Plato, Republic (excerpts) translated by Benjamin Jowett

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Plato, Republic (excerpts)

translated by Benjamin Jowett

from the test online at
Socrates is the narrator; the other person speaking below is Glaucon.
[women's participation in the perfect state]
Well, I replied, I suppose that I must retrace my steps and say what I

perhaps ought to have said before in the proper place. The part of the men

has been played out, and now properly enough comes the turn of the women.

Of them I will proceed to speak, and the more readily since I am invited by

For men born and educated like our citizens, the only way, in my opinion,

of arriving at a right conclusion about the possession and use of women and

children is to follow the path on which we originally started, when we said

that the men were to be the guardians and watchdogs of the herd.

Let us further suppose the birth and education of our women to be subject

to similar or nearly similar regulations; then we shall see whether the

result accords with our design.
What do you mean?
What I mean may be put into the form of a question, I said: Are dogs

divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in

keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the

males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the

females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies

is labour enough for them?

No, he said, they share alike; the only difference between them is that the

males are stronger and the females weaker.

But can you use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are

bred and fed in the same way?

You cannot.
Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same

nurture and education?

The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic.
Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war,

which they must practise like the men?

That is the inference, I suppose.
I should rather expect, I said, that several of our proposals, if they are

carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous.

No doubt of it.
Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked

in the palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no

longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than

the enthusiastic old men who in spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to

frequent the gymnasia.
Yes, indeed, he said: according to present notions the proposal would be

thought ridiculous.

But then, I said, as we have determined to speak our minds, we must not

fear the jests of the wits which will be directed against this sort of

innovation; how they will talk of women's attainments both in music and

gymnastic, and above all about their wearing armour and riding upon

Very true, he replied.
Yet having begun we must go forward to the rough places of the law; at the

same time begging of these gentlemen for once in their life to be serious.

Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion,

which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a

naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans and then

the Lacedaemonians introduced the custom, the wits of that day might

equally have ridiculed the innovation.
No doubt.
But when experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far

better than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye

vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man

was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any

other sight but that of folly and vice, or seriously inclines to weigh the

beautiful by any other standard but that of the good.

Very true, he replied.
First, then, whether the question is to be put in jest or in earnest, let

us come to an understanding about the nature of woman: Is she capable of

sharing either wholly or partially in the actions of men, or not at all?

And is the art of war one of those arts in which she can or can not share?

That will be the best way of commencing the enquiry, and will probably lead

to the fairest conclusion.

That will be much the best way.
Shall we take the other side first and begin by arguing against ourselves;

in this manner the adversary's position will not be undefended.

Why not? he said.
Then let us put a speech into the mouths of our opponents. They will say:

'Socrates and Glaucon, no adversary need convict you, for you yourselves,

at the first foundation of the State, admitted the principle that everybody

was to do the one work suited to his own nature.' And certainly, if I am

not mistaken, such an admission was made by us. 'And do not the natures of

men and women differ very much indeed?' And we shall reply: Of course

they do. Then we shall be asked, 'Whether the tasks assigned to men and to

women should not be different, and such as are agreeable to their different

natures?' Certainly they should. 'But if so, have you not fallen into a

serious inconsistency in saying that men and women, whose natures are so

entirely different, ought to perform the same actions?'--What defence will

you make for us, my good Sir, against any one who offers these objections?

That is not an easy question to answer when asked suddenly; and I shall and

I do beg of you to draw out the case on our side.

These are the objections, Glaucon, and there are many others of a like

kind, which I foresaw long ago; they made me afraid and reluctant to take

in hand any law about the possession and nurture of women and children.
By Zeus, he said, the problem to be solved is anything but easy.
Why yes, I said, but the fact is that when a man is out of his depth,

whether he has fallen into a little swimming bath or into mid ocean, he has

to swim all the same.
Very true.
And must not we swim and try to reach the shore: we will hope that Arion's

dolphin or some other miraculous help may save us?

I suppose so, he said.
Well then, let us see if any way of escape can be found. We acknowledged--

did we not? that different natures ought to have different pursuits, and

that men's and women's natures are different. And now what are we saying?

--that different natures ought to have the same pursuits,--this is the

inconsistency which is charged upon us.
Verily, Glaucon, I said, glorious is the power of the art of contradiction!
Why do you say so?
Because I think that many a man falls into the practice against his will.

When he thinks that he is reasoning he is really disputing, just because he

cannot define and divide, and so know that of which he is speaking; and he

will pursue a merely verbal opposition in the spirit of contention and not

of fair discussion.
Yes, he replied, such is very often the case; but what has that to do with

us and our argument?

A great deal; for there is certainly a danger of our getting

unintentionally into a verbal opposition.

