Plato on the cyclical destruction of earthly civilizations

“I will tell what I heard as an ancient tale from the lips of a man who himself was far from young. Yes, in those days our grandfather was, in his own words, about ninety years old, and I, at most, ten.

In Egypt, at the top of the Delta, where the Nile divides into separate streams, there is a nome called Sais; the main city of this nome is Sais, from which, by the way, King Amasis was born. The patroness of the city is a certain goddess, who in Egyptian is called Neith, and in Hellenic, as the locals say, it is Athena: they are very friendly to the Athenians and claim a certain kinship with the latter.

Solon said that when he arrived there in his wanderings, he was received with great honor; but when he began to inquire about ancient times by the learned among the priests, he had to be convinced that neither he himself, nor any of the Hellenes in general, we may say, knew almost nothing about these subjects. One day, intending to turn the conversation to old lore, he tried to tell them our myths about the most ancient events–about Foroneas, who was revered as the first man, about Niobe, and how Deucalion and Pyrrha survived the deluge; while he tried to deduce the lineage of their descendants, and also to calculate by the number of generations the time that had elapsed since those times.

And then one of the priests, a man of very advanced years, exclaimed:

“Ah, Solon, Solon! You Hellenes remain children forever, and there is no old man among the Hellenes!” – “Why do you say that?” – Solon asked. “You are all young in mind,” answered he, “for your minds do not retain in them any tradition that has long passed from one generation to another, nor any teaching that has grown old with the passage of time. The reason is this. There already were and still will be many and various cases of people’s death, the most horrible of all because of fire and water, but others, less serious, because of thousands of other calamities.

Hence the popular with you legend about Phaethon, son of Helios, who once harnessed his father’s chariot, but couldn’t guide it in his father’s way, and that’s why he burned everything on the Earth and perished, struck down by lightning. This legend may have the appearance of a myth, but it also contains truth: indeed, the bodies rotating in the firmament around the earth deviate from their courses, so that after a certain period of time everything on earth perishes as a result of a great fire.

At such times, the inhabitants of mountains and high or dry places are more completely destroyed than those who live near rivers or the sea; therefore our constant benefactor Nile, even in this trouble, saves us by flooding. But when the gods, when they work a purification of the earth, flood it with water, the wolopas and herdsmen in the mountains can survive, while the inhabitants of your cities are swept away by streams into the sea; but in our country water at no such time, nor at any other, falls on fields from above, but, on the contrary, by its nature rises from below.

For this reason the legends preserved by us are more ancient than all others, though it is true that in all lands, where no excessive cold or heat prevents it, the human race invariably exists in greater or lesser numbers. Whatever glorious or great deed or generally remarkable event took place, whether in our land or in any country of which we receive news, it has since ancient times been recorded in the records which we keep in our temples; Meanwhile with you and other peoples, every time, as soon as it has time to develop writing and everything else that is necessary for urban life, again and again in due time from the heavens come down torrents, like pestilence, leaving all of you only illiterate and uneducated.

And you begin all over again, as if you had just been born, knowing nothing of what was done in ancient times in our country or in yourselves.”

Plato. Works. Т. VI

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