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A strange Debate about the Authenticity of the Critias

My Arguments – and what is really behind this strange debate

Thorwald C. Franke
© 09+10 April 2020


In 2017/2019 a small debate about the authenticity of the dialogue Critias flared up. Marwan Rashed and Thomas Auffret from the Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Département de Philosophie, argue that there allegedly are discrepancies between the dialogues Timaeus and Critias which would indicate that the Critias is not from Plato. Harold Tarrant has turned against this hypothesis.


Tarrant's strange argument

Harold Tarrant argues especially with stylistic arguments, and with considerations concerning the question to which extent Plato's "secretary" Philip of Opus shared in writing Plato's late dialogues. Arguments which are more concerned with the contents of the dialogues and which are addressed directly against the arguments of Rashed/Auffret are touched rather briefly by Tarrant.

Tarrant even explicitly says that he does not want to present compelling arguments but rather food for thought. This is quite strange. Why so "soft"? And why arguments concerning the contents only as an aside? Tarrant even sides with some of the errors of Rashed and Auffret!


My arguments

Therefore, some such arguments concerning the contents of the dialogues shall be presented here. To a small extent they overlap with Tarrant's arguments.

Against the thesis that Hermocrates in the Timaeus – other than in the Critias – is not meant to hold a discourse, and that Socrates addresses the three dialogue participants only as a group and that they act as a group:

(x) In Timaeus 17ab the dialogue participant Timaeus, on the request of Socrates, promises that the part of the absent Unknown Fourth will be taken over by the remaining dialogue participants. The fact that the question who will take over the part of the absent arises – even before they talked about the distribution of roles in their counter presentation – shows that each of the dialogue participant is expected to hold a discourse. Otherwise it would not have been necessary to come up with this question who will take over the part of an absent dialogue participant.

(x) In Timaeus 19d-20a Socrates addresses each single dialogue participant that and why each of them has the capabilities to provide the wanted counter presentation. If not each of them was expected to talk, and if they had been viewed as a group, why then addressing each of them individually?

(x) In Timaeus 20cd Hermocrates takes the word once in the whole Timaeus, and he speaks so enthusiastically about the counter presentation to be given, so that you may not believe that he in truth will have nothing to say in it: "And we too, Socrates, as Timaeus says, will not be wanting in enthusiasm; and there is no excuse for not complying with your request" (Translation Benjamin Jowett).

(x) In Timaeus 26c it is said that Critias tells his material to the other two, Timaeus and Hermocrates, so that they can profit from it for their discourse. The translation of this passage is not non-ambiguous, yet actually it can only be meant in this way. Indeed, both the speeches of Timaeus and Hermocrates are connected with the speech of Critias: Timaeus' discourse prepares the field for the story of primeval Athens and Atlantis, whereas Hermocrates' discourse starts probably with the water catastrophe. At least it is reasonable to assume this, and it has already been assumed by a series of authors.

Against the thesis that the statements about poetry in the Timaeus and the Critias contradict:

(x) In Timaeus 19d, Socrates does not criticise poetry as such, and even not the poets as such, but – if read precisely – he criticises only bad poetry and the poets he got to know so far, who are "only" poets. Therefore it is not a contradiction to the Timaeus, if in Critias 108b Timaeus is called a poet. We have to consider that the words "poetry" and mythos are used by Plato also in contexts where we modern human beings rather prefer to talk of science and reason. Like already said by Karl Popper, the creation of hypotheses in modern science takes place also with the help of phantasy, in order to put the hypotheses to test, afterwards. And exactly such a scientific hypothesis is Timaeus' eikos mythos. About the usefulness of poetry as Plato saw it, cf. also the Republic II 382d. (Again we can see that a wrong understanding of mythos and poetry in Plato's works leads to errors.)

(x) Already in the dialogue Timaeus, Timaeus says that his discourse is "imitation", as does Critias in the dialogue Critias (Timaeus 29c, Critias 107b): And "Imitiation" is the very essence of poetry as expressed in Timaeus 19d. You cannot separate "imitation" as Plato saw it from poetry.