In what way?
Why we valiantly and pugnaciously insist upon the verbal truth, that

different natures ought to have different pursuits, but we never considered

at all what was the meaning of sameness or difference of nature, or why we

distinguished them when we assigned different pursuits to different natures

and the same to the same natures.
Why, no, he said, that was never considered by us.
I said: Suppose that by way of illustration we were to ask the question

whether there is not an opposition in nature between bald men and hairy

men; and if this is admitted by us, then, if bald men are cobblers, we

should forbid the hairy men to be cobblers, and conversely?

That would be a jest, he said.
Yes, I said, a jest; and why? because we never meant when we constructed

the State, that the opposition of natures should extend to every

difference, but only to those differences which affected the pursuit in

which the individual is engaged; we should have argued, for example, that a

physician and one who is in mind a physician may be said to have the same


Whereas the physician and the carpenter have different natures?
And if, I said, the male and female sex appear to differ in their fitness

for any art or pursuit, we should say that such pursuit or art ought to be

assigned to one or the other of them; but if the difference consists only

in women bearing and men begetting children, this does not amount to a

proof that a woman differs from a man in respect of the sort of education

she should receive; and we shall therefore continue to maintain that our

guardians and their wives ought to have the same pursuits.
Very true, he said.
Next, we shall ask our opponent how, in reference to any of the pursuits or

arts of civic life, the nature of a woman differs from that of a man?

That will be quite fair.
And perhaps he, like yourself, will reply that to give a sufficient answer

on the instant is not easy; but after a little reflection there is no

Yes, perhaps.
Suppose then that we invite him to accompany us in the argument, and then

we may hope to show him that there is nothing peculiar in the constitution

of women which would affect them in the administration of the State.
By all means.
Let us say to him: Come now, and we will ask you a question:--when you

spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say

that one man will acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little

learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other,

after much study and application, no sooner learns than he forgets; or

again, did you mean, that the one has a body which is a good servant to his

mind, while the body of the other is a hindrance to him?--would not these

be the sort of differences which distinguish the man gifted by nature from

the one who is ungifted?
No one will deny that.
And can you mention any pursuit of mankind in which the male sex has not

all these gifts and qualities in a higher degree than the female? Need I

waste time in speaking of the art of weaving, and the management of

pancakes and preserves, in which womankind does really appear to be great,

and in which for her to be beaten by a man is of all things the most

You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of

the female sex: although many women are in many things superior to many

men, yet on the whole what you say is true.

And if so, my friend, I said, there is no special faculty of administration

in a state which a woman has because she is a woman, or which a man has by

virtue of his sex, but the gifts of nature are alike diffused in both; all

the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them a

woman is inferior to a man.
Very true.
Then are we to impose all our enactments on men and none of them on women?
That will never do.
One woman has a gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, and

another has no music in her nature?

Very true.
And one woman has a turn for gymnastic and military exercises, and another

is unwarlike and hates gymnastics?

And one woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy of philosophy; one

has spirit, and another is without spirit?

That is also true.
Then one woman will have the temper of a guardian, and another not. Was

not the selection of the male guardians determined by differences of this

Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they

differ only in their comparative strength or weakness.

And those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the

companions and colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom they

resemble in capacity and in character?
Very true.
And ought not the same natures to have the same pursuits?
They ought.
Then, as we were saying before, there is nothing unnatural in assigning

music and gymnastic to the wives of the guardians--to that point we come

round again.
Certainly not.
The law which we then enacted was agreeable to nature, and therefore not an

impossibility or mere aspiration; and the contrary practice, which prevails

at present, is in reality a violation of nature.
That appears to be true.
We had to consider, first, whether our proposals were possible, and

secondly whether they were the most beneficial?

And the possibility has been acknowledged?
The very great benefit has next to be established?
Quite so.
You will admit that the same education which makes a man a good guardian

will make a woman a good guardian; for their original nature is the same?

I should like to ask you a question.
What is it?
Would you say that all men are equal in excellence, or is one man better

than another?

The latter.
And in the commonwealth which we were founding do you conceive the

guardians who have been brought up on our model system to be more perfect

men, or the cobblers whose education has been cobbling?
What a ridiculous question!
You have answered me, I replied: Well, and may we not further say that our

guardians are the best of our citizens?

By far the best.
And will not their wives be the best women?
Yes, by far the best.
And can there be anything better for the interests of the State than that

the men and women of a State should be as good as possible?

There can be nothing better.
And this is what the arts of music and gymnastic, when present in such

manner as we have described, will accomplish?

Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest degree

beneficial to the State?

Then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their

robe, and let them share in the toils of war and the defence of their

country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned

to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in other respects their

duties are to be the same. And as for the man who laughs at naked women

exercising their bodies from the best of motives, in his laughter he is

'A fruit of unripe wisdom,'
and he himself is ignorant of what he is laughing at, or what he is about;

--for that is, and ever will be, the best of sayings, That the useful is

the noble and the hurtful is the base.
Very true.
Here, then, is one difficulty in our law about women, which we may say that

we have now escaped; the wave has not swallowed us up alive for enacting

that the guardians of either sex should have all their pursuits in common;

to the utility and also to the possibility of this arrangement the

consistency of the argument with itself bears witness.
Yes, that was a mighty wave which you have escaped.


