John Michael Greer
A Tsunami was probably first described in the 5th century BC by Thucydides when he wrote “in my opinion, the cause of the phenomenon was this: where the earthquake was most violent, the sea receded and was then pushed back with even greater violence, thus bringing about a flood. Such a thing would not have happened without an earthquake” (Peloponnesian War, Book III.89)(b). However, there are also conditions that can produce tsunamis inland, such as occurred around 500 AD inundating Geneva in the Alps(k)(m).
The word ‘tsunami’ first appeared in an English language publication in the September 1896 edition of National Geographic Magazine in which the devastation caused by an earthquake wave in Japan was graphically described.
Recent studies(g) indicate that a similar tsunami saved the Greek town of Nea Poteidaia from a Persian attack in 479 BC. Herodotus in reporting the event attributed the Persian defeat to divine intervention by Poseidon, god of the sea.
A similar event on an even greater scale has been one of the suggestions as the possible cause of the flooding of Atlantis. A 2002 paper(a), by Louisiana State University geologist, Gary Byerly and his team, identified an ancient asteroid impact that generated a tsunami that “swept around the earth several times, inundating everything except the mountains”. The study of ancient tsunamis is at a very early stage of development.
Ivan T. Sanderson in one of his books, Investigating the Unexplained , recounts an 1863 report of a 200-foot high tsunami which sped up the Ganges and Houghli Rivers in India killing tens of thousands of people without ‘snapping-off’ trees. He contrasts this with the tree stumps covering acres around East Creek, New Jersey that have all been broken off at the same height and where he suggested that only a tsunami could have caused such widespread and uniform destruction. In view of the fact that some of these cedar trees had six foot diameter trunks he speculates on the possible size of a tsunami that could bring about such extreme damage.
Perhaps even more relevant to the study of Atlantis is the evidence gathered by Jürgen Spanuth in his chapter on the ‘Natural Catastrophes of the 13th Century’ including an interesting section on tsunamis[015.167].
Marc-André Gutscher of the University of Western Brittany in Plouzané, France, has discovered evidence of ancient tsunami on Spartel Island, an Atlantis candidate, in the Gulf of Cadiz. Georgeos Diaz-Montexano has pointed out that Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, seems to describe the devastation caused by its assault on the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal at the time of the Lusitanians and Cantabrians in the 1st millennium BC.
Professor Stefano Tinti of Bologna University visited Sardinia and explained(r) “that until the 1980s no one was aware that tidal waves had occurred in the Mediterranean. But since 2004 scientists have identified 350 events of this type over a 2,500-year period,” and regarding the Sardinian tsunami “So what would have been required in our case?” he then asked. “We’re talking about a huge volume of water, some 500 metres high [the elevation up to which the nuraghi were affected]. Only a comet could do that, if the impact occurred very close to the coast and in a very specific direction,” he asserted. An event of this sort may have occurred near Cagliari, with the resulting wave devastating the plain of Campidano.”
Tinti has also noted(w) that generally speaking, the majority of tsunamis are generated by seismic rather than volcanic activity. Globally, volcanic tsunamis account for only 2% of the total, however, the profusion of volcanoes in Southern Italy has considerably increased this percentage.*Furthermore, according to a recent article on the BBC website “The scale of the tsunami hazard from volcanoes that collapse into the sea has been underestimated.”(x)
More recently, Dhani Irwanto has written of the probable effect of tsunamis on his Indonesian Atlantis(y). Studies of the sedimentary record in a sea-cave in Sumatra have revealed the frequency and strength of tsunamis in the region over a five thousand year span from 5900 BC until 900 BC(u).*
Tsunamis are also associated with destruction on Crete following the eruption of Thera in the 2ndmillennium BC. A TV documentary entitled Sinking Atlantis(i), provided graphic evidence of tsunami damage on Minoan Crete(h).
J.V.Luce cited[120.119] a number a local legends from around the Aegean that may have originated with the tsunami that followed the eruption on Thera.
However, the extent of this damage is strongly contested by W. Sheppard Baird(j) and he proposes instead that it was in fact more likely to have been a pyroclastic surge from the Theran eruption that caused most damage.
