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CHAPTER LII

[P LATO] 143 'To the man who believes that there are gods, but that they take no heed of human affairs, we must speak words of encouragement. O best of men, let us say, your believing in gods is perhaps due to some divine affinity that draws you towards your kindred, to honour and believe in them. But the fortunes of evil and unjust men both in private and in public life, though not really happy, yet being in the opinions of men vehemently but unduly commended as happy, and wrongfully celebrated both in poetry and in literature of every kind, tend to draw you towards impiety.

'Or perhaps from seeing unrighteous men at last reach old age, and leave behind them children's children in the greatest dignities, you are now disturbed, when, after seeing them in all these conditions or after hearing or having been yourself an actual eye-witness of some of them, when many terrible impieties were committed, you see them in consequence of these very deeds attain from small beginnings to despotic powers and highest dignities: then it is evident that because of all such things, though you would riot like to blame the gods as the causes of them, because they are your kindred, yet being at the same time led astray by false reasoning and unable to be angry with the gods, you have come to this your present condition of thinking that, though they exist, they despise and disregard the affairs of men.

'In order therefore that your present doctrine may not grow into a stronger tendency towards impiety, but that, if it be at all possible, we may be enabled to avert its progress by arguments, let us add the sequel to the argument by which at the outset we reached our conclusion against the man who did not believe in gods at all, and try now to make further use of it. And do you, O Cleinias, and you, Megillus, take turns in answering for the young man, as before. And if any difficult point arise in the arguments, I will take it from you, and carry you across the river, as I did just now.

'You speak well: and if you do this, we to the best of our ability will do as you say.

'But probably it will not be difficult to prove at least this, that the gods are not less careful over small matters than over those of great importance. For he was present, I suppose, and heard what we were saying just now, that being endowed with every virtue they hold the care of all things as their own peculiar right.

'Yes, and he listened attentively.

'Let us then examine the next point together, namely what virtue we ascribe to them, when we agree that they are good. Do we say, pray, that prudence and the possession of mind is proper to virtue, and the contrary to vice?

'We do say so.

'Again? That manliness is part of virtue, and cowardice of vice?

'Yes, certainly.

'Shall we also say that of these qualities one class is disgraceful, and the other honourable?

'We must.

'And of these shall we say that all the bad belong, if so be, to us, but the gods have no part either great or small in such qualities?

'This also every one must admit.

'Again? Shall we class carelessness, and idleness, and luxury as a virtue of the soul? How say you?

'How could we?

'Well then on the opposite side?

'Yes.

'The contraries to these therefore we must set on the other side?

'Yes, on the other side.

'What then? Luxurious, and careless, and idle, every one of this character would be in our opinion a man whom the poet declared to be most like to stingless drones? 144

'Most truly the poet spake.

'We must not say then that god is of a character such as this, which he himself hates: nor if any one attempts to utter anything of this kind must it be allowed.

'Surely not. How could it be allowed?

'If then it is a man's especial duty to manage and attend to some work, but he attends to the great and neglects the small parts of this kind of work, on what principle can we praise such a man without going altogether wrong? Let us, however, look at it thus. Does not he who acts in this way, whether god or man, act on one of two principles?

'What two principles?

'Either as thinking that it is of no consequence to the whole, if the small matters are neglected, or from slothfulness and luxury, if it is of consequence and he neglects them. Is there any other way in which negligence occurs? For of course, when it is impossible to attend to all, there will then be no negligence on the part of one who fails to attend to any matters either small or great, to which a god or any inferior person deficient in power may be unable to attend.

'Of course not.

'Now then to answer us three there are two, who both admit that gods exist, though one says that they may be appeased by prayer, and the other that they are careless of small matters. In the first place you both say that gods know and see and hear all things, and that of all the objects of sensation or knowledge nothing can possibly escape their notice. Do you say this is so, or how?

'It is so.

'Well, again? Can they do all things which are possible for mortals and immortals?

