Timaeus/Critias

Timaeus/Critias

Taking the form of dialogues between Socrates, Timaeus, Critias and Hermocrates, these two works are among Plato's final writings. In Timaeus, he gives a thorough account of the world in which we live, describing a cosmos composed of four elements earth, air, fire and water which combine to give existence to all things. An exploration of the origins of the universe, life...

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Title:Timaeus/Critias
Author:Plato
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Edition Language:English

Timaeus/Critias Reviews

  • George

    This is a great cosmogonical journey through our earth. Plato is God's "philosophical Moses", if you will. This great couplet of stories is inspiring and thought-provoking

    . I was annotating almost every page. Sometimes eerie the "allusions" Plato makes to Christian cosmogonical ideas are, although Christianity did not reach Greece by this time, let alone did it exist. Timaeus is the precursor to the modern thought on cosmology, cosmogony, and astrology. Critias is a great work as

    This is a great cosmogonical journey through our earth. Plato is God's "philosophical Moses", if you will. This great couplet of stories is inspiring and thought-provoking

    . I was annotating almost every page. Sometimes eerie the "allusions" Plato makes to Christian cosmogonical ideas are, although Christianity did not reach Greece by this time, let alone did it exist. Timaeus is the precursor to the modern thought on cosmology, cosmogony, and astrology. Critias is a great work as well; it is quite interesting how Plato explains how Atlantis ("the place of Atlas") was at first a great nation but then eventually tread to its downfall in morals, values, social stature, etc. I would recommend these two works to anybody whose mind is perplexed and tingled by the abstruseness of Mother Nature and Her birth and growth.

  • Constantina Maud

    I don't believe there are words that can do justice to any of Plato's writings. I'll say one thing, though: the platonic dialogue of Timaeus and its story about Atlantis was one of the most pivotal nudges I got towards becoming a novelist.

    If you're not into philosophy and Greek philosophy at that, it will be hard to enjoy this book.

    Otherwise, I cannot recommend it enough. ***

  • Quiver

    This is how the world began according to Plato.

    Out of Chaos rose the stars and planets, rose man and the four elements—fire, air, water, and earth—based on four of the five convex regular polyhedra (the Platonic solids). All was created by a Demiurge looking to an eternal, perfect model. We hear how the senses function (for example, how we see: by sending out our own fire through our eyes and having it react with the fire reflected off objects), and how the human body was purposefully designed

    This is how the world began according to Plato.

    Out of Chaos rose the stars and planets, rose man and the four elements—fire, air, water, and earth—based on four of the five convex regular polyhedra (the Platonic solids). All was created by a Demiurge looking to an eternal, perfect model. We hear how the senses function (for example, how we see: by sending out our own fire through our eyes and having it react with the fire reflected off objects), and how the human body was purposefully designed (the head, which contains the purest part of the soul, is separated off from other, viler parts). It is worth reading

    just for the creativity and historical importance of Plato's imaginative explanations.

    The book is in traditional dialogic form and it is unfinished. Four characters are present: Socrates, Timaeus, Critias, and another. Socrates takes on a minor role at the beginning, questioning the group about their intended stories, but then Timaeus proceeds to give Plato's cosmogony in a virtually unbroken monologue. Critias follows up with a story of the legendary Atlantis, but only manages to get started before the text is cut off.

    The introduction and editor's notes offer indispensable contextual information.

  • Christopher

    To be honest, I only started this book because I wanted to know more about the stories of Atlantis. If that is all you are interested in, I recommend only reading Critias as that focuses on the topic of Atlantis while Timaeus only mentions it briefly. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I got out of Timaeus. Focusing primarily on cosmology, Timaeus gave me a much greater understanding of how the Ancient Greeks viewed the universe and their role in it. Furthermore, it was helpful to

    To be honest, I only started this book because I wanted to know more about the stories of Atlantis. If that is all you are interested in, I recommend only reading Critias as that focuses on the topic of Atlantis while Timaeus only mentions it briefly. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I got out of Timaeus. Focusing primarily on cosmology, Timaeus gave me a much greater understanding of how the Ancient Greeks viewed the universe and their role in it. Furthermore, it was helpful to me as a medievalist to read how Plato's understanding of the universe influenced the medieval Church's cosmology. Because Plato (via the dialogue of Timaeus) spoke of a single cosmic God that created the universe and everything it in, the medieval Church regarded Plato as a pagan whose wisdom had led him to Christian truths, and therefore his writings on how the universe was organized was widely accepted in medieval Christian cosmology. So much so, that the Church had real trouble letting go of Platonic cosmology when Copernicus and others discovered mistakes in his universal model.

  • Alex Lee

    These two works together were meant to be a trilogy about Athens, Greeks and their place in the world. Unfortunately, the 3rd book was lost, or never written, and the 2nd book, Critias only survives as a fragment. Still, interesting. The three men, speak to Socartes about the nature of everything, highlighting the Other of the Greeks, the Egyptians, as being part of the primary source needed to complete the story.

    The first book, Timaeus is interesting because he speaks of how the universe

    These two works together were meant to be a trilogy about Athens, Greeks and their place in the world. Unfortunately, the 3rd book was lost, or never written, and the 2nd book, Critias only survives as a fragment. Still, interesting. The three men, speak to Socartes about the nature of everything, highlighting the Other of the Greeks, the Egyptians, as being part of the primary source needed to complete the story.

    The first book, Timaeus is interesting because he speaks of how the universe started before man was made... how man was made rationally with intention, and all that. With Timaeus you see how Plato tries to ground everything, the 4 elements for example, into Being, with ideas being the root... (as the 4 elements are basically tiny shapes, and what's more pure as an idea than a shape?) From this, you get the idea that once everything is built up from Truth, we should then, with the history of Atlantis in Critias, and the lost 3rd book, come to a systematic understanding of the way in which Athens has developed and should develop... with an eye on purity and rightness.

    The idea is simple. If there was a way we were made, a reason for us being the way we are, then there too is a way for us to be, an intented way for us to live, and a right way for us to not go against our nature.

    Only in a democracy like Athens can someone like Plato have existed... Plato who feared the nihilism of the Sophists, in which their collectively disordered wisdom threatened to destroy the inherent meaning and values that made Athens what it is. He of course, wrote his entire life, to try and find coherence; find Being which could bind those disorderly ideas, and bring them up from negating each other, so that we can have values, so that we can have orderly society. So that we can be a people with a moral and ethical content we could be proud of and exhibit.

    At least, that's how I see this book within the larger scheme of what Plato was doing.

  • Jen

    I enjoy Plato, and this was the first of his works that I really got familiar with. The story of Atlantis is fascinating. Of course, being Plato, some patience is required while reading this, but it is rewarding I think and well worth the struggles and rereading that is sometimes required. Just a heads up, you will have "what the hell did I just read?" moments. Sorry, that's just part of Plato.

  • Adrian

    Done, phew !!

    Well this was a tough read and no mistake for such a small book. I had hoped there was more Greek myths in the content, especially given that part of it was supposed to be about Atlantis. Unfortunately there was little mythology involved. Whether it was unfinished on purpose or else part of the book has been lost over the years (centuries) who knows, but the end result is that of the 3 monologues this book was intending to show case, only the first survives in its entirety.

    This

    Done, phew !!

    Well this was a tough read and no mistake for such a small book. I had hoped there was more Greek myths in the content, especially given that part of it was supposed to be about Atlantis. Unfortunately there was little mythology involved. Whether it was unfinished on purpose or else part of the book has been lost over the years (centuries) who knows, but the end result is that of the 3 monologues this book was intending to show case, only the first survives in its entirety.

    This first monologue of almost 90 pages is Timaeus' contribution to this book. At times this monologue was, shall we say a little boring, at others it was remarkably modern thinking regarding the composition of matter, for a book written almost 2500 years old.

    The second part, to be a monologue by Critias, regarding the Fall of Atlantis (to me probably the most interesting) only lasts a few pages and then that's it, just as it's about to get interesting, doh !

    A Platonic text that influenced and continues to influence Western thought and doctrine, hmmm maybe, a difficult book to read with some interesting ideas, well yes. Am I pleased I read it, I think that has to be a yes as well.

  • Scriptor Ignotus

    I must confess that I found the

    difficult to follow at times, and in order to make heads-or-tails of it I relied heavily upon Andrew Gregory’s introduction in my Oxford World’s Classics edition—which is, thankfully, fantastic.

    Plato, of course, is known for his dialogues, in which there are usually multiple interlocutors presenting arguments and challenging those of their peers, and to which there isn’t always a straightforward conclusion.

    is different. It’s not

    a

    I must confess that I found the

    difficult to follow at times, and in order to make heads-or-tails of it I relied heavily upon Andrew Gregory’s introduction in my Oxford World’s Classics edition—which is, thankfully, fantastic.

    Plato, of course, is known for his dialogues, in which there are usually multiple interlocutors presenting arguments and challenging those of their peers, and to which there isn’t always a straightforward conclusion.

    is different. It’s not

    a dialogue; Socrates introduces Timaeus as a renowned astronomer, gives him a full-hearted endorsement, and then disappears. What follows is a long, uninterrupted monologue in which Timaeus presents a teleological account of all natural phenomena.

    It should be emphasized that

    is

    a work of natural science as we would typically understand the term. The question Plato’s Timaeus is most interested in answering is not so much a “how” question as it is a “why” question: by taking a teleological approach—that is, by attempting to explain natural phenomena by the “ends” or “purposes” they serve (which, of course, presupposes the existence of a purposeful agency behind them)—Plato is attempting to explain the underlying ontological principles or conditions necessary for the cosmos to come to be in its actually-existing state.

    (according to what irreducible principles) is the cosmos structured the way it is—or structured at all, for that matter?

    Plato likely wanted to provide an alternative to the naturalistic cosmologies of atomistic philosophers like Leucippus and Democritus, for whom the “why” question was entirely moot. According to the atomists, existence is an infinite void, and an infinity of atoms in an infinity of shapes fall aimlessly through the vacuum. By pure, random chance, some of these atoms group together in vortices, and from these vortices more complex entities emerge, which in turn swirl together in cosmic eddies of randomly-constituted composites. The entire cosmos as we know it emerged from this purposeless process of accumulation, and our universe is just one of an infinity of potential outcomes that could have materialized, or perhaps have done so on other planes.

    Adherents of a teleological cosmogony, like Plato, thought it implausible that such random accumulation could produce a universe with the harmonies and contiguities of our own. The atomists did believe in a type of sorting mechanism governed by a “like-to-like” principle: atoms of similar shapes and properties combined with one another, allowing for the separation of heaven and earth and the division of the elements. But Plato saw the cosmos not merely as a collection of discrete elements, but rather as a “harmonious blending of opposites”. A like-to-like principle could explain the separated colors on the artist’s palette, but it couldn’t explain the painting, in which the colors were blended together and the brush strokes arranged in such proportionality that the canvas was no longer an incoherent jumble of color but a harmonious, intelligible whole.

    According to Plato, there had to be an artist or craftsman who arbitrarily imposed cosmic order on a preexisting chaos. This Divine Craftsman, known as the Demiurge, intervened in a profoundly chaotic original state, ordered disparate particles of matter into the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and ordered the cosmos according to the telos of goodness as geometric simplicity.

    The cosmos and everything in it were crafted in the image of geometric models. The universe and the earth were modeled on the sphere, which was considered by Plato to be the most perfect figure because it contains the “mean” of all other figures. The ultimate particle—the most basic building block—of each of the four elements is an atom with a particular three-dimensional shape chosen by the Demiurge to produce order and balance between them. Thus the ultimate particle of fire is the tetrahedron, that of air is the octahedron, that of water is the icosahedron, and that of earth is the cube. These four figures, along with the dodecahedron, which most resembles a sphere and is thus likened to the universe itself, are still known today as the Platonic Solids.

    Because the Demiurge itself is a superintelligence, and intelligence is necessary to make judgements about the proper ordering of things based on observations of sameness, being, and difference; and because intelligence must be nested in a soul which must inhabit a living body; and because the world (according to Plato) has intelligence insofar as it makes “judgments” about the sameness, difference, or being of the entities it encounters; the world itself can properly be described as

    , within which the souls of everything in the world, including human beings, are encapsulated. The world is a type of demigod; a self-sufficient intelligence modeled on perfection.

    Human beings occupy a curious place in this cosmos. Like the world, they are endowed with soul and intelligence; but whereas the intelligence of the world-soul is perfect and the judgments it makes are always correct, the intelligence of the human soul is somewhat corrupted due to the mercurial sensuality of the body in which it is implanted. The revolutions of the human mind are disturbed by the senses; particularly in one’s younger years, during which one’s capacity for reason is underdeveloped. It is only through the process of cultivating one’s reason and using it to subordinate the senses and thereby bring order and proportionality to the soul that the human soul can be brought into conformity with the perfection of the world-soul, and thus share in the intellectual perfection of the Demiurge itself. This is a necessary achievement in order to live a just and reasoned life, and to prevent the transmigration of the intellectual portion of one’s soul, which is eternal, to the body of a lesser being after one’s death.

    It isn’t altogether clear to me why it is only the intelligence of human beings that is corrupted, but the chaotic state of the human soul before the cultivation of reason may be analogous to the chaotic state of existence before the intervention of the Demiurge. Just as the Demiurge imposed order on the cosmos, so a human being must use reason to impose order on the irrational wanderings of the mind. In the human soul as well as in the soul of the cosmos itself, eternal reason must rule like a god over the ephemeral kingdom of the senses. Thus, when we use reason to sort through the chaos of our lives and put our concerns into perspective, we are in fact imitating the Divine Craftsman’s creation of the world in microcosm.

    Far out.

