laws (books 7 - 12)
on our present perplexity.
Cle. Excellent, Stranger; let us do as you propose.
Ath. Let us then affirm the paradox that strains of music are our
laws (nomoi), and this latter being the name which the ancients gave
to lyric songs, they probably would not have very much objected to our
proposed application of the word. Some one, either asleep or awake,
must have had a dreamy suspicion of their nature. And let our decree
be as follows:-No one in singing or dancing shall offend against
public and consecrated models, and the general fashion among the
youth, any more than he would offend against any other law. And he who
observes this law shall be blameless; but he who is disobedient, as
I was saying, shall be punished by the guardians of the laws, and by
the priests and priestesses. Suppose that we imagine this to be our
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Can any one who makes such laws escape ridicule? Let us see.
I think that our only safety will be in first framing certain models
for composers. One of these models shall be as follows:-If when a
sacrifice is going on, and the victims are being burnt according to
law-if, I say, any one who may be a son or brother, standing by
another at the altar and over the victims, horribly blasphemes, will
not his words inspire despondency and evil omens and forebodings in
the mind of his father and of his other kinsmen?
Cle. Of course.
Ath. And this is just what takes place in almost all our cities. A
magistrate offers a public sacrifice, and there come in not one but
many choruses, who take up a position a little way from the altar, and
from time to time pour forth all sorts of horrible blasphemies on
the sacred rites, exciting the souls of the audience with words and
rhythms and melodies most sorrowful to hear; and he who at the
moment when the city is offering sacrifice makes the citizens weep
most, carries away the palm of victory. Now, ought we not to forbid
such strains as these? And if ever our citizens must hear such
lamentations, then on some unblest and inauspicious day let there be
choruses of foreign and hired minstrels, like those hirelings who
accompany the departed at funerals with barbarous Carian chants.
That is the sort of thing which will be appropriate if we have such
strains at all; and let the apparel of the singers be, not circlets
and ornaments of gold, but the reverse. Enough of all this. I will
simply ask once more whether we shall lay down as one of our
principles of song-
Ath. That we should avoid every word of evil omen; let that kind
of song which is of good omen be heard everywhere and always in our
state. I need hardly ask again, but shall assume that you agree with
Cle. By all means; that law is approved by the suffrages of us all.
Ath. But what shall be our next musical law or type? Ought not
prayers to be offered up to the Gods when we sacrifice?
Ath. And our third law, if I am not mistaken, will be to the
effect that our poets, understanding prayers to be requests which we
make to the Gods, will take especial heed that they do not by
mistake ask for evil instead of good. To make such a prayer would
surely be too ridiculous.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. Were we not a little while ago quite convinced that no silver
or golden Plutus should dwell in our state?
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And what has it been the object of our argument to show? Did we
not imply that the poets are not always quite capable of knowing
what is good or evil? And if one of them utters a mistaken prayer in
song or words, he will make our citizens pray for the opposite of what
is good in matters of the highest import; than which, as I was saying,