Critias

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Critias

INTRODUCTION AND ANALYSIS

The Critias is a fragment which breaks off in the middle of a sentence. It was designed to be the second part of a trilogy, which, like the other great Platonic trilogy of the Sophist, Statesman, Philosopher, was never completed. Timaeus had brought down the origin of the world to the creation of man, and the dawn of history was now to succeed the philosophy of nature. The Critias is also connected with the Republic. Plato, as he has already told us (Tim.), intended to represent the ideal state engaged in a patriotic conflict. This mythical conflict is prophetic or symbolical of the struggle of Athens and Persia, perhaps in some degree also of the wars of the Greeks and Carthaginians, in the same way that the Persian is prefigured by the Trojan war to the mind of Herodotus, or as the narrative of the first part of the Aeneid is intended by Virgil to foreshadow the wars of Carthage and Rome. The small number of the primitive Athenian citizens (20,000), 'which is about their present number' (Crit.), is evidently designed to contrast with the myriads and barbaric array of the Atlantic hosts. The passing remark in the Timaeus that Athens was left alone in the struggle, in which she conquered and became the liberator of Greece, is also an allusion to the later history. Hence we may safely conclude that the entire narrative is due to the imagination of Plato, who has used the name of Solon and introduced the Egyptian priests to give verisimilitude to his story. To the Greek such a tale, like that of the earth-born men, would have seemed perfectly accordant with the character of his mythology, and not more marvellous than the wonders of the East narrated by Herodotus and others: he might have been deceived into believing it. But it appears strange that later ages should have been imposed upon by the fiction. As many attempts have been made to find the great island of Atlantis, as to discover the country of the lost tribes. Without regard to the description of Plato, and without a suspicion that the whole narrative is a fabrication, interpreters have looked for the spot in every part of the globe, America, Arabia Felix, Ceylon, Palestine, Sardinia, Sweden.

Timaeus concludes with a prayer that his words may be acceptable to the God whom he has revealed, and Critias, whose turn follows, begs that a larger measure of indulgence may be conceded to him, because he has to speak of men whom we know and not of gods whom we do not know. Socrates readily grants his request, and anticipating that Hermocrates will make a similar petition, extends by anticipation a like indulgence to him.

Critias returns to his story, professing only to repeat what Solon was told by the priests. The war of which he was about to speak had occurred 9000 years ago. One of the combatants was the city of Athens, the other was the great island of Atlantis. Critias proposes to speak of these rival powers first of all, giving to Athens the precedence; the various tribes of Greeks and barbarians who took part in the war will be dealt with as they successively appear on the scene.

In the beginning the gods agreed to divide the earth by lot in a friendly manner, and when they had made the allotment they settled their several countries, and were the shepherds or rather the pilots of mankind, whom they guided by persuasion, and not by force. Hephaestus and Athena, brother and sister deities, in mind and art united, obtained as their lot the land of Attica, a land suited to the growth of virtue and wisdom; and there they settled a brave race of children of the soil, and taught them how to order the state. Some of their names, such as Cecrops, Erechtheus, Erichthonius, and Erysichthon, were preserved and adopted in later times, but the memory of their deeds has passed away; for there have since been many deluges, and the remnant who survived in the mountains were ignorant of the art of writing, and during many generations were wholly devoted to acquiring the means of life…And the armed image of the goddess which was dedicated by the ancient Athenians is an evidence to other ages that men and women had in those days, as they ought always to have, common virtues and pursuits. There were various classes of citizens, including handicraftsmen and husbandmen and a superior class of warriors who dwelt apart, and were educated, and had all things in common, like our guardians. Attica in those days extended southwards to the Isthmus, and inland to the heights of Parnes and Cithaeron, and between them and the sea included the district of Oropus. The country was then, as what remains of it still is, the most fertile in the world, and abounded in rich plains and pastures. But in the course of ages much of the soil was washed away and disappeared in the deep sea. And the inhabitants of this fair land were endowed with intelligence and the love of beauty.

