An A-Z Guide To The Search For Plato's Atlantis

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Joining The Dots

I have now published my new book, Joining The Dots, which offers a fresh look at the Atlantis mystery. I have addressed the critical questions of when, where and who, using Plato's own words, tempered with some critical thinking and a modicum of common sense.


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The Shepherd’s Truth           Homepage

ATLANTIS

It is agreed by by all researchers that the earliest mention of Atlantis that currently exists is the account related in Plato’s Timaeus.  The relevant portion is in Section 2 of the Introduction or Preface.  That account is given here; comments will follow.

Timaeus Plato (ca. 360 BC) (translated by Benjamin Jowett)   ————————————————————————

Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates, Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates

Introduction Section 2.

Hermocrates: And we too, Socrates, as Timaeus says, will not be wanting in enthusiasm; and there is no excuse for not complying with your request.  As soon as we arrived yesterday at the guest-chamber of Critias, with whom we are staying, or rather on our way thither, we talked the matter over, and he told us an ancient tradition, which I wish, Critias, that you would repeat to Socrates, so that he may help us to judge whether it will satisfy his requirements or not.

Critias: I will, if Timaeus, who is our other partner, approves.

Timaeus: I quite approve.

Critias: Then listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages. He was a relative and a dear friend of my great-grandfather, Dropides, as he himself says in many passages of his poems; and he told the story to Critias, my grandfather, who remembered and repeated it to us.  There were of old, he said, great and marvellous actions of the Athenian city, which have passed into oblivion through lapse of time and the destruction of mankind, and one in particular, greater than all the rest.  This we will now rehearse. It will be a fitting monument of our gratitude to you, and a hymn of praise true and worthy of the goddess, on this her day of festival.

Socrates: Very good. And what is this ancient famous action of the Athenians, which Critias declared, on the authority of Solon, to be not a mere legend, but an actual fact?

Critias: I will tell an old-world story which I heard from an aged man; for Critias, at the time of telling it, was as he said, nearly ninety years of age, and I was about ten. Now the day was that day of the Apaturia which is called the Registration of Youth, at which, according to custom, our parents gave prizes for recitations, and the poems of several poets were recited by us boys, and many of us sang the poems of Solon, which at that time had not gone out of fashion. One of our tribe, either because he thought so or to please Critias, said that in his judgment Solon was not only the wisest of men, but also the noblest of poets. The old man, as I very well remember, brightened up at hearing this and said, smiling: Yes, Amynander, if Solon had only, like other poets, made poetry the business of his life, and had completed the tale which he brought with him from Egypt, and had not been compelled, by reason of the factions and troubles which he found stirring in his own country when he came home, to attend to other matters, in my opinion he would have been as famous as Homer or Hesiod, or any poet.

And what was the tale about, Critias?  said Amynander.

About the greatest action which the Athenians ever did, and which ought to have been the most famous, but, through the lapse of time and the destruction of the actors, it has not come down to us.

Tell us, said the other, the whole story, and how and from whom Solon heard this veritable tradition.

He replied: — In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the river Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis came. The citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same whom the Hellenes call Athene; they are great lovers of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them. To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour; he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world — about Phoroneus, who is called “the first man,”  and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha; and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said:  O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why.  There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us.  When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.

The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or of summer does not prevent, mankind exist, sometimes in greater, sometimes in lesser numbers. And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed — if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children. In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones; in the next place, you do not know that there formerly dwelt in your land the fairest and noblest race of men which ever lived, and that you and your whole city are descended from a small seed or remnant of them which survived. And this was unknown to you, because, for many generations, the survivors of that destruction died, leaving no written word.  For there was a time, Solon, before the great deluge of all, when the city which now is Athens was first in war and in every way the best governed of all cities, is said to have performed the noblest deeds and to have had the fairest constitution of any of which tradition tells, under the face of heaven.

Solon marvelled at his words, and earnestly requested the priests to inform him exactly and in order about these former citizens. You are welcome to hear about them, Solon, said the priest, both for your own sake and for that of your city, and above all, for the sake of the goddess who is the common patron and parent and educator of both our cities. She founded your city a thousand years before ours, receiving from the Earth and Hephaestus the seed of your race, and afterwards she founded ours, of which the constitution is recorded in our sacred registers to be eight thousand years old. As touching your citizens of nine thousand years ago, I will briefly inform you of their laws and of their most famous action; the exact particulars of the whole we will hereafter go through at our leisure in the sacred registers themselves. If you compare these very laws with ours you will find that many of ours are the counterpart of yours as they were in the olden time. In the first place, there is the caste of priests, which is separated from all the others; next, there are the artificers, who ply their several crafts by themselves and do not intermix; and also there is the class of shepherds and of hunters, as well as that of husbandmen; and you will observe, too, that the warriors in Egypt are distinct from all the other classes, and are commanded by the law to devote themselves solely to military pursuits; moreover, the weapons which they carry are shields and spears, a style of equipment which the goddess taught of Asiatics first to us, as in your part of the world first to you. Then as to wisdom, do you observe how our law from the very first made a study of the whole order of things, extending even to prophecy and medicine which gives health, out of these divine elements deriving what was needful for human life, and adding every sort of knowledge which was akin to them. All this order and arrangement the goddess first imparted to you when establishing your city;  and she chose the spot of earth in which you were born, because she saw that the happy temperament of the seasons in that land would produce the wisest of men. Wherefore the goddess, who was a lover both of war and of wisdom, selected and first of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men likest herself. And there you dwelt, having such laws as these and still better ones, and excelled all mankind in all virtue, as became the children and disciples of the gods.

Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories.  But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour.  For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end.  This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits [of Gibraltar] which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.  Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the Straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes.  And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.

Meteorology By Aristotle (translated by E. W. Webster) ————————————————————————

Book 2, Part 1

Outside the pillars of Heracles the sea is shallow owing to the mud, but calm, for it lies in a hollow.

Plato’s Critias usually follows the presentation of the Timaeus.  It further expands on a description of the physical layout of the Atlantean island (see diagram below) and of their culture and activities, but its details are too many to include a lengthy discussion in this article.  However, it may be said Plato’s presentation serves mostly to provide a comparative backdrop to discuss the Athenian conception of an ideal society.  A copy of The Critias may be downloaded or viewed here .

In our current age, the first person to take Plato’s account of Atlantis seriously was the American, Ignatius Donnelly, expressed in his Atlantis (1882).  His book set the tone for other researchers for many years.  Unlike more recent authors, he took Plato at his word and accepted the account as written to be true and accurate.

Schematic image of Atlantis according to The Critias (as found in the 1977 Penguin Classics translation)

 

1 Central Island                4 Shrine            7 Towers and Gates        10 Docks 2 Smaller ring island       5 Springs          8 Covered channels 3 Larger ring island        6 Palace            9 Bridges

However, in the latter half of the 20th Century, the age of skepticism engendered by the anti-religious attitude of 18th & 19th Century empirical science finally filtered into the thinking of the common, everyday person in the West.  This attitude of skepticism and pseudo-science produced a crop of both uncritical and hypercritical books and articles about Atlantis (among other esoteric subjects).  Among these, many that purport to accept Plato’s account attempt to determine the ancient geographical position of the fabulous island.  Of course, those inspired by Donnelly did likewise.  However, the later crop of writers usually pick and choose from the Timaeus and the Critias in order to support their peculiar explanations.

One of the latest books of the 20th Century to demonstrate this approach was Rand & Rose Flem-Aths’ When the Sky Fell, In Search of Atlantis (1995).  Building on Charles Hapgood’s thesis [Earth’s Shifting Crust], that existing copies of maps of the ancient world indicate a massive slippage of the earth’s crust, the Flem-Aths produce a rather repetitive essay purporting to demonstrate that today’s Antarctica is the best candidate.  However, from the biased way they handle the literary material, what they demonstrate more than anything else is that librarians of their questionable caliber shouldn’t write research books.  Colin Wilson, by lending his name to the Introduction, surely reduces his more credible reputation.  The following points should be considered by the Flem-Aths and anyone who accepts their writings.

