Monday, 23 April 2018

Plato's Critias: An Aspect

I have been briefly digging back into Plato. The Timaeus and the Critias are those dialogue where we first have a mention of Atlantis, for those who are interested (there's a lot more to it, naturally, but Atlantis is there).

Put out of your mind the ocean, the bridges, the viaducts, the canals, the sunken land. Consider in isolation the following:

There were bulls who had the range of the temple of Poseidon; and the ten kings, being left alone in the temple, after they had offered prayers to the god that they might secure a sacrifice which was acceptable to him, hunted the bulls, with clubs and nooses but no metal weapon; and the bull which they caught they led up to the pillar and cut its throat* over the top of it so that the blood over the inscription. Now on the pillar, besides the laws, there was inscribed an oath invoking mighty curses on the disobedient. When therefore, after slaying the bull in the accustomed manner, they had burnt its limbs, they filled a bowl of wine and cast in a clot of blood for each of them; the rest of the victim they put in the fire, after having purified the column all round. Then they drew from the bowl in golden cups and pouring a libation on the fire, they swore that they would judge according to the laws on the pillar, and would punish him who in any point had already transgressed them, and that for the future they would not, if they could help, offend against the writing on the pillar, and would neither command others, nor obey any ruler who commanded them, to act otherwise than according to the laws of their father Poseidon. This was the prayer which each of them-offered up for himself and for his descendants, at the same time drinking and dedicating the cup out of which he drank in the temple of the god; and after they had supped and satisfied their needs, when darkness came on, and the fire about the sacrifice was cool, all of them put on most beautiful blue robes, and, sitting on the ground, at night, over the embers of the sacrifices by which they had sworn, and extinguishing all the fire about the temple, they received and gave judgment, if any of them had an accusation to bring against any one; and when they given judgment, at daybreak they wrote down their sentences on a golden tablet, and dedicated it together with their robes to be a memorial.

[Translation from Wikisource/Desmond Lee in the Penguin Classics edition]

(*I can only imagine with a knife of hard wood or stone or bone.)

There is an almost Mesopotamian air about this: the violence of the hunt, the robes, the inscriptions. Part of me almost wishes them to don the blue robes in the sacrifice, so that memorials are of robes stained with blood and ash. The whole thing has the air of ritual and magic, with the primality of animal sacrifice and the antiquity of wooden weapons. If you were to tell me the barbarians of the Chaos Wastes got up to this sort of thing on high days and holidays, it would not surprise me. For Plato, it is so unexpectedly...metal (if you will).

No wider point here, even if I might use this in something sometime. Just thought I'd share it.

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