In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plato's Timaeus

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Editions, Translations, and Commentaries
  • Monographs
  • Collections of Articles on the Timaeus
  • Dating
  • The Atlantis Story and Its Relationship to Cosmology
  • The Narrative Form
  • Cosmology as a Likely Myth (Eikôs Mythos)
  • The Status of the Creation Story
  • Teleology
  • The Ethical Aspects of Cosmology
  • The Demiurge
  • The Argument for the Uniqueness of the World, Timaeus 31a–b
  • The Theory of Motion, Including the Source of Disorderly Motion
  • The World Soul
  • The World Body
  • Astronomy
  • Time
  • Necessity
  • The Receptacle
  • The Appearances
  • The Human Soul
  • The Human Body
  • Sense-Perception and Sense-Qualities
  • The Relationship of the Timaeus to Presocratic Philosophy
  • Aristotle’s Relationship to the Timaeus
  • The Reception of the Timaeus in Later Antiquity

Classics Plato's Timaeus
Thomas Johansen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0144


The Timaeus presents Plato’s theory of the cosmos. It exercised a strong influence on other ancient philosophers, including Aristotle, Galen, and the Stoics, not to mention later Platonists such as Plutarch, Proclus, and Plotinus. Its doctrine of a creator god inspired Early Christian thought, while in the Middle Ages it was one of the few Platonic works being read in the West. In modern times, after a period of relative neglect, it is now enjoying a resurgence of scholarly interest. The cosmology of the Timaeus explains the perceptible world as the creation of a benevolent god, the demiurge or “craftsman.” To make it as good as possible, the god fashioned the cosmos as an image of an eternal paradigm, specifically that of a complete living being. As a living being itself, the world has a rational soul and a body. Its immaterial soul rotates according to mathematical ratios, thereby causing the regular revolutions of the planets and the stars. Its body is composed of basic bodies—earth, air, water, and fire, each of which is built up geometrically from triangles in different configurations. Timaeus, the main speaker, introduces a “receptacle,” also dubbed “space” (chôra), to explain how the basic bodies come about and move. He explains the various sensible qualities through the motions of the basic bodies. Human beings are endowed with a rational soul, which when embodied acquires irrational parts. The demiurge’s assistants have, however, constructed these parts and the human body to help us survive and to develop our rationality. From this point of view, Timaeus describes the body’s various structures in detail. The aim of human life is to maximize our rationality through imitation of the world’s soul. Men who fail to do so are reincarnated as women or lower animals. For more on Plato, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Plato.

General Overview

A helpful introduction to the main themes of the Timaeus can be found in Zeyl 2013.

  • Zeyl, D. 2013. Plato’s Timaeus. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by E. Zalta.

    Introduces the Timaeus with brief discussions of “The Relation of the Timaeus to Other Platonic Dialogues,” “The Status of the Account,” “Being and Becoming,” “The Receptacle,” “Teleology,” “Physics,” and “Ethics.”

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