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Atlantis - Plato's Atlantis From the Timaeus

By

Solon

Solon

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Was Atlantis real? We'll probably never be able to prove such a rich and powerful land that suddenly went belly up in the Atlantic Ocean never existed. The story of Atlantis is usually referred to as a parable and as such is not intended to be taken literally, but there is nothing in the story that proves it's made up. Even serious geologists can't entirely debunk it. In 2005, according to About.com's Geology Guide, there was a conference to discuss possible locations for Atlantis.

The story of Atlantis comes to us from Timaeus, a Socratic dialogue, written in about 360 B.C. by Plato. There are four people at this meeting who had met the previous day to hear Socrates describes the ideal state. Socrates wants Timaeus of Locri, Hermocrates, and Critias to tell him stories about Athens interacting with other states. The first is Critias, who talks about his grandfather's meeting with Solon, one of the 7 sages, an Athenian poet and famous lawgiver. Solon had been to Egypt where priests had compared Egypt and Athens and talked about the gods and legends of both lands. One such Egyptian story is about Atlantis.

Before quoting it, I want to stress that this is part of a Socratic dialogue, not an historical treatise. The story is preceded by an account of the sun god's son Phaethon yoking horses to his father's chariot and then driving them through the sky and scorching the earth. Thus, what we recognize as fiction is mingled with fact.

And now for Plato's account of Atlantis as translated by Benjamin Jowett.

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.

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