*Italy seems to have an uncertain etymology; Thucydides claims that Italos, the Sicilian king gave his name to Italy, while more recently Emilio Spedicato(h) considers that ”the best derivation we believe to be the one proposed by the Italian nuclear engineer Felice Vinci (1998), in his monograph claiming a Baltic setting for the Homeric epic: he derives Italia from the rare Greek word aithalia, meaning the smoking one.” This is thought to be a reference to Italy’s many volcanoes.*
Italy today is comprised of territory south of the Alps on mainland Europe including a very large boot-shaped peninsula, plus Sicily, Sardinia and some smaller island groups, which along with the French island of Corsica virtually enclose the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The earliest proposal that Italy could be linked with Atlantis came from Angelo Mazzoldi in 1840 when he claimed that before Etruria, Italy had been home to Atlantis and dated its demise to 1986 BC. Mazzoldi expressed a form of hyperdiffusion that had his Italian Atlantis as the mother-culture which seeded the great civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean region(b).
Some of Mazzoldi’s views regarding ancient Italy were expanded on by later scholars such Camillo Ravioli, Ciro Nispi-Landi, Evelino Leonardi, Costantine Cattoi, Guido DiNardo and Giuseppe Brex. Ravioli sought to associate the Maltese island of Gozo with his proposed Atlantis in Italy.
The Italian region of Lazio, which includes Rome, has had a number of very ancient structures proposed as Atlantean; Monte Circeo (Leonardi), Arpino(a) (Cassaro). Another aspect of Italian prehistory is the story of Tirrenide, which was described as a westward extension of the Italian landmass into the Tyrhennian Sea during the last Ice Age, with a land bridge to a conjoined Sardinia and Corsica.. At the same time there were land links to Sicily and Malta, which were all destroyed as deglaciation took place.
It is surprising that so few researchers have commented on Italy’s part in Plato’s Atlantis narrative considering that he twice, without any ambiguity, informs us that the Atlantean domain extended as far as Tyrrhenia (modern Tuscany).
Crit.114c. So all these, themselves and their descendants, dwelt for many generations bearing rule over many other islands throughout the sea, and holding sway besides, as was previously stated, over the Mediterranean peoples as far as Egypt and Tuscany. Tim.25a/b. Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvellous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent; and, moreover, of the lands here within the Straits they ruled over Libya as far as Egypt, and over Europe as far as Tuscany. (Bury)
The quotation from Timaeus is most interesting because of its reference to a ‘continent’. Some have understandably but incorrectly claimed that this is a reference to America or Antarctica, when quite clearly it refers to southern Italy as part of the continent of Europe. Moreover, Herodotus is quite clear (4.42) that the ancient Greeks knew of only three continents, Europe, Asia and Libya.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(g) wrote “Are you ignorant of the celebrated account which is given of that most sacred Sicilian strait, which in old times joined Sicily to the continent of Italy?” (v.139). The name ‘Italy’ was normally used in ancient times to describe the southern part of the peninsula(e). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor. This would push the custom of referring to Italy as a ‘continent’ back near to the time of Plato. More recently, Armin Wolf, the German historian, when writing about Scheria relates(f) that “Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria (southern Italy) they say they are going to the ‘continente’.” This continuing usage is further confirmed by a current travel site(d) and by author, Robert Fox[1168.141]. I suggest that Plato used the term in a similar fashion and can be seen as offering the most rational explanation for the use of the word ‘continent’ in Timaeus 25a.
When you consider that close to Italy are located the large islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, as well as smaller archipelagos such as the Egadi, Lipari and Maltese groups, the idea of Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean can be seen as highly compatible with Plato’s description.
If we accept that Plato stated unambiguously that the domain of Atlantis included at least part of southern Italy and also declared that Atlantis attacked from beyond the Pillars of Heracles, then this appellation could not be applied at that time to any location in the vicinity of the Strait of Gibraltar, but must have been further east, probably not too far from Atlantean Italy. This matches earlier alternative locations recorded by classical writers who placed the ‘Pillars’ at the straits of Messina or Sicily. I personally favour Messina, unless there is stronger evidence that some of the islands in or near the Strait of Sicily such as the Maltese or Pelagian Islands or Pantelleria were home to the ‘Pillars’.
(c) http://www.giardinodidiana.com/storia-e-archeologia.html (Italian)
Giuseppe Palermo is an Italian professor who has raised not a few eyebrows with his bold claim that Atlantis is located under the city of Acri, with the peninsula of Calabria-Lucania in southern Italy as its territory. Palermo lives and works in Acri.
He has published his theory in a 2012 book, Atlantide degli italiani (Atlantis of the Italian). A synopsis of his book together with related images is available online(a).
Magna Graecia is the term applied to those parts of southern Italy and Sicily that were colonised by the Greeks, beginning as early as the 8th century BC. An interesting fact is that Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(b) wrote “Are you ignorant of the celebrated account which is given of that most sacred Sicilian strait, which in old times joined Sicily to the continent of Italy?” (v.139). The name ‘Italy’ was normally used in ancient times to describe the southern part of the peninsula(d). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor. This would push the custom of referring to Italy as a ‘continent’ back to the time of Plato. More recently, Armin Wolf (1935- ), the German historian, when writing about Scheria relates(a) that “Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria (southern Italy) they say they are going to the “continente.” This continuing usage is confirmed by a current travel site(c). I suggest that Plato used the term in a similar fashion and can be seen as offering a more rational explanation for the use of the word ‘continent’ in Timaeus 25a, adding to the idea of Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean.
