Louis Ménard: Socrates In The Underworld- Standing Before King Minos
The Underworld judges,
from the left,
Rhadamanthys – Minos – Aeakos_
Apulian red-shaped krater4 th century B.C.
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is a very timely dialog by Louis Menard, in ‘Les Rêveries d’un Paien Mystique’. Paris, George Cres, 1911. (From page 52 to 61). A Via-HYGEIA English translation from the original French. ‘In the Aeneid of Virgil, Minos was the judge of those who had been given the death penalty on a false charge – Minos sits with a gigantic urn, and decides whether a soul should go to Elysium or Tartarus with the help of a silent jury. Radamanthus, his brother, is a judge at Tartarus who decides upon suitable punishments for sinners there (Aeneid VI, 568– -572). In Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, Minos sits at the entrance to the second circle in the Inferno, which is the beginning of proper Hell. Here, he judges the sins of each soul and assigns it to its rightful punishment by indicating the circle to which it must descend. He does this by circling his tail around his body the appropriate number of times. He can also speak, to clarify the soul’s location within the circle indicated by the wrapping of his tail (Inferno V, 4–24; XXVII, 124–127).‘ (Wikipedia). We provide, as an appendix, the second part of a platonic dialog, ‘Minos’, written probably by a student of Socrates, in which Socrates praises king Minos.
before King Minos
Minos. You are most welcome among the shadows, Socrates, you who, on earth, always sought after the truth.
Socrates. Greetings to you, Minos. Those who have been unjustly accused by the living are standing before your tribunal with confidence, O judge of the dead.
Minos. I am not your judge, Socrates, nor of any other human being. Human consciousness judges itself according to its actions.
Socrates. Then, what did Homer imply?
Minos. Your contemporaries and you, have misunderstood his words. He said, that i was serving justice to the dead. I hear those who accuse oneself and i seek to reconcile those who hated each other during their lives; such is my function that was allotted to me for having understood, during the past centuries, that human societies must be rooted, not upon force, but upon the law. When your accusers will come here, you may in turn accuse them. He who will recognize one’s faults will go surrender to the Eumenides, so to be purified.
Socrates. Do you think, Minos, that Anystos and Melitos will confess that they have been unjust with me?
Minos. I will show them the consequences of their actions, Socrates. They will hear that future centuries in turn condemn them. They will foresee, subservient nations, who, after spilling the earth with the blood of the innocent, will still with reproach pin your death upon the Athenian democracy. Then, these men, in accusing you-thinking they were serving their homeland-will be horrified of what they have done and will call for their expiation.
Socrates. How is it possible that by accusing someone innocent one fancies serving his homeland?
Minos. You will ask them this question yourself, Socrates, and i know that they will answer you. They will show you the fruits of your lessons: Your dear disciple, Alcibiades, showcasing all treasons and depravities, the thirty tyrants almost all from your school, and among them, Critias-the cruelest and most impious of all-who wrote in his verse that religion was invented by the leaders of the nations to tame the masses. They will show you Xenophon serving as a mercenary a foreign prince, then fighting among the Spartans against the Athenians, and who in his writings show preference to Asiatic monarchy than to popular government. They will show you, finally, Plato, the most famous of the philosophers, moulded by your lessons, proposing as a model of state, in his ‘Republic’, a state where rules the community of women.
Socrates. Hearing you makes me wonder, Minos, that if you would have sat among the Heliasts, you probably would have, like them, condemned me to drink from the hemlock cup.
Minos. No, because they opened a baneful path which will only be too closely followed after them. If only they would have only ostracized you, you would have spent a few years among the oligarchic communities of Sparta or the monarchy of the Medes, and you would have returned more just towards the government of your country. But i am not your judge and i only wanted to show you the reason why Anytos and Melitos may have had to accuse you, and i only said what they will say to you themselves. As for the effects of your teaching in the centuries to come that i envision through my prophetic consciousness-and i may reveal them to you-but perhaps this revelation would be above your strength.
Socrates. You said to me that you will reveal the future to my accusers. Do you see me weaker than them? I, myself thought serving the Good, and if my intelligence was mistaken, i love truth too much-You said it yourself-to stay willingly wrong.
Minos. Thus, Socrates, do you voluntarily stand before expiation?
