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Pages of laws (books 1 - 6)



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laws (books 1 - 6)   


Ath. Any one who looks at what has occurred with you Lacedaemonians,
Megillus, may easily know and may easily say what ought to have been
done at that time.
Meg. Speak a little more clearly.
Ath. Nothing can be clearer than the observation which I am about to
make.
Meg. What is it?
Ath. That if any one gives too great a power to anything, too
large a sail to a vessel, too much food to the body, too much
authority to the mind, and does not observe the mean, everything is
overthrown, and, in the wantonness of excess runs in the one case to
disorders, and in the other to injustice, which is the child of
excess. I mean to say, my dear friends, that there is no soul of
man, young and irresponsible, who will be able to sustain the
temptation of arbitrary power-no one who will not, under such
circumstances, become filled with folly, that worst of diseases, and
be hated by his nearest and dearest friends: when this happens, his
kingdom is undermined, and all his power vanishes from him. And
great legislators who know the mean should take heed of the danger. As
far as we can guess at this distance of time, what happened was as
follows:-
Meg. What?
Ath. A God, who watched over Sparta, seeing into the future, gave
you two families of kings instead of one; and thus brought you more
within the limits of moderation. In the next place, some human
wisdom mingled with divine power, observing that the constitution of
your government was still feverish and excited, tempered your inborn
strength and pride of birth with the moderation which comes of age,
making the power of your twenty-eight elders equal with that of the
kings in the most important matters. But your third saviour,
perceiving that your government was still swelling and foaming, and
desirous to impose a curb upon it, instituted the Ephors, whose
power he made to resemble that of magistrates elected by lot; and by
this arrangement the kingly office, being compounded of the right
elements and duly moderated, was preserved, and was the means of
preserving all the rest. Since, if there had been only the original
legislators, Temenus, Cresphontes, and their contemporaries, as far as
they were concerned not even the portion of Aristodemus would have
been preserved; for they had no proper experience in legislation, or
they would surely not have imagined that oaths would moderate a
youthful spirit invested with a power which might be converted into
a tyranny. Now that God has instructed us what sort of government
would have been or will be lasting, there is no wisdom, as I have
already said, in judging after the event; there is no difficulty in
learning from an example which has already occurred. But if any one
could have foreseen all this at the time, and had been able to
moderate the government of the three kingdoms and unite them into one,
he might have saved all the excellent institutions which were then
conceived; and no Persian or any other armament would have dared to
attack us, or would have regarded Hellas as a power to be despised.
Cle. True.
Ath. There was small credit to us, Cleinias, in defeating them;
and the discredit was, not that the conquerors did not win glorious
victories both by land and sea, but what, in my opinion, brought
discredit was, first of all, the circumstance that of the three cities
one only fought on behalf of Hellas, and the two others were so
utterly good for nothing that the one was waging a mighty war
against Lacedaemon, and was thus preventing her from rendering
assistance, while the city of Argos, which had the precedence at the
time of the distribution, when asked to aid in repelling the
barbarian, would not answer to the call, or give aid. Many things
might be told about Hellas in connection with that war which are far
from honourable; nor, indeed, can we rightly say that Hellas
repelled the invader; for the truth is, that unless the Athenians

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