translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER;
CLEINIAS, a Cretan;
MEGILLUS, a Lacedaemonian
[Athenian Stranger] And now we have to consider whether the
insight into human nature is the only benefit derived from well
ordered potations, or whether there are not other advantages
great and much to be desired. The argument seems to imply that
there are. But how and in what way these are to be attained, will
have to be considered attentively, or we may be entangled in
[Ath.] Let me once more recall our doctrine of right
education; which, if I am not mistaken, depends on the due
regulation of convivial intercourse.
[Cle.] You talk rather grandly.
[Ath.] Pleasure and pain I maintain to be the first
perceptions of children, and I say that they are the forms under
which virtue and vice are originally present to them. As to
wisdom and true and fixed opinions, happy is the man who acquires
them, even when declining in years; and we may say that he who
possesses them, and the blessings which are contained in them, is
a perfect man. Now I mean by education that training which is
given by suitable habits to the first instincts of virtue in
children;-when pleasure, and friendship, and pain, and hatred,
are rightly implanted in souls not yet capable of understanding
the nature of them, and who find them, after they have attained
reason, to be in harmony with her. This harmony of the soul,
taken as a whole, is virtue; but the particular training in
respect of pleasure and pain, which leads you always to hate what
you ought to hate, and love what you ought to love from the
beginning of life to the end, may be separated off; and, in my
view, will be rightly called education.
[Cle.] I think, Stranger, that you are quite right in all that
you have said and are saying about education.
[Ath.] I am glad to hear that you agree with me; for, indeed,
the discipline of pleasure and pain which, when rightly ordered,
is a principle of education, has been often relaxed and corrupted
in human life. And the Gods, pitying the toils which our race is
born to undergo, have appointed holy festivals, wherein men
alternate rest with labour; and have given them the Muses and
Apollo, the leader of the Muses, and Dionysus, to be companions
in their revels, that they may improve their education by taking
part in the festivals of the Gods, and with their help. I should
like to know whether a common saying is in our opinion true to
nature or not. For men say that the young of all creatures cannot
be quiet in their bodies or in their voices; they are always
wanting to move and cry out; some leaping and skipping, and
overflowing with sportiveness and delight at something, others
uttering all sorts of cries. But, whereas the animals have no
perception of order or disorder in their movements, that is, of
rhythm or harmony, as they are called, to us, the Gods, who, as
we say, have been appointed to be our companions in the dance,
have given the pleasurable sense of harmony and rhythm; and so
they stir us into life, and we follow them, joining hands
together in dances and songs; and these they call choruses, which
is a term naturally expressive of cheerfulness. Shall we begin,
then, with the acknowledgment that education is first given
through Apollo and the Muses? What do you say?
[Cle.] I assent.
[Ath.] And the uneducated is he who has not been trained in
the chorus, and the educated is he who has been well trained?
[Ath.] And the chorus is made up of two parts, dance and song?
[Ath.] Then he who is well educated will be able to sing and
[Cle.] I suppose that he will.
[Ath.] Let us see; what are we saying?
[Ath.] He sings well and dances well; now must we add that he
sings what is good and dances what is good?
[Cle.] Let us make the addition.
[Ath.] We will suppose that he knows the good to be good, and
the bad to be bad, and makes use of them accordingly: which now
is the better trained in dancing and music-he who is able to move
his body and to use his voice in what is understood to be the
right manner, but has no delight in good or hatred of evil; or he
who is incorrect in gesture and voice, but is right in his sense
of pleasure and pain, and welcomes what is good, and is offended
at what is evil?
[Cle.] There is a great difference, Stranger, in the two kinds
[Ath.] If we three know what is good in song and dance, then
we truly know also who is educated and who is uneducated; but if
not, then we certainly shall not know wherein lies the safeguard
of education, and whether there is any or not.
[Ath.] Let us follow the scent like hounds, and go in pursuit
of beauty of figure, and melody, and song, and dance; if these
escape us, there will be no use in talking about true education,
whether Hellenic or barbarian.
[Ath.] And what is beauty of figure, or beautiful melody? When
a manly soul is in trouble, and when a cowardly soul is in
similar case, are they likely to use the same figures and
gestures, or to give utterance to the same sounds?
[Cle.] How can they, when the very colours of their faces
[Ath.] Good, my friend; I may observe, however, in passing,
that in music there certainly are figures and there are melodies:
and music is concerned with harmony and rhythm, so that you may
speak of a melody or figure having good rhythm or good harmony-the
term is correct enough; but to speak metaphorically of a melody
or figure having a "good colour," as the masters of
choruses do, is not allowable, although you can speak of the
melodies or figures of the brave and the coward, praising the one
and censuring the other. And not to be tedious, let us say that
the figures and melodies which are expressive of virtue of soul
or body, or of images of virtue, are without exception good, and
those which are expressive of vice are the reverse of good.
[Cle.] Your suggestion is excellent; and let us answer that
these things are so.
[Ath.] Once more, are all of us equally delighted with every
sort of dance?
[Cle.] Far otherwise.
