translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
An ATHENIAN STRANGER;
CLEINIAS, a Cretan;
MEGILLUS, a Lacedaemonian
[Athenian Stranger] And now, assuming children of both sexes
to have been born, it will be proper for us to consider, in the
next place, their nurture and education; this cannot be left
altogether unnoticed, and yet may be thought a subject fitted
rather for precept and admonition than for law. In private life
there are many little things, not always apparent, arising out of
the pleasures and pains and desires of individuals, which run
counter to the intention of the legislator, and make the
characters of the citizens various and dissimilar:-this is an
evil in states; for by reason of their smallness and frequent
occurrence, there would be an unseemliness and want of propriety
in making them penal by law; and if made penal, they are the
destruction of the written law because mankind get the habit of
frequently transgressing the law in small matters. The result is
that you cannot legislate about them, and still less can you be
silent. I speak somewhat darkly, but I shall endeavour also to
bring my wares into the light of day, for I acknowledge that at
present there is a want of clearness in what I am saying.
[Cleinias] Very true.
[Ath.] Am I not right in maintaining that a good education is
that which tends most, to the improvement of mind and body?
[Ath.] And nothing can be plainer than that the fairest bodies
are those which grow up from infancy in the best and straightest
[Ath.] And do we not further observe that the first shoot of
every living thing is by far the greatest and fullest? Many will
even contend that a man at twenty-five does not reach twice the
height which he attained at five.
[Ath.] Well, and is not rapid growth without proper and
abundant exercise the source endless evils in the body?
[Ath.] And the body should have the most exercise when it
receives most nourishment?
[Cle.] But, Stranger, are we to impose this great amount of
exercise upon newly-born infants?
[Ath.] Nay, rather on the bodies of infants still unborn.
[Cle.] What do you mean, my good sir? In the process of
[Ath.] Exactly. I am not at all surprised that you have never
heard of this very peculiar sort of gymnastic applied to such
little creatures, which, although strange, I will endeavour to
explain to you.
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] The practice is more easy for us to understand than for
you, by reason of certain amusements which are carried to excess
by us at Athens. Not only boys, but often older persons, are in
the habit of keeping quails and cocks, which they train to fight
one another. And they are far from thinking that the contests in
which they stir them up to fight with one another are sufficient
exercise; for, in addition to this, they carry them about tucked
beneath their armpits, holding the smaller birds in their hands,
the larger under their arms, and go for a walk of a great many
miles for the sake of health, that is to say, not their own,
health, but the health of the birds; whereby they prove to any
intelligent person, that all bodies are benefited by shakings and
movements, when they are moved without weariness, whether motion
proceeds from themselves, or is caused by a swing, or at sea, or
on horseback, or by other bodies in whatever way moving, and that
thus gaining the mastery over food and drink, they are able to
impart beauty and health and strength. But admitting all this,
what follows? Shall we make a ridiculous law that the pregnant
woman shall walk about and fashion the embryo within as we
fashion wax before it hardens, and after birth swathe the infant
for two years? Suppose that we compel nurses, under penalty of a
legal fine, to be always carrying the children somewhere or
other, either to the temples, or into the country, or to their
relations, houses, until they are well able to stand, and to take
care that their limbs are not distorted by leaning on them when
they are too young-they should continue to carry them until the
infant has completed its third year; the nurses should be strong,
and there should be more than one of them. Shall these be our
rules, and shall we impose a penalty for the neglect of them? No,
no; the penalty of which we were speaking will fall upon our own
heads more than enough.
[Cle.] What penalty?
[Ath.] Ridicule, and the difficulty of getting the feminine
and servant-like dispositions of the nurses to comply.
[Cle.] Then why was there any need to speak of the matter at
[Ath.] The reason is that masters and freemen in states, when
they hear of it, are very likely to arrive at a true conviction
that without due regulation of private life in cities, stability
in the laying down of laws is hardly to be expected; and he who
makes this reflection may himself adopt the laws just now
mentioned, and, adopting them, may order his house and state well
and be happy.
[Cle.] Likely enough.
[Ath.] And therefore let us proceed with our legislation until
we have determined the exercises which are suited to the souls of
young children, in the same manner in which we have begun to go
through the rules relating to their bodies.
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] Let us assume, then, as a first principle in relation
both to the body and soul of very young creatures, that nursing
and moving about by day and night is good for them all, and that
the younger they are, the more they will need it; infants should
live, if that were possible, as if they were always rocking at
sea. This is the lesson which we may gather from the experience
of nurses, and likewise from the use of the remedy of motion in
the rites of the Corybantes; for when mothers want their restless
children to go to sleep they do not employ rest, but, on the
contrary, motion-rocking them in their arms; nor do they give
them silence, but they sing to them and lap them in sweet
strains; and the Bacchic women are cured of their frenzy in the
same manner by the use of the dance and of music.
[Cle.] Well, Stranger, and what is the reason of this?
[Ath.] The reason is obvious.
[Ath.] The affection both of the Bacchantes and of the
children is an emotion of fear, which springs out of an evil
habit of the soul. And when some one applies external agitation
to affections of this sort, the motion coming from without gets
the better of the terrible and violent internal one, and produces
a peace and calm in the soul, and quiets the restless palpitation
of the heart, which is a thing much to be desired, sending the
children to sleep, and making the Bacchantes, although they
remain awake, to dance to the pipe with the help of the Gods to
whom they offer acceptable sacrifices, and producing in them a
sound mind, which takes the place of their frenzy. And, to
express what I mean in a word, there is a good deal to be said in
favour of this treatment.
[Ath.] But if fear has such a power we ought to infer from
these facts, that every soul which from youth upward has been
familiar with fears, will be made more liable to fear, and every
one will allow that this is the way to form a habit of cowardice
and not of courage.
[Cle.] No doubt.
[Ath.] And, on the other hand, the habit of overcoming, from
our youth upwards, the fears and terrors which beset us, may be
said to be an exercise of courage.
[Ath.] And we may say that the use of exercise and motion in
the earliest years of life greatly contributes to create a part
of virtue in the soul.
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] Further, a cheerful temper, or the reverse, may be
regarded as having much to do with high spirit on the one hand,
or with cowardice on the other.
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] Then now we must endeavour to show how and to what
extent we may, if we please, without difficulty implant either
character in the young.
[Ath.] There is a common opinion, that luxury makes the
disposition of youth discontented and irascible and vehemently
excited by trifles; that on the other hand excessive and savage
servitude makes men mean and abject, and haters of their kind,
and therefore makes them undesirable associates.
[Cle.] But how must the state educate those who do not as yet
understand the language of the country, and are therefore
incapable of appreciating any sort of instruction?
[Ath.] I will tell you how:-Every animal that is born is wont
to utter some cry, and this is especially the case with man, and
he is also affected with the inclination to weep more than any
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] Do not nurses, when they want to know what an infant
desires, judge by these signs?-when anything is brought to the
infant and he is silent, then he is supposed to be pleased, but,
when he weeps and cries out, then he is not pleased. For tears
and cries are the inauspicious signs by which children show what
they love and hate. Now the time which is thus spent is no less
than three years, and is a very considerable portion of life to
be passed ill or well.
[Ath.] Does not the discontented and ungracious nature appear
to you to be full of lamentations and sorrows more than a good
man ought to be?
[Ath.] Well, but if during these three years every possible
care were taken that our nursling should have as little of sorrow
and fear, and in general of pain as was possible, might we not
expect in early childhood to make his soul more gentle and
[Cle.] To be sure, Stranger-more especially if we could
procure him a variety of pleasures.
[Ath.] There I can no longer agree, Cleinias: you amaze me. To
bring him up in such a way would be his utter ruin; for the
beginning is always the most critical part of education. Let us
see whether I am right.
[Ath.] The point about which you and I differ is of great
importance, and I hope that you, Megillus, will help to decide
between us. For I maintain that the true life should neither seek
for pleasures, nor, on the other hand, entirely avoid pains, but
should embrace the middle state, which I just spoke of as gentle
and benign, and is a state which we by some divine presage and
inspiration rightly ascribe to God. Now, I say, he among men,
too, who would be divine ought to pursue after this mean habit-he
should not rush headlong into pleasures, for he will not be free
from pains; nor should we allow any one, young or old, male or
female, to be thus given any more than ourselves, and least of
all the newly-born infant, for in infancy more than at any other
time the character is engrained by habit. Nay, more, if I were
not afraid of appearing to be ridiculous, I would say that a
woman during her year of pregnancy should of all women be most
carefully tended, and kept from violent or excessive pleasures
and pains, and should at that time cultivate gentleness and
benevolence and kindness.
