laws (books 1 - 6)
garments, and this they think a happy and glorious institution. The
Persians, again, are much given to other practices of luxury which you
reject, but they have more moderation in them than the Thracians and
Meg. O best of men, we have only to take arms into our hands, and we
send all these nations flying before us.
Ath. Nay, my good friend, do not say that; there have been, as there
always will be, flights and pursuits of which no account can be given,
and therefore we cannot say that victory or defeat in battle affords
more than a doubtful proof of the goodness or badness of institutions.
For when the greater states conquer and enslave the lesser, as the
Syracusans have done the Locrians, who appear to be the
best-governed people in their part of the world, or as the Athenians
have done the Ceans (and there are ten thousand other instances of the
same sort of thing), all this is not to the point; let us endeavour
rather to form a conclusion about each institution in itself and say
nothing, at present, of victories and defeats. Let us only say that
such and such a custom is honourable, and another not. And first
permit me to tell you how good and bad are to be estimated in
reference to these very matters.
Meg. How do you mean?
Ath. All those who are ready at a moment's notice to praise or
censure any practice which is matter of discussion, seem to me to
proceed in a wrong way. Let me give you an illustration of what I
mean:-You may suppose a person to be praising wheat as a good kind
of food, whereupon another person instantly blames wheat, without ever
enquiring into its effect or use, or in what way, or to whom, or
with what, or in what state and how, wheat is to be given. And that is
just what we are doing in this discussion. At the very mention of
the word intoxication, one side is ready with their praises and the
other with their censures; which is absurd. For either side adduce
their witnesses and approvers, and some of us think that we speak with
authority because we have many witnesses; and others because they
see those who abstain conquering in battle, and this again is disputed
by us. Now I cannot say that I shall be satisfied, if we go on
discussing each of the remaining laws in the same way. And about
this very point of intoxication I should like to speak in another way,
which I hold to be the right one; for if number is to be the
criterion, are there not myriads upon myriads of nations ready to
dispute the point with you, who are only two cities?
Meg. I shall gladly welcome any method of enquiry which is right.
Ath. Let me put the matter thus:-Suppose a person to praise the
keeping of goats, and the creatures themselves as capital things to
have, and then some one who had seen goats feeding without a
goatherd in cultivated spots, and doing mischief, were to censure a
goat or any other animal who has no keeper, or a bad keeper, would
there be any sense or justice in such censure?
Meg. Certainly not.
Ath. Does a captain require only to have nautical knowledge in order
to be a good captain, whether he is sea-sick or not? What do you say?
Meg. I say that he is not a good captain if, although he have
nautical skill, he is liable to sea-sickness.
Ath. And what would you say of the commander of an army? Will he
be able to command merely because he has military skill if he be a
coward, who, when danger comes, is sick and drunk with fear?
Ath. And what if besides being a coward he has no skill?
Meg. He is a miserable fellow, not fit to be a commander of men, but
only of old women.
Ath. And what would you say of some one who blames or praises any
sort of meeting which is intended by nature to have a ruler, and is
well enough when under his presidency? The critic, however, has
never seen the society meeting together at an orderly feast under
the control of a president, but always without a ruler or with a bad