History matters. There is a central importance to what happened, because what is now is (in part) produced by what happened. That sounds so obvious, that students often ask: “Isn’t everything caused by what was? Aren’t we just a product of history?”
Yes. Sort of.
What is before is what made what is, but part of what is before are the stories we believed. These stories-great literature, inspired us, moved us, and made us what we are. They are not history, but they are true. In fact, contextually they are wholly true. Fiction, if true as it can be, may impact the future as much as history. When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he changed what the English speaking world would be in the future, though the “history” he wrote did not happen in space and time.
The distinction matters more than a bit. God produces His story that is historical, but his children, humankind, is capable of creation of story. The fiction is not from nothing, but from the cosmos God made. We consider and say “What if?” or “If this, then . . .” What happened is a fact, unchanging and true, but what might have been (what is even counter-factual) might give us pause, make us think, and be significant. The counter-factually considered may change what we do.
History always will matter in a deeper way: Jesus rose from the dead no matter what Dawkins denies, but Aragorn, son of Arathorn, an image of King Jesus, has saved many of us from error. We do our duty, because in the tale he did. He is an image of Jesus and the image helps our minds, made feeble by the Fall, to come to truth. History is harsh, because there is no appeal: what is, is. As broken people, we quail, because our sins, errors, and omissions are also part of history.
Story is softer, because we know it is “just” a fairy tale. We read, we see ourselves and learn. We realize that we are too much like Gollum or too little like Samwise Gamgee. The best stories softly say that history is judging us without judging us themselves. This kind of true story will save us if we believe it, because it will bring us to history and make history’s harsh, cold, reality bearable.
Thousands of years of foolish people have read poorly and so looked for Atlantis, when Plato made it plain that Altantis was “real” only in the sense that Numinor is real: a fiction that points us toward the world that perished in the Days of Noah that ultimately shows us the End of Days.In Timaeus, we hear this:
Let me tell you this story, then, Socrates. It’s a very strange one, but even so, every word of it is true.*
Isn’t that conclusive? Plato must have meant that the story coming of Atlantis is history or at least that Plato beloved the story was history.
Note that the conversation that Plato is recording is a fiction. There is no person “Timaeus of Locri”. . . He is a character, never having been born or died in space and time. What of Socrates? The Socrates of this dialog is not even the Socrates we see in Republic let alone the Socrates of history.
Socrates is a character in Timaeus.
Within the fictional world where Socrates, Hermocrates, and Critias were at a discussion a bit like that of the story called Republic, the Atlantis myth is true. Of course, this is a history in a fiction, like the Appendix at the end of Return of the King. If this conversation had happened, and it did not, then Atlantis was.
Plato is giving us a fictional history to give backstory and depth to his fictional conversation. The Timaeus is the Silmarillion of the Republic. An alternative history (Narnia, Lovecraft, Roddenberry) can change the world, because it is so hard for us to see the truth, even if our eyes are being healed.
Jesus comes and says “be healed,” but for a time we see men like trees walking: Atlantis, Numinor, Narnia, Avalon.
*Timaeus translation by Donald Zeyl.
This is a summary of a devotional given at The College at the The Saint Constantine School.