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[858a] but only to become students ourselves, and endeavor to discern in regard to every polity how the best form might come about, and how that which is the least elaborate possible. Moreover, we are now allowed, as it seems, to study, if we choose, the best form of legislation, or, if we choose, the least elaborate. So let us make our choice between these two.

The choice we propose, Stranger, is an absurd one: we should be acting like legislators [858b] who were driven by some overpowering necessity to pass laws on the spot, because it is impossible for them to do so on the morrow. But for us (if Heaven will) it is quite possible to do as bricklayers do, or men starting on any other kind of construction,—that is, to collect material piecemeal, from which we may select what is suitable for the edifice we intend to build, and, what is more, select it at our leisure. Let us assume, then, that we are not now building under compulsion, but that we are still at leisure, and engaged partly in collecting material and partly in putting it together; so that we may rightly say that our laws are being in part [858c] already erected and in part collected.

In this way, Clinias, our survey of laws will at any rate follow nature's course more closely. Now let us consider, I adjure you, the following point about legislators.

What point?

We have in our States not only the writings and written speeches of many other people, but also the writings and speeches of the lawgiver.


Are we, then, to pay attention to the compositions of the others— [858d] poets, and all who, either with or without meter, have composed and put on record their counsels concerning life,—but to pay no attention to those of the lawgivers? Or should we not attend to them above all others?

Yes, far above all.

But we surely do not mean that the lawgiver alone of all the writers is not to give counsel about what is noble, good and just, teaching what these are, and how those who intend to be happy must practice them.

Of course he must do so. [858e]

Well then, is it more disgraceful on the part of Homer and Tyrtaeus and the rest of the poets to lay down in their writings bad rules about life and its pursuits, and less disgraceful on the part of Lycurgus and Solon and all the legislators who have written? Or rather, is it not right that, of all the writings which exist in States, those which concern laws should be seen, when unrolled, to be by far the fairest and best, and all other writings to be either modelled on them or,

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