laws (books 7 - 12)
And now, assuming children of both sexes to have been born, it
will be proper for us to consider, in the next place, their nurture
and education; this cannot be left altogether unnoticed, and yet may
be thought a subject fitted rather for precept and admonition than for
law. In private life there are many little things, not always
apparent, arising out of the pleasures and pains and desires of
individuals, which run counter to the intention of the legislator, and
make the characters of the citizens various and dissimilar:-this is an
evil in states; for by reason of their smallness and frequent
occurrence, there would be an unseemliness and want of propriety in
making them penal by law; and if made penal, they are the
destruction of the written law because mankind get the habit of
frequently transgressing the law in small matters. The result is
that you cannot legislate about them, and still less can you be
silent. I speak somewhat darkly, but I shall endeavour also to bring
my wares into the light of day, for I acknowledge that at present
there is a want of clearness in what I am saying.
Cleinias. Very true.
Athenian. Stranger. Am I not right in maintaining that a good
education is that which tends most, to the improvement of mind and
Ath. And nothing can be plainer than that the fairest bodies are
those which grow up from infancy in the best and straightest manner?
Ath. And do we not further observe that the first shoot of every
living thing is by far the greatest and fullest? Many will even
contend that a man at twenty-five does not reach twice the height
which he attained at five.
Ath. Well, and is not rapid growth without proper and abundant
exercise the source endless evils in the body?
Ath. And the body should have the most exercise when it receives
Cle. But, Stranger, are we to impose this great amount of exercise
upon newly-born infants?
Ath. Nay, rather on the bodies of infants still unborn.
Cle. What do you mean, my good sir? In the process of gestation?
Ath. Exactly. I am not at all surprised that you have never heard of
this very peculiar sort of gymnastic applied to such little creatures,
which, although strange, I will endeavour to explain to you.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. The practice is more easy for us to understand than for you, by
reason of certain amusements which are carried to excess by us at
Athens. Not only boys, but often older persons, are in the habit of
keeping quails and cocks, which they train to fight one another. And
they are far from thinking that the contests in which they stir them
up to fight with one another are sufficient exercise; for, in addition
to this, they carry them about tucked beneath their armpits, holding
the smaller birds in their hands, the larger under their arms, and
go for a walk of a great many miles for the sake of health, that is to
say, not their own, health, but the health of the birds; whereby
they prove to any intelligent person, that all bodies are benefited by
shakings and movements, when they are moved without weariness, whether
motion proceeds from themselves, or is caused by a swing, or at sea,
or on horseback, or by other bodies in whatever way moving, and that
thus gaining the mastery over food and drink, they are able to
impart beauty and health and strength. But admitting all this, what
follows? Shall we make a ridiculous law that the pregnant woman
shall walk about and fashion the embryo within as we fashion wax
before it hardens, and after birth swathe the infant for two years?