In a recent film, Professor Richard Freund from Hartford University in Connecticut explains his use of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and satellite imagery to find the best candidate for Atlantis in Spain’s Donaña National Park, north of Cadiz. Plato, our principal source on the myth of Atlantis, claimed that it had been destroyed in around 9000 BC by a natural disaster, most likely – Professor Freund contends – a tsunami.

But what exactly did Plato have to say about Atlantis? The first of two extended references to Atlantis is contained in the Timaeus, the only Platonic dialogue available to Latin readers in the early Middle Ages. At the beginning of the Timaeus, Socrates runs through a speech that he gave on the previous day. The speech is about the institutions of the ideal state, which are, or closely resemble, those of the Republic. Socrates asks to see this ideal state set in motion with an account of how it might engage in a conflict with its neighbours. In response to Socrates, Hermocrates asks Critias to relate a tale that he heard from his grandfather, who heard it from his father, who heard it from Solon, who heard it from an Egyptian priest in Saïs on the Nile Delta. According to this Egyptian priest, Athens was first founded nine thousand years ago, at which time she was the fairest, best-governed, and most god-like of all cities. The citizens of this Ancient Athens accomplished many great deeds, but their greatest deed of all was to fend off an unprovoked invasion by Atlantis, an island empire that lay beyond the pillars of Heracles, and that was larger than all Libya and Asia put together. Following Athens’ victory over the Atlanteans, the earth was ravaged by earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune Athens fell to the ground and Atlantis sank into the sea.

The second extended reference to Atlantis is contained in the Critias. The Critias was designed to be the second part of a trilogy, preceded by the Timaeus and succeeded by the Hermocrates. Unfortunately, the latter was never written and the Critias was left unfinished, literally breaking off in mid-sentence. According to Critias, whereas the gods Hephaestus and Athena had obtained Attica, Poseidon had obtained the island of Atlantis. Poseidon fell in love with the mortal Cleito who dwelt together with her parents Evenor and Leucippe in a low mountain near a fertile plain in the centre of the island. To secure his love, the god enclosed the mountain with rings of various sizes, two of land and three of sea. Here Cleito bore him five pairs of male twins. The eldest sibling, Atlas, was made king of the centre island, and the other nine siblings were made kings of other parts of the island. As their relations were regulated by the injunctions of Poseidon, the ten kingdoms remained at peace. Critias describes in great detail the fabulous riches of Atlantis amongst which fruit trees and forests, herds of elephants, and minerals including the legendary precious metal orichalcum. With these fabulous riches, the Atlanteans built temples and palaces, harbours and docks, bridges and canals, aqueducts and baths, and a very large standing army with ten thousand chariots and twelve hundred ships.

For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, [the Atlanteans] were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold or other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.

However, the virtue of the Atlanteans began to weaken,

…when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased, for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous power. Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows – [The dialogue ends, literally in mid-sentence.]

Adapted from Plato’s Shadow

In the Theaetetus, a young Theaetetus admits that he has thought about the problem of defining knowledge many times before and suffers from his lack of an adequate solution. Socrates says, ‘These are the pangs of labour, my dear Theaetetus; you have something within you which you are bringing forth’. Socrates compares himself to a midwife, who can establish whether a woman is pregnant, induce labour, calm its pain, and bring about the delivery of a healthy child. He differs from a midwife only in that he works with men rather than with women, and with the soul rather than with the body. Just like the midwife is past bearing age, so he is barren – not of children, but of wisdom. All he can do is to bring forth wisdom in others, and the triumph of his art is ‘in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth’. Sometimes the young man takes all the credit for himself, leaves him sooner than he should, and once again begins to set more value upon phantoms than upon the truth. In such cases the young man loses whatever he gave birth to and miscarries whatever remains in him. Then one day he realises that he is an ignorant fool and falls upon his knees, begging to return. Socrates warns that, should Theaetetus give birth to a phantom or false idol, he will tear it away from him and expose it.

