In the 5th Century B.C. Plato recorded the dialogue of his friends and contemporaries concerning a discussion of a tale of Athen’s ancient past. All present were real people: Socrates– for whom the tale was given; Critias who tells the tale as it was told him; Timaeus, who awaits with Socrates for the others to arrive; and, lastly, Hermocrates. This dialogue was typical of the educated Greeks. They always gave themselves over to philosophical discussions about the immorality of the soul and its effect on politics and society.
Great tragedists, the Greeks conveyed morals and concepts with flawless staging; cause and effect was neatly laid out as in a great epic motion picture of today. Greeks thought communication was not in mere language, in mere words, but was in the ultimate overall meaning. Words and sentences were only good to this end. Greek gives us the words Rema and Logos: Rema being a pronouncement, a statement, something that has parameters, written or oral. Logos is the rational expression of thought—Logic . . .the meaning!
Other props were used. As we might regard a picture, so the Greeks regarded a person: his reputation could be worth a thousand words. Plato’s use of Socrates may be a case in point. This would alert Greeks to the tenor of the story’s moral. Socrates’ association with the tale, whether real or the invention of Plato (possibly a tribute), would be much like an endorsement.
This was not uncommon with our ancient fathers. Some Hebrew literature was written in the name of another person as a way of indicating the kind of story it was. For instance, the Book of Enoch was not written by the antediluvian patriarch Enoch but was written during the 3rd century BC. But it would have been impossible for the author to teach his moral with the vivid illustrations he wanted unless he assumed the perspective of Enoch, a man who had been translated because of his righteousness.
The logos of Atlantis is very clear. Here then let Critias tell it as Plato wrote it 2,400 years ago when Athens was in her glory. Here is the story, from a patchwork of Plato’s dialogues TIMAEUS and CRITIAS.
He has been taken ill, Socrates; for he would not willingly have been absent from this gathering.
Then if he is not coming, you and the two others must supply his place.
Tim: Certainly, and we will do all that we can; having been handsomely entertained by you yesterday, those of us who remain should be only too glad to return your hospitality.
Soc. Do you remember what were the points of which I required you to speak?
Tim. We remember some of them, and you will have to remind us of anything which we have forgotten: or rather, if we are not troubling you, will you briefly recapitulate the whole, and then the particulars will be more firmly fixed in our memories?
Soc. To be sure I will: the chief theme of my yesterday’s discourse was the State— how constituted and of what citizens composed it would seem likely to be most perfect. Tim. Yes, Socrates; and what you said of it was very much to our mind.
Soc. Did we not begin by separating the husbandmen and the artisans from the class of defenders of the State?
Soc. And when we had given to each one that single employment and particular art which was situated to his nature, we spoke of those who were intended to be our warriors, and said that they were to be guardians of the city against attacks from within as well as from without, and to have no other employment; They were to be merciful in judging their subjects, of whom they were by nature friends, but fierce to their enemies, when they came across them in battle
Soc. We said, if I am not mistaken, that the guardians should be gifted with a temperament in a high degree both passionate and philosophical; and then they would be as they ought to be, gentle to their friends and fierce with their enemies.
Soc. And what did we say of their education? Were they not to be trained in gymnastic, and music, and all other sorts of knowledge which were proper for them?
Tim. Very True.
Soc. And being thus trained they were not to consider gold or silver or anything else to be their own private property; they were to be like hired troops, receiving pay for keeping guard from those who were protected by them— the pay was to be no more than would suffice for men of simple life; and they were to spend in common, and to live together in the continual practice of virtue, which was to be their sole pursuit.
Tim. . . .It was just as you have said, Socrates.
