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[1262a] [1]

Again, each speaks of one of his fellow-citizens who is prospering or getting on badly as ‘my son’ only in the sense of the fractional part which he forms of the whole number—that is, he says ‘my son’ or ‘so-and-so's son,’ specifying as the father any individual of the thousand citizens or whatever the number be of which the state consists, and even this dubiously, for it is uncertain who has chanced to have had a son born to him and when born safely reared. Yet which is the better way to use the word ‘mine’—this way, each of two thousand or ten thousand people applying it to the same thing, or rather the way in which they say ‘mine’ in the actual states now? for the same person is called ‘my son’ by one man and ‘my brother’ by another, and another calls him ‘nephew,’ or by some other relationship, whether of blood or by affinity and marriage, the speaker's own in the first place, or that of his relations; and in addition someone else calls him ‘fellow-clansman’ or ‘fellow-tribesman.’ For it is better for a boy to be one's own private nephew than one's son in the way described. Moreover it would also be impossible to avoid men's supposing certain persons to be their real brothers and sons and fathers and mothers; for they would be bound to form their belief about each other by the resemblances which occur between children and parents. This indeed is said by some of those who write of travels round the world1 actually to occur; [20] they say that some of the people of Upper Libya have their wives in common, yet the children born are divided among them according to their personal resemblances. And there are some females both of the human race and of the other animals, for instance horses and cattle, who have a strong natural tendency to produce off-spring resembling the male parents, as was the case with the mare at Pharsalus named Honest Lady.2

Moreover it is not easy for those who institute this communism to guard against such objectionable occurrences as outrage, involuntary and in some cases voluntary homicide, fights, abusive language; all of which are violations of piety when committed against fathers, mothers and near relatives as if they were not relatives; but these are bound to occur more frequently when people do not know their relations than when they do, and also, when they do occur, if the offenders know their relationship it is possible for them to have the customary expiations performed, but for those who do not no expiation is possible. Also it is curious that a theorist who makes the sons common property only debars lovers from intercourse and does not prohibit love, nor the other familiarities, which between father and son or brother and brother are most unseemly, since even the fact of love between them is unseemly. And it is also strange that he deprives them of intercourse for no other reason except because the pleasure is too violent; and that he thinks it makes no difference that the parties are in the one case father or son and in the other case brothers of one another. And it seems that this community of wives and sons is more serviceable for the Farmer class than for the Guardians;

1 Books of geography, founded on travellers' reports—a famous one by Hecataeus, scoffed at by Hdt. 4.36.

2 Or possibly ‘Docile’ ( Jackson), cf. Xen. Hunt. 7.4.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.36
    • Xenophon, On Hunting, 7.4
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