And if I abstract and expose your first-born, because I discover upon inspection that the conception which you have formed is a vain shadow, do not quarrel with me on that account, as the manner of women is when their first children are taken from them. For I have actually known some who were ready to bite me when I deprived them of a darling folly.

Adapted from Plato’s Shadow

Outline of Plato’s Cratylus

…the knowledge of names is a great part of knowledge.

The principal concern of the Cratylus is the ‘correctness of
names’: if a given name (or word or phrase) is the correct
one for denoting a given thing, what is it that makes it so?
Socrates discusses the correctness of names with Cratylus, a
former pupil of Heraclitus, and Hermogenes, the impecunious
brother of Callias, at whose house the Protagoras takes place.
Cratylus has been telling Hermogenes that a thing’s
name is not whatever people agree to call it, but that there
is a ‘natural correctness’ of names such that a thing’s name
belongs to it by nature and is the same for everyone, Greek or
foreigner. Cratylus says that his name is ‘Cratylus,’ and that
Socrates’ name is ‘Socrates,’ but that Hermogenes’ name is
not ‘Hermogenes,’ even though everyone agrees to call him so.
Hermogenes is baffled by this, and asks Socrates to ‘interpret’
what Cratylus is saying. Socrates suggests that Cratylus is
simply making fun of Hermogenes, who is unable to make
any money despite being named after the god of profit.

Hermogenes argues that the correctness of names is simply
determined by convention and agreement. For example, he
says, when a new name is given to a domestic slave, the new
name is just as correct as any of the old ones. It follows that
a person or object can have more than one name, and also
different names to different people: ‘…whatever each person
says is the name of something, for him, that is the name’.

Socrates asks Hermogenes whether he agrees with
Protagoras when he says that ‘man is the measure of all
things’. In other words, are things merely as they appear
to a given person, or do they have some fixed being of their
own? Hermogenes confesses that he has at times been so
perplexed as to ‘take refuge’ in Protagoras’ doctrine. Socrates
is astonished: at such times, did Hermogenes actually believe
that there was no such thing as a bad man? Hermogenes
replies that, on the contrary, he has often thought that there
were very bad men, and plenty of them. Socrates asks whether
Hermogenes believed that there was no such thing as a good
man, to which he replies ‘some, but not many’. They agree
that what distinguishes bad men from good men is that good
men are wise whereas bad men are foolish. But how, asks
Socrates, can one man be wise and another foolish if ‘man is
the measure of all things,’ and whatever each man believes to
be true is true for him? Furthermore, if one man can be wise
and another can be foolish, then Euthydemus’ doctrine that
‘all things equally and always belong to all men’ must also
be false. Therefore, people and things must have some fixed
being of their own. If people and things have some fixed being
of their own, it follows that this is also true of the actions
performed in relation to them. So if, for example, we want to
cut something, we can only be successful in cutting it if we cut
it in accordance with the nature of cutting and being cut and
with the natural tool for cutting. Speaking is also an action
performed in relation to people and things, and so is saying
names. Thus, if we are to speak correctly or achieve anything,
we cannot simply name things as we choose.

If we want to cut something, we must cut it with the natural
tool for cutting, and if we want to name something, we must
name it with the natural tool for naming, which is a name. If a
name is a sort of tool, who, asks Socrates, makes this tool? In
other words, who or what provides us with the names that we
use? Socrates replies that the names that we use are provided
by a legislator – a very rare kind of craftsman indeed. Just as
a carpenter embodies in wood the type of shuttle naturally
suited to each type of weaving, so the legislator embodies in
sounds and syllables the name naturally suited to each type of
thing. And just as different blacksmiths who are making the
same tool do not necessarily need to make it out of the same
iron, so different legislators who are naming the same thing
do not necessarily need to use the same syllables, so long as
the name that they give to the thing is naturally suited to it.
This explains why the same thing can have different names
in different languages. Thus, Cratylus is correct in saying that
there is a ‘natural correctness of names’.

