T h e G o d d e s s
A t h e n a
i n P l a t o ' s
T i m a e u s
Critias: Then listen, Socrates,
to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested
by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages.
He was a relative and a dear friend
of my great-grandfather, Dropides, as he himself says in many passages
of his poems; and he told the story to Critias, my grandfather, who remembered
and repeated it to us.
There were of old, he said, great
and marvellous actions of the Athenian city, which have passed into oblivion
through lapse of time and the destruction of mankind, and one in particular,
greater than all the rest. This we will now rehearse.
[21a] It will be a fitting monument
of our gratitude to you, and a hymn of praise true and worthy of the Goddess
on this her day of Festival.
(The Lesser Panathenaea, held early in
[21e] In the Delta of Egypt,
said Critias, at the head of which the river Nile parts in two, there
is a certain district called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis
The citizens have a Goddess whose
Egyptian name is Neith, and is asserted by them to
be the same whom the Hellenes call Athena.
These people are great lovers
of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them.
And Solon said that when he travelled
there he was held in great esteem amongst them; he asked the priests who
were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery
that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about
the times of old.
For there was a time, Solon, before
the great deluge of all, when the city which now is
Athens was first in war and in every way the best governed of all cities,
is said to have performed the noblest deeds and to have had the fairest
constitution of any of which tradition tells, under the face of heaven.
[23d] 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
The priest then said: You are
welcome to hear about them, Solon, both for your own sake and for that
of your city, and above all, for the sake of the Goddess (Athena)
who is the common patron and parent and educator of both our cities.
She founded your city a thousand
years before ours (Observe that Plato gives the same date (9000 years ago)
for the foundation of Athens and for the repulse of the invasion from Atlantis
(Crit.).), receiving from Ge [23e] and Hephaestus, and after that ours.
And the duration of our civilization as set down in our sacred writings
is 8000 years.
As touching your citizens of 9000
years ago, I will briefly inform you of their laws and of their most famous
action; [24a] the full account in precise order and detail we shall go
through later at our leisure, in the sacred registers themselves.
To get a view of their laws, look
at the laws here; for you will find existing here at the present time many
examples of the laws which then existed in your city.
In the first place, there is the
caste of priests, which is separated off from the rest; next, the class
of craftsmen, who ply their several crafts by themselves and do not intermix;
then the classes of shepherds, hunters, and farmers, each distinct and
Moreover, the military class here,
[24b] as no doubt you have noticed, is kept apart from all the other classes,
and are commanded by the law to devote themselves solely to military pursuits.
A further feature is the character
of their equipment with shields and spears; for we were the first of the
peoples of Asia to adopt these weapons, it being the Goddess (Athena)
who instructed us, as in your part of the world first to you.
Again, with regard to wisdom, you
perceive, no doubt, the law here -- how much attention [24c] it has devoted
from the very beginning to the Cosmic Order, by discovering all the effects
which the divine causes produce upon human life, down to divination and
the art of medicine which aims at health, out of these divine elements
deriving what was needful for human life, and adding every sort of knowledge
which was akin to them.
All this order and arrangement
the Goddess (Athena) first imparted
to you when establishing your city; and she chose the spot of earth in
which you were born, because she saw that the happy temperament of the
seasons in that land would produce men of supreme wisdom.
[24d] So it was that the Goddess
being herself both a lover of war and a lover of wisdom, selected and first
of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men most
like unto herself, and this first she established.
Wherefore you lived under the
rule of such laws as these, and still better ones, and you excelled all
mankind in all virtue, as became the children and disciples of the Gods.
Many great and wonderful deeds
are recorded of your State in our histories.
Socrates: What other story
should we adopt, Critias, in preference to this? For this story will be
admirably suited to the festival of the Goddess (Athena)
which is now being held, because of its connection with her; and has the
very great advantage of being a fact and not a fiction. How, indeed, or
where shall we discover other stories if we abandon this? Nay, it is impossible.
You, therefore, must now deliver your discourse (and may Good Fortune attend
you!), while I, in return for my yesterday's discourse will now rest and
be a listener.
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©1999 Roy George