Saturday, February 5, 2011

An excerpt from Timaeus regarding Atlantis and Flood

Critias tells of a tale he heard from his grandfather, a well-respected citizen, Critias the elder.  The Critias of the Timaeus was 10 years old and his grandfather, also name Critias was in his 90s.  The elder visits the priests of Egypt who have kept records of an ancient version of Athens that was a great culture ultimately destroyed by a flood.  This story is surprizing to the elder because there is no known record of a former city to be found elsewhere.  The younger Critias confronted with Plato's topic in the Republic is reminded of the legend and notes a consistency in Plato's vision of the Republic and the myth he heard as a boy.  Notably, there is revealed a series of floods and destruction rather than a singular one known in Plato's contemporary Anthens.  There is also a similar feast where the young tell stories for a prize.  Thus, the stories of Solon who is both poet and politician--drawn to the latter activity because of political unrest--that are frequently used both as a way of gaining the elder Critias' favor and his reputation as a poet.  Indeed, Critias says that had Solon focused on his poetry he would have become the best of all poets.  In this passage pay particular attention to the notion that there is a significant connection developed by Plato between his Republic and the Timaeus.  In this discussion it is assumed that Socrates is indeed the masked voice of the writer Plato.  While this may be up for grabs it is sustainable and consistent with my reading of Plato's dialectic/narrative form.  The text below is a quote from my main source.

Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.