  1. Firstly, and ironically, the Flem-Aths never clearly explain the title of their book.  What do they mean by “the Sky Fell”?  There’s plenty of discussion of the earth slipping, but very little outside chapter titles, about the sky falling.  Perhaps they had Velikovsky’s scenario subconciously in the backs of their minds?  The reader is left to conjecture that this is an oblique reference to the snow and ice build up to be found on Antarctica.  Certainly, there is no direct correlation made between the earth’s crust slipping and the “sky falling”.
  2. The Flem-Aths several times allude to and/or quote from a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to Hapgood in 1953 applauding Hapgood’s concept that the Ice Age(s) might be explained by a shifting of the earth’s crust.  It is clearly evident that the Flem-Aths hope, by emphasizing this tenuous link between Hapgood and Einstein, to give the former author’s idea more weight.  This repetitious emphasis merely raises the question: If Hapgood’s concept is so sound, why not emphasize its content rather than Einstein’s letter?
  3. Toward the end of their book, they very briefly lump the writings of the Princeton scholar, Immanuel Velikovsky with those of Erich von Daniken, incorrectly branding them both as using “myths as evidence for events they believe occurred in the remote past.” (italics theirs)  They continue:  “Such an approach is always open to wild speculation.  Without roots in science the interpretation of myths is a risky business.”  Too bad they didn’t heed their own words.  Their statements as applied to Velikovsky also show that, either they never really examined I.V.’s first three books–let alone the final five–or else are inept at understanding what they read.  The second and third volumes constitute between 600 to 700 pages of almost nothing but quotations of physical scientists (physicists, geologists, biologists, etc.) containing testimony supporting his larger hypothesis.  Surely the Flem-Aths don’t mean that all those scientists’ findings are “myths”?  They also fail to mention the fact that Velikovsky was a long time Princeton colleague and personal friend of Einstein’s and that Einstein wrote more than just a single message to him.  They also fail to mention that it was Velikovsky’s first volume found lying open on Einstein’s desk upon his death–not Hapgood’s.
  4. The basis of the Flem-Aths’ criticism of Velikovsky and von Daniken is exactly what they themselves are guilty of:  they “use myths as evidence…“.  That is not necessarily a bad procedure, but they should not denigrate other authors for setting the example  that they themselves follow!
  5. While noting that Hapgood’s explanation for what caused the supposed crustal slippage has been shown to be deficient, they do not offer an alternative explanation.  Such an explanation is crucial to showing their thesis is plausible.  Velikovsky’s hypothesis, found in World’s in Collision, could provide such a possible cause.  Too bad they rejected his ideas as being without merit.
  6. The Flem-Ath hypothesis directly contradicts the Egyptian priest’s statement that the whole island of Atlantis was submerged in the destroying cataclysm; Antarctica is still well above sea-level, even with about a mile of ice sitting on top!
  7. Finally, and most importantly, the Flem-Aths totally ignore–do not even mention–the fact that the Egyptian priest emphatically told Solon there was a massive deposit of mud blocking the passage of ships beyond the Straits of Heracles [=> Gibraltar].  The muddy condition of these Straits still existed in the days of Aristotle, Plato’s former student–according to Aristotle!  The Egyptian priest clearly intended the muddy Straits to be evidence of the location of Atlantis!  However, such a location could hardly support the Flem-Aths’ thesis.

Rand and Rose Flem-Aths’ => Home page

Any proposition of Atlantis’ former location must take into account the Platonic and Aristotelian assertions of deep mud blocking the passage of ships beyond the Straits of Heracles [Gibraltar].  This is in spite of the fact that modern undersea explorations and inspections of the Atlantic sea floor have been unable to find any evidence which they are willing to interpret as supporting either the statements of deep mud, or of a sunken island “larger than Libya and Asia (Minor) combined.”  In all fairness it should be pointed out records show that an early Pharoah hired Phoenician sailors to circumnavigate Africa which task they successfully performed.  Therefore, if the mud statements are acurate, the beginning of the blocking deposit must have been some distance offshore from the mouth of the Straits.  This would have prevented ships from sailing westward any great distance, while still allowing the Phoenician ships to leave the Mediterranean Sea and sail south along the coast.  Likewise, positioning Atlantis anywhere else than beyond the Pillars of Heracles begs the question: How did the Atlantic Ocean get its name?  Or…Where did the island kingdom get its name?

Finally, one must confront the question of the actual reality of Plato’s story of Solon’s conversations with the priest of Sais.  Did the conversations actually take place?  Did Solon make up the story?  Did Plato make up the story, perhaps based on an earlier myth?  Without an alternative source of information or physical discovery it is likely impossible to conclude absolutely.  Either position may be taken and defended.

Pro:

  • There is sufficient physical evidence of one or more technologically advanced ancient civilizations to adequately support the thesis that some such culture as Atlantis existed.
  • The Flem-Ath’s useful presentation and discussion of the centers of spread of agriculture linked to geographical and climatological conditions lends further support to a previous centralized culture.
  • Plato’s and Aristotle’s statements of deep and extensive mud beyond the Straits must be reckoned with.
  • The relationship of the names of the Atlantic Ocean and Atlantis need to be explained if the story is false.

Con:

  • The subject and content–the purpose–of the Timaeus and the Critias is to expound on what Plato (=> Socrates) believed to be the superlative Athenian social ideals.  The model of Atlantis provides an adequate vessel for comparison and contrast between what others might perceive as best and what the Athenians considered best.  As a parable, Atlantis does not need to be historically real to achieve Plato’s purpose.
  • There is no other mention of the island civilization in any other extant document outside Plato.  Surely such an impressive and influential culture would have left more clear evidence of its former existence!  It’s name, at least, should be found on ancient monoliths and buildings, even if only as a record by a vanquished people of a hated enemy.  But there are no such inscriptions.
  • Modern submarine imaging and researches have detected no evidence of a sunken land or of a deep mud deposit of the coast of Gibraltar or anywhere in the mid-Atlantic.  Indeed, the presence of the extensive mid-Atlantic ridge, supposedly the boundary of two continental plates, argues against any previous island, as does the depth of the mid-Atlantic waters.

 

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