WAS PLATO’S DIALOGUE ABOUT ATLANTIS FACT OR FICTION?
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(originally published on July 12, 2021)
I was doing some more research on post-apocalyptic fiction. My current work in progress novel is in fact a post post apocalyptic novel about werewolves and how their world ends not once but twice. And so while researching I was curious about something.
You all know that Plato wrote about Atlantis, right?
Well if you didn’t know the lost city of Atlantis is always looked and thought upon as a myth. A legend. The city or continent with advanced civilization and technologies filled with abundance and prosperity that fell beneath the sea due to cataclysmic destruction because of a war .
So the thing that I was curious about was what if Plato was one of the first post-apocalyptic fiction writers? What if Atlantis was true and not a myth?
I know. I know. I’m far reaching but that’s what I do. Read on if you want to delve deeper with me and find out through Plato’s writings about Atlantis if he was in actuality one of the first post-apocalyptic fiction writers or actual historian of a real society.
Post-apocalyptic fiction can refer to any time after an apocalypse, either when things are a mess, or when order has finally been restored.
What is an apocalypse ?
An apocalypse is an uncovering, a disclosure or revelation of knowledge. But can sometimes be described as an catastrophic event.
Now let’s delve into Plato and whether he wrote about the apocalypse that refers to the events of Atlantis .
Plato was known as one of the most prolific Athenian philosophers of his time. Educated in both philosophy and poetry he followed the teaching of Socrates . He even founded his own school in the year 387.
He wrote a lot of literature called Dialogues . He wrote 36 to be exact. But it is said that his later dialogues are not in fact dialogues but explorations of different topics. We can assume at this point and time Plato decided to write fiction ? And venture into the area of post-apocalyptic writing?
WHAT YEAR DID HE WRITE ABOUT ATLANTIS?
He first wrote about Atlantis around the year 350 . So this is way before he founded his school. He wrote two dialogues about Atlantis entitled the Dialogues of Timaeus and Critias. He incorporates the myth of Atlantis with Greek gods .
*(Lets keep note of these 2 things)
Today writings about Greek gods would be considered fantasy fiction.
But in Plato’s day they were simply factual historical writings.
WHAT DOES HE WRITE ABOUT ATLANTIS ?
PLATO WRITES IN HIS DIALOGUE that Atlantis was an island founded by Poseidon and Cleito who divided into 10 sections or kingdoms and gave each section to have it ruled over by their children . There were abundant natural resources for the people of Atlantis to build their homes and live off of. It was literally a continent filled by mountains, sea, wealthy villages and meadows . Basically abundance all around .
He also describes how Atlantis was shaped and how long it took for the creation of Atlantis and how it began to flourish. But there were also laws the people had to abide by that were inscribed on the temples of the town and villages
These laws were as follows:
- They were not to take up arms against one another.
- They were all to come to the rescue if anyone in any of their cities attempted to overthrow the royal house;
- like their ancestors, they were to deliberate in common about war and other matters, giving the supremacy to the descendants of Atlas.
- And the king was not to have the power of life and death over any of his kinsmen unless he had the assent of the majority of all the ten kingdoms of Atlantis.
HOW DID THE DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS OCCUR?
So Plato also writes that the people abided by the laws for many generations and they wanted for nothing . Neither gold or money or other possessions. However somewhere along the way they changed and I guess humanity got the better of them and he describes in Crtias that Zeus came along and saw the people weren’t listening and made some kind of speech.
Plato wrote about what Zeus had said but the writings of what he said is apparently lost.
But if you take a look at the dialogues of Timaeus(25d) The destruction of Atlantis happened practically overnight. First there were violent earthquakes and floods. Then the people of the city simply disappeared into the earth and the city sank into the sea. Finally mud swept over the city making the waters unpassable as they were too shallow.
Plato writes in Critias (110d) Even though Atlantis was in fact destroyed there were still asteroids/comets that collided with the earth causing fire, thunder, earthquakes and floods after Atlantis destruction. There were survivors. Mountain people who knew the names of the people of Atlantis. However, they did not know many details of them or their virtues. But Despite this fact the people of the mountains survived and thrived .
SO DID PLATO ACTUALLY WRITE A UTOPIAN/DYSTOPIAN APOCALYPTIC DIALOGUE OR WAS IT FACT?
On the site LIBGUIDES Plato’s works are classified as a utopian and dystopian and he is labeled as one .
Plato himself got the mention of Atlantis from an Athenian statesman named Solon who ventured to Egypt and got the story from there . Solon was said to be the first to write a poem about Atlantis but then this is disputed and it is claimed that Plato is the originator of the Atlantis tale.
Well there are arguments and debates today whether Plato’s Dialogues about Atlantis were real or not. Some feel like The Atlantis story is clearly a parable of maybe an ideal city or society . A fiction based on some ancient political realities.
Some also think that his tale of Atlantis is about the explosive disappearance of an island might have been a reference to the eruption of Minoan Santorini. And also that Atlantis as a tale should be considered a myth.
There are many writers right after Plato who takes his work and turns the tale of Atlantis into a poem and other works of fiction
In 1627 Francis Bacon’s writes New Atlantis which is based off of Plato’s two Dialogues. This is the first instance where you can see a classification of where the Atlantis tale /myth falls into place. Francis work is thus considered a Utopian work in that time period .
WHAT IS UTOPIAN & DYSTOPIAN FICTION AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE APOCALYPSE FICTION ?
Utopian fiction is fiction that tells stories about perfect societies.
Dystopian fiction is the opposite. An imperfect or undesirable society.
Sometimes a written society can be ideal or horrific depending on how you go about writing it and this is the very reason why dystopian and utopian fiction is sometimes crossed over with post-apocalyptic fiction .
Moreover, utopian fiction and dystopian fiction are usually deemed as umbrella terms of post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic fiction. The only differences between the three would be the written plots.
In the case of Plato when he writes about Atlantis and finally its destruction
He goes from ideal society(utopian)
To a society that’s ravaged by both political, spiritual , moral upheaval. Simply put the downfall of Atlantis humanity . (dystopia)
He literally writes about it all and what happened after the destruction. Where did the people go ? How did they respond to the devastation of Atlantis? How did they rebuild? (post -apocalypse).
So to answer the question from my own observance and research
Was Plato a post-apocalyptic fiction writer? Yes. And also a fantasy writer? Yes
But that is only if you don’t consider his writings of Atlantis to be historical fact.
Remember I told you back then when the ancient philosophers wrote about the Gods they wrote them as being historical writings. So you decide.
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Do you think Plato’s writings about Atlantis were fact or fiction?
I want to know so let me know in the comments below.
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