laws (books 1 - 6)
government which is declared by Homer to have prevailed among the
They have neither councils nor judgments, but they dwell in hollow
caves on the tops of high mountains, and every one gives law to his
wife and children, and they do not busy themselves about one another.
Cle. That seems to be a charming poet of yours; I have read some
other verses of his, which are very clever; but I do not know much
of him, for foreign poets are very little read among the Cretans.
Megillus. But they are in Lacedaemon, and he appears to be the
prince of them all; the manner of life, however, which he describes is
not Spartan, but rather Ionian, and he seems quite to confirm what you
are saying, when he traces up the ancient state of mankind by the help
of tradition to barbarism.
Ath. Yes, he does confirm it; and we may accept his witness to the
fact that such forms of government sometimes arise.
Cle. We may.
Ath. And were not such states composed of men who had been dispersed
in single habitations and families by the poverty which attended the
devastations; and did not the eldest then rule among them, because
with them government originated in the authority of a father and a
mother, whom, like a flock of birds, they followed, forming one
troop under the patriarchal rule and sovereignty of their parents,
which of all sovereignties is the most just?
Cle. Very true.
Ath. After this they came together in greater numbers, and increased
the size of their cities, and betook themselves to husbandry, first of
all at the foot of the mountains, and made enclosures of loose walls
and works of defence, in order to keep off wild beasts; thus
creating a single large and common habitation.
Cle. Yes; at least we may suppose so.
Ath. There is another thing which would probably happen.
Ath. When these larger habitations grew up out of the lesser
original ones, each of the lesser ones would survive in the larger;
every family would be under the rule of the eldest, and, owing to
their separation from one another, would have peculiar customs in
things divine and human, which they would have received from their
several parents who had educated them; and these customs would incline
them to order, when the parents had the element of order in their
nature, and to courage, when they had the element of courage. And they
would naturally stamp upon their children, and upon their children's
children, their own likings; and, as we are saying, they would find
their way into the larger society, having already their own peculiar
Ath. And every man surely likes his own laws best, and the laws of
others not so well.
Ath. Then now we seem to have stumbled upon the beginnings of
Ath. The next step will be that these persons who have met together,
will select some arbiters, who will review the laws of all of them,
and will publicly present such as they approve to the chiefs who
lead the tribes, and who are in a manner their kings, allowing them to
choose those which they think best. These persons will themselves be
called legislators, and will appoint the magistrates, framing some
sort of aristocracy, or perhaps monarchy, out of the dynasties or
lordships, and in this altered state of the government they will live.
Cle. Yes, that would be the natural order of things.
Ath. Then, now let us speak of a third form of government, in
which all other forms and conditions of polities and cities concur.