Soc. I should like, before proceeding further, to tell you how I feel about the State which we have described. I might compare myself to a person who, on beholding beautiful animals wither created by the painter’s art, or, better still, alive but at rest, is seized with a desire of seeing them in motion or engaged in some struggle or conflict to which their forms appear suited; this is my feeling about the State we have been describing. There are conflicts which all cities undergo, and I should like to hear someone tell of our own city carrying on a struggle against her neighbors, and how she went out to war in a becoming manner, and when at war showed by the greatness of her actions and the magnanimity of her words in dealing with other cities a result worthy of her training and education. . . . .
Hermocrates: And we too, Socrates, as Timaeus says, will not be wanting in enthusiasm; and there is no excuse for not complying with your request. As soon as we arrived yesterday at the guest chamber of Critias, with whom we are staying, we talked the matter over, and he told us of an ancient tradition, which I wish, Critias, that you would repeat to Socrates, so that he may help us to judge whether it will satisfy his requirements or not.
Critias: I will Hermocrates, if Timaeus, who is our other partner, approves.
Tim. I quite approve.
Crit. Then listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages. He was a relative and a dear friend of my great grandfather Dropides, as he himself says in many passages of his poems; and he told the story to Critias, my grand father, who remembered and repeated it to us. There were of old, he said, great and marvelous actions of the Athenian city which have passed into oblivion through the lapse of time and the destruction of mankind, and one in particular greater than all the rest. This we will now rehearse.
Soc. Very good. And what is this ancient famous action of the Athenians, which Critias declared, on the authority of Solon, to be not a mere legend but an actual fact?
Crit. I will tell you an old world story which I heard from an aged man; for Critias, at the time of telling it, was as he said, nearly 90 years old, and I was about ten. Now the day was the day of the Apaturia which is called the registration of youth, at which, according to custom, our parents gave prizes for recitations, and the poems of several poets were recited by us boys, and many of us sang the poems of Solon, which at the time had not gone out of fashion. One of our tribe, either because he thought so or to please Critias, said that in his judgment Solon was not only the wisest of men, but also the noblest of poets. The old man, as I very well remember, brightened up at hearing this and said, smiling “Yes, Amynander, if Solon had only, like other poets, made poetry the business of his life, and had completed the tale which he brought with him from Egypt, and had not been compelled, by reason of the factions and troubles which he found stirring in his own country when he came home, to attend to other matters, in my opinion he would have been as famous as Homer or Hesiod.
“And what was the tale about, Critias?” asked Amynander
About the greatest action which the Athenians ever did, and which ought to have been the most famous, but, through the lapse of time and the destruction of the actors, it has not come down to us.
Tell us, said the other, the whole story, and how and from whom Solon heard this veritable tradition.
He replied:— In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the river Nile divides there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais, and is the city from which king Amasis came. The citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same as the Hellenes call Athena; they are great lovers of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related them. To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honor; he asked the priests who were most skillful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world– about Phoroneus, who is called the “first man” and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha; and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. There upon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said:
O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you!
What do you mean?
I mean to say that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down to you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is gray with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Phaëthon, the son of Helios, have yoked the steeds of his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the paths of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now, this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the heavenly bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals.
The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or summer sun does not prevent, mankind exist, sometimes in greater, sometimes in lesser number. And whatever happened in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed— if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education.; and so you have to begin all over again like children; and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children. . . .
Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our history. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valor. 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 from 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 Hercules; the island was larger than Libya or 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 harbor, having a narrow entrance, but the other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may most truly be 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 . . .”
I have told you briefly, Socrates, what the aged Critias heard from Solon and related to us. And when you were speaking yesterday about your city and citizens, the tale which I have just been repeating to you came into my mind, and I remarked with astonishment how, by some mysterious coincidence, you agreed in almost every particular with the narrative of Solon; but I did not like to speak at the moment. For a long time had elapsed, and I had forgotten too much; I thought that I must first run over the narrative in my own mind, and then I would speak.