Against the thesis that the invokation of the Muses by Critias is a discrepancy since the discourses are held in honour of Athena:

(x) In his speech, Timaeus invokes gods in singular and plural (without mentioning any names), so why should the invokation of the Muses by Critias be a discrepancy?

(x) The discourses are held in honour of Athena, yet for their success it is not necessarily Athena who is invoked.

Against the thesis that the Critias contains a kind of Pythagorean or Neo-Platonic numerology which is not Platonic:

(x) Here, the authors follow obviously Vidal-Naquet, Brumbaugh and other scientists who want to recognize a mysterious meaning behind each and every number in the Critias. E.g. they see a series of Fives and Sixes. Yet we do not see such a series, and no such mysterious interpretations, and we do not at all share the opinion of Vidal-Naquet and others.

(x) In the Timaeus, too, some "number games" are contained. Not more not less can be expected and indeed be found in the Critias.

Against the thesis that in the Timaeus no written tradition from Solon is mentioned:

(x) This is not correct. Tulli (2013) S. 270 ff. has correctly said that there is implicit talk of a written tradition from Solon in the Timaeus.

Against the thesis that in the Critias Zeus is depicted in an unplatonic way:

(x) This is not at all the case. Zeus in the Critias is very Platonic, a god of laws. Rather that there are discrepancies concerning Poseidon, yet not more about this here.

Against the thesis that the competition in discourse would not be a common discourse any more:

(x) There is no contradiction between the discourses to be a common cause and the competition in holding the discourses. The competition concerns the holding of the discourse itself and is to be viewed as a matter of sportsmanship "spicing" the counter presentation. The common cause concerns rather the interconnected contents of the discourses.

Against the thesis that Critias is a moron (what then allegedly is true also for the author of the Critias):

(x) This argument is initally connected with passages in the Timaeus where Critias says that Socrates did not mismatch primeval Athens with his ideal state (Timaios 25e). Rashed and Auffret also argue with positive statements of Critias in Critias 21b-d about Solon's poetry. But in the eyes of Plato you surely are not a moron if you cherish Solon's poetry.

(x) The interpretation of Critias as an unphilosophical moron is closely connected with the expectation that primeval Athens and Atlantis are Plato's inventions. The corresponding statements are translated as if they expressed perfection and completeness. This makes Critias look like a moron. But when having a closer look this turns out to be wrong. More on this at another place.

No basis for the claim made:

Yes, granted, it seems a bit strange that in Timaeus 27ab there is talk only of Timaeus and Critias as speakers, but not of Hermocrates. This passage is the starting point for the argument of Rashed and Auffret. But as the discourse of the Unknown Fourth is contained in the discourse of Timaeus (what has to be demonstrated at another place) without being mentioned, as well the discourse of Hermocrates could be viewed as a kind of "lessons learned" of the previous dialogue of Critias who did the main work, whereas Hermocrates rather provides a kind of "appendix" and is therefore not mentioned, but only the two main speakers. Who knows. There are many possibilities.

This passage alone does not suffice to conclude that the dialogue Critias is not from Plato. And various smaller discrepancies are not completely unusual in Plato's dialogues as Tarrant shows.


What is behind this debate

The harmfulness of the Atlantis invention hypothesis

The erroneous work of Rashed and Auffret shows once again how harmful the invention hypothesis has become in the meantime: Because Rashed and Auffret build upon a series of errors which have been brought up by the invention hypothesis. Therefore, they consequently find themselves confused in a Gordian Knot of contradictory errors which they believe to be able to resolve only by declaring the Critias to be a non-Platonic text. They believe e.g.

It is absolutely understandable that Rashed and Auffret come to wrong conclusions when consequently building upon the errors of their preceding generation. Once again we see that the invention hypothesis leads to nowhere if consequently thought through to its end. Let us give a citation where it becomes quite clear how Rashed and Auffret are trapped in the consequences of the assumptions of the invention hypothesis and how they then see themselves forced into consequences no one thought about when declaring Atlantis an invention by Plato:

"Consequently it seems to us impossible to defend a reading of the Critias that purports to find anything at all genuinely Platonic in the Atlantis account. To paint such a portrait of Critias as a grandiloquent speechifier, impervious to the spirit of Socrates and the values he stood for, is to destroy him as a philosopher. If Plato is the author of the Critias, the only viable exegetic option is Welliver’s: Plato wrote the Critias as an anti-Timaeus; it is a tissue of fictional twaddle fabricated to enhance by contrast the philosophic treatment of the world."

