What Plato said about the island of Atlantis…..

Based upon the translation by the Rev R. G. Bury, Litt.D.

For clarification, alternative translations are given by Benjamin Jowett and Sir Desmond Lee where appropriate.

 

The Timaeus

(talking of Athens)

Gladly would I listen to anyone who should depict in words our State contending against others in those struggles which States wage; in how proper a spirit it enters upon war, and how in its warring it exhibits qualities such as befit its education and training in its dealings with each several State whether in respect of military actions or in respect of verbal negotiations.

 

for you alone, of men now living, could show our State engaged in a suitable war and exhibiting all the qualities which belong to it.

 

Critias here mentioned to us a story derived from ancient tradition; and now, Critias, pray tell it again to our friend here, so that he may help us to decide whether or not it is pertinent to our prescribed theme.

 

Listen then, Socrates, to a tale which, though passing strange, is yet wholly true, as Solon, the wisest of the Seven, once upon a time declared.

 

the exploits of this city in olden days, the record of which had perished through time and the destruction of its inhabitants, were great and marvellous, the greatest of all being one which it would be proper for us now to relate both as a payment of our debt of thanks to you and also as a tribute of praise, chanted as it were duly and truly, in honour of the Goddess on this her day of Festival.

 

But come now, what was this exploit described by Critias, following Solons report, as a thing not verbally recorded, although actually performed by this city long ago?

(a thing actually performed, Bury,    not a mere legend, but an actual fact? Jowett,

 

a very great exploit, worthy indeed to be accounted the most notable of all exploits, which was performed by this city,

 

the record of it has not endured until now owing to lapse of time and the destruction of those who wrought it.

 

the Athenian State was the bravest in war and supremely well organized

 

I will tell it, both for your own sake and that of your city, and most of all for the sake of the Goddess who has adopted for her own both your land and this of ours, and has nurtured and trained them,--yours first by the space of a thousand years,

 

And the duration of our civilization as set down in our sacred writings is 8000 years.

 

Of the citizens, then, who lived 9000 years ago

 

the noblest of the deeds they performed:

 

(talking of Atlantis)…starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean,
(this power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean Jowett)
(advanced from its base in the Atlantic ocean Desmond Lee)

 

was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot.

 

For the ocean there was at that time navigable;

 

for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles,' there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together;

 

it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean.
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 (Jowett)

 

all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance

 

that yonder is a real ocean

 

the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent.
(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 Jowett)

 

in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvellous power,

 

which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent;

 

of the lands here within the Straits they ruled over Libya as far as Egypt, and over Europe as far as Tuscany.

 

this host, being all gathered together, made an attempt one time to enslave by one single onslaught both your country and ours and the whole of the territory within the Straits.

 

the manhood of your State showed itself conspicuous for valor and might in the sight of all the world. For it stood pre-eminent above all in gallantry and all warlike arts, and acting partly as leader of the Greeks, and partly standing alone by itself when deserted by all others, after encountering the deadliest perils, it defeated the invaders and reared a trophy

 

it saved from slavery such as were not as yet enslaved, and all the rest of us who dwell within the bounds of Heracles it ungrudgingly set free.

 

at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods,

 

one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth


the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished

 

the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable,

(the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, Jowett)

(the sea in that area is to this day impassable to navigation Desmond Lee)

 

being blocked up by the shoal mud which the island created as it settled down.

 

Wherefore, Socrates, we must consider whether this story is to our mind, or  we have still to look for some other to take its place.


What story should we adopt, Critias, in preference to this?
For this story will be admirably suited to the festival of the Goddess which is now being held, because of its connection with her; and the fact that it is no invented fable but genuine history is all-important.

 

 

Critias

Now first of all we must recall the fact that 9000 is the sum of years since the war occurred

 

between the dwellers beyond the pillars of Heracles and all that dwelt within them

 

this city of ours was in command of the one side and fought through the whole of the war

 

in command of the other side were the kings of the island of Atlantis

 

which we said was an island larger than Libya and Asia once upon a time

 

but now lies sunk by earthquakes

 

and has created a barrier of impassable mud

 

which prevents those who are sailing out from here to the ocean beyond from proceeding further.