[Cle.] You need not, ask Megillus, Stranger, which of us has
most truly spoken; for I myself agree that all men ought to avoid
the life of unmingled pain or pleasure, and pursue always a
middle course. And having spoken well, may I add that you have
been well answered?
[Ath.] Very good, Cleinias; and now let us all three consider
a further point.
[Cle.] What is it?
[Ath.] That all the matters which we are now describing are
commonly called by the general name of unwritten customs, and
what are termed the laws of our ancestors are all of similar
nature. And the reflection which lately arose in our minds, that
we can neither call these things laws, nor yet leave them
unmentioned, is justified; for they are the bonds of the whole
state, and come in between the written laws which are or are
hereafter to be laid down; they are just ancestral customs of
great antiquity, which, if they are rightly ordered and made
habitual, shield and preserve the previously existing written
law; but if they depart from right and fall into disorder, then
they are like the props of builders which slip away out of their
Place and cause a universal ruin-one part drags another down, and
the fair super-structure falls because the old foundations are
undermined. Reflecting upon this, Cleinias, you ought to bind
together the new state in every possible way, omitting nothing,
whether great or small, of what are called laws or manners or
pursuits, for by these means a city is bound together, and all
these things are only lasting when they depend upon one another;
and, therefore, we must not wonder if we find that many
apparently trifling customs or usages come pouring in and
lengthening out our laws.
[Cle.] Very true: we are disposed to agree with you.
[Ath.] Up to the age of three years, whether of boy or girl,
if a person strictly carries out our previous regulations and
makes them a principal aim, he will do much for the advantage of
the young creatures. But at three, four, five, and even six years
the childish nature will require sports; now is the time to get
rid of self-will in him, punishing him, but not so as to disgrace
him. We were saying about slaves, that we ought neither to add
insult to punishment so as to anger them, nor yet to leave them
unpunished lest they become self-willed; and a like rule is to be
observed in the case of the free-born. Children at that age have
certain natural modes of amusement which they find out for
themselves when they meet. And all the children who are between
the ages of three and six ought to meet at the temples the
villages, the several families of a village uniting on one spot.
The nurses are to see that the children behave properly and
orderly-they themselves and all their companies are to be under
the control of twelve matrons, one for each company, who are
annually selected to inspect them from the women previously
mentioned, [i.e., the women who have authority over marriage],
whom the guardians of the law appoint. These matrons shall be
chosen by the women who have authority over marriage, one out of
each tribe; all are to be of the same age; and let each of them,
as soon as she is appointed, hold office and go to the temples
every day, punishing all offenders, male or female, who are
slaves or strangers, by the help of some of the public slaves;
but if any citizen disputes the punishment, let her bring him
before the wardens of the city; or, if there be no dispute, let
her punish him herself. After the age of six years the time has
arrived for the separation of the sexes-let boys live with boys,
and girls in like manner with girls. Now they must begin to learn-the
boys going to teachers of horsemanship and the use of the bow,
the javelin, and sling, and the girls too, if they do not object,
at any rate until they know how to manage these weapons, and
especially how to handle heavy arms; for I may note, that the
practice which now prevails is almost universally misunderstood.
[Cle.] In what respect?
[Ath.] In that the right and left hand are supposed to be by
nature differently suited for our various uses of them; whereas
no difference is found in the use of the feet and the lower
limbs; but in the use of the hands we are, as it were, maimed by
the folly of nurses and mothers; for although our several limbs
are by nature balanced, we create a difference in them by bad
habit. In some cases this is of no consequence, as, for example,
when we hold the lyre in the left hand, and the plectrum in the
right, but it is downright folly to make the same distinction in
other cases. The custom of the Scythians proves our error; for
they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw
the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both
purposes. And there are many similar examples in charioteering
and other things, from which we may learn that those who make the
left side weaker than the right act contrary to nature. In the
case of the plectrum, which is of horn only, and similar
instruments, as I was saying, it is of no consequence, but makes
a great difference, and may be of very great importance to the
warrior who has to use iron weapons, bows and javelins, and the
like; above all, when in heavy armour, he has to fight against
heavy armour. And there is a very great difference between one
who has learnt and one who has not, and between one who has been
trained in gymnastic exercises and one who has not been. For as
he who is perfectly skilled in the Pancratium or boxing or
wrestling, is not unable to fight from his left side, and does
not limp and draggle in confusion when his opponent makes him
change his position, so in heavy-armed fighting, and in all other
things if I am not mistaken, the like holds-he who has these
double powers of attack and defence ought not in any case to
leave them either unused or untrained, if he can help; and if a
person had the nature of Geryon or Briareus he ought to be able
with his hundred hands to throw a hundred darts. Now, the
magistrates, male and female, should see to all these things, the
women superintending the nursing and amusements of the children,
and the men superintending their education, that all of them,
boys and girls alike, may be sound hand and foot, and may not, if
they can help, spoil the gifts of nature by bad habits.
Education has two branches-one of gymnastic, which is
concerned with the body, and the other of music, which is
designed for the improvement of the soul. And gymnastic has also
two branches-dancing and wrestling; and one sort of dancing
imitates musical recitation, and aims at preserving dignity and
freedom, the other aims at producing health, agility, and beauty
in the limbs and parts of the body, giving the proper flexion and
extension to each of them, a harmonious motion being diffused
everywhere, and forming a suitable accompaniment to the dance. As
regards wrestling, the tricks which Antaeus and Cercyon devised
in their systems out of a vain spirit of competition, or the
tricks of boxing which Epeius or Amycus invented, are useless and
unsuitable for war, and do not deserve to have much said about
them; but the art of wrestling erect and keeping free the neck
and hands and sides, working with energy and constancy, with a
composed strength, and for the sake of health-these are always
useful, and are not to be neglected, but to be enjoined alike on
masters and scholars, when we reach that part of legislation; and
we will desire the one to give their instructions freely, and the
others to receive them thankfully. Nor, again, must we omit
suitable imitations of war in our choruses; here in Crete you
have the armed dances if the Curetes, and the Lacedaemonians have
those of the Dioscuri. And our virgin lady, delighting in the
amusement of the dance, thought it not fit to amuse herself with
empty hands; she must be clothed in a complete suit of armour,
and in this attire go through the dance; and youths and maidens
should in every respect imitate her, esteeming highly the favour
of the Goddess, both with a view to the necessities of war, and
to festive occasions: it will be right also for the boys, until
such time as they go out to war, to make processions and
supplications to all the Gods in goodly array, armed and on
horseback, in dances, and marches, fast or slow, offering up
prayers to the Gods and to the sons of Gods; and also engaging in
contests and preludes of contests, if at all, with these objects:
For these sorts of exercises, and no others, are useful both in
peace and war, and are beneficial alike to states and to private
houses. But other labours and sports and exercises of the body
are unworthy of freemen, O Megillus and Cleinias.
I have now completely described the kind of gymnastic which I
said at first ought to be described; if you know of any better,
will you communicate your thoughts?
[Cle.] It is not easy, Stranger, to put aside these principles
of gymnastic and wrestling and to enunciate better ones.
[Ath.] Now we must say what has yet to be said about the gifts
of the Muses and of Apollo: before, we fancied that we had said
all, and that gymnastic alone remained; but now we see clearly
what points have been omitted, and should be first proclaimed; of
these, then, let us proceed to speak.
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] Let me tell you once more-although you have heard me
say the same before that caution must be always exercised, both
by the speaker and by the hearer, about anything that is very
singular and unusual. For my tale is one, which many a man would
be afraid to tell, and yet I have a confidence which makes me go
[Cle.] What have you to say, Stranger?
[Ath.] I say that in states generally no one has observed that
the plays of childhood have a great deal to do with the
permanence or want of permanence in legislation. For when plays
are ordered with a view to children having the same plays, and
amusing themselves after the same manner, and finding delight in
the same playthings, the more solemn institutions of the state
are allowed to remain undisturbed. Whereas if sports are
disturbed, and innovations are made in them, and they constantly
change, and the young never speak of their having the same
likings, or the same established notions of good and bad taste,
either in the bearing of their bodies or in their dress, but he
who devises something new and out of the way in figures and
colours and the like is held in special honour, we may truly say
that no greater evil can happen in a state; for he who changes
the sports is secretly changing the manners of the young, and
making the old to be dishonoured among them and the new to be
honoured. And I affirm that there is nothing which is a greater
injury to all states than saying or thinking thus. Will you hear
me tell how great I deem the evil to be?
