, would be such a madman.
[Ath.] And now, Megillus and Cleinias, let us offer terms to
him who has hitherto denied the existence of the Gods, and leave
[Cle.] What terms?
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Certainly-quite enough, Stranger.
[Ath.] 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.
[Cle.] Very good; do as you say, and we will help you as well
as we can.
[Ath.] There will probably be no difficulty in proving to him
that the Gods care about the small as well as about the great.
For he was present and heard what was said, that they are
perfectly good, and that the care of all things is most entirely
natural to them.
[Cle.] No doubt he heard that.
[Ath.] Let us consider together in the next place what we mean
by this virtue which we ascribe to them. Surely we should say
that to be temperate and to possess mind belongs to virtue, and
the contrary to vice?
[Ath.] Yes; and courage is a part of virtue, and cowardice of
[Ath.] And the one is honourable, and the other dishonourable?
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] And the one, like other meaner things, is a human
quality, but the Gods have no part in anything of the sort?
[Cle.] That again is what everybody will admit.
[Ath.] But do we imagine carelessness and idleness and luxury
to be virtues? What do you think?
[Cle.] Decidedly not.
[Ath.] They rank under the opposite class?
[Ath.] And their opposites, therefore, would fall under the
[Ath.] But are we to suppose that one who possesses all these
good qualities will be luxurious and heedless and idle, like
those whom the poet compares to stingless drones?
[Cle.] And the comparison is a most just one.
[Ath.] Surely God must not be supposed to have a nature which
he himself hates?-he who dares to say this sort of thing must not
be tolerated for a moment.
[Cle.] Of course not. How could he have?
[Ath.] Should we not on any principle be entirely mistaken in
praising any one who has some special business entrusted to him,
if he have a mind which takes care of great matters and no care
of small ones? Reflect; he who acts in this way, whether he be
God or man, must act from one of two principles.
[Cle.] What are they?
[Ath.] Either he must think that the neglect of the small
matters is of no consequence to the whole, or if he knows that
they are of consequence, and he neglects them, his neglect must
be attributed to carelessness and indolence. Is there any other
way in which his neglect can be explained? For surely, when it is
impossible for him to take care of all, he is not negligent if he
fails to attend to these things great or small, which a God or
some inferior being might be wanting in strength or capacity to
[Cle.] Certainly not.
[Ath.] Now, then, let us examine the offenders, who both alike
confess that there are Gods, but with a difference-the one saying
that they may be appeased, and the other that they have no care
of small matters: there are three of us and two of them, and we
will say to them-In the first place, you both acknowledge that
the Gods hear and see and know all things, and that nothing can
escape them which is matter of sense and knowledge:-do you admit
[Ath.] And do you admit also that they have all power which
mortals and immortals can have?
[Cle.] They will, of course, admit this also.
[Ath.] And surely we three and they two-five in all-have
acknowledged that they are good and perfect?
[Ath.] But, if they are such as we conceive them to be, can we
possibly suppose that they ever act in the spirit of carelessness
and indolence? For in us inactivity is the child of cowardice,
and carelessness of inactivity and indolence.
[Cle.] Most true.
[Ath.] Then not from inactivity and carelessness is any God
ever negligent; for there is no cowardice in them.
[Cle.] That is very true.
[Ath.] Then the alternative which remains is, that if the Gods
neglect the lighter and lesser concerns of the universe, they
neglect them because they know that they ought not to care about
such matters-what other alternative is there but the opposite of
[Cle.] There is none.
[Ath.] And, O most excellent and best of men, do I understand
you to mean that they are careless because they are ignorant, and
do not know that they ought to take care, or that they know, and
yet like the meanest sort of men, knowing the better, choose the
worse because they are overcome by pleasures and pains?
[Ath.] Do not all human things partake of the nature of soul?
And is not man the most religious of all animals?
[Cle.] That is not to be denied.
[Ath.] And we acknowledge that all mortal creatures are the
property of the Gods, to whom also the whole of heaven belongs?