Yet before proceeding further in the narrative, I ought to warn you, that you must not be surprised if you should perhaps hear Hellenic names given to foreigners. I will tell you the reason for this: Solon, who was intending to use the tale for his poem, inquired into the meaning of the names, and found that the early Egyptians in writing them down had translated them into their own language, and he recovered the meaning of the several names and when copying them out again translated them into our language. My great grand father Dropides, had the original writing, which is still in my possession, and was carefully studied by me when I was a child. Therefore if you hear names such as are used in this country, you must not be surprised, for I have told you how they came to be introduced.
The tale, which was of great length begins as follows: Poseidon received for his lot the island of Atlantis and begat children by a mortal woman, and settled them in a part of the island which I will describe. Looking towards the sea, but in the center of the whole island, there was a plain which is said to be the fairest of all plains and very fertile. Near the plain again, and also in the centre of the island at a distance of about 50 stadia [Ed. close to six miles], there was a mountain not very high on any side.
In this mountain there dwelt one of the earth born primeval men of that country, whose name was Evenor, and he had a wife named Leucippe, and they had an only daughter who was called Cleito. The maiden had already reached womanhood when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in love with her and had intercourse with her, and breaking the ground, enclosed the hill in which she dwelt all around making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the center, so that no man could get to the island, for ships and voyages were not as yet. He himself, being a god, found no difficulty in making special arrangements for the center island, bringing up two springs of water from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold., and making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil. He also begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children; and divided the island of Atlantis into ten portions. And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he named Atlas, and after him the whole island and ocean were called Atlantic.
Now, Atlas had a numerous and honourable family, and they retained the kingdom, the eldest son handing it on to his eldest for many generations; and they had such an amount of wealth as was never before possessed by kings and potentates, and is not likely to ever be again., and they were furnished with everything which they needed, both in the city and country. For because of the greatness of their empire many things were brought to them from foreign countries, and the island itself provided most of what was required by them for the uses of life. In the first place, they dug out of the earth whatever was to be found there, solid as well as fusile, and that which is now only a name and was then something more than a name, orichalcum, was dug out of the earth in many parts of the island, being more precious in those days than anything except gold. There was an abundance of wood for carpenter’s work, and sufficient maintenance for tame and wild animals. Moreover, there was a great number of elephants in the island; for there was provision for all sorts of animals, both for those which live in lakes, marshes and rivers, and also for those which live on mountains and on plains, so there was for the animal which was the largest and most voracious of all. Also, whatever fragrant things there now are in the earth, whether roots, or herbage, or woods, or essences which distill from fruits or flower, grew and thrived in that land; also the fruits which admits of cultivation, both the dry sort, which is given us for nourishment and any others which we use for food — we call them by the common name of pulse, and the fruits having a hard rind, affording drinks and meats and ointments, and good store of chestnuts and the like, which furnish pleasure and amusement, and are fruits which spoil with keeping, and the pleasant kinds of dessert, with which we would console ourselves after dinner, when we are tired of eating— all these that sacred island which then beheld the light of the sun brought forth fair and wondrous and in infinite abundance. With such blessings the earth freely furnished them; meanwhile they went on constructing their temples and palaces and harbours and docks. And they arranged the whole country in the following manner:
First of all they bridged over the zones of sea which surrounded the ancient metropolis, making a road to and from the royal palace. And at the very beginning they built the palace in the habitation of the god and of their ancestors, which they continued to ornament in successive generations, every king surpassing the one who went before him to the utmost of his power, until they made the building a marvel to behold for size and beauty. And beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone, making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find ingress. Moreover, they divided at the bridges the zones of land which parted the zones of sea, leaving room for a single trireme to pass out of one zone into another, and they covered over the channels so as to leave a way underneath for the ships; for the banks were raised considerably above the water. Now the largest of the zones into which a passage was cut from the sea was three stadia in breadth, and the zone of land which came next of equal breadth; but the next two zones, the one of water, the other of land, two stadia, and the one which surrounded the central island was a stadium only in width. The island in which the palace was situated had a diameter of five stadia. All this including the zones and the bridge, which was the sixth part of a stadium in width, they surrounded by a stone wall on every side, placing towers and gates on the bridges where the sea passed in. The stone which they used in the work they quarried from underneath the central island, and from underneath the zones, on the outer as well as the inner side. One kind was white, another back, and a third red, and as they quarried they at the same time hollowed out double docks, having roofs formed out of the native rock. Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, varying the colour to please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire circuit of the wall which went around the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum.