Socrates. You heard me well, Minos, and i hereby call the Eumenides. O solemn Goddesses, keepers of the holy laws, you are the voice of the spilt blood, and you are called the Imprecators. You are the remorse that float in the adulterous nights and your are called the Erinyes. You wake up the slumbering consciences, your reptiles gnaw the gangrene of the hearts, your torches light the dark souls. You show them what they are and what they could have been; the disgust they have of themselves pushes them onto the harsh road of regeneration, and this is why you are called the benevolent. If you amend the errors of intelligence, indulge me, purify me, O Mighty Ones, in showing me the future.
The Eumenides. Your errors, Socrates, are those of most of the philosophers that preceded you or that will come after you. Each of you bears only a part of the guilt, though all must accept the whole length of the punishment. For having shaken the religion of your forefathers, for preferring the Egyptian theocracy, the monarchy of the Persians, to the sacred equality of the free citizens of Republican Greece, contemplate now the description of a society built according to your dreams. It will live in the future, this society, after the fall into servitude of the Hellenic city-states and the swift invasion of the barbarian religions deep into the West. See the republics, one by one, fall into servitude, nations drawn into the unity of an immense empire and live like docile herds under the scepter of the herdsmen. The ear of the philosophers is not troubled anymore by the struggles in the agora but the law is not anymore the agreement of united wills; it comes from above upon the kneeling multitudes, and the sword maintains obedience. The world hasten itself towards enslavement, and, without doubts, the prince is worthy of ruling upon men, because, you see, altars are erected in his honor.
Socrates. I am enshrouded with horror! O Eumenides. The blood of prohibitions reddens the earth, and when the master has no more ennemies to kill, one blesses his clemency. Tyrants succeed tyrants, in the middle of the universal lowering of the souls, and we place them to the rank of the gods. Here, one kills his mother and everybody is grateful for that he just saved the homeland. Never such a pilling up of crimes and shame had defiled history. Take away this gloomy evocation, O goddesses. Men can only be happy if kings become philosophers, or of philosophers become kings.
The Eumenides. You wishes will be granted, Socrates. Here is one wise man sitting on the throne of the world; but he will not delay-even for one day- its decadence. Look at his son, the equal of all these tyrants of which you would like to take away the ghosts; philosopher-kings also have heirs, like all the others. You were fearing popular dissensions in the republics, what do you make of the military factions that are putting up the Empire for auction. Though you cannot complain about the docility of the masses: they humbly accept the master that the soldiers impose them, without ever thinking of liberating themselves from their yoke.
Socrates. I see clearly, O goddesses, that in order to redeem the poor human race, a God must descend upon the earth; but such is the folly of men, that perhaps they would put to death the just one who came to teach them the truth.
The Eumenides. The God did descend, Socrates, and it is not the people who put him to death, but the wise and the priests. And his disciples, who abandoned him the day of his ordeal, spread his doctrine in the shadowy background, opposing to the traditions of Greece, a foreign tradition, and dully undermined the religion of the Empire, already hit by the philosophers, your successors. After three centuries of underground work, your death has found its revenge: The Gods of Homer are being chased out of their temples, and upon the pedestal of their toppled statues a philosopher is placed, whose doctrine is saving the world. The priests of the new God live in the contemplation of holy things, without a homeland and family. They direct the conscience of other men who are kneeling before them, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness. Is it not the very rule of intelligence dreamed by all philosophers, this government of the elects, which you could have been part of? Look now, in its workings, this mighty assembly, this aristocracy of the mind, and judge the tree by its fruits.
Socrates. Alas ! i see the oppression spread upon the free sphere of the intelligence. The ancient tyrants only shackled the bodies, these ones also chain-up the souls. Eternal Reason, this light that illuminate every man in this world, they worship it in the heavens and they forbid it on earth. Before, every nation, every human would pray in his own manner, and from the diversity of the hymns an immense harmony was born that would make the heaven rejoice; but, to them, all free speech seems a dissonance, and prayer of the people is now only a monotonous echo of the words of the priest. And if reason fends off the chains that are contrary to its nature, the peaceful fields of the mind become a bloody arena, where various religious factions struggle, unknown to the people of old. Spear me, O dreadful Goddesses; if i may have, unwillingly drafted this evil work, what you have just shown me is enough as a punishment.