  • Roy Lotz

    In this introduction to my copy of the

    , Benjamin Jowett says: “Of all the writings of Plato the

    is the most obscure and repulsive to the modern reader”—and he is, unfortunately, correct. This dialogue was very tiresome to read, and it was only through force of will and a few long train rides that I made it to the end. There is little to hold the attention, and much to baffle the sense.

    I was originally drawn to the

    for two reasons: I’d heard that it was the only dialogue

    In this introduction to my copy of the

    , Benjamin Jowett says: “Of all the writings of Plato the

    is the most obscure and repulsive to the modern reader”—and he is, unfortunately, correct. This dialogue was very tiresome to read, and it was only through force of will and a few long train rides that I made it to the end. There is little to hold the attention, and much to baffle the sense.

    I was originally drawn to the

    for two reasons: I’d heard that it was the only dialogue of Plato available to the medievals, and Aristotle frequently makes mention of this dialogue (mostly to disagree with it) in his writings on natural philosophy. What a surprise and disappointment to be greeted with one of Plato’s worst works; indeed, the difference in reactions between the ancients and medievals—who regarded it with wonder and respect—and us moderns is, perhaps, an interesting diagnostic of our changing world views. That it could even be taken seriously—much less with the mysticism of ancient Greek, Roman, and medieval thinkers—is nowadays hard to believe; today, it reads like a mediocre just-so story.

    To call either the

    or the

    a ‘dialogue’ is misleading; for both works, though they begin with some dialogue, are primarily monologues by their titular characters. As the translator Benjamin Jowett notes, Plato’s prose (in the original, and mirrored in the translation) is here far below his usual heights. Jowett attributes this to Plato not having sufficiently precise Greek terms for the subject of natural philosophy, nor any suitable preexistent models for his work; by way of an apology, Jowett also notes—as a polite understatement—that Plato’s mastery of the material is “imperfect.”

    Speaking for myself, one of the reasons I so admire Plato is for his mastery of the dialogue form; at his best, Plato manages to encapsulate the thrill of an excited (perhaps overexcited) philosophical discussion. Plato’s verbal sparing with imaginary characters is so stunning because it is both engaging and perfectly suited to the material.

    The monologue form is dead and deadening in Plato’s hands; the works are clumsy and, at times, even amateurish. The

    goes on and on, moving from topic to topic with little plan or coherence, addressing tremendously complex subjects in a few paragraphs. Where Plato does give an argument, it is cursory; and more often Plato omits argument altogether, instead opting for a kind of myth format. How Timaeus could possibly know any of the information here presented, and why the beleaguered reader should believe any of it, is hardly addressed. Here is a sample:

    To be fair, it is ambiguous to what extent Plato actually endorsed the views put forward in this work. As Jowett notes, Plato puts the entire text of the

    into the mouth of a Pythagorean philosopher; Socrates is only a listener. One should also note that the views here expressed are not totally original with Plato; in his natural philosophy, Plato weaves his system out of the systems of his predecessors, mixed with the myths of his heritage. For example, Plato, as is well known, divides up reality into the unchanging world of forms and the chaotic world of matter; the former is the subject of knowledge, the latter of opinion. This view is a seamless elision of the views of Parmenides, who believed that change was impossible, and Heraclitus, who believed that change was ceaseless. Plato merely creates one changeless world, and another changing. Plato also endorses the Pythagorean view that mathematics is the basis of reality, while combining it with a belief in the four elements—earth, fire, water, and air. To do this, Plato just explains that the four elements are four of the geometrical Platonic solids, and that they are combined in perfect ratios.

    Ironically enough, reading this made me realize what a giant leap forward was Aristotle’s natural philosophy. Plato makes hardly any attempt at argument, and most often simply states his views one after another. Aristotle, though often wrong, at least attempts to be systematic, to address criticisms, to put forward cogent arguments, and, every so often, to base his views on observations. I can only imagine Aristotle sitting in Plato's Academy, squirming in his seat, as the old philosopher went on about his natural philosophy. Aristotle’s hand would shoot up every few minutes to voice a concern or a question, and Plato would merely smile, perhaps realizing what a promising pupil he had.

    I suppose I should say something about the

    . It’s much shorter, and less fantastical, than the first dialogue. The descriptions of Atlantis I found surprisingly dry; I’m not sure exactly why that old myth has exhibited such a pull on the imagination for so long.

  • S.

    Not one of Plato's better reads. Much of it has to do with his thoughts on Biology and Physics which are interesting as a way of understanding how ancient people thought. This novelty wears thin long before the book ends, however.

    It is also considered one of the origins of the Atlantis myth, although Critias, the dialogue primarily concerned with Atlantis is incomplete. Just after the physical description of what Atlantis looks like the dialogue ends, lost to time.

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