'How can they refuse to admit that this also is true?

'Moreover we have agreed, all five of us, that they are not only good but as good as possible.

'Yes, certainly.

'Is it not impossible then to admit that they do anything whatever from indolence and luxury, if they are such as we say? For in us idleness is the offspring of cowardice, and carelessness of idleness and luxury.

'You speak most truly.

'No god then is ever negligent from idleness and carelessness, for of course there is no cowardice in him.

'Most true.

'If then they neglect the small and trifling concerns of the universe, the alternative is that they must do this, either from knowing that there is no need to attend to any such things at all; or----what is the remaining alternative except that they know the contrary?

'There is none.

'Are we then to suppose, O excellent and best of men, that you mean to say that they are ignorant and, though they ought to attend, are negligent from ignorance, or that they know they ought, just as the worst of men are said to do, when they know that it would be better to do differently from what they really do, and do it not, because of some yielding to pleasures or pain?

'How is it possible?

'Do not then human affairs partake of the nature endowed with soul, and is not man himself of all animals the most religious?

'It seems so indeed.

'We say, however, that all mortal animals are the "possessions of the gods," to whom also the whole heaven belongs. 'Of course.

'Now therefore any one may say that these things are either small or great to the gods; for in neither case can it become our owners to neglect us, being, as they are, most careful and benevolent. Besides this let us consider the following point also.

'What point?

'About sensation and power. Are they not naturally opposed to each other in regard to ease and difficulty?

'How do you mean?

'It is surely more difficult to see and to hear the small than the great; but on the other hand it is easier for any one to carry, and hold, and take care of the small and light, than the opposites.

'Very much more.

'If then a physician who is willing and able to cure a whole body committed to his charge, attend to the great but neglect the small parts, will the whole do well with him?

'By no means.

'No, nor yet with pilots, nor generals, nor stewards, nor statesmen, nor any such officials, would the many or the great things do well apart from the few or small. For as the stonemasons say, the large stones do not lie well without the small.

'How could they?

'Let us therefore never think that God is inferior to mortal workmen, who, the better they are themselves, finish their proper works the more exactly and perfectly, both small and great with the same skill; but that God, most wise as He is, and both willing and able to care for all, takes no care at all for those which it is easier to care for, as being small, but only of the great, just like some idle or cowardly workman giving up work because of the labour.

'By no means, O Stranger, let us admit such a thought as this concerning gods: for our thought in that case would be by no means either pious or true.

'It seems to me that we have now at last had quite sufficient discussion with the censorious young man about the negligence of gods.

'Yes.

'In forcing him at least by our arguments to confess that he was wrong in what he said. I think, however, that he is still in need of some consoling words.

'Of what nature, my good friend?

'Let us persuade the young man by our arguments, that all things have been arranged by the guardian of the universe with a view to the safety and excellence of the whole, and that each part thereof does and suffers its proper share according to its power. And for each of these parts there are rulers appointed over the very smallest portion of action and suffering, by whom perfection is wrought out even to the minutest subdivision.

'And as one of these thy own portion, O bold man, small indeed though it is, ever looks and tends towards the whole. But of this very fact thou art ignorant, that all creation takes place for the sake of that whole, in order that the life of the universe may have a constant supply of happy being, created not for thy sake, but thou for the sake of that whole. For every physician and every skilful workman makes every thing for the sake of all, aiming at that which is most for the common good: each part he makes for the sake of a whole, and not a whole for the sake of a part.

'But thou art discontented, because thou knowest not in what way that which is best for thee is expedient both for the whole and for thyself, as far as the law of your common origin admits. But since a soul combined now with one body, and now with another, is always undergoing changes of all kinds, either of itself or through some other soul, nothing is left for the player to do but to shift the pieces, moving the disposition that is growing better into a more favourable place, and that which is growing worse into the worse place, in order that each may obtain the lot appropriate to its destiny.

'How do you mean?