[Ath.] What, then, leads us astray? Are beautiful things not
the same to us all, or are they the same in themselves, but not
in our opinion of them? For no one will admit that forms of vice
in the dance are more beautiful than forms of virtue, or that he
himself delights in the forms of vice, and others in a muse of
another character. And yet most persons say, that the excellence
of music is to give pleasure to our souls. But this is
intolerable and blasphemous; there is, however, a much more
plausible account of the delusion.
[Ath.] The adaptation of art to the characters of men. Choric
movements are imitations of manners occurring in various actions,
fortunes, dispositions-each particular is imitated, and those to
whom the words, or songs, or dances are suited, either by nature
or habit or both, cannot help feeling pleasure in them and
applauding them, and calling them beautiful. But those whose
natures, or ways, or habits are unsuited to them, cannot delight
in them or applaud them, and they call them base. There are
others, again, whose natures are right and their habits wrong, or
whose habits are right and their natures wrong, and they praise
one thing, but are pleased at another. For they say that all
these imitations are pleasant, but not good. And in the presence
of those whom they think wise, they are ashamed of dancing and
singing in the baser manner, or of deliberately lending any
countenance to such proceedings; and yet, they have a secret
pleasure in them.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] And is any harm done to the lover of vicious dances or
songs, or any good done to the approver of the opposite sort of
[Cle.] I think that there is.
[Ath.] "I think" is not the word, but I would say,
rather, "I am certain." For must they not have the same
effect as when a man associates with bad characters, whom he
likes and approves rather than dislikes, and only censures
playfully because he has a suspicion of his own badness? In that
case, he who takes pleasure in them will surely become like those
in whom he takes pleasure, even though he be ashamed to praise
them. And what greater good or evil can any destiny ever make us
[Cle.] I know of none.
[Ath.] Then in a city which has good laws, or in future ages
is to have them, bearing in mind the instruction and amusement
which are given by music, can we suppose that the poets are to be
allowed to teach in the dance anything which they themselves
like, in the way of rhythm, or melody, or words, to the young
children of any well-conditioned parents? Is the poet to train
his choruses as he pleases, without reference to virtue or vice?
[Cle.] That is surely quite unreasonable, and is not to be
[Ath.] And yet he may do this in almost any state with the
exception of Egypt.
[Cle.] And what are the laws about music and dancing in Egypt?
[Ath.] You will wonder when I tell you: Long ago they appear
to have recognized the very principle of which we are now
speaking-that their young citizens must be habituated to forms
and strains of virtue. These they fixed, and exhibited the
patterns of them in their temples; and no painter or artist is
allowed to innovate upon them, or to leave the traditional forms
and invent new ones. To this day, no alteration is allowed either
in these arts, or in music at all. And you will find that their
works of art are painted or moulded in the same forms which they
had ten thousand years ago;-this is literally true and no
exaggeration-their ancient paintings and sculptures are not a
whit better or worse than the work of to-day, but are made with
just the same skill.
[Cle.] How extraordinary!
[Ath.] I should rather say, How statesmanlike, how worthy of a
legislator! I know that other things in Egypt are nat so well.
But what I am telling you about music is true and deserving of
consideration, because showing that a lawgiver may institute
melodies which have a natural truth and correctness without any
fear of failure. To do this, however, must be the work of God, or
of a divine person; in Egypt they have a tradition that their
ancient chants which have been preserved for so many ages are the
composition of the Goddess Isis. And therefore, as I was saying,
if a person can only find in any way the natural melodies, he may
confidently embody them in a fixed and legal form. For the love
of novelty which arises out of pleasure in the new and weariness
of the old, has not strength enough to corrupt the consecrated
song and dance, under the plea that they have become antiquated.
At any rate, they are far from being corrupted in Egypt.
[Cle.] Your arguments seem to prove your point.
[Ath.] May we not confidently say that the true use of music
and of choral festivities is as follows: We rejoice when we think
that we prosper, and again we think that we prosper when we
[Ath.] And when rejoicing in our good fortune, we are unable
to be still?
[Ath.] Our young men break forth into dancing and singing, and
we who are their elders deem that we are fulfilling our part in
life when we look on at them. Having lost our agility, we delight
in their sports and merry-making, because we love to think of our
former selves; and gladly institute contests for those who are
able to awaken in us the memory of our youth.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] Is it altogether unmeaning to say, as the common people
do about festivals, that he should be adjudged the wisest of men,
and the winner of the palm, who gives us the greatest amount of
pleasure and mirth? For on such occasions, and when mirth is the
order of the day, ought not he to be honoured most, and, as I was
saying, bear the palm, who gives most mirth to the greatest
number? Now is this a true way of speaking or of acting?
[Ath.] But, my dear friend, let us distinguish between
different cases, and not be hasty in forming a judgment: One way
of considering the question will be to imagine a festival at
which there are entertainments of all sorts, including gymnastic,
musical, and equestrian contests: the citizens are assembled;
prizes are offered, and proclamation is made that any one who
likes may enter the lists, and that he is to bear the palm who
gives the most pleasure to the spectators-there is to be no
regulation about the manner how; but he who is most successful in
giving pleasure is to be crowned victor, and deemed to be the
pleasantest of the candidates: What is likely to be the result of
such a proclamation?
