On the Inauthenticity of the Critias

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In this paper, we highlight a number of difficulties concerning the relationship between the Critias and the Timaeus, notably a contradiction between Timaeus 27a-b and Critias 108a-c. On this basis we argue that the Critias must be considered spurious.


A Journal for Ancient Philosophy



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WelliverW., Character, Plot and Thought in Plato’s Timaeus-Critias, (Leiden 1977).


Socher 1820, 369-71, judges the content, in his view too material and sensual, to be inconsistent with Plato in both form and substance. Suckow 1855, 158-60, relies on the fact that Crantor, quoted by Proclus, In Tim. i. 75.30-76.10 Diehl (= FGrHist 665 F31), when he speaks of Atlantis, seems to refer exclusively to the Timaeus. Rivaud 1925, 231, and Nesselrath 2006, 69 n. 67 have no great difficulty in refuting arguments like these. The arguments advanced much more recently by Tejera 1996 (repeated in Tejera 1997, 1998, 1999) based on supposed incongruities of content, which lead him to extend his condemnation to the prologue of the Timaeus, are scarcely any better. Cf. Nesselrath 2006, 70 n. 67.


Thus, Rivaud 1925, 232, although believing in the authenticity of the dialogue, was unable to pass over in silence a certain number of discrepancies between the Timaeus and the Critias, which he described as ‘slight differences’: ‘In the Timaeus Athena reigns alone in Athens; in the Critias, as in the Menexenus, she shares her rule with Hephaestus. In the Timaeus, Athens’ primitive institutions are the models for those of Egypt; in the Critias there is no longer any question of such a relationship. In the Critias, as in the Republic, mention is made of women’s particular employments in war, whereas the Timaeus had merely alluded to them without going into detail. But these divergences are small and it is superfluous to dwell on them.’ See also Rivaud 1925, 263 n. 1 on the subject of Solon’s Egyptian manuscripts (113a-b), of which there is no trace in Timaeus 26b-c, where Critias speaks in terms that imply a purely oral tradition.


Munk 1857, 264 already pointed this out: ‘Hieraus ist deutlich, daß dem Hermokrates keine besondere Rolle zugedacht war, und daß Platon nicht eine Tetralogie, wie Schleiermacher meint, sondern eine Trilogie zu schreiben sich vorgenommen hatte’ (‘It is clear from this that no special role was earmarked for Hermocrates and that Plato intended to write not a tetralogy, as Schleiermacher thinks [viz. Republic, Timaeus, Critias, Hermocrates] but a trilogy [viz. Republic, Timaeus, Critias]’). We should also note that Proclus, in commenting on these lines of the Timaeus (27a-b) raises the question of the problematic role allocated to Hermocrates from this point on in the banquet of discourse: for in the programme as announced there is literally nothing left for Hermocrates to say (In Tim. i. 199.11-200.3 Diehl). Proclus’ quite arbitrary solution is to assign to Critias the job of recounting the deeds and to Hermocrates that of reproducing the accounts of the Atlantis story. He thus contradicts his exegesis of 20a7-b1, in which he by contrast draws attention to the silence that characterises Hermocrates in his role purely as a listener (In Tim. i. 72.2-3 Diehl; cf. i. 73.25-9 Diehl).


Cf. Welliver 1977, or, more recently, Johansen 2004. All the same, we should notice that the stichometry of the Timaeus seems to point to the closure of the work in its present form: cf. Kennedy 2011, 55.


Nesselrath 2006, 82 (‘It is noteworthy that Critias’ line of argument in this section is just the opposite of that contained in Socrates’ remarks in Tim 19b-d’). This passage, as Rivaud soberly observes, ‘seems rather long and irrelevant to the subject’ (1925, 255 n. 1).


Cf. Gill 1980, 52: ‘Socrates takes up from Critias the theme that this is an oratorical competition … or a poetic competition’; for Gill these echoes are ‘an indication of Plato’s specifically literary concerns in the story’. Nesselrath 2006, 101 is less positive.


Cf. Nesselrath 2006, 103: ‘natürlich Timaios, der mit dieser Metapher sozusagen rückwirkend zum Dichter stilisiert wird’ (‘Timaeus of course, who is, metaphorically, being retrospectively characterised as a poet’). Nesselrath refers to ‘die von Sokrates soeben spielerisch geschaffene Wettkampfsituation’ (‘the competition scenario just playfully created by Socrates’).


