yesterday when I saw that you wanted me to describe the formation
of the State, I readily assented, being very well aware, that, if
you only would, none were better qualified to carry the
discussion further, and that when you had engaged our city in a
suitable war, you of all men living could best exhibit her
playing a fitting part. When I had completed my task, I in return
imposed this other task upon you. You conferred together and
agreed to entertain me to-day, as I had entertained you, with a
feast of discourse. Here am I in festive array, and no man can be
more ready for the promised banquet.
[Hermocrates] And we too, Socrates, as Timaeus says, will not
be wanting in enthusiasm; and there is no excuse for not
complying with your request. As soon as we arrived yesterday at
the guest-chamber of Critias, with whom we are staying, or rather
on our way thither, we talked the matter over, and he told us an
ancient tradition, which I wish, Critias, that you would repeat
to Socrates, so that he may help us to judge whether it will
satisfy his requirements or not.
[Crit.] I will, if Timaeus, who is our other partner, approves.
[Tim.] I quite approve.
[Crit.] Then listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though
strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who
was the wisest of the seven sages. He was a relative and a dear
friend of my great-grandfather, Dropides, as he himself says in
many passages of his poems; and he told the story to Critias, my
grandfather, who remembered and repeated it to us. There were of
old, he said, great and marvellous actions of the Athenian city,
which have passed into oblivion through lapse of time and the
destruction of mankind, and one in particular, greater than all
the rest. This we will now rehearse. It will be a fitting
monument of our gratitude to you, and a hymn of praise true and
worthy of the goddess, on this her day of festival.
[Soc.] Very good. And what is this ancient famous action of
the Athenians, which Critias declared, on the authority of Solon,
to be not a mere legend, but an actual fact?
[Crit.] I will tell an old-world story which I heard from an
aged man; for Critias, at the time of telling it, was as he said,
nearly ninety years of age, and I was about ten. Now the day was
that day of the Apaturia which is called the Registration of
Youth, at which, according to custom, our parents gave prizes for
recitations, and the poems of several poets were recited by us
boys, and many of us sang the poems of Solon, which at that time
had not gone out of fashion. One of our tribe, either because he
thought so or to please Critias, said that in his judgment Solon
was not only the wisest of men, but also the noblest of poets.
The old man, as I very well remember, brightened up at hearing
this and said, smiling: Yes, Amynander, if Solon had only, like
other poets, made poetry the business of his life, and had
completed the tale which he brought with him from Egypt, and had
not been compelled, by reason of the factions and troubles which
he found stirring in his own country when he came home, to attend
to other matters, in my opinion he would have been as famous as
Homer or Hesiod, or any poet.
And what was the tale about, Critias? said Amynander.
About the greatest action which the Athenians ever did, and
which ought to have been the most famous, but, through the lapse
of time and the destruction of the actors, it has not come down
Tell us, said the other, the whole story, and how and from
whom Solon heard this veritable tradition.
He replied:-In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the
river Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called
the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also
called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis came. The
citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the
Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same
whom the Hellenes call Athene; they are great lovers of the
Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them. To
this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour;
he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about
antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other
Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On
one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he
began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the
world-about Phoroneus, who is called "the first man,"
and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of
Deucalion and Pyrrha; and he traced the genealogy of their
descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how
many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened.
Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said:
O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and
there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what
he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all
young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient
tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will
tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many
destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest
have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and
other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story,
which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the
son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot,
because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father,
burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed
by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really
signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens
around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the
earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who
live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more
liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the
seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing
saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the
gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in
your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the
mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by
the rivers into the sea.