Giuseppe Palermo in his 2012 book Atlantide degli italiani is now bravely promoting the idea that Plato’s Atlantis was originally located beneath the town of Acri and the surrounding region of Calabria. He supports his claim by matching measurements provided by Plato with physical features around Acri(e). However surprising this idea may seem, it should be pointed out that according to Plato, Atlanteans had occupied southern Italy as far north as Tyrrhenia (Timaeus 25b & Critias 114c). If all this is not true, as a second prize, Acri can at least claim to be the birthplace of the famous American bodybuilder, Charles Atlas!
The Greeks began their gradual expansion westward between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, a development clearly illustrated on an excellent series of online maps(h). Understandably, they would have taken the shortest route from the Greek mainland to the heel of Italy and later on to Sicily. As they progressed with their colonisation new limits were set, and in time, exceeded. I suggest that these limits were each in turn designated the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ as they expanded. I speculate that Capo Colonna (Cape of the Column) in Calabria may have been one of those boundaries. Interestingly, 18th century maps shown up to five islands near the cape that are no longer visible(g), suggesting the possibility that in ancient times they could have been even more extensive, creating a strait that might have matched Plato’s description. On the other hand the Strait of Messina was one of the locations recorded as the site of the ‘Pillars’ and considering that mariners at that time preferred to hug the coast, I would opt for the Strait of Messina rather than the more frequently proposed Strait of Sicily. A strait is defined as a narrow sea passage, a description that seems inappropriate for the 96 miles that separates Sicily from Tunisia.
For a brief history of the rise and fall of Magna Graecia, have a look at the classical wisdom website(f).
It is also noteworthy that there are still a number of towns in Calabria where ancient Greek is still spoken(i).
(f) http://classicalwisdom.com/magna-graecia-greater-greece/ (Offline Octyober 2018)
*(h) http://learningobjects.wesleyan.edu/greek_colonies/ (offline Feb. 2015)
Tirrenide is the name given to a large landmass that was supposedly submerged off the west coast of Italy, which subsequently gave its name to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The name was first proposed by C.J. Forsyth Major in 1882.
Some commentators, such as Pier Paolo Cavallin and Evelino Leonardi, have tried to link the story with Atlantis. Von Klaproth speculated that it had been a vast island that filled most of the western Mediterranean. Others suggest the vicinity of Calabria or part of a landbridge between Italy and North Africa.
Scheria is the name of a Phaeacian island mentioned by Homer in his Odyssey and identified by some, including Ignatius Donnelly, as Atlantis. Scheria has been noted as only second to Atlantis for the array locations ascribed to it. For example, Heinrich Schliemann, as well as many ancient and modern commentators, considered Scheria to have been Corfu. Others, such as Felice Vinci suggest Norway, while Iman Wilkens offers the Canaries.
Armin Wolf (1935- ), the German historian, suggests(b) Calabria in Southern Italy was Scheria and even more controversially that the Phaeacians were in fact Phoenicians!
Wolf also claims[669.326] that although the country of the Phaeacians is in some translations called an island, the original Greek text never calls it ‘island’ just Scheria, which, Wolf informs us, etymologically means ‘continent’ – perfectly fitting Calabria. Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria they say they are going to the ‘continente’. Wolf puts Scheria in the vicinity of Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria. It has been suggested to me in private correspondence(d) that the etymology of Catanzaro is strongly indicative of a Phoenician influence! Catanzaro is also known as ‘the city of the two seas’, having the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the east. It is Wolf’s contention that it was across this isthmus that Odysseus travelled[p.327].
A further mystery is that, according to Dr. Ernst Assmann quoted by Edwin Bjorkman, “both the vessel of Odysseus, as pictured in Greek art, and the term applied to it, are of Phoenician origin.”
Daniel Fleck(a) lists ten similarities between Scheria and Atlantis. Jürgen Spanuth quoted and added to an even more extensive list of comparisons between the two compiled by R. Hennig. Rainer W. Kühne has also written a paper(c) on the similarities.Walter Leaf perceived a connection between the two and wrote accordingly. Edwin Björkman went further and wrote a book that linked Tartessos, Scheria and Atlantis. More recently, Roger Coghill stressed the similarity of Homer’s Scheria to Plato’s Atlantis in The Message of Atlantis . Ernle Bradford notes that the name Scheria itself is thought by some to be derived from the Phoenician word ‘schera’, which means marketplace, which is not incompatible with Plato’s description of Atlantis as a hive of commercial activity [1011.204] .
Michael MacRae in his Sun Boat: The Odyssey Deciphered also thinks that Scheria could be identified with Atlantis and as such was probably situated at the western end of the Gulf of Cadiz near Portugal’s Cape Vincent.*A number of 20th century researchers such as Sykes and Mertz have places the travels of Odysseus in the Atlantic. More recently, Gerard Janssen has followed this school of thought and as part of his theories identifies Scheria as the island of Lanzarote in the Canaries (e).*
However, Ernle Bradford, who retraced the voyage of Odysseus, voiced his view that Corfu was the land of the Phaecians and noted that “the voice of antiquity is almost as unanimous about Scheria being Corfu as it is about the Messina Strait being the home of Scylla and Charybdis.”
