T h e G o d d e s s
A t h e n a
i n P l a t o ' s
L a w s
Athenian: You appear to
me, Stranger, to have been thoroughly trained in the Cretan institutions,
and to be well informed about them; will you tell me a little more explicitly
what is the principle of government which you would lay down?
[626c] You seem to imply that
a well governed state ought to be organized in such a way as to be victorious
in war over all other States. Is that so?
Clinias: Certainly it is;
and I think that our friend here shares my opinion.
Megillus: No Lacedaemonian,
my good sir, could possibly say otherwise.
Athenian: If this, then,
is the right attitude for a State to adopt towards a State, is the right
attitude for village towards village different?
Clinias: To both alike.
Athenian: It is the same,
Athenian: Well then, is
the same attitude right also for one house in the village towards another,
and for each individual towards every other?
Clinias: It is.
[626d] Athenian: And must
each individual man conceive himself as his own enemy? Or what shall we
Clinias: O Stranger of Athens,
what shall we say, for you seem to deserve rather to be named after the
Goddess Athena herself,
seeing that you have made the argument more clear by taking it back again
to its starting-point; and will now be better able to understand what I
was just saying that, in the mass, all men are both publicly and privately
one another's enemies, and individually also each man is his own enemy.
In the next place, the lawgiver
must first place his city as nearly as possible in the center of the country,
choosing a place which possesses what is suitable for a city, and which
it is easy enough to perceive and specify.
After this, he must divide the
city into twelve portions, first founding temples to Hestia, to Zeus and
to Athena, in a spot which he will call the
Acropolis, and surround with a circular wall; [745c] starting from this
he must divide up both the city itself and all the country into the twelve
The twelve portions must be equalized
by the provision that those which are of good land shall be smaller, while
those of inferior quality shall be larger.
As regards wrestling, the tricks
which Antaeus and Cercyon devised (the use of the legs) in their
systems for the sake of empty glory, or the tricks in boxing by Epeius
or Amycus (who invented the use of himantes (boxing-gloves)),
they are useless in the business of war, they merit no eulogy.
But the art of wrestling erect
and keeping free the neck and hands and sides, when practiced with ardor
and with a firm and graceful pose, and directed towards strength and health,
-- these are always useful, and are not to be neglected; but we must charge
both the pupils and their teachers -- [796b] when we reach this point in
our legislation -- and we will desire the one to give their instructions
freely, and the others to receive them thankfully.
Nor, again, must we omit suitable
imitations of war in our choruses, -- for instance, the sword-dance of
the Curetes (Priests of the Idaean Zeus) here in Crete, and that
of the Dioscori (Castor and Pollux) in Lacedaemon.
And at Athens, too, our Virgin-Lady
(Athena) delighting in the amusement of
the dance, thought it not fit to amuse herself with empty hands; [796c]
she must be clothed in a complete suit of armour, and in this attire go
through the dance.
And youths and maidens should in
every respect imitate her, esteeming highly the favour of the Goddess
(Athena), alike for service in war and
for use at festivals.
It shall be the rule for the children,
from the age of six until they reach military age, to make processions
and supplications to all the Gods in goodly array, armed and on horseback,
in dances, and marches, fast or slow, offering up prayers to the Gods and
to the sons of Gods.
[796d] Contests, too, and preliminary
trials must be carried out with a view to the objects stated, if at all;
for these sorts of exercises are useful both in peace and war, alike for
the State and for private families; but all other kinds of work and play
and bodily exercise are not worthy of a gentleman.
And now, O Megillus and Clinias,
I have completely described the kind of gymnastic training which -- as
I said early in our discourse -- requires description: here it is in its
Or shall we take a middle course,
in Lacedaemon, Megillus - letting the girls share in gymnastic and music,
while the grown-up women, no longer employed in spinning wool, are hard
at work weaving the web of life, which will be no cheap or mean employment,
and in the duty of serving and taking care of the household and bringing
up children, in which they will observe a sort of mean, not participating
in the toils of war; and if there were any necessity that they should fight
for their city and families, unlike the Amazons, they would be unable to
take part in archery [806b] or any other skilled use of missiles, nor could
they, after the example of the Goddess (Athena),
carry shield or spear, or stand up nobly for their country when it was
being destroyed, and strike terror into their enemies, if only because
they were seen in regular order?
If they lived in this manner,
they would never dare at all to imitate the Sauromatides, who, when compared
with ordinary women, would appear to be like men.
In the next place, the citizens
should have separate houses duly ordered, and this will be the order proper
for men like them.
There should be twelve villages,
one in the middle [848d] of each of the twelve districts; and in each village
we shall first select temples and a market-place for the Gods and their
attendant demigods; and if there exist any local deities of the Magnetes,
or any shrines of other ancient Gods, whose memory is still preserved,
to these let them pay their ancient honours.
But everywhere we shall erect
temples to Hestia, and Zeus, and Athena, and
whatever other deity is the patron of the district concerned.
And the first erection of houses
shall be around these temples, where the ground is highest, [848e] to form
a stronghold, as well fenced as possible, for the garrison.
[920d] Touching agreements, when
a man makes an agreement which he does not fulfil -- unless the agreement
be such as is forbidden by the laws or by a decree, or one made under forcible
and unjust compulsion, or when the man is involuntarily prevented from
fulfilling it owing to some unforeseen accident, -- in all other cases
of unfulfilled agreements, the other party may go to law with him in the
courts of the tribes, if the parties are unable to come to a previous settlement
before arbitrators or neighbors.
Sacred to Hephaestus and Athena
is the class of craftsmen who have furnished human life with the arts,
[920e] and to Ares and Athena
belong those who safeguard the products of these craftsmen by arts of defence;
rightly is this class also sacred to these deities.
All these continually serve both
the country and the people: some of them are
leaders in battle, the others produce for pay instruments and works;
and it would be unseemly for these men to lie concerning their crafts,
because of their reverence for their ancestors.
If any craftsman through indolence
omit to execute his work in a given time, not reverencing the God who gives
him the means of life, but considering, foolish fellow, that he is his
own God and will let him off easily, in the first place, he shall suffer
at the hands of the God, and in the second place, the law shall follow
in a similar spirit.
In free States it is wrong for
a craftsman to try by his art (which is by nature a true thing) to impose
artfully upon private individuals; and in such cases he who is wronged
shall have a right to prosecute the wrongdoer.
If, on the other hand, one lets
out work to a craftsman [921c] and fails to pay him his wage duly according
to the legal agreement, disregarding Zeus, the Patron of the State, and
who are the partners in the constitution, -- thereby dissolving great partnerships
through love of a little gain, -- then, with the help of the Gods, this
law shall lend aid to the bonds that unite the State.
page Next page
to the top
©1999 Roy George