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laws (books 1 - 6)   


care of itself; who thinks that individuals may pass the day as they
please, and that there is no necessity of order in all things; he, I
say, who gives up the control of their private lives, and supposes
that they will conform to law in their common and public life, is
making a great mistake. Why have I made this remark? Why, because I am
going to enact that the bridegrooms should live at the common
tables, just as they did before marriage. This was a singularity
when first enacted by the legislator in your parts of the world,
Megillus and Cleinias, as I should suppose, on the occasion of some
war or other similar danger, which caused the passing of the law,
and which would be likely to occur in thinly-peopled places, and in
times of pressure. But when men had once tried and been accustomed
to a common table, experience showed that the institution greatly
conduced to security; and in some such manner the custom of having
common tables arose among you.
Cle. Likely enough.
Ath. I said that there may have been singularity and danger in
imposing such a custom at first, but that now there is not the same
difficulty. There is, however, another institution which is the
natural sequel to this, and would be excellent, if it existed
anywhere, but at present it does not. The institution of which I am
about to speak is not easily described or executed; and would be
like the legislator "combing wool into the fire," as people say, or
performing any other impossible and useless feat.
Cle. What is the cause, Stranger, of this extreme hesitation?
Ath. You shall hear without any fruitless loss of time. That which
has law and order in a state is the cause of every good, but that
which is disordered or ill-ordered is often the ruin of that which
is well-ordered; and at this point the argument is now waiting. For
with you, Cleinias and Megillus, the common tables of men are, as I
said, a heaven-born and admirable institution, but you are mistaken in
leaving the women unregulated by law. They have no similar institution
of public tables in the light of day, and just that part of the
human race which is by nature prone to secrecy and stealth on
account of their weakness-I mean the female sex-has been left
without regulation by the legislator, which is a great mistake. And,
in consequence of this neglect, many things have grown lax among
you, which might have been far better, if they had been only regulated
by law; for the neglect of regulations about women may not only be
regarded as a neglect of half the entire matter, but in proportion
as woman's nature is inferior to that of men in capacity for virtue,
in that degree the consequence of such neglect is more than twice as
important. The careful consideration of this matter, and the arranging
and ordering on a common principle of all our institutions relating
both to men and women, greatly conduces to the happiness of the state.
But at present, such is the unfortunate condition of mankind, that
no man of sense will even venture to speak of common tables in
places and cities in which they have never been established at all;
and how can any one avoid being utterly ridiculous, who attempts to
compel women to show in public how much they eat and drink? There is
nothing at which the sex is more likely to take offence. For women are
accustomed to creep into dark places, and when dragged out into the
light they will exert their utmost powers of resistance, and be far
too much for the legislator. And therefore, as I said before, in
most places they will not endure to have the truth spoken without
raising a tremendous outcry, but in this state perhaps they may. And
if we may assume that our whole discussion about the state has not
been mere idle talk, I should like to prove to you, if you will
consent to listen, that this institution is good and proper; but if
you had rather not, I will refrain.
Cle. There is nothing which we should both of us like better,
Stranger, than to hear what you have to say.
Ath. Very good; and you must not be surprised if I go back a little,
for we have plenty of leisure, and there is nothing to prevent us from

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