The Laws

The Laws are discussed by three representatives of Athens, Crete, and Sparta. The Athenian, as might be expected, is the protagonist or chief speaker, while the second place is assigned to the Cretan, who, as one of the leaders of a new colony, has a special interest in the conversation. At least four-fifths of the

The Laws are discussed by three representatives of Athens, Crete, and Sparta. The Athenian, as might be expected, is the protagonist or chief speaker, while the second place is assigned to the Cretan, who, as one of the leaders of a new colony, has a special interest in the conversation. At least four-fifths of the answers are put into his mouth. The Spartan is every inch a soldier, a man of few words himself, better at deeds than words. The Athenian talks to the two others, although they are his equals in age, in the style of a master discoursing to his scholars; he frequently praises himself; he entertains a very poor opinion of the understanding of his companions. Certainly the boastfulness and rudeness of the Laws is the reverse of the refined irony and courtesy which characterize the earlier dialogues. We are no longer in such good company as in the Phaedrus and Symposium. Manners are lost sight of in the earnestness of the speakers, and dogmatic assertions take the place of poetical fancies. The scene is laid in Crete, and the conversation is held in the course of a walk from Cnosus to the cave and temple of Zeus, which takes place on one of the longest and hottest days of the year. The companions start at dawn, and arrive at the point in their conversation which terminates the fourth book, about noon. The God to whose temple they are going is the lawgiver of Crete, and this may be supposed to be the very cave at which he gave his oracles to Minos. But the externals of the scene, which are briefly and inartistically described, soon disappear, and we plunge abruptly into the subject of the dialogue. We are reminded by contrast of the higher art of the Phaedrus, in which the summer’s day, and the cool stream, and the chirping of the grasshoppers, and the fragrance of the agnus castus, and the legends of the place are present to the imagination throughout the discourse. The Laws are discussed by three representatives of Athens, Crete, and Sparta. The Athenian, as might be expected, is the protagonist or chief speaker, while the second place is assigned to the Cretan, who, as one of the leaders of a new colony, has a special interest in the conversation. At least four-fifths of the answers are put into his mouth. The Spartan is every inch a soldier, a man of few words himself, better at deeds than words. The Athenian talks to the two others, although they are his equals in age, in the style of a master discoursing to his scholars; he frequently praises himself; he entertains a very poor opinion of the understanding of his companions. Certainly the boastfulness and rudeness of the Laws is the reverse of the refined irony and courtesy which characterize the earlier dialogues. We are no longer in such good company as in the Phaedrus and Symposium. Manners are lost sight of in the earnestness of the speakers, and dogmatic assertions take the place of poetical fancies. The scene is laid in Crete, and the conversation is held in the course of a walk from Cnosus to the cave and temple of Zeus, which takes place on one of the longest and hottest days of the year. The companions start at dawn, and arrive at the point in their conversation which terminates the fourth book, about noon. The God to whose temple they are going is the lawgiver of Crete, and this may be supposed to be the very cave at which he gave his oracles to Minos. But the externals of the scene, which are briefly and inartistically described, soon disappear, and we plunge abruptly into the subject of the dialogue. We are reminded by contrast of the higher art of the Phaedrus, in which the summer’s day, and the cool stream, and the chirping of the grasshoppers, and the fragrance of the agnus castus, and the legends of the place are present to the imagination throughout the discourse.