Author’s note (Euripides)
Atlantis is a tale many-times told. It may arguably be one of the more famous tales of yore, but let’s not argue now. I want to tell the tale once more, and hope that it is remembered, because I think a very important lesson lies at the heart of the story. It is a story that tells us of the importance of remembering and retelling stories, and it tells us of the consequences we might face if we forget the mistakes of our past. In this tale, the Atlanteans forgot where their riches and technologies came from. They wanted power, and tried to use their technologies and wealth imperialistically, by taking over neighboring countries. Athens stood to fight against this injustice, but the Gods devastated both lands. Only a few Athenians remained to remember what happened, and thus storytelling was born. They told the story of the tragedy of the Atlantis war, to prevent their descendants from making the same mistakes they did. In Plato’s retelling, in Timaeus, the story had already been forgotten, and Solon must tell the story to Critias so that might be remembered once again. In my time, this story has largely been forgotten again. Atlantis is referred to as a utopia that existed, and there are efforts to find where it was, and research is done to prove that it existed. While Atlantis as a city is remembered, the story that was meant to be remembered, the warning within Plato’s plays, has been forgotten. This is why I am retelling the story.
In this play I have tried to avoid setting in true Platonic dialogue fashion. But I can describe how I would imagine the setting to be. There would be at least three characters, and at most seven. Story and Critias could act as Chorus, but I would prefer four extra characters could compose the Chorus. It would be simple. The backdrop would be curtain, they would be many and they would be sheer and white. The story character would be shrouded, in the same sort of material as the curtains. They would only be noticeable when they opened and ended the play. The lights upon them would cast a long shadow. Chorus would be shrouded in black, Critias would not be shrouded and would wear ancient Greek attire, and Storyteller would wear contemporary conventional clothes of the time. Chorus would stand stage left, Critias would stand stage right and Story would stand behind Storyteller, who would be kneeling at the edge of the stage, as close to audience as possible. Only Story would move, forward not more than six steps into their spotlight to deliver their lines, and backward to blend in with curtains. The spotlights would shine on each character(s) as they deliver their lines.
With regard to the text. I am telling this preface as Euripides because it is said that Euripides, insofar as he oft included prefaces to his tragedies, killed the story. I worry I am doing the same here. Mnemosyne is the Greek goddess of memory, and the mother of the muses. The river of Lethe is the forgetting river in Hades from which the dead drink to forget their past lives. The term “chastise” as referenced by Zeus in Timaeus could be translated as “admonish” and it is from this altered translation that I have my title. Admonish means literally to put one’s mind into someone else, and I think the best told stories are ones in which the storyteller puts their mind into their listeners. I wish that this retelling could admonish you.
Story: Once upon a time
A long time ago
I lived on the breath of the songs.
It is on their lips I danced.
I wrestled with their lithe tongues,
While all the children I entranced.
Through poetry I lie
I make lessons alive
I admonish, I chastise.
I am a lie
I am old
I am timeless
Critias: “And Zeus, the God of gods, who reigns by Law, inasmuch as he has the gift of perceiving such things, marked how this righteous race was in evil plight, and desired to inflict punishment upon them, to the end that when chastised they might strike a truer note. Wherefore he assembled together all the gods into that abode which they honour most, standing as it does at the centre of all the Universe, and beholding all things that partake of generation; and when he had assembled them, he spake thus: . . .” (Plato, 305-307).
Storyteller: Once upon a time.
Chorus: Daughter, be still.
You must call upon Mnemosyne.
Storyteller: A long time ago.
Chorus: Daughter, have faith.
This story is old and you must not forget.
You must call upon Mnemosyne.
Critias: “I will tell you: It is an old tale, and I heard it from a man not young” (Plato, 29).
Storyteller: I am going to tell you a story.
Chorus: Daughter! Listen! You mortals
young who drink freely
the river of Lethe
Storyteller: I am going to tell you a story.
You must not forget.
It is a story of forgetting, of amnesia and of our own blindly bleeding memory.
I will put my mind into you.
I will admonish you.
Critias: “Listen then,”
Critias: “To a tale which, though passing strange, is yet wholly true, as Solon, the wisest of the Seven, once upon a time declared” (Plato, 29).
Storyteller: Sometimes the truth is passing strange.
Critias: “I begrudge you not the story, Solon; nay, I will tell it, both for your own sake and that of your city” (Plato, 37)
Storyteller: So that you will remember.