[Cle.] You mean the evil of blaming antiquity in states?
[Cle.] If you are speaking of that, you will find in us
hearers who are disposed to receive what you say not unfavourably
but most favourably.
[Ath.] I should expect so.
[Ath.] Well, then, let us give all the greater heed to one
another's words. The argument affirms that any change whatever
except from evil is the most dangerous of all things; this is
true in the case of the seasons and of the winds, in the
management of our bodies and the habits of our minds-true of all
things except, as I said before, of the bad. He who looks at the
constitution of individuals accustomed to eat any sort of meat,
or drink any drink, or to do any work which they can get, may see
that they are at first disordered by them, but afterwards, as
time goes on, their bodies grow adapted to them, and they learn
to know and like variety, and have good health and enjoyment of
life; and if ever afterwards they are confined again to a
superior diet, at first they are troubled with disorders, and
with difficulty become habituated to their new food. A similar
principle we may imagine to hold good about the minds of men and
the natures of their souls. For when they have been brought up in
certain laws, which by some Divine Providence have remained
unchanged during long ages, so that no one has any memory or
tradition of their ever having been otherwise than they are, then
every one is afraid and ashamed to change that which is
established. The legislator must somehow find a way of implanting
this reverence for antiquity, and I would propose the following
way:-People are apt to fancy, as I was saying before, that when
the plays of children are altered they are merely plays, not
seeing that the most serious and detrimental consequences arise
out of the change; and they readily comply with the child's
wishes instead of deterring him, not considering that these
children who make innovations in their games, when they grow up
to be men, will be different from the last generation of
children, and, being different, will desire a different sort of
life, and under the influence of this desire will want other
institutions and laws; and no one of them reflects that there
will follow what I just now called the greatest of evils to
states. Changes in bodily fashions are no such serious evils, but
frequent changes in the praise and censure of manners are the
greatest of evils, and require the utmost prevision.
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] And now do we still hold to our former assertion, that
rhythms and music in general are imitations of good and evil
characters in men? What say you?
[Cle.] That is the only doctrine which we can admit.
[Ath.] Must we not, then, try in every possible way to prevent
our youth from even desiring to imitate new modes either in dance
or song? nor must any one be allowed to offer them varieties of
[Cle.] Most true.
[Ath.] Can any of us imagine a better mode of effecting this
object than that of the Egyptians?
[Cle.] What is their method?
[Ath.] To consecrate every sort of dance or melody. First we
should ordain festivals-calculating for the year what they ought
to be, and at what time, and in honour of what Gods, sons of
Gods, and heroes they ought to be celebrated; and, in the next
place, what hymns ought to be sung at the several sacrifices, and
with what dances the particular festival is to be honoured. This
has to be arranged at first by certain persons, and, when
arranged, the whole assembly of the citizens are to offer
sacrifices and libations to the Fates and all the other Gods, and
to consecrate the several odes to gods and heroes: and if any one
offers any other hymns or dances to any one of the Gods, the
priests and priestesses, acting in concert with the guardians of
the law, shall, with the sanction of religion and the law,
exclude him, and he who is excluded, if he do not submit, shall
be liable all his life long to have a suit of impiety brought
against him by any one who likes.
[Cle.] Very good.
[Ath.] In the consideration of this subject, let us remember
what is due to ourselves.
[Cle.] To what are you referring?
[Ath.] I mean that any young man, and much more any old one,
when he sees or hears anything strange or unaccustomed, does not
at once run to embrace the paradox, but he stands considering,
like a person who is at a place where three paths meet, and does
not very well know his way-he may be alone or he may be walking
with others, and he will say to himself and them, "Which is
the way?" and will not move forward until he is satisfied
that he is going right. And this is what we must do in the
present instance:-A strange discussion on the subject of law has
arisen, which requires the utmost consideration, and we should
not at our age be too ready to speak about such great matters, or
be confident that we can say anything certain all in a moment.
[Cle.] Most true.
[Ath.] Then we will allow time for reflection, and decide when
we have given the subject sufficient consideration. But that we
may not be hindered from completing the natural arrangement of
our laws, let us proceed to the conclusion of them in due order;
for very possibly, if God will, the exposition of them, when
completed, may throw light on our present perplexity.
[Cle.] Excellent, Stranger; let us do as you propose.
[Ath.] Let us then affirm the paradox that strains of music
are our laws (nomoi), and this latter being the name which the
ancients gave to lyric songs, they probably would not have very
much objected to our proposed application of the word. Some one,
either asleep or awake, must have had a dreamy suspicion of their
nature. And let our decree be as follows:-No one in singing or
dancing shall offend against public and consecrated models, and
the general fashion among the youth, any more than he would
offend against any other law. And he who observes this law shall
be blameless; but he who is disobedient, as I was saying, shall
be punished by the guardians of the laws, and by the priests and
priestesses. Suppose that we imagine this to be our law.
[Cle.] Very good.
[Ath.] Can any one who makes such laws escape ridicule? Let us
see. I think that our only safety will be in first framing
certain models for composers. One of these models shall be as
follows:-If when a sacrifice is going on, and the victims are
being burnt according to law-if, I say, any one who may be a son
or brother, standing by another at the altar and over the
victims, horribly blasphemes, will not his words inspire
despondency and evil omens and forebodings in the mind of his
father and of his other kinsmen?
[Cle.] Of course.
[Ath.] And this is just what takes place in almost all our
cities. A magistrate offers a public sacrifice, and there come in
not one but many choruses, who take up a position a little way
from the altar, and from time to time pour forth all sorts of
horrible blasphemies on the sacred rites, exciting the souls of
the audience with words and rhythms and melodies most sorrowful
to hear; and he who at the moment when the city is offering
sacrifice makes the citizens weep most, carries away the palm of
victory. Now, ought we not to forbid such strains as these? And
if ever our citizens must hear such lamentations, then on some
unblest and inauspicious day let there be choruses of foreign and
hired minstrels, like those hirelings who accompany the departed
at funerals with barbarous Carian chants. That is the sort of
thing which will be appropriate if we have such strains at all;
and let the apparel of the singers be, not circlets and ornaments
of gold, but the reverse. Enough of all this. I will simply ask
once more whether we shall lay down as one of our principles of
[Ath.] That we should avoid every word of evil omen; let that
kind of song which is of good omen be heard everywhere and always
in our state. I need hardly ask again, but shall assume that you
agree with me.
[Cle.] By all means; that law is approved by the suffrages of
[Ath.] But what shall be our next musical law or type? Ought
not prayers to be offered up to the Gods when we sacrifice?
[Ath.] And our third law, if I am not mistaken, will be to the
effect that our poets, understanding prayers to be requests which
we make to the Gods, will take especial heed that they do not by
mistake ask for evil instead of good. To make such a prayer would
surely be too ridiculous.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] Were we not a little while ago quite convinced that no
silver or golden Plutus should dwell in our state?
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] And what has it been the object of our argument to
show? Did we not imply that the poets are not always quite
capable of knowing what is good or evil? And if one of them
utters a mistaken prayer in song or words, he will make our
citizens pray for the opposite of what is good in matters of the
highest import; than which, as I was saying, there can be few
greater mistakes. Shall we then propose as one of our laws and
models relating to the Muses-
[Cle.] What?-will you explain the law more precisely?
[Ath.] Shall we make a law that the poet shall compose nothing
contrary to the ideas of the lawful, or just, or beautiful, or
good, which are allowed in the state? nor shall he be permitted
to communicate his compositions to any private individuals, until
he shall have shown them to the appointed judges and the
guardians of the law, and they are satisfied with them. As to the
persons whom we appoint to be our legislators about music and as
to the director of education, these have been already indicated.
Once more then, as I have asked more than once, shall this be our
third law, and type, and model-What do you say?
[Cle.] Let it be so, by all means.
[Ath.] Then it will be proper to have hymns and praises of the
Gods, intermingled with prayers; and after the Gods prayers and
praises should be offered in like manner to demigods and heroes,
suitable to their several characters.
