Home » Atlantis: the debrief » The monsters in the Atlantic


Written by Graham | Created: Sunday 4th October 2020 @ 2323hrs

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A brief look at the fate of evildoers in the Timaeus and their possible association with the people of Atlantis.

Present: Interrogator (Third Class) Ветка, interrogating, and Agent Г.


Why have you dragged me back here?
It's just a quickie.
Get on with it, then. My warm milk is turning tepid.
It's just another point I'd like to make based on our discussion about the continent.
Not more Persian or Viking stuff, I hope?
No. I assure you, it's all Plato. Well, nearly all.
Okay then. You have my permission to force me to drink lukewarm milk tonight. But make it quick. It's nasty when it's cooled down again.
Okay. I'll start with a couple of quotes from the Phaedo. About the sea, Plato has Socrates say: -

Now we do not perceive that we live in the hollows, but think we live on the upper surface of the earth, just as if someone who lives in the depth of the ocean should think he lived on the surface of the sea, and, seeing the sun and the stars through the water, should think the sea was the sky, and should, by reason of sluggishness or feebleness, never have reached the surface of the sea, and should never have seen, by rising and lifting his head out of the sea into our upper world, and should never have heard from anyone who had seen, how much purer and fairer it is than the world he lived in. [...] For this earth of ours, and the stones and the whole region where we live, are injured and corroded, as in the sea things are injured by the brine, and nothing of any account grows in the sea, and there is, one might say, nothing perfect there, but caverns and sand and endless mud and mire, where there is earth also, and there is nothing at all worthy to be compared with the beautiful things of our world.
- Plato, Phaedo [109c-110a].

Here, Plato introduces the analogy of people dwelling on the floors of the sea, as a means to highlight the difference in perception between people from our common surface world and those of the world above. This correlates well with his statement in the Timaeus [92b], where the origins of sea creatures are explained: -

the fourth kind, which lives in the water, came from the most utterly thoughtless and stupid of men, whom those that remolded them deemed no longer worthy even of pure respiration, seeing that they were unclean of soul through utter wickedness; wherefore in place of air, for refined and pure respiring, they thrust them into water, there to respire its turbid depths.

All of this suggests that there was a certain poetic justice to the destruction of Atlantis, with its submergence under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean representing a fall to a lower condition as a result of the iniquities of the populace and, more particularly, the ruling class. The souls of its inhabitants would thus be associated with these miserable sea-dwelling creatures.
A similar reference to pitiful sea-dwellers, though one which is much contested, appears in the fragmentary remains of the Arimaspea ascribed to Aristeas of Proconnesus. In it, the author describes: -

This too is a great wonder to us in our minds:
men live on water, away from the land on oceans.
They are miserable people, as they have a grievous lot:
they have their eyes on the stars, but their life in the sea,
ah yes, much raising their very hands to the gods,
they pray, with their guts evilly thrown up
- Aristeas, Arimaspea [BNJ 35 F 7], apud pseudo-Longinos, de sublimitate [10.4].

While this is often understood as a parody, with mercantile Greek navigators in the Black and Mediterranean Seas being referenced from the perspective of the landlocked Issedones, given the often outlandish nature of Aristeas' material elsewhere (for example the one-eyed Arimaspoi and their constant contention with the gold-guarding Gryphons), it is also possible to read this as a reference to actual mermen.
So... the Atlanis folk came back as, what, miniature cosmic horrors crowding around hydrothermal vents thinking they're the sun?
That's about the shape of it, yes.
You're out of your nugget, boy!