 

many great convulsions took place during the 9000 years--for such was the number of years from that time to this

 

I ought to explain, lest you should be surprised at frequently hearing Greek names given to barbarians.

 

Solon …, had found, on investigating the meaning of the names, that those Egyptians who had first written them down had translated them into their own tongue.

 

So he himself in turn recovered the original sense of each name and, rendering it into our tongue,  wrote it down so.

                                        

Poseidon took for his allotment the island of Atlantis             

 

settled therein the children whom he had begotten of a mortal woman

 

Bordering on the sea and extending through the centre of the whole island there was a plain, which is said to have been the fairest of all plains and highly fertile;

 

near the plain, over against its centre, at a distance of about 50 stades, there stood a mountain that was low on all sides.

 

Thereon dwelt one of the natives originally sprung from the earth, Evenor by name, with his wife Leucippe; and they had for offspring an only-begotten daughter, Cleito. And when this damsel was now come to marriageable age, her mother died and also her father; and Poseidon, being smitten with desire for her, wedded her;

 

to make the hill whereon she dwelt impregnable he broke it off all round about;

 

he made circular belts of sea and land enclosing one another alternately, some greater, some smaller,

 

two being of land and three of sea,

 

which he carved as it were out of the midst of the island;

 

and these belts were at even distances on all sides,

 

so as to be impassable for man;

 

for at that time neither ships nor sailing were as yet in existence.

 

Poseidon himself set in order with ease,… the central island, bringing up from beneath the earth two springs of waters, the one flowing warm from its source, the other cold,

 

and producing out of the earth all kinds of food in plenty.

 

he begat five pairs of twin sons and reared them up;

 

he had divided all the island of Atlantis into ten portions,

 

he assigned to the first-born of the eldest sons his mother's dwelling and the allotment surrounding it, which was the largest and best;

 

him he appointed to be king over the rest, and the others to be rulers,

 

granting to each the rule over many men and a large tract of country.

 

to all of them he gave names, giving to him that was eldest and king the name after which the whole island was called and the sea spoken of as the Atlantic,

 

because the first king who then reigned had the name of Atlas.

 

the name of his younger twin-brother, who had for his portion the extremity of the island near the pillars of Heracles up to the part of the country now called Gadeira after the name of that region, was Eumelus in Greek, but in the native tongue Gadeirus,

 

So all these, themselves and their descendants, dwelt for many generations

 

bearing rule over many other islands throughout the sea,

 

and holding sway besides, as was previously stated, over the Mediterranean peoples as far as Egypt and Tuscany.

the wealth they possessed was so immense that the like had never been seen before in any royal house nor will ever easily be seen again;

 

because of their headship they had a large supply of imports from abroad,

 

the island itself furnished most of the requirements of daily life,--

 

metals, to begin with, both the hard kind and the fusible kind, which are extracted by mining,

 

and also that kind which is now known only by name but was more than a name then, there being mines of it in many places of the island,--I mean “orichalcum,”

 

which was the most precious of the metals then known, except gold.

 

It brought forth also in abundance all the timbers that a forest provides for the labours of carpenters;

 

and of animals it produced a sufficiency, both of tame and wild.

 

Moreover, it contained a very large stock of elephants;

 

there was an ample food-supply not only for all the other animals which haunt the marshes and lakes and rivers, or the mountains or the plains, but likewise also for this animal, which of its nature is the largest and most voracious.

 

And in addition to all this, it produced and brought to perfection all those sweet-scented stuffs which the earth produces now, whether made of roots or herbs or trees, or of liquid gums derived from flowers or fruits.

 

The cultivated fruit also, and the dry, which serves us for nutriment, and all the other kinds that we use for our meals--the various species of which are comprehended under the name “vegetables”--  and all the produce of trees which affords liquid and solid food and unguents, and the fruit of the orchard-trees, so hard to store, which is grown for the sake of amusement and pleasure, and all the after-dinner fruits that we serve up as welcome remedies for the sufferer from repletion,--all these

 

that hallowed island, as it lay then beneath the sun,

 

produced in marvellous beauty and endless abundance.