And of course we find once again Vidal-Naquet's "perverse" Plato:

"It is totally beyond belief that Plato should write the whole of the Critias in order to set before us something deliberately designed as inferior to the Timaeus; that is the mark not just of a wily turn of mind – such as Plato does perhaps sometimes display –, but of a mind that is frankly perverse."

We only have to look at the chosen words. Obviously the two authors are so much conditioned by the currently prevailing invention hypothesis and its harmful developments that they do not perceive the sad irony in their own words. These are the bitter fruits of the invention hypothesis.

Conclusion: Why Tarrant's argument is so strange

Maybe it is this Gordian Knot which made Harold Tarrant rather avoid arguments more concerned with the contents and direct contradiction? Because to contradict Rashed and Auffret means to contradict many errors which have come up with the development of the invention hypothesis and are widespread today? Because the consequences of the invention hypothesis as presented by Rashed and Auffret are unpleasant to Tarrant but he knows no escape?

By attributing some of the alleged discrepancies between the Timaeus and the Critias to Philip of Opus and not to Plato, Harold Tarrant almost confirms Rashed and Auffret! And this is just another dangerous development of the invention hypothesis. What comes next? The hypothesis that the beginning of the Timaeus is not Platonic?! The consequences of the erroneous invention hypothesis have the potential to damage all of Plato research heavily – and thus to damage our culture of humanism and rationalism.


PS: Other review comments

In June 2018 Carol Atack commented on Rashed's and Auffret's article in her book review of the revised edition of Christopher Gill's Atlantis book from 2017. In connection with Gill's thoughts about alleged discrepancies between the Timaeus and the Critias she writes briefly that given the peculiarities of the Critias their article deserves consideration.

In December 2018, Jean-François Pradeau added some brief comments on Rashed's and Auffret's article in his book review of the revised edition of Christopher Gill's Atlantis book from 2017. Like Tarrant, he rejects their conclusion, yet he does not argue directly against their arguments but rather accepts the idea of conspicuous discrepancies between the Timaeus and the Critias.


Literature

Atack (2018): Carol Atack, Review of: Christopher Gill, Plato’s Atlantis Story – Text, translation and Commentary, 2017, in: Bryn Mawr Classical Review BMCR No. 2018.06.40.

Pradeau (2018): Jean-François Pradeau, Review of: Christopher Gill, Plato’s Atlantis Story – Text, translation and Commentary, 2017, in: Études platoniciennes No. 14 (online 19 December 2018); no page numbers.

Rashed / Auffret (2017): Marwan Rashed / Thomas Auffret, On the Inauthenticity of the Critias, in: Phronesis Vol. 62 No. 3 (online 06 Jun 2017); pp. 237-254.

Rudberg (1917/2012): Gunnar Rudberg, Atlantis och Syrakusai – En Studie till Platons Senare Politiska Skrifter, in: Eranos No. 17 / 1917; pp. 1-80 with map. English first publication: Atlantis and Syracuse – Did Plato's experiences on Sicily inspire the legend?, edited by Thorwald C. Franke, translated by Cecelia Murphy, published by BoD, Norderstedt 2012.

Tarrant (2019): Harold Tarrant, On Hastily Declaring Platonic Dialogues Spurious: the Case of Critias, in: Methexis Vol. 31 No. 1 (online 12 Apr 2019); pp. 47-66.

Tulli (2013): Mauro Tulli, The Atlantis poem in the Timaeus-Critias, in: George Boys-Stones / Dimitri El Murr / Christopher Gill (Hrsg.), The Platonic Art of Philosophy, Festschrift für Christopher Rowe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2013; pp. 269-282.

Note: Harold Tarrant has unfortunately not touched upon stylistic similarities between the Critias and the Laws, as detected e.g. by Gunnar Rudberg. Therefore we mention Rudberg here.



Thanks to Oliver D. Smith
who had drawn my attention to this debate.


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