A recent report(d) concludes that a large tsunami generated by the volcanic activity of Mt. Etna around 6000 BC produced waves up to 43 feet high that struck the coasts of Greece and Libya. This event would have caused devastation on nearby Malta, where evidence of past tsunamis was published in the journal Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie. The research was carried out over three years by scientists from the University of Portsmouth, led by Dr Malcolm Bray with assistance from colleagues at the Department of Geography at the University of Malta(n). A 1693 earthquake generated the earliest recorded tsunami on Malta and as recent as 1908 Malta was hit by a tsunami that resulted from a catastrophic earthquake in the vicinity of the Strait of Messina(p).
On the Atlantic west coast of Ireland we have a 250 km2 locality, in County Clare, known as the Burren, which consists of limestone denuded of soil cover. Recently, strong evidence was discovered suggesting a 4000 BC tsunami in the region(o). For me the karst landscape of the Burren is reminiscent of areas of Malta.
Plato’s description does not support the idea of a tsunami as the primary cause of Atlantis’ inundation since tsunamis will eventually subside and return to the ocean, whereas Atlantis was still under water years after the event, causing a permanent navigation hazard. John Michael Greer makes a similar point [345.126] in relation to the megatsunami which struck Madagascar 2800 BC. Evidence of other ancient megatsunamis in Hawaii was presented to 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union(l). The power of megatsunamis is highlighted in an article the UK’s MailOnline website(t).
Recent excavations at Olympia on the Peloponnese peninsula, the location of the original Olympic Games, have pointed to the site having been repeatedly hit by devastating tsunamis during the past 7,000 years(c).
The Bunurong tribe in Australia have a ‘myth’ which explains the creation of Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay. A recent article(e) has linked this to a tsunami which resulted from the impact of Comet Manhuika south-west of New Zealand in the 15th century. A more cautious view of this event is expressed elsewhere(f).
The excellent livescience.com website has an interesting list of ten history-making tsunamis(q), while Wikipedia offers an extensive list of European tsunamis from prehistoric times until the present(s).
A 100-metre-high tsunami, caused by a landslide, one of the highest ever recorded was experienced in a remote area of Greenland in June 2017. Four lives were lost and eleven houses destroyed in the fishing village of Nuugaatsiaq, located on an island about 20 kilometres away(v).
(a) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0823_020823_asteroid.html (link Broken August 2018) See: Archive 2931
(l) http://www.ouramazingplanet.com/3854-hawaii-giant-tsunami-landslides.html (link broken May 2019)
The Credibility and Veracity of the Atlantis story must be considered on three levels. Was the story true and did Plato himself believe it to be so and is it credible to us today? Any reading of the text reveals that Plato did believe it even though he had reservations about some of its contents. Plato’s faith is clearly based on the fact that he traced the tale back to Solon whose reputation placed him beyond question for the Athenians of Plato’s era. For Plato to claim Solon as the primary conduit for the Atlantis story is the equivalent of an American writer today claiming George Washington as a source. Unless the citation is factually correct, any such writer would be committing literary suicide. In Plato’s case he not only quoted the ‘canonised’ Solon but also included two of his own dead relatives in the chain of transmission from Egypt. This combination of Solon and his own relatives in the provenance of the narrative has led many to conclude that it is highly improbable that Plato would have done so in the perpetration of a literary fraud, leading to the reasonable assumption that there must be some basis to the story. The fact that the chain of transmission is so convoluted, has also added to the view that the Atlantis story is to be believed.
To my mind, if Plato had invented the Atlantis story he would have had no reason to refer to childhood memories. In fact, unless we are to attribute very great deviousness to Plato, his very reference to Mnemosyne reinforces the veracity of his narrative.
The account of how Plato received the story contains no logical contradictions, which further enhances its credibility. In addition to this, as H.S. Bellamy pointed out, it is remarkable that Plato was able to credit the Egyptians with knowledge and antiquity superior to that of the Greeks.
Plato relates how the priests of Sais told Solon that the last flood to engulf Athens led to the art of writing being lost and not regained for some considerable period. That the Egyptians were aware of this seems to come as a surprise to Solon. It was not until the 19th century that it was confirmed that the Greeks had possessed writing prior to the ‘Dark Age’, a discovery that adds further credence to the whole narrative.
