Gullibility and Credulity are two of the greatest enemies of serious Atlantology. When any attention-seeking PhD pronounces on the location of Atlantis, there is always a herd of credulous listeners willing to believe what they say. Having abandoned their critical faculties, many of these will pay good money to purchase their books or attend their lectures. After committing their cash and time to back any given idea, some, often through pride, will often be reluctant to later abandon their support or switch to any other competing theory.
The history of Atlantology has recorded a recurring pattern. It was not until the 15th century that Plato’s complete Atlantis story was made available in Europe with the Latin translation of Marsilio Ficino, which was around the same time that America was discovered. This led to a knee-jerk reaction identifying the New World with Atlantis. In due course the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was discovered leading to a variety of claims, placing Atlantis in the Atlantic.
Then the Minoan civilisation was rediscovered at the start of the 20th century, which led to its identification as Atlantean, an idea consolidated by the unearthing of Minoan remains on Santorini following a 2nd millennium BC eruption of the volcano there. Even more exotic locations have been proposed over the last century, including Antarctica, the Andes and Indonesia.
Obviously, there were many other proposed locations, but the American, Atlantic and Minoan theories have persisted over the centuries.*As I have argued elsewhere, common sense rules out America and the Atlantic since both involve distances from Athens that conflict with the need to be within easy striking distance. With regard to the Minoans, Athens was attacked from the west not the south, apart from which, relatively speaking, Crete is ‘just down the road’, which begs the question, why Plato did not simply say that Athens were attacked by their regional neighbours, the Cretans. To me, it is clear that Plato did not know the identity of the Atlanteans.*
If Critical Thinking is properly applied to any these locations they will, in my opinion, fail as potential sites for Plato’s Atlantis.
*Apart from location, there are a number of other aspects of Plato’s Atlantis story that stretch credibility, in fact Plato himself found Solon’s dimensions for the ditch surrounding the Plain of Atlantis difficult to accept (Critias 118c) but out of deference to Solon, recorded them anyway. Then we have the timespan of 9,000 years between the Atlantean War and Solon’s visit to Egypt, which would require Atlantis to have waged war against Athens and Egypt before either existed as organised societies!*
An online article on the subject of gullibility is worth a read(a).
Francisco Cervantes de Salazar (1514-1575) was a Spanish academic who travelled to Mexico around 1550 where he was twice elected rector of the newly established University of Mexico. In his Crónica de la Nueva España, he was a firm supporter of the idea of interpreting Plato’s 9,000 ‘years’ as lunar cycles, echoing the early statement of Eudoxus of Cnidos. His Crónica was not published until 1914.
Janus Cornarius (Johannes Hainpol)(1500-1558) was a humanist and a gifted philologist, who in 1561 had published posthumously, a Latin translation from the Greek of the complete works of Plato under the snappy title of Platonis Atheniensis, philosophi summi ac penitus divini opera (in latinam vertit Cornario). Latin scholars can now download a free ebook copy online(a).
It is proposed that Cornarius used different sources to those of Ficino, but I am not aware that this has created any specific difficulties for or has shed any additional light on the Atlantis debates.
Italian Atlantology can be traced back to the 16th century when Fracastoro, Garimberto and Ramusio, identified the Americas as Atlantis. In fact we should look to the 15th century when Ficino was the first to translate Plato’s entire works into Latin giving medieval Europe its first access to the complete Atlantis texts. Not much happened until 1788 when Carli attributed the destruction of Atlantis to a close encounter with a comet. In 1840, Angelo Mazzoldi proposed Italy as the location of Atlantis and as the hyper-diffusionist mother culture of the great civilisations of the Eastern Mediterranean region. He was followed by others such as Giuseppe Brex(b).
Not much developed in pre-war Italy apart from Russo’s journal which ran from 1930 until 1932. After the war other Atlantis journals was established by Gianni Belli in 1956 and Bettini in 1963. After that there was a wide range of theories advanced by Italian researchers. Spedicato located Atlantis in Hispaniola, Stecchini opted for São Tomé, Barbiero, who although Croatian by birth was an admiral in the Italian Navy nominated the Antarctic as the home of Atlantis before the Flem-Aths published their Antarctic ideas. Bulloni chose the Arctic, Pincherle identified the Mandaeans as the last of the Atlanteans and Monte links Thera with Tarshish.
In recent years the most widely reported Atlantis theory to emanate from Italy came from Sergio Frau who advocates Sardinia as the original Atlantis. However, this idea is not new having been promoted by Poddighe in 1982. Frau has subsequently been supported by other commentators such as Tozzi and Novo. I cannot help feeling that there might be a trace of nationalism underlying this theory, a suspicion that I have held regarding writers of other nationalities.