But what is the best way to name things? Socrates suggests
that the best way to find out is to ask a sophist, but since
neither of them can afford to pay a sophist’s fee, they should
look instead to Homer and to the other poets. For example,
Homer says that the river god who fought with Hephaestus is
called Xanthos by the gods and Skamandros by men. Socrates
argues that the river god is more correctly called Xanthos
than Skamandros, since the gods are bound to call things
by their naturally correct names. Homer also ascribes two
names to Hector’s son, Skamandrios and Astyanax. Socrates
argues that Hector’s son is more correctly named Astyanax
than Skamandrios, since the Trojan men call him Astyanax
whereas the Trojan women call him Skamandrios, and Homer
thought that the Trojan men were wiser than their women.
Socrates quotes Homer in saying, of Hector, that ‘He alone
defended their city and long walls’. Thus, it seems correct
to call the son of the city’s defender Astyanax or ‘lord of the
city’. Furthermore, Hector itself means ‘holder,’ which is very
similar to ‘lord of the city’. If it seems right to call a lion’s
whelp a lion, or a horse’s foal a horse, then it also seems right
to call the son of a king a king. Thus, those born according to
nature should be given the same name as their fathers, even
though the names of father and son may, as in the case of
Hector and Astyanax, vary in their syllables.

Socrates now races through a long list of words to show
how they have been correctly named, speaking like an oracle
because inspired by Euthyphro. For example, truth or ale¯ theia
is a compression of the phrase ‘a wandering that is divine’
(ale¯ theia). The god of the underworld is called Hades because
he knows (eidenai) everything fine and beautiful, and Pluto
because he is the source of wealth (ploutos). Most people
prefer to call him Pluto rather than Hades because they are
afraid of what they cannot see (aeides), and assume that
Hades refers to that. Socrates says that many people are
terrified of Hades because, after we die, our souls remain
with him forever. However, the reason our souls do not escape
from him is because they are bound to him by the strongest of
desires, namely, the desire to associate with someone who can
make us a better person. Socrates adds that Hades must be a
philosopher, since he has realised that a person only becomes
interested in virtue once he is detached from his body.

Some names, says Socrates, cannot be explained in this
way, either because they have a foreign origin, or because
they are so old and ‘basic’ that they cannot be recovered.
Such ‘primary’ names are based on syllables and letters, and
are used to make other ‘derivative’ names. Socrates argues
that one must know about the correctness of primary names
if one is to know about the correctness of derivative names.
So, for example, the letter ‘r’ seemed to the legislator to be
an appropriate tool for copying motion, for which reason he
used it in words such as rheo ¯ (flow), trechein (running), tromos
(trembling), thruptein (breaking), and rhumbein (whirling). As
the tongue glides most of all in pronouncing the letter ‘l,’ the
legislator used this letter in olisthanein (glide), leion (smooth),
liparon (sleek), and kollo¯ des (viscous). However, as the gliding
of the tongue is stopped most completely in pronouncing the
letter ‘g,’ he preferred to use this letter to imitate something
cloying, as in gloiodes (clammy), glischron (gluey), and gluku
(sweet). And so on.

Hermogenes turns to Cratylus and asks him whether he
agrees with what Socrates has just been saying about names.
Cratylus replies by quoting Achilles’ words to Ajax,

Ajax, son of Telamon, seed of Zeus, lord of the
All you have said to me seems spoken after my
own mind.

Socrates says that he has long been surprised at his own
wisdom, and also doubtful of it. He insists on the importance
of re-investigating whatever he says, since ‘self-deception is
the worst thing of all’.

Cratylus agrees with Socrates’ statement that ‘the correctness
of a name consists in displaying the nature of the thing it
names’. However, he thinks that all names have been correctly
given, whereas Socrates argues that, just like paintings, some
names are finely made and others are badly made. Just as
there are good craftsmen and bad craftsmen, so there are good
legislators and bad legislators. In particular, Socrates insists
that a name cannot resemble the thing that it names in every
respect, since it would then be a duplicate of that thing, and
no one would be able to tell the difference between them. As a
name cannot perfectly resemble the thing that it names, there
is scope for a name to be well given or less well given.