This is a tale of forgetting.
This is a story of amnesia.
I am telling you this
so you can remember.
Chorus: Invoke Mnemosyne, you are full of forgetting, you are amnesiac.
Your memory can be buried—
Storyteller: But wait—
I must invoke Mnemosyne to stall against the amnesia of my kind.
O Mnemosyne, mother of muses, I invoke thee to staunch
our mortal amnesia.
Storyteller: Once upon a time, a long time ago,
In the beginning-world,
In the heavens the gods were seated. They were to be given allotments of land from which they would bear great civilizations.
Athena and Hephaestus took for themselves a great and fertile land, mountainous and lush. These Gods were kin in blood and mind, and worshipped wisdom and craftsmanship. They cast a mortal lot unto the fertile ground and let them grow, bestowing gifts of virtue, wisdom and craftsmanship unto their mortal souls and minds. This land and its people were called Athens, and it would thrive mightily, but it was rich only in moderation. Their hands were never idle, they never tired of work, they were always in want, there was no luxury of leisure. They told no story of their past, and drowned their history in time.
Critias: “For legendary lore and the investigation of antiquity are visitants that come to cities in company with leisure, when they see that men are already furnished with the necessaries of life, and not before” (Plato, 269).
Chorus: You great city, named for the bright-eyed
You ancient ones of bygone days, you
Had no story.
You had much toil,
To sow and till the fertile soil
As generations of mortals passed, you forget all
That was before you, all
That was behind.
Not but names were passed down.
Mouth to mouth.
Storyteller: Poseidon took for himself a ringed island, fertile and mountainous and surrounded by sea. He saw fit to wed and bed a mortal woman, and her name was Cleito. With his mortal bride, Poseidon did populate his own land, within it his own seed grew and, behold! Atlantis was brim-filled with children that would bleed his own divine blood. It was swollen with divinity, and upon his kin he bestowed gifts of riches, wealth, fertility and growth. So too did he bestow gifts, divine toys and technologies. The children were wise with divinity, and ruled fairly and with virtue, and used their gifts wisely. But time coursed on, generations passed generations and immortal blood became diluted, buried in mortality. They did not remember how, with respect and goodness, to use their toys, their technologies. These children forgot where they came from. Then, a great surge of greediness and wicked ambition welled up from deep within their mortality. They sought to use the divine gifts to enslave and overrule the countries and civilizations surrounding them.
Critias: “But when the portion of divinity within them was now becoming faint and weak through being oftimes blended with a large measure of mortality, whereas the human temper was becoming dominant, then at length they lost their comeliness, through being unable to bear the burden of their possessions” (Plato, 305)
Chorus: O, you young,
but you could not use them!
You who forgot your own father
Your divinity lost you
Had no story left
Mortal amnesia flooded well
When your immortal mind
Storyteller: Though doomed, the two cities were mighty great, and swollen powerful strong. And Athens saw the minds of the Atlanteans were wicked greedy, and Athens did rise up and rebel against Atlantis. Then, a great war broke out, between these cities, while all was watched over by the immortal Gods, who sought just punishment.
Critias: “But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished” (Plato, 43).
Storyteller: By water and by earth the two cities perished, the story doomed to be lost in the secrets of antiquity. But behold! The story remains. For though the earth and water swallowed the cities, a small seed of Athenians survived. They escaped the deluge, having fled to the mountains of their land.
They were spared, for memory, Mnemosyne.
It is then from them we have this story. For they learned to remember. They grew out of the age of forgetting and taught their children well.
They passed along the story of their kind and of the Atlanteans, mouth to mouth the story trickled down through the ages. And this timeless story of the greedy mortal bore a true warning, a prophesy.
He begrudged us not the story, for the sake of our own city, in our own time.
Do not forget where you come from.
Do not forget your inheritance.
Do not forget to use your toys well.
Or you will meet the self-same fate.
Great tragedy befell the city of Athens. Out of the tragedy came the tradition of story.
Did it work?
“Critias: “You are young in soul, every one of you. For therein you possess not a single belief that is ancient and derived from old tradition, nor yet one science that is hoary with age. And this is the cause thereof: There have been and there will be many and divers destructions of mankind, of which the greatest are by fire and water, the lesser ones by countless other means. For in truth the story that is told in your country as well as ours…” (Plato, 33).
Story: Do you remember,
How I begin?
Once upon a time
A long time…
Plato., et al. Plato. 1st ed., Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2005,.