[Ath.] In the next place there will be no objection to a law,
that citizens who are departed and have done good and energetic
deeds, either with their souls or with their bodies, and have
been obedient to the laws, should receive eulogies; this will be
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] But to honour with hymns and panegyrics those who are
still alive is not safe; a man should run his course, and make a
fair ending, and then we will praise him; and let praise be given
equally to women as well as men who have been distinguished in
virtue. The order of songs and dances shall be as follows:-There
are many ancient musical compositions and dances which are
excellent, and from these the newly-founded city may freely
select what is proper and suitable; and they shall choose judges
of not less than fifty years of age, who shall make the
selection, and any of the old poems which they deem sufficient
they shall include; any that are deficient or altogether
unsuitable, they shall either utterly throw aside, or examine and
amend, taking into their counsel poets and musicians, and making
use of their poetical genius; but explaining to them the wishes
of the legislator in order that they may regulate dancing, music,
and all choral strains, according to the mind of the judges; and
not allowing them to indulge, except in some few matters, their
individual pleasures and fancies. Now the irregular strain of
music is always made ten thousand times better by attaining to
law and order, and rejecting the honeyed Muse-not however that we
mean wholly to exclude pleasure, which is the characteristic of
all music. And if a man be brought up from childhood to the age
of discretion and maturity in the use of the orderly and severe
music, when he hears the opposite he detests it, and calls it
illiberal; but if trained in the sweet and vulgar music, he deems
the severer kind cold and displeasing. So that, as I was saying
before, while he who hears them gains no more pleasure from the
one than from the other, the one has the advantage of making
those who are trained in it better men, whereas the other makes
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] Again, we must distinguish and determine on some
general principle what songs are suitable to women, and what to
men, and must assign to them their proper melodies and rhythms.
It is shocking for a whole harmony to be inharmonical, or for a
rhythm to be unrhythmical, and this will happen when the melody
is inappropriate to them. And therefore the legislator must
assign to these also their forms. Now both sexes have melodies
and rhythms which of necessity belong to them; and those of women
are clearly enough indicated by their natural difference. The
grand, and that which tends to courage, may be fairly called
manly; but that which inclines to moderation and temperance, may
be declared both in law and in ordinary speech to be the more
womanly quality. This, then, will be the general order of them.
Let us now speak of the manner of teaching and imparting them,
and the persons to whom, and the time when, they are severally to
be imparted. As the shipwright first lays down the lines of the
keel, and thus, as it were, draws the ship in outline, so do I
seek to distinguish the patterns of life, and lay down their
keels according to the nature of different men's souls; seeking
truly to consider by what means, and in what ways, we may go
through the voyage of life best. Now human affairs are hardly
worth considering in earnest, and yet we must be in earnest about
them-a sad necessity constrains us. And having got thus far,
there will be a fitness in our completing the matter, if we can
only find some suitable method of doing so. But what do I mean?
Some one may ask this very question, and quite rightly, too.
[Ath.] I say that about serious matters a man should be
serious, and about a matter which is not serious he should not
be, serious; and that God is the natural and worthy object of our
most serious and blessed endeavours, for man, as I said before,
is made to be the plaything of God, and this, truly considered,
is the best of him; wherefore also every man and woman should
walk seriously, and pass life in the noblest of pastimes, and be
of another mind from what they are at present.
[Cle.] In what respect?
[Ath.] At present they think that their serious suits should
be for the sake of their sports, for they deem war a serious.
pursuit, which must be managed well for the sake of peace; but
the truth is, that there neither is, nor has been, nor ever will
be, either amusement or instruction in any degree worth, speaking
of in war, which is nevertheless deemed by us to be the most
serious of our pursuits. And therefore, as we say, every one of
us should live the life of peace as long and as well as he can.
And what is the right way of living? Are we to live in sports
always? If so, in what kind of sports? We ought to live
sacrificing, and singing, and dancing, and then a man will be
able to propitiate the Gods, and to defend himself against his
enemies and conquer them in battle. The type of song or dance by
which he will propitiate them has been described, and the paths
along which he is to proceed have been cut for him. He will go
forward in the spirit of the poet: Telemachus, some things thou
wilt thyself find in thy heart, but other things God will
suggest; for I deem that thou wast not brought up without the
will of the Gods. And this ought to be the view of our alumni;
they ought to think that what has been said is enough for them,
and that any other things their Genius and God will suggest to
them-he will tell them to whom, and when, and to what Gods
severally they are to sacrifice and perform dances, and how they
may propitiate the deities, and live according to the appointment
of nature; being for the most part puppets, but having some
little share of reality.
[Megillus] You have a low opinion of mankind, Stranger.
[Ath.] Nay, Megillus, be not amazed, but forgive me:-I was
comparing them with the Gods; and under that feeling I spoke. Let
us grant, if you wish, that the human race is not to be despised,
but is worthy of some consideration.
Next follow the buildings for gymnasia and schools open to
all; these are to be in three places in the midst of the city;
and outside the city and in the surrounding country, also in
three places, there shall be schools for horse exercise, and
large grounds arranged with a view to archery and the throwing of
missiles, at which young men may learn and practise. Of these
mention has already been made, and if the mention be not
sufficiently explicit, let us speak, further of them and embody
them in laws. In these several schools let there be dwellings for
teachers, who shall be brought from foreign parts by pay, and let
them teach those who attend the schools the art of war and the
art of music, and the children shall come not only if their
parents please, but if they do not please; there shall be
compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far
this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging
to the state rather than to their parents. My law would apply to
females as well as males; they shall both go through the same
exercises. I assert without fear of contradiction that gymnastic
and horsemanship are as suitable to women as to men. Of the truth
of this I am persuaded from ancient tradition, and at the present
day there are said to be countless myriads of women in the
neighbourhood of the Black Sea, called Sauromatides, who not only
ride on horseback like men, but have enjoined upon them the use
of bows and other weapons equally with the men. And I further
affirm, that if these things are possible, nothing can be more
absurd than the practice which prevails in our own country, of
men and women not following the same pursuits with all their
strength and with one mind, for thus the state, instead of being
a whole, is reduced to a half, but has the same imposts to pay
and the same toils to undergo; and what can be a greater mistake
for any legislator to make than this?
[Cle.] Very true; yet much of what has been asserted by us,
Stranger is contrary to the custom of states; still, in saying
that the discourse should be allowed to proceed, and that when
the discussion is completed, we should choose what seems best,
you spoke very properly, and I now feel compunction for what I
have said. Tell me, then, what you would next wish to say.
[Ath.] I should wish to say, Cleinias, as I said before, that
if the possibility of these things were not sufficiently proven
in fact, then there might be an objection to the argument, but
the fact being as I have said, he who rejects the law must find
some other ground of objection; and, failing this, our
exhortation will still hold good, nor will any one deny that
women ought to share as far as possible in education and in other
ways with men. For consider;-if women do not share in their whole
life with men, then they must have some other order of life.
[Ath.] And what arrangement of life to be found anywhere is
preferable to this community which we are now assigning to them?
Shall we prefer that which is adopted by the Thracians and many
other races who use their women to till the ground and to be
shepherds of their herds and flocks, and to minister to them like
slaves?-Or shall we do as we and people in our part of the world
do-getting together, as the phrase is, all our goods and chattels
into one dwelling, we entrust them to our women, who are the
stewards of them, and who also preside over the shuttles and the
whole art of spinning? Or shall we take a middle course, in
Lacedaemon, Megillus-letting the girls share in gymnastic and
music, while the grown-up women, no longer employed in spinning
wool, are hard at work weaving the web of life, which will be no
cheap or mean employment, and in the duty of serving and taking
care of the household and bringing up children, in which they
will observe a sort of mean, not participating in the toils of
war; and if there were any necessity that they should fight for
their city and families, unlike the Amazons, they would be unable
to take part in archery or any other skilled use of missiles, nor
could they, after the example of the Goddess, carry shield or
spear, or stand up nobly for their country when it was being
destroyed, and strike terror into their enemies, if only because
they were seen in regular order? Living as they do, they would
never dare at all to imitate the Sauromatides, who, when compared
with ordinary women, would appear to be like men. Let him who
will, praise your legislators, but I must say what I think. The
legislator ought to be whole and perfect, and not half a man
only; he ought not to let the female sex live softly and waste
money and have no order of life, while he takes the utmost care
of the male sex, and leaves half of life only blest with
happiness, when he might have made the whole state happy.
[Meg.] What shall we do, Cleinias? Shall we allow a stranger
to run down Sparta in this fashion?
[Cle.] Yes; for as we have given him liberty of speech we must
let him go on until we have perfected the work of legislation.
