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GREAT PEDAGOGICAL ESSAYS.
Plato is the earliest of the Greek philosophers whose writings have been transmitted to us.
Unlike his great pupil Aristotle, he was a speculative philosopher who sought behind the changing phenomena of nature the absolute and eternal. His thoughts are often astonishingly profound, and he has exerted a far-reaching influence upon the Fathers of the Church and upon the mystics of mediæval and modern times. “Out of Plato," says Emerson in his “Representative Men,' come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought. Great havoc makes he with our originalities."
Unlike his distinguished teacher Socrates, who sprang from the artisan class, Plato descended from a noble family; on his mother's side he was related to Solon, and on his father's side to Codrus, one of the ancient kings of Athens. Perhaps it was the influence of his descent and early training that made him aristocratic in his sympathies. When he came to theorize about an ideal “Republic,” he placed the government in the hands of an aristocratic class.
Plato was born in Athens about 427 B. C., and no doubt received the best education in gymnastics and music that his native city afforded. His imaginative intellect first turned
him to poetry, in which he probably might have achieved distinction; but at the age of twenty he came under the influence of Socrates, and henceforth devoted his great powers to philosophy. He spent some years in travel. He resided for a time with Euclid at Megara; he visited Italy, where he came under the influence of the Pythagorean school of philosophy. In 386 B. C., in the full maturity of manhood and with a mind richly stored with learning, he began to teach philosophy in the Academy at Athens. For nearly half a century he lectured to a circle of disciples drawn not only from his native city but also from distant parts of Greece.
It was during this long period of philosophizing and teaching that his series of famous dialogues was produced. Among them may be mentioned " Protagoras," or the Socratic doctrine of virtue; “Timæus,” or concerning the origin and nature of the world; “Phædo," or concerning the immortality of the soul; the "Republic," or concerning the state that realizes justice; and the “ Laws,” which deals with the state, but is less speculative than the “ Republic.” In three of these writings — “Protagoras," the “Republic ” and the “Laws" — he discusses education; in the first briefly, and in the last two elaborately. In the “Republic ” his views are purely speculative and Utopian; in the “ Laws,” which was written in his old age, and which may be regarded as representing his most matured views, he is more practical. He remains in closer sympathy with the prevailing system at Athens, though here and there he gives us interesting glimpses of education in Egypt and Sparta. The following selection is from Book VII. of the “ Laws,” the translation being that of Bohn's Classical Library. It treats of gymnastics and of music, the two main branches of Athenian education.
SELECTION FROM THE “LAWS” OF PLATO.
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.
AN ATHENIAN STRANGER.
CLEINIAS, a Cretan.
ATH. Up to the age of three years, whether of boy or girl, if a person strictly carries out our previous regulations and makes them a principal aim, he will do much for the advantage of the young creatures. But at three, four, five, and six years the childish nature will require sports; now is the time to get rid of self-will in him, punishing him, not so
as to disgrace him. As we were saying about slaves, that we ought neither to punish them in hot blood or so as to anger them, nor yet to leave them unpunished lest they become self-willed, a like rule is to be observed in the case of the free-born. Children at that age have certain natural modes of amusement which they find out for themselves when they meet. And all the children who are between the ages of three and six ought to meet at the temples of the villages, several families of a village uniting on one spot, and the nurses seeing that the children behave properly and orderly,— they themselves and their whole company being under the care of one of the twelve women aforesaid annually appointed out of their number by the guardians of the law to inspect and order each company. Let the twelve be appointed by the women who have authority over marriage, one out of each tribe and all of the same age; and when appointed, let them hold office and go to the temples every day, punishing all offenders, male or female, who are slaves or strangers, by
the help of some of the public servants; but if any citizen disputes the punishment, let her bring him before the wardens of the city; or, if there be no dispute, let her punish him herself. After the age of six years the time has arrived for the separation of the sexes,— let boys live with boys, and girls in like manner with girls. Now they must begin to learn — the boys going to teachers of horsemanship and the use of the bow, the javelin, and sling; and if they do not object, let women also go to learn if not to practice; above all, they ought to know the use of arms; for I may note, that the practice which now almost universally prevails is due to ignorance.
CLE. In what respect ?
Ath. In this respect, that the right and left hand are supposed to differ by nature when we use them; whereas no difference is found in the use of the feet and the lower limbs; but in the use of the hands we are in a manner lame, by reason of the folly of nurses and mothers; for although our several limbs are by nature balanced, we create a difference in them by bad habit. In some cases this is of no consequence, as, for example, when we hold the lyre in the left hand, and the plectrum in the right, but it is downright folly to make the same distinction in other cases. The custom of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes. And there many similar examples in charioteering and other things, from which we may learn that those who make the left side weaker than the right act contrary to nature. In the case of the plectrum, which is of horn only, and similar instruments, as I was saying, it is of no consequence, but makes a great difference, and may be of very great importance to the warrior who has to use iron weapons, bows and javelins, and the like; above