laws (books 7 - 12)
legislator to adapt himself to them, and impose upon them entirely
Ath. Excellent. I was running on too fast, Cleinias, and you
impinged upon me, and brought me to my senses, reminding me of what,
indeed, had occurred to mind already, that legislation was never yet
rightly worked out, as I may say in passing.-Do you remember the image
in which I likened the men for whom laws are now made to slaves who
are doctored by slaves? For of this you may be very sure, that if
one of those empirical physicians, who practise medicine without
science, were to come upon the gentleman physician talking to his
gentleman patient, and using the language almost of philosophy,
beginning at the beginning of the disease and discoursing about the
whole nature of the body, he would burst into a hearty laugh-he
would say what most of those who are called doctors always have at
their tongue's end:-Foolish fellow, he would say, you are not
healing the sick man, but you are educating him; and he does not
want to be made a doctor, but to get well.
Cle. And would he not be right?
Ath. Perhaps he would; and he might remark upon us that he who
discourses about laws, as we are now doing, is giving the citizens
education and not laws; that would be rather a telling observation.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. But we are fortunate.
Cle. In what way?
Ath. Inasmuch as we are not compelled to give laws, but we may
take into consideration every form of government, and ascertain what
is best and what is most needful, and how they may both be carried
into execution; and we may also, if we please, at this very moment
choose what is best, or, if we prefer, what is most necessary-which
shall we do?
Cle. There is something ridiculous, Stranger, in our proposing such
an alternative as if we were legislators, simply bound under some
great necessity which cannot be deferred to the morrow. But we, as I
may by grace of Heaven affirm, like, gatherers of stones or
beginners of some composite work, may gather a heap of materials,
and out of this, at our leisure, select what is suitable for our
projected construction. Let us then suppose ourselves to be at
leisure, not of necessity building, but rather like men who are partly
providing materials, and partly putting them together. And we may
truly say that some of our laws, like stones, are already fixed in
their places, and others lie at hand.
Ath. Certainly, in that case, Cleinias, our view of law will be more
in accordance with nature. For there is another matter affecting
legislators, which I must earnestly entreat you to consider.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. There are many writings to be found in cities, and among them
there, are composed by legislators as well as by other persons.
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. Shall we give heed rather to the writings of those others-poets
and the like, who either in metre or out of metre have recorded
their advice about the conduct of life, and not to the writings of
legislators? or shall we give heed to them above all?
Cle. Yes; to them far above all others.
Ath. And ought the legislator alone among writers to withhold his
opinion about the beautiful, the good, and the just, and not to
teach what they are, and how they are to be pursued by those who
intend to be happy?
Cle. Certainly not.
Ath. And is it disgraceful for Homer and Tyrtaeus and other poets to
lay down evil precepts in their writings respecting life and the
pursuits of men, but not so disgraceful for Lycurgus and Solon and
others who were legislators as well as writers? Is it not true that of
all the writings to be found in cities, those which relate to laws,
when you unfold and read them, ought to be by far the noblest and