This is probably, to modern readers, the most bizarre, difficult and unusual of Plato's dialogues although it's scarcely a dialogue.
The fact that its ancient audience thought it his most important underlines the way expectations of what the work of a philosopher entails have changed, and is something to bear in mind and be wary of as we approach the interpretation of his other work. Timaeus is a reminder that however much we think we understand Plato when he discusses topics like morality and justice, the nature of knowledge, education, what love is, and others which continue to challenge human ingenuity and wit, he not only speaks a different language but uses it to construct a world that is at times completely alien to our own.
For although there are times when he asks the same questions we might, there are others when he asks questions, to which he expects answers, neith Timaeus is a reminder that however much we think we understand Plato when he discusses topics like morality and justice, the nature of knowledge, education, what love is, and others which continue to challenge human ingenuity and wit, he not only speaks a different language but uses it to construct a world that is at times completely alien to our own.
For although there are times when he asks the same questions we might, there are others when he asks questions, to which he expects answers, neither of which we can begin to comprehend.
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So it is with Timaeus , Plato's teleological account of the origins and nature of the universe. A rare work which is mostly a monologue spoken by the eponymous Timaeus, it is a mixture of the charming, bizarre, absurd, and incredible. And I mean incredible in the true sense, that modern readers will scarcely believe it.
What else to make of a work in which the claim is made that the reason humans have bodies is so that their heads will not roll around on the ground "without the ability to climb over the various rises and out of the various dips" it encounters as it moves There is much more in this vein, for example the extended discussions about what kinds of triangles the basic elements water, fire, air, and earth are made of, how they combine with each other and in which proportions to make all the matter in the universe, and so forth.
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Plato even finds himself into what I can only see as a logical contradiction or two. He reiterates this near the end when he has Timaeus state that "[s]ome men, once they had been incarnated, lived unmanly or immoral lives, and it's plausible to suggest that they were reborn in their next incarnation as women. That, therefore, was when the gods invented sexual desire" The logical flaw, even fallacy, in this account is how reincarnation is possible without the existence of women in the first place. How can anyone be reborn if they can't be born?
The first humans are all men, and they are created in a perfect, ideal condition. If they live poor lives, they come back as women. And if it's only after women enter the world that sexual desire enters it, then those good men who were still living good lives no longer do if they succumb to their baser instincts.
Unless, of course, some bad men do come back as men. The first humans are created by the gods. For Plato's account to work, some of the next humans must be, too. Even Plato nods, then. Yet despite the weird and bizarre elements of Timaeus , it has other aspects which make it a key text of the Platonic corpus, and which put it squarely in line with Plato's philosophy.
He rejects, as he always does, the traditional account of the Greek gods, substituting for it his notion of the demiurge, a creator god who shapes the universe. Unlike the Olympians, this god is good, free of jealousy or other bad traits. As he is good, so too is his creation. According to Timaeus, the "maker.
The universe is good and intelligible leaving aside the fact that from our perspective Plato's cosmology is nonsensical. So too, therefore, is man's place in it. As elsewhere in Plato's writings, man can choose between his divine and grosser qualities.
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Like the universe, man is a mixture of the higher and lower. If he chooses the lower, it is no fault of the god. He has made humans so they can live a good or bad life, and this "freed him of responsibility for any wickedness any of them might subsequently perform" and get them turned into women But the demiurge has given man the means to succeed and remain in that ideal initial state in which he was created.
The head, which looks to the divine, has been placed above and away from the body, which houses our baser, material features. The soul itself is made of divine stuff, and it "raises us up from the earth towards the heavenly region to which we are naturally akin, since we are not soil-bound plants but, properly speaking, creatures rooted in heaven" Thus we have within us all we need to realize the heavenly aspects of our nature. He achieves the full measure of immortality that is possible for a human being, and because he always takes care of the divine part of himself. For all its quirks, Timaeus is an important work for several reasons.
It is the first sustained teleological account of the universe. It is Plato's version of the origins and nature of the universe and natural phenomena. It elaborates several key Platonic themes. And, last but not least, Timaeus and its companion Critias are the sources of the Atlantis myth. There are no earlier references to Atlantis. It is mentioned in passing in Timaeus ; it was supposed to be the subject of Critias , but Plato never finished that work.
Yet for all the minuscule space it occupies in Plato's thought - and because he never finished Critias we don't know what he intended to do with it - the Atlantis myth has exercised an overwhelming, even disproportionate, fascination on the Western imagination. And because Plato invented it, it is that rare example of a historical myth, that is one whose origins belong to the historical record.