[Cle.] In what respect?
[Ath.] There would be various exhibitions: one man, like
Homer, will exhibit a rhapsody, another a performance on the
lute; one will have a tragedy, and another a comedy. Nor would
there be anything astonishing in some one imagining that he could
gain the prize by exhibiting a puppet-show. Suppose these
competitors to meet, and not these only, but innumerable others
as well can you tell me who ought to be the victor?
[Cle.] I do not see how any one can answer you, or pretend to
know, unless he has heard with his own ears the several
competitors; the question is absurd.
[Ath.] Well, then, if neither of you can answer, shall I
answer this question which you deem so absurd?
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] If very small children are to determine the question,
they will decide for the puppet show.
[Cle.] Of course.
[Ath.] The older children will be advocates of comedy;
educated women, and young men, and people in general, will favour
[Cle.] Very likely.
[Ath.] And I believe that we old men would have the greatest
pleasure in hearing a rhapsodist recite well the Iliad and
Odyssey, or one of the Hesiodic poems, and would award the
victory to him. But, who would really be the victor?-that is the
[Ath.] Clearly you and I will have to declare that those whom
we old men adjudge victors ought to win; for our ways are far and
away better than any which at present exist anywhere in the world.
[Ath.] Thus far I too should agree with the many, that the
excellence of music is to be measured by pleasure. But the
pleasure must not be that of chance persons; the fairest music is
that which delights the best and best educated, and especially
that which delights the one man who is pre-eminent in virtue and
education. And therefore the judges must be men of character, for
they will require both wisdom and courage; the true judge must
not draw his inspiration from the theatre, nor ought he to be
unnerved by the clamour of the many and his own incapacity; nor
again, knowing the truth, ought he through cowardice and
unmanliness carelessly to deliver a lying judgment, with the very
same lips which have just appealed to the Gods before he judged.
He is sitting not as the disciple of the theatre, but, in his
proper place, as their instructor, and he ought to be the enemy
of all pandering to the pleasure of the spectators. The ancient
and common custom of Hellas, which still prevails in Italy and
Sicily, did certainly leave the judgment to the body of
spectators, who determined the victor by show of hands. But this
custom has been the destruction of the poets; for they are now in
the habit of composing with a view to please the bad taste of
their judges, and the result is that the spectators instruct
themselves;-and also it has been the ruin of the theatre; they
ought to be having characters put before them better than their
own, and so receiving a higher pleasure, but now by their own act
the opposite result follows. What inference is to be drawn from
all this? Shall I tell you?
[Ath.] The inference at which we arrive for the third or
fourth time is, that education is the constraining and directing
of youth towards that right reason, which the law affirms, and
which the experience of the eldest and best has agreed to be
truly right. In order, then, that the soul of the child may not
be habituated to feel joy and sorrow in a manner at variance with
the law, and those who obey the law, but may rather follow the
law and rejoice and sorrow at the same things as the aged-in
order, I say, to produce this effect, chants appear to have been
invented, which really enchant, and are designed to implant that
harmony of which we speak. And, because the mind of the child is
incapable of enduring serious training, they are called plays and
songs, and are performed in play; just as when men are sick and
ailing in their bodies, their attendants give them wholesome diet
in pleasant meats and drinks, but unwholesome diet in
disagreeable things, in order that they may learn, as they ought,
to like the one, and to dislike the other. And similarly the true
legislator will persuade, and, if he cannot persuade, will compel
the poet to express, as he ought, by fair and noble words, in his
rhythms, the figures, and in his melodies, the music of temperate
and brave and in every way good men.
[Cle.] But do you really imagine, Stranger, that this is the
way in which poets generally compose in States at the present
day? As far as I can observe, except among us and among the
Lacedaemonians, there are no regulations like those of which you
speak; in other places novelties are always being introduced in
dancing and in music, generally not under the authority of any
law, but at the instigation of lawless pleasures; and these
pleasures are so far from being the same, as you describe the
Egyptian to be, or having the same principles, that they are
never the same.
[Ath.] Most true, Cleinias; and I daresay that I may have
expressed myself obscurely, and so led you to imagine that I was
speaking of some really existing state of things, whereas I was
only saying what regulations I would like to have about music;
and hence there occurred a misapprehension on your part. For when
evils are far gone and irremediable, the task of censuring them
is never pleasant, although at times necessary. But as we do not
really differ, will you let me ask you whether you consider such
institutions to be more prevalent among the Cretans and
Lacedaemonians than among the other Hellenes?
[Cle.] Certainly they are.
[Ath.] And if they were extended to the other Hellenes, would
it be an improvement on the present state of things?
[Cle.] A very great improvement, if the customs which prevail
among them were such as prevail among us and the Lacedaemonians,
and such as you were just now saying ought to prevail.
