laws (books 1 - 6)
and fellow-citizens, and the rites of hospitality taught by Heaven,
and the intercourse which arises out of all these duties, with a
view to the embellishment and orderly regulation of his own life-these
things, I say, the laws, as we proceed with them, will accomplish,
partly persuading, and partly when natures do not yield to the
persuasion of custom, chastising them by might and right, and will
thus render our state, if the Gods co-operate with us, prosperous
and happy. But of what has to be said, and must be said by the
legislator who is of my way of thinking, and yet, if said in the
form of law, would be out of place-of this I think that he may give
a sample for the instruction of himself and of those for whom he is
legislating; and then when, as far as he is able, he has gone
through all the preliminaries, he may proceed to the work of
legislation. Now, what will be the form of such prefaces? There may be
a difficulty in including or describing them all under a single
form, but I think that we may get some notion of them if we can
guarantee one thing.
Cle. What is that?
Ath. I should wish the citizens to be as readily persuaded to virtue
as possible; this will surely be the aim of the legislator in all
Ath. The proposal appears to me to be of some value; and I think
that a person will listen with more gentleness and good-will to the
precepts addressed to him by the legislator, when his soul is not
altogether unprepared to receive them. Even a little done in the way
of conciliation gains his ear, and is always worth having. For there
is no great inclination or readiness on the part of mankind to be made
as good, or as quickly good, as possible. The case of the many
proves the wisdom of Hesiod, who says that the road to wickedness is
smooth and can be travelled without perspiring, because it is so
But before virtue the immortal Gods have placed the sweat of labour,
and long and steep is the way thither, and rugged at first; but when
you have reached the top, although difficult before, it is then easy.
Cle. Yes; and he certainly speaks well.
Ath. Very true: and now let me tell you the effect which the
preceding discourse has had upon me.
Ath. Suppose that we have a little conversation with the legislator,
and say to him-"O, legislator, speak; if you know what we ought to say
and do, you can surely tell."
Cle. Of course he can.
Ath. "Did we not hear you just now saying, that the legislator ought
not to allow the poets to do what they liked? For that they would
not know in which of their words they went against the laws, to the
hurt of the state."
Cle. That is true.
Ath. May we not fairly make answer to him on behalf of the poets?
Cle. What answer shall we make to him?
Ath. That the poet, according to the tradition which has ever
prevailed among us, and is accepted of all men, when he sits down on
the tripod of the muse, is not in his right mind; like a fountain,
he allows to flow out freely whatever comes in, and his art being
imitative, he is often compelled to represent men of opposite
dispositions, and thus to contradict himself; neither can he tell
whether there is more truth in one thing that he has said than in
another. this is not the case in a law; the legislator must give not
two rules about the same thing, but one only. Take an example from
what you have just been saying. Of three kinds of funerals, there is
one which is too extravagant, another is too niggardly, the third is a
mean; and you choose and approve and order the last without