Socrates says that there are times when we understand
a name that does not resemble the thing that it names, in
which case our understanding of the name is a matter of
usage and convention. Usage, it seems, enables both like and
unlike names to denote things. Thus, whilst it may be possible
to know things through their names, it is far better to know
them in themselves. Socrates concludes that the matter calls
for further investigation.

This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely
to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you
be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a
man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for
you are young and of an age to learn. And when
you have found the truth, come and tell me.

Adapted from Plato’s Shadow

...dolphins, at any rate, even snore

Outline of ‘On Youth, Old Age, Life and Death, and Respiration’
(De juventute et senectute, de vita et morte, de respiratione)

We must now treat of youth and old age and life and death, and probably of respiration as well, since in some cases living and the reverse depend on this. While it is clear that the essential reality of the soul cannot be corporeal, yet it must exist in some bodily part. All perfectly formed animals can be divided into three parts, that by which food is taken, that by which excrement is discharged, and that which is intermediate, called the chest or something equivalent. It is evident both by observation and by inference that the source of the nutritive soul is in the midst of the three parts since many animals, though divided, retain life in that member to which the middle remains attached. Divisible animals are like a number of animals grown together, but animals of superior construction behave differently because their constitution is a unity of the highest possible kind. In plants genesis from seeds and from grafts and cuttings always starts from the middle. Likewise in animals the heart is the first organ developed, and the blood is the final nutriment from which the members are formed. Hence, in animals the source both of the sensitive and of the nutritive soul must be in the heart, for the functions relative to nutrition exercised by the other parts are ancillary to the activity of the heart. If life is located in this part, then sensation must be too, for it is qua animal that an animal is said to be a living thing, and an animal is an animal because it is sensing. Taste and touch can be clearly seen to extend to the heart, and the other senses must also lead to it. The other senses are situated in the head, which leads some to think that it is by the brain that animals perceive; however, it is the central situation which is the natural position of a dominating power. The source of an animal’s warmth is in the heart, which explains why death occurs when the heart becomes cold, but not when any of the other members do so. Hence, life must be coincident with the maintenance of heat, and death with its destruction. The life fire may be extinguished by a deficiency of nutriment or by excessive accumulation from lack of respiration and of refrigeration. Clearly, therefore, if the bodily heat is to be conserved, there must be some cooling method, just like the coals in a brazier must be ventilated if they are to remain glowing. In plants the natural heat is kept alive by the surrounding air supply and by their nutriment, for food has a cooling effect, and abstinence from food produces heat and thirst. Animals pass their life in air or water, and these media furnish the source and means of their refrigeration. All animals with lungs breathe, even though those with bloodless and spongy lungs have less need for breathing and can therefore remain under water for a longer time. On the other hand, animals with lungs charged with blood have greater need for breathing on account of the amount of their heat. Democritus, Anaxagoras, and Diogenes either imply or maintain that animals without lungs also breathe. Diogenes, for instance, says that when fishes discharge water through the gills, they suck the air out of the water surrounding the mouth by means of the vacuum formed therein, but this and other such theories are untenable. The main reason these thinkers go wrong is that they have no acquaintance with the internal organs, and they do not accept the doctrine that there is a final cause for whatever Nature does. Had they asked why respiration exists in animals, and had they considered this with reference to the gills and lungs, they might have come to the correct conclusions.