[Ath.] Let us see whether we understand one another:-Are not
the principles of education and music which prevail among you as
follows: you compel your poets to say that the good man, if he be
temperate and just, is fortunate and happy; and this whether he
be great and strong or small and weak, and whether he be rich or
poor; and, on the other hand, if he have a wealth passing that of
Cinyras or Midas, and be unjust, he is wretched and lives in
misery? As the poet says, and with truth: I sing not, I care not
about him who accomplishes all noble things, not having justice;
let him who "draws near and stretches out his hand against
his enemies be a just man." But if he be unjust, I would not
have him "look calmly upon bloody death," nor "surpass
in swiftness the Thracian Boreas"; and let no other thing
that is called good ever be his. For the goods of which the many
speak are not really good: first in the catalogue is placed
health, beauty next, wealth third; and then innumerable others,
as for example to have a keen eye or a quick ear, and in general
to have all the senses perfect; or, again, to be a tyrant and do
as you like; and the final consummation of happiness is to have
acquired all these things, and when you have acquired them to
become at once immortal. But you and I say, that while to the
just and holy all these things are the best of possessions, to
the unjust they are all, including even health, the greatest of
evils. For in truth, to have sight, and hearing, and the use of
the senses, or to live at all without justice and virtue, even
though a man be rich in all the so-called goods of fortune, is
the greatest of evils, if life be immortal; but not so great, if
the bad man lives only a very short time. These are the truths
which, if I am not mistaken, you will persuade or compel your
poets to utter with suitable accompaniments of harmony and
rhythm, and in these they must train up your youth. Am I not
right? For I plainly declare that evils as they are termed are
goods to the unjust, and only evils to the just, and that goods
are truly good to the good, but evil to the evil. Let me ask
again, Are you and I agreed about this?
[Cle.] I think that we partly agree and partly do not.
[Ath.] When a man has health and wealth and a tyranny which
lasts, and when he is preeminent in strength and courage, and has
the gift of immortality, and none of the so-called evils which
counter-balance these goods, but only the injustice and insolence
of his own nature-of such an one you are, I suspect, unwilling to
believe that he is miserable rather than happy.
[Cle.] That is quite true.
[Ath.] Once more: Suppose that he be valiant and strong, and
handsome and rich, and does throughout his whole life whatever he
likes, still, if he be unrighteous and insolent, would not both
of you agree that he will of necessity live basely? You will
surely grant so much?
[Ath.] And an evil life too?
[Cle.] I am not equally disposed to grant that.
[Ath.] Will he not live painfully and to his own disadvantage?
[Cle.] How can I possibly say so?
[Ath.] How! Then may Heaven make us to be of one mind, for now
we are of two. To me, dear Cleinias, the truth of what I am
saying is as plain as the fact that Crete is an island. And, if I
were a lawgiver, I would try to make the poets and all the
citizens speak in this strain, and I would inflict the heaviest
penalties on any one in all the land who should dare to say that
there are bad men who lead pleasant lives, or that the profitable
and gainful is one thing, and the just another; and there are
many other matters about which I should make my citizens speak in
a manner different from the Cretans and Lacedaemonians of this
age, and I may say, indeed, from the world in general. For tell
me, my good friends, by Zeus and Apollo tell me, if I were to ask
these same Gods who were your legislators-Is not the most just
life also the pleasantest? or are there two lives, one of which
is the justest and the other the pleasantest?-and they were to
reply that there are two; and thereupon I proceeded to ask, (that
would be the right way of pursuing the enquiry), Which are the
happier-those who lead the justest, or those who lead the
pleasantest life? and they replied, Those who lead the
pleasantest-that would be a very strange answer, which I should
not like to put into the mouth of the Gods. The words will come
with more propriety from the lips of fathers and legislators, and
therefore I will repeat my former questions to one of them, and
suppose him to say again that he who leads the pleasantest life
is the happiest. And to that I rejoin:-O my father, did you not
wish me to live as happily as possible? And yet you also never
ceased telling me that I should live as justly as possible. Now,
here the giver of the rule, whether he be legislator or father,
will be in a dilemma, and will in vain endeavour to be consistent
with himself. But if he were to declare that the justest life is
also the happiest, every one hearing him would enquire, if I am
not mistaken, what is that good and noble principle in life which
the law approves, and which is superior to pleasure. For what
good can the just man have which is separated from pleasure?
Shall we say that glory and fame, coming from Gods and men,
though good and noble, are nevertheless unpleasant, and infamy
pleasant? Certainly not, sweet legislator. Or shall we say that
the not-doing of wrong and there being no wrong done is good and
honourable, although there is no pleasure in it, and that the
doing wrong is pleasant, but evil and base?
[Ath.] The view which identifies the pleasant and the pleasant
and the just and the good and the noble has an excellent moral
and religious tendency. And the opposite view is most at variance
with the designs of the legislator, and is, in his opinion,
infamous; for no one, if he can help, will be persuaded to do
that which gives him more pain than pleasure. But as distant
prospects are apt to make us dizzy, especially in childhood, the
legislator will try to purge away the darkness and exhibit the
truth; he will persuade the citizens, in some way or other, by
customs and praises and words, that just and unjust are shadows
only, and that injustice, which seems opposed to justice, when
contemplated by the unjust and evil man appears pleasant and the
just most unpleasant; but that from the just man's point of view,
the very opposite is the appearance of both of them.
[Ath.] And which may be supposed to be the truer judgment-that
of the inferior or of the better soul?
