Minos

by Plato

translated by George Burges (1855)


Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and a Friend.

SOCRATES:

What thing is law with us?

FRIEND:

Of what kind is the law are you asking about?

SOCRATES:

What, is it that law differs from law, according to this very thing, in being law? For consider what I happen to be asking you. For I am asking, as if I should inquire what is gold? and if you should in a similar manner ask me, about what kind of gold am I speaking, I should think you would not rightly ask. For neither does gold differ in anything from gold, so far as it is gold, nor a stone from a stone, so far as it is a stone. And in like manner, neither does law differ in anything from law; but all laws are as laws the same. For each of them exists similarly as law; nor is one more, and another less so. I ask you, therefore, this very thing as a whole, what is law? and if you have an answer at hand, state it.

FRIEND:

What else, Socrates, can law be, than the things established by law?

SOCRATES:

Does speech too appear to you to be the things which are spoken? or sight, the things which are seen? or hearing, the things which are heard? Or is not speech one thing, and the things spoken another? Is not sight one thing, and the things seen another? Is not hearing one thing, and the things heard another? And is not law one thing, and the things established by law another? Does it appear to you in this way? Or how?

FRIEND:

It now appears to be another thing.

SOCRATES:

Law therefore is not the things established by law.

FRIEND:

It does not appear to me that it is.

SOCRATES:

What then can law be? Let us consider it thus. If some one had asked us respecting the things just now spoken of — Since you say that things seen are seen by the sight, by the sight being what, are they seen? we should have answered — by that sense, which through the eyes manifests colours to us. And if he had asked us again — Since things heard are heard by hearing, by the hearing being what, are they heard? we should have answered — by a sense, which through the ears manifests sounds to us. In like manner, if he had asked us, — Since things are established by law, by the law being what, are they thus established? Is it by a certain sense, or manifestation, in the same manner as things learnt are learnt by some art rendering them manifest through some discovery? just as things discovered are discovered; as, for instance, things salubrious and noxious are discovered through the medical art; and what the gods have in their thoughts, as the diviners say, through the divining art. For art is with us the discovery of things: or is it not?

FRIEND:

Entirely so.

SOCRATES:

Which of these then may we especially understand law to be?

FRIEND:

Decrees and votes, as it seems to me. For what else can any one say law is? So that it nearly appears that law, about which you were asking, is, taken as a whole, the decree of a state.

SOCRATES:

You call, as it seems, law, a state-opinion.

FRIEND:

I do.

SOCRATES:

And perhaps you speak well; but perhaps we shall know better in the following manner. You call some persons wise?

FRIEND:

I do.

SOCRATES:

Are not then the wise, wise by wisdom?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But what, are the just, just by justice?

FRIEND:

Entirely so.

SOCRATES:

Are not then the lawful, lawful by law?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And the lawless, lawless by an absence of law?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And the lawful are just?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But the lawless unjust?

FRIEND:

Unjust.

SOCRATES:

Are not justice and law therefore things most beautiful?

FRIEND:

They are.

SOCRATES:

And are not injustice and lawlessness the least beautiful?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And does not the former preserve cities and everything else, but the latter destroy and overturn them?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

It is necessary then to consider the law as something beautiful, and to seek it as a good.

FRIEND:

How not?

SOCRATES:

Now have we not said that law is a decree of the city?

FRIEND:

We have said so.

SOCRATES:

What then, are not some decrees good, and some evil?

FRIEND:

They are.

SOCRATES:

Law however is not evil.

FRIEND:

It is not.

SOCRATES:

It is not correct then to answer thus simply, that law is a decree of the city.

FRIEND:

It appears to me it is not.

SOCRATES:

Nor is it suited to reason for an evil decree to be law.

FRIEND:

Certainly not.

SOCRATES:

Law however appears to me too to be a certain opinion. And since an opinion is not evil, is not this evident, that it is a good one, if law is opinion?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But what is a good opinion? Is it not a true one?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Is then a true opinion the discovery of that which is?

FRIEND:

It is.

SOCRATES:

Law therefore would be the discovery of that which is.

FRIEND:

How then, Socrates, if law is the discovery of that which is, do we not always use the same laws about the same things? since things that are have been discovered by us.

SOCRATES:

The law nevertheless would be the discovery of that which is. But if men do not always, as we think, use the same laws, they are not always able to discover that which law wishes, namely, that which is. But come, let us see if it will hence become evident to us, whether we always use the same laws, or some at one time, and others at another; and if all use the same laws, or different persons different laws.

