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Pages of laws (books 7 - 12)



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laws (books 7 - 12)   


some one is accusing us among unholy men, who are trying to escape
from the effect of our legislation; and that they say of us-How
dreadful that you should legislate on the supposition that there are
Gods! Shall we make a defence of ourselves? or shall we leave them and
return to our laws, lest the prelude should become longer than the
law? For the discourse will certainly extend to great length, if we
are to treat the impiously disposed as they desire, partly
demonstrating to them at some length the things of which they demand
an explanation, partly making them afraid or dissatisfied, and then
proceed to the requisite enactments.
Cle. Yes, Stranger; but then how often have we repeated already that
on the present occasion there is no reason why brevity should be
preferred to length; who is "at our heels"?-as the saying goes, and it
would be paltry and ridiculous to prefer the shorter to the better. It
is a matter of no small consequence, in some way or other to prove
that there are Gods, and that they are good, and regard justice more
than men do. The demonstration of this would be the best and noblest
prelude of all our laws. And therefore, without impatience, and
without hurry, let us unreservedly consider the whole matter,
summoning up all the power of persuasion which we possess.
Ath. Seeing you thus in earnest, I would fain offer up a prayer that
I may succeed:-but I must proceed at once. Who can be calm when he
is called upon to prove the existence of the Gods? Who can avoid
hating and abhorring the men who are and have been the cause of this
argument; I speak of those who will not believe the tales which they
have heard as babes and sucklings from their mothers and nurses,
repeated by them both in jest and earnest, like charms, who have
also heard them in the sacrificial prayers, and seen sights
accompanying them-sights and sounds delightful to children-and their
parents during the sacrifices showing an intense earnestness on behalf
of their children and of themselves, and with eager interest talking
to the Gods, and beseeching them, as though they were firmly convinced
of their existence; who likewise see and hear the prostrations and
invocations which are made by Hellenes and barbarians at the rising
and setting of the sun and moon, in all the vicissitudes of life,
not as if they thought that there were no Gods, but as if there
could be no doubt of their existence, and no suspicion of their
non-existence; when men, knowing all these things, despise them on
no real grounds, as would be admitted by all who have any particle
of intelligence, and when they force us to say what we are now saying,
how can any one in gentle terms remonstrate with the like of them,
when he has to begin by proving to them the very existence of the
Gods? Yet the attempt must be made; for it would be unseemly that
one half of mankind should go mad in their lust of pleasure, and the
other half in their indignation at such persons. Our address to
these lost and perverted natures should not be spoken in passion;
let us suppose ourselves to select some one of them, and gently reason
with him, smothering our anger:-O my son, we will say to him, you
are young, and the advance of time will make you reverse may of the
opinions which you now hold. Wait awhile, and do not attempt to
judge at present of the highest things; and that is the highest of
which you now think nothing-to know the Gods rightly and to live
accordingly. And in the first place let me indicate to you one point
which is of great importance, and about which I cannot be
deceived:-You and your friends are not the first who have held this
opinion about the Gods. There have always been persons more or less
numerous who have had the same disorder. I have known many of them,
and can tell you, that no one who had taken up in youth this
opinion, that the Gods do not exist, ever continued in the same
until he was old; the two other notions certainly do continue in
some cases, but not in many; the notion, I mean, that the Gods
exist, but take no heed of human things, and the other notion that
they do take heed of them, but are easily propitiated with
sacrifices and prayers. As to the opinion about the Gods which may

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