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Again, concerning Justice he did not hide his opinion, but proclaimed it by his actions. All his private conduct was lawful and helpful: to public authority he rendered such scrupulous obedience in all that the laws required, both in civil life and in military service, that he was a pattern of good discipline to all. [2] When chairman in the Assemblies he would not permit the people to record an illegal vote, but, upholding the laws, resisted a popular impulse that might even have overborne any but himself. [3] And when the Thirty laid a command on him that was illegal, he refused to obey. Thus he disregarded their repeated injunction not to talk with young men; and when they commanded him and certain other citizens to arrest a man on a capital charge, he alone refused, because the command laid on him was illegal.1 [4] Again, when he was tried on the charge brought by Meletus, whereas it is the custom of defendants to curry favour with the jury and to indulge in flattery and illegal appeals, and many by such means have been known to gain a verdict of acquittal, he rejected utterly the familiar chicanery of the courts; and though he might easily have gained a favourable verdict by even a moderate indulgence in such stratagems, he chose to die through his loyalty to the laws rather than to live through violating them. [5]

Such views frequently found expression in his conversations with different persons; I recollect the substance of one that he had with Hippias of Elis concerning Justice. Hippias, who had not been in Athens for a considerable time, found Socrates talking: he was saying that if you want to have a man taught cobbling or building or smithing or riding, you know where to send him to learn the craft: some indeed declare that if you want to train up a horse or an ox in the way he should go, teachers abound. And yet, strangely enough, if you want to learn Justice yourself, or to have your son or servant taught it, you know not where to go for a teacher. [6]

When Hippias heard this, “How now?” he cried in a tone of raillery, “still the same old sentiments, Socrates, that I heard from you so long ago?”

“Yes, Hippias,” he replied, “always the same, and — what is more astonishing — on the same topics too! You are so learned that I daresay you never say the same thing on the same subjects.”

“I certainly try to say something fresh every time.”

“Do you mean, about what you know? [7] For example, in answer to the question, ‘How many letters are there in “Socrates” and how do you spell it?’ do you try to say something different now from what you said before? Or take figures: suppose you are asked if twice five are ten, don't you give the same answer now as you gave before?”

“About letters and figures, Socrates, I always say the same thing, just like you. As for Justice, I feel confident that I can now say that which neither you nor anyone else can contradict.” [8]

“Upon my word, you mean to say that you have made a great discovery, if jurymen are to cease from voting different ways, citizens from disputing and litigation, and wrangling about the justice of their claims, cities from quarrelling about their rights and making war; and for my part, I don't see how to tear myself away from you till I have heard about your great discovery.” [9]

“But I vow you shall not hear unless you first declare your own opinion about the nature of Justice; for it's enough that you mock at others, questioning and examining everybody, and never willing to render an account yourself or to state an opinion about anything.”

“Indeed, Hippias! [10] Haven't you noticed that I never cease to declare my notions of what is just?”

“And how can you call that an account?”

“I declare them by my deeds, anyhow, if not by my words. Don't you think that deeds are better evidence than words?”

“Yes, much better, of course; for many say what is just and do what is unjust; but no one who does what is just can be unjust.” [11]

“Then have you ever found me dealing in perjury or calumny, or stirring up strife between friends or fellow-citizens, or doing any other unjust act?”

“I have not.”

“To abstain from what is unjust is just, don't you think?”

“Even now, Socrates, you are clearly endeavouring to avoid stating what you think Justice to be. You are saying not what the just do, but what they don't do.” [12]

“Well, I thought that unwillingness to do injustice was sufficient proof of Justice. But, if you don't think so, see whether you like this better: I say that what is lawful is just.’2

“Do you mean, Socrates, that lawful and just are the same thing?”

“I do.” [13]

“Because I don't see what you mean by lawful or what you mean by just.”

“Does the expression ‘laws of a state’ convey a meaning to you?”

“It does.”

“And what do you think they are?”

“Covenants made by the citizens whereby they have enacted what ought to be done and what ought to be avoided.”

“Then would not that citizen who acts in accordance with these act lawfully, and he who transgresses them act unlawfully?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“And would not he who obeys them do what is just, and he who disobeys them do what is unjust?”


“Then would not he who does what is just be just, and he who does what is unjust be unjust?”

“Of course.”

“Consequently he who acts lawfully is just, and he who acts unlawfully is unjust.” [14]

“Laws,” said Hippias, “can hardly be thought of much account, Socrates, or observance of them, seeing that the very men who passed them often reject and amend them.”

“Yes,” said Socrates, “and after going to war, cities often make peace again.”

“To be sure.”

“Then is there any difference, do you think, between belittling those who obey the laws on the ground that the laws may be annulled, and blaming those who behave well in the wars on the ground that peace may be made? Or do you really censure those who are eager to help their fatherland in the wars?”