In addition to all this, is the fact that Plato unambiguously claimed on four occasions in Timaeus that the story was true, as if anticipating the incredulity of some of his audience. It is not impossible, in fact it is more than likely, that Plato added his own elaboration to the Atlantis story in keeping with the norms of literary licence of his time. However, he has never been shown to be guilty of wholesale fabrication. Interestingly, Plato declared that his Republic is a fiction but that Atlantis is true.
John Michael Greer[0345.15] notes that Plato stated “three times in the Timaeus alone that the story Solon heard from the Egyptian priest is true, ‘not a mere legend but an actual fact (Tim.21a).’ This is the only place anywhere in Plato’s dialogues that he puts this much emphasis on the factual nature of one of his stories. This dosen’t guarantee the truth of his account of Atlantis, of course, but it does suggest that he wanted to make sure that his story was not dismissed as ‘a mere legend’.”
The Greek researcher, Anthony N. Kontaratos, listed twenty-two instances of Plato asserting the truthfulness of the Atlantis story, directly and indirectly, in a paper delivered to the 2005 Atlantis Conference on Melos.*This led him to ask the question; “How many times in a narration does an author have to insist that his story is true and then again use a credible side plot to drive the point home? Why would Plato go to such lengths to convince his readers that his story is real, if it were not?” [p.80]*
A common criticism is that Plato was merely using the Atlantis story to advance his own views of an ideal state. In fact, he had no need to concoct a country unknown to his listeners to promote his political philosophy when he had already expounded them more than once in other works without resorting to historical or geographical invention. It does seem far-fetched to suggest that Plato used the exotic story of Atlantis to highlight his ideal state system while his prehistoric Athens as outlined in Timaeus was already available for this very purpose.
If Plato had invented the Atlantis story it makes no sense that he included in the narrative his disquiet at some of the details contained in it. In Critias 118c he has the speaker, Critias, declare “now as regards the depth of this trench and its breadth and length, it seems incredible that it should be so large as the account states, considering that it was made by hand, and in addition to all the other operations. But none the less we must report what we heard”. Galanopoulos and Bacon drew attention to this extract as an inexplicable comment by a ‘fabulist’ intent on misleading an audience. They surmise that Plato was torn between the reputation of his source, Solon, and the incredibility of the content of his tale and opted for reputation over reason. If Plato had invented the story he would have devised more credible dimensions. They very fact that he offers such seemingly exaggerated numbers, which in other circumstances might have generated open derision, is in itself evidence that he accepted their veracity and believed that he was relaying a true story.
If we compare the manner in which Plato presents Atlantis in Timaeus and Critias with his introduction of the myth of Theuth and Thamus in his dialogue Phaedrus, where the speaker, Socrates, announces “I can tell you a story from the men of former times but only they know whether or not it is true”, we can see an element of doubt which he does not apply in the case of the Atlantis story. Although Plato clearly accepts that the Atlantis account is a ‘strange’ one, he is adamant that it is true, ‘having been attested by Solon, the wisest of the Seven Sages’. In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato has the speaker, Critias, twice emphasise that his story is about something that actually happened and he has Socrates himself welcome the story on that understanding.
The weight of evidence is that Plato believed the story to be true and if doubt is to be cast anywhere it should be directed towards Plato’s source, Solon, the Egyptian priests or the subsequent line of transmission. And so, the key questions are: (i) did the Egyptian priests tell Solon the truth and (ii) did Solon fully understand what he was being told and (iii) was the story transmitted intact to Plato?
