Laws and Fear of the State

Sophocles, Ajax 1071-1086

“The laws are never taken well in a city
Where fear has not been planted too.
Nor can any army be ruled wisely
If it has no foundation of fear and shame.

But even if someone has a powerful body
He can seem to fall because of some minor evil.
Understand this: whoever has shame and fear
That’s the person who has safety.

But wherever it is that someone can be outrageous and do what they want
Know that this city eventually will sink to the depth
Even if it was running smoothly for years.

Let me have some fear then at the right time
And let us not imagine that if we do what makes us happy
We won’t pay the penalty of grief in turn.”

οὐ γάρ ποτ᾿ οὔτ᾿ ἂν ἐν πόλει νόμοι καλῶς
φέροιντ᾿ ἄν, ἔνθα μὴ καθεστήκοι δέος,
οὔτ᾿ ἂν στρατός γε σωφρόνως ἄρχοιτ᾿ ἔτι,
μηδὲν φόβου πρόβλημα μηδ᾿ αἰδοῦς ἔχων.
ἀλλ᾿ ἄνδρα χρή, κἂν σῶμα γεννήσῃ μέγα,
δοκεῖν πεσεῖν ἂν κἂν ἀπὸ σμικροῦ κακοῦ.
δέος γὰρ ᾧ πρόσεστιν αἰσχύνη θ᾿ ὁμοῦ,
σωτηρίαν ἔχοντα τόνδ᾿ ἐπίστασο·
ὅπου δ᾿ ὑβρίζειν δρᾶν θ᾿ ἃ βούλεται παρῇ,
ταύτην νόμιζε τὴν πόλιν χρόνῳ ποτὲ
ἐξ οὐρίων δραμοῦσαν ἐς βυθὸν πεσεῖν.
ἀλλ᾿ ἑστάτω μοι καὶ δέος τι καίριον,
καὶ μὴ δοκῶμεν δρῶντες ἃν ἡδώμεθα
οὐκ ἀντιτείσειν αὖθις ἃν λυπώμεθα.



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