The Acropolis of the ancient Athens extended to the Ilissus and Eridanus, and included the Pnyx, and the Lycabettus on the opposite side to the Pnyx, having a level surface and deep soil. The side of the hill was inhabited by craftsmen and husbandmen; and the warriors dwelt by themselves on the summit, around the temples of Hephaestus and Athene, in an enclosure which was like the garden of a single house. In winter they retired into houses on the north of the hill, in which they held their syssitia. These were modest dwellings, which they bequeathed unaltered to their children's children. In summer time the south side was inhabited by them, and then they left their gardens and dining-halls. In the midst of the Acropolis was a fountain, which gave an abundant supply of cool water in summer and warm in winter; of this there are still some traces. They were careful to preserve the number of fighting men and women at 20,000, which is equal to that of the present military force. And so they passed their lives as guardians of the citizens and leaders of the Hellenes. They were a just and famous race, celebrated for their beauty and virtue all over Europe and Asia.

And now I will speak to you of their adversaries, but first I ought to explain that the Greek names were given to Solon in an Egyptian form, and he enquired their meaning and translated them. His manuscript was left with my grandfather Dropides, and is now in my possession…In the division of the earth Poseidon obtained as his portion the island of Atlantis, and there he begat children whose mother was a mortal. Towards the sea and in the centre of the island there was a very fair and fertile plain, and near the centre, about fifty stadia from the plain, there was a low mountain in which dwelt a man named Evenor and his wife Leucippe, and their daughter Cleito, of whom Poseidon became enamoured. He to secure his love enclosed the mountain with rings or zones varying in size, two of land and three of sea, which his divine power readily enabled him to excavate and fashion, and, as there was no shipping in those days, no man could get into the place. To the interior island he conveyed under the earth springs of water hot and cold, and supplied the land with all things needed for the life of man. Here he begat a family consisting of five pairs of twin male children. The eldest was Atlas, and him he made king of the centre island, while to his twin brother, Eumelus, or Gadeirus, he assigned that part of the country which was nearest the Straits. The other brothers he made chiefs over the rest of the island. And their kingdom extended as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia. Now Atlas had a fair posterity, and great treasures derived from mines – among them that precious metal orichalcum; and there was abundance of wood, and herds of elephants, and pastures for animals of all kinds, and fragrant herbs, and grasses, and trees bearing fruit. These they used, and employed themselves in constructing their temples, and palaces, and harbours, and docks, in the following manner: – First, they bridged over the zones of sea, and made a way to and from the royal palace which they built in the centre island. This ancient palace was ornamented by successive generations; and they dug a canal which passed through the zones of land from the island to the sea. The zones of earth were surrounded by walls made of stone of divers colours, black and white and red, which they sometimes intermingled for the sake of ornament; and as they quarried they hollowed out beneath the edges of the zones double docks having roofs of rock. The outermost of the walls was coated with brass, the second with tin, and the third, which was the wall of the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum. In the interior of the citadel was a holy temple, dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon, and surrounded by an enclosure of gold, and there was Poseidon's own temple, which was covered with silver, and the pinnacles with gold. The roof was of ivory, adorned with gold and silver and orichalcum, and the rest of the interior was lined with orichalcum. Within was an image of the god standing in a chariot drawn by six winged horses, and touching the roof with his head; around him were a hundred Nereids, riding on dolphins. Outside the temple were placed golden statues of all the descendants of the ten kings and of their wives; there was an altar too, and there were palaces, corresponding to the greatness and glory both of the kingdom and of the temple.

Also there were fountains of hot and cold water, and suitable buildings surrounding them, and trees, and there were baths both of the kings and of private individuals, and separate baths for women, and also for cattle. The water from the baths was carried to the grove of Poseidon, and by aqueducts over the bridges to the outer circles. And there were temples in the zones, and in the larger of the two there was a racecourse for horses, which ran all round the island. The guards were distributed in the zones according to the trust reposed in them; the most trusted of them were stationed in the citadel. The docks were full of triremes and stores. The land between the harbour and the sea was surrounded by a wall, and was crowded with dwellings, and the harbour and canal resounded with the din of human voices.

 

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