 

First of all they bridged over the circles of sea which surrounded the ancient metropolis,

 

making thereby a road towards and from the royal palace.

 

And they had built the palace at the very beginning where the settlement was first made by their God and their ancestors;

 

as each king received it from his predecessor, he added to its adornment and did all he could to surpass the king before him, until finally they made of it an abode amazing to behold for the magnitude and beauty of its workmanship.

 

beginning at the sea, they bored a channel right through to the outermost circle,

 

which was three plethra in breadth, one hundred feet in depth, and fifty stades in length;

 

and thus they made the entrance to it from the sea like that to a harbour by opening out a mouth large enough for the greatest ships to sail through.

 

Moreover, through the circles of land, which divided those of sea, over against the bridges they opened out a channel leading from circle to circle,

 

large enough to give passage to a single trireme;

 

and this they roofed over above so that the sea-way was subterranean;

 

for the lips of the landcircles were raised a sufficient height above the level of the sea.

 

The greatest of the circles into which a boring was made for the sea

 

was three stades in breadth, and the circle of land next to it was of equal breadth; and of the second pair of circles that of water was two stades in breadth and that of dry land equal again to the preceding one of water; and the circle which ran round the central island itself was of a stade's breadth.

 

And this island, wherein stood the royal palace, was of five stades in diameter.

 

Now the island and the circles and

 

the bridge, which was a plethrum in breadth,

 

they encompassed round about, on this side and on that, with a wall of stone;

 

upon the bridges on each side, over against the passages for the sea, they erected towers and gates.

 

And the stone they quarried beneath the central island all round, and from beneath the outer and inner circles, some of it being white, some black and some red;

 

and while quarrying it they constructed two inner docks, hollowed out and roofed over by the native rock.

 

And of the buildings some they framed of one simple colour, in others they wove a pattern of many colours by blending the stones for the sake of ornament so as to confer upon the buildings a natural charm.

 

And they covered with brass, (bronze according to Jowett and Desmond Lee) as though with plaster, all the circumference of the wall which surrounded the outermost circle;

 

and that of the inner one they coated with tin;

 

and that which encompassed the acropolis itself with orichalcum which sparkled like fire. (red fire according to Jowett)

In the centre there stood a temple sacred to Cleito and Poseidon,

 

which was reserved as holy ground, and encircled with a wall of gold;

 

this being the very spot where at the beginning they had generated and brought to birth the family of the ten royal lines.

 

Thither also they brought year by year from all the ten allotments their seasonable offerings to do sacrifice to each of those princes.

 

the temple of Poseidon himself was a stade in length, three plethra in breadth, and of a height which appeared symmetrical therewith;

 

and there was something of the barbaric in its appearance.

 

All the exterior of the temple they coated with silver, save only the pinnacles, and these they coated with gold.

 

As to the interior, they made the roof all of ivory in appearance, variegated with gold and silver and orichalcum,

 

and all the rest of the walls and pillars and floors they covered with orichalcum.

 

And they placed therein golden statues,

 

one being that of the God standing on a chariot and driving six  winged steeds,

 

his own figure so tall as to touch the ridge of the roof,

 

and round about him a hundred Nereids on dolphins

 

it contained also many other images, the votive offerings of private men.

 

And outside, round about the temple, there stood images in gold of all the princes, both themselves and their wives,

 

as many as were descended from the ten kings,

 

together with many other votive offerings both of the kings and of private persons not only from the State itself but also from all the foreign peoples over whom they ruled.

 

And the altar, in respect of its size and its workmanship, harmonized with its surroundings; and the royal

 

The palace likewise was such as befitted the greatness of the kingdom, and equally befitted the splendor of the temples.