'I think I am explaining it in the way in which it would naturally be easy for the gods to take care of all. For if one were to form and to refashion all things without constantly looking to the whole, as for instance to make living water out of fire, instead of so forming many things out of one, or one out of many, that they partook of a first, or second, or third birth, the contents of the ever-changing arrangement would be infinite in multitude. But now there is wonderful facility for the guardian of the universe.

'How do you mean again?

'In this way. Our King saw that all actions were full of life, and that there was much virtue in them and much vice, and that soul and body had become indestructible, but not eternal, like those who are gods according to law; for if either of these two, soul and body, had perished, there would never have been any generation of living beings; he also discerned that it was the constant nature, of one part, the good in the soul, to be beneficial, and of the evil part to do harm; and when He considered all this, He contrived the place of each part so that it would render virtue victorious in the whole being, and vice overpowered, in the fullest and easiest and best manner.

'With a view then to all this, He has arranged what quality each must be constantly acquiring, and what seat and what regions it must inhabit in its transmutations: but the causes of the production of a certain quality He left to the will of each of us. For every one of us becomes for the most part such at each time as is the tendency of his desires and the quality of his soul.

'Naturally so.

'All things therefore which are endowed with a soul are liable to change, as possessing the cause of change in themselves; and in changing they follow the order and law of destiny. If they make only slight changes of moral character, their changes of place are less and on the level surface of their country; but those which make more and worse changes of character are cast down into the abyss, and the so-called infernal regions, all which under the name of Hades and other similar names men greatly dread and dream about, both in life and after they are separated from their bodies. Whenever therefore a soul undergoes great changes of vice or virtue, through her own will and the strong influence of association, if in the one case from communion with divine virtue she becomes eminently virtuous, she passes into an excellent and all-holy place, being carried away to some other and better region than this; but in the contrary case, she transfers her life to places of the opposite kind.

' "Such the just doom the Olympian gods decree," for you, O boy, or youth, who think the gods care nothing for you; namely, that if you are growing worse you must pass on to the worse souls, and if better to the better, and both in life and in every successive death must do and suffer what it is fitting for like to do to like.

'Neither shall you nor any other ever boast of having got the better of the gods by escaping this doom, which is the most strictly ordained of all dooms by those who ordained it, and of which you must most carefully beware: for it will never lose sight of you. Neither will you be so little as to sink into the depth of the earth, nor so high as to fly tip into heaven; but you shall pay the fitting penalty, whether while abiding here, or after you have passed into Hades, or been carried away into some yet more savage place than these.

'You must also take the same account of those others, those, I mean, whom you saw grown from small to great by unholy deeds or any such practices, and supposed that they had passed from misery to happiness, and thought that in their deeds, as in. a mirror, you had seen the universal carelessness of the gods, not knowing in what way their share contributes to the whole. But think you, O boldest of men, that it is of no importance to know this, without knowing which a man can never have an idea of life nor be able to join in a discussion thereon, in regard to a happy or unhappy lot.

'If you can be persuaded of this by Cleinias here, and by all this our company of reverend seniors, that you know not what you say about the gods, God Himself will give you good help: but if you should be in need of any further argument, listen to what we say to the third opponent, if you have any sense at all.'

The meaning of this, if not the actual words, has been previously set down very briefly in the oracles of the Hebrews, the thought being comprised in few words. For the sentence, 'You will neither be so little as to sink into the depth of the earth, nor so high as to fly up into heaven,' must be similar to the passage in David, which runs thus: 145 'Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, and whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I go up into heaven, Thou art there. If I go down into Hades, Thou art there.

'If I should take wings, and abide in the utmost parts of the sea; there also shall Thy hand lead me.' Also this: 'The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handy-work.' 146 And again, this in Isaiah: 'Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who shewed all these things.' 147 Also this: 'From the greatness and beauty of created things in like proportion is their first maker beheld.' 148 And this: 'For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and godhead.' 149 Also this, 'I was envious at the wicked, when I saw the prosperity of sinners,' 150 seems to me to have been paraphrased by Plato in the passage, 'You must also take the same account of those others, those, I mean, whom you saw grown from small to great by unholy deeds, or any such practices, and supposed that they had passed from misery to happiness.'

