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Introduction

ATLANTIS – PLATO

Alan Alford argues that in order to understand the story of Atlantis, it is vital to get inside the mind of its author, Plato. Below, in extracts from his book ‘The Atlantis Secret’, he provides a biography of Plato, explains his most fundamental ideas and hints at a spiritual secret which Plato may have encoded in his writings.

Biography
Theory of Forms
Belief in the Soul and True Philosophy
Account of Creation by the Demiourgos
Secret Code

Plato’s Biography

Born in Athens in 428 BC, Plato enjoyed an education that was afforded by an aristocratic background and, on coming of age, he began to take a profound interest in politics and philosophy. At that time, Plato had no hesitation in joining the entourage of Socrates (born 469 BC), who enjoyed a formidable reputation as a master of verbal dialectics, and whom Plato would later describe as ‘the wisest and justest man of that time’. He could never have guessed that his prestigious mentor would soon be sentenced to death by a jury of his own citizens.

In 399 BC, at the age of seventy, Socrates was arrested and put on trial in Athens. The charge against him read: ‘Socrates does wrong because he does not believe in the gods in whom the city believes, but introduces other divine powers (daimonia); he also does wrong by corrupting the young’. Despite an eloquent personal defence to these trumped-up charges, the jury pronounced Socrates guilty and sentenced him to death. After a month’s delay in prison, the noble philosopher drank the hemlock and breathed no more.

In shock and disgust, Plato left Athens and went travelling, possibly as far afield as Egypt and Libya. In 388 BC, at the age of forty, he visited southern Italy and Sicily where he forged an important contact with the Pythagorean community. The following year, 387 BC, Plato returned to Athens and founded a new school of philosophy, the Academy, which quickly became a leading centre of Greek thought and would remain so for nearly a thousand years.

On the face of it, Plato was a prodigious writer. A modern compilation of his works (the Hackett edition, published in 1997), extends to 1,745 pages and contains no less than forty-two books, plus three additional compilations of letters, definitions and epigrams respectively, all of which were attributed to Plato in ancient times. The vast majority of these forty-two books take the form of dialogues, in which most of the conversation is directed not by Plato but by Socrates. These dialogues, in the absence of any written work by Socrates himself, provide nearly all that is known about Plato’s mysterious mentor.

Herein lies a problem for, as modern scholars are at pains to point out, it is virtually impossible to tell if a certain idea belonged to Socrates or to Plato (as the author of the dialogues). Where does Socrates’ philosophy end and Plato’s begin? Or, alternately, what overlap exists between the two mens’ ideas?

In fact, the picture is more complicated, for modern scholars recognise that many of ‘Plato’s works’ were not actually written by Plato himself, but by other Socratic and Platonic writers. In fact, of the forty-two books mentioned above, modern scholars believe that between thirteen and sixteen should be attributed to ‘the school of Plato’ rather than Plato per se. One thus has to distinguish between the ideas of Plato and the ideas of the school of Plato, and then distinguish these ideas from the ideas of Socrates himself. This would be all very well if there were a reliable method by which scholars could judge the authorship of individual books, but there is not.

My own feeling is that Plato personally authored just three books: Timaeus, Critias and Laws (the latter being unpublished at the time of his death in 347 BC). In my opinion, all of the other books, including the famous treatise Republic which acts as a direct prelude to Timaeus, Critias and Laws, were authored by other Socratic writers, with the credit later being given to Plato as the founder of the Academy for philosophical studies of this kind.

In this scenario, Republic becomes a linchpin work. This book – a ten volume exposition on a theoretical form of future government known as ‘the ideal state’ – was probably written by one or more Socratic writers (senior to Plato) based on their many years of discussions with Socrates himself (Plato, it should be emphasised, was a relatively young man, not quite thirty years of age, when Socrates died). The ideal state would thus have been Socrates’ big idea, and in time, via Republic, it would have provided the inspiration and impetus for Plato’s own writings.

Thus, in my view, Plato would have begun his writing career with the linked pair of books Timaeus and Critias in which he told the story of Athens and Atlantis in order to illustrate Socrates’ ideal state in action. Later, towards the end of his life, and after many years of failed political machinations, he would have written his final work, the twelve-volume exposition entitled Laws. In this huge book, unfinished at his death, Plato reformulated the legal improvements that had been urged by Socrates in Republic, in order to facilitate the implementation of the ideal state in the real world.