The springs they made use of, one kind being of cold, another of warm water,

 

were of abundant volume, and each kind was wonderfully well adapted for use because of the natural taste and excellence of its waters;

 

these they surrounded with buildings and with plantations of trees such as suited the waters;

 

they set reservoirs round about, some under the open sky, and others under cover to supply hot baths in the winter;

 

they put separate baths for the kings and for the private citizens, besides others for women,

 

and others again for horses and all other beasts of burden, fitting out each in an appropriate manner.

 

And the outflowing water they conducted to the sacred grove of Poseidon, which contained trees of all kinds that were of marvellous beauty and height because of the richness of the soil;

 

by means of channels they led the water to the outer circles over against the bridges.

 

there they had constructed many temples for gods, and many gardens and many exercising grounds, some for men and some set apart for horses, in each of the circular belts of island;

 

besides the rest they had in the center of the large island a racecourse laid out for horses,

 

which was a stade in width, while as to length, a strip which ran round the whole circumference was reserved for equestrian contests.

 

round about it, on this side and on that, were barracks for the greater part of the spearmen

 

the guard-house of the more trusty of them was posted in the smaller circle, which was nearer the acropolis;

 

while those who were the most trustworthy of all had dwellings granted to them within the acropolis round about the persons of the kings.

 

the shipyards were full of triremes and all the tackling that belongs to triremes, and they were all amply equipped.

 

after crossing the three outer harbours,  one found a wall which began at the sea and ran round in a circle, at a uniform distance of fifty stades from the largest circle and harbour, and its ends converged at the seaward mouth of the channel.

 

The whole of this wall had numerous houses built on to it, set close together;

 

the sea-way and the largest harbour were filled with ships and merchants coming from all quarters

 

the whole region rose sheer out of the sea to a great height,

(the whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, Jowett)

(the region as a whole was said to be high above the level of the sea, from which it rose precipitiously; Desmond Lee)

 

but the part about the city was all a smooth plain, enclosing it round about, and being itself encircled by mountains which stretched as far as to the sea;

(the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; Jowett)

(the city was surrounded by a uniformly flat plain, which was in turn enclosed by mountains which came right down to the sea. Desmond Lee)

 

and this plain had a level surface and was as a whole rectangular in shape,

(it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, Jowett)

(This plain was rectangular in shape, Desmond Lee)

 

being 3000 stades long on either side and 2000 stades wide at its centre, reckoning upwards from the sea.

(extending in one direction three thousand stadia, but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia Jowett)

(measuring three thousand stades in length and at its mid-point two thousand stades in breadth from the coast. Desmond Lee)

 

And this region, all along the island, faced towards the South and was sheltered from the Northern blasts.

 

the mountains which surrounded it were at that time celebrated as surpassing all that now exist in number, magnitude and beauty;

 

they had upon them many rich villages of country folk,

 

and streams and lakes and meadows which furnished ample nutriment to all the animals both tame and wild,

 

and timber of various sizes and descriptions, abundantly sufficient for the needs of all and every craft.

 

Now as a result of natural forces,

 

together with the labours of many kings which extended over many ages,

 

the condition of the plain was this. It was originally a quadrangle, rectilinear for the most part, and elongated;

(It was for the most part rectangular and oblong, Jowett)

(It was naturally a long, regular rectangle)

 

what it lacked of this shape they made right by means of a trench dug round about it.

 

Now, as regards the depth of this trench and its breadth and length, it seems incredible that it should be so large as the account states, considering that it was made by hand, and in addition to all the other operations, but none the less we must report what we heard:

 

it was dug out to the depth of a plethrum and to a uniform breadth of a stade, and since it was dug round the whole plain  its consequent length was 10,000 stades.

 

It received the streams which came down from the mountains and after circling round the plain, and coming towards the city on this side and on that, it discharged them thereabouts into the sea.

(It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea. Jowett)

(it made a complete circuit of the plain, running round to the city from both directions, and there discharging into the sea.)

 

on the inland side of the city channels were cut in straight lines, of about 100 feet in width, across the plain, and these discharged themselves into the trench on the seaward side,

 

the distance between each being 100 stades.

