This recently discovered fragment purports to be a selection from Plato’s dialogue Hermocrates, once thought by scholars never to have been written. It constitutes the third part a trilogy, following the Timæus and the Critias, all three describing the movements of a conversation that took place the day after that represented in the Republic. The first two dialogues give a mythological account of Atlantis as a small part of their content; in this, a new interlocutor named Cassander, who claims to have lived in Atlantis for some years, corrects and expands the accounts of it given by Timæus and Critias. I have made my translation available to Mr Blanchard for use on his blog, as I feel sure that his readers will feel a lively interest in the topic.
—N. W. Clerk, PhD. Prohib. Mss., Miskatonic University
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[Cassander?] is hardly to do it justice. Libya and Asia are dwarfed by its magnitude, and all Hellas, Egypt, and Syria together would form no more than a prefecture of its empire.
Socrates. By the dog, a gigantic realm! But tell me, in what respect was our friend Critias’ account unworthy? For if we speak only of scale, then his tale of Atlantis was not false, but at most incomplete—and it has already been said that, in this world of becoming, no account can be better than likely.
Cas. This is true. But I am able to furnish you with a likelier account. I myself have just returned from a long sojourn living in Atlantis as a metic (for there are many metics living there, and in fact nearly all the citizenry are of metic ancestry, at lesser or greater removes). This is why, as our host said earlier, I had felt ill; the voyage back taxed me sorely, eager though I was to see Athens again. But to speak of the Atlanteans, they use customs far stranger than any you have ever heard of, stranger than the Amazons or the Scythians or the Hyperboreans. For they govern their empire in this way, as if it were all a single polis, though three satrapies of the Persians would scarcely equal the least of its provinces. They call themselves a democracy, yet they do not resemble the Athenians: they choose no official by lot, instead preferring to elect every official from the king downwards, save certain of their magistrates whom the king appoints, with the consent of one of their Areopagi.
Critias. Which member of the Areopagus do they select to confirm the king’s appointments?
Cas. You misunderstand me, good Critias. I mean that they have two Areopagi.
Cri. For what purpose?
Cas. In order to make their government operate more slowly. For there is nothing the Atlanteans hate and fear so much as powerful and effective rulership; each man treasures his power to govern his own affairs, and treats the polis as what they call a ‘necessary evil.’ Their greatest goddess is Eleutheria; they have a statue of her in verdigris in the greatest harbor of the continent, as large as the Colossus of Rhodes. And so, to please the goddess whom they keep so devoutly in their hearts, each Areopagus is tasked to obstruct the other when it can, and both to obstruct the king, and the king the elders of the Areopagi, and the magistrates to obstruct them all together.
Soc. How strange. The Atlanteans, then, must be a very free, happy, and virtuous people, if their rulers are chiefly occupied in dealings with one another, and the citizenry are competent to govern their own affairs.
Cas. No, by Apollo, Socrates! For though they choose their kings and the elders of the Areopagi, each of them (the kings most of all) are limited to brief reigns—no king may rule more than eight years. For every four years a new king is chosen, and the preceding two years are so filled with argument, uncertainty, outrage, and scandal, that the people have scarcely the will to eat. And though they profess their polis to be woefully in debt, not only to allies but even to enemies, they regularly spend thousands of thousands of drachmæ in funding these two years of public anxiety
Soc. But if the people choose their kings and their elders, and by election rather than by lot, why do they insist on choosing new ones so often and laboriously, and endure such vexing incessantly?
Cas. They say that it is to prevent the monarchy from becoming a tyranny. For if the king must abdicate at the end of eight years, he can never become a tyrant; so say the Atlanteans. And a tyranny, even if it pleased them all (which would be impossible!), would be displeasing to Eleutheria.
Cri. And to what term of service are the magistrates limited?
Cas. Oh, the magistrates are appointed to serve for life. They are chosen, as has been said, by the king, so that his influence may far outlast his reign. This prevents instability and abrupt changes in the laws, the Atlanteans aver, which would of course displease Eleutheria.