[Meg.] Very true.
[Ath.] Then now I may proceed?
[Cle.] By all means.
[Ath.] What will be the manner of life among men who may be
supposed to have their food and clothing provided for them in
moderation, and who have entrusted the practice of the arts to
others, and whose husbandry, committed to slaves paying a part of
the produce, brings them a return sufficient for men living
temperately; who, moreover, have common tables in which the men
are placed apart, and near them are the common tables of their
families, of their daughters and mothers, which day by day, the
officers, male and female, are to inspect-they shall see to the
behaviour of the company, and so dismiss them; after which the
presiding magistrate and his attendants shall honour with
libations those Gods to whom that day and night are dedicated,
and then go home? To men whose lives are thus ordered, is there
no work remaining to be done which is necessary and fitting, but
shall each one of them live fattening like a beast? Such a life
is neither just nor honourable, nor can he who lives it fail of
meeting his due; and the due reward of the idle fatted beast is
that he should be torn in pieces by some other valiant beast
whose fatness is worn down by brave deeds and toil. These
regulations, if we duly consider them, will never be exactly
carried into execution under present circumstances, nor as long
as women and children and houses and all other things are the
private property of individuals; but if we can attain the second-best
form of polity, we shall be very well off. And to men living
under this second polity there remains a work to be accomplished
which is far from being small or insignificant, but is the
greatest of all works, and ordained by the appointment of
righteous law. For the life which may be truly said to be
concerned with the virtue of body and soul is twice, or more than
twice, as full of toil and trouble as the pursuit after Pythian
and Olympic victories, which debars a man from every employment
of life. For there ought to be no bye-work interfering with the
greater work of providing the necessary exercise and nourishment
for the body, and instruction and education for the soul. Night
and day are not long enough for the accomplishment of their
perfection and consummation; and therefore to this end all
freemen ought to arrange the way in which they will spend their
time during the whole course of the day, from morning till
evening and from evening till the morning of the next sunrise.
There may seem to be some impropriety in the legislator
determining minutely the numberless details of the management of
the house, including such particulars as the duty of wakefulness
in those who are to be perpetual watchmen of the whole city; for
that any citizen should continue during the whole of any night in
sleep, instead of being seen by all his servants, always the
first to awake and get up-this, whether the regulation is to be
called a law or only a practice, should be deemed base and
unworthy of a freeman; also that the mistress of the house should
be awakened by her handmaidens instead of herself first awakening
them, is what the slaves, male and female, and the serving-boys,
and, if that were possible, everybody and everything in the house
should regard as base. If they rise early, they may all of them
do much of their public and of their household business, as
magistrates in the city, and masters and mistresses in their
private houses, before the sun is up. Much sleep is not required
by nature, either for our souls or bodies, or for the actions
which they perform. For no one who is asleep is good for
anything, any more than if he were dead; but he of us who has the
most regard for life and reason keeps awake as long he can,
reserving only so much time for sleep as is expedient for health;
and much sleep is not required, if the habit of moderation be
once rightly formed. Magistrates in states who keep awake at
night are terrible to the bad, whether enemies or citizens, and
are honoured and reverenced by the just and temperate, and are
useful to themselves and to the whole state.
A night which is passed in such a manner, in addition to all
the above-mentioned advantages, infuses a sort of courage into
the minds of the citizens. When the day breaks, the time has
arrived for youth to go to their schoolmasters. Now neither sheep
nor any other animals can live without a shepherd, nor can
children be left without tutors, or slaves without masters. And
of all animals the boy is the most unmanageable, inasmuch as he
has the fountain of reason in him not yet regulated; he is the
most insidious, sharp-witted, and insubordinate of animals.
Wherefore he must be bound with many bridles; in the first place,
when he gets away from mothers and nurses, he must be under the
management of tutors on account of his childishness and
foolishness; then, again, being a freeman, he must be controlled
by teachers, no matter what they teach, and by studies; but he is
also a slave, and in that regard any freeman who comes in his way
may punish him and his tutor and his instructor, if any of them
does anything wrong; and he who comes across him and does not
inflict upon him the punishment which he deserves, shall incur
the greatest disgrace; and let the guardian of the law, who is
the director of education, see to him who coming in the way of
the offences which we have mentioned, does not chastise them when
he ought, or chastises them in a way which he ought not; let him
keep a sharp look-out, and take especial care of the training of
our children, directing their natures, and always turning them to
good according to the law.
But how can our law sufficiently train the director of
education. himself; for as yet all has been imperfect, and
nothing has been said either clear or satisfactory? Now, as far
as possible, the law ought to leave nothing to him, but to
explain everything, that he may be an interpreter and tutor to
others. About dances and music and choral strains, I have already
spoken both to the character of the selection of them, and the
manner in which they are to be amended and consecrated. But we
have not as yet spoken, O illustrious guardian of education, of
the manner in which your pupils are to use those strains which
are written in prose, although you have been informed what
martial strains they are to learn and practise; what relates in
the first place to the learning of letters, and secondly, to the
lyre, and also to calculation, which, as we were saying, is
needful for them all to learn, and any other things which are
required with a view to war and the management of house and city,
and, looking to the same object, what is useful in the
revolutions of the heavenly bodies-the stars and sun and moon,
and the various regulations about these matters which are
necessary for the whole state-I am speaking of the arrangements
of; days in periods of months, and of months in years, which are
to be observed, in order that seasons and sacrifices and
festivals may have their regular and natural order, and keep the
city alive and awake, the Gods receiving the honours due to them,
and men having a better understanding about them: all these
things, O my friend, have not yet been sufficiently declared to
you by the legislator. Attend, then, to what I am now going to
say:-We were telling you, in the first place, that you were not
sufficiently informed about letters, and the objection was to
this effect-that you were never told whether he who was meant to
be a respectable citizen should apply himself in detail to that
sort of learning, or not apply himself at all; and the same
remark holds good of the study of the lyre. But now we say that
he ought to attend to them. A fair time for a boy of ten years
old to spend in letters is three years; the age of thirteen is
the proper time for him to begin to handle the lyre, and he may
continue at this for another three years, neither more nor less,
and whether his father or himself like or dislike the study, he
is not to be allowed to spend more or less time in learning music
than the law allows. And let him who disobeys the law be deprived
of those youthful honours of which we shall hereafter speak.
Hear, however, first of all, what the young ought to learn in the
early years of life, and what their instructors ought to teach
them. They ought to be occupied with their letters until they are
to read and write; but the acquisition of perfect beauty or
quickness in writinig, if nature has not stimulated them to
acquire these accomplishments in the given number of years, they
should let alone. And as to the learning of compositions
committed to writing which are not set to the lyre, whether
metrical or without rhythmical divisions, compositions in prose,
as they are termed, having no rhythm or harmony-seeing how
dangerous are the writings handed down to us by many writers of
this class-what will you do with them, O most excellent guardians
of the law? or how can the lawgiver rightly direct you about
them? I believe that he will be in great difficulty.
[Cle.] What troubles you, Stranger? and why are you so
perplexed in your mind?
[Ath.] You naturally ask, Cleinias, and to you and Megillus,
who are my partners in the work of legislation, I must state the
more difficult as well as the easier parts of the task.
[Cle.] To what do you refer in this instance?
[Ath.] I will tell you. There is a difficulty in opposing many
myriads of mouths.
[Cle.] Well, and have we not already opposed the popular voice
in many important enactments?
[Ath.] That is quite true; and you mean to imply, that the
road which we are taking may be disagreeable to some but is
agreeable to as many others, or if not to as many, at any rate to
persons not inferior to the others, and in company with them you
bid me, at whatever risk, to proceed along the path of
legislation which has opened out of our present discourse, and to
be of good cheer, and not to faint.
[Ath.] And I do not faint; I say, indeed, that we have a great
many poets writing in hexameter, trimeter, and all sorts of
measures-some who are serious, others who aim only at raising a
laugh-and all mankind declare that the youth who are rightly
educated should be brought up in them and saturated with them;
some insist that they should be constantly hearing them read
aloud, and always learning them, so as to get by heart entire
poets; while others select choice passages and long speeches, and
make compendiums of them, saying that these ought to be committed
to memory, if a man is to be made good and wise by experience and
learning of many things. And you want me now to tell them plainly
in what they are right and in what they are wrong.
[Cle.] Yes, I do.
