laws (books 7 - 12)
with these objects: For these sorts of exercises, and no others, are
useful both in peace and war, and are beneficial alike to states and
to private houses. But other labours and sports and exercises of the
body are unworthy of freemen, O Megillus and Cleinias.
I have now completely described the kind of gymnastic which I said
at first ought to be described; if you know of any better, will you
communicate your thoughts?
Cle. It is not easy, Stranger, to put aside these principles of
gymnastic and wrestling and to enunciate better ones.
Ath. Now we must say what has yet to be said about the gifts of
the Muses and of Apollo: before, we fancied that we had said all,
and that gymnastic alone remained; but now we see clearly what
points have been omitted, and should be first proclaimed; of these,
then, let us proceed to speak.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Let me tell you once more-although you have heard me say the
same before that caution must be always exercised, both by the speaker
and by the hearer, about anything that is very singular and unusual.
For my tale is one, which many a man would be afraid to tell, and
yet I have a confidence which makes me go on.
Cle. What have you to say, Stranger?
Ath. I say that in states generally no one has observed that the
plays of childhood have a great deal to do with the permanence or want
of permanence in legislation. For when plays are ordered with a view
to children having the same plays, and amusing themselves after the
same manner, and finding delight in the same playthings, the more
solemn institutions of the state are allowed to remain undisturbed.
Whereas if sports are disturbed, and innovations are made in them, and
they constantly change, and the young never speak of their having
the same likings, or the same established notions of good and bad
taste, either in the bearing of their bodies or in their dress, but he
who devises something new and out of the way in figures and colours
and the like is held in special honour, we may truly say that no
greater evil can happen in a state; for he who changes the sports is
secretly changing the manners of the young, and making the old to be
dishonoured among them and the new to be honoured. And I affirm that
there is nothing which is a greater injury to all states than saying
or thinking thus. Will you hear me tell how great I deem the evil to
Cle. You mean the evil of blaming antiquity in states?
Cle. If you are speaking of that, you will find in us hearers who
are disposed to receive what you say not unfavourably but most
Ath. I should expect so.
Ath. Well, then, let us give all the greater heed to one another's
words. The argument affirms that any change whatever except from
evil is the most dangerous of all things; this is true in the case
of the seasons and of the winds, in the management of our bodies and
the habits of our minds-true of all things except, as I said before,
of the bad. He who looks at the constitution of individuals accustomed
to eat any sort of meat, or drink any drink, or to do any work which
they can get, may see that they are at first disordered by them, but
afterwards, as time goes on, their bodies grow adapted to them, and
they learn to know and like variety, and have good health and
enjoyment of life; and if ever afterwards they are confined again to a
superior diet, at first they are troubled with disorders, and with
difficulty become habituated to their new food. A similar principle we
may imagine to hold good about the minds of men and the natures of
their souls. For when they have been brought up in certain laws, which
by some Divine Providence have remained unchanged during long ages, so
that no one has any memory or tradition of their ever having been
otherwise than they are, then every one is afraid and ashamed to