Life and the presence of soul involve a certain heat. Not even digestion occurs apart from soul and warmth, for it is to fire that in all cases elaboration is due. For this reason also, the primary nutritive soul must be located in that part of the body which is the immediate vehicle of this principle, namely, that which is intermediate between that where food is taken and that where excrement is discharged. In bloodless animals this organ has no name, but in sanguineous animals it is called the heart. The blood in the heart and in the vessels that originate from it constitutes the nutriment from which the organs are formed. The other psychical faculties cannot exist apart from the nutritive (the reason for this having been given in On the Soul), which itself depends on the natural fire. This natural fire can be destroyed either by extinction through violence or excess of cold, or by exhaustion through excess of heat. In small and bloodless animals, refrigeration by surrounding air or water is sufficient to prevent exhaustion from excess of heat. If these animals are short-lived, it is because they have less scope for deflection towards either extreme. Some insects, though bloodless, are longer-lived as they have a deep indentation beneath the waist where their membrane is thinner and therefore more adapted to the cooling function. The sound made by humming insects such as bees and crickets results from friction against the membrane caused by the rising and falling of air within the middle section. Sanguineous animals with spongy lungs can live a long time without breathing as their lungs, containing little blood, can rise high and thereby produce sufficient refrigeration. Among water animals, those that are bloodless remain alive longer in air than those (such as fishes) that are sanguineous, since they have less heat and the air is for a long time adequate to refrigerate them. Sanguineous animals with lungs produce refrigeration by breathing air in and out, whereas those with gills do so by taking in water. All footless animals have gills with the exception of the tadpole, which has both gills and feet. No animal has yet been observed to have both lungs and gills, as one means of refrigeration is sufficient in every case, and, as I am fond of saying, nature does nothing in vain. Every animal requires nutriment and refrigeration and, except in animals without lungs or with gills, nature employs the mouth for both purposes. Cetaceans such as dolphins and whales seem like a case apart, as they possess a lung and yet admit sea water. However, the admission of sea water is not for the purpose of refrigeration but of feeding, and these animals sleep with their head out of the water (dolphins, at any rate, even snore). After admitting the water they expel it through a blow-hole as fishes do through the gills. The higher animals breathe because they have a higher soul and a greater proportion of heat. Those with most blood and most warmth are of greater size, and man is the most erect as the blood in his lung is the purest and the most plentiful. The natural character of the material of an animal’s body is of the same nature as the region in which it exists: water is found in water, earth on land, and air and fire in air. Thus, whereas the state of an animal’s body can be opposed in character to its environment, not so the material of which it is composed. The source of life is lost when the heat with which it is bound up is no longer tempered by cooling. In time, the lungs or gills get dried up and become hard and earthy and incapable of movement, and then the fire goes out from exhaustion. In old age little heat remains, and a small disturbance easily results in death, whence dying in old age is painless. Generation is the initial participation, mediated by warm substance, in the nutritive soul, and life is the maintenance of this participation. Youth is the period of the growth of the primary organ of refrigeration, old age of its decay, and the prime of life is the intervening time. There are three separate phenomena related to the heart, palpitation, pulsation, and respiration. Palpitation is the recoil of the heart against the compression due to cold, pulsation the volatilisation of the heated fluid. When the hot substance increases it causes the organ to rise, which causes the outer air to rush in as into a bellows. The air’s chilling influence reduces the excess of the fire, resulting in the contraction and collapse of the organ and the expulsion of the warmed-up air. This completes my account of respiration, of life and death, and of youth and old age.

Outline of ‘On Memory’