[Cle.] Surely, that of the better soul.
[Ath.] Then the unjust life must not only be more base and
depraved, but also more unpleasant than the just and holy life?
[Cle.] That seems to be implied in the present argument.
[Ath.] And even supposing this were otherwise, and not as the
argument has proven, still the lawgiver, who is worth anything,
if he ever ventures to tell a lie to the young for their good,
could not invent a more useful lie than this, or one which will
have a better effect in making them do what is right, not on
compulsion but voluntarily.
[Cle.] Truth, Stranger, is a noble thing and a lasting, but a
thing of which men are hard to be persuaded.
[Ath.] And yet the story of the Sidonian Cadmus, which is so
improbable, has been readily believed, and also innumerable other
[Cle.] What is that story?
[Ath.] The story of armed men springing up after the sowing of
teeth, which the legislator may take as a proof that he can
persuade the minds of the young of anything; so that he has only
to reflect and find out what belief will be of the greatest
public advantage, and then use all his efforts to make the whole
community utter one and the same word in their songs and tales
and discourses all their life long. But if you do not agree with
me, there is no reason why you should not argue on the other side.
[Cle.] I do not see that any argument can fairly be raised by
either of us against what you are now saying.
[Ath.] The next suggestion which I have to offer is, that all
our three choruses shall sing to the young and tender souls of
children, reciting in their strains all the noble thoughts of
which we have already spoken, or are about to speak; and the sum
of them shall be, that the life which is by the Gods deemed to be
the happiest is also the best;-we shall affirm this to be a most
certain truth; and the minds of our young disciples will be more
likely to receive these words of ours than any others which we
might address to them.
[Cle.] I assent to what you say.
[Ath.] First will enter in their natural order the sacred
choir composed of children, which is to sing lustily the heaven-taught
lay to the whole city. Next will follow the choir of young men
under the age of thirty, who will call upon the God Paean to
testify to the truth of their words, and will pray him to be
gracious to the youth and to turn their hearts. Thirdly, the
choir of elder men, who are from thirty to sixty years of age,
will also sing. There remain those who are too old to sing, and
they will tell stories, illustrating the same virtues, as with
the voice of an oracle.
[Cle.] Who are those who compose the third choir, Stranger?
for I do not clearly understand what you mean to say about them.
[Ath.] And yet almost all that I have been saying has said
with a view to them.
[Cle.] Will you try to be a little plainer?
[Ath.] I was speaking at the commencement of our discourse, as
you will remember, of the fiery nature of young creatures: I said
that they were unable to keep quiet either in limb or voice, and
that they called out and jumped about in a disorderly manner; and
that no other animal attained to any perception of order, but man
only. Now the order of motion is called rhythm, and the order of
the voice, in which high and low are duly mingled, is called
harmony; and both together are termed choric song. And I said
that the Gods had pity on us, and gave us Apollo and the Muses to
be our playfellows and leaders in the dance; and Dionysus, as I
dare say that you will remember, was the third.
[Cle.] I quite remember.
[Ath.] Thus far I have spoken of the chorus of Apollo and the
Muses, and I have still to speak of the remaining chorus, which
is that of Dionysus.
[Cle.] How is that arranged? There is something strange, at
any rate on first hearing, in a Dionysiac chorus of old men, if
you really mean that those who are above thirty, and may be
fifty, or from fifty to sixty years of age, are to dance in his
[Ath.] Very true; and therefore it must be shown that there is
good reason for the proposal.
[Ath.] Are we agreed thus far?
[Cle.] About what?
[Ath.] That every man and boy, slave and free, both sexes, and
the whole city, should never cease charming themselves with the
strains of which we have spoken; and that there should be every
sort of change and variation of them in order to take away the
effect of sameness, so that the singers may always receive
pleasure from their hymns, and may never weary of them?
[Cle.] Every one will agree.
[Ath.] Where, then, will that best part of our city which, by
reason of age and intelligence, has the greatest influence, sing
these fairest of strains, which are to do so much good? Shall we
be so foolish as to let them off who would give us the most
beautiful and also the most useful of songs?
[Cle.] But, says the argument, we cannot let them off.
[Ath.] Then how can we carry out our purpose with decorum?
Will this be the way?
[Ath.] When a man is advancing in years, he is afraid and
reluctant to sing;-he has no pleasure in his own performances;
and if compulsion is used, he will be more and more ashamed, the
older and more discreet he grows;-is not this true?
[Ath.] Well, and will he not be yet more ashamed if he has to
stand up and sing in the theatre to a mixed audience?-and if
moreover when he is required to do so, like the other choirs who
contend for prizes, and have been trained under a singing master,
he is pinched and hungry, he will certainly have a feeling of
shame and discomfort which will make him very unwilling to
[Cle.] No doubt.
[Ath.] How, then, shall we reassure him, and get him to sing?
