laws (books 7 - 12)
there are Gods, of whom the law is said now to approve, let us take
this way, my good sir.
Ath. Then I suppose that I must repeat the singular argument of
those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions;
they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and
destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which
is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the
true nature of the Gods.
Cle. Still I do not understand you.
Ath. Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the
nature and power of the soul, especially in what relates to her
origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and
before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and
transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the
body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of
necessity prior to those which appertain to the body?
Ath. Then thought and attention and mind and art and law will be
prior to that which is hard and soft and heavy and light; and the
great and primitive works and actions will be works of art; they
will be the first, and after them will come nature and works of
nature, which however is a wrong term for men to apply to them;
these will follow, and will be under the government of art and mind.
Cle. But why is the word "nature" wrong?
Ath. Because those who use the term mean to say that nature is the
first creative power; but if the soul turn out to be the primeval
element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond
other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would
be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not
Cle. You are quite right.
Ath. Shall we, then, take this as the next point to which our
attention should be directed?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Let us be on our guard lest this most deceptive argument with
its youthful looks, beguiling us old men, give us the slip and make
a laughing-stock of us. Who knows but we may be aiming at the greater,
and fail of attaining the lesser? Suppose that we three have to pass a
rapid river, and I, being the youngest of the three and experienced in
rivers, take upon me the duty of making the attempt first by myself;
leaving you in safety on the bank, I am to examine whether the river
is passable by older men like yourselves, and if such appears to be
the case then I shall invite you to follow, and my experience will
help to convey you across; but if the river is impassable by you, then
there will have been no danger to anybody but myself-would not that
seem to be a very fair proposal? I mean to say that the argument in
prospect is likely to be too much for you, out of your depth and
beyond your strength, and I should be afraid that the stream of my
questions might create in you who are not in the habit of answering,
giddiness and confusion of mind, and hence a feeling of unpleasantness
and unsuitableness might arise. I think therefore that I had better
first ask the questions and then answer them myself while you listen
in safety; in that way I can carry on the argument until I have
completed the proof that the soul is prior to the body.
Cle. Excellent, Stranger, and I hope that you will do as you
Ath. Come, then, and if ever we are to call upon the Gods, let us
call upon them now in all seriousness to come to the demonstration
of their own existence. And so holding fast to the rope we will
venture upon the depths of the argument. When questions of this sort
are asked of me, my safest answer would appear to be as
follows:-Some one says to me, "O Stranger, are all things at rest
and nothing in motion, or is the exact opposite of this true, or are
some things in motion and others at rest?-To this I shall reply that