[Ath.] But how can I in one word rightly comprehend all of
them? I am of opinion, and, if I am not mistaken, there is a
general agreement, that every one of these poets has said many
things well and many things the reverse of well; and if this be
true, then I do affirm that much learning is dangerous to youth.
[Cle.] How would you advise the guardian of the law to act?
[Ath.] In what respect?
[Cle.] I mean to what pattern should he look as his guide in
permitting the young to learn some things and forbidding them to
learn others. Do not shrink from answering.
[Ath.] My good Cleinias, I rather think that I am fortunate.
[Cle.] How so?
[Ath.] I think that I am not wholly in want of a pattern, for
when I consider the words which we have spoken from early dawn
until now, and which, as I believe, have been inspired by Heaven,
they appear to me to be quite like a poem. When I reflected upon
all these words of ours. I naturally felt pleasure, for of all
the discourses which I have ever learnt or heard, either in
poetry or prose, this seemed to me to be the justest, and most
suitable for young men to hear; I cannot imagine any better
pattern than this which the guardian of the law who is also the
director of education can have. He cannot do better than advise
the teachers to teach the young these words and any which are of
a like nature, if he should happen to find them, either in poetry
or prose, or if he come across unwritten discourses akin to ours,
he should certainly preserve them, and commit them to writing.
And, first of all, he shall constrain the teachers themselves to
learn and approve them, and any of them who will not, shall not
be employed by him, but those whom he finds agreeing in his
judgment, he shall make use of and shall commit to them the
instruction and education of youth. And here and on this wise let
my fanciful tale about letters and teachers of letters come to an
[Cle.] I do not think, Stranger, that we have wandered out of
the proposed limits of the argument; but whether we are right or
not in our whole conception, I cannot be very certain.
[Ath.] The truth, Cleinias, may be expected to become clearer
when, as we have often said, we arrive at the end of the whole
discussion about laws.
[Ath.] And now that we have done with the teacher of letters,
the teacher of the lyre has to receive orders from us.
[Ath.] I think that we have only to recollect our previous
discussions, and we shall be able to give suitable regulations
touching all this part of instruction and education to the
teachers of the lyre.
[Cle.] To what do you refer?
[Ath.] We were saying, if I remember rightly, that the sixty-year-old
choristers of Dionysus were to be specially quick in their
perceptions of rhythm and musical composition, that they might be
able to distinguish good and bad imitation, that is to say, the
imitation of the good or bad soul when under the influence of
passion, rejecting the one and displaying the other in hymns and
songs, charming the souls of youth, and inviting them to follow
and attain virtue by the way of imitation.
[Cle.] Very true.
[Ath.] And with this view, the teacher and the learner ought
to use the sounds of the lyre, because its notes are pure, the
player who teaches and his pupil rendering note for note in
unison; but complexity, and variation of notes, when the strings
give one sound and the poet or composer of the melody gives
another-also when they make concords and harmonies in which
lesser and greater intervals, slow and quick, or high and low
notes, are combined-or, again, when they make complex variations
of rhythms, which they adapt to the notes of the lyre-all that
sort of thing is not suited to those who have to acquire a speedy
and useful knowledge of music in three years; for opposite
principles are confusing, and create a difficulty in learning,
and our young men should learn quickly, and their mere necessary
acquirements are not few or trifling, as will be shown in due
course. Let the director of education attend to the principles
concerning music which we are laying down. As to the songs and
words themselves which the masters of choruses are to teach and
the character of them, they have been already described by us,
and are the same which, when consecrated and adapted to the
different festivals, we said were to benefit cities by affording
them an innocent amusement.
[Cle.] That, again, is true.
[Ath.] Then let him who has been elected a director of music
receive these rules from us as containing the very truth; and may
he prosper in his office! Let us now proceed to lay down other
rules in addition to the preceding about dancing and gymnastic
exercise in general. Having said what remained to be said about
the teaching of music, let us speak in like manner about
gymnastic. For boys and girls ought to learn to dance and
practise gymnastic exercises-ought they not?
[Ath.] Then the boys ought to have dancing masters, and the
girls dancing mistresses to exercise them.
[Cle.] Very good.
[Ath.] Then once more let us summon him who has the chief
concern in the business, the superintendent of youth [i.e., the
director of education]; he will have plenty to do, if he is to
have the charge of music and gymnastic.
[Cle.] But how will old man be able to attend to such great
[Ath.] O my friend, there will be no difficulty, for the law
has already given and will give him permission to select as his
assistants in this charge any citizens, male or female, whom he
desires; and he will know whom he ought to choose, and will be
anxious not to make a mistake, from a due sense of
responsibility, and from a consciousness of the importance of his
office, and also because he will consider that if young men have
been and are well brought up, then all things go swimmingly, but
if not, it is not meet to say, nor do we say, what will follow,
lest the regarders of omens should take alarm about our infant
state. Many things have been said by us about dancing and about
gymnastic movements in general; for we include under gymnastics
all military exercises, such as archery, and all hurling of
weapons, and the use of the light shield, and all fighting with
heavy arms, and military evolutions, and movements of armies, and
encampings, and all that relates to horsemanship. Of all these
things there ought to be public teachers, receiving pay from the
state, and their pupils should be the men and boys in the state,
and also the girls and women, who are to know all these things.
While they are yet girls they should have practised dancing in
arms and the whole art of fighting-when grown-up women, they
should apply themselves to evolutions and tactics, and the mode
of grounding and taking up arms; if for no other reason, yet in
case the whole military force should have to leave the city and
carry on operations of war outside, that those who will have to
guard the young and the rest of the city may be equal to the
task; and, on the other hand, when enemies, whether barbarian or
Hellenic, come from without with mighty force and make a violent
assault upon them, and thus compel them to fight for the
possession of the city, which is far from being an impossibility,
great would be the disgrace to the state, if the women had been
so miserably trained that they could not fight for their young,
as birds will, against any creature however strong, and die or
undergo any danger, but must instantly rush to the temples and
crowd at the altars and shrines, and bring upon human nature the
reproach, that of all animals man is the most cowardly!
[Cle.] Such a want of education, Stranger, is certainly an
unseemly thing to happen in a state, as well as a great
[Ath.] Suppose that we carry our law to the extent of saying
that women ought not to neglect military matters, but that all
citizens, male and female alike, shall attend to them?
[Cle.] I quite agree.
[Ath.] Of wrestling we have spoken in part, but of what I
should call the most important part we have not spoken, and
cannot easily speak without showing at the same time by gesture
as well as in word what we mean; when word and action combine,
and not till then, we shall explain clearly what has been said,
pointing out that of all movements wrestling is most akin to the
military art, and is to be pursued for the sake of this, and not
this for the sake of wrestling.
[Ath.] Enough of wrestling; we will now proceed to speak of
other movements of the body. Such motion may be in general called
dancing, and is of two kinds: one of nobler figures, imitating
the honourable, the other of the more ignoble figures, imitating
the mean; and of both these there are two further subdivisions.
