laws (books 7 - 12)
great is the injury which is thus inflicted on young men to the ruin
both of states and families!
Ath. True, Cleinias; but then what should the lawgiver do when
this evil is of long standing? should he only rise up in the state and
threaten all mankind, proclaiming that if they will not say and
think that the Gods are such as the law ordains (and this may be
extended generally to the honourable, the just, and to all the highest
things, and to all that relates to virtue and vice), and if they
will not make their actions conform to the copy which the law gives
them, then he who refuses to obey the law shall die, or suffer stripes
and bonds, or privation of citizenship, or in some cases be punished
by loss of property and exile? Should he not rather, when he is making
laws for men, at the same time infuse the spirit of persuasion into
his words, and mitigate the severity of them as far as he can?
Cle. Why, Stranger, if such persuasion be at all possible, then a
legislator who has anything in him ought never to weary of
persuading men; he ought to leave nothing unsaid in support of the
ancient opinion that there are Gods, and of all those other truths
which you were just now mentioning; he ought to support the law and
also art, and acknowledge that both alike exist by nature, and no less
than nature, if they are the creations of mind in accordance with
right reason, you appear to me to maintain, and I am disposed to agree
with you in thinking.
Ath. Yes, my enthusiastic Cleinias; but are not these things when
spoken to a multitude hard to be understood, not to mention that
they take up a dismal length of time?
Cle. Why, Stranger, shall we, whose patience failed not when
drinking or music were the themes of discourse, weary now of
discoursing about the Gods, and about divine things? And the
greatest help to rational legislation is that the laws when once
written down are always at rest; they can be put to the test at any
future time, and therefore, if on first hearing they seem difficult,
there is no reason for apprehension about them, because any man
however dull can go over them and consider them again and again; nor
if they are tedious but useful, is there any reason or religion, as it
seems to me, in any man refusing to maintain the principles of them to
the utmost of his power.
Megillus. Stranger, I like what Cleinias is saying.
Ath. Yes, Megillus, and we should do as he proposes; for if
impious discourses were not scattered, as I may say, throughout the
world, there would have been no need for any vindication of the
existence of the Gods-but seeing that they are spread far and wide,
such arguments are needed; and who should come to the rescue of the
greatest laws, when they are being undermined by bad men, but the
Meg. There is no more proper champion of them.
Ath. Well, then, tell me, Cleinias-for I must ask you to be my
partner-does not he who talks in this way conceive fire and water
and earth and air to be the first elements of all things? These he
calls nature, and out of these he supposes the soul to be formed
afterwards; and this is not a mere conjecture of ours about his
meaning, but is what he really means.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Then, by Heaven, we have discovered the source of this vain
opinion of all those physical investigators; and I would have you
examine their arguments with the utmost care, for their impiety is a
very serious matter; they not only make a bad and mistaken use of
argument, but they lead away the minds of others: that is my opinion
Cle. You are right; but I should like to know how this happens.
Ath. I fear that the argument may seem singular.
Cle. Do not hesitate, Stranger; I see that you are afraid of such
a discussion carrying you beyond the limits of legislation. But if
there be no other way of showing our agreement in the belief that