laws (books 7 - 12)
Cle. Very true, Stranger; and in the course of my life I have
often myself seen the morning star and the evening star and divers
others not moving in their accustomed course, but wandering out of
their path in all manner of ways, and I have seen the sun and moon
doing what we all know that they do.
Ath. Just so, Megillus and Cleinias; and I maintain that our
citizens and our youth ought to learn about the nature of the Gods
in heaven, so far as to be able to offer sacrifices and pray to them
in pious language, and not to blaspheme about them.
Cle. There you are right if such a knowledge be only attainable; and
if we are wrong in our mode of speaking now, and can be better
instructed and learn to use better language, then I quite agree with
you that such a degree of knowledge as will enable us to speak rightly
should be acquired by us. And now do you try to explain to us your
whole meaning, and we, on our part, will endeavour to understand you.
Ath. There is some difficulty in understanding my meaning, but not a
very great one, nor will any great length of time be required. And
of this I am myself a proof; for I did not know these things long ago,
nor in the days of my youth, and yet I can explain them to you in a
brief space of time; whereas if they had been difficult I could
certainly never have explained them all, old as I am, to old men
Cle. True; but what is this study which you describe as wonderful
and fitting for youth to learn, but of which we are ignorant? Try
and explain the nature of it to us as clearly as you can.
Ath. I will. For, O my good friends, that other doctrine about the
wandering of the sun and the moon and the other stars is not the
truth, but the very reverse of the truth. Each of them moves in the
same path-not in many paths, but in one only, which is circular, and
the varieties are only apparent. Nor are we right in supposing that
the swiftest of them is the slowest, nor conversely, that the
slowest is the quickest. And if what I say is true, only just
imagine that we had a similar notion about horses running at
Olympia, or about men who ran in the long course, and that we
addressed the swiftest as the slowest and the slowest as the swiftest,
and sang the praises of the vanquished as though he were the
victor,-in that case our praises would not be true, nor very agreeable
to the runners, though they be but men; and now, to commit the same
error about the Gods which would have been ludicrous and erroneous
in the case of men-is not that ludicrous and erroneous?
Cle. Worse than ludicrous, I should say.
Ath. At all events, the Gods cannot like us to be spreading a
false report of them.
Cle. Most true, if such is the fact.
Ath. And if we can show that such is really the fact, then all these
matters ought to be learned so far as is necessary for the avoidance
of impiety; but if we cannot, they may be let alone, and let this be
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Enough of laws relating to education and learning. But
hunting and similar pursuits in like manner claim our attention. For
the legislator appears to have a duty imposed upon him which goes
beyond mere legislation. There is something over and above law which
lies in a region between admonition and law, and has several times
occurred to us in the course of discussion; for example, in the
education of very young children there were things, as we maintain,
which are not to be defined, and to regard them as matters of positive
law is a great absurdity. Now, our laws and the whole constitution
of our state having been thus delineated, the praise of the virtuous
citizen is not complete when he is described as the person who
serves the laws best and obeys them most, but the higher form of
praise is that which describes him as the good citizen who passes
through life undefiled and is obedient to the words of the legislator,
both when he is giving laws and when he assigns praise and blame. This