The Laws (Penguin Classics)

Plato

Language: English

Pages: 560

ISBN: 0140449841

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In The Laws, Plato describes in fascinating detail a comprehensive system of legislation in a small agricultural utopia he named Magnesia. His laws not only govern crime and punishment, but also form a code of conduct for all aspects of life in his ideal state—from education, sport and religion to sexual behaviour, marriage and drinking parties. Plato sets out a plan for the day-to-day rule of Magnesia, administered by citizens and elected officials, with supreme power held by a Council. Although Plato's views that citizens should act in complete obedience to the law have been read as totalitarian, The Laws nonetheless constitutes a highly impressive programme for the reform of society and provides a crucial insight into the mind of one of Classical Greece's foremost thinkers.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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A part near the city and a part next to the boundary should form [d] one holding, the second nearest the city with the second from the boundary should form another, and so on. ) He must apply to the two parts the rule I’ve just mentioned about the relative quality of the soil, making them equal by varying their size. He should also divide the population into twelve sections, and arrange to distribute among them as equally as possible all wealth over and above the actual holdings22 (a comprehensive list will be compiled).

Not that I know his work to any great extent – we Cretans don’t go in for foreign poetry very much. MEGILLUS: But we at Sparta do, and we think Homer is the prince of epic poets, even though the way of life he describes [d] is invariably Ionian rather than Spartan. In this instance he certainly seems to bear you out when he points in his stories to the wild life of the Cyclopes as an explanation of their primitive customs. ATHENIAN: Yes, he does testify in my favour. So let’s take him as our evidence that political systems of this kind do sometimes develop.

We must do as you say. ATHENIAN: No laws could form a better subject for our investigation than those by which these states have been administered. Or are there any bigger or more famous states whose foundation we might examine? MEGILLUS: No, it’s not easy to think of alternatives. ATHENIAN: Well then, it’s pretty obvious that they intended the arrangements they made to protect adequately not only the Peloponnese but the Greeks in general against any possible [c] attack by non-Greeks – as for example occurred when those who then lived in the territory of Ilium trusted to the power of the Assyrian empire, which Ninos had founded, and provoked the war against Troy by their arrogance.

None of us would fail to inflict there and then the heaviest punishment on any tipsy merrymaker he happened [b] to meet; he would not let the man off even if he had the festival of Dionysus as his excuse. Once, I saw men in that condition on wagons in your country,1 and at Tarentum, among our colonials, I saw the entire city drunk at the festival of Dionysus. We don’t have anything like that. ATHENIAN: My Spartan friend, all this sort of thing is perfectly laudable in men with a certain strength of character; it is when they cannot stop themselves that it becomes rather silly.

So what is this distinction I could have wished to hear you draw in your [b] argument? Shall I tell you? CLEINIAS: Certainly. ATHENIAN: ‘Now, Sir,’ you ought to have said, ‘it is no accident that the laws of the Cretans have such a high reputation in the entire Greek world. They are sound laws, and achieve the happiness of those who observe them, by producing for them a great number of benefits. These benefits fall into two classes, “human” and “divine”. The former depend on the latter, and if a city receives the one sort, it wins the other too – the greater [c] include the lesser; if not, it goes without both.

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