 

It was in this way that they conveyed to the city the timber from the mountains and transported also on boats the seasons' products

 

by cutting transverse passages from one channel to the next and also to the city.

 

they cropped the land twice a year,

 

making use of the rains from Heaven in the winter, and the waters that issue from the earth in summer, by conducting the streams from the trenches.

 

As regards their manpower, it was ordained that each allotment should furnish one man as leader of all the men in the plain who were fit to bear arms;

 

the size of the allotment was about ten times ten stades,

 

the total number of all the allotments was 60,000;

 

the number of the men in the mountains and in the rest of the country was countless

 

according to their districts and villages they were all assigned to these allotments under their leaders.

 

it was ordained that each such leader should provide for war the sixth part of a war-chariots equipment, so as to make up 10,000 chariots in all,

 

together with two horses and mounted men;

 

also a pair of horses without a car, and attached thereto a combatant with a small shield and for charioteer the rider who springs from horse to horse;

 

and two hoplites; and archers and slingers, two of each; and light-armed slingers and javelin-men, three of each; and four sailors towards the manning of twelve hundred ships.

 

Such then were the military dispositions of the royal City; and those of the other nine varied in various ways,

 

Each of the ten kings ruled over the men and most of the laws in his own particular portion and throughout his own city, punishing and putting to death whomsoever he willed.

 

But their authority over one another and their mutual relations were governed by the precepts of Poseidon, as handed down to them by the law and by the records inscribed by the first princes on a pillar of orichalcum,

 

which was placed within the temple of Poseidon in the centre of the island;

 

and thither they assembled every fifth year, and then alternately every sixth year--giving equal honour to both the even and the odd

 

In the sacred precincts of Poseidon there were bulls at large

 

the ten princes, being alone by themselves, after praying to the God that they might capture a victim well-pleasing unto him,  hunted after the bulls with staves and nooses but with no weapon of iron;

 

whatsoever bull they captured they led up to the pillar and cut its throat over the top of the pillar, raining down blood on the inscription.

 

inscribed upon the pillar, besides the laws, was an oath which invoked mighty curses upon them that disobeyed.

 

When, then, they had done sacrifice according to their laws and were consecrating  all the limbs of the bull, they mixed a bowl of wine and poured in on behalf of each one a gout of blood, and the rest they carried to the fire, when they had first purged the pillars round about.

 

after this they drew out from the bowl with golden ladles, and making libation over the fire and, moreover, that henceforth they would not transgress any of the writings willingly,

 

they wrote the judgements, when it was light, upon a golden tablet

 

For many generations, so long as the inherited nature of the God remained strong in them, they were submissive to the laws and kindly disposed to their divine kindred. For the intents of their hearts were true and in all ways noble, and they showed gentleness joined with wisdom in dealing with the changes and chances of life and in their dealings one with another. Consequently they thought scorn of everything save virtue and lightly esteemed their rich possessions, bearing with ease the burden, as it were, of the vast volume of their gold and other goods; and thus their wealth did not make them drunk with pride so that they lost control of themselves and went to ruin; rather, in their soberness of mind they clearly saw that all these good things are increased by general amity combined with virtue, whereas the eager pursuit and worship of these goods not only causes the goods themselves to diminish but makes virtue also to perish with them. As a result, then, of such reasoning and of the continuance of their divine nature all their wealth had grown to such a greatness as we previously described. But when the portion of divinity within them was now becoming faint and weak through being ofttimes blended with a large measure of mortality, whereas the human temper was becoming dominant, then at length they lost their comeliness, through being unable to bear the burden of their possessions, and became ugly to look upon, in the eyes of him who has the gift of sight; for they had lost the fairest of their goods from the most precious of their parts; but in the eyes of those who have no gift of perceiving what is the truly happy life, it was then above all that they appeared to be superlatively fair and blessed, filled as they were with lawless ambition and power. And Zeus, the God of gods, who reigns by Law, inasmuch as he has the gift of perceiving such things, marked how this righteous race was in evil plight, and desired to inflict punishment upon them, to the end that when chastised they might strike a truer note.

 


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