Plato's Laws VII, 3

I'm switching to a different source for the later parts of this book, as the online version of the one I was using is cut off for some reason. This occasions also a change in translators from the English Anglican clergyman Benjamin Jowett to the Irish Anglican clergyman Robert Gregg Bury. I'm also using Edith Hamilton's print translation as a third way of looking at the text in English. There are minor but occasionally significant differences between translations, but when we encounter a place where the three diverge, we can check the original Greek (which I am definitely not facile enough with to do for just every word, nor can I offer a translation of my own as I might in a language I know better).

Just to give an instructive example, there's a part of today's passage where the Athenian argues that it is necessary -- he never says why -- to distinguish between masculine and feminine music. The adjectives describing feminine music are given quite differently in these translations. Hamilton (the only female among our translators) gives them as "order and purity." Bury gives them as "decorum and sedateness," which is quite a difference! 

The word being translated as "decorum" or "order" seems to be σώφρων, which you can see in the handy Greek Word Study Tool. The other adjective I believe is κόσμιον, which is here. Both words turn out to be reasonably good synonyms for "temperance," which (as Hamilton suggests) implies correct ordering of passion to reason. One might get the impression that the Athenian is suggesting that masculine music is 'noble and manly' (well, of course it's the latter!) whereas feminine music is more discrete or sedate, but that is likely not quite what is meant. Recall that the Athenian has spoken throughout of the importance of temperance as his foundational virtue, and the need to regulate even appropriate and noble emotions according to reason. 

He seems to be suggesting that masculine musicians will be bold and inspiring, but that it is the feminine music that will teach proper order: or, even the right pleasure of preferring careful order to intensity of experience. (Or possibly a better translator might say otherwise; there may be nuances that come from the surrounding words that I would miss, being a very poor scholar of Greek.)

At any rate, this aside has already gone on for quite a while, so perhaps I will end today by noting that this section contains yet another restatement of the idea that men and women should be trained alike and equally for war, and indeed in everything.

Ath. [F]emales, too, my law will lay down the same regulations as for men, and training of an identical kind. I will unhesitatingly affirm that neither riding nor gymnastics, which are proper for men, are improper for women. I believe the old tales I have heard, and I know now of my own observation, that there are practically countless myriads of women called Sauromatides, in the district of Pontus, upon whom equally with men is imposed the duty of handling bows and other weapons, as well as horses, and who practice it equally. In addition to this I allege the following argument. Since this state of things can exist, I affirm that the practice which at present prevails in our districts is a most irrational one—namely, that men and women should not all follow the same pursuits with one accord and with all their might. For thus from the same taxation and trouble there arises and exists half a State only instead of a whole one, in nearly every instance; yet surely this would be a surprising blunder for a lawgiver to commit....

What seems good to me, Clinias, as I said before, is this,—that if the possibility of such a state of things taking place had not been sufficiently proved by facts, then it might have been possible to gainsay our statement; but as it is, the man who rejects our law must try some other method, nor shall we be hereby precluded from asserting in our doctrine that the female sex must share with the male, to the greatest extent possible, both in education and in all else. 

This line of inquiry nearly occasions a fight a few lines down, when the Athenian criticizes the Spartan approach to women. 

Ath. Must the girls share in gymnastics and music, and the women abstain from wool-work, but weave themselves instead a life that is not trivial at all nor useless, but arduous, advancing as it were halfway in the path of domestic tendance and management and child-nurture, but taking no share in military service; so that, even if it should chance to be necessary for them to fight in defence of their city and their children, they will be unable to handle with skill either a bow (like the Amazons) or any other missile, nor could they take spear and shield, after the fashion of the Goddess, so as to be able nobly to resist the wasting of their native land, and to strike terror—if nothing more—into the enemy at the sight of them marshalled in battle-array? If they lived in this manner, they certainly would not dare to adopt the fashion of the Sauromatides, whose women would seem like men beside them. So in regard to this matter, let who will commend your Laconian lawgivers: as to my view, it must stand as it is. The lawgiver ought to be whole-hearted, not half-hearted,—letting the female sex indulge in luxury and expense and disorderly ways of life, while supervising the male sex; for thus he is actually bequeathing to the State the half only, instead of the whole, of a life of complete prosperity.

Meg. What are we to do, Clinias? Shall we allow the Stranger to run down our Sparta in this fashion? 

Cli. Yes: now that we have granted him free speech we must let him be, until we have discussed the laws fully.

We have stories of the Sauromatides from both Herodotus and Hippocrates, though like the Amazons from whom they are said to be partly descended they may be mythological; or not, since the Scythians who provided the other part of their claimed descent were certainly real. 

No comments: