Quote of the Fortnight: Plato and the Atlantis Dialogues


In the whole of Western literature, there are only two accounts of the mythical lost continent of Atlantis, yet today we are still fascinated by the Atlantis story. Both accounts are from Plato’s dialogues of Timaeus and Critias. This Quote of the Fortnight, the first of the Fall 2014 season, we will draw from both.

From Timaeus, we get a geological definition of the island’s destruction.

“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.”

From Critias, we get a moral justification of the island’s destruction.

“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.

Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows –”

The rest of the dialogue is lost. We will never know what Zeus is to have said in judgment of Atlantis, and perhaps it is poetic that this portion is absent, lost like the continent and culture described.

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