The palaces in the interior of the citadel were constructed on this wise:— in the center was a holy temple dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon, which remained inaccessible, and was surrounded by an enclosure of gold; this was the spot where the family of the ten princes first saw the light, and thither the people annually brought the fruits of the earth in their season from all the ten portions to be an offering to each of the ten. Here was Poseidon’s own temple which was a stadium, and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height, having a strange barbaric appearance. All the outside of the temple, with the exception of the pinnacles, they covered with silver, and the pinnacles with gold. In the interior of the temple the roof was of ivory, curiously wrought everywhere with gold and silver and orichalcum; and all the other parts, the walls, pillars and floor, they coated with orichalcum. In the temple they placed statues of gold: there was the god himself standing in a chariot— the charioteer or six winged horses— and of such a size that he touched the roof of the building with his head; around him there were a hundred Nereids riding on dolphins, for such was thought to be the number of them by the men of those days. There were also in the interior of the temple other images which had been dedicated by private persons. And around the temple on the outside were placed statues of gold of all the decedents of the ten kings and of their wives, and there were many other great offerings of kings and of private persons, coming both from the city itself and from the foreign cities over which they held sway. There was an altar too, which in size and workmanship corresponded to its magnificence, and the palaces, in like manner, answered to the greatness of the kingdom and the glory of the temple.
. . .Leaving the palace and passing out across the three harbours, you came to a wall which began at the sea and went all around: This was everywhere distant fifty stadia from the largest zone or harbour, and enclosed the whole, the ends meeting at the mouth of the channel which led to the sea. The entire area was densely crowded with habitations; and the canal and the largest of the harbours was full of vessels and merchants coming from all parts, who, from their numbers, kept up a multitudinous sound of human voices, and din and clatter of all sorts night and day.
I have described the city and the environs of the ancient palace nearly in the words of Solon, and now I must endeavour to represent to you the nature and arrangement of the rest of the land. The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia, but across the centre island it was two thousand stadia. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north. The surrounding mountains were celebrated for their number, size and beauty, far beyond any which now exist, having in them also many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers, and lakes, and meadows supply food enough for every animal, wild or tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind of work.
I will now describe the plain, as it was fashioned by nature and by the labour of many generations of kings through long ages. It was for the most part rectangular and oblong, and where falling out of the straight line followed the circular ditch. The depth, and width, and length of this ditch were incredible, and gave the impression that a work of such extent, in addition to so many others, could never have been artificial. Nevertheless I must say what I was told. It was excavated to the depth of a hundred feet, and its breadth was a stadium everywhere; it was carried around the whole of the plain, and was ten thousand stadia in length. It received streams that came down from the mountains, and winding around the plain and meeting at the city, and there let off into the sea. Further inland, likewise, straight canals of a hundred feet in width were cut from it through the plain, and again let off into the ditch leading to the sea: these canals were at intervals of a hundred stadia, and by them they brought down the wood from the mountains to the city, and conveyed the fruits of the earth in ships, cutting traverse passages from one canal into another, and to the city. Twice in the years they gathered the fruits of the earth— in winter having the benefit of the rain of heaven, and in the summer the water which the land supplied by introducing streams from the canals.
