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Encyclopedia > Laws (Plato)

The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue. The question asked at the beginning is not "What is law?" as one would expect- that is the question of the Minos. The kick-off question is rather, "Who is given the credit for laying down your laws?" Statue of a philosopher, presumely Plato, in Delphi. ... The term dialogue (or dialog) expresses basically reciprocal conversation between two or more persons. ...

It is generally agreed that Plato wrote this dialogue as an old man, having failed in his effort in Syracuse on the island of Sicily to guide a tyrant's rule, instead having been thrown in prison. These events are alluded to in the Seventh Letter. Map of central Mediterranean Sea, showing location of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. ... Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) is an autonomous region of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 25,700 sq. ...



The setting

Unlike most of Plato's dialogues, Socrates does not appear in the Laws. This is fitting because the dialogue takes place on the island of Crete, and Socrates never appears outside of Athens in Plato's writings, except in the Phaedrus, where he is just outside the city's walls. Instead of Socrates we have the Athenian Stranger (in Greek, 'xenos') and two other old men, an ordinary Spartan citizen (Megillos) and a Cretan politician and lawgiver (Kleinias) from Knossos. Crete, sometimes spelled Krete (Greek Κρήτη / Kriti) is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. ... Phaedrus , Roman fabulist, was by birth a Macedonian and lived in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius and Claudius. ... The Acropolis in central Athens, one of the most important landmarks in world history. ... This article needs cleanup. ... Knossos Knossos (alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus, Gnossus, Greek Κνωσσός) is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan culture. ...

The Athenian Stranger, who is much like Socrates but whose name is never given, joins the other two on their religious pilgrimage to the cave of Zeus. The entire dialogue takes place during this journey, which mimics the action of Minos, who is said by the Cretans to have made their ancient laws, who walked this path every nine years in order to receive instruction from Zeus on lawgiving. It is also said to be the longest day of the year, allowing for a densely-packed twelve chapters. Alternate meanings: See Zeus Web Server Statue of Zeus The Greek sculptor Phidias created the 12-m (40-ft) tall Statue of Zeus in about 435 bc. ... In Greek mythology, Minos was a semi-legendary king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. ...

By the end of the third chapter Kleinias announces that he has in fact been given the charge of laying down laws for a new Cretan colony, and that he would like the Stranger's assistance. The rest of the dialogue proceeds with the three old men, walking towards the cave and making laws for this new city.


The questions of the Laws are without limit:

  • Divine revelation, divine law and lawgiving
  • The role of intelligence in lawgiving
  • The relations of philosophy, religion, and politics
  • The role of music, exercise and dance in education
  • Natural law and natural right
  • ...

The dialogue uses primarily the Athenian and Spartan (Lacedaemonian) law systems as background for pinpointing a choice of laws, which the speakers imagine as a more or less coherent set for the new city they are talking about.


...to other dialogues by Plato

The Laws is similar to and yet in opposition to the Republic. It is similar in that both dialogues concern the making of a city in speech, but different in that the one city is ideal, and the other a real, practical city. The city of the laws is described as "second best," whereas the beautiful city of the Republic is the best possible city. The city of the Laws differs in its allowance of private property and private families, and in the very existence of written laws, from the city of the Republic, with its communistic property-system, possession of women in common, and absence of written law. Also, whereas the Republic is a dialogue between Socrates and many young men (Cephalus goes to bed early, after attending to his boring old sacrifices), the Laws is a discussion among old men, where children are not allowed and there is always a pretence of piety and ritualism. All in all, while the Laws is more similar to the Republic than any other dialogue, they are so different that the Laws needs to be considered in its own right, as Plato's most serious and comprehensive contribution to political philosophy. The Republic is an influential dialogue by Plato, written in the first half of the 4th century BC. This Socratic dialogue mainly is about political philosophy and ethics. ...

It has the sense of a writer trying to get everything into his last work, yet its structure is comparable to the Symposium in its beauty and grace. Symposium is a Socratic dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, student of Socrates. ...

Traditionally, the Minos is thought to be the preface, and the Epinomis the epilogue, to the Laws, but probably both are spurious.

...to other ancient accounts of Greek law systems

Plato was not the only Ancient Greek author writing about the law systems of his day, and making comparisons between the Athenian and the Lacedaemonian/Spartan laws. Notably, following text of another Socrates pupil has survived: Xenophon, The Polity of the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians. Ancient Greece is the term used to describe the Greek-speaking world in ancient times. ... The Acropolis in central Athens, one of the most important landmarks in world history. ... Laconia (Λακωνία), also known as Lacedaemonia, was in ancient Greece the portion of the Peloponnesus of which the most important city was Sparta. ... This article needs cleanup. ... Socrates Scholasticus; for the Brazilian football player, see Sócrates (football player) Socrates Socrates (June 4, 470 – 399 BC) (Greek Σωκράτης Sōkrátēs) was a Greek (Athenian) philosopher and one of the most important icons of the Western philosophical tradition. ... Xenophon (circa 427-355 B.C.) was an Athenian citizen, an associate of Socrates, a Philodorian and is known for his writings on Hellenic history and culture. ...

Some centuries later also Plutarch would devote attention to the topic of Ancient Greek law systems, e.g. in his Life of Lykurgus. Lykurgus (or: Lycurgus) was the legendary law-giver of the Lacedaemonians. Plutarch compares Lycurgus (and his Spartan laws) to the law system Numa Pompilius introduced in Rome around 700 BC. Mestrius Plutarch (c. ... Lycurgus was the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. ... According to legend, Numa Pompilius was the second of the Kings of Rome, succeeding Romulus. ...

Both Xenophon and Plutarch are stark admirers of the Spartan system, showing less reserve than Plato in expressing that admiration.

See also

Related articles

Political content

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Other aspects

The gymnasium of the Greeks originally functioned as the school where competitors in the public games received their training, and was so named from the circumstance that these competitors exercised naked (gymnos). ... This article is about the Ancient Greek Gymnopaedia festival and dance. ...

External references

Regarding Plato's The Laws

  • Kochin, Michael (2002). Gender and Rhetoric in Plato's Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521808529.
  • Pangle, Thomas L., 1980. The Laws of Plato, Translated, with Notes and an Interpretive Essay, New York, Basic Books.
  • Project Gutenberg provides the e-text of a 19th century English translation of The Laws: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1750

Project Gutenberg (PG) was launched by Michael Hart in 1971 in order to provide a library, on what would later become the Internet, of free electronic versions (sometimes called e-texts) of physically existing books. ...

Other ancient texts about law systems



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