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laws (books 1 - 6)   


day. And I would wish you and Cleinias to consider whether my words
have not also a bearing on legislation; for I am not discoursing
only for the pleasure of talking, but for the argument's sake.
Please to remark that the experience both of ourselves and the
Persians was, in a certain sense, the same; for as they led their
people into utter servitude, so we too led ours into all freedom.
And now, how shall we proceed? for I would like you to observe that
our previous arguments have good deal to say for themselves.
Meg. True; but I wish that you would give us a fuller explanation.
Ath. I will. Under the ancient laws, my friends, the people was
not as now the master, but rather the willing servant of the laws.
Meg. What laws do you mean?
Ath. In the first place, let us speak of the laws about music-that
is to say, such music as then existed-in order that we may trace the
growth of the excess of freedom from the beginning. Now music was
early divided among us into certain kinds and manners. One sort
consisted of prayers to the Gods, which were called hymns; and there
was another and opposite sort called lamentations, and another
termed paeans, and another, celebrating the birth of Dionysus, called,
I believe, "dithyrambs." And they used the actual word "laws," or
nomoi, for another kind of song; and to this they added the term
"citharoedic." All these and others were duly distinguished, nor
were the performers allowed to confuse one style of music with
another. And the authority which determined and gave judgment, and
punished the disobedient, was not expressed in a hiss, nor in the most
unmusical shouts of the multitude, as in our days, nor in applause and
clapping of hands. But the directors of public instruction insisted
that the spectators should listen in silence to the end; and boys
and their tutors, and the multitude in general, were kept quiet by a
hint from a stick. Such was the good order which the multitude were
willing to observe; they would never have dared to give judgment by
noisy cries. And then, as time went on, the poets themselves
introduced the reign of vulgar and lawless innovation. They were men
of genius, but they had no perception of what is just and lawful in
music; raging like Bacchanals and possessed with inordinate
delights-mingling lamentations with hymns, and paeans with dithyrambs;
imitating the sounds of the flute on the lyre, and making one
general confusion; ignorantly affirming that music has no truth,
and, whether good or bad, can only be judged of rightly by the
pleasure of the hearer. And by composing such licentious works, and
adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitude
with lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they can judge
for themselves about melody and song. And in this way the theatres
from being mute have become vocal, as though they had understanding of
good and bad in music and poetry; and instead of an aristocracy, an
evil sort of theatrocracy has grown up. For if the democracy which
judged had only consisted of educated persons, no fatal harm would
have been done; but in music there first arose the universal conceit
of omniscience and general lawlessness;-freedom came following
afterwards, and men, fancying that they knew what they did not know,
had no longer any fear, and the absence of fear begets
shamelessness. For what is this shamelessness, which is so evil a
thing, but the insolent refusal to regard the opinion of the better by
reason of an over-daring sort of liberty?
Meg. Very true.
Ath. Consequent upon this freedom comes the other freedom, of
disobedience to rulers; and then the attempt to escape the control and
exhortation of father, mother, elders, and when near the end, the
control of the laws also; and at the very end there is the contempt of
oaths and pledges, and no regard at all for the Gods-herein they
exhibit and imitate the old so called Titanic nature, and come to
the same point as the Titans when they rebelled against God, leading a
life of endless evils. But why have I said all this? I ask, because
the argument ought to be pulled up from time to time, and not be

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