laws (books 1 - 6)
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 undergo?
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 thought of.
Ath. And yet he may do this in almost any state with the exception
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 rejoice?
Ath. And when rejoicing in our good fortune, we are unable to be
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.