The Eumenides. No, Socrates, it is not enough. Remember and look: See the fate allotted to sculpture, the art of your youth. It is iterated, after the philosophers, that is is insane to lock-down the divine into stone and bronze, and with the furor of wild beast, masterpieces by Polykletes, Phidias or Praxiteles are being destroyed. For a people which has disowned its Gods, the presence of these testimonies of genius and piety of the ancestors are visible remorse which very presence is unwelcomed, metallic statues are melted, marble statues are been smashed into pieces. Science and poetry are being buried under the rubbles of the temples. Libraries are being burned, books are being dispersed and scraped. Nothing will be left for the barbarians to do. We can hear them snarling in the northern plains, ready to swoop down into the great Empire, but nobody thinks about resisting. It is iterated, after the philosophers, than Man has no other homeland than the Heavens and the earth is abandoned to the strongest. The ancient Gods saved Greece from the invasion of the Medes, but the viril virtues are now altogether dead with the ancient religion. The world is wrapping itself in a shroud, the lights of heaven are going out, one by one and everything enter into the great night.
Socrates. Mercy, O mighty Eumenides, enough of heaped evils, i cannot bear more.
The Eumenides. Let it be done according to your desire.
Socrates. O Minos, you told me so that this revelation would be beyond my strength. It is heartbreaking to see the evil one cannot repair. But, tell me why the mistakes of the intelligence are punished more cruelly, as they are involuntary?
Minos. The penalty is the first level of ascension. Pain purifies and sanctifies. Meditate upon what you just saw, and when you will have ascended into the luminous sphere where the soul contemplates the last mysteries, you will understand the secrets of the Gods mighty justice.’
A Via-HYGEIA Note:
Now would be the perfect time,
as an interlude,
to listen to Dylan Thomas’
SOCRATE DEVANT MINOS
Minos. Sois le bienvenu parmi les ombres, Socrate, toi qui, sur la terre, as toujours cherché la vérité.
Socrate. Salut à toi, Minos. Ceux qui ont été injustement condamnés par les vivants se présentent avec confiance devant ton tribunal, juge des morts.
Minos. Je ne suis pas ton juge, Socrate, ni celui des autres hommes. La conscience humaine se juge elle-même selon ses actes.
Socrate. Qu’a donc voulu dire Homère ?
Minos. Toi et tes contemporains avez mal compris ses paroles. Il a dit que je rendais la justice aux morts. J’écoute ceux qui s’accusent et je cherche à réconcilier ceux qui se sont haïs pendant la vie ; telle est la fonction qui m’est attribuée pour avoir reconnu, aux siècles anciens, que les sociétés humaines doivent être fondées, non sur la force, mais sur la loi. Quand tes accusateurs viendront ici, tu pourras les accuser à ton tour. Celui qui reconnaîtra ses torts ira se livrer aux Euménides pour être purifié.
Socrate. Crois-tu donc, Minos, qu’Anytos et Mélitos avoueront qu’ils ont été injustes ?
Minos. Je leur montrerai les conséquences de leur action, Socrate. Ils entendront les siècles futurs les condamner à leur tour. Ils verront dans l’avenir des races serviles qui, après avoir inondé la terre de sang innocent, reprocheront encore ta mort à la démocratie d’Athènes. Alors ces hommes qui, en t’accusant, ont cru servir la patrie, seront épouvantés de leur œuvre et appelleront l’expiation.
Socrate. Comment se peut-il, Minos, qu’en accusant un innocent quelqu’un s’imagine qu’il sert la patrie ?
Minos. Tu leur adresseras cette question à eux-mêmes, Socrate, et je sais ce qu’ils te répondront. Ils te montreront les fruits de tes leçons : ton disciple chéri, Alkibiade, donnant l’exemple de toutes les trahisons et de toutes les débauches, les trente tyrans sortis presque tous de ton école, et parmi eux Critias, le plus cruel de tous et le plus impie, celui qui a écrit dans ses vers que la religion avait été inventée par les chefs des peuples pour dompter la multitude. Ils te montreront Xénophon servant comme mercenaire un prince étranger, puis combattant avec Sparte contre les athéniens, et dans ses écrits, préférant la monarchie asiatique au gouvernement populaire. Ils te montreront enfin Platon, le plus illustre philosophe formé par tes leçons, proposant pour modèle, dans sa république, un état où règne la communauté des femmes.
Socrate. Il me semble, Minos, que, si tu avais siégé parmi les héliastes, tu m’aurais condamné comme eux à boire de la ciguë.
