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[1269a] [1] as for example at Cyme there is a law relating to trials for murder, that if the prosecutor on the charge of murder produces a certain number of his own relatives as witnesses, the defendant is guilty of the murder. And in general all men really seek what is good, not what was customary with their forefathers; and it is probable that primitive mankind, whether sprung from the earth1 or the survivors of some destructive cataclysm,2 were just like ordinary foolish people, as indeed is actually said of the earth-born race, so that it is odd that we should abide by their notions. Moreover even written codes of law may with advantage not be left unaltered. For just as in the other arts as well, so with the structure of the state it is impossible that it should have been framed aright in all its details; for it must of necessity be couched in general terms, but our actions deal with particular things. These considerations therefore make it clear that it is proper for some laws sometimes to be altered. But if we consider the matter in another way, it would seem to be a thing that needs much caution. For when it is the case that the improvement would be small, but it is a bad thing to accustom men to repeal the laws lightly, it is clear that some mistakes both of the legislator and of the magistrate should be passed over; for the people will not be as much benefited by making an alteration as they will be harmed by becoming accustomed to distrust their rulers. Also, the example from the case of the arts is a mistake, [20] as to change the practice of an art is a different thing from altering a law; for the law has no power to compel obedience beside the force of custom, and custom only grows up in long lapse of time, so that lightly to change from the existing laws to other new laws is to weaken the power of the law. Again, even if alteration of the laws is proper, are all the laws to be open to alteration, and in every form of constitution, or not? and is any chance person to be competent to introduce alterations or only certain people? for there is a great difference between these alternatives. Therefore let us abandon this inquiry for the present, since it belongs to other occasions.

On the subject of the constitution of Sparta and that of Crete, and virtually in regard to the other forms of constitution also, the questions that arise for consideration are two, one whether their legal structure has any feature that is admirable or the reverse in comparison with the best system, another whether it contains any provision that is really opposed to the fundamental principle and character of the constitution that the founders had in view.

Now it is a thing admitted that a state that is to be well governed must be provided with leisure from menial occupations; but how this is to be provided it is not easy to ascertain. The serf class in Thessaly repeatedly rose against its masters, and so did the Helots at Sparta, where they are like an enemy constantly sitting in wait for the disasters of the Spartiates. Nothing of the kind has hitherto occurred in Crete, the reason perhaps being that the neighboring cities,

1 So Hes. WD 108, Pind. N. 6.1.

2 So Plat. Laws 676 ff., Plat. Tim. 22 ff. Aristotle believed that man had existed for ever, and that the world had experienced only local cataclysms.

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    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 108
    • Pindar, Nemean, 6
    • Plato, Laws, 676
    • Plato, Timaeus, 22
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