Timaeus On Divination
Timaeus says that the greatest fault in history is want
Timaeus condemned out of his own mouth.
of truth; and he accordingly advises all, whom
he may have convicted of making false statements in their writings, to find some other
name for their books, and to call them anything they like
except history. . . .
For example, in the case of a carpenter's rule, though it
may be too short or too narrow for your purpose, yet if it have
the essential feature of a rule, that of straightness, you may
still call it a rule; but if it has not this quality, and deviates
from the straight line, you may call it anything you like except
a rule. "On the same principle," says he, "historical writings
may fail in style or treatment or other details; yet if they hold
fast to truth, such books may claim the title of history, but if
they swerve from that, they ought no longer to be called
history." Well, I quite agree that in such writings truth
should be the first consideration: and, in fact, somewhere
in the course of my work I have said "that as in a living
body, when the eyes are out, the whole is rendered useless, so
if you take truth from history what is left is
but an idle tale."
I said again, however,
that "there were two sorts of falsehoods, the ignorant and
the intentional; and the former deserved indulgence, the
latter uncompromising severity." . . . These points being
agreed upon—the wide difference between the ignorant and
intentional lie, and the kindly correction due to the one and
the unbending denunciation to the other—it will be found
that it is to the latter charge that Timaeus more than any one
lays himself open. And the proof of his character in this
respect is clear. . . .
There is a proverbial expression for the breakers of an agreement,
"Locrians and a treaty."
An explanation given of this, equally accepted by historians and the rest of
the world, is that, at the time of the invasion of
the Heracleidae, the Locrians agreed with the
Peloponnesians that, if the Heracleidae did not enter by way of
the isthmus, but crossed at Rhium, they would raise a war
beacon, that they might have early intelligence and make
provisions to oppose their entrance. The Locrians, however,
did not do this, but, on the contrary, raised a beacon of peace;
and therefore, when the Heracleidae arrived opposite Rhium,
they crossed without resistance; while the Peloponnesians,
having taken no precautions, found that they had allowed
their enemies to enter their country, because they had been
betrayed by the Locrians. . . .
Many remarks depreciatory of divination and dream interpretation may be found
in his writings.1
Timaeus's attitude towards the art of divination.
writers who have introduced into their books a
good deal of such foolish talk, so far from running
down others, should think themselves fortunate
if they escape attack themselves. And this is just the position
in which Timaeus stands.
He remarks that
"Callisthenes was a mere sycophant for writing
stuff of this sort; and acted in a manner utterly unworthy of
his philosophy in giving heed to ravens and inspired women;
and that he richly deserved the punishment which he met with
at the hands of Alexander, for having corrupted the mind of
that monarch as far as he could." On the other hand, he
commends Demosthenes, and the other orators who flourished
at that time, and says that "they were worthy of Greece for
speaking against the divine honours given to Alexander; while
this philosopher, for investing a mere mortal with the aegis and
thunderbolt, justly met the fate which befell him from the hands
of providence. . . ."