“No, of course not.” [15]

“Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian now — have you realised that he would not have made Sparta to differ from other cities in any respect, had he not established obedience to the laws most securely in her? Among rulers in cities, are you not aware that those who do most to make the citizens obey the laws are the best, and that the city in which the citizens are most obedient to the laws has the best time in peace and is irresistible in war? [16] And again, agreement is deemed the greatest blessing for cities: their senates and their best men constantly exhort the citizens to agree, and everywhere in Greece there is a law that the citizens shall promise under oath to agree, and everywhere they take this oath. The object of this, in my opinion, is not that the citizens may vote for the same choirs, not that they may praise the same flute-players, not that they may select the same poets, not that they may like the same things, but that they may obey the laws. For those cities whose citizens abide by them prove strongest and enjoy most happiness; but without agreement no city can be made a good city, no house can be made a prosperous house. [17] And how is the individual citizen less likely to incur penalties from the state, and more certain to gain honour than by obeying the laws? How less likely to be defeated in the courts or more certain to win? Whom would anyone rather trust as guardian of his money or sons or daughters? Whom would the whole city think more trustworthy than the man of lawful conduct? From whom would parents or kinsfolk or servants or friends or fellow-citizens or strangers more surely get their just rights? Whom would enemies rather trust in the matter of a truce or treaty or terms of peace? Whom would men rather choose for an ally? And to whom would allies rather entrust leadership or command of a garrison, or cities? Whom would anyone more confidently expect to show gratitude for benefits received? Or whom would one rather benefit than him from whom he thinks he will receive due gratitude? Whose friendship would anyone desire, or whose enmity would he avoid more earnestly? Whom would anyone less willingly make war on than him whose friendship he covets and whose enmity he is fain to avoid, who attracts the most friends and allies, and the fewest opponents and enemies? [18]

“So, Hippias, I declare lawful and just to be the same thing. If you are of the contrary opinion, tell me.”

“Upon my word, Socrates,” answered Hippias, “I don't think my opinion is contrary to what you have said about Justice.” [19]

“Do you know what is meant by ‘unwritten laws,’ Hippias?”

“Yes, those that are uniformly observed in every country.”

“Could you say that men made them?”

“Nay, how could that be, seeing that they cannot all meet together and do not speak the same language?”

“Then by whom have these laws been made, do you suppose?”

“I think that the gods made these laws for men. For among all men the first law is to fear the gods.” [20]

“Is not the duty of honouring parents another universal law?”

“Yes, that is another.”

“And that parents shall not have sexual intercourse with their children nor children with their parents?”3

“No, I don't think that is a law of God.”

“Why so?”

“Because I notice that some transgress it.” [21]

“Yes, and they do many other things contrary to the laws. But surely the transgressors of the laws ordained by the gods pay a penalty that a man can in no wise escape, as some, when they transgress the laws ordained by man, escape punishment, either by concealment or by violence.” [22]

“And pray what sort of penalty is it, Socrates, that may not be avoided by parents and children who have intercourse with one another?”

“The greatest, of course. For what greater penalty can men incur when they beget children than begetting them badly?” [23]

“How do they beget children badly then, if, as may well happen, the fathers are good men and the mothers good women?”

“Surely because it is not enough that the two parents should be good. They must also be in full bodily vigour: unless you suppose that those who are in full vigour are no more efficient as parents than those who have not yet reached that condition or have passed it.”

“Of course that is unlikely.”

“Which are the better then?”

“Those who are in full vigour, clearly.”

“Consequently those who are not in full vigour are not competent to become parents?”

“It is improbable, of course.”

“In that case then, they ought not to have children?”

“Certainly not.”

“Therefore those who produce children in such circumstances produce them wrongly?”

“I think so.”

“Who then will be bad fathers and mothers, if not they?”

“I agree with you there too.” [24]

“Again, is not the duty of requiting benefits universally recognised by law?”

“Yes, but this law too is broken.”

“Then does not a man pay forfeit for the breach of that law too, in the gradual loss of good friends and the necessity of hunting those who hate him? Or is it not true that, whereas those who benefit an acquaintance are good friends to him, he is hated by them for his ingratitude, if he makes no return, and then, because it is most profitable to enjoy the acquaintance of such men, he hunts them most assiduously?”

“Assuredly, Socrates, all this does suggest the work of the gods. For laws that involve in themselves punishment meet for those who break them, must, I think, be framed by a better legislator than man.” [25]

“Then, Hippias, do you think that the gods ordain what is just or what is otherwise?”

“Not what is otherwise — of course not; for if a god ordains not that which is just, surely no other legislator can do so.”

“Consequently, Hippias, the gods too accept the identification of just and lawful.”

By such words and actions he encouraged Justice in those who resorted to his company.

1 Alluding to the famous case of Leon.

2 Cyropaedia I. iii. 17.

3 Cyropaedia V. i. 10.

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    • E.C. Marchant, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 2, 2.37
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    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), ASTROLO´GIA
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter VI
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