As to the population, each of the lots in the plain had to find a leader for the men who were fit for military service, and the size of a lot was a square of ten stadia each way, and the total number of all the lots was sixty thousand. And of the inhabitants of the mountains and of the rest of the country there were also a vast multitude, which was distributed amongst the lots and had leaders assigned to them according to their districts and villages. The leader was required to furnish for the war-chariot, so as to make up a total of ten thousand chariots; also two horses and riders for them, and a pair of chariot-horses without a seat, accompanied by a horseman who could fight on foot carrying a small shield, and having a charioteer who stood behind the man-at-arms to guide the two horses; also, he was bound to furnish two heavy armed soldiers, two archers, two slingers, three stone shooters and three javelin men, who were light-armed, and four sailors to make up the compliment of twelve hundred ships. Such was the military order of the royal city— the order of the other nine governments varied, and it would be wearisome to recount their several differences.
As to the offices and honours, the following was the arrangement from the first. Each of the ten kings in his own division and in his own city had the absolute control of the citizens, and, in most cases, of the law, punishing and slaying whomsoever he would. Now the order of the precedence among them and their mutual relations were regulated by the commands of Poseidon which the law had handed down. These were inscribed by the first kings on a pillar of orichalcum, which was situated in the middle of the island, at the temple of Poseidon, whither the kings were gathered together every fifth and every sixth year alternatively, thus giving equal honour to the odd and to the seventh number. And when they were gathered together they consulted about their common interests, and inquired if anyone had transgressed in anything, and passed judgment, and before they passed judgment gave their pledges to one another on this wise:— There were bulls who had the range of the temple of Poseidon; and the ten kings, being left alone in the temple, after they had offered prayers to the god that they might capture the victim which was acceptable to him, hunted the bulls, without weapons, but with staves and nooses; and the bull which they caught they led up to the pillar and cut its throat over the top of it so that the blood fell upon the sacred inscription. Now on the pillar, besides the laws, there was inscribed an oath invoking mighty curses on the disobedient. When therefore, after slaying the bull in the accustomed manner, they had burnt its limbs, they filled a bowl of wine and cast in a clot of blood for each of them; the rest of the victim they put in the fire, after having purified the column all around. Then they drew from the bowl in golden cups, and pouring a libation on the fire, they swore that they would judge according to the laws on the pillar, and would punish him who in any point had already transgressed them, and that for the future they would not, if they could help, offend against the writing on the pillar, and would neither command others, nor obey any ruler who commanded them, to act otherwise than according to the laws of their father Poseidon. This was the prayer which each of them offered up for himself and for his descendants, at the same time drinking and dedicating the cup out of which he drank in the temple of the god; and after they had supped and satisfied their needs, when darkness came on, and the fire about the sacrifice was cool, all of them put on most beautiful azure robes, and, sitting on the ground, at night, over the embers of the sacrifice by which they had sworn, and extinguishing all the fire about the temple, they received and gave judgment, if any of them had an accusation to bring against anyone; and when they had given judgment, at daybreak they wrote down their sentences on a golden tablet, and dedicated it together with their robes to be a memorial.
There were many special laws affecting the several kings inscribed about the temples, but the most important was the following: They were not to take up arms against one another, and they were all to come to the rescue if any one in any of their cities tried to overthrow the royal house; like their ancestors, they were to deliberate in common about war and other matters, giving the supremacy to the descendant of Atlas. And the king was not to have the power of life or death over any of his kinsmen unless he had the assent of the majority of the ten.
Such was the vast power which the god settled in the lost island of Atlantis; and this he afterward directed against our land for the following reasons, as tradition tells: For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for the present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self control; but they were sober and saw that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great a regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them. By such reflections and by the continuance in them of a divine nature, the qualities which we have described grew and increased among them; but when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see, grew visibly debased, for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous power.
One, two, three; but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth of those who were yesterday my guests and are to be my entertainment today?
The moral lesson of Atlantis was just the kind Plato would use.
And, as the priest said to Solon: 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 [of Hercules]; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was preeminent 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 [Straits of Gibraltar]. But afterward 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 in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassible, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
Citizens . . . ! Hearken!