Jowett: Minos 318e-321d — A verdade sobre Minos

Socrates : I will tell you, in order that you may not share the impiety of the multitude : for there cannot conceivably be anything more impious or more to be guarded against than being mistaken in word and deed with regard to the gods, and after them, with regard to divine men ; you must take very great precaution, whenever you are about to [319a] blame or praise a man, so as not to speak incorrectly. For this reason you must learn to distinguish honest and dishonest men : for God feels resentment when one blames a man who is like himself, or praises a man who is the opposite ; and the former is the good man. For you must not suppose that while stocks and stones and birds and snakes are sacred, men are not ; nay, the good man is the most sacred of all these things, and the wicked man is the most defiled.

So if I now proceed to relate how Minos is eulogized by Homer [319b] and Hesiod, my purpose is to prevent you, a man sprung from a man, from making a mistake in regard to a hero who was the son of Zeus. For Homer, in telling of Crete that there were in it many men and “ninety cities,” says :

And amongst them is the mighty city of Cnossos, where Minos was king, having colloquy with mighty Zeus in the ninth year.

[319c] Now here in Homer we have a eulogy of Minos, briefly expressed, such as the poet never composed for a single one of the heroes. For that Zeus is a sophist, and that sophistry is a highly honorable art, he makes plain in many other places, and particularly here. For he says that Minos consorted and discoursed with Zeus in the ninth year, and went regularly to be educated by Zeus as though he were a sophist. And the fact that Homer assigned this privilege of having been educated by Zeus to no one among the heroes but Minos makes this a marvellous piece of praise. [319d] And in the Ghost-raising in the Odyssey he has described Minos as judging with a golden scepter in his hand, but not Rhadamanthus : Rhadamanthus he has neither described here as judging nor anywhere as consorting with Zeus ; wherefore I say that Minos above all persons has been eulogized by Homer. For to have been the son of Zeus, and to have been the only one who was educated by Zeus, is praise unsurpassable.For the meaning of the verse — “he was king having colloquy with mighty Zeus in the ninth year” — [319e] is that Minos was a disciple of Zeus. For colloquies are discourses, and he who has colloquy is a disciple by means of discourse. So every ninth year Minos repaired to the cave of Zeus, to learn some things, and to show his knowledge of others that he had learnt from Zeus in the preceding nine years. Some there are who suppose that he who has colloquy is a cup-companion and fellow-jester of Zeus : but one may take the following as a proof that [320a] they who suppose so are babblers. For of all the many nations of men, both Greek and foreign, the only people who refrain from drinking-bouts and the jesting that occurs where there is wine, are the Cretans, and after them the Spartans, who learnt it from the Cretans. In Crete it is one of their laws which Minos ordained that they are not to drink with each other to intoxication. And yet it is evident that the things he thought honorable were what he ordained as lawful for his people as well. For surely Minos did not, like an inferior person, [320b] think one thing and do another, different from what he thought : no, this intercourse, as I say, was held by means of discussion for education in virtue. Wherefore he ordained for his people these very laws, which have made Crete happy through the length of time, and Sparta happy also, since she began to use them ; for they are divine.

Rhadamanthus was a good man indeed, for he had been educated by Minos ; he had, however, been educated, [320c] not in the whole of the kingly art, but in one subsidiary to the kingly, enough for presiding in law courts ; so that he was spoken of as a good judge. For Minos used him as guardian of the law in the city, and Talos as the same for the rest of Crete. For Talos thrice a year made a round of the villages, guarding the laws in them, by holding their laws inscribed on brazen tablets, which gave him his name of “brazen.” And what Hesiod also has said [320d] of Minos is akin to this. For after mentioning him by name he remarks —

Who was most kingly of mortal kings, and lorded it over more neighboring folk than any, holding the scepter of Zeus : therewith it was that he ruled the cities as king.

And by the scepter of Zeus he means nothing else than the education that he had of Zeus, whereby he directed Crete.

Companion : Then how has it ever come about, Socrates, that this report is spread abroad of Minos, as an uneducated [320e] and harsh-tempered person ?

Socrates : Because of something that will make both you, if you are wise, my excellent friend, and everybody else who cares to have a good reputation, beware of ever quarreling with any man of a poetic turn. For poets have great influence over opinion, according as they create it in the minds of men by either commending or vilifying. And this was the mistake that Minos made, in waging war on this city of ours, which besides all its various culture has poets of every kind, and especially those who write tragedy. [321a] Now tragedy is a thing of ancient standing here ; it did not begin, as people suppose, from Thespis or from Phrynicus, but if you will reflect, you will find it is a very ancient invention of our city. Tragedy is the most popularly delightful and soul-enthralling branch of poetry : in it, accordingly, we get Minos on the rack of verse, and thus avenge ourselves for that tribute which he compelled us to pay. This, then, was the mistake that Minos made — his quarrel with us — and hence it is that, as you said in your question, he has fallen more and more into evil repute. For that he was a good [321b] and law-abiding person, as we stated in what went before — a good apportioner — is most convincingly shown by the fact the his laws are unshaken, since they were made by one who discovered aright the truth of reality in regard to the management of a state.

Companion : In my opinion, Socrates, your statement is a probable one.

Socrates : Then if what I say is true, do you consider that the Cretan people of Minos and Rhadamanthus use the most ancient laws ?

Companion : I do.

Socrates : So these have shown themselves the best lawgivers among men of ancient times — [321c] apportioners and shepherds of men ; just as Homer called the good general a “shepherd of the folk.”

Companion : Quite so, indeed.

Socrates : Come then, in good friendship’s name : if someone should ask us what it is that the good lawgiver and apportioner for the body distributes to it when he makes it better, we should say, if we were to make a correct and brief answer, that it was food and labor ; the former to strengthen, and the latter to exercise and brace it.

Companion : And we should be right.

[321d] Socrates : And if he then proceeded to ask us — And what might that be which the good lawgiver and apportioner distributes to the soul to make it better ? — what would be our answer if we would avoid being ashamed of ourselves and our years ?

Companion : This time I am unable to say.

Socrates : But indeed it is shameful for the soul of either of us to be found ignorant of those things within it on which its good and abject states depend, while it has studied those that pertain to the body and rest.