FRIEND:

But this, Socrates, it is not difficult to know, that neither do the same persons always use the same laws, nor different persons always different laws. Thus, for example, it is not a law with us to sacrifice human beings, but it is an unholy act; but the Carthaginians sacrifice them, as being a holy and a lawful act with them; so that some of them sacrifice their sons to Kronos, as perhaps you too have heard; and not only do Barbarians use laws different from ours, but also those fellows in Lycea, and the progeny of Athamas, what sacrifices do they perform, although they are Greeks! In like manner you surely know by hearsay yourself what laws we formerly used concerning the dead, by cutting the throats of the victims before the dead body was carried out, and sending for the women who collect the bones of the dead in jars and those, who still, antecedent to them, buried the dead at home; but we do none of these things. Ten thousand instances of this kind one might mention; for wide is the field of demonstration, that neither do we always have customs in the same manner amongst ourselves, nor do men amongst each other.

SOCRATES:

It is by no means wonderful, O best of men, if you are speaking correctly, this has lain hid from me. But as long as you by yourself declare what appears to you in a long discourse, and I again do the same, we shall never, as I think, come to an agreement. But if the inquiry be laid down in common, we shall perhaps think alike. If then you are willing, ask me some question, and consider with me in common. Or, if you wish it, give an answer.

FRIEND:

Nay, I am willing, Socrates, to answer whatever you choose to ask.

SOCRATES:

Come then, do you think that what is just is unjust, and what is unjust is just? Or that what is just is just, and what is unjust is unjust?

FRIEND:

I indeed think that what is just is just, and what is unjust is unjust.

SOCRATES:

Is it not so held by all persons as it is here?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Among the Persians also?

FRIEND:

And among the Persians too.

SOCRATES:

But is it really always so?

FRIEND:

Always.

SOCRATES:

Whether are things, that draw the greater weight, thought by us here to be the heavier, but those that draw the less, lighter? or the contrary?

FRIEND:

No; but those that draw the greater weight, are the heavier, and those that draw the less, are lighter.

SOCRATES:

Is this the case, therefore, in Carthage and in Lycia?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Things beautiful, as it seems, are everywhere held to be beautiful, and things ugly to be ugly; but things ugly are not thought to be beautiful, nor things beautiful to be ugly.

FRIEND:

It is so.

SOCRATES:

In the case of all things, so to say, the things that exist are held to be, not the things that do not exist, both with us and with all others.

FRIEND:

It appears so to me.

SOCRATES:

He, therefore, who errs in that which is, errs in that which is lawful.

FRIEND:

Thus, Socrates, as you say, the same things always appear lawful both to us and to others. But when I consider, that we never cease altering the laws up and down, I cannot be persuaded.

SOCRATES:

For perhaps you do not bear in mind that these things, being put into a changed place, are the same. But look at them thus with me. Have you ever met with any book relating to the health of the sick?

FRIEND:

I have.

SOCRATES:

Do you know then to what art that book belongs?

FRIEND:

I know it belongs to the medical art.

SOCRATES:

Do you then not call those skilled in these matters physicians?

FRIEND:

I do.

SOCRATES:

Do then the skilled think the same about the same, or do some think one thing and others another?

FRIEND:

They seem to me to think the same.

SOCRATES:

Do then Greeks alone think the same with Greeks about things of which they know? or do Barbarians likewise do so with each other, and with Greeks?

FRIEND:

There is a great necessity for both Greeks and Barbarians, who know, to think the same with themselves and each other.

SOCRATES:

You have answered correctly. Do they not then always do so?

FRIEND:

Yes, always.

SOCRATES:

Do not physicians also write about health what they think to be true?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Things relating to medicine and medical laws are the writings of physicians.

FRIEND:

Things relating to medicine, certainly.

SOCRATES:

Are not then the writings relating to agriculture agricultural laws?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Of whom then are the writings and institutes relating to gardening?

FRIEND:

Of gardeners.

SOCRATES:

These then are the laws about gardening.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Of those, who know how to manage gardens?

FRIEND:

How not?

SOCRATES:

But gardeners possess this knowledge.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And of whom are the writings and institutes relating to the dressing of savoury food?

FRIEND:

Of cooks.

SOCRATES:

These, therefore, are the laws of cookery.

FRIEND:

Of cookery.

SOCRATES:

Of those, as it seems, who know how to manage the dressing of savoury food.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But cooks, as they say, know.

FRIEND:

They do know.

SOCRATES:

Be it so. And of whom are the writings and institutes concerning the administration of a state? Are they not of those, who know how to govern states?

FRIEND:

It appears so to me.

SOCRATES:

But do any others than statesmen and kings know?

FRIEND:

They alone.

SOCRATES:

Those writings then relating to a state, which men call laws, are the writings of kings and good men.

FRIEND:

You speak the truth.

SOCRATES:

Will then they, who know, write one thing at one time, and another at another, about the same things?

FRIEND:

Certainly not.

SOCRATES:

If then we see certain persons doing this at any place whatever, shall we say that those, who do so, are skilled or unskilled?

FRIEND:

Unskilled.