(a) http://atlantia.de/mythen/imperium/homer_odyssee.htm (offline May, 2018) See: Archive 2087
(d) Private correspondence Jan. 2016
The term ‘Continent’, is derived from the Latin terra continens, meaning ‘continuous land’ and in English is relatively new, not coming into use until the Middle English period (11th-16th centuries). Apart from that, it is sometimes used to imply mainland. The Scottish island of Shetland is known by the smaller islands in the archipelago as Mainland, in fact its old Norse name is Megenland, which means mainland. In turn the people of Mainland, Shetland, will apply the same title to the Britain, who in turn apply the term ‘continuous land’ or continent to mainland Europe. Consequently it is clear the term is clearly relative.
The term has been applied arbitrarily by some commentators to Plato’s Atlantis, usually by those locating it in the Atlantic. In fact Plato never called Atlantis a continent, but instead as the sixteen instances below prove, he consistently referred to it as an island, probably the one containing the capital city of the confederation or alliance!
[Timaeus 24e, 25a, 25d Critias 108e, 113c, 113d, 113e, 114a, 114b, 114e, 115b, 115e, 116a, 117c, 118b, 119c]
A number of commentators have assumed that when Plato referred to an ‘opposite continent’ he was referring to the Americas, however Herodotus, who flourished after Solon and before Plato, was quite clear that there were only three continents known to the Greeks, Europe, Asia and Libya [4.42]. In fact prior to Herodotus only two landmasses were considered continents, Europe and Asia, with Libya sometimes considered part of Asia. So when Plato does use the word ‘continent’ [Tim. 24e, 25a, Crit. 111a] we can reasonably conclude that he was referring to one of these landmasses, and more than likely to either Europe or Libya (North Africa) as Atlantis was in the west, ruling out Asia.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(b) wrote “Are you ignorant of the celebrated account which is given of that most sacred Sicilian strait, which in old times joined Sicily to the continent of Italy?” (v.139). It would seem that in this particular circumstance the term ‘Sicilian Strait’ refers to the Strait of Messina, which is another example of how ancient geographical terms often changed their meaning over time (see Atlantic & Pillars of Herakles).
The name ‘Italy’ was normally used in ancient times to describe the southern part of the peninsula(d). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor. This would push the custom of referring to Italy as a ‘continent’ back to the time of Plato,*who clearly states (Tim. 25a) that the Atlantean alliance “ruled over all the island, over many other islands as well. and over sections of the continent.” (Wells). The next passage recounts their control of territory in Europe and North Africa, so it naturally begs the question as to what was ‘the continent’ referred to previously? I suggest that the context, had a specific meaning, which, in the absence of any other candidate and the persistent usage over the following two millennia can be reasonably assumed to have been southern Italy.*
Centuries later, the historian, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) refers at least twice[1523.6.209/10] to the ‘continent of Italy’. More recently, Armin Wolf (1935- ), the German historian, when writing about Scheria relates(a) that “Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria (southern Italy) they say they are going to the “continente.” This continuing usage is confirmed by a current travel site(c) and by author, Robert Fox in The Inner Sea [1168.141].
I suggest that Plato used the term in a similar fashion and can be seen as offering a more rational explanation for the use of the word ‘continent’ in Timaeus 25a, adding to the idea of Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean.
*Giovanni Ugas claims that the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain and France, along with the Italian peninsula constituted the ‘true continent’ (continente vero) referred to by Plato. (see below)*
Furthermore, the text informs us that this opposite continent surrounds or encompasses the true ocean, a description that could not be applied to either of the Americas as neither encompass the Atlantic, which makes any theory of an American Atlantis more than questionable.
Modern geology has definitively demonstrated that no continental mass lies in the Atlantic and quite clearly the Mediterranean does not have room for a sunken continent .
America as the home of Atlantis took off as an idea shortly after its discovery (or perhaps more correctly, rediscovery) by Columbus. Initially, reports sent back to Europe designated America as ‘Paradise’
until its identification as Atlantis quickly took hold. John Dee in the time of Elizabeth I was convinced that the newly discovered Americas were in fact Atlantis, an idea endorsed by Francis Bacon. The first time that America was so named on a map was on the 1507(c) Waldseemüller map, sometimes referred to as “America’s birth certificate.” A rare copy of this map was recently found in Germany(e).
As late as 1700, a map of the world by Edward Wells was published in Oxford that highlights the paucity of information regarding the Americas at that time. However in this instance the accompanying text notes that “this continent with the adjoining islands is generally supposed to have been anciently unknown though there are not wanting some, who will have even the continent itself to be no other than the Insula Atlantis of the ancients.”
For over five centuries a variety of commentators have associated Atlantis with America and many of its ancient cultures together with a range of location theories that stretch from Maine through the Caribbean and Central America to Argentina.
Although most proponents of an American Atlantis, particularly following the continent’s discovery, did not specify a location, but were happy to consider the Americas in their entirety as Plato’s lost land.
Over time attention was more focused on Mesoamerica and the northern region of South America, where the impressive remains of the Maya and Incas led many to consider them to be Atlantean.
North America received minimal attention until the 19th century, when an 1873 newspaper report(i) claimed that there was support from unnamed scientists for locating remnants of Atlantis in the Adirondacks and some of the mountains of Maine! More recently Dennis Brooks has advocated Tampa Bay, Florida, while John Saxer supports Tarpon Springs, also in Florida as Atlantean. To confuse matters further, Mary Sutherland locates Atlantis in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky and for good measure suggests that King Solomon’s mines are to be found in the same region!