Shall we begin by enacting that boys shall not taste wine at all
until they are eighteen years of age; we will tell them that fire
must not be poured upon fire, whether in the body or in the soul,
until they begin to go to work-this is a precaution which has to
be taken against the excitableness of youth;-afterwards they may
taste wine in moderation up to the age of thirty, but while a man
is young he should abstain altogether from intoxication and from
excess of wine; when, at length, he has reached forty years,
after dinner at a public mess, he may invite not only the other
Gods, but Dionysus above all, to the mystery and festivity of the
elder men, making use of the wine which he has given men to
lighten the sourness of old age; that in age we may renew our
youth, and forget our sorrows; and also in order that the nature
of the soul, like iron melted in the fire, may become softer and
so more impressible. In the first place, will not any one who is
thus mellowed be more ready and less ashamed to sing-I do not say
before a large audience, but before a moderate company; nor yet
among strangers, but among his familiars, and, as we have often
said, to chant, and to enchant?
[Cle.] He will be far more ready.
[Ath.] There will be no impropriety in our using such a method
of persuading them to join with us in song.
[Cle.] None at all.
[Ath.] And what strain will they sing, and what muse will they
hymn? The strain should clearly be one suitable to them.
[Ath.] And what strain is suitable for heroes? Shall they sing
a choric strain?
[Cle.] Truly, Stranger, we of Crete and Lacedaemon know no
strain other than that which we have learnt and been accustomed
to sing in our chorus.
[Ath.] I dare say; for you have never acquired the knowledge
of the most beautiful kind of song, in your military way of life,
which is modelled after the camp, and is not like that of
dwellers in cities; and you have your young men herding and
feeding together like young colts. No one takes his own
individual colt and drags him away from his fellows against his
will, raging and foaming, and gives him a groom to attend to him
alone, and trains and rubs him down privately, and gives him the
qualities in education which will make him not only a good
soldier, but also a governor of a state and of cities. Such an
one, as we said at first, would be a greater warrior than he of
whom Tyrtaeus sings; and he would honour courage everywhere, but
always as the fourth, and not as the first part of virtue, either
in individuals or states.
[Cle.] Once more, Stranger, I must complain that you
depreciate our lawgivers.
[Ath.] Not intentionally, if at all, my good friend; but
whither the argument leads, thither let us follow; for if there
be indeed some strain of song more beautiful than that of the
choruses or the public theatres, I should like to impart it to
those who, as we say, are ashamed of these, and want to have the
[Ath.] When things have an accompanying charm, either the best
thing in them is this very charm, or there is some rightness or
utility possessed by them;-for example, I should say that eating
and drinking, and the use of food in general, have an
accompanying charm which we call pleasure; but that this
rightness and utility is just the healthfulness of the things
served up to us, which is their true rightness.
[Cle.] Just so.
[Ath.] Thus, too, I should say that learning has a certain
accompanying charm which is the pleasure; but that the right and
the profitable, the good and the noble, are qualities which the
truth gives to it.
[Ath.] And so in the imitative arts-if they succeed in making
likenesses, and are accompanied by pleasure, may not their works
be said to have a charm?
[Ath.] But equal proportions, whether of quality or quantity,
and not pleasure, speaking generally, would give them truth or
[Ath.] Then that only can be rightly judged by the standard of
pleasure, which makes or furnishes no utility or truth or
likeness, nor on the other hand is productive of any hurtful
quality, but exists solely for the sake of the accompanying
charm; and the term "pleasure" is most appropriately
applied to it when these other qualities are absent.
[Cle.] You are speaking of harmless pleasure, are you not?
[Ath.] Yes; and this I term amusement, when doing neither harm
nor good in any degree worth speaking of.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] Then, if such be our principles, we must assert that
imitation is not to be judged of by pleasure and false opinion;
and this is true of all equality, for the equal is not equal or
the symmetrical symmetrical, because somebody thinks or likes
something, but they are to be judged of by the standard of truth,
and by no other whatever.
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] Do we not regard all music as representative and
[Ath.] Then, when any one says that music is to be judged of
by pleasure, his doctrine cannot be admitted; and if there be any
music of which pleasure is the criterion, such music is not to be
sought out or deemed to have any real excellence, but only that
other kind of music which is an imitation of the good.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] And those who seek for the best kind of song and music
ought not to seek for that which is pleasant, but for that which
is true; and the truth of imitation consists, as we were saying,
in rendering the thing imitated according to quantity and quality.
[Ath.] And every one will admit that musical compositions are
all imitative and representative. Will not poets and spectators
and actors all agree in this?
[Cle.] They will.
[Ath.] Surely then he who would judge correctly must know what
each composition is; for if he does not know what is the
character and meaning of the piece, and what it represents, he
will never discern whether the intention is true or false.
[Cle.] Certainly not.
[Ath.] And will he who does not know what is true be able to
distinguish what is good and bad? My statement is not very clear;
but perhaps you will understand me better if I put the matter in
[Ath.] There are ten thousand likenesses of objects of sight?
[Ath.] And can he who does not know what the exact object is
which is imitated, ever know whether the resemblance is
truthfully executed? I mean, for example, whether a statue has
the proportions of a body, and the true situation of the parts;
what those proportions are, and how the parts fit into one
another in due order; also their colours and conformations, or
whether this is all confused in the execution: do you think that
any one can know about this, who does not know what the animal is
which has been imitated?
