laws (books 1 - 6)
Ath. Is it altogether unmeaning to say, as the common people do
about festivals, that he should be adjudged the wisest of men, and the
winner of the palm, who gives us the greatest amount of pleasure and
mirth? For on such occasions, and when mirth is the order of the
day, ought not he to be honoured most, and, as I was saying, bear
the palm, who gives most mirth to the greatest number? Now is this a
true way of speaking or of acting?
Ath. But, my dear friend, let us distinguish between different
cases, and not be hasty in forming a judgment: One way of
considering the question will be to imagine a festival at which
there are entertainments of all sorts, including gymnastic, musical,
and equestrian contests: the citizens are assembled; prizes are
offered, and proclamation is made that any one who likes may enter the
lists, and that he is to bear the palm who gives the most pleasure
to the spectators-there is to be no regulation about the manner how;
but he who is most successful in giving pleasure is to be crowned
victor, and deemed to be the pleasantest of the candidates: What is
likely to be the result of such a proclamation?
Cle. In what respect?
Ath. There would be various exhibitions: one man, like Homer, will
exhibit a rhapsody, another a performance on the lute; one will have a
tragedy, and another a comedy. Nor would there be anything astonishing
in some one imagining that he could gain the prize by exhibiting a
puppet-show. Suppose these competitors to meet, and not these only,
but innumerable others as well can you tell me who ought to be the
Cle. I do not see how any one can answer you, or pretend to know,
unless he has heard with his own ears the several competitors; the
question is absurd.
Ath. Well, then, if neither of you can answer, shall I answer this
question which you deem so absurd?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. If very small children are to determine the question, they will
decide for the puppet show.
Cle. Of course.
Ath. The older children will be advocates of comedy; educated women,
and young men, and people in general, will favour tragedy.
Cle. Very likely.
Ath. And I believe that we old men would have the greatest
pleasure in hearing a rhapsodist recite well the Iliad and Odyssey, or
one of the Hesiodic poems, and would award the victory to him. But,
who would really be the victor?-that is the question.
Ath. Clearly you and I will have to declare that those whom we old
men adjudge victors ought to win; for our ways are far and away better
than any which at present exist anywhere in the world.
Ath. Thus far I too should agree with the many, that the
excellence of music is to be measured by pleasure. But the pleasure
must not be that of chance persons; the fairest music is that which
delights the best and best educated, and especially that which
delights the one man who is pre-eminent in virtue and education. And
therefore the judges must be men of character, for they will require
both wisdom and courage; the true judge must not draw his
inspiration from the theatre, nor ought he to be unnerved by the
clamour of the many and his own incapacity; nor again, knowing the
truth, ought he through cowardice and unmanliness carelessly to
deliver a lying judgment, with the very same lips which have just
appealed to the Gods before he judged. He is sitting not as the
disciple of the theatre, but, in his proper place, as their
instructor, and he ought to be the enemy of all pandering to the
pleasure of the spectators. The ancient and common custom of Hellas,
which still prevails in Italy and Sicily, did certainly leave the