Home » Atlantis: the debrief » More about Plato


Written by Graham | Created: Monday 21st September 2020 @ 2304hrs

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Requesting further information on Plato, the date when the Timaeus and Critias were set, the transmission of the tale and more on Hermocrates and Timaeus.

Present: Interrogator (Second Class) Корень, interrogating, and Agent Г.


Well, my friend. Here we are again.
Here you are again. I never left. *Still* dying for a pee too.
Don't be doing it on the floor. Comrade whatever his name... Носач, something along those lines, he's just been mopping in here.
Must've been last week. I haven't seen anyone apart from you.
Anyway, on to the business at hand. I have listened to your claims that Atlantis was the invention of this Critias fellow...
More precisely, the fictionalised Critias fellow who was himself the invention of Plato.
Okay. Pedant.
You also maintain that any family tradition known to Plato probably had only three generations separating this Critias (the scourge of Athens in 404-403 BC) from Solon's friend Dropides.
I do indeed.
Tell me this. Were we to imagine, say, that Critias had access to written materials and/or an oral tradition bequeathed to him from Solon via Dropides and the elder Critias, is it feasible that Plato would have also had access to this?
Of course. After all, Plato was the son of Perictione, the sister of Critias' ward and close ally Charmides...
Ah, indeed. Well, I would suggest that it is possible that Plato could either have learned it from Perictione, or from either of the two men, with whom he had cordial relations during the early part of the reign of the Thirty.
Might it also be possible that Plato himself was party to the discussion depicted in the dialogues?
That's highly unlikely. You see, the most commonly-argued dramatic date for the dialogues is some point in the 420s, generally around 421, with one noteworthy exception being the suggestion by Zdravko Planinc...
A good Slavic name!
As I was saying, Planinc is a notable outlier, suggesting a date of as late as 407 BC for the setting of the dialogues.
Planinc's thesis is attractive too, suggesting that Plato was working his dialogues around the template laid out in Homer's Odyssey, with Socrates playing the role of Odysseus. But that's by the by.
The only other real potential clue is the identity of the fifth participant, who was absent due to sickness anyway [Tim. 17a]. Plato's non-appearance at the deathbed of Socrates is explained as being due to illness according to the title character in the Phaedo [59b].
So then... 421 (or perhaps 407) is the date at which Plato set the dialogues.
My favourite letter of the Roman alphabet is.... why?
Well, mainly because those are the most likely times identified by historians for Hermocrates being in Athens.
Yes. He was the fourth of the four characters present in the dialogues.
Tell me more about him.
Hermocrates was a key figure in Sicilian politics during the latter half of the 5th century BC. He was a steadfast opponent of the Athenians, mentioned extensively in Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War, and was instrumental in the defeat of the disastrous Sicilian Campaign launched by Athens during that conflict.
One interesting notice we have of Hermocrates from later times is a punning statement by Plutarch, which depicts him as divinely inspired to wreak vengeance on Athens for the desecration of the herms (in which Critias was implicated): -

[B]y the mutilation of the "Hermae," Heaven indicated to them in advance that by the hands of Hermocrates the son of Hermon they were to suffer most of their reverses during the war.
- Plutarch, Parallel Lives, s.v. "The Life of Nicias" [1.3].

So, what was this bugbear of the Athenians doing in Athens?
Mainly listening to Timaeus and Critias' speeches, according to the dialogues.
You're a funny man. Let's see what jokes you make when you have electrodes attached to... sensitive areas.
Hermocrates was also important for his political ambitions. He eventually met his end during fighting in the streets of Syracuse subsequent to his attempt to become tyrant, and he can thus be seen as the founding father of the Syracusan tyranny which Plato attempted to guide. His erstwhile lieutenant and son-in-law would eventually secure that position: he was Dionysius I, with whom Plato had some dealings. His son in turn was Dionysius II, whom Plato, along with Plato's friend, the Syracusan Dion, unsuccessfully attempted to fashion into the ideal "philosopher-king."
And what about this Timaeus character?
Timaeus is depicted as a follower of Pythagoras from the city of Epizephyrian Locris in Calabria, the southernmost region of the Italian mainland.
Another "westerner?"
What do we know about him?
Not much, to be honest. There are no surviving references to this Timaeus outside of Plato, so most scholars consider him a fiction.
Various theories are proposed as to who Plato might have based him on: the Italian Pythagoreans Philolaus (with whose work Plato was familiar) and Archytas of Tarentum (who aided Plato in his escape from Dionysius II). The late Slobodan Dušanić...
Another good Slavic name.
... believed that the name was a reference to Plato's friend and political ally Timotheus of Athens, with their mutual enemies forming the basis (along with Dionysus II and his cohort Philistus) of the ten archons of Atlantis to some extent.
I should add that Timaeus' home city may well have been chosen for its associations with Dionysius II, whose mother came from the city and which he would terrorise after matters in Syracuse came to a head in 357 BC.
And what "matters" might these be?
Dionysius was removed from power and replaced for a short time by Dion.
Plato's ally?
Yes. Though Dion came to be regarded as a rather high-handed ruler, propped up by foreign troops in his pay, and was removed from office in relatively short order.
Additionally, Dion had been banished by Dionysius prior to all this, due in no small part to his conspiring with the Carthaginian enemies of Syracuse.
The Carthaginians?
Yes. And that civilisation most definitely has some bearing on Plato's depiction of Atlantis.
For a start, Carthage certainly had an artificial harbour comprised of a circular island in the middle of a ring of water, similar to Plato's description of the citadel of Atlantis, albeit it is only attested after Plato's time.
Then, there is the matter of the only attested "Atlantean" word in the dialogues: Gadeirus, the byname of Atlas' twin Eumelus.
This is explicitly associated with the region of Gadira, around Gades (modern Cádiz), like Carthage a colony of Tyre and, as such, bearing a Phoenician/Punic name.
It is a pun on the name of Eumelos, which contains the Greek μῆλον, meaning sheep or goats, which is gd' in Phoenician (גּדי or גּדיּה in the closely-related Hebrew tongue).
It is also highly likely that the depiction of the Atlantic Ocean as a muddy sea filled with shoals comes primarily from Carthaginian descriptions, such as that of Himilco, which Plato could easily have been made aware of in Syracuse...
These are striking suggestions. Is there also a chance that Plato could've learned something about Atlantis in Egypt?
Well, there is a tradition which places Plato in Egypt, and one reading of the commentary of Proclus on the Timaeus, as noted by Alan Cameron, would support his seeking and finding corroboration for Solon's account there.
However, that could easily be a case of the Egyptian priests telling a gullible foreigner with no knowledge of hieroglyphic writing what he wanted to hear, which would certainly be the case in the alternative view that Proclus was referring to a later 4th century BC follower of Plato named Crantor.
Furthermore, one other notice which places Plato in Egypt is highly problematic, as it has him visiting with Euripides, the great tragedian, who died towards the end of the 5th century, when Plato was still a young man in Athens. Thus, like the evidence for Solon in Egypt, the material suggesting Plato went there is highly dubious.
Right. We're done for now. This coffee's gone right through me. Time to take a leak.
Any chance I can too?
Want to hold my willy, do you?
Go to hell!
All in good time, my friend, all in good time.