laws (books 1 - 6)
brighten up and improve the picture, all his great labour will last
but a short time?
Ath. And is not the aim of the legislator similar? First, he desires
that his laws should be written down with all possible exactness; in
the second place, as time goes on and he has made an actual trial of
his decrees, will he not find omissions? Do you imagine that there
ever was a legislator so foolish as not to know that many things are
necessarily omitted, which some one coming after him must correct,
if the constitution and the order of government is not to deteriorate,
but to improve in the state which he has established?
Cle. Assuredly, that is the sort of thing which every one would
Ath. And if any one possesses any means of accomplishing this by
word or deed, or has any way great or small by which he can teach a
person to understand how he can maintain and amend the laws, he should
finish what he has to say, and not leave the work incomplete.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. And is not this what you and I have to do at the present
Cle. What have we to do?
Ath. As we are about to legislate and have chosen our guardians of
the law, and are ourselves in the evening of life, and they as
compared with us are young men, we ought not only to legislate for
them, but to endeavour to make them not only guardians of the law
but legislators themselves, as far as this is possible.
Cle. Certainly; if we can.
Ath. At any rate, we must do our best.
Cle. Of course.
Ath. We will say to them-O friends and saviours of our laws, in
laying down any law, there are many particulars which we shall omit,
and this cannot be helped; at the same time, we will do our utmost
to describe what is important, and will give an outline which you
shall fill up. And I will explain on what principle you are to act.
Megillus and Cleinias and I have often spoken to one another
touching these matters, and we are of opinion that we have spoken
well. And we hope that you will be of the same mind with us, and
become our disciples, and keep in view the things which in our
united opinion the legislator and guardian of the law ought to keep in
view. There was one main point about which we were agreed-that a man's
whole energies throughout life should be devoted to the acquisition of
the virtue proper to a man, whether this was to be gained by study, or
habit, or some mode of acquisition, or desire, or opinion, or
knowledge-and this applies equally to men and women, old and young-the
aim of all should always be such as I have described; anything which
may be an impediment, the good man ought to show that he utterly
disregards. And if at last necessity plainly compels him to be an
outlaw from his native land, rather than bow his neck to the yoke of
slavery and be ruled by inferiors, and he has to fly, an exile he must
be and endure all such trials, rather than accept another form of
government, which is likely to make men worse. These are our
original principles; and do you now, fixing your eyes upon the
standard of what a man and a citizen ought or ought not to be,
praise and blame the laws-blame those which have not this power of
making the citizen better, but embrace those which have; and with
gladness receive and live in them; bidding a long farewell to other
institutions which aim at goods, as they are termed, of a different
Let us proceed to another class of laws, beginning with their
foundation in religion. And we must first return to the number
5040-the entire number had, and has, a great many convenient
divisions, and the number of the tribes which was a twelfth part of
the whole, being correctly formed by 21 X 20 [5040/(21 X 20), i.e.,
5040/420=12], also has them. And not only is the whole number