Also all the other passages expressed like these in the words of the Hebrews anticipated the interpretation put forth at length by Plato. And so you will find, by carefully examining each of them point by point, that it agrees with the Hebrew writings. And by doctrines of the Hebrews I mean not only the oracles of Moses, but also those of all the other godly men after Moses, whether prophets or apostles of our Saviour, whose consent in doctrines must fairly render them worthy of one and the same title.


[Footnotes moved to end and numbered]

1.573 c 1 Plato, Laws, i. 634 D

2.d 5 Isa. vii. 9

3.d 7 Ps. cxv. i

4.574 b 1 Plato, Laws, i. 629 E

5.c 2 Theognis, Elegiac Gnomes, v. 77 f.

6.c 10 Tyrtaeus, i. 16

7.575 a 2 Matt. xxiv. 45

8.a 3 ibid. xxv. 21

9.b 1 Plato, Laws, xi. 926 E

10.c 8 2 Macc. xv. 12

11.d 3 Plato, Republic, ii. 376 E

12.676 b 1 Plato, Republic, ii. 377 B

13.577 b 1 Plato, Gorgias, 523 A

14.c 5 ibid. 524 A

15.578 d 11 Plato, Gorgias, 471 A

16.579 a 5 Hom. Od. xi. 575 ff.

17.d 10 Hom. Od. xi. 569

18.580 d 2 2 Cor. v, 10

19.d 6 Rom. ii. 16, 6

20.d 13 ibid. iii. 22

21.581 a 1 Plato, Epistles, ii. 313 E

22.b 4 Matt. vii. 6

23.b 5 1 Cor, ii. 14

24.c 1 Plato, Laws, iii. 689 B

25.582 b 3 Plato, Statesman, 261 E

26.582 c 3 Exod. iv. 13

27.d 1 Plato, Republic, i. 346

28.583 b 4 ibid, ii. 361 B

29.b 5 Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes, 577

30.d 10 Heb. xi. 37

31.584 a 5 i Cor. iv. 9

32.a 6 ibid. 11

33.585 a 1 Plato, Symposium, 203

34.b 2 Gen. ii. 20-22

35.c 8 Plato, Symposium, 189 D

36.d 9 ibid. 190 D

37.586 b 3 Plato, Statesman, 271 E

38.d 1 Gen. iii. 1

39.d 6 Plato, Statesman, 272B

40.587 d 1 Plato, Laws, 677 A

41.588 a 10 Plato, Laws, 677 E

42.589 a 2 Plato, Laws, 631 A

43.589 d 10 Plato, Laws, 632 C

44.590 a 7 Matt. vi. 33

45.c 1 Plato, Laws, 643 B

46.591 a 1 Deut. vi. 6.