Minos. Non, car ils ont ouvert une voie funeste qui ne sera que trop suivie après eux. Si du moins ils s’étaient contentés de l’ostracisme, tu aurais passé quelques années au milieu de la communauté oligarchique de Sparte ou de la monarchie des mèdes, et tu en serais revenu plus juste pour le gouvernement de ton pays. Mais je ne suis pas ton juge, j’ai voulu seulement t’indiquer les raisons qu’Anytos et Mélitos ont pu avoir pour t’accuser, et je n’ai dit que ce qu’ils te diront eux-mêmes. Quant aux effets de ton enseignement dans les siècles à venir, je les vois par ma science prophétique et je pourrais te les faire connaître, mais peut-être cette révélation serait-elle au-dessus de tes forces.
Socrate. Tu m’as dit que tu révélerais l’avenir à mes accusateurs. Me crois-tu donc plus faible qu’eux ? Moi aussi j’ai cru faire le bien, et si mon intelligence s’est trompée, j’aime trop la vérité, tu l’as dit toi-même, pour rester volontairement dans l’erreur.
Minos. Ainsi, Socrate, tu vas toi-même au-devant de l’expiation ?
Socrate. Tu l’as dit, Minos, j’appelle les Euménides. Ô graves Déesses, gardiennes des lois saintes, vous êtes la voix du sang répandu, et on vous nomme les imprécations. Vous êtes les remords qui flottent dans les nuits adultères, et l’on vous nomme les Érinnyes. Vous réveillez la conscience endormie, vos serpents rongent la gangrène des cœurs, vos torches éclairent les âmes ténébreuses. Vous leur montrez ce qu’elles sont et ce qu’elles auraient dû être ; l’horreur qu’elles ont d’elles-mêmes les pousse dans le rude chemin de la régénération, et c’est pourquoi on vous nomme les Bienveillantes. Si vous redressez aussi les erreurs de l’intelligence, corrigez-moi, purifiez-moi, ô vénérables, en me découvrant l’avenir.
Les Euménides. Tes erreurs, Socrate, sont celles de la plupart des philosophes qui t’ont devancé ou qui te succéderont. Chacun de vous n’a qu’une part dans la faute, et pourtant chacun doit accepter toute la punition. Pour avoir ébranlé la religion de vos pères, pour avoir préféré la théocratie de l’Égypte, la monarchie de la Perse à l’égalité sacrée des libres citoyens de la Grèce républicaine, contemplez le tableau d’une société selon vos rêves. Elle vivra dans l’avenir, cette société, après l’asservissement des cités helléniques et l’invasion rapide des religions barbares dans l’Occident. Voyez les républiques tomber l’une après l’autre dans la servitude, les nations s’engloutir dans l’unité d’un immense empire et marcher comme des troupeaux dociles sous le sceptre des pasteurs. L’oreille des philosophes n’est plus troublée par les luttes de la place publique, mais la loi n’est plus l’accord des volontés unies ; elle descend d’en haut sur les multitudes agenouillées, et le glaive maintient l’obéissance. Le monde se précipite volontairement dans l’esclavage, et sans doute le prince est digne de gouverner les hommes, car, tu le vois, on lui élève des autels.
Socrate. L’horreur m’enveloppe, ô Euménides. Le sang des proscriptions rougit la terre, et quand le maître n’a plus d’ennemis à tuer, on bénit sa clémence. Les tyrans succèdent aux tyrans, au milieu de l’abaissement universel des âmes, et on les met au rang des dieux. En voici un qui tue sa mère, et on le remercie d’avoir sauvé la patrie. Jamais pareille accumulation de crimes et de honte n’avait souillé l’histoire. Écartez ce tableau lugubre, ô Déesses. Les hommes ne peuvent être heureux que si les rois deviennent philosophes ou si les philosophes deviennent rois.
Les Euménides. Tes vœux seront exaucés, Socrate : voici un sage sur le trône du monde, mais il n’en retardera pas d’un jour la décadence. Regarde son fils, l’égal de ces tyrans dont tu voudrais écarter les fantômes ; les rois philosophes ont, comme les autres, des héritiers. Tu redoutais les dissensions populaires dans les républiques, que dis-tu des factions militaires qui mettent l’empire à l’encan ? Pourtant tu ne peux pas te plaindre de la docilité des peuples : ils acceptent humblement le maître que les soldats leur imposent, sans jamais songer à s’affranchir.
Socrate. Je vois bien, ô Déesses, que pour sauver la pauvre race humaine, il faudrait qu’un Dieu descendît sur la terre ; mais, telle est la folie des hommes, que peut-être ils feraient périr le juste venu pour leur enseigner la vérité.