Of the serious, one kind is of those engaged in war and vehement
action, and is the exercise of a noble person and a manly heart;
the other exhibits a temperate soul in the enjoyment of
prosperity and modest pleasures, and may be truly called and is
the dance of peace. The warrior dance is different from the
peaceful one, and may be rightly termed Pyrrhic; this imitates
the modes of avoiding blows and missiles by dropping or giving
way, or springing aside, or rising up or falling down; also the
opposite postures which are those of action, as, for example, the
imitation of archery and the hurling of javelins, and of all
sorts of blows. And when the imitation is of brave bodies and
souls, and the action is direct and muscular, giving for the most
part a straight movement to the limbs of the body-that, I say, is
the true sort; but the opposite is not right. In the dance of
peace what we have to consider is whether a man bears himself
naturally and gracefully, and after the manner of men who duly
conform to the law. But before proceeding I must distinguish the
dancing about which there is any doubt, from that about which
there is no doubt. Which is the doubtful kind, and how are the
two to be distinguished? There are dances of the Bacchic sort,
both those in which, as they say, they imitate drunken men, and
which are named after the Nymphs, and Pan, and Silenuses, and
Satyrs; and also those in which purifications are made or
mysteries celebrated-all this sort of dancing cannot be rightly
defined as having either a peaceful or a warlike character, or
indeed as having any meaning whatever and may, I think, be most
truly described as distinct from the warlike dance, and distinct
from the peaceful, and not suited for a city at all. There let it
lie; and so leaving it to lie, we will proceed to the dances of
war and peace, for with these we are undoubtedly concerned. Now
the unwarlike muse, which honours in dance the Gods and the sons
of the Gods, is entirely associated with the consciousness of
prosperity; this class may be subdivided into two lesser classes,
of which one is expressive of an escape from some labour or
danger into good, and has greater pleasures, the other expressive
of preservation and increase of former good, in which the
pleasure is less exciting;-in all these cases, every man when the
pleasure is greater, moves his body more, and less when the
pleasure is less; and, again, if he be more orderly and has
learned courage from discipline he waves less, but if he be a
coward, and has no training or self-control, he makes greater and
more violent movements, and in general when he is speaking or
singing he is not altogether able to keep his body still; and so
out of the imitation of words in gestures the whole art of
dancing has arisen. And in these various kinds of imitation one
man moves in an orderly, another in a disorderly manner; and as
the ancients may be observed to have given many names which are
according to nature and deserving of praise, so there is an
excellent one which they have given to the dances of men who in
their times of prosperity are moderate in their pleasures-the
giver of names, whoever he was, assigned to them a very true, and
poetical, and rational name, when he called them Emmeleiai, or
dances of order, thus establishing two kinds of dances of the
nobler sort, the dance of war which he called the Pyrrhic, and
the dance of peace which he called Emmeleia, or the dance of
order; giving to each their appropriate and becoming name. These
things the legislator should indicate in general outline, and the
guardian of the law should enquire into them and search them out,
combining dancing with music, and assigning to the several
sacrificial feasts that which is suitable to them; and when he
has consecrated all of them in due order, he shall for the future
change nothing, whether of dance or song. Thenceforward the city
and the citizens shall continue to have the same pleasures,
themselves being as far as possible alike, and shall live well
I have described the dances which are appropriate to noble
bodies and generous souls. But it is necessary also to consider
and know uncomely persons and thoughts, and those which are
intended to produce laughter in comedy, and have a comic
character in respect of style, song, and dance, and of the
imitations which these afford. For serious things cannot be
understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without
opposites, if a man is really to have intelligence of either; but
he can not carry out both in action, if he is to have any degree
of virtue. And for this very reason he should learn them both, in
order that he may not in ignorance do or say anything which is
ridiculous and out of place-he should command slaves and hired
strangers to imitate such things, but he should never take any
serious interest in them himself, nor should any freeman or
freewoman be discovered taking pains to learn them; and there
should always be some element of novelty in the imitation. Let
these then be laid down, both in law and in our discourse, as the
regulations of laughable amusements which are generally called
comedy. And, if any of the serious poets, as they are termed, who
write tragedy, come to us and say-"O strangers, may we go to
your city and country or may we not, and shall we bring with us
our poetry-what is your will about these matters?"-how shall
we answer the divine men? I think that our answer should be as
follows:-Best of strangers, we will say to them, we also
according to our ability are tragic poets, and our tragedy is the
best and noblest; for our whole state is an imitation of the best
and noblest life, which we affirm to be indeed the very truth of
tragedy. You are poets and we are poets, both makers of the same
strains, rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas, which
true law can alone perfect, as our hope is. Do not then suppose
that we shall all in a moment allow you to erect your stage in
the agora, or introduce the fair voices of your actors, speaking
above our own, and permit you to harangue our women and children,
and the common people, about our institutions, in language other
than our own, and very often the opposite of our own. For a state
would be mad which gave you this licence, until the magistrates
had determined whether your poetry might be recited, and was fit
for publication or not. Wherefore, O ye sons and scions of the
softer Muses, first of all show your songs to the magistrates,
and let them compare them with our own, and if they are the same
or better we will give you a chorus; but if not, then, my
friends, we cannot. Let these, then, be the customs ordained by
law about all dances and the teaching of them, and let matters
relating to slaves be separated from those relating to masters,
if you do not object.
[Cle.] We can have no hesitation in assenting when you put the
[Ath.] There still remain three studies suitable for freemen.
Arithmetic is one of them; the measurement of length, surface,
and depth is the second; and the third has to do with the
revolutions of the stars in relation to one another. Not every
one has need to toil through all these things in a strictly
scientific manner, but only a few, and who they are to be we will
hereafter indicate at the end, which will be the proper place;
not to know what is necessary for mankind in general, and what is
the truth, is disgraceful to every one: and yet to enter into
these matters minutely is neither easy, nor at all possible for
every one; but there is something in them which is necessary and
cannot be set aside, and probably he who made the proverb about
God originally had this in view when he said, that "not even
God himself can fight against necessity";-he meant, if I am
not mistaken, divine necessity; for as to the human necessities
of which the many speak, when they talk in this manner, nothing
can be more ridiculous than such an application of the words.
[Cle.] And what necessities of knowledge are there, Stranger,
which are divine and not human?
[Ath.] I conceive them to be those of which he who has no use
nor any knowledge at all cannot be a God, or demi-god, or hero to
mankind, or able to take any serious thought or charge of them.
And very unlike a divine man would he be, who is unable to count
one, two, three, or to distinguish odd and even numbers, or is
unable to count at all, or reckon night and day, and who is
totally unacquainted with the revolution of the sun and moon, and
the other stars. There would be great folly in supposing that all
these are not necessary parts of knowledge to him who intends to
know anything about the highest kinds of knowledge; but which
these are, and how many there are of them, and when they are to
be learned, and what is to be learned together and what apart,
and the whole correlation of them, must be rightly apprehended
first; and these leading the way we may proceed to the other
parts of knowledge. For so necessity grounded in nature
constrains us, against which we say that no God contends, or ever
[Cle.] I think, Stranger, that what you have now said is very
true and agreeable to nature.
[Ath.] Yes, Cleinias, that is so. But it is difficult for the
legislator to begin with these studies; at a more convenient time
we will make regulations for them.
[Cle.] You seem, Stranger, to be afraid of our habitual
ignorance of the subject: there is no reason why that should
prevent you from speaking out.
[Ath.] I certainly am afraid of the difficulties to which you
allude, but I am still more afraid of those who apply themselves
to this sort of knowledge, and apply themselves badly. For entire
ignorance is not so terrible or extreme an evil, and is far from
being the greatest of all; too much cleverness and too much
learning, accompanied with an ill bringing up, are far more fatal.
[Ath.] All freemen, I conceive, should learn as much of these
branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he
learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been
invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as a
pleasure and amusement. They have to distribute apples and
garlands, using the same number sometimes for a larger and
sometimes for a lesser number of persons; and they arrange
pugilists, and wrestlers as they pair together by lot or remain
over, and show how their turns come in natural order. Another
mode of amusing them is to distribute vessels, sometimes of gold,
brass, silver, and the like, intermixed with one another,
sometimes of one metal only; as I was saying they adapt to their
amusement the numbers in common use, and in this way make more
intelligible to their pupils the arrangements and movements of
armies and expeditions, in the management of a household they
make people more useful to themselves, and more wide awake; and
again in measurements of things which have length, and breadth,
and depth, they free us from that natural ignorance of all these
things which is so ludicrous and disgraceful.
[Cle.] What kind of ignorance do you mean?
[Ath.] O my dear Cleinias, I, like yourself, have late in life
heard with amazement of our ignorance in these matters; to me we
appear to be more like pigs than men, and I am quite ashamed, not
only of myself, but of all Hellenes.
[Cle.] About what? Say, Stranger, what you mean.
[Ath.] I will; or rather I will show you my meaning by a
question, and do you please to answer me: You know, I suppose,
what length is?
[Ath.] And what breadth is?
[Cle.] To be sure.
[Ath.] And you know that these are two distinct things, and
that there is a third thing called depth?
[Cle.] Of course.
[Ath.] And do not all these seem to you to be commensurable
[Ath.] That is to say, length is naturally commensurable with
length, and breadth with breadth, and depth in like manner with
[Ath.] But if some things are commensurable and others wholly
incommensurable, and you think that all things are commensurable,
what is your position in regard to them?
[Cle.] Clearly, far from good.
[Ath.] Concerning length and breadth when compared with depth,
or breadth when and length when compared with one another, are
not all the Hellenes agreed that these are commensurable with one
in some way?
[Cle.] Quite true.
[Ath.] But if they are absolutely incommensurable, and yet all
of us regard them as commensurable, have we not reason to be
ashamed of our compatriots; and might we not say to them:-O ye
best of Hellenes, is not this one of the things of which we were
saying that not to know them is disgraceful, and of which to have
a bare knowledge only is no great distinction?