That record has been bent and shaped - distorted - in countless ways since then, with results that might be best characterized as being just as absurd and ludicrous as Plato's story of the origins of the universe. Saturday, September 1, It's very interesting to know how in the ancien grece, philosophe saw the world, God, the human nature So Yes, I believe in Zeus! Sep 12, Chris Linehan rated it it was ok Shelves: This is easily my least favorite dialogue.
I struggled through Timaeus and his odd ramblings about the geometry of the physical makeup of the universe and everything in it. I like my Plato otherworldly, thank you very much. Critias and the description of Atlantis was where it was starting to get good. I just want to thank Andrew Gregory for their notes in helping understand this book. Odd ramblings on cosmology and physics. Interesting in a certain way, but not a particularly easy read. Timaeus describes his cosmology to Socrates who indicates that he is in agreement with what Timaeus puts forward.
Within that realm is a supreme intelligence god that operates by divine reason and creates the world of necessity, which is our world of physical laws and animal appetite. God, Timaeus says, wants humans to be perfect as well but the soul struggles with the body. When reason leads us to the divine realm, Timaeus describes his cosmology to Socrates who indicates that he is in agreement with what Timaeus puts forward.
When reason leads us to the divine realm, mind directs the body and governs it in ways that are best. Timaeus describes the four elements and their location and function within the body and their relation to reason. This goes on for pages. In this dialogue, it is interesting to note the similarities to the eventual Christian monotheism and Genesis, and the possible connections to Vedic oneness and perfection, the existence of the divine spark within, and to karma and rebirth.
We also see the debasement of the body a mere vehicle for the divine spirit and of all life other than human. In the short Critias dialogue, Atlantis is an example of a city whose appetitive soul prevailed over reason. And, in Old Testament-like fashion, Atlantis incurred the wrath of God who, in the dispensation of divine justice, destroyed the city and its inhabitants are to be reborn perhaps in lower, animal form.
Some refer to the Timaeus as a myth. But, even if it not true in whole or in part, myth conveys some sort of truth, in broad outline if not in detail. Mar 05, Aaron rated it liked it Shelves: The Timaeus is completely wrong, though at least it's wrong in an interesting way. The Critias is fascinating but too short.
Timaeus and Critias
Sep 16, Peter Crouse rated it liked it Shelves: The Timeaus contains Plato's account of creation and it introduces us to two depictions of God who would have a long life ahead of them: God the divine architect and God the divine Geometer. Out of the sheer Goodness of his nature this Creator-God brings order and reason to a formless and chaotic universe by subordinating it to proportion and harmony, in imitation of the Intelligent first principles.
The soul is created as the vehicle through which these principles are transmitted through the wh The Timeaus contains Plato's account of creation and it introduces us to two depictions of God who would have a long life ahead of them: The soul is created as the vehicle through which these principles are transmitted through the whole of creation, and the work progresses from describing the act of creation to a description of the working of the material world Necessity and ends by expounding the nature of man. Man is the microcosm of creation; the order we see in him is a reflection of the order in the visible universe and beyond that, of the divine Intellect.
The main thing to point out here is that God is envisioned as the means through which the timeless world of the Forms comes to be reflected in the world of process and change, forever "arising and passing away". He is the source of creation in the sense of it being his act, not in the sense of it being his emanation.
Prefiguring Aristotle, the material world is described as resulting from the marriage of the eternal Forms with the "receptacle of generation" IE. The Creator-God is merely the one who brings this marriage to fruition. Despite the richness of its ideas, the Timeaus is not an easy tractate to read I hesitate to call it a dialogue as there's really only one speaker. It lacks the drama of Plato's early works and the vast majority of it is filled with dry explanations of the physics of the universe: To the modern reader these details are of little to no value. It is however not completely without eloquence as in the depiction of Time as the "moving image of Eternity" and it certainly doesn't lack internal consistancy.
Indeed, I was stuck by how believable it could be, especially to the medieval mind. The Critias which follows is only a few pages and likewise of little value. It's aim is to describe the conflict from years in the past between ancient-ancient Athens, which is described here as a prototype of Socrates's ideal state presented in the Republic, and the fabulously wealthy civilization of Atlantis.
The work barely gets through a description of both states however before it inexplicably cuts off. Such is the stuff that legends are made of. Aug 06, Joshua rated it it was amazing Shelves: The Timaeus is a very strange book. It attempts to explain the formation of the universe and the creation of humans.
Timaeus and Critias eBook by Plato | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
The explanations are weird and I found them somewhat disturbing. The unfinished companion piece, Critias , is the foundational text for the story of Atlantis. It tells how a model society became corrupt, and how a lost race of Athenians defeated the aggression of the invading Atlanteans. This new edition combines the clearest translation yet of these crucial ancient texts with an illuminating introduction and diagrams.
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Introduction and Analysis
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