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laws (books 1 - 6)   


thirty-five, or, if he does not, he shall pay such and such a fine, or
shall suffer the loss of such and such privileges. This would be the
simple law about marriage. The double law would run thus:-A man
shall marry between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, considering
that in a manner the human race naturally partakes of immortality,
which every man is by nature inclined to desire to the utmost; for the
desire of every man that he may become famous, and not lie in the
grave without a name, is only the love of continuance. Now mankind are
coeval with all time, and are ever following, and will ever follow,
the course of time; and so they are immortal, because they leave
children's children behind them, and partake of immortality in the
unity of generation. And for a man voluntarily to deprive himself of
this gift, as he deliberately does who will not have a wife or
children, is impiety. He who obeys the law shall be free, and shall
pay no fine; but he who is disobedient, and does not marry, when he
has arrived at the age of thirty-five, shall pay a yearly fine of a
certain amount, in order that he may not imagine his celibacy to bring
ease and profit to him; and he shall not share in the honours which
the young men in the state give to the aged. Comparing now the two
forms of the law, you will be able to arrive at a judgment about any
other laws-whether they should be double in length even when shortest,
because they have to persuade as well as threaten, or whether they
shall only threaten and be of half the length.
Meg. The shorter form, Stranger, would be more in accordance with
Lacedaemonian custom; although, for my own part, if any one were to
ask me which I myself prefer in the state, I should certainly
determine in favour of the longer; and I would have every law made
after the same pattern, if I had to choose. But I think that
Cleinias is the person to be consulted, for his is the state which
is going to use these laws.
Cle. Thank you, Megillus.
Ath. Whether, in the abstract, words are to be many or few, is a
very foolish question; the best form, and not the shortest, is to be
approved; nor is length at all to be regarded. Of the two forms of law
which have been recited, the one is not only twice as good in
practical usefulness as the other, but the case is like that of the
two kinds of doctors, which I was just now mentioning. And yet
legislators never appear to have considered that they have two
instruments which they might use in legislation-persuasion and
force; for in dealing with the rude and uneducated multitude, they use
the one only as far as they can; they do not mingle persuasion with
coercion, but employ force pure and simple. Moreover, there is a third
point, sweet friends, which ought to be, and never is, regarded in our
existing laws.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. A point arising out of our previous discussion, which comes
into my mind in some mysterious way. All this time, from early dawn
until noon, have we been talking about laws in this charming
retreat: now we are going to promulgate our laws, and what has
preceded was only the prelude of them. Why do I mention this? For this
reason:-Because all discourses and vocal exercises have preludes and
overtures, which are a sort of artistic beginnings intended to help
the strain which is to be performed; lyric measures and music of every
other kind have preludes framed with wonderful care. But of the
truer and higher strain of law and politics, no one has ever yet
uttered any prelude, or composed or published any, as though there was
no such thing in nature. Whereas our present discussion seems to me to
imply that there is;-these double laws, of which we were speaking, are
not exactly double, but they are in two parts, the law and the prelude
of the law. The arbitrary command, which was compared to the
commands of doctors, whom we described as of the meaner sort, was
the law pure and simple; and that which preceded, and was described by
our friend here as being hortatory only, was, although in fact, an
exhortation, likewise analogous to the preamble of a discourse. For

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