In a March 2014 interview George Sarantitis gave his reasons for accepting Plato’s credibility, “So, going back to its author, Atlantis was written almost 2.360 years ago by the Greek philosopher-scientist Plato. He wrote about it in two separate books, Timaeus and Critias. Plato was renowned in his time and is considered to be of the greatest thinkers ever. Many believe Atlantis to be a figment of his imagination, written to illustrate a point. But Plato was an arch exponent of rationalism and logic, renowned and acclaimed philosopher-scientist of wide interdisciplinary knowledge and he wrote about Atlantis in the latter part of his life. It was in his last works. So the question is; would one like him, at his age and reputation and in that era, write a work of pure fiction, a fairytale? The logical answer is no. It’s illogical to expect that one under his circumstances would spend time to write such an incredible story solely for philosophical instruction. Would one reasonably expect Einstein or Hawkins for example, to write fairytales as part of their life’s work and especially while approaching the end of it? Besides, Plato’s account of Atlantis contains geographical directions, mathematical descriptions and precise measurements; hardly the stuff of fairy stories. Why (did) he write about it in two separate books?”(a)
Lewis Spence pointed out[259.41] that Sais, which had a Greek quarter, had very strong religious, social and commercial links with Athens that would have generated regular traffic between the two cities. It is highly unlikely that the Atlantis story was related to Solon alone and further remarks that as a consequence, “if Plato’s account had not been inherited from Solon, and had its Egyptian form not been current in Sais, there were thousands of Greeks there who could have contradicted it, and that some negative of the kind would have reached Athens sooner or later.”
Eberhard Zangger contends that there is no reason to believe that Plato saw the Atlantis story as anything other than an actual historical account. He argues that the length and specificity of detail would render the tale purposeless as fiction.
*Rhys Carpenter pointed out “A remarkable detail that should convince the most skeptical of the genuineness of Solon’s conversation with the Saite priests is the latter’s unambiguous statement that the older Greek race had been reduced to an unlettered and uncivilized remnant which, like children, had to learn its letters anew. This claim we know to be entirely exact, but we have no reason to believe that Plato himself was aware of it.” [629.498]*
The strongest case that can be brought against the credibility of Plato’s tale is perhaps the high numerical values given to both architectural dimensions and the antiquity ascribed to Egypt, Athens and Atlantis alike. Since Plato did not treat his audience as fools, we can only attribute these apparent exaggerations to a transmission error as the narrative passed through many persons from the Egyptian priests to Plato or, as some have suggested, from even earlier sources such as Sumeria or the Indus Valley.
The fact that Plato incorporated such excessive numbers into his Dialogues only enhances the view the Plato really believed the data given to him and that they were not the outpourings of a deluded romantic.
Finally, had Plato’s intention been to totally deceive his listeners then it is reasonable to expect that he would have used the long recognised ploy of carefully mixing the false with large dollops of commonly accepted truths, thus luring his audience into accepting everything presented as fact. There is no evidence of such a strategy, instead we have Plato doubting some of his own story but obviously compelled to relate it as given to him out of regard for its source, Solon.
Nevertheless, in spite of all this we cannot ignore the fact that there is a high level of scepticism regarding the Atlantis story, particularly among academics. I suspect that in many instances that this intellectual cowardice stems more from a need to protect careers rather than engage in controversy.
Aristotle (c.384-322 BC) was born at Stagira, a Grecian colony in Macedonia and died in Chalcis. He became Plato’s pupil at the age of seventeen and developed to become one of the trinity of the greatest Greek philosophers, along with Socrates and Plato. In turn, Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great. However, Aristotle was something of a ‘know-all’, had his own blind spots. Katherine Folliot mentioned that Aristotle ‘held all non-Greeks in utter contempt’ clouding his judgement regarding any story originating in Egypt. John Michael Greer[335.16] points out that Aristotle consistently disagreed with his teacher, Plato. Aristotle’s geographical knowledge is highly suspect, claiming as he did that both the Danube and the Guadalquivir rose in the Pyrenees. However, it was Aristotle, revered by the Church, who maintained that the universe was earth-centred, a view that led to the persecution of Galileo and the burning of Giordano Bruno for their ‘heretical’ cosmological views.
According to Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle disagreed with his teacher on philosophical matters while Plato was still alive, causing Plato to remark, “Aristotle has kicked me, as foals do their mothers when they are born.” While there is evidence that Aristotle never lost his high personal regard for Plato, the fact remains, that in his later writings he never mentions Plato except to refute his doctrines, maintaining that the Platonic method is fatal to science.
Thorwald C. Franke refers specifically to Aristotle’s silence on the subject of Atlantis in his Aristotle and Atlantis[0706.30] in the following manner, “After all, if Aristotle were against the existence of Atlantis, one might have expected him to document his disagreement with Plato in some way and dispute the matter at hand. (Ingemar) Düring expresses what every person familiar with ancient literature knows well: ‘in accordance with the prevailing practice of that time, one mentioned the author of an opinion only if one did not agree … when it came to prevailing views with which he agreed, he [Aristotle] never mentioned the author.’