Plato, The Laws (excerpts)

translated by Benjamin Jowett

from the text online at
The persons of the dialogue are Megillus, a Spartan, Cleinian, a Creatan, and an Athenian stranger.
[education of Persian Kings]
Ath. Hear, then: There was a time when the Persians had more of the state which is a mean between slavery and freedom. In the reign of Cyrus they were freemen and also lords of many others: the rulers gave a share of freedom to the subjects, and being treated as equals, the soldiers were on better terms with their generals, and showed themselves more ready in the hour of danger. And if there was any wise man among them, who was able to give good counsel, he imparted his wisdom to the public; for the king was not jealous, but allowed him full liberty of speech, and gave honour to those who could advise him in any matter. And the nation waxed in all respects, because there was freedom and friendship and communion of mind among them.
Cle. That certainly appears to have been the case.
Ath. How, then, was this advantage lost under Cambyses, and again recovered under Darius? Shall I try to divine?
Cle. The enquiry, no doubt, has a bearing upon our subject.
Ath. I imagine that Cyrus, though a great and patriotic general, had never given his mind to education, and never attended to the order of his household.
Cle. What makes you say so?
Ath. I think that from his youth upwards he was a soldier, and entrusted the education of his children to the women; and they brought them up from their childhood as the favourites of fortune, who were blessed already, and needed no more blessings. They thought that they were happy enough, and that no one should be allowed to oppose them in any way, and they compelled every one to praise all that they said or did. This was how they brought them up.
Cle. A splendid education truly!
Ath. Such an one as women were likely to give them, and especially princesses who had recently grown rich, and in the absence of the men, too, who were occupied in wars and dangers, and had no time to look after them.
Cle. What would you expect?
[education of boys & girls]
Ath. Up to the age of three years, whether of boy or girl, if a person strictly carries out our previous regulations and makes them a principal aim, he will do much for the advantage of the young creatures. But at three, four, five, and even six years the childish nature will require sports; now is the time to get rid of self-will in him, punishing him, but not so as to disgrace him. We were saying about slaves, that we ought neither to add insult to punishment so as to anger them, nor yet to leave them unpunished lest they become self-willed; and a like rule is to be observed in the case of the free-born. Children at that age have certain natural modes of amusement which they find out for themselves when they meet.
And all the children who are between the ages of three and six ought to meet at the temples the villages, the several families of a village uniting on one spot. The nurses are to see that the children behave properly and orderly — they themselves and all their companies are to be under the control of twelve matrons, one for each company, who are annually selected to inspect them from the women previously mentioned, [i.e., the women who have authority over marriage], whom the guardians of the law appoint. These matrons shall be chosen by the women who have authority over marriage, one out of each tribe; all are to be of the same age; and let each of them, as soon as she is appointed, hold office and go to the temples every day, punishing all offenders, male or female, who are slaves or strangers, by the help of some of the public slaves; but if any citizen disputes the punishment, let her bring him before the wardens of the city; or, if there be no dispute, let her punish him herself. After the age of six years the time has arrived for the separation of the sexes — let boys live with boys, and girls in like manner with girls. Now they must begin to learn — the boys going to teachers of horsemanship and the use of the bow, the javelin, and sling, and the girls too, if they do not object, at any rate until they know how to manage these weapons, and especially how to handle heavy arms; for I may note, that the practice which now prevails is almost universally misunderstood.
Cle. In what respect?
Ath. In that the right and left hand are supposed to be by nature differently suited for our various uses of them; whereas no difference is found in the use of the feet and the lower limbs; but in the use of the hands we are, as it were, maimed by the folly of nurses and mothers; for although our several limbs are by nature balanced, we create a difference in them by bad habit. In some cases this is of no consequence, as, for example, when we hold the lyre in the left hand, and the plectrum in the right, but it is downright folly to make the same distinction in other cases. The custom of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes. And there are many similar examples in charioteering and other things, from which we may learn that those who make the left side weaker than the right act contrary to nature. In the case of the plectrum, which is of horn only, and similar instruments, as I was saying, it is of no consequence, but makes a great difference, and may be of very great importance to the warrior who has to use iron weapons, bows and javelins, and the like; above all, when in heavy armour, he has to fight against heavy armour. And there is a very great difference between one who has learnt and one who has not, and between one who has been trained in gymnastic exercises and one who has not been. For as he who is perfectly skilled in the Pancratium or boxing or wrestling, is not unable to fight from his left side, and does not limp and draggle in confusion when his opponent makes him change his position, so in heavy-armed fighting, and in all other things if I am not mistaken, the like holds — he who has these double powers of attack and defence ought not in any case to leave them either unused or untrained, if he can help; and if a person had the nature of Geryon or Briareus he ought to be able with his hundred hands to throw a hundred darts. Now, the magistrates, male and female, should see to all these things, the women superintending the nursing and amusements of the children, and the men superintending their education, that all of them, boys and girls alike, may be sound hand and foot, and may not, if they can help, spoil the gifts of nature by bad habits.