Plato’s Theory of Forms

The Theory of Forms (also known as the Theory of Ideas) was the centrepiece of Plato’s philosophy. It is essentially the belief that everything on Earth is an inferior copy of an original, supreme and heavenly master-copy. In effect, it amounts to a philosophical counterpart of the popular religious concept of the fallen paradise.

The classic example of the Theory of Forms is the concept of justice. On Earth, there is no single definition of justice, but rather a proliferation of systems which reflect differing human conceptions of what justice should be. Thus the typical Western idea of justice might differ considerably from that of the the Muslims. What then is ‘Justice’ with a capital ‘J’? Did it even exist? According to Socrates and Plato, Justice did exist, but not among the manifold copies of justice which had been invented by races of men here on Earth. Instead, true Justice was to be found in Heaven. It was literally an arche-type – a first type or original form. Hence the name given to this kind of Socratic and Platonic thinking – the Theory of Forms.

The Theory of Forms concept finds its best illustration in Socrates’ story of the Upper Earth which is told in one of Plato’s works, Phaedo. The setting is Socrates’ final hours in an Athenian jail cell, where he entertains a group of visitors which includes two prominent members of the Pythagorean community. As he faces death by drinking hemlock, Socrates shares his vision of what happens to man upon death. The soul, he says, is evidently immortal and experiences a variety of fates on the other side. Whilst the majority of souls go to dwell in the Underworld (either for a while or permanently), a privileged few are allowed to ascend to an upper realm which is called ‘the true Heaven, the true Light and the true Earth’. This Upper Earth, says Socrates, stands in stark contrast to the familiar Earth down here. Everything in it is brighter and purer. The trees are greener, the plants are more beautiful, and the stones and minerals are absolutely perfect. In contrast, the Earth down here is a spoiled and corroded world of ugliness and disease, where even our most precious stones are but crude fragments of the heavenly originals.

In this myth, the Upper Earth (Heaven) symbolises what Platonic scholars like to call ‘the world of Forms’. It literally is a world, albeit a perfect one – the prototype of the world that we know. Hence the idea that it was ‘the true Earth’ which contained the archetypes (the Forms) for everything that existed down here on our own imperfect Earth.

Elsewhere, Socrates and Plato portrayed the ‘world of Forms’ as an invisible sphere, which was the sole unchanging thing in an ever-changing Universe. They referred to it as ‘the realm of what is’ and ‘that which is’. It signified a perfect, invisible Heaven raised above an imperfect, visible Earth.

The Theory of Forms is also fundamental to the book Timaeus in which the Atlantis story is told.

Firstly, the Theory of Forms underlies Plato’s account of the creation of the Universe by the Demiourgos (literally ‘the craftsman’). As Plato put it: “It follows by unquestionable necessity that this Universe is an image of something.” That ‘something’, he said, was the Demiourgos himself, who had fashioned the visible Universe in his own likeness in order that it be perfect, eternal and ever-unchanging. The Demiourgos thus personified the ‘world of Forms’.

Secondly, the Theory of Forms provides the concept of the ideal state, which was the pretext for the telling of the story of Ancient Athens and Atlantis. The idea was that Ancient Athens should symbolise the ideal state acting nobly in war. Hence the story of the war between Athens and Atlantis, the latter symbolising a state that had fallen into decadent ways – the fate of all things that had fallen from the pure Heaven to the impure Earth. Athens, too, would fall into corrupt ways once it had been founded in the Earth.

Plato’s Belief in the Soul and True Philosophy

The first principle of Plato’s philosophy was the recognition of the existence of the soul. From there, Plato followed the edict of Socrates: if the soul of man exists and is immortal, then the soul has always been immortal; therefore, the soul has always existed, right from the beginning of Time (if Time can be conceived as having a beginning at all). From this simple premise, Socrates and Plato developed their model of the soul’s origin and destiny.

According to Plato in Timaeus, the soul of man had originated in Heaven with the Demiourgos. It was he who had mixed the soul of man, dividing the mixture into the same number as the stars which he had created in the heavens. The Demiourgos had then introduced these newborn souls to their ‘companion stars’, and finally sowed them in the Earth, whereupon the Olympian gods took over and, in accordance with the Demiourgos’ instructions, wove the immortal souls to mortal bodies, thereby creating mankind.

