Timaeus, Critias & Philebus

This course is packed with gems. Timaeus presents the grand creation myth that would be so influentical on NeoPlatonism and Christian Platonism. Critias follows on with the myth of Atlantis. Philebus is another famous late work, which we will be reading it for the first time. It addresses the question of the good life and its relation to desire, pleasure, the life of science and our natural aspiration to the highest good.


  • Six weekly small-group sessions
  • Read a set passage before the evening talk and discussion
  • Not for beginners—take Reading Plato before doing this course


This course will run again in 2024. Contact us to register your interest or subscribe to the blog for updates.


Access to the texts

The following translations of the readings are recommended:

Course Outline

Session 1 | The harmonious world soul | Timaeus page 17 to 37c

A summary of the ideal republic is followed by a myth of archaic Athens as its very exemplification. Timaeus then tells a story of the creation of the physical world as an imperfect copy of the formal ideal. The soul of the world is depicted as in perfect musical harmony.

Session 2 | Time, space and the Platonic solids | Timaeus page 37c to 58c

Timaeus continues with an account of the birth of time, the creation of lesser gods and the housing of souls in bodies. There is also an account of the gift of sight and hearing before the famous and perplexing account of the ‘receptacle’ or space. Our reading finishes with the four elements and the first account of the five Platonic solids to appear in our tradition.

Session 3 | Atlantis | Critias (complete)

This short and unfinished dialogue is concerned entirely with the myth of archaic Athens and the civilisation it was at war with, Atlantis.

Session 4 | What is the good life? Hedonism or the life of mind? | Philebus page 11 to 22

Philebus’s hedonism is challenged by Socrates’ life of the mind (nous) through dialectic analysis in terms of the Pythagorean mysticism of the “monad” and its limit, unlimited and limiting.

Session 5 | Pleasures of the body and the soul | Philebus page 23 to 50

The discussion of different types of pleasure and pain ranges widely over perception, memory, recollection, anticipation and the mathematical and empirical sciences.

Session 6 | The next best thing to absolute goodness | Philebus page 51 to 67

The pursuit of pleasure is not dismissed entirely. Only the intense pleasures are to be avoided, for they are always mixed with pain . The pure simple pleasures find no conflict with the sober reasonable life of moderation. While absolute goodness may be unattainable, these good practices are good enough if mixed in the right proportions.