Wednesday, March 16, 2022


Against Leniency in the Treatment of Slaves

Plato, Laws 6.777e-778a (tr. R.G. Bury):
We ought to punish slaves justly, and not to make them conceited by merely admonishing them as we would free men. An address to a servant should be mostly a simple command: there should be no jesting with servants, either male or female, for by a course of excessively foolish indulgence in their treatment of their slaves, masters often make life harder both for themselves, as rulers, and for their slaves, as subject to rule.

κολάζειν γε μὴν ἐν δίκῃ δούλους δεῖ, καὶ μὴ νουθετοῦντας ὡς ἐλευθέρους θρύπτεσθαι ποιεῖν· τὴν δὲ οἰκέτου πρόσρησιν χρὴ σχεδὸν ἐπίταξιν πᾶσαν γίγνεσθαι, μὴ προσπαίζοντας μηδαμῇ μηδαμῶς οἰκέταις, μήτ᾽ οὖν θηλείαις μήτε ἄρρεσιν, ἃ δὴ πρὸς δούλους φιλοῦσι πολλοὶ σφόδρα ἀνοήτως θρύπτοντες χαλεπώτερον ἀπεργάζεσθαι τὸν βίον ἐκείνοις τε ἄρχεσθαι καὶ ἑαυτοῖς ἄρχειν.

From Joel Eidsath:
I thought that Bury's translation missed some of the main contrast in this passage. He has to add color like that "merely" because of it. And I don't think "conceited" is quite right. In translation, it comes across as ever so slightly a shade more patronizing than Plato is actually being towards slaves.

"Slaves really have to be *corrected* with punishments and not be made to lose discipline in verbally criticizing them like with freemen. The address to a household servant should be nearly entirely command, not ever bantering with any servant in any way, neither indeed with the females, nor with the males; really, many love this banter with slaves and are very short-sightedly breaking discipline to work out a more difficult life both for those who take orders and also for themselves who give them."

You can see that I took ἐν δίκῃ as "with punishments", because I don't see any sense that masters are being called on to act especially justly. Instead, I try to show κολάζειν ἐν δίκῃ as directly contrasting νουθετεῖν ὡς ἐλευθέρους.

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