[Ath.] And, therefore, whether a person says that these things
are to the Gods great or small-in either case it would not be
natural for the Gods who own us, and who are the most careful and
the best of owners to neglect us.-There is also a further
[Cle.] What is it?
[Ath.] Sensation and power are in an inverse ratio to each
other in respect to their case and difficulty.
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] I mean that there is greater difficulty in seeing and
hearing the small than the great, but more facility in moving and
controlling and taking care of and unimportant things than of
[Cle.] Far more.
[Ath.] Suppose the case of a physician who is willing and able
to cure some living thing as a whole-how will the whole fare at
his hands if he takes care only of the greater and neglects the
parts which are lesser?
[Cle.] Decidedly not well.
[Ath.] No better would be the result with pilots or generals,
or householders or statesmen, or any other such class, if they
neglected the small and regarded only the great;-as the builders
say, the larger stones do not lie well without the lesser.
[Cle.] Of course not.
[Ath.] Let us not, then, deem God inferior to human workmen,
who, in proportion to their skill, finish and perfect their
works, small as well as great, by one and the same art; or that
God, the wisest of beings, who is both willing and able to take
care, is like a lazy good-for-nothing, or a coward, who turns his
back upon labour and gives no thought to smaller and easier
matters, but to the greater only.
[Cle.] Never, Stranger, let us admit a supposition about the
Gods which is both impious and false.
[Ath.] I think that we have now argued enough with him who
delights to accuse the Gods of neglect.
[Ath.] He has been forced to acknowledge that he is in error,
but he still seems to me to need some words of consolation.
[Cle.] What consolation will you offer him?
[Ath.] Let us say to the youth:-The ruler of the universe has
ordered all things with a view to the excellence and preservation
of the whole, and each part, as far as may be, has an action and
passion appropriate to it. Over these, down to the least fraction
of them, ministers have been appointed to preside, who have
wrought out their perfection with infinitesimal exactness. And
one of these portions of the universe is thine own, unhappy man,
which, however little, contributes to the whole; and you do not
seem to be aware that this and every other creation is for the
sake of the whole, and in order that the life of the whole may be
blessed; and that you are created for the sake of the whole, and
not the whole for the sake of you. For every physician and every
skilled artist does all things for the sake of the whole,
directing his effort towards the common good, executing the part
for the sake of the whole, and not the whole for the sake of the
part. And you are annoyed because you are ignorant how what is
best for you happens to you and to the universe, as far as the
laws of the common creation admit. Now, as the soul combining
first with one body and then with another undergoes all sorts of
changes, either of herself, or through the influence of another
soul, all that remains to the player of the game is that he
should shift the pieces; sending the better nature to the better
place, and the worse to the worse, and so assigning to them their
[Cle.] In what way do you mean?
[Ath.] In a way which may be supposed to make the care of all
things easy to the Gods. If any one were to form or fashion all
things without any regard to the whole-if, for example, he formed
a living element of water out of fire, instead of forming many
things out of one or one out of many in regular order attaining
to a first or second or third birth, the transmutation would have
been infinite; but now the ruler of the world has a wonderfully
[Cle.] How so?
[Ath.] I will explain:-When the king saw that our actions had
life, and that there was much virtue in them and much vice, and
that the soul and body, although not, like the Gods of popular
opinion, eternal, yet having once come into existence, were
indestructible (for if either of them had been destroyed, there
would have been no generation of living beings); and when he
observed that the good of the soul was ever by nature designed to
profit men, and the evil to harm them-he, seeing all this,
contrived so to place each of the parts that their position might
in the easiest and best manner procure the victory of good and
the defeat of evil in the whole. And he contrived a general plan
by which a thing of a certain nature found a certain seat and
room. But the formation of qualities he left to the wills of
individuals. For every one of us is made pretty much what he is
by the bent of his desires and the nature of his soul.
[Cle.] Yes, that is probably true.