A similar theory on the fall of the soul had been advocated by Socrates in Phaedrus (a book attributed to Plato but originating in all likelihood from earlier Socratic writers). In the beginning, said Socrates, all human souls had been circulating in the company of the heavenly gods. But then had come the moment of the fall from Heaven to Earth. Just before that moment, the souls had been shown a ‘spectacular vision’ and had been able to gaze for a moment at ‘sacred revealed objects that were perfect, and simple, and unshakeable and blissful’. But this heavenly glory had been lost. Upon their fall from Heaven, the souls had become imprisoned inside Earth-born bodies and many, in time, had forgotten their celestial origins, remaining only dimly aware of the perfect objects which they had once glimpsed there.

In accordance with these ideas, the human being was envisioned as comprising an immortal soul trapped inside a mortal body (hence the saying that the body was a tomb, soma sema). The body, for its part, ‘participated’ in the ideal of its heavenly Form, but its share of the ideal fell short of the original, as did the share of all material things on Earth. Thus the body was prone to corruption, decay and death. The soul, on the other hand, had received a full share of the heavenly Forms, and was thus pure and immortal by birthright. Moreover, since the soul had originated in Heaven, it belonged in Heaven.

The life of a man on Earth, said Plato, was no life at all because the Earth was an inferior, ever-changing copy of the heavenly ‘world of Forms’; it was a snare for mankind. True life, and true reality, said Plato, existed only in Heaven. Therefore, the purpose of a man’s life was to recognise the spiritual nature of his being and its fallen condition, and take all necessary steps to ensure the return of his soul to its birthplace in Heaven (as opposed to the usual fate of reincarnation on Earth).

This religious belief system was referred to by Plato as ‘true philosophy’ or ‘divine philosophy’ – a much higher kind of art than philosophy as we know it today.

The aim of true philosophy was not to gain knowledge of changeable things on Earth but rather to gain knowledge of ‘That which always exists’. And to do this, the true philosopher had to recognise that the whole Universe was an allegorical riddle, where everything visible was a coded allegory of ‘That which is’, which was invisible.

In line with Pythagorean thinking, Plato suggested that man should seek knowledge of ‘That which is’ by studying the principle of constancy wherever it occurred (or nearly occurred) in nature, notably in number, geometry, solids, astronomy and harmonic motions. But to see the truth beyond the cosmic allegory, one had to look with the soul or the mind, not with the eye, and this required remembrance of the fact that one’s true self was the soul. In Republic, Socrates suggested that the true philosopher might indeed obtain knowledge of ‘That which is’ during his lifetime by means of an arduous series of initiations in Pythagorean doctrines.

In his vision of the ideal state, Socrates proposed that true philosophy should be a necessary qualification for rulership of cities. The aspirant to kingship would become fully initiated in his fiftieth year, and would then use his skills to govern the city in accordance with the perfect heavenly archetypes of the ‘world of Forms’:

“Then, at the age of fifty, those who have survived the tests... must be led to the goal and compelled to lift up the radiant light of their souls to what itself provides Light for everything. And once they have seen the Good itself, they must each in turn put the city, its citizens, and themselves in order, using it (the Good) as their model.”

True philosophers were thus regarded as a series of messiah-like figures who would deliver an ideal era of peace and prosperity on Earth, but all the time preparing their own personal souls for an ultimate elevation to Heaven. In the story of Athens and Atlantis, Plato seems to have been hinting that true philosophers such as himself should be placed in charge of Athens in order to restore the city’s self-respect.

Plato’s Account of Creation by the Demiourgos

According to Plato, everything in the Universe had to have sprung from some initial principle, which must, by definition, have been something capable of springing into motion by itself. This principle, he said, had been an aethereal fifth element called ‘soul’ (psyche), which could be defined as ‘motion capable of moving itself’. It had been ‘born long before all physical things’ and was therefore ‘the first cause to which everything owes its birth’. Accordingly, soul-substance was the original cause of all movement in the Universe, and had stirred into motion everything in the heavens and all life on Earth, including mankind.

In Timaeus, Plato had Timaeus (a Pythagorean character) elaborate on the theory of the soul-substance and build a whole cosmogony around it.