For example, the discovery of the remains of the remarkable cultures of Mesoamerica generated speculation on the possibility of an Atlantean connection there. This view gained further support with the publication of Ignatius Donnelly’s groundbreaking work on Atlantis.
Some have seen an Atlantic location for Atlantis as a conduit between the culture of ancient Egypt and that of Meso-America(d).
Half a century ago Nicolai Zhirov claimed that Plato had knowledge of America[458.22] indicated by his statement that Atlantis was in a sea with a continent encompassing it. He thought that this was the earliest record of a continent beyond the Atlantic.
However, Plato also said that Atlantis was surrounded ‘on all sides’ by this continent, which is not compatible with the Azores, advocated by Zhirov as the location of Plato’s sunken island. In an effort to strengthen this claim Zhirov also claims that there is evidence that King Sargon of Akkad travelled to America in the middle of the third millennium BC, an idea that has gained little traction.
The idea of Sumerians in America was promoted by A.H. Verrill and his wife Ruth, who claimed that King Sargon travelled to Peru, where he was known as Viracocha. The Verrills support their contention with a range of cultural, linguistic and architectural similarities between the Sumerians and the Peruvians.
More recently, Andrew Collins has promoted the idea of Atlantis in the Caribbean, specifically Cuba. Followers of Edgar Cayce are still expecting the Bahamas to yield evidence of Plato’s island. Gene Matlock supports the idea of a Mexican location with an Indian connection, while Duane McCullough opts for Guatemala. Ivar Zapp and George Erikson have also chosen Central America for investigation. Further south Jim Allen has argued strongly for Atlantis having been located on the Altiplano of Bolivia. A website entitled American Atlantis Research from Edward Alexander , now offline, was rather weak on content and irritatingly referred to the ‘Andies’.
Although much of what has been written about an American location for Atlantis is the result of serious research, it all falls far short of convincing me that the Atlantis of which Plato wrote is to be found there. No evidence has been produced to even hint that any American culture had control of the Mediterranean as far Tyrrhenia in the north and Libya in the south. No remains or carvings of triremes or chariots have been found in the Americas. How could an ancient civilisation from America launch an attack across the Atlantic and at the furthest end of the Mediterranean 9,000 or even 900 years before Solon? An even more important question is, why would they bother? There is no evidence of either motive, means or opportunity for an attack from that direction.
A number of Plato’s descriptions of Atlantis would seem to rule out America as its location.
(a) As mentioned above, the ‘opposite continent’ referred to by Plato (Timaeus 25a) is described as encompassing the sea in which Atlantis lay. America cannot be described as enclosing the Atlantic.
(b) The Greeks only knew of three continents, Europe, Asia and Libya. Armin Wolf, the German historian, when writing about Scheria relates(f) that “Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria (southern Italy) they say they are going to the “continente.” I suggest that Plato used the term in a similar fashion and was quite possibly referring to that same part of Italy which later became known as ‘Magna Graecia’. Robert Fox in The Inner Sea[1168.141] confirms that this long-standing usage of ‘continent’ refers to Italy.
(c) Herodotus described Sardinia as “the biggest island in the world” (Hist.6.2). In fact Sicily is marginally larger but as islands were measured in those days (Felice Vinci) by the length of their coastal perimeter Herodotus was correct. Consequently, it can be argued that since Cuba and Hispaniola are much more extensive than Sardinia, the Greeks had no knowledge of the Caribbean.
(d) Plato makes frequent reference to horses in Atlantis. The city itself had a track for horseracing (Critias 117c). The Atlanteans had thousands of chariots (Critias 119a). The Atlanteans even had horse baths (Critias 117b). All these references make no sense if Plato was describing an American Atlantis as there were no horses there for over 12,000 years, when they died out, until brought back by the Spaniards millennia later. Furthermore, it makes even less sense if you subscribe to the early date (9600 BC) for Atlantis as it is thousands of years before we have any evidence for the domestication of the horse, anywhere.
A recent study of worldwide DNA patterns suggests that “no more than 70 people inhabited North America 14,000 years ago.”(b) But a more important claim has been offered by Professors Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick who have co-authored a paper offering evidence(J) that the genetic data only supports a migration from Siberia to America. This certainly runs counter to any suggestion of transatlantic migration from Europe.
A 2013 book, L’America dimenticata, by Italian physicist and philologist Lucio Russo, claims that the ancient Greeks had knowledge of America and it was gradually forgotten because of mistakes made by Ptolemy including a 15 degree error for the latitude of the Canaries(g).
While there is extensive debate regarding the Americas being visited by ancient Greeks (Minoans), Phoenicians and even Sumerians, there seems little doubt that America had been visited by various other peoples prior to Columbus such as Welsh, Vikings or Irish. The case for the latter is strengthened by a 500-year-old report(h) of a long-established Irish colony in North America called Duhare.