[Ath.] Then all things which have a soul change, and possess
in themselves a principle of change, and in changing move
according to law and to the order of destiny: natures which have
undergone a lesser change move less and on the earth's surface,
but those which have suffered more change and have become more
criminal sink into the abyss, that is to say, into Hades and
other places in the world below, of which the very names terrify
men, and which they picture to themselves as in a dream, both
while alive and when released from the body. And whenever the
soul receives more of good or evil from her own energy and the
strong influence of others-when she has communion with divine
virtue and becomes divine, she is carried into another and better
place, which is perfect in holiness; but when she has communion
with evil, then she also changes the Place of her life. This is
the justice of the Gods who inhabit Olympus. O youth or young
man, who fancy that you are neglected by the Gods, know that if
you become worse you shall go to the worse souls, or if better to
the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do
and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. This
is the justice of heaven, which neither you nor any other
unfortunate will ever glory in escaping, and which the ordaining
powers have specially ordained; take good heed thereof, for it
will be sure to take heed of you. If you say:-I am small and will
creep into the depths of the earth, or I am high and will fly up
to heaven, you are not so small or so high but that you shall pay
the fitting penalty, either here or in the world below or in some
still more savage place whither you shall be conveyed. This is
also the explanation of the fate of those whom you saw, who had
done unholy and evil deeds, and from small beginnings had grown
great, and you fancied that from being miserable they had become
happy; and in their actions, as in a mirror, you seemed to see
the universal neglect of the Gods, not knowing how they make all
things work together and contribute to the great whole. And
thinkest thou, bold man, that thou needest not to know this?-he
who knows it not can never form any true idea of the happiness or
unhappiness of life or hold any rational discourse respecting
either. If Cleinias and this our reverend company succeed in
bringing to you that you know not what you say of the Gods, then
will God help you; but should you desire to hear more, listen to
what we say to the third opponent, if you have any understanding
whatsoever. For I think that we have sufficiently proved the
existence of the Gods, and that they care for men:-The other
notion that they are appeased by the wicked, and take gifts, is
what we must not concede to any one, and what every man should
disprove to the utmost of his power.
[Cle.] Very good; let us do as you say.
[Ath.] Well, then, by the Gods themselves I conjure you to
tell me-if they are to be propitiated, how are they to be
propitiated? Who are they, and what is their nature? Must they
not be at least rulers who have to order unceasingly the whole
[Ath.] And to what earthly rulers can they be compared, or who
to them? How in the less can we find an image of the greater? Are
they charioteers of contending pairs of steeds, or pilots of
vessels? Perhaps they might be compared to the generals of
armies, or they might be likened to physicians providing against
the diseases which make war upon the body, or to husbandmen
observing anxiously the effects of the seasons on the growth of
plants; or I perhaps, to shepherds of flocks. For as we
acknowledge the world to be full of many goods and also of evils,
and of more evils than goods, there is, as we affirm, an immortal
conflict going on among us, which requires marvellous
watchfulness; and in that conflict the Gods and demigods are our
allies, and we are their property. Injustice and insolence and
folly are the destruction of us, and justice and temperance and
wisdom are our salvation; and the place of these latter is in the
life of the Gods, although some vestige of them may occasionally
be discerned among mankind. But upon this earth we know that
there dwell souls possessing an unjust spirit, who may be
compared to brute animals, which fawn upon their keepers, whether
dogs or shepherds, or the best and most perfect masters; for they
in like manner, as the voices of the wicked declare, prevail by
flattery and prayers and incantations, and are allowed to make
their gains with impunity. And this sin, which is termed
dishonesty, is an evil of the same kind as what is termed disease
in living bodies or pestilence in years or seasons of the year,
and in cities and governments has another name, which is
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] What else can he say who declares that the Gods are
always lenient to the doers of unjust acts, if they divide the
spoil with them? As if wolves were to toss a portion of their
prey to the dogs, and they, mollified by the gift, suffered them
to tear the flocks. Must not he who maintains that the Gods can
be propitiated argue thus?
