Plato was asked by the Cyrenaeans1 to compose a set of laws and leave it for them and to give them a well-ordered government; but he refused, saying that it was difficult to make laws for the Cyrenaeans because they were so prosperous.
For nothing is so haughty
harsh, and ungovernable
by nature as a man,2
when he possesses what he regards as prosperity. And that is why it is difficult to give advice to rulers in matters of government, for they are afraid to accept reason as a ruler over them, lest it curtail the advantage of their power by making them slaves to duty. For they are not familiar with the saying of Theopompus, the King of Sparta who first made the Ephors3 associates of the Kings ; then, when his wife reproached him because he would hand down to his children a less powerful office than that which he had received he said : ‘Nay, more powerful rather, inasmuch as it is more secure.’ For by giving up that which was excessive and absolute in [p. 55] it he avoided both the envy and the danger. And yet Theopompus, by diverting to a different body the vast stream of his royal authority, deprived himself of as much as he gave to others. But when philosophical reason derived from philosophy has been established as the ruler's coadjutor and guardian, it removes the hazardous element from his power, as a surgeon removes that which threatens a patient's health and leaves that which is sound.

1 That Plato in his extensive travels visited Cyrene is attested by Diogenes Laertius, Vit. Phil. iii. 6.

2 A quotation from some tragic poet; see Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 617.

3 The five Ephors at Sparta, representing the five local tribes, were in charge of civil law and public order. Whether they were established by Lycurgus or by Theopompus (about 757 b.c. or later) is uncertain. In the sixth and fifth centuries b.c. they seem to have had more power than the kings.

load focus English (Goodwin, 1874)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: