laws (books 7 - 12)
some day become clear to you, I advise you go wait and consider if
it be true or not; ask of others, and above all of the legislator.
In the meantime take care that you do not offend against the Gods. For
the duty of the legislator is and always will be to teach you the
truth of these matters.
Cle. Our address, Stranger, thus far, is excellent.
Ath. Quite true, Megillus and Cleinias, but I am afraid that we have
unconsciously lighted on a strange doctrine.
Cle. What doctrine do you mean?
Ath. The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many.
Cle. I wish that you would speak plainer.
Ath. The doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will
become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.
Cle. Is not that true?
Ath. Well, philosophers are probably right; at any rate we may as
well follow in their track, and examine what is the meaning of them
and their disciples.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. They say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of
nature and of chance, the lesser of art, which, receiving from
nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all
those lesser works which are generally termed artificial.
Cle. How is that?
Ath. I will explain my meaning still more clearly. They say that
fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance, and
none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in
order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by
means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are
severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain
affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of
soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures
of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion
and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that
is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the
seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they
say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and
chance only. Art sprang up afterwards and out of these, mortal and
of mortal birth, and produced in play certain images and very
partial imitations of the truth, having an affinity to one another,
such as music and painting create and their companion arts. And
there are other arts which have a serious purpose, and these
co-operate with nature, such, for example, as medicine, and husbandry,
and gymnastic. And they say that politics cooperate with nature, but
in a less degree, and have more of art; also that legislation is
entirely a work of art, and is based on assumptions which are not
Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. In the first place, my dear friend, these people would say that
the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states,
which are different in different places, according to the agreement of
those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature
and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no
existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing
about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are
made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority
for the moment and at the time at which they are made.-These, my
friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which
find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the
highest right is might, and in this way the young fall into impieties,
under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them
imagine; and hence arise factions, these philosophers inviting them to
lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real
dominion over others, and not in legal subjection to them.
Cle. What a dreadful picture, Stranger, have you given, and how