|Timaeus by Plato
||[Apr. 21st, 2007|11:58 pm]
Together In Light
From Timaeus by Plato - the text records a conversation that took place between a Greek named Solon and an Egyptian priest possibly named Sonchis. The Egyptian tells how the movement of bodies in the heavens leads to the destruction of the earth at long intervals and how all knowledge is lost at these times.|
The chief city in this district is Sais - the home of King Amasis - the founder of which, as they say, was a goddess whose Egyptian name is Neith, and in Greek, as they assert, Athena. These people profess to be great lovers of Athens and in a measure akin to our people here.
And Solon said that when he travelled there he was held in great esteem amongst them; moreover, when he was questioning such of their priests as were most versed in ancient lore about their ancient history, he discovered that neither he himself, nor any other Greek, knew anything at all, one might say, about such matters.
And, on one occasion, when he wished to draw them on to discourse on ancient history, he attempted to tell them the most ancient of our traditions, concerning Phoroneus, who was said to he the first man and Niohe; and he went on to tell the legend about Deucalion and Pyrra after the flood and how they survived it, and to give the genealogy of their descendants; and by recounting the number of years occupied by the events mentioned he tried to calculate the periods of time.
Whereupon one of the priests, a prodigiously old man, said: "Oh Solon. Solon. You Greeks are always children - there is not such a thing as an old Greek."
And on hearing this he asked: "What mean you by this saying?"
And the priest replied: "You are young in soul, every one of you. For therein you possess not a single belief that is ancient and derived from old tradition, nor yet one science that is hoary with age. And this is the cause thereof: There have been, and there will be, many and diverse destructions of mankind, of which the greatest are by fire and water, and lesser ones by countless other means. For in truth the story that is told in your country as well as ours, how once upon a time. Phaethon, son of Helios, yoked his father's chariot and, because he was unable to drive it along the course taken by his father burnt up all that was upon the earth, and himself perished by a thunderbolt - that story, as it is told, has the fashion of a legend, but the truth of it lies in the occurrence of a shift of the bodies in the heavens which move round the earth and a destruction of the things on the earth by fierce fire, which recurs at long intervals.
At such times all they that dwell on the mountains, and in high and dry places, suffer destruction more than those who dwell near to rivers or the sea; and in our case the Nile, our saviour in other ways, saves us also at such times from this calamity by rising high.
And when, on the other hand, the Gods purge the earth with a flood of waters, all the herdsmen and shepherds that are in the mountains are saved, but those in the cities of your land are swept into die sea by the streams; whereas in our country neither then nor at any other time does the water pour down over our fields from above, on the contrary it all tends naturally to swell up from below.
Hence it is, for these reasons, that what is here preserved is reckoned to be the most ancient; the truth being that in every place where there is no excessive heat or cold to prevent it, there always exists some human stock, now more, now less in number. And if any event has occurred that is noble or great or in any way conspicuous, whether it be in your country or in ours or in some other place of which we know by report, all such events are recorded from of old and preserved here in our temples; whereas your people and the others are but newly equipped, every time, with letters and all such arts as civilised States require; and when, after the usual interval of years, like a plague, the flood from heaven comes sweeping down afresh upon your people, it leaves none of you but the unlettered and the uncultured, so that you become young as ever, with no knowledge of all that happened in old times in this land or in your own. Certainly the genealogies which you related just now, Solon, concerning the peoples of your country, are little better than children's tales; for, in the first place, you remember but one deluge, though many had occurred previously; and next, you are ignorant of the fact that the noblest and most perfect race amongst men were born in the land where you now dwell, and from them both you yourself are sprung and the whole of your existing city, out of some little seed that chanced to be left over; but this has escaped your notice because for many generations the survivors died with no power to express themselves in writing. For verily at one time, Solon, before the greatest destruction by water, what is now the Athenian state was the bravest in war and supremely well organized also in other respects. It is said that it possessed the most splendid works of art, and the noblest polity of any nation under heaven of which we have heard tell."
Upon hearing this, Solon said that he marvelled, and with the utmost eagerness requested the priest to recount for him in order and exactly all the facts about those citizens of old. The priest then said: "I begrudge you not the story. Solon; nay, I will tell it, both for your own sake and that of your city, and most of all for the sake of the Goddess who has adopted for her own both your land and this of ours, and has nurtured and trained them - yours first by the space of a thousand years, when she had received the seed of you from Ge and Hephaestus, and after that ours. And the duration of our civilisation as set down in our sacred writings is 8,000 years. Of the citizens, then, who lived 9,000 years ago, I will declare to you briefly certain of their laws and the noblest of the deeds they performed; the full account in precise order and detail we shall go through later, at our leisure, taking the actual writings."