Timaeus is the title of one of the two Dialogues of Plato, named after one of the participants. In it we encounter the first clear reference to Atlantis. The dialogue is usually seen as a continuation of The Republic. The first Latin translation of Timaeus comes from Cicero in the first century BC(b), but unfortunately from the point of view of Atlantology, he only translated 27d-47b, just missing the Atlantis passages. One of the most influential Latin translations came from Chalcidius in the 4th century AD. However, it fell to the 15th century Marsilio Ficino to produce the first translation of Plato’s complete works(c).
Some claim that Timaeus is the only character used by Plato that does not appear to have actually existed in ancient Greece. However, it is more generally accepted that the Timaeus in the Dialogues was based on a real astronomer and mathematician known as Timaeus of Locri, who was a Pythagorean philosopher who formed his own Pythagorean School in Locri in Southern Italy when the School in Croton was forced to close. Timaeus is said to have been around 70 at the time that the Dialogues were written.
Timaeus of Taormina who was born about 20 years before Plato died is not the Timaeus referred to in the dialogue of the same name. This Timaeus was a noted historian who among others was heavily relied on by Diodorus Siculus.
Also at issue is the actual authorship of Timaeus, because Hermippus of Smyrna (3rd cent. BC) claimed that Plato copied his text from the philosopher Philolaus. This suggestion has been debated into modern times(a).
Poseidonius (135-51 BC) from Apamea in Syria adopted Rhodes as his home. He was a Greek philosopher and was Cicero’s mentor. He supported Plato’s Atlantis story when he wrote that beyond the Pillars of Heracles was a huge area known as ‘Poseidonis’ or ‘Atlanta’. It is generally thought that he wrote a commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, that is now, unfortunately, lost.
Ocean and Sea are words employed by classical writers in a manner different to our present usage. Originally the Greek word Oceanos referred to the ‘Great River’ that was assumed to flow around the then known world. Stecchini wrote that “the existence of a river Oceanus as an extension of the Nile along the Equator was considered a serious reality in Greek times” (e)
Anton Mifsud has pointed out that Homer used the word ocean for the sea and in fact used the same word for the Tyrrhenian ‘Sea’ (a). Both Seneca and Cicero referred to the Mediterranean Sea as the Atlantic Ocean(b)(c). Diodorus Siculus notes further that the word for ocean has even been applied to the Nile(d). Herodotus noted that Homer also called the Nile ‘Okeanòs’(f), as it was generally believed that it began and ended in an ocean (quoted by J.H. Agnew)[1232.123].
Georgeos Diaz-Montexano made a similar point when he commented that the classical writers had three words for bodies of salt water; pontos (small), pelagos (medium) and okeanos (large). Plato always referred to Atlantis being in a pelagos.
We can conclude therefore that since Plato never used the term ‘ocean’ in connection with Atlantis there is no proof that he was referring to our present-day Atlantic, while in all likelihood he was indicating the western basin of the Mediterranean or the reported large inland sea where the chotts of Tunisia and Algeria are all that remain of it today.
(a) Odysseus x. 508,
(b) Quaestiones Naturales,
(c) Somnium Scipioni
(d) Biblioteca Storica i.