[Ath.] And there are other things akin to these, in which
there spring up other errors of the same family.
[Cle.] What are they?
[Ath.] The natures of commensurable and incommensurable
quantities in their relation to one another. A man who is good
for a thing ought to be able, when he thinks, to distinguish
them; and different persons should compete with one another in
asking questions, which will be a fair, better and more graceful
way of passing their time than the old man's game of draughts.
[Cle.] I dare say; and these pastimes are not so very unlike a
game of draughts.
[Ath.] And these, as I maintain, Cleinias, are the studies
which our youth ought to learn, for they are innocent and not
difficult; the learning of them will be an amusement, and they
will benefit the state. If anyone is of another mind, let him say
what he has to say.
[Ath.] Then if these studies are such as we maintain we will
include them; if not, they shall be excluded.
[Cle.] Assuredly: but may we not now, Stranger, prescribe
these studies as necessary, and so fill up the lacunae of our
[Ath.] They shall be regarded as pledges which may be
hereafter redeemed and removed from our state, if they do not
please either us who give them, or you who accept them.
[Cle.] A fair condition.
[Ath.] Next let us see whether we are or are not willing that
the study of astronomy shall be proposed for our youth.
[Ath.] Here occurs a strange phenomenon, which certainly
cannot in any point of view be tolerated.
[Cle.] To what are you referring?
[Ath.] Men say that we ought not to enquire into the supreme
God and the nature of the universe, nor busy ourselves in
searching out the causes of things, and that such enquiries are
impious; whereas the very opposite is the truth.
[Cle.] What do you mean?
[Ath.] Perhaps what I am saying may seem paradoxical, and at
variance with the usual language of age. But when any one has any
good and true notion which is for the advantage of the state and
in every way acceptable to God, he cannot abstain from expressing
[Cle.] Your words are reasonable enough; but shall we find any
good or true notion about the stars?
[Ath.] My good friends, at this hour all of us Hellenes tell
lies, if I may use such an expression, about those great Gods,
the Sun and the Moon.
[Cle.] Lies of what nature?
[Ath.] We say that they and divers other stars do not keep the
same path, and we call them planets or wanderers.
[Cle.] Very true, Stranger; and in the course of my life I
have often myself seen the morning star and the evening star and
divers others not moving in their accustomed course, but
wandering out of their path in all manner of ways, and I have
seen the sun and moon doing what we all know that they do.
[Ath.] Just so, Megillus and Cleinias; and I maintain that our
citizens and our youth ought to learn about the nature of the
Gods in heaven, so far as to be able to offer sacrifices and pray
to them in pious language, and not to blaspheme about them.
[Cle.] There you are right if such a knowledge be only
attainable; and if we are wrong in our mode of speaking now, and
can be better instructed and learn to use better language, then I
quite agree with you that such a degree of knowledge as will
enable us to speak rightly should be acquired by us. And now do
you try to explain to us your whole meaning, and we, on our part,
will endeavour to understand you.
[Ath.] There is some difficulty in understanding my meaning,
but not a very great one, nor will any great length of time be
required. And of this I am myself a proof; for I did not know
these things long ago, nor in the days of my youth, and yet I can
explain them to you in a brief space of time; whereas if they had
been difficult I could certainly never have explained them all,
old as I am, to old men like yourselves.
[Cle.] True; but what is this study which you describe as
wonderful and fitting for youth to learn, but of which we are
ignorant? Try and explain the nature of it to us as clearly as
[Ath.] I will. For, O my good friends, that other doctrine
about the wandering of the sun and the moon and the other stars
is not the truth, but the very reverse of the truth. Each of them
moves in the same path-not in many paths, but in one only, which
is circular, and the varieties are only apparent. Nor are we
right in supposing that the swiftest of them is the slowest, nor
conversely, that the slowest is the quickest. And if what I say
is true, only just imagine that we had a similar notion about
horses running at Olympia, or about men who ran in the long
course, and that we addressed the swiftest as the slowest and the
slowest as the swiftest, and sang the praises of the vanquished
as though he were the victor,-in that case our praises would not
be true, nor very agreeable to the runners, though they be but
men; and now, to commit the same error about the Gods which would
have been ludicrous and erroneous in the case of men-is not that
ludicrous and erroneous?
[Cle.] Worse than ludicrous, I should say.
[Ath.] At all events, the Gods cannot like us to be spreading
a false report of them.
[Cle.] Most true, if such is the fact.
[Ath.] And if we can show that such is really the fact, then
all these matters ought to be learned so far as is necessary for
the avoidance of impiety; but if we cannot, they may be let
alone, and let this be our decision.
[Cle.] Very good.
[Ath.] Enough of laws relating to education and learning. But
hunting and similar pursuits in like manner claim our attention.
For the legislator appears to have a duty imposed upon him which
goes beyond mere legislation. There is something over and above
law which lies in a region between admonition and law, and has
several times occurred to us in the course of discussion; for
example, in the education of very young children there were
things, as we maintain, which are not to be defined, and to
regard them as matters of positive law is a great absurdity. Now,
our laws and the whole constitution of our state having been thus
delineated, the praise of the virtuous citizen is not complete
when he is described as the person who serves the laws best and
obeys them most, but the higher form of praise is that which
describes him as the good citizen who passes through life
undefiled and is obedient to the words of the legislator, both
when he is giving laws and when he assigns praise and blame. This
is the truest word that can be spoken in praise of a citizen; and
the true legislator ought not only to write his laws, but also to
interweave with them all such things as seem to him honourable
and dishonourable. And the perfect citizen ought to seek to
strengthen these no less than the principles of law which are
sanctioned by punishments. I will adduce an example which will
clear up my meaning, and will be a sort of witness to my words.
Hunting is of wide extent, and has a name under which many things
are included, for there is a hunting of creatures in the water,
and of creatures in the air, and there is a great deal of hunting
of land animals of all kinds, and not of wild beasts only. The
hunting after man is also worthy of consideration; there is the
hunting after him in war, and there is often a hunting after him
in the way of friendship, which is praised and also blamed; and
there is thieving, and the hunting which is practised by robbers,
and that of armies against armies. Now the legislator, in laying
down laws about hunting, can neither abstain from noting these
things, nor can he make threatening ordinances which will assign
rules and penalties about all of them. What is he to do? He will
have to praise and blame hunting with a view to the exercise and
pursuits of youth. And, on the other hand, the young man must
listen obediently; neither pleasure nor pain should hinder him,
and he should regard as his standard of action the praises and
injunctions of the legislator rather than the punishments which
he imposes by law. This being premised, there will follow next in
order moderate praise and censure of hunting; the praise being
assigned to that kind which will make the souls of young men
better, and the censure to that which has the opposite effect.
And now let us address young men in the form of a prayer for
their welfare: O friends, we will say to them, may no desire or
love of hunting in the sea, or of angling or of catching the
creatures in the waters, ever take possession of you, either when
you are awake or when you are asleep, by hook or with weels,
which latter is a very lazy contrivance; and let not any desire
of catching men and of piracy by sea enter into your souls and
make you cruel and lawless hunters. And as to the desire of
thieving in town or country, may it never enter into your most
passing thoughts; nor let the insidious fancy of catching birds,
which is hardly worthy of freemen, come into the head of any
youth. There remains therefore for our athletes only the hunting
and catching of land animals, of which the one sort is called
hunting by night, in which the hunters sleep in turn and are
lazy; this is not to be commended any more than that which has
intervals of rest, in which the will strength of beasts is
subdued by nets and snares, and not by the victory of a laborious
spirit. Thus, only the best kind of hunting is allowed at all-that
of quadrupeds, which is carried on with horses and dogs and men's
own persons, and they get the victory over the animals by running
them down and striking them and hurling at them, those who have a
care of godlike manhood taking them with their own hands. The
praise and blame which is assigned to all these things has now
been declared; and let the law be as follows:-Let no one hinder
these who verily are sacred hunters from following the chase
wherever and whither soever they will; but the hunter by night,
who trusts to his nets and gins, shall not be allowed to hunt
anywhere. The fowler in the mountains and waste places shall be
permitted, but on cultivated ground and on consecrated wilds he
shall not be permitted; and any one who meets him may stop him.
As to the hunter in waters, he may hunt anywhere except in
harbours or sacred streams or marshes or pools, provided only
that he do not pollute the water with poisonous juices. And now
we may say that all our enactments about education are complete.
[Cle.] Very good.
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