SOCRATES:

Shall we then say that what is right is in each case lawful, whether it relate to medicine, or cooking, or gardening?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But that, which is not right, we shall no longer assert to be lawful.

FRIEND:

No longer.

SOCRATES:

It therefore becomes lawless.

FRIEND:

Necessarily so.

SOCRATES:

Hence, in writings concerning things just and unjust, and, in short, concerning the orderly arrangement of a city, and the manner in which one ought to administer it, that, which is right, is a royal law; but that, which is not right, is not a royal law, because science is wanting : for it is lawless.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

We have rightly therefore acknowledged that the law is the invention of that which is.

FRIEND:

So it appears.

SOCRATES:

Let us still further consider it in this way likewise. Who is skilled in distributing the seeds to the earth?

FRIEND:

The husbandman.

SOCRATES:

Does he then distribute seeds proper for each soil?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

The husbandman therefore is a good distributer of these things, and his laws and distributions in these particulars are right.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And who is a good distributer of pulsations for tunes, and distributes such as are proper? And whose laws are right?

FRIEND:

Those of the piper and the harper.

SOCRATES:

He then, who acts most according to law in these things, is, in the greatest degree, a piper.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

But who is the best to distribute nutriment to the bodies of men? Is it not he, who distributes the proper?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

The distributions therefore and the laws of this man are the best; and he, who acts the most according to law in these things, is the best distributer.

FRIEND:

Entirely so.

SOCRATES:

Who is he?

FRIEND:

The training-master.

SOCRATES:

Does he know how to feed the flock of the human body in the best manner?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And who is the best to tend a flock of sheep? What is his name?

FRIEND:

Shepherd.

SOCRATES:

The laws therefore of the shepherd are the best for the sheep.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And those of the herdsman for oxen.

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

And whose laws are the best for the minds of men? Are they not those of a king? Tell me.

FRIEND:

I say so.

SOCRATES:

You speak well. Can you therefore tell me, who among the ancients was a good maker of the laws relating to pipes? Perhaps you have him not in your thoughts. Are you then willing that I should remind you?

FRIEND:

By all means.

SOCRATES:

Was not Marsyas said to be so, and his loved Olympus the Phrygian.

FRIEND:

True.

SOCRATES:

The pipe-playing of these men is most divine, and alone excites and shows forth those who are in need of the gods; and it alone remains to the present time as being divine.

FRIEND:

Such is the case.

SOCRATES:

And who amongst the ancient kings is said to have been a good lawmaker, and whose institutions remain even now as being divine?

FRIEND:

I do not recollect.

SOCRATES:

Do you not know, which of the Greeks are making use of laws the most ancient?

FRIEND:

Are you speaking of the Lacedaemonians, and of Lycurgus the law-giver?

SOCRATES:

These institutions, however, are perhaps not three hundred years old, or a little more. But do you know from whence came the best of their laws?

FRIEND:

They say, from Crete.

SOCRATES:

Do not they of all the Greeks make use of laws the most ancient?

FRIEND:

Yes.

SOCRATES:

Do you know then who among these were good kings? Were they not Minos and Rhadamanthus, the sons of Zeus and Europa, by whom those laws were made?

FRIEND:

They say, Socrates, that Rhadamanthus was a just man, but that Minos was rustic, morose, and unjust.

SOCRATES:

You are telling, O best of men, a tale of Attica, and of tragedy.

FRIEND:

What, are not such things told of Minos?

SOCRATES:

Not by Homer, at least, and Hesiod; and they are more trust-worthy than all the tragic poets, from whom you have heard what you are saying.

FRIEND:

But what do they say about Minos?

SOCRATES:

I will tell you, that you may not, like the many, be guilty of impiety. For there is not anything more impious than this, nor of what we ought to be more cautious, than of sinning against the gods, either in word or in deed; and next, against divine men. But you ought to take ever a very great care, when you are about to praise or blame any man, that you speak correctly; and for the sake of this, it is meet to learn how to distinguish good and bad men. For the deity feels indignant when anyone blames a person similar to himself, or praises one dissimilar; for this is the good man. For think not that stones, and wood, and birds, and serpents are sacred, but that men are not so; for a good man is the most sacred, and a depraved man the most defiled of all things. Now then, since Homer and Hesiod pass an encomium on Minos, on this account I will speak, in order that you, being a man sprung from a man, may not sin in word against a hero the son of Jupiter. For Homer, speaking of Crete, says, there are many men, and ninety cities in it;

Amongst them Knossus, a great city, where
Reign'd Minos, who each ninth year converse held
With mighty Zeus.