[Cle.] Precisely so.
[Ath.] And to which of the above-mentioned classes of
guardians would any man compare the Gods without absurdity? Will
he say that they are like pilots, who are themselves turned away
from their duty by "libations of wine and the savour of fat,"
and at last overturn both ship and sailors?
[Cle.] Assuredly not.
[Ath.] And surely they are not like charioteers who are bribed
to give up the victory to other chariots?
[Cle.] That would be a fearful image of the Gods.
[Ath.] Nor are they like generals, or physicians, or
husbandmen, or shepherds; and no one would compare them to dogs
who have silenced by wolves.
[Cle.] A thing not to be spoken of.
[Ath.] And are not all the Gods the chiefest of all guardians,
and do they not guard our highest interests?
[Cle.] Yes; the chiefest.
[Ath.] And shall we say that those who guard our noblest
interests, and are the best of guardians, are inferior in virtue
to dogs, and to men even of moderate excellence, who would never
betray justice for the sake of gifts which unjust men impiously
[Cle.] Certainly not: nor is such a notion to be endured, and
he who holds this opinion may be fairly singled out and
characterized as of all impious men the wickedest and most
[Ath.] Then are the three assertions-that the Gods exist, and
that they take care of men, and that they can never be persuaded
to do injustice, now sufficiently demonstrated? May we say that
[Cle.] You have our entire assent to your words.
[Ath.] I have spoken with vehemence because I am zealous
against evil men; and I will tell dear Cleinias, why I am so. I
would not have the wicked think that, having the superiority in
argument, they may do as they please and act according to their
various imaginations about the Gods; and this zeal has led me to
speak too vehemently; but if we have at all succeeded in
persuading the men to hate themselves and love their opposites,
the prelude of our laws about impiety will not have been spoken
[Cle.] So let us hope; and even if we have failed, the style
of our argument will not discredit the lawgiver.
[Ath.] After the prelude shall follow a discourse, which will
be the interpreter of the law; this shall proclaim to all impious
persons:-that they must depart from their ways and go over to the
pious. And to those who disobey, let the law about impiety be as
follows:-If a man is guilty of any impiety in word or deed, any
one who happens to present shall give information to the
magistrates, in aid of the law; and let the magistrates who.
first receive the information bring him before the appointed
court according to the law; and if a magistrate, after receiving
information, refuses to act, he shall be tried for impiety at the
instance of any one who is willing to vindicate the laws; and if
any one be cast, the court shall estimate the punishment of each
act of impiety; and let all such criminals be imprisoned. There
shall be three prisons in the state: the first of them is to be
the common prison in the neighbourhood of the agora for the safe-keeping
of the generality of offenders; another is to be in the
neighbourhood of the nocturnal council, and is to be called the
"House of Reformation"; another, to be situated in some
wild and desolate region in the centre of the country, shall be
called by some name expressive of retribution. Now, men fall into
impiety from three causes, which have been already mentioned, and
from each of these causes arise two sorts of impiety, in all six,
which are worth distinguishing, and should not all have the same
punishment. For he who does not believe in Gods, and yet has a
righteous nature, hates the wicked and dislikes and refuses to do
injustice, and avoids unrighteous men, and loves the righteous.
But they who besides believing that the world is devoid of Gods
are intemperate, and have at the same time good memories and
quick wits, are worse; although both of them are unbelievers,
much less injury is done by the one than by the other. The one
may talk loosely about the Gods and about sacrifices and oaths,
and perhaps by laughing at other men he may make them like
himself, if he be not punished. But the other who holds the same
opinions and is called a clever man, is full of stratagem and
deceit-men of this class deal in prophecy and jugglery of all
kinds, and out of their ranks sometimes come tyrants and
demagogues and generals and hierophants of private mysteries and
the Sophists, as they are termed, with their ingenious devices.