Cf. Nesselrath 2006, 102: ‘Vor allem diese Formulierung verwandelt die drei Sprecher Timaios, Kritias, Hermocrates gleichsam in drei miteinander im Wettkampf stehende tragische Dichter … von denen die beiden zuletzt genannenten noch “auftreten” müssen’ (‘Above all this way of putting it transforms the three speakers, Timaeus, Critias and Hermocrates as it were into three tragic poets in competition with one another … of whom the two last-named are yet to “make their appearances on the stage” ’).


Cf. Welliver 1977, 44: ‘We can now see the full irony of Critias’ falling silent just as he describes the punishment of Atlantis—he is himself a true Atlantid; the wicked city and its wicked citizen are struck down together.’ Johansen 2004, 196-7, despite the fact that he criticises Welliver’s conclusion, is forced to adopt a position quite similar to Welliver’s: ‘To let Critias be the one to fail to reciprocate Socrates’ hospitality may seem a fitting expression of how Plato thought Critias in his political life had insulted the legacy of Socrates’ conversations. Alternatively, the incompleteness of Critias’ speech may reflect more generally on the difficulty of describing the actions of ideal citizens for any of us who, like Critias, has grown up in a flawed society.’


Nesselrath 2006, 105: ‘Hermocrates joins in the conversation without having been directly invited to do so by Socrates; it is, though, through the explicit mention of his name in 108a6 that attention is drawn to him for first time in this dialogue and an opportunity thereby created, after a very long interval (Tim. 20c—Crit. 108a), to refer to him as an additional speaker (after 108a5-b3, the second unequivocal indication that Plato did not carry through to completion the idea set in train with the Timaeus, of a series of three connected dialogues, each comprising a long account). However, there is also no mention yet here of what Hermocrates is actually supposed to talk about, so that we must assume that up to this point Plato had either no thoughts on the matter at all, or at least did not yet wish to betray them.’


Here, curiously, Nesselrath joins Tejera 1996, 31, who writes: ‘this move is calculated to bring Hermocrates into the loop of the Timaeus-Kritias-Hermocrates triad which was then in gestation.’


Cf. Nesselrath 2006, 101: ‘Mit diesem Hinweis verwandelt Sokrates—nach der “Vorarbeit” des Kritias—die Dialogsituation nun auch explizit in einem regelrechten Rede-Agon, in dem seine drei Gesprächspartner die Rolle der tragischen Dichter übernehmen, die ebenfalls jeweils zu dritt an den Dionysien um die Gunst des athenischen Theaterpublicums wetteifern’ (‘With this comment Socrates too now changes the dialogue situation—after Critias’ “groundwork”—explicitly into a full-blown verbal agon, in which his three interlocutors take on the role of the tragic poets who likewise compete for the favour of the Athenian public at the Dionysia three at a time’). One has the feeling here that Nesselrath is on the point of treating the threefold nature of the speeches as part and parcel of the general irony marking the beginning of the Critias. But he is, no doubt, quite rightly restrained by the letter of the text, and this explains why he does not cross the red line—which would in fact come down in the end to explaining the occurrence of Hermocrates’ speech as a real effect of what had been simply an ironic posture—and arrives, four pages later at the position cited above pp. 247-8.


Cf. Chroust 1965, 42-3.


Plutarch, Life of Solon 32.2; Plutarch, Non posse 1093A; De animae procreatione 1017C; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 14.46.35; Clement, Stromateis; Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, 7.14.


Cf. Welliver 1977, 58-60, Appendix B: ‘Did Plato write the Critias as a separate work?’.


The reasons advanced by Welliver 1977, 59-60 are frail: ‘The most likely motive of Plato’s successors for dividing what they may have found undivided would have been their belief that the two parts were of very unequal value,’ etc.


See for instance Brumbaugh 1954, 47-59.


On this distinction, see Delatte 1915, 139: ‘On peut dire que dans l’Antiquité [l’arithmétique] resta longtemps une pseudo-science à laquelle nous ne pouvons plus décemment donner aujourd’hui le nom d’arithmétique. Le nom d’arithmologie pourrait servir commodément à désigner ce genre de remarques sur la formation, la valeur et l’importance des dix premiers nombres, où se mêlent la saine recherche scientifique et les fantaisies de la religion et de la philosophie.’


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