This then is Homer's praise of Minos, expressed in few words, such as he has not given to even one of his heroes. For that Zeus is a sophist, and that the art itself is all-beautiful, he shows in many other places, and here likewise. For he says that Minos conversed in the ninth year with Zeus, and went to be instructed by him, as if Zeus were a sophist. That Homer, then, does not bestow the honour of being instructed by Zeus upon any other hero than Minos, is praise indeed to be wondered at. In the scene of the Odyssey, too, relating to the Dead, Homer has represented Minos as a judge, and holding a golden sceptre; but not Rhadamanthus as judging there, or conversing with Zeus anywhere. On this account I say that Minos is extolled by Homer beyond all other heroes. For to have been instructed merely by Zeus, when he was the son of Zeus, carries with it no excess of praise. For the verse — He reigned, and each ninth year conversed with Zeus — means that he was the associate of Zeus. Hence at each ninth year, Minos went to the cavern of Zeus, to learn some things, and to show forth others which, during the preceding period of nine years, he had learnt from Zeus. There are, however, some who understand by "oaristes" the "associate" of Zeus in drinking and sport; although anyone may make use of this as a proof to show that they, who thus understand the word, say nothing to the purpose; for although both the Greeks and Barbarians are numerous, there are none, who abstain from banquets, and the sport to which wine belongs, except the Cretans, and next the Lacedaemonians, who were instructed by the Cretans. But in Crete this is one of the other laws, which Minos laid down, "not to drink with each other to intoxication." And it is evident, that what he deemed to be beautiful institutions, these he laid down for his own citizens. For Minos did not, like a knave, think one thing, and do another, contrary to what he thought; but his intercourse with Zeus was, as I assert, through discourses for the attainment of virtue. Hence he laid down those laws for his citizens, through which Crete has been for all time prosperous, and Lacedaemon likewise, from the time when it began to make use of those laws, as being divine. But Rhadamanthus was indeed a good man; for he was instructed by Minos. He did not however learn the whole of the royal art, but that part of it, which ministers to the royal, as far as presiding over courts of justice from whence he was said to be a good judge. For Minos employed him as a guardian of the laws in the city; but Talus for those through the rest of Crete. For Talus thrice every year went through the villages in order to preserve the laws in them, and carried with him the laws written in tables of brass; from whence he was called "brazen." Hesiod too asserts respecting Minos, what is closely related to this. For, having mentioned his name, he says,

Most regal was lie of all mortal kings,
And o'er the most of neighbouring people ruled,
Of Zeus the sceptre holding, king like him;

and he too means by the sceptre of Zeus, nothing else than the instruction of Zeus, by which he regulated Crete.

FRIEND:

On what account then, Socrates, was the report spread against Minos, of his being an unlearned and morose man?

SOCRATES:

On that account, through which you, O best of men, if you are prudent, and every other person to whom it is a care to be in good repute, will be cautious never to incur the anger of a poet. For poets are able to effect much as regards reputation, in whatever way they may represent acts, by praising men and blaming them. On which ground Minos erred, when he made war upon this city; where there is much of other wisdom, and poets in every other kind of poetry, and in tragedy likewise. Now tragedy here is of an old date, not beginning as persons fancy from Thespis, nor from Phrynichus; but, if you are willing to turn your thoughts to it, you will find it is a very ancient invention of this city. Now, of poetry in general, the most pleasing to the vulgar and the most soul-alluring is tragedy; to which we, applying our minds, have revenged ourselves upon Minos, for the tribute he compelled us to pay. In this then Minos erred, by incurring our anger; from whence, in reply to your question, he became in rather bad repute. For that he was a good man, a friend to law, and a good shepherd of the people, as I have before observed, this is the greatest proof, that his laws have been unchanged, in consequence of his having discovered correctly the truth of what is, with reference to the administration of a state.

FRIEND:

You appear to me, Socrates, to have stated a probable reason.

SOCRATES:

If then I am speaking the truth, do not the Cretans, the citizens of Minos and Ehadamanthus, appear to you to have made use of laws the most ancient?

FRIEND:

They appear so.

SOCRATES:

These therefore were the best lawgivers of the ancients, and distributors and shepherds of men; just as Homer likewise says, that a good general is "a shepherd of the people."

FRIEND:

Entirely so.

SOCRATES:

Come then, by Zeus, who presides over friendship, if anyone, who is a good lawgiver and shepherd of the body, should ask us — What are those things, which a person by distributing to the body will make it better? we should well and briefly answer, that they are nutriment and labour, by the former increasing, and by the latter exercising and knitting together the body.

FRIEND:

Right.

SOCRATES:

If then he should after this ask us — What are those things which a good law-giver and shepherd will, by distributing to the soul, make it better? — making what answer, by should we be not ashamed of ourselves, and of our age?

FRIEND:

This I am no longer able to say.

SOCRATES:

It is however disgraceful to the soul of each of us, to seem not to know the things pertaining to them, and in which their good and evil consist, but to have considered those pertaining to the body, and to other things.


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