Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 December 2010
In the middle of Book 4 of the Laws, the visitor from Athens (henceforward just ‘the Athenian’) suggests that if the new city he, Megillus and Clinias are setting up ‘in words’ (logôi) is, like democracy, oligarchy and so forth, to be called by the name of the element in it that is master, then ‘it should have the name of the god that is truly master over reasonable people (noun echontôn)’. ‘And who is the god in this case?’ asks Clinias. Instead of offering a direct answer, the Athenian refers to the myth of the rule of Cronus, ‘which finds its imitation in the city that is best governed of those now existing’ (713b3–4: [archê te kai oikêsis] hês mimêma echousa estin hêtis tôn nun arista oikeitai). Now it looks clear enough that we are not straightforwardly to identify the god in question with Cronus: the rule of Cronus, after all, ended with the end of his age – and what the Athenian draws from the myth of Cronus is just that
we must use every device at our disposal to imitate the life said to exist in the time of Cronus, and so far as we participate ourselves in immortality, this is what we must obey in governing both our private lives, at home, and our cities, calling law the disposition thus arrived at by reason (nous) (713e6–714a2).
And it is law – this law, representing the ‘disposition of reason’ – that must be master, and the rulers its slaves.