To begin, Timaeus declares that the Universe must have had an origin, and must have come to be by some agency or cause. This cause he then names as Demiourgos (literally ‘the craftsman’) whom he identifies as the ‘father’ of the Universe. Next, Timaeus declares that the Demiourgos must have used a model for his work, and he asserts that this model must have been something perfect, eternal and ever-unchanging: “It follows by unquestionable necessity” he states “that this Universe is an image of something.”

Of what was the Universe an image? The answer, says Timaeus, is the Demiourgos himself, who wanted everything to be as much like himself as was possible. Thus the Universe was created as a ‘living thing’ in the image of ‘the real Living Thing’, i.e. the Demiourgos himself.

To create the Universe, the Demiourgos carried out a number of tasks, more or less simultaneously. He mixed the body of the Universe, using the four proto-elements of earth, air, fire and water, and agitated it ‘like a shaking machine’, thus causing the elements to become separated and purified. In this way, he formed the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, which he set in seven concentric bands around the Earth.

At the same time, the Demiourgos mixed the soul of the Universe, which he planted in the centre, in the Earth, and then extended outwards, thereby energising the Sun, Moon, planets and stars. Finally, he wrapped this soul-substance around the outside of the Universe so that it totally surrounded the sphere, and he set the sphere of the Universe spinning upon itself, round and round in a circular motion.

All of these things the Demiourgos created according to ‘a symphony of proportion’, employing Pythagorean mathematical relationships as the basis for cosmic order.

As discussed earlier, the whole visible Universe was a cipher for the invisible realm of the ‘other world’, personified by the Demiourgos, and the challenge for man was to decipher the riddle in order to pave the way for the return of his soul to unity with God.

Plato’s Secret Code

In keeping with the traditions of the ancient Mysteries, Plato did not speak openly about the cataclysmic nature of the Olympian gods, nor about the secret power which brought the gods into being. There can be no doubt, however, that Plato did know the secrets behind the Greek religion and did encode these secrets knowingly into his works, Timaeus in particular (see my arguments in ‘The Atlantis Secret’). In all likelihood, Plato learned the identity of the secret power from the Pythagoreans whom he visited in 388 BC, at the age of forty.

This is not to say, however, that the physical mechanism of creation is the ultimate secret behind Plato’s writings. In my opinion, there is something more, namely a very specific and profound idea concerning the destiny of the soul in the afterlife, which Plato was reluctant to spell out in his writings. A hint of this important something withheld appears in the ‘seventh letter’ of Plato which he wrote towards the end of his life:

“Anyone who is seriously studying higher matters will be the last to write about them and thus expose his thoughts to the envy and criticism of men. What I have said, in short, comes to this: whenever we see a book... we can be sure that if the author is really serious, the book does not contain his best thoughts; they are stored away with the fairest of his possessions. And if he has committed these serious thoughts to writing, it is because men, not the gods, ‘have taken his wits away’.”

I believe that Plato’s did include his ‘best thoughts’ in his writings, but in the form of hints and allusions which would make sense only to readers who had been initiated into the meaning of religion and myth, and who hence had the ability to spot the subtle nuances in his presentation. I am fairly certain that I have identified some of these nuances, and they brought to my mind a very specific, consistent and plausible idea concerning, as I say, the true destiny of the soul in the afterlife. In writing my book ‘The Atlantis Secret’, however, I decided not to expose these clues or underlying idea to the eyes of all and sundry, many of whom would regard the idea as worthless in any case. Rather, I decided to follow Plato’s example and drop subtle hints about the idea, as I perceive it, so that people who are genuinely attracted to Plato’s true philosophy may, by their own arduous efforts, come to learn this ‘truth’ for themselves. For a ‘truth’ given away is but a worthless speck of dust, whereas a ‘truth’ hard-learned has the value of an entire world. This is the way it must be.

Click here for further details about ‘The Atlantis Secret

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'These pages are the copyright of Eridu Books 2004. The images and diagrams are the copyright of Alan Alford or of other photographers, where indicated. Eridu Books welcomes the reproduction and dissemination of these pages, in original, unaltered form, for non-commercial purposes, but permission must be sought for any other usage, other than 'fair dealing' quotations.'

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