47.b 1 Plato, Laws, 643 D

48.591 d 12 Plato, Laws, ii. 653 B

49.592 b 6 Ps. xxxiv. 11, 12

50.592 c 2 Prov. iv. 1

51.c 5 ibid. iv. 5

52.c 6 ibid. vii. 4

53.c 7 ibid. iv. 14

54. d 1 Exod. xv. 40

55.d 3 Heb. viii. 5

56.693 a 6 Plato, Republic, 500 C

57.593 d 7 Hom. Il. i. 131, iii. 16

58.594 a 1 Plato, Laws, 659 C

59.d 8 Plato, Laws, 660 E

60.595 a 3 Tyrtaeus, i. 6

61.a 6 ibid. i. 1

62.a 9 ibid. i. 12

63.a 11 ibid. i. 11

64.a 12 ibid. i. 4

65.596 a 1 Ps. i. 1

66.a 7 Ps. lxii. 10

67.a 8 Ps. xlix. 16

68.b 3 Plato, Laws, 657 A

69.d 3 ibid. 658 E

70.597 d 1 Plato, Laws, 671 A

71.598 c 1 Plato, Laws, 673 E

72.599 b 4 Lev. x. 8

73.b 9 Num. vi. 2, 3

74.c 4 Prov. xxxi. 4

75.c 8 I Tim. v. 23

76.d 1 Plato, Republic, 499 C

77.600 b 1 Plato, Laws, 626 D

78.c 9 ibid. 644 C

79.d 9 ibid. 644 E

80.601 c 1 Rom. vii. 22

81.c 3 ibid. ii. 15

82.d 1 Plato, Laws, 896 C

83.602 a 7 Lev. vi. 2, 4

84.b 2 Lam. iii. 27, 28

85.c 1 Heb. xi. 38

86.c 7 Plato, Theaetetus, 173 C

87.602 d 14 Pindar, Fragment, 123 (226)

88.606 d 2 i Cor. iii. 19

89.d 3 ibid. i. 19, 20

90.d 9 2 Cor. iv. 18

91.607 a 3 Eph. v. 16

92.a 4 Matt. vi. 34

93.a 5 Hos. iv. 2

94.a 8 Deut. x. 20

95.b 2 Lev. xi. 45

96.b 5 Ps. xi. 7

97.b 6 Ps. lxii. 10

98.b 7 Ps. xlix. 16

99.c a Ps. cxlvi. 3

100.d 1 Plato, Laws, 663 D

101.608 b 1 ibid. 665 B

102.608 c 6 Plato, Republic, 455 C

103.609 c 1 Plato, Laws, 639 A

104.610 a 1 Prov. x. 7

105.a 3 Ecclus. xi. 28

106.b 3 Plato, Laws, 801 E

107.e 2 Prov. xxx. 8

108.c 5 Plato, Rep. 421 E

109.d 7 Lev. xix. 3

110.d 8 Exod. xx. 12

111.611 a 1 Plato, Laws, 931 E

112.a 5 ibid. 879 C

113.b 2 Exod. xxi. 2; Deut. xv. 12

114.b 6 Plato, Republic, 469 C

115.c 1 Plato, Laws, 842 E

116.d 1 ibid. 843 C

117.611 d 5 Plato, Laws, 856 C

118.612 a 3 Exod. xxii. 1,4

119.b 2 Plato, Laws, 857 A

120.c 1 Exod. xxii. 2

121.c 4 Plato, Laws, 874 B

122.d 1 Plato, Laws, 873 D

123.d 8 Exod. xxi. 28

124.613 a 4 Ezek. xxii. 18

125. b 8 Plato, Republic, 415 A

126.614 a 4 Ezek. xxxiv. 2

127.b 5 John x. 11

128.c 2 Plato, Republic, 345 C

129.615 a 1 Isa. xxvi. 18

130.35 Plato, Theaetetus, 151 A

131.b 2 Ezek. i. 3, 5

132. c 5 Plato, Republic, 588 B

133.616 d 5 Plato, Laws, 760 B

134.d 10 ibid. 755 D

135.617 b 6 ibid. 704 B

136.618 c 1 Plato, Republic, X. 595 B

137.d 12 ibid. 599 B

138.621 a 1 Plato, Laws, 888 E

139.622 c 3 Plato, Laws, 891 C

140.622 d 11 Plato, Laws, 892 A

141.624 a 1 Plato, Laws, 895 A

142.628 b 4 Plato, Philebus, 28 C

143.630 c 1 Plato, Laws, 899 D

144.631 d 8 Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

145.636 b 4 Ps. cxxxix. 7

146.b 8 Ps. xix. 1

147.c 2 Is. xl. 26

148.c 4 Wisdom xiii. 5

149.c 5 Rom. i. 20

150.c 8 Ps. lxxiii. 3


This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003.


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