People with a retentive memory are not identical with those who excel at recollecting; as a rule, slow people have a good memory, whereas quick-witted and clever people are better at recollecting. It is not possible to remember the present, which is the object of perception or knowledge, or the future, which is the object of opinion or expectation, the science of which might be called divination. When one has perception or knowledge apart from the actualisations of the faculty concerned, he can be said to ‘remember’ the object of perception or knowledge, either because he learnt it or thought it out for himself, or because he had a sensible experience of it. Memory therefore is neither perception nor conception, but a state or affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time. Consequently, only those animals which perceive time remember, and the organ by which they perceive time is also that by which they remember. The subject of ‘presentation’, without which intellectual activity is impossible, has already been discussed in On the Soul. When one exercises the intellect, one envisages the object as quantitative and determinate. The intellect cannot be exercised on any object absolutely apart from the continuous or even applied to non-temporal things unless in connexion with time. Magnitude and motion must be cognised by the same faculty by which time is cognised, namely, memory, and the presentation involved is an affection of the sensus communis, that is, the primary faculty of perception. Accordingly, memory of both sensible and intellectual objects involves a presentation and belongs directly and essentially to the faculty of sense perception and only incidentally to the faculty of intelligence. Hence not only human beings but also certain other animals possess memory. Memory appertains to that part of the soul to which ‘presentation’ appertains, and all objects capable of being presented are immediately and properly objects of memory, while those which necessarily involve (but only involve) presentation are incidental objects of memory. The process of sensory stimulation involved in the act of perception stamps, as it were, a sort of impression of the percept, just as a seal stamps its impression in hot wax. In those who are very young or very old, or too quick or too slow, or strongly moved by passion, an impression is less readily formed because the condition of their receiving organs is not optimal. When one remembers, does one remember this impression or the objective thing from which it is derived? A picture painted on a panel is at once a picture and a likeness; that is, while one and the same, it is both of these and can be contemplated as either. The same can be said of the mnemonic presentation within us, which by itself is merely an object of contemplation but in relation to something else is also a presentation of that other thing. Thus it is possible to mistake memories for phantasms and phantasms for memories. In summary, memory or remembering is a function of the primary faculty of sense perception, that is, of the faculty that perceives time; it can be defined as the state of a presentation, related as a likeness to that of which it is a presentation.

Recollection is not the ‘recovery’ or ‘acquisition’ of memory, since at the instant of learning or experiencing, one does not thereby ‘recover’ or ‘acquire’ a memory. It is only once the aforesaid state or affection is implanted in the soul that memory exists. To remember, strictly speaking, is an activity that only becomes immanent after the original experience has undergone lapse of time. Even then, it is obviously possible, without any act of recollection, to remember as a continued consequence of the original experience. Only the recovery of the original experience can be said to be ‘recollection’. Although remembering does not necessarily imply recollecting, recollecting always implies remembering. In some cases, a person may twice learn or twice discover the same fact, but this does not constitute ‘recollection’. Recollection, as it occurs in experience, is due to one movement that has by nature another that succeeds it in regular order. As a rule, it is when antecedent movements have first been excited that the particular movement implied in recollection follows. Thus, when a person wishes to recollect, he will try to obtain a beginning of movement whose sequel shall be the movement which he desires to reawaken. This explains why things arranged in a fixed order, such as the successive demonstrations in geometry, are relatively easy to remember or recollect. If a person cannot move, solely by his own effort, to the next term after the starting point, then this is not recollecting but forgetting. In some cases, he may set up many movements until he finally excites one of a kind that will have for its sequel the fact that he wishes to recollect. Thus, remembering is the existence, potentially, in the mind of a movement capable of stimulating it to the desired movement. From the same starting point, the mind sometimes receives an impulse to move in the required direction and at other times otherwise. A person may think that he remembers when he really does not, but he cannot remember and think that he does not, for remembering essentially implies consciousness of itself. Remembering requires that the movement corresponding to the object and that corresponding to its time concur. If, however, the movement corresponding to the objective fact takes place without that corresponding to the time, or if the latter takes place without the former, then this is not remembering. In some cases, the movement corresponding to time may be indeterminate, and yet remembering can still be said to occur. Recollecting differs from remembering not only chronologically, but also in that only man amongst the animals is capable of recollection, which is a mode of inference and therefore belongs alone to those animals with the faculty of deliberation. That recollecting is a searching for an ‘image’ in a corporeal substrate is proved by the fact that people who are unable to recollect may feel discomfort. Melancholics and all those with moisture around that part which is the centre of sense perception feel this kind of discomfort very strongly, as once the moisture has been set in motion it is not easily brought to rest until the sought-after idea has again presented itself. For a similar reason, bursts of anger or fits of terror are not easily allayed, and compulsions are not easily resisted. The very young and the elderly have bad memories because of the large amount of movement going on within them. The very young also have disproportionately large upper parts, as do dwarves, which predisposes to the skewing and dispersion of mnemonic movements.