laws (books 7 - 12)
handle the lyre, and he may continue at this for another three
years, neither more nor less, and whether his father or himself like
or dislike the study, he is not to be allowed to spend more or less
time in learning music than the law allows. And let him who disobeys
the law be deprived of those youthful honours of which we shall
hereafter speak. Hear, however, first of all, what the young ought
to learn in the early years of life, and what their instructors
ought to teach them. They ought to be occupied with their letters
until they are to read and write; but the acquisition of perfect
beauty or quickness in writinig, if nature has not stimulated them
to acquire these accomplishments in the given number of years, they
should let alone. And as to the learning of compositions committed
to writing which are not set to the lyre, whether metrical or
without rhythmical divisions, compositions in prose, as they are
termed, having no rhythm or harmony-seeing how dangerous are the
writings handed down to us by many writers of this class-what will you
do with them, O most excellent guardians of the law? or how can the
lawgiver rightly direct you about them? I believe that he will be in
Cle. What troubles you, Stranger? and why are you so perplexed in
Ath. You naturally ask, Cleinias, and to you and Megillus, who are
my partners in the work of legislation, I must state the more
difficult as well as the easier parts of the task.
Cle. To what do you refer in this instance?
Ath. I will tell you. There is a difficulty in opposing many myriads
Cle. Well, and have we not already opposed the popular voice in many
Ath. That is quite true; and you mean to imply, that the road
which we are taking may be disagreeable to some but is agreeable to as
many others, or if not to as many, at any rate to persons not inferior
to the others, and in company with them you bid me, at whatever
risk, to proceed along the path of legislation which has opened out of
our present discourse, and to be of good cheer, and not to faint.
Ath. And I do not faint; I say, indeed, that we have a great many
poets writing in hexameter, trimeter, and all sorts of measures-some
who are serious, others who aim only at raising a laugh-and all
mankind declare that the youth who are rightly educated should be
brought up in them and saturated with them; some insist that they
should be constantly hearing them read aloud, and always learning
them, so as to get by heart entire poets; while others select choice
passages and long speeches, and make compendiums of them, saying
that these ought to be committed to memory, if a man is to be made
good and wise by experience and learning of many things. And you
want me now to tell them plainly in what they are right and in what
they are wrong.
Cle. Yes, I do.
Ath. But how can I in one word rightly comprehend all of them? I am
of opinion, and, if I am not mistaken, there is a general agreement,
that every one of these poets has said many things well and many
things the reverse of well; and if this be true, then I do affirm that
much learning is dangerous to youth.
Cle. How would you advise the guardian of the law to act?
Ath. In what respect?
Cle. I mean to what pattern should he look as his guide in
permitting the young to learn some things and forbidding them to learn
others. Do not shrink from answering.
Ath. My good Cleinias, I rather think that I am fortunate.
Cle. How so?
Ath. I think that I am not wholly in want of a pattern, for when I
consider the words which we have spoken from early dawn until now, and
which, as I believe, have been inspired by Heaven, they appear to me