*America as Atlantis and the source of freemasonry knowledge was recently repackaged in a brief article on the Odyssey website(k) quoting Manly P. Hall who in turn cited Plato and Sir Francis Bacon. It then proceeds to speculate on what lessons the story of this original American Atlantis offers the America of today!*
(h) http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot.ie/2014/03/490-year-old-spanish-documents-describe.html (link broken August 2018) See: Archive 2843
The Pillars of Heracles is the name given by Plato to describe a maritime boundary marker of the ancient Greek world. According to his text, Atlantis lay just beyond or just before this boundary. However, strictly speaking, Plato does not call them ‘pillars’ but refers to them as stelai (pronounced “stee-lie”) and its singular Stele (pronounced “stee-lee”) which are the Greek words for stone slabs used as boundary or commemorative markers, not a reference to supportive columns. Rhys Carpenter favours the idea that the term when applied to the Strait of Gibraltar was used with the sense of boundary markers, indicating ”the limits of the Inner Sea that, for the Greeks, was the navigable world.”[221.156]
According to Aristotle, the Pillars of Heracles were also known by the earlier name of ‘Pillars of Briareus’. Plutarch places Briareus near Ogygia, from which we can assume that the Pillars of Heracles are close to Ogygia. Since Malta has been identified as Ogygia, it was not unreasonable, to conclude, as some do, that the Pillars were probably in the region of the Maltese Islands.
However, Ogygia has also been identified with one of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic by Felice Vinci[019.3], who then proposed that the Pillars of Heracles had also been located in that archipelago. John Larsen has made similar suggestions.
Furthermore, Aristotle also wrote that “outside the pillars of Heracles the sea is shallow owing to the mud, but calm, for it lies in a hollow.” This is not a description of the Atlantic that we know, which is not shallow, calm or lying in a hollow and which he refers to as a sea not an ocean.
Classical writers frequently refer to the Pillars without being in anyway specific regarding their location. Rosario Vieni has suggested that the Symplegades, at the Bosporus, encountered by Homer’s Argonauts were precursors of the Pillars of Heracles, although he settled on the Strait of Sicily as their location, before Sergio Frau adopted the same location.
However, there is little doubt that during the last centuries BC ‘the Pillars’ referred almost exclusively to the Strait of Gibraltar. The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia notes that Pillars were, in earlier times, identified with the Strait of Sicily, but from the time of Erastosthenes (c. 250 BC) the term was used to refer to the Strait of Gibraltar, reflecting the expansion of Greek maritime knowledge.
I consider it highly relevant that no writer prior to Eratosthenes had referred to the Pillars of Heracles being located at Gibraltar. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this silence reflects the lack of knowledge possessed by the ancient Greeks regarding the western Mediterranean, which only improved gradually, as their colonising and trading expanded westward.
Alessio Toscano has suggested that the Pillars were situated at the Strait of Otranto and that Plato’s ‘Atlantic’ was in fact the Adriatic Sea. A more distant location was proposed by Chechelnitsky who placed the ‘Pillars’ at the Bering Strait between the Chukchi and Seward peninsulas in Russia and the USA respectively.
It always seemed to me that when the Greeks began their expansion westward, they did so hugging the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Understandably, they would have taken the shortest route from the Greek mainland to the heel of Italy and later on to Sicily. As they progressed with their colonisation, new limits were set, and in time, exceeded. I suggest that these limits were each in turn designated the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ as they expanded further. I speculate that Capo Colonna (Cape of the Column) in Calabria may have been one of those boundaries. Interestingly, 18th century maps shown up to five islands near the cape that are no longer visible(g), suggesting the possibility that in ancient times they could have been even more extensive, creating a strait that might have matched Plato’s description. On the other hand, the Strait of Messina was one of the locations recorded as the site of the ‘Pillars’ and considering that mariners at that time preferred to stay close to the coast, I would opt for the Strait of Messina rather than the more frequently proposed Strait of Sicily.
An extensive collection of classical references to the ‘Pillars’ is to be found on the Internet(j).
However, the poet Pindar in the Third Nemean Ode would appear to have treated the Pillars as a metaphor for the limit of established Greek geographical knowledge (Olympian 3.43-45), a boundary that was never static. In 1778, Jean-Silvain Bailly was certain that the Pillars of Hercules were just “a name that denotes limits or boundaries.” [926.v2/293]
Dag Øistein Endsjø, a Norweigan professor, has added the use of the ‘Pillars’ as a metaphor to include the limits of human endeavour(d) and quotes the classicist, James S. Romm in support(e). My own view is that where the term may have initially referred to physical pillars, over time a metaphorical usage became the norm.
Paulino Zamarro has mapped 13 locations(f) identified as the ‘Pillars’ by classical authors (see map below) and expands on this further in his book. He identified Pori, a rocky islet north of the Greek island of Antikythera, as the location of the Pillars of Herakles.
The Pillars are assumed by some to refer to the Rock of Gibraltar in Europe and to Mt. Acha or Jebel Musain, which are near Ceuta in Morocco. Others prefer to accept them as a physical pair of pillars set up outside a temple.
The idea that geographical terms can radically change their location over time is illustrated by the name (H)esperia, which means ‘evening land’ or as we might say ‘land of the setting sun’, was originally used by Greeks to indicate Italy and later employed by Roman writers as a designation for Spain. It could be argued that the Greek use of this appellation could be an indication that when introduced they were not too sure what lay beyond Italy.
Herodotus (Hist. Bk II.44) refers to Heracles as a god of the Egyptians ‘from time immemorial’. He also visited a temple of Heracles in Tyre with two pillars, one of gold and the other emerald. According to the priests there it had stood for two thousand three hundred years or from approximately 2700 BC.
Heracles is clearly the Greek counterpart of the Phoenician god Melqart, who was the principal god of the Phoenician city of Tyre. Melqart was brought to the most successful Tyrian colony, Carthage and subsequently further west, where at least three temples dedicated to Melqart have been identified in ancient Spain, Gades, Ebusus, and Carthago Nova. Across the Strait in Morocco, the ancient Phoenician city of Lixus also has a temple to Melqart.