[Ath.] But even if we know that the thing pictured or
sculptured is a man, who has received at the hand of the artist
all his proper parts and colours and shapes, must we not also
know whether the work is beautiful or in any respect deficient in
[Cle.] If this were not required, Stranger, we should all of
us be judges of beauty.
[Ath.] Very true; and may we not say that in everything
imitated, whether in drawing, music, or any other art, he who is
to be a competent judge must possess three things;-he must know,
in the first place, of what the imitation is; secondly, he must
know that it is true; and thirdly, that it has been well executed
in words and melodies and rhythms?
[Ath.] Then let us not faint in discussing the peculiar
difficulty of music. Music is more celebrated than any other kind
of imitation, and therefore requires the greatest care of them
all. For if a man makes a mistake here, he may do himself the
greatest injury by welcoming evil dispositions, and the mistake
may be very difficult to discern, because the poets are artists
very inferior in character to the Muses themselves, who would
never fall into the monstrous error of assigning to the words of
men the gestures and songs of women; nor after combining the
melodies with the gestures of freemen would they add on the
rhythms of slaves and men of the baser sort; nor, beginning with
the rhythms and gestures of freemen, would they assign to them a
melody or words which are of an opposite character; nor would
they mix up the voices and sounds of animals and of men and
instruments, and every other sort of noise, as if they were all
one. But human poets are fond of introducing this sort of
inconsistent mixture, and so make themselves ridiculous in the
eyes of those who, as Orpheus says, "are ripe for true
pleasure." The experienced see all this confusion, and yet
the poets go on and make still further havoc by separating the
rhythm and the figure of the dance from the melody, setting bare
words to metre, and also separating the melody and the rhythm
from the words, using the lyre or the flute alone. For when there
are no words, it is very difficult to recognize the meaning of
the harmony and rhythm, or to see that any worthy object is
imitated by them. And we must acknowledge that all this sort of
thing, which aims only at swiftness and smoothness and a brutish
noise, and uses the flute and the lyre not as the mere
accompaniments of the dance and song, is exceedingly coarse and
tasteless. The use of either instrument, when unaccompanied,
leads to every sort of irregularity and trickery. This is all
rational enough. But we are considering not how our choristers,
who are from thirty to fifty years of age, and may be over fifty,
are not to use the Muses, but how they are to use them. And the
considerations which we have urged seem to show in what way these
fifty year-old choristers who are to sing, may be expected to be
better trained. For they need to have a quick perception and
knowledge of harmonies and rhythms; otherwise, how can they ever
know whether a melody would be rightly sung to the Dorian mode,
or to the rhythm which the poet has assigned to it?
[Cle.] Clearly they cannot.
[Ath.] The many are ridiculous in imagining that they know
what is in proper harmony and rhythm, and what is not, when they
can only be made to sing and step in rhythm by force; it never
occurs to them that they are ignorant of what they are doing. Now
every melody is right when it has suitable harmony and rhythm,
and wrong when unsuitable.
[Cle.] That is most certain.
[Ath.] But can a man who does not know a thing, as we were
saying, know that the thing is right?
[Ath.] Then now, as would appear, we are making the discovery
that our newly-appointed choristers, whom we hereby invite and,
although they are their own masters, compel to sing, must be
educated to such an extent as to be able to follow the steps of
the rhythm and the notes of the song, that they may know the
harmonies and rhythms, and be able to select what are suitable
for men of their age and character to sing; and may sing them,
and have innocent pleasure from their own performance, and also
lead younger men to welcome with dutiful delight good
dispositions. Having such training, they will attain a more
accurate knowledge than falls to the lot of the common people, or
even of the poets themselves. For the poet need not know the
third point, viz., whether the imitation is good or not, though
he can hardly help knowing the laws of melody and rhythm. But the
aged chorus must know all the three, that they may choose the
best, and that which is nearest to the best; for otherwise they
will never be able to charm the souls of young men in the way of
virtue. And now the original design of the argument which was
intended to bring eloquent aid to the Chorus of Dionysus, has
been accomplished to the best of our ability, and let us see
whether we were right:-I should imagine that a drinking assembly
is likely to become more and more tumultuous as the drinking goes
on: this, as we were saying at first, will certainly be the case.
[Ath.] Every man has a more than natural elevation; his heart
is glad within him, and he will say anything and will be
restrained by nobody at such a time; he fancies that he is able
to rule over himself and all mankind.
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] Were we not saying that on such occasions the souls of
the drinkers become like iron heated in the fire, and grow softer
and younger, and are easily moulded by him who knows how to
educate and fashion them, just as when they were young, and that
this fashioner of them is the same who prescribed for them in the
days of their youth, viz., the good legislator; and that he ought
to enact laws of the banquet, which, when a man is confident,
bold, and impudent, and unwilling to wait his turn and have his
share of silence and speech, and drinking and music, will change
his character into the opposite-such laws as will infuse into him
a just and noble fear, which will take up arms at the approach of
insolence, being that divine fear which we have called reverence
[Ath.] And the guardians of these laws and fellow-workers with
them are the calm and sober generals of the drinkers; and without
their help there is greater difficulty in fighting against drink
than in fighting against enemies when the commander of an army is
not himself calm; and he who is unwilling to obey them and the
commanders of Dionysiac feasts who are more than sixty years of
age, shall suffer a disgrace as great as he who disobeys military
leaders, or even greater.
