laws (books 7 - 12)
Further, they are repugnant to a principle which we say that a
legislator should always observe; for we are always enquiring which of
our enactments tends to virtue and which not. And suppose we grant
that these loves are accounted by law to be honourable, or at least
not disgraceful, in what degree will they contribute to virtue? Will
such passions implant in the soul of him who is seduced the habit of
courage, or in the soul of the seducer the principle of temperance?
Who will ever believe this?-or rather, who will not blame the
effeminacy of him who yields to pleasures and is unable to hold out
against them? Will not all men censure as womanly him who imitates the
woman? And who would ever think of establishing such a practice by
law? Certainly no one who had in his mind the image of true law. How
can we prove, that what I am saying is true? He who would rightly
consider these matters must see the nature of friendship and desire,
and of these so-called loves, for they are of two kinds, and out of
the two arises a third kind, having the same name; and this similarity
of name causes all the difficulty and obscurity.
Cle. How is that?
Ath. Dear is the like in virtue to the like, and the equal to the
equal; dear also, though unlike, is he who has abundance to him who is
in want. And when either of these friendships becomes excessive, we
term the excess love.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. The friendship which arises from contraries is horrible and
coarse, and has often no tie of communion; but that which, arises from
likeness is gentle, and has a tie of communion which lasts through
life. As to the mixed sort which is made up of them both, there is,
first of all, a in determining what he who is possessed by this
third love desires; moreover, he is drawn different ways, and is in
doubt between the two principles; the one exhorting him to enjoy the
beauty of youth, and the other forbidding him. For the one is a
lover of the body, and hungers after beauty, like ripe fruit, and
would fain satisfy himself without any regard to the character of
the beloved; the other holds the desire of the body to be a
secondary matter, and looking rather than loving and with his soul
desiring the soul of the other in a becoming manner, regards the
satisfaction of the bodily love as wantonness; he reverences and
respects temperance and courage and magnanimity and wisdom, and wishes
to live chastely with the chaste object of his affection. Now the sort
of love which is made up of the other two is that which we have
described as the third. Seeing then that there are these three sorts
of love, ought the law to prohibit and forbid them all to exist
among us? Is it not rather clear that we should wish to have in the
state the love which is of virtue and which desires the beloved
youth to be the best possible; and the other two, if possible, we
should hinder? What do you say, friend Megillus?
Megillus. I think, Stranger, that you are perfectly right in what
you have been now saying.
Ath. I knew well, my friend, that I should obtain your assent, which
I accept, and therefore have no need to analyse your custom any
further. Cleinias shall be prevailed upon to give me his assent at
some other time. Enough of this; and now let us proceed to the laws.
Meg. Very good.
Ath. Upon reflection I see a way of imposing the law, which, in
one respect, is easy, but, in another, is of the utmost difficulty.
Meg. What do you mean?
Ath. We are all aware that most men, in spite of their lawless
natures, are very strictly and precisely restrained from intercourse
with the fair, and this is not at all against their will, but entirely
with their will.
Meg. When do you mean?
Ath. When any one has a brother or sister who is fair; and about a
son or daughter the same unwritten law holds, and is a most perfect
safeguard, so that no open or secret connection ever takes place