Gades (Cadiz) was originally named Gadir (walled city). It has been generally accepted that it was founded around 1100 BC, although hard evidence does not prove a date earlier than the 9th century BC. It is today regarded as the most ancient functioning city in Western Europe.
Pairs of free standing columns were apparently important in Phoenician temples and are also to be found in Egyptian temples as well as being part of Solomon’s temple (built by Phoenician craftsmen). Consequently the pillars of Melqart temple in Gades are considered by some to be the origin of the reference to the Pillars of Melqart and later of Heracles (by the Greeks) and Hercules (by the Romans) as applied to the Strait of Gibraltar.
*Spanuth dismisses those who have identified the red and white cliffs of Heligoland as the Pillars of Heracles, decrying the idea as a fallacy. He explains that “Natural rock formations were not what was originally meant by the Pillars of Heracles. Those at the Straits of Gibraltar were not, as one so often reads, the rocks to the north and south of the Straits, but two man-made pillars which stood before the temple of Heracles at Gades (present-day Cádiz) about 100 km north of the Straits.”*
The Pillars of Heracles usually play a critical part in the construction of any theory relating to the location of Atlantis. Even the authors of theories that have placed Plato’s island civilisation in such diverse locations as Antarctica, the North Sea or the South China Sea, have felt obliged to include an explanation for the ’Pillars’ within the framework of their particular hypothesis.
There is one location clue in Plato’s text (Tim.24e) that is often overlooked, namely, that the island of Atlantis was situated close to the Pillars of Heracles. Although it can be argued that Plato’s island was immediately before or after the Pillars, the text clearly implies proximity. This was pointed out by W.K.C. Guthrie in volume 5 of A History of Greek Philosophy [946.245] and independently endorsed by Joseph Warren Wells in The Book on Atlantis.
A number of alternative locations have been identified as being referred to in ancient times as the Pillars of Heracles. Robert Schoch writes “This distinctive name, taken from the most powerful hero of Greek mythology, was given to a number of ancient sites known in modern times by quite different appellations”. The Greeks, however, used the name Pillars of Heracles to mark other sites besides Gibraltar, some outside the Mediterranean – namely, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Strait of Kerch dividing the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov – and even more inside – specifically, the Strait of Bonafaccio between Corsica and Sardinia, the Strait of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily, the Greek Peleponnese, the mountainous coast of Tunisia, and the Nile Delta.
Arguably the most unusual suggestion this year has come fro Marco Goti in his book, The Island of Plato in which he identified the ‘Pillars’ in the Atlantic, being the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland in the west and their counterpart in Scotland’s Isle of Staffa in the east! However, this idea is not original, having been first mooted nearly seventy years ago by W.C. Beaumont(n).
Perhaps the first ‘modern’ writer to propose the eastern Mediterranean as the location for the ‘Pillars’ was Russian, Avraam Norov. He considered them to have been shrines drawing on both Greek and Arabic sources for his ideas.
G. Galanopoulos and E. Bacon suggest that the Pillars of Heracles were possibly associated with Melos, one of the Cyclades or Cape Maléa, the eastern promontory of the Gulf of Laconia. Both James Mavor and Rodney Castleden defend this view, which continues to have some support(p).?
Tacitus, the renowned Latin historian, in chapter 34 of Germania, clearly states that it was believed that the Pillars of Hercules were located near the Rhine in the territory of the Frisians.
Olof Rudbeck opted for a location further east in the Baltic at the Øresund strait between Sweden and Denmark.
Strabo, the Greek historian and geographer, records that Alexander the Great built an altar and ‘Pillars of Heracles’ at the eastern limit of his Empire. Pliny the Elder noted that in Sogdiana in modern Uzbekistan there was reputed to be an altar and ‘Pillars of Heracles’. Aristotle in de Mundo describes the north coast of Europe on the edge of a vast sea, beyond the Celts and the Scythians up to Sinus Gallicus and the Pillars of Heracles!
Ulrich Hofmann combines the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax with the writings of Herodotus to build a credible argument for placing Atlantis in North Africa in Lake Tritonis, now occupied by the Chotts of modern Algeria and Tunisia. Consequently, Hoffmann places the Pillars at the Gulf of Gabés, which would put Malta to the east of them. He also argues that the Pillars were part of Atlantis rather than separate from it.
George Sarantitis presented a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in which he also argued that the Pillars had been situated in the Gulf of Gabes[750.403]. He cites Strabo among others to highlight the multiplicity of locations that have been attributed to Pillars in ancient times.
Scylax of Caryanda describes(a) in his Periplus, a guide to the Mediterranean, the Maltese Islands as lying to the east of the Pillars of Heracles. The opinions of Hofmann and Sarantitis would certainly support this view.
Anton Mifsud argues that had the Pillars been located at Gibraltar the islands to the east would have been the Balearics. Mifsud also points out that the 1st century BC writer, Apollonius Rhodius, located the Strait of Heracles in ancient Syrtis Minor, now the Gulf of Gabés. Delisle de Sales placed the ‘Pillars’ not too far away at the Gulf of Tunis, the gateway to Carthage. Mifsud has now revised his opinion and in a December 2017 illustrated article(o) has identified the Maltese promontory of Ras ir-Raheb near Rabat, with its two enormous limestone columns as the Pillars of Herakles. This headland had originally been topped by a Temple of Herakles, confirmed by archaeologist, Professor Nicholas Vella.
