Chapter 3

Timaeus' Lecture

by Plato
Timaeus is the most of an astronomer amongst us. He has made the nature of the universe his special study.


All men who have any degree of right feeling, at the beginning of every enterprise always call on God.

We also invoke the aid of Gods and Goddesses as we talk about the nature and creation of the universe.

What is that which always is and has no becoming? And what is that which is always becoming and never is?

That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state. But that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.

Everything that becomes or is created must necessarily be created by some cause. Without a cause, nothing can be created.

The work of the Creator must necessarily be fair and perfect.

But when he looks to the created only, and uses a created pattern, it is not fair or perfect. Was the heaven then or the world, whether called by this or by any other more appropriate name—assuming the name, I am asking a question which has to be asked at the beginning of an enquiry about anything—was the world, always in existence and without beginning? or created, and had it a beginning?

Why did the Creator make this world of generation?

He was good. The good can never have any jealousy of anything.

Being free from jealousy, He desired that all things should be as like Himself as they could be.

Wherefore also finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order, considering that this was in every way better than the other.

Now the deeds of the best could never be or have been other than the fairest; and the Creator, reflecting on the things which are by nature visible, found that no unintelligent creature taken as a whole was fairer than the intelligent taken as a whole;

That intelligence could not be present in anything which was devoid of soul. For which reason, when he was framing the universe, he put intelligence in soul, and soul in body, that he might be the creator of a work which was by nature fairest and best.

Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God.

This being supposed, let us proceed to the next stage= In the likeness of what animal did the Creator make the world? It would be an unworthy thing to liken it to any nature which exists as a part only; for nothing can be beautiful which is like any imperfect thing; but let us suppose the world to be the very image of that whole of which all other animals both individually and in their tribes are portions.

For the original of the universe contains in itself all intelligible beings, just as this world comprehends us and all other visible creatures.

For the Deity, intending to make this world like the fairest and most perfect of intelligible beings, framed one visible animal comprehending within itself all other animals of a kindred nature.

Are we right in saying that there is one world, or that they are many and infinite?

There must be one only, if the created copy is to accord with the original. For that which includes all other intelligible creatures cannot have a second or companion; in that case there would be need of another living being which would include both, and of which they would be parts, and the likeness would be more truly said to resemble not them, but that other which included them.

In order then that the world might be solitary, like the perfect animal, the creator made not two worlds or an infinite number of them; but there is and ever will be one only-begotten and created heaven.

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. And nothing is visible where there is no fire, or tangible which has no solidity, and nothing is solid without earth. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them.

The fairest bond is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean—then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one.

If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid, and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two, God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven.

This is why, out of 4 such elements, the body of the world was created. It was harmonized by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship. Having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble.

The creation took up all of each of the 4 elements. The Creator compounded the world out of all

  • the fire
  • the water
  • the air
  • the earth.

He leaves no part of any of them nor any power of them outside.

His intention was:

  1. The animal should be a perfect whole with perfect parts
  2. It should be one, leaving no remnants out of which another such world might be created
  3. It should be free from old age and unaffected by disease.

Considering that if heat and cold and other powerful forces which unite bodies surround and attack them from without when they are unprepared, they decompose them, and by bringing diseases and old age upon them, make them waste away—for this cause and on these grounds he made the world one whole, having every part entire, and being therefore perfect and not liable to old age and disease.

He gave the suitable and natural shape to the universe.

Now to the animal which was to comprehend all animals, that figure was suitable which comprehends within itself all other figures.

He made the world in the shape of a globe, round as from a lathe. It has its extremes in every direction equidistant from the centre.

God considered that the like is infinitely fairer than the unlike. This is why He chose a globe shape which is the most like itself.

In the first place, because the living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard;

There was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him= for there was nothing beside him. Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself.


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