Thus the original argument is turned on its head: Aristotle’s very silence meant – if anything – more that he was for the existence of Atlantis than against it.”
My interest in Aristotle stems from the fact that he is constantly presented as the only classical writer to argue with the existence of Atlantis. A typical example are the comments of David Hatcher Childress who describes[620 .141]Aristotle as sceptical on many matters and that as well as doubting the reality of Atlantis he also appears to have questioned the veracity of Homer’s Trojan War when Strabo quotes Aristotle as saying that the Greek wall of Troy may never have been built but “invented and then demolished by the poet” (Geography XIII.i.36:).
However, Thorwald C. Franke‘s book, now published in English, persuasively disputes this commonly held view that Aristotle did not accept the existence of Atlantis. He points out that the alleged critical comment did not come directly from the writings of Aristotle but from a quotation attributed to Aristotle by Strabo (Geog. II 102). Franke has traced the use of this text as a dismissal of the existence of Atlantis by Aristotle back to 1816, when the French astronomer and mathematician Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre (1749-1822) misinterpreted the commentary on Strabo’s Geographica by Isaac Casaubon in 1587.
Franke has recently augmented his book with a YouTube video, in English(d) and German(e).
Franke points out that a study of more than twenty passages from Aristotle’s writings relating to Atlantis reveals that he was inclined to accept the Atlantis story as true since he accepted many of its details without expressing any doubt about the core of it.
*Jean Baptiste d’Anville (1697-1782) was a highly regarded geographer and cartographer, and also an Atlantis sceptic. However, as Franke has pointed d’Anville accepted that Aristotle believed in the existence of Atlantis[880.83].*
In May 2016, there was held at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in ancient Stagira and in ancient Mieza, an international conference ‘Aristotle 2400 Years’ at which it was claimed(a) that Aristotle’s long lost tomb had been discovered at Stagira, his birthplace. Understandably, this generated an immediate critical response(b).
Aristotle like others of his era are still highly regarded as philosophers, but unfortunately it took over a millennium before Ibn al-Haytham developed the concept of experimental data and reproducibility of its results. On the other hand, Aristotle, is not an ideal mentor regarding many subjects outside philosophy.
He was happy to justify slavery, as was Athenian society in general.
Aristotle was also a biologist whose work amazed Darwin when William Ogle sent him a copy of The Parts of Animals which he had translated. Now in The Lagoon, a modern biologist, Armand Marie Leroi, reveals more of Aristotle’s wide-ranging scientific investigations and his conclusions, not all of which were correct(c) .
(d) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inWb6IVNWFQ (English)
(e) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDG7a09xkZE (German)
Amasis II, was the Greek name of Ahmose who reigned from 570-526 BC. Amasis is given by Plato as the name of the Egyptian pharaoh at the time of Solon’s visit to Sais. However, Phyllis Young Forsyth[266.38] protests that Plato did not claim that Amasis was on the throne at time of Solon’s visit, but merely identified Sais as the home of Amasis. The English translations of Tim.21e by Bury, Jowett and Lee are compatible with this, as is the German translation of Plato’s text by Franz Susemihl(a). John Michael Greer, among others, supports this view.
Firm historical information for this period is often scanty and sometimes contradictory. However, it is thought that Solon left Athens for a number of years and some of that period may have overlapped with part of Amasis’ reign. Herodotus is our principal source of information regarding Amasis and he clearly mentions (Bk.1.30) that Solon was at the court of Amasis. Zhirov quotes the views of V.S. Struve, who believed that Herodotus’ 3rd century BC dates were out by 25 years.
Ivan Linforth strongly disputes[041.300] the idea of Solon meeting Amasis as “chronologically quite improbable”. He claims that Solon (c.630-560 BC) had returned to Athens before the reign of Amasis. John Michael Greer[0345.15], not very convincingly, attempts to counter this idea with the suggestion that at the time of Solon’s visit, Amasis had not yet ascended the throne.