Les Euménides. Le Dieu est descendu, Socrate, et ce n’est pas le peuple qui l’a fait mourir, ce sont les savants et les prêtres. Puis ses disciples, qui l’ont abandonné au jour du supplice, répandent sa doctrine dans l’ombre, opposant aux traditions de la Grèce une tradition étrangère, et minant sourdement la religion de l’empire, déjà frappée par les coups des philosophes, tes successeurs. Après trois siècles de travail souterrain, ta mort est vengée, Socrate : les Dieux d’Homère sont chassés de leurs temples, et, sur le piédestal de leurs statues renversées, on place un philosophe, sauvant le monde par sa doctrine. Les prêtres du Dieu nouveau vivent dans la contemplation des choses saintes, sans patrie et sans famille, étrangers aux soucis de la vie. Ils dirigent la conscience des autres hommes qui, s’agenouillant devant eux, confessent leurs fautes et en implorent le pardon. N’est-ce pas là ce règne de l’intelligence rêvé par tous les philosophes, ce gouvernement des meilleurs, dont tu aurais pu faire partie ? Regarde-la maintenant à l’œuvre, cette assemblée auguste, cette aristocratie de la pensée, et juge l’arbre par ses fruits.
Socrate. Hélas ! Je vois l’oppression s’étendre sur la sphère libre de l’intelligence. Les anciens tyrans n’enchaînaient que les corps, ceux-ci enchaînent les âmes. L’éternelle Raison, cette lumière qui éclaire tout homme en ce monde, ils l’adorent dans le ciel et ils la proscrivent sur la terre. Autrefois chaque peuple, chaque homme priait à sa manière, et de cette diversité des hymnes naissait une immense harmonie qui réjouissait le ciel ; mais à ceux-ci toute voix libre paraît une dissonance, et la prière du peuple n’est plus que l’écho monotone des paroles du prêtre. Et si la raison repousse des chaînes contraires à sa nature, les champs pacifiques de la pensée deviennent une arène sanglante, où luttent les factions religieuses inconnues aux peuples d’autrefois. Épargnez-moi, redoutables Déesses ; si j’ai préparé, sans le vouloir, cette œuvre mauvaise, ce que vous m’avez fait voir doit suffire à ma punition.
Les Euménides. Non, Socrate, ce n’est pas assez. Souviens-toi et regarde : vois le sort réservé à la sculpture, l’art de ta jeunesse. On répète après les philosophes qu’il est insensé d’enfermer le divin dans la pierre et le bronze, et l’on détruit, avec une fureur de bête fauve, ses chefs-d’œuvre de Polyklète, de Phidias, de Praxitèle. Pour un peuple qui a renié ses Dieux, les témoignages du génie et de la piété des ancêtres sont des remords visibles dont la présence importune. On fond les statues de métal, on brise les statues de marbre. La science et la poésie sont ensevelies aussi sous les ruines des temples. On brûle les bibliothèques, on disperse et on gratte les livres. Il ne restera rien à faire aux barbares. On les entend gronder dans les plaines du nord, prêts à fondre sur le grand empire, mais personne ne songe à la résistance. On répète après les philosophes que l’homme n’a d’autre patrie que le ciel, et on livre la terre aux plus forts. Les anciens Dieux avaient sauvé la Grèce de l’invasion des Mèdes, mais les vertus viriles sont mortes avec l’antique religion. Le monde s’enveloppe dans son linceul, les lumières du ciel s’éteignent une à une et tout rentre dans la grande nuit.
Socrate. Grâce, ô Euménides, assez de maux amoncelés, je n’en pourrais supporter davantage.
Les Euménides. Qu’il soit fait selon ton désir, Socrate. Nous éteignons nos torches funèbres et nous t’épargnons le spectacle des longs siècles de douleur, d’esclavage et de honte qui vont s’ouvrir pour la misérable humanité.
Socrate. Ô Minos, tu me l’avais bien dit, cette révélation était au-dessus de mes forces. Il est trop dur de voir le mal qu’on ne peut réparer. Mais dis-moi pourquoi les erreurs de l’intelligence sont punies si cruellement puisqu’elles sont involontaires.
Minos. La peine est le premier degré de l’ascension. La douleur épure et sanctifie. Médite sur ce que tu viens de voir, et quand tu seras monté dans la sphère lumineuse où l’âme contemple les derniers mystères, tu comprendras les secrets de la haute justice des Dieux.
