Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What About Atlantis?

When Socrates and his chums gather the day(!) after they discussed The Republic for another chat on important philosophical matters, the first thing they do is rehearse what they agreed to the day before.  How everyone should stick to one job, how the guardians were a race apart, how children should be raised in common and how "the bad ones were to be secretly handed on to another city".  But now Socrates wants to look at his ideas in motion and see his ideal city compared to other cities, and who better than Timaeus, a well-born man from Lucri in Italy, and his pals, to give a response to Socrates.

Oddly, you might think, in his review of The Republic, Socrates doesn't mention the philosopher-kings we've all grown to know and love, and that Karl Popper anathematized in his Open Society and Its Enemies.  But he doesn't really need to.  It is perfectly clear that Socrates and his young friends would form the junta in their ideal Republic: philosopher-kings in practice if not in name.

Then Critias launches into the myth of Atlantis, supposedly given by an Egyptian priest to Solon the Greek lawgiver centuries before Socrates' time.  Curiously the priest seems to intuit that Atlantis is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and "provided passage" to other islands and "to the entire continent on the other side, which surrounds that real sea beyond."  You could take that as a description of the Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, the Pacific Ocean, and East Asia beyond.  Of course, some people now think that there was contact between the Egyptians and the early South American civilizations; there seem to be artifacts and food residues in the Americas that suggest this.  The Egyptian priest is modest about how big the continents and oceans are out there.  You can use your imagination about that.  The Atlantians, did not dwell on their Atlantic island as if in an Isle of the Blessed.  On the contrary, they tried to conquer and enslave Europe and Asia, but were stopped by the mighty Greeks.  But a short while later both Greeks and Atlantis were drownded, like Li'l Em'ly's father and many others.  It was storms that did for Li'l Em'ly's dad, but earthquakes and floods that did for the Atlantians.

Was there an Isle of Atlantis where now you will find nothing but unnavigable waters obstructed by a "layer of mud at shallow depth?"  Hardly.  But it is telling that the center of the Atlantic Ocean has an oceanic ridge, and actually rises above the watery and misty hollows up north in volcanic and glacier-covered Iceland.

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