[participation of women in society]
Next follow the buildings for gymnasia and schools open to all; these are to be in three places in the midst of the city; and outside the city and in the surrounding country, also in three places, there shall be schools for horse exercise, and large grounds arranged with a view to archery and the throwing of missiles, at which young men may learn and practise. Of these mention has already been made, and if the mention be not sufficiently explicit, let us speak, further of them and embody them in laws. In these several schools let there be dwellings for teachers, who shall be brought from foreign parts by pay, and let them teach those who attend the schools the art of war and the art of music, and the children shall come not only if their parents please, but if they do not please; there shall be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the state rather than to their parents. My law would apply to females as well as males; they shall both go through the same exercises. I assert without fear of contradiction that gymnastic and horsemanship are as suitable to women as to men. Of the truth of this I am persuaded from ancient tradition, and at the present day there are said to be countless myriads of women in the neighbourhood of the Black Sea, called Sauromatides, who not only ride on horseback like men, but have enjoined upon them the use of bows and other weapons equally with the men. And I further affirm, that if these things are possible, nothing can be more absurd than the practice which prevails in our own country, of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strength and with one mind, for thus the state, instead of being a whole, is reduced to a half, but has the same imposts to pay and the same toils to undergo; and what can be a greater mistake for any legislator to make than this?
Cle. Very true; yet much of what has been asserted by us, Stranger is contrary to the custom of states; still, in saying that the discourse should be allowed to proceed, and that when the discussion is completed, we should choose what seems best, you spoke very properly, and I now feel compunction for what I have said. Tell me, then, what you would next wish to say.
Ath. I should wish to say, Cleinias, as I said before, that if the possibility of these things were not sufficiently proven in fact, then there might be an objection to the argument, but the fact being as I have said, he who rejects the law must find some other ground of objection; and, failing this, our exhortation will still hold good, nor will any one deny that women ought to share as far as possible in education and in other ways with men. For consider; — if women do not share in their whole life with men, then they must have some other order of life.
Cle. Certainly.
Ath. And what arrangement of life to be found anywhere is preferable to this community which we are now assigning to them? Shall we prefer that which is adopted by the Thracians and many other races who use their women to till the ground and to be shepherds of their herds and flocks, and to minister to them like slaves? — Or shall we do as we and people in our part of the world do — getting together, as the phrase is, all our goods and chattels into one dwelling, we entrust them to our women, who are the stewards of them, and who also preside over the shuttles and the whole art of spinning? Or shall we take a middle course, in Lacedaemon, Megillusletting 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 or any other skilled use of missiles, nor could they, after the example of the Goddess, 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? Living as they do, they would never dare at all to imitate the Sauromatides, who, when compared with ordinary women, would appear to be like men. Let him who will, praise your legislators, but I must say what I think. The legislator ought to be whole and perfect, and not half a man only; he ought not to let the female sex live softly and waste money and have no order of life, while he takes the utmost care of the male sex, and leaves half of life only blest with happiness, when he might have made the whole state happy.
Meg. What shall we do, Cleinias? Shall we allow a stranger to run down Sparta in this fashion?
Cle. Yes; for as we have given him liberty of speech we must let him go on until we have perfected the work of legislation.
Meg. Very true.
Ath. Then now I may proceed?
Cle. By all means.
Ath. What will be the manner of life among men who may be supposed to have their food and clothing provided for them in moderation, and who have entrusted the practice of the arts to others, and whose husbandry, committed to slaves paying a part of the produce, brings them a return sufficient for men living temperately; who, moreover, have common tables in which the men are placed apart, and near them are the common tables of their families, of their daughters and mothers, which day by day, the officers, male and female, are to inspect — they shall see to the behaviour of the company, and so dismiss them; after which the presiding magistrate and his attendants shall honour with libations those Gods to whom that day and night are dedicated, and then go home? To men whose lives are thus ordered, is there no work remaining to be done which is necessary and fitting, but shall each one of them live fattening like a beast? Such a life is neither just nor honourable, nor can he who lives it fail of meeting his due; and the due reward of the idle fatted beast is that he should be torn in pieces by some other valiant beast whose fatness is worn down by brave deeds and toil. These regulations, if we duly consider them, will never be exactly carried into execution under present circumstances, nor as long as women and children and houses and all other things are the private property of individuals;

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