[Ath.] If, then, drinking and amusement were regulated in this
way, would not the companions of our revels be improved? they
would part better friends than they were, and not, as now enemies.
Their whole intercourse would be regulated by law and observant
of it, and the sober would be the leaders of the drunken.
[Cle.] I think so too, if drinking were regulated as you
[Ath.] Let us not then simply censure the gift of Dionysus as
bad and unfit to be received into the State. For wine has many
excellences, and one pre-eminent one, about which there is a
difficulty in speaking to the many, from a fear of their
misconceiving and misunderstanding what is said.
[Cle.] To what do you refer?
[Ath.] There is a tradition or story, which has somehow crept
about the world, that Dionysus was robbed of his wits by his
stepmother Here, and that out of revenge he inspires Bacchic
furies and dancing madnesses in others; for which reason he gave
men wine. Such traditions concerning the Gods I leave to those
who think that they may be safely uttered; I only know that no
animal at birth is mature or perfect in intelligence; and in the
intermediate period, in which he has not yet acquired his own
proper sense, he rages and roars without rhyme or reason; and
when he has once got on his legs he jumps about without rhyme or
reason; and this, as you will remember, has been already said by
us to be the origin of music and gymnastic.
[Cle.] To be sure, I remember.
[Ath.] And did we not say that the sense of harmony and rhythm
sprang from this beginning among men, and that Apollo and the
Muses and Dionysus were the Gods whom we had to thank for them?
[Ath.] The other story implied that wine was given man out of
revenge, and in order to make him mad; but our present doctrine,
on the contrary, is, that wine was given him as a balm, and in
order to implant modesty in the soul, and health and strength in
[Cle.] That, Stranger, is precisely what was said.
[Ath.] Then half the subject may now be considered to have
been discussed; shall we proceed to the consideration of the
[Cle.] What is the other half, and how do you divide the
[Ath.] The whole choral art is also in our view the whole of
education; and of this art, rhythms and harmonies form the part
which has to do with the voice.
[Ath.] The movement of the body has rhythm in common with the
movement of the voice, but gesture is peculiar to it, whereas
song is simply the movement of the voice.
[Cle.] Most true.
[Ath.] And the sound of the voice which reaches and educates
the soul, we have ventured to term music.
[Cle.] We were right.
[Ath.] And the movement of the body, when regarded as an
amusement, we termed dancing; but when extended and pursued with
a view to the excellence of the body, this scientific training
may be called gymnastic.
[Ath.] Music, which was one half of the choral art, may be
said to have been completely discussed. Shall we proceed to the
other half or not? What would you like?
[Cle.] My good friend, when you are talking with a Cretan and
Lacedaemonian, and we have discussed music and not gymnastic,
what answer are either of us likely to make to such an enquiry?
[Ath.] An answer is contained in your question; and I
understand and accept what you say not only as an answer, but
also as a command to proceed with gymnastic.
[Cle.] You quite understand me; do as you say.
[Ath.] I will; and there will not be any difficulty in
speaking intelligibly to you about a subject with which both of
you are far more familiar than with music.
[Cle.] There will not.
[Ath.] Is not the origin of gymnastics, too, to be sought in
the tendency to rapid motion which exists in all animals; man, as
we were saying, having attained the sense of rhythm, created and
invented dancing; and melody arousing and awakening rhythm, both
united formed the choral art?
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] And one part of this subject has been already discussed
by us, and there still remains another to be discussed?
[Ath.] I have first a final word to add to my discourse about
drink, if you will allow me to do so.
[Cle.] What more have you to say?
[Ath.] I should say that if a city seriously means to adopt
the practice of drinking under due regulation and with a view to
the enforcement of temperance, and in like manner, and on the
same principle, will allow of other pleasures, designing to gain
the victory over them in this way all of them may be used. But if
the State makes drinking an amusement only, and whoever likes may
drink whenever he likes, and with whom he likes, and add to this
any other indulgences, I shall never agree or allow that this
city or this man should practise drinking. I would go further
than the Cretans and Lacedaemonians, and am disposed rather to
the law of the Carthaginians, that no one while he is on a
campaign should be allowed to taste wine at all, but that he
should drink water during all that time, and that in the city no
slave, male or female, should ever drink wine; and that no
magistrates should drink during their year of office, nor should
pilots of vessels or judges while on duty taste wine at all, nor
any one who is going to hold a consultation about any matter of
importance; nor in the daytime at all, unless in consequence of
exercise or as medicine; nor again at night, when any one, either
man or woman, is minded to get children. There are numberless
other cases also in which those who have good sense and good laws
ought not to drink wine, so that if what I say is true, no city
will need many vineyards. Their husbandry and their way of life
in general will follow an appointed order, and their cultivation
of the vine will be the most limited and the least common of
their employments. And this, Stranger, shall be the crown of my
discourse about wine, if you agree.
[Cle.] Excellent: we agree.
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