Soc. And what pleases Eleutheria?
Cas. Principally, I judge, the burning of a certain powder from Cathay, which produces thunderings of monstrous size and brightness; on certain festivals, clumps of this powder are launched high into the air and set alight by cunning art, while the populace eat roasted meats and drink and make merry. But I was speaking of the kings and elders. These are selected only from among the wealthy, due to the prohibitive expense of the elections, of which I have spoken; yet the Atlanteans speak very ill of oligarchies, and at times wage war against foreign oligarchies for no other reason than that they do not govern themselves in the Atlantean fashion. Now, the kings and the elders have each such a host of attendants that any one of them, with his retinue, could constitute a whole polis. And these attendants, at the will of the Areopagi, craft and enforce such a multitude of laws as no mortal could ever read in his lifetime, let alone keep; moreover these are written in an arcane language, known only to the attendants and to the scholars of oratory and law, so that there is a whole class of orators whose livelihood consists in nothing but translating the tongue of the attendants into the vernacular, for the benefit of the citizens and metics who must deal with the laws. And the attendants meddle in all affairs, great and small, and they watch the private affairs of both citizens and metics, and record everything that people do, in order that it may be used against them later. Thus there is chaos throughout Atlantis, since no citizen can help but be a criminal in one way or another, and the laws are brought into disrepute; and in every lawful affair there is a multitude of scrolls that every citizen must read and write in (for there is an overwhelming abundance of papyrus in that land), and the smallest errors are revenged. So Atlantis is full of weariness and impotent wrath.
Soc. What curious behavior, for such sincere devotees of the goddess! Does this too please her?
Cas. Not in the least; so say all the Atlanteans.
Soc. Why then, Cassander, should they not depose the kings and elders of the Areopagi, and choose new ones, who will show proper piety to the goddess and rule the people with justice and temperance?
Cas. The people cannot depose the kings or the elders. They may say whatever they please at any time, having no laws against blasphemy or slander or any other such thing; but, as if in compensation, the most they can do to punish a king or elder who acts unjustly is refuse to elect him again. And this they rarely do: for the souls of the Atlanteans are filled with loathing of the elections, on account of their unreasonable multitude, and prefer to think on them as little as possible, so that the simplest course is to retain every ruler in his post as long as they lawfully may.
Cri. What benefit do they obtain, then, Cassander, from their piety to their goddess? For it seems that she gives them neither liberty nor hierarchy, nor leisure nor profit, nor deliverance from the yoke of their oppressor.
Cas. That I cannot answer.
Soc. Oh come now, is it not said that the Atlantean empire is the greatest realm on the face of the earth? Shall we dissent from the common verdict of mankind? And surely this greatness must be the gift of Eleutheria to her faithful people.
Cas. Many men do speak that way about Atlantis, Socrates. And I can tell you that the Atlanteans maintain that their ancestors did not live as they do now; but among them there is a division on this account. For the one part of the people bemoan the fact that the Atlanteans are oppressed by the rulers that they choose for themselves, and that they impiously forsake the customs of their fathers, especially by neglecting the cults of two lesser deities, servants of Eleutheria, whom they call Jesus (a name drawn from a barbarous tongue neither Greek nor Atlantean) and simply ‘the God,’ who are Heracles and Zeus. But the other part of the people rejoice that Atlantis and its customs have changed, saying that the old ways were oppressive to the metics and displeasing to Eleutheria; and these principally honor Aphrodite, calling her the true form of Eleutheria, and denouncing the priests of Zeus, though they dare not speak against Heracles. And so there is still more strife in Atlantis, between those who would revert to the old customs to honor Eleutheria, and those who would introduce still newer ones for the same purpose. And they are wont to explain to those who question them that this division is itself a manifestation of the goddess.
Soc. So then, they enjoy the presence of Eleutheria in every circumstance, and are suffused with her divine favor no matter what. This is [ms. breaks off]
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