There are many kinds of unbelievers, but two only for whom
legislation is required; one the hypocritical sort, whose crime
is deserving of death many times over, while the other needs only
bonds and admonition. In like manner also the notion that the
Gods take no thought of men produces two other sorts of crimes,
and the notion that they may be propitiated produces two more.
Assuming these divisions, let those who have been made what they
are only from want of understanding, and not from malice or an
evil nature, be placed by the judge in the House of Reformation,
and ordered to suffer imprisonment during a period of not less
than five years. And in the meantime let them have no intercourse
with the other citizens, except with members of the nocturnal
council, and with them let them converse with a view to the
improvement of their soul's health. And when the time of their
imprisonment has expired, if any of them be of sound mind let him
be restored to sane company, but if not, and if he be condemned a
second time, let him be punished with death. As to that class of
monstrous natures who not only believe that there are no Gods, or
that they are negligent, or to be propitiated, but in contempt of
mankind conjure the souls of the living and say that they can
conjure the dead and promise to charm the Gods with sacrifices
and prayers, and will utterly overthrow individuals and whole
houses and states for the sake of money-let him who is guilty of
any of these things be condemned by the court to be bound
according to law in the prison which is in the centre of the
land, and let no freeman ever approach him, but let him receive
the rations of food appointed by the guardians of the law from
the hands of the public slaves; and when he is dead let him be
cast beyond the borders unburied, and if any freeman assist in
burying him, let him pay the penalty of impiety to any one who is
willing to bring a suit against him. But if he leaves behind him
children who are fit to be citizens, let the guardians of orphans
take care of them, just as they would of any other orphans, from
the day on which their father is convicted.
In all these cases there should be one law, which will make
men in general less liable to transgress in word or deed, and
less foolish, because they will not be allowed to practise
religious rites contrary to law. And let this be the simple form
of the law:-No man shall have sacred rites in a private house.
When he would sacrifice, let him go to the temples and hand over
his offerings to the priests and priestesses, who see to the
sanctity of such things, and let him pray himself, and let any
one who pleases join with him in prayer. The reason of this is as
follows:-Gods and temples are not easily instituted, and to
establish them rightly is the work of a mighty intellect. And
women especially, and men too, when they are sick or in danger,
or in any sort of difficulty, or again on their receiving any
good fortune, have a way of consecrating the occasion, vowing
sacrifices, and promising shrines to Gods, demigods, and sons of
Gods; and when they are awakened by terrible apparitions and
dreams or remember visions, they find in altars and temples the
remedies of them, and will fill every house and village with
them, placing them in the open air, or wherever they may have had
such visions; and with a view to all these cases we should obey
the law. The law has also regard to the impious, and would not
have them fancy that by the secret performance of these actions-by
raising temples and by building altars in private houses, they
can propitiate the God secretly with sacrifices and prayers,
while they are really multiplying their crimes infinitely,
bringing guilt from heaven upon themselves, and also upon those
who permit them, and who are better men than they are; and the
consequence is that the whole state reaps the fruit of their
impiety, which, in a certain sense, is deserved. Assuredly God
will not blame the legislator, who will enact the following law:-No
one shall possess shrines of the Gods in private houses, and he
who is found to possess them, and perform any sacred rites not
publicly authorized-supposing the offender to be some man or
woman who is not guilty of any other great and impious crime-shall
be informed against by him who is acquainted with the fact, which
shall be announced by him to the guardians of the law; and let
them issue orders that he or she shall carry away their private
rites to the public temples, and if they do not persuade them,
let them inflict a penalty on them until they comply. And if a
person be proven guilty of impiety, not merely from childish
levity, but such as grown-up men may be guilty of, whether he
have sacrificed publicly or privately to any Gods, let him be
punished with death, for his sacrifice is impure. Whether the
deed has been done in earnest, or only from childish levity, let
the guardians of the law determine, before they bring the matter
into court and prosecute the offender for impiety.
The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.