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Chapter 11 - Plato, Xenophon, and the Laws of Lycurgus

from Part IV - Projects, Paradoxes, and Literary Registers in the Laws

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2023

Malcolm Schofield
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

The relation between the opening section of Plato’s Laws and Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lacedaemonians usually goes unnoticed. I draw attention to its importance for understanding Plato’s project in the dialogue. Section 1 shows that the view proposed by Plato’s Athenian Visitor that Lycurgus made virtue in its entirety the goal of his statecraft was anticipated in Xenophon’s treatise. It has to be treated as an interpretation of the Spartan politeia alternative to that advanced by the Athenian’s interlocutors, which Plato could hope to be taken seriously as such. The second section focuses on the legislative programme the Athenian says he had hoped to hear ascribed to the Cretan and Spartan lawgivers. Plato can expect recognition by the reader that the programme is properly Spartan and Cretan by virtue of its echoes of the programme attributed to Lycurgus by Xenophon. The third section argues that in making law primarily concerned with fostering the proper development, conduct, and treatment of human beings at every stage of the life cycle, above all by provision for sound customary practices and the like, Plato adopts the approach to law making taken by Xenophon’s Lycurgus.

Type
Chapter
Information
How Plato Writes
Perspectives and Problems
, pp. 219 - 239
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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