Sergio Frau, in his recent book, published in Italy, insists that the Pillars were in fact located in the Strait of Sicily. He sees this location as according with the writings of Homer and Hesiod. He discusses in detail the reference by Herodotus to an island to the west of the Pillars, suggesting that the world ‘ocean’ had a different meaning than today and pointing out that elsewhere Herodotus refers to Sardinia as the largest island in the world. Following this lead Frau concluded that Atlantis was in fact located in Sardinia. Frau commented that Eratosthenes, circa 200 BC, was the first geographer to place the Pillars of Heracles at Gibraltar. He also quotes the earlier geographer Dicaearchus whose comments appear to also support a location near Malta. Antonio Usai , in his critique of Frau’s book has opted for the Pillars having been between the coast of Tunisia and the islands of Kerkennah.
It should be noted that many of the other known ‘Pillars of Heracles’ existed in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. This is possibly because until the middle of the 1st millennium BC the Greeks were, generally speaking, restricted to this region. It would appear that for the ancient Greeks, the Pillars of Heracles marked straits or promontories at the limits of their known world. These boundaries were extended further and further as their maritime capabilities improved. In the Late Bronze Age the Bosporus in the east and probably the Strait of Sicily in the west confined the Greeks. It was only shortly before Solon’s trip to Egypt that the Greek colony of Massilia (modern Marseilles) was founded and so, at last, the western limit of the Mediterranean was brought within the reach of Greek ships. Obviously as their range extended so too did the location of new Pillars and possibly led to the decline in the usage of the title at former boundaries, leaving us today with only the Strait of Gibraltar to carry the name.
Nevertheless, Thorwald C. Franke maintains that the westward shift of the ‘Pillars’ to Gibraltar occurred hundreds of years before Solon. He expanded on this at the 2008 Atlantis Conference and in his 2006 book on Herodotus.
Even Arthur C. Clarke suggested that there was evidence that the early Greeks did not originally refer to the Strait of Gibraltar as the Pillars of Heracles. Clarke did not cite his sources, but expressed a personal preference for the Strait of Messina.
Fundamentalist Atlantology, as proclaimed by the ‘prophet’ Donnelly in the 19th century, will accept no explanation other than that Plato was referring to ‘Pillars’ near Gibraltar. Certainly, it is perfectly clear that Plato MAY have been referring to the Strait of Gibraltar, but it is also clear that this was not the only location with that designation in ancient times. Consequently, if any of the alternatives mentioned above enable the construction of a new credible Atlantis location hypothesis, then it deserves careful rational consideration.
In 1913, Nicolae Densusianu proposed a location for the Pillars on the Danube, in ancient Dacia, modern Romania. Ranko Jakovljevic has recently expressed the view that the nearby Iron Gates section of the Danube in Serbia was the location of Atlantis. A paper presented to the 2008 Atlantis Conference by Ticleanu, Constantin & Nicolescu[750.375] has the ‘Pillars’ at the Iron Gates but place Atlantis a little further west on what is now the Pannonian Plain.
The late Arysio dos Santos claims claimed that “there was only one real pair of pillars: the ones that flank Sunda Strait in Indonesia”, in keeping with his Indonesian location for Atlantis. However, he does list (p.130) nine sites designated by ancient authorities as having been locations of ‘Pillars’, reinforcing the idea that the term was not exclusively applied to just one site.
Even more exotic locations such as Chott-el-Djerid in Tunisia, Bab-el-Mandeb(b) at the mouth of the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz(i) at the entrance to the Persian Gulf and even the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India have all been suggested at some stage as the ‘Pillars’.
George H. Cooper offered an even more outrageous solution when he wrote that Stonehenge in England were the original Pillars of Heracles.*In 2018, David L. Hildebrandt published Atlantis – The Awakening , in which he has endeavoured to do just that with a mass of material that he claims supports the idea of Atlantis in Britain and Stonehenge as the remnants of the Temple of Poseidon. He suggests that the the five trilithons represent the five sets of male twins, an idea voiced by Jürgen Spanuth and more recently by Dieter Braasch.*
Sometimes, in ancient Greek literature, this phrase refers to the strait between Sicily and the southern tip of Italy (a place which the Greeks did know well, having established colonies in Sicily and southern Italy). An indication of the level of confusion that existed in early geography and cartography is the fact that some ancient maps & texts mark the Mediterranean region west of the Strait of Sicily as “the Atlantic Ocean” and even state that Tyrrhenia is in the ‘Atlantic’!
Finally, my own conclusion regarding the location of the ‘Pillars’ referred to by Plato/Solon, is that a careful reading of Plato’s text shows clearly that they were located in the Central or Western Mediterranean. I base this view on (i) Critias 108 which states that the Atlantean war was between those that lived outside the Pillars of Heracles and those that lived within them and (ii) Critias 114 which declares that Atlantis held sway over the Western Mediterranean as far as Tyrrhenia in the north and up to the borders of Egypt in the south. Consequently, we can assume that west of Tyrrhenia and of Egypt were beyond the Pillars of Heracles. Depending on the exact location of the ancient borders of Tyrrhenia and Egypt, the Pillars could have been situated between Malta and Crete. This interpretation opens up the possibility of Malta, Sicily or Sardinia as prime candidates for the location of Atlantis.
Plato’s comments make little sense, if he was describing an attack by people outside the Pillars located at Gibraltar on those inside the Pillars, since at least half of the coastal territory, in both Europe and Africa, east of Gibraltar was already conquered. However, if the Pillars were located somewhere much further east, his comments make greater sense.