Ici, nous vous proposons d’écouter,
en guise d’ interlude,
le poème de Dylan Thomas,
‘Minos’ is purported to be one of the dialogues of Plato. It features Socrates and a companion who together attempt to find a definition of “law” (Greek: νόμος, nómos). Despite its authenticity having been doubted by many scholars, it has often been regarded as a foundational document in the history of legal philosophy, particularly in the theory of natural law. It has also conversely been interpreted as describing a largely procedural theory of law. Ancient commentators have traditionally considered the work as a preamble to Plato’s final dialogue, Laws.
The dialogue eventually proceeds into praise of Minos, the mythical leader of Crete and an ancient enemy of Athens. Socrates counters his companion’s opinion that Minos was unjust, saying that his idea is based on theater plays, but once they consult Homer, who is superior to all tragic playwrights put together, they shall find that Minos is worthy of praise. He continues by saying that Minos was the only man to be educated by Zeus himself, and created admirable laws for the Cretans, who are unique in avoiding excessive drinking, later teaching their practice to the Spartans. Minos instructed Rhadamanthus in parts of his “kingly art”, enough for him to guard his laws. Zeus then gave Minos a man called Talos, that while thought to have been a giant robot-like automaton made of bronze, Socrates insists that his nickname of “brazen” was due to him holding bronze tablets where Minos’ laws were inscribed.
After this encomium, Socrates’ companion asks how is it, if everything that he had just heard was true, that Minos has such a bad reputation in Athens. Socrates responds by saying that this was the result of Minos attacking Athens while the city had good poets who, through their art, can harm a person greatly.’ (Wikipedia).
From the ‘Collected works of Plato’,
translation from the original Greek
by George Burges,
M. A. Trinity College, Cambridge. 1851.
of the ‘Minos’,
Friend. I do not recollect.
Socrates. Do you not know, which of the Greeks are making use of laws the most ancient ?
Friend. Are you speaking of the Lacedemonians, and of Lycurgus the law-giver ?
Socrates. These institutions, however, are perhaps not three hundred years old, or a little more. But do you know from whence came the best of their laws?
Friend. They say, from Crete.
Socrates. Do not they of all the Greeks make use of laws the most ancient ?
Socrates. Do you know then who among these were good kings? (Were they not) Minos and Rhadamanthus, the sons of Zeus and Europa, by whom those laws were made ?
Friend. They say, Socrates, that Rhadamanthus was a just man, but that Minos was rustic, morose, and unjust.
Socrates. You are telling, O best of men, a tale of Attica, and of tragedy!
Friend. What, are not such things told of Minos?
Socrates. Not by Homer, at least, and Hesiod; and they are more trustworthy than all the tragic poets, from whom you have heard what you are saying.
Friend. But what do they say about Minos?
Socrates. I will tell you, that you may not, like the many, be guilty of impiety. For there is not any thing more impious than this, nor of what we ought to be more cautious, than of sinning against the gods, either in word or in deed; and next, against divine men. But you ought to take ever a very great care, when you are about to praise or blame any man, that you speak correctly ; and for the sake of this, it is meet to learn how to distinguish good and bad men. For the deity feels indignant when any one blames a person similar to himself, or praises one dissimilar; for this is the good man. For think not that stones, and wood, and birds, and serpents are sacred, but that men are not so; for a good man is the most sacred, and a depraved man the most defiled of all things. Now then, since Homer and Hesiod pass an encomium on Minos, on this account I will speak, in order that you, being a man sprung from a man, may not sin in word against a hero the son of Jupiter. For Homer, (in Od. xix. 174,) speaking of Crete, says: “There are many men, and ninety cities in it ; amongst them Knossus, a great city, where reigned Minos, who each ninth year converse held, with mighty Zeus.’
This then is Homer’s praise of Minos, expressed in few words, such as he has not given to even one of his heroes. For that Zeus is a sophist, and that the art itself is all-beautiful, he shows in many other places, and here likewise. For he says that Minos conversed in the ninth year with Zeus, and went to be instructed by him, as if Zeus were a sophist. That Homer, then, does not bestow the honour of being instructed by Zeus upon any other hero, than Minos, is praise indeed to be wondered at. In the scene of the Odyssey, too, relating to the Dead, Homer has represented Minos as a judge, and holding a golden sceptre; but not Rhadamanthus as judging there, or conversing with Zeus any where. On this account I say that Minos is extolled by Homer beyond all other heroes.
