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When he would utterly destroy a house,
”Aesch.1 but if any poets compose a 'Sorrows of Niobe,' the poem that contains these iambics, or a tale of the Pelopidae or of Troy, or anything else of the kind, we must either forbid them to say that these woes are the work of God, or they must devise some such interpretation as we now require, and must declare that what God [380b] did was righteous and good, and they were benefited2 by their chastisement. But that they were miserable who paid the penalty, and that the doer of this was God, is a thing that the poet must not be suffered to say; if on the other hand he should say that for needing chastisement the wicked were miserable and that in paying the penalty they were benefited by God, that we must allow. But as to saying that God, who is good, becomes the cause of evil to anyone, we must contend in every way that neither should anyone assert this in his own city if it is to be well governed, nor anyone hear it, [380c] neither younger nor older, neither telling a story in meter or without meter; for neither would the saying of such things, if they are said, be holy, nor would they be profitable to us or concordant with themselves.” “I cast my vote with yours for this law,” he said, “and am well pleased with it.” “This, then,” said I, “will be one of the laws and patterns concerning the gods3 to which speakers and poets will be required to conform, that God is not the cause of all things, but only of the good.” “And an entirely satisfactory one,” he said. [380d] “And what of this, the second. Do you think that God is a wizard and capable of manifesting himself by design, now in one aspect, now in another, at one time4 himself changing and altering his shape in many transformations and at another deceiving us and causing us to believe such things about him; or that he is simple and less likely than anything else to depart from his own form?” “I cannot say offhand,” he replied. “But what of this: If anything went out from5 its own form, would it not be displaced and changed, either by itself [380e] or by something else?” “Necessarily.” “Is it not true that to be altered and moved6 by something else happens least to things that are in the best condition, as, for example, a body by food and drink and toil, and plants7 by the heat of the sun and winds and similar influences—is it not true that the healthiest and strongest is least altered?”
2 Plato's doctrine that punishment is remedial must apply to punishments inflicted by the gods. Cf. Protagoras 324 B, Gorgias 478 E, 480 A, 505 B, 525 B, 590 A-B. Yet there are some incurables. Cf. 615 E.
3 Minucius Felix says of Plato's theology, Octav. chap. xix: “Platoni apertior de deo et rebus ipsis et nominibus oratio est et quae tota esset caelestis nisi persuasionis civilis nonnunquam admixtione sordesceret.”
4 The two methods, (1) self-transformation, and (2) production of illusions in our minds, answer broadly to the two methods of deception distinguished in the Sophist 236 C.
5 Cf. Tim.50 B, Cratylus 439 E. Aristotle, H. A. i. 1. 32, applies it to biology:τὸ γενναῖόν ἐστι τὸ μὴ ἐξιστάμενον ἐκ τῆς αὑτοῦ φύσεως. Plato's proof from the idea of perfection that God is changeless has little in common with the Eleatic argument that pure being cannot change.
6 The Theaetetus explicitly distinguishes two kinds of motion, qualitative change and motion proper (181 C-D), but the distinction is in Plato's mind here and in Cratylus 439 E.
7 Cf. Laws 765 E.
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