laws (books 7 - 12)
I suspect that they in their superiority will utter against us.
Cle. What jests?
Ath. They will make some irreverent speech of this sort:-"O
inhabitants of Athens, and Sparta, and Cnosus," they will reply, "in
that you speak truly; for some of us deny the very existence of the
Gods, while others, as you say, are of opinion that they do not care
about us; and others that they are turned from their course by
gifts. Now we have a right to claim, as you yourself allowed, in the
matter of laws, that before you are hard upon us and threaten us,
you should argue with us and convince us-you should first attempt to
teach and persuade us that there are Gods by reasonable evidences, and
also that they are too good to be unrighteous, or to be propitiated,
or turned from their course by gifts. For when we hear such things
said of them by those who are esteemed to be the best of poets, and
orators, and prophets, and priests, and by innumerable others, the
thoughts of most of us are not set upon abstaining from unrighteous
acts, but upon doing them and atoning for them. When lawgivers profess
that they are gentle and not stern, we think that they should first of
all use persuasion to us, and show us the existence of Gods, if not in
a better manner than other men, at any rate in a truer; and who
knows but that we shall hearken to you? If then our request is a
fair one, please to accept our challenge."
Cle. But is there any difficulty in proving the existence of the
Ath. How would you prove it?
Cle. How? In the first place, the earth and the sun, and the stars
and the universe, and the fair order of the seasons, and the
division of them into years and months, furnish proofs of their
existence; and also there is the fact that all Hellenes and barbarians
believe in them.
Ath. I fear, my sweet friend, though I will not say that I much
regard, the contempt with which the profane will be likely to assail
us. For you do not understand the nature of their complaint, and you
fancy that they rush into impiety only from a love of sensual
Cle. Why, Stranger, what other reason is there?
Ath. One which you who live in a different atmosphere would never
Cle. What is it?
Ath. A very grievous sort of ignorance which is imagined to be the
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. At Athens there are tales preserved in writing which the virtue
of your state, as I am informed, refuses to admit. They speak of the
Gods in prose as well as verse, and the oldest of them tell of the
origin of the heavens and of the world, and not far from the beginning
of their story they proceed to narrate the birth of the Gods, and
how after they were born they behaved to one another. Whether these
stories have in other ways a good or a bad influence, I should not
like to be severe upon them, because they are ancient; but, looking at
them with reference to the duties of children to their parents, I
cannot praise them, or think that they are useful, or at all true.
Of the words of the ancients I have nothing more to say; and I
should wish to say of them only what is pleasing to the Gods. But as
to our younger generation and their wisdom, I cannot let them off when
they do mischief. For do but mark the effect of their words: when
you and I argue for the existence of the Gods, and produce the sun,
moon, stars, and earth, claiming for them a divine being, if we
would listen to the aforesaid philosophers we should say that they are
earth and stones only, which can have no care at all of human affairs,
and that all religion is a cooking up of words and a make-believe.
Cle. One such teacher, O Stranger, would be bad enough, and you
imply that there are many of them, which is worse.
Ath. Well, then; what shall we say or do?-Shall we assume that