Custom, Violence, and Law

Pindar fr. 169a [=P. Oxy. 2450 (26, 1961), vv. 6–62; = Plato, Gorg. 484b]

“Custom, the king of everything,
Of mortals and immortal alike,
Guides them with the final hand
To the most violent kinds of justice.
I’ll prove this
With the deeds of Herakles
Since he drove the cattle of Geryon
To the Cyclopean gates of Eurystheus
Unpunished and unpaid.

Νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεύς
θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων
ἄγει δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον
ὑπερτάτᾳ χειρί. Τεκμαίρομαι
ἔργοισιν Ἡρακλέος·
ἐπεὶ Γηρυόνα βόας
Κυκλώπειον ἐπὶ πρόθυρον Εὐρυσθ̣έος
ἀνατεί τε] καὶ ἀπριάτας ἔλασεν

Plato, Gorgias 484a-b

“But when a person comes around with sufficient nature, he shakes off and shatters all these things [laws], escaping them. He tramples all over our precedents and edicts, our pronouncements and all the laws that a contrary to his nature, and our slave rises up to become our master and clearly shows the justice of nature. This is what Pindar seems to indicate in that song when he says…”

ἐὰν δέ γε, οἶμαι, φύσιν ἱκανὴν γένηται ἔχων ἀνήρ, πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσεισάμενος καὶ διαρρήξας καὶ διαφυγών, καταπατήσας τὰ ἡμέτερα γράμματα καὶ μαγγανεύματα καὶ ἐπῳδὰς καὶ νόμους τοὺς παρὰ φύσιν ἅπαντας, ἐπαναστὰς ἀνεφάνη δεσπότης ἡμέτερος ὁ δοῦλος, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἐξέλαμψε τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιον. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Πίνδαρος ἅπερ ἐγὼ λέγω ἐνδείκνυσθαι ἐν τῷ ᾄσματι ἐν ᾧ λέγει ὅτι…

Fragmentary marble relief sculpture with bearded figure looking forward holding a boar's carcass on his shoulder
Roman; Relief of Herakles and the boar; Stone Sculpture

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