For to have been instructed merely by Zeus, when he was the son of Zeus, carries with it no excess of praise. For the verse—He reigned, and each ninth year conversed with Zeus—means that he was the associate of Zeus; for by ὄαροι is meant “discourses,” and by ὀαριστὴς, “an associate in discourse.” Hence at each ninth year, Minos went to the cavern of Zeus, to learn some things, and to show forth others; which, during the preceding period of nine years, he had learnt’ from Zeus. There are, however, some who understand by ὀαριστὴς, “the associate”’ of Zeus in drinking and sport; although any one may make use of this as a proof to show that they, who thus understand the word, say nothing to the purpose ; for although both the Greeks and Barbarians are numerous, there are none, who abstain from banquets, and the sport to which wine belongs, except the Cretans, and next the Lacedemonians, who were instructed by the Cretans. But in Crete this is one of the other laws, which Minos laid down, “not to drink with each other to intoxication.”
And it is evident, that what he deemed to be beautiful institutions, these he laid down for his own citizens. For Minos did not, like a knave, think one thing, and do another, contrary to what he thought; but his intercourse with Zeus was, as I assert, through discourses for the attainment of virtue. Hence he laid down those laws for his citizens, through which Crete has been for all time prosperous, and Lacedemon likewise, from the time when it began to make use of those laws, as being divine.
But Rhadamanthus was indeed a good man; for he was instructed by Minos. He did not however learn the whole of the royal art, but that part of it, which ministers to the royal, as far as presiding over courts of justice ; from whence he was said to be a good judge. For Minos employed him as a guardian of the laws in the city; but Talus for those through the rest of Crete. For Talus thrice every year went through the villages in order to preserve the laws in them, and carried with him the laws written in tables of brass; from whence he was called “brazen.” Hesiod too asserts respecting Minos, what is closely related to this. For, having mentioned his name, he says, “Most regal was he of all mortal kings, And o’er the most of neighbouring people ruled, Of Zeus the sceptre holding, king like him; and he too means by the sceptre of Zeus, nothing else than the instruction of Zeus, by which he regulated Crete“.
Friend. On what account then, Socrates, was the report spread against Minos, of his being an unlearned and morose man ?
Socrates. On that account, through which you, O best of men, if you are prudent, and every other person to whom it is a care to be in good repute, will be cautious never to incur the anger of a poet. For poets are able to effect much as regards reputation, in whatever way they may represent acts, by praising men and blaming them. On which ground Minos erred, when he made war upon this city ; where there is much of other wisdom, and poets in every other kind of poetry, and in tragedy likewise. Now tragedy here is of an old date, not beginning as persons fancy from Thespis, nor from Phrynichus; but, if you are willing to turn your thoughts to it, you will find it is a very ancient invention of this city. Now, of poetry (in general), the most pleasing to the vulgar and the most soul-alluring is tragedy; to which we, applying our minds, have revenged ourselves upon Minos, for the tribute he compelled us to pay. In this then Minos erred, by incurring our anger ; from whence, in reply to your question, he became in rather bad repute. For that he was a good man, a friend to law, and a good shepherd of the people, as I have before observed, this is the greatest proof, that his laws have been unchanged, in consequence of his having discovered correctly the truth of what is, with reference to the administration of a state.
Friend. You appear to me, Socrates, to have stated a probable reason.
Socrates. If then I am speaking the truth, do not the Cretans, the citizens of Minos and Rhadamanthus, appear to you to have made use of laws the most ancient?
Friend. They appear so.
Socrates. These therefore were the best lawgivers of the ancients, and distributors and shepherds of men; just as Homer likewise says, that a good general is “a shepherd of the people.”
Friend. Entirely so.
Socrates. Come then, by Zeus, who presides over friendship, if any one, who is a good lawgiver and shepherd of the body, should ask us—What are those things, which a person – by distributing to the body will make it better? we should well and briefly answer, that they are nutriment and labour, by the former increasing, and by the latter exercising and knitting together the body.
Socrates. If then he should after this ask us—-What are those things which a good law-giver and shepherd will, by distributing to the soul, make it better ?—by making what answer, should we be not ashamed of ourselves, and of our age! ?
Friend. This i don’t anymore know what to say.
Socrates. It is however disgraceful to the soul of each of us, to seem not to know the things pertaining to them, and in which their good and evil consist, but to have considered those pertaining to the body, and to other things.’