The Schoppes, in support of their Black Sea location for Atlantis, maintain that the Pillars were situated at the Bosporus and not Gibraltar. They contend “the maintained misinterpretation results from the fact that Herakles went to Iberia. At late Hellenistic and at Roman times Iberia was Spain. However, this leads to inconsistencies: After putting up the Pillars (supposed to be Gibraltar) Herakles put together a fleet to go to Iberia, he was still there!” The Schoppes point out that in the distant past ‘Iberia related to the land of an ethnic group to the east of the Black Sea.
Luana Monte, a supporter of the Minoan Hypothesis has also proposed a location at the mouth of the Nile Delta where the recently rediscovered sunken city of Herakleoin was situated. This identification appears to have been made in order to keep the Minoan Empire west of the ‘Pillars’.
Even more bizarre is the suggestion(c) that the ‘Pillars’ were in fact two bright stars in the western sky at the end of the last Age of Libra around 12,500 BC.
What is clear from all of the above is that the term Pillars of Heracles was, without doubt, applied to a variety of locations but Plato’s reference MIGHT relate to Gibraltar although equally strong if not stronger cases can be made for other sites at earlier dates. It is also plausible that at some point it also became a metaphor for any geographical limit.
Neville Chipulina, a Gibraltarian, has an interesting article(m) on the ‘history’ of the Pillars of Hercules and its association with Gibraltar.
Apart from any connection with Atlantis, it has been suggested that the vertical lines in the US dollar $ign represent the Pillars of Heracles!(l)
Ogygia is accepted by some as an island in the Mediterranean that was destroyed by an earthquake before the Bronze Age. The Greek writers Euhemerus in the 4th century BC and Callimachus who flourished in the 3rd century BC, identified the Maltese archipelago as Ogygia. Others have more specifically named the Maltese island of Gozo as Ogygia. Anton Mifsud has pointed out that Herodotus, Hesiod and Diodorus Siculus have all identified the Maltese Islands with Ogygia. There is now evidence that Isaac Newton concurred with this idea(c) in his book The Original of Monarchies(d).
Strabo declared that Ogygia was to be found in the ‘World Ocean’ or Atlantic.*Richard Hennig opted for Madeira following the opinion of von Humboldt. Spanuth argued strongly against either Madeira or the Canaries[0017.149] and gave his support to the Azores as the most likely location of Calypso’s Island.. Not unexpectedly the Azores, in the mid-Atlantic, have also been nominated as Ogygia by other 20th century researchers such as Sykes(e) and Mertz. In a 2019 paper(f), Gerard Janssen also placed Ogygia in the Azores, specifically naming the island of Saõ Miguel as Ogygia, which Spanuth also did.*
Homer in his Odyssey identifies Ogygia as the home of Calypso. The Roman poet Catullus writing in the 1st century BC linked Ogygia with Calypso in Malta(g). Mifsud also quotes another Roman of the same period, Albius Tibullus, who identifies Atlantis with Calypso. Other Maltese writers have seen all this as strong evidence for the existence of Atlantis in their region. Delisle de Sales considered Ogygia to be between Italy and Carthage, but opted for Sardinia as the remains of Calypso’s island.
In the Calabria region of southern Italy lies Capo Collone (Cape of Columns). 18th century maps show two islands off the cape named Ogygia and Calypsus offering echoes of Homer’s tale. Additionally, there is a temple to Hera Lacinia at Capo Collone
By way of complete contrast both Felice Vinci and John Esse Larsen have proposed that the Faeroe Islands included Ogygia. In the same region, Iceland was nominated by Gilbert Pillot as the location of Ogygia and Calypso’s home. Ilias D. Mariolakos, a Greek professor of Geology also makes a strong case(a) for identifying Iceland with Ogygia based primarily on the writings of Plutarch. He also supports the idea of Minoans in North America.
The most recent suggestion has come from Manolis Koutlis , who, after a forensic examination of various versions of Plutarch’s work, in both Latin and Greek, also placed Ogygia in North America, specifically on what is now the tiny island of St. Paul at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, a gulf that was also held the location of Atlantis.
Jean-Silvain Bailly also used the writings of Plutarch to sustain his theory of Ogygia, which he equated with Atlantis having an Arctic location[0926.2.299], specifically identifying Iceland as Ogygia/Atlantis with the islands of Greenland, Nova Zembla and Spitzbergen as the three islands equally distant from it and each other.
However, Ireland has been linked with Ogygia by mainly Irish writers. In the 17th century historian, Roderick O’Flaherty(1629-1718), wrote a history of Ireland entitled Ogygia. while in the 19th century, Margaret Anne Cusack (1832-1899) also wrote a history in which she claimed a more explicit connection, this was followed in 1911 by a book by Marion McMurrough Mulhall in which she also quotes Plutarch to support the linking of Ireland and Ogygia. More recently, in The Origin of Culture Thomas Dietrich promotes the same view, but offers little hard evidence to support it.
This matter would appear to be far from a resolution.
Other suggested locations are:
Lipsi (Greece) http://www.wiw.gr/english/lipsi_niriedes/
Mljet (Croatia) http://www.adriagate.com/en/croatia/national_parks.aspx?ID=4
Gavdos (Greece) http://gavdosgreece.page.tl/
*(e) ‘Where Calypso may have Lived’ (Atlantis, 5, 1953, pp 136-137)
(g) Lib. iv, Eleg. 1 *