Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt

Atlantis, the Lost Island

It often happens that some little boy says, "I wish I were rich," thinking that if he had a great deal of money he could buy, for his own enjoyment, all the toys and candies and good clothes that heart could desire. It is very easy to forget that the "earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," and that no one on the earth can be any richer than any other person, except by being more deeply in debt. It easy to imagine that if we had money or lands they would be our own, but this must look quite absurd to Him who has lent us His goods for a few years to use as if they were our own, for the welfare of all.

It is quite certain that Plato believed that a man's true riches were in his Mind and not outside of him; that a man was rich who had the power to get money, and the power and will to use it well for others,—the ability and will being all the riches there were about it; and that that man was the richest of all who did not care for riches. Plato hoped to make his fellow citizens see that the love of money and a show of wealth were vulgar, so he told them the story of a lost island.

Long ages ago, the gods had the whole earth. Each one knew what was proper for himself to have, so no one tried to get more than was his share, and each one put as many people on his own land as could be happy there.

When the gods had peopled their districts, they tended human beings as good shepherds tend their flocks, not by driving them, or striking them, but like guides who go ahead to show the way. Each god loved his own people, and set his own kingdom in order.

Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom, and she loved learning and hard work. She knew how to spin and weave, and make wise laws, and conquer in battle. She chose for her subjects only brave people, and she put patriotism into their hearts, and gave them noble natures.

They did not care for riches, or desire to live in palaces, but they built small houses, in which they lived and grew old. They built splendid temples in which to worship, and fine public houses, for they loved the gods and their country better than they loved themselves. There were only twenty thousand of these people, but they were so strong that they could not be conquered by a million soldiers.

The god of the waters, Poseidon, had quite a different kingdom. He received for his portion the island of Atlantis, and he married Cleito, a mortal woman, and settled down in a pretty part of the island. On the side toward the sea, and in the centre of the island, there was a fertile plain which was very beautiful. There was a low mountain running across the island, about seven miles from the sea, and it kept off the cold north winds, so that the long south slope, where most of the people lived, was warm and pleasant. Poseidon loved Cleito so much that he resolved to surround her home with embankments and canals so high and deep that no other king could come and carry her off. So he broke the ground all round the hill on which she dwelt, making a high belt of earth in the form of a ring which encircled her, and outside of that was a ring of water, so wide that it looked like a sea. Then came another ring of land, and another ring of water, affording such a protection to the princess that no one could ever hear anything about her, and no ship could get into the rings of water, and no man could get to the island. Poseidon contrived to supply the island with fresh water by bringing up two streams from under the earth. He caused them to come up as fountains, one of warm water and one of cold, and he made every variety of food to spring up from the earth.

Poseidon and Cleito had ten sons, five pairs of twins, and each son received a part of the kingdom as his own. The oldest son, Atlas, became king of the island, and named it after himself, Atlantis, and he gave the name to the Atlantic Ocean. He was a large, strong man, and it is said that he held up the sky and plucked the golden apples.

The people of the empire of Atlas became very rich. They brought many things from foreign countries. They dug gold and silver out of their mines. They cut valuable wood from their forests. They had elephants, and horses, and oxen, and all other kinds of tame animals and wild animals, every sort that can live in mountains or plains, or in lakes, marshes, rivers, canals, and ditches. And they had roots, and herbs, and flowers, and fruit, and everything to eat and drink in infinite abundance. They spent their time in building docks, and harbors, and bridges, and temples, and palaces, until everything was a marvel of luxury and beauty. They built a stone wall around one embankment, with towers and gates, and they covered the next one with tin, and the outer one with brass. They built a temple to Poseidon over six hundred feet long, and covered the pinnacles with silver and gold. They ornamented the roof with ivory, and gold, and silver, and lined the floor with a precious metal. In the temple they placed statues of gold. There was one of Poseidon himself standing in a chariot, driving six winged horses—it was of such a size that his head touched the roof. And around it were a hundred water-nymphs riding on dolphins' backs. There were images and golden statues of kings and their wives; there were fountains, and trees, and cisterns, and the king's bath, and baths for women, and baths for men, and baths for horses and cattle; there were aqueducts, race-courses, guard-houses, naval stores, ships, and such a crowd of rich, elegant, lazy, proud people, charioteers, fighters, archers, slingers, stone-shooters, skirmishers, pugilists, that it would be tiresome to mention them. The ten kings had absolute control of the city and country. They made the laws, and drove the people about like slaves, striking, punishing, and slaying any one whom they disliked. Now, to people who had no eyes to see the truth, these wretched folks still appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were filled with avarice and riches. But they began to appear base to those who had eyes to see truly. They had lost their most precious riches, they had been unable to bear up under good fortune, for their lower natures had become their masters. Then they began to look at the little kingdom ruled over by Athena, where the people loved hard work and virtue, and were very comfortable in poverty. And they saw that the divinity of their own natures had become diluted by being mixed with wealth.

So the god of Atlantis directed his great power against the little kingdom of Athena, and there the story ends, but it is easy enough to guess the rest of it; for the island of Atlantis, if there ever was one, has sunk beneath the sea.

It does not make a grain of difference whether there ever was an Atlantis or not. Plato's story was just as true as if he had said, "There will be a Roman Empire, which will fall because its people will love riches better than virtue."

The principle always holds. No nation can stand except through the uprightness and simplicity of its citizens.

"When men are good and true, and stand shoulder to shoulder, a nation is strong; it is strong in its quantity of life, and not in its lands or gold.

A thing is worth what it can do for you; not what you pay for it.

The wealth of a nation depends upon the number it can employ in making good and useful things.

Peace of heart, contentedness in simple employments, these are a nation's wealth."

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