῎Ισως δή, εἶπον, παρὰ τὸ ἔθος γελοῖα ἂν φαίνοιτο πολλὰ περὶ τὰ νῦν λεγόμενα, εἰ πράξεται ᾗ λέγεται.
καὶ μάλα, ἔφη.
τί, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, γελοιότατον αὐτῶν ὁρᾷς; ἢ δῆλα δὴ ὅτι γυμνὰς τὰς γυναῖκας ἐν ταῖς παλαίστραις γυμναζομένας μετὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν, οὐ μόνον τὰς νέας, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἤδη τὰς πρεσβυτέρας, ὥσπερ τοὺς γέροντας ἐν τοῖς γυμνασίοις, ὅταν ῥυσοὶ καὶ μὴ ἡδεῖς τὴν ὄψιν ὅμως φιλογυμναστῶσιν;
νὴ τὸν Δία, ἔφη· γελοῖον γὰρ ἄν, ὥς γε ἐν τῷ παρεστῶτι, φανείη.
οὐκοῦν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ἐπείπερ ὡρμήσαμεν λέγειν, οὐ φοβητέον τὰ τῶν χαριέντων σκώμματα, ὅσα καὶ οἷα ἂν εἴποιεν εἰς τὴν τοιαύτην μεταβολὴν γενομένην καὶ περὶ τὰ γυμνάσια καὶ περὶ μουσικὴν καὶ οὐκ ἐλάχιστα περὶ τὴν τῶν ὅπλων σχέσιν καὶ ἵππων ὀχήσεις.
ὀρθῶς, ἔφη, λέγεις.
ἀλλ’ ἐπείπερ λέγειν ἠρξάμεθα, πορευτέον πρὸς τὸ τραχὺ τοῦ νόμου, δεηθεῖσίν τε τούτων μὴ τὰ αὑτῶν πράττειν ἀλλὰ σπουδάζειν, καὶ ὑπομνήσασιν ὅτι οὐ πολὺς χρόνος ἐξ οὗ τοῖς ῞Ελλησιν ἐδόκει αἰσχρὰ εἶναι καὶ γελοῖα ἅπερ νῦν τοῖς πολλοῖς τῶν βαρβάρων, γυμνοὺς ἄνδρας ὁρᾶσθαι, καὶ ὅτε ἤρχοντο τῶν γυμνασίων πρῶτοι μὲν Κρῆτες, ἔπειτα Λακεδαιμόνιοι, ἐξῆν τοῖς τότε ἀστείοις πάντα ταῦτα κωμῳδεῖν. ἢ οὐκ οἴει;
ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ, οἶμαι, χρωμένοις ἄμεινον τὸ ἀποδύεσθαι τοῦ συγκαλύπτειν πάντα τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐφάνη, καὶ τὸ ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς δὴ γελοῖον ἐξερρύη ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις μηνυθέντος ἀρίστου, καὶ τοῦτο ἐνεδείξατο, ὅτι μάταιος ὃς γελοῖον ἄλλο τι ἡγεῖται ἢ τὸ κακόν, καὶ ὁ γελωτοποιεῖν ἐπιχειρῶν πρὸς ἄλλην τινὰ ὄψιν ἀποβλέπων ὡς γελοίου ἢ τὴν τοῦ ἄφρονός τε καὶ κακοῦ, καὶ καλοῦ αὖ σπουδάζει πρὸς ἄλλον τινὰ σκοπὸν στησάμενος ἢ τὸν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ.
παντάπασι μὲν οὖν, ἔφη.
(Plato, Politeia 452a-e)
I should rather expect, I said, that several of our proposals, if they are carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous.
No doubt of it.
Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who, in spite of wrinkles and ugliness, continue to frequent the gymnasia.
Yes, indeed, he said: according to present notions the proposal would be thought ridiculous.
But then, I said, as we have determined to speak our minds, we must not fear the jests of the wits which will be directed against this sort of innovation; how they will talk of women’s attainments, both in music and gymnastics, and above all about their wearing armor and riding upon horseback!
Very true, he replied. Yet, having begun, we must go forward to the rough places of the law; at the same time begging of these gentlemen for once in their life to be serious. Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion, which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans, and then the Lacedaemonians, introduced the custom, the wits of that day might equally have ridiculed the innovation.
But when experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far better than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye had vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any other sight but that of folly and vice, or seriously inclines to weigh the beautiful by any other standard but that of the good.
Very true, he replied.
(tr. Benjamin Jowett)