The latter end of the 20th century saw the development of the Internet which enabled the instant promotion of Atlantis theories, both silly and serious, to a global audience. Italy was no exception, where websites, such as Edicolaweb that are sympathetic to the exploration of historical mysteries emerged(a).
More recently, Marin, Minella & Schievenin had The Three Ages of Atlantis published in 2014. This is an English translation of their original 2010 work. In it they suggest that Atlantis had originally existed in Antarctica and after its destruction survivors established two other Atlantises in South America and the Mediterranean. Perhaps more credible is the theory of Capuchin friar, Antonio Moro who, in 2013, suggested that Atlantis had included Iberia, the south coast of France and the west coast of Italy!
Plato’s Text has reached us through a rather circuitous route. Wikipedia notes that ‘the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages did not have access to the works of Plato – nor the Greek to read them. Plato’s original writings were essentially lost to Western civilisation until they were brought from Constantinople in the century before its fall.’ Today there are only seven manuscripts of Plato’s work extant, the earliest of which dates to 895 AD and is now in Oxford(c). It is unfortunate that the earliest versions of Plato’s work available to us are only Latin translations of an early original Greek text. Chalcidius undertook the first translation of Timaeus from Greek to Latin in the 3rd century AD. He translated the first 70% of the text from earlier Greek versions, now lost. The earliest translation of Plato’s complete works into Latin was by Marsilio Ficino in the late 15th century. Janus Cornarius provides us with a Latin translation from earlier Greek sources, apparently different from those used by Ficino. A comparison of the Chalcidius and Ficino translations shows considerable divergences. The Ficino Latin text was in turn translated back into Greek at the Aldina Academy in Venice in the 16th century.
Diaz-Montexano has written, in his hallmark poor English, a short criticism(a) of the quality of medieval translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Critiasthat are the basis of the vernacular versions available today.
There are legitimate questions that can be raised regarding the accuracy of the text used by researchers and since some theories relating to Atlantis are often dependant on the precise meaning of particular words, this lack of an original text, leaves some doubt over the persuasiveness of individual hypotheses.
Many quotations from Plato’s text will have alphanumeric references, which are derived from the 1578 edition of Plato’s works by the 16th century French scholar and printer, Henricus Stephanus, which show his page numbers, and the letters a-e, equally spaced down the margin of each page. Although they bear no relationship to the natural breaks in the debate or narrative, the majority of editions and translations now include them.
All of Plato’s Dialogues are to be found on many sites on the Internet. However, we can highly recommend the Perseus website(b) where the works of most ancient authors can be found there in both English and their original languages. It has a number of valuable search tools for both the novice and seasoned student of Atlantology.
(a) http://www.antiquos.com/La-Atlantida-de-Platon/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=65 (link broken 14/6/16)
Location Theories regarding Atlantis have identified sites all over the globe as can be seen below. In very general terms the 15th century saw three developments that were to lead to a renewed interest in Atlantis – the discovery of America, the first translation of the complete works of Plato by Ficino and the invention of the printing press. These saw a number of commentators offering their views on the location of Atlantis during the 16th century of which the majority favoured the Americas. Gradually the Americas gave way to an Atlantic location reaching a peak with the publication of Ignatius Donnelly’s famous work. Both the Americas and the Atlantic still have their proponents, although today reasoning rather than speculation is more evident.
Around 1900 Sir Arthur Evans was beginning to uncover the remains of the Minoan civilisation on Crete. Subsequently, in the same manner that the discovery of America led to the identification of the New World with Atlantis, when Evans revealed the glory of the civilisation that had existed on Crete, the early part of the 20th century saw the formulation of the Minoan Hypothesis, which linked Crete with Atlantis. This concept got a dramatic boost with the discovery of the 2nd millennium BC eruption of Thera and the possibility that it inspired aspects of Plato’s Atlantis narrative. This idea is still the most popular after nearly a century of both study and speculation.
Atlantis theories have proliferated but in general are more carefully and scientifically argued today. However, the work and reputation of serious atlantologists is frequently undermined by the ravings of occultists and mystics and their channelled gibberish. It should be obvious that if there was any communication with another plane of existence that by now we would have been told the location of Atlantis, but none has been forthcoming.
Non-specific clues to the location of Atlantis are the fact that most major cities are sited at the mouths of rivers and as the 2010 BBC documentary series How the Earth Made Us demonstrated, so many ancient civilisations developed close to tectonic fault lines because of the range of mineral wealth frequently found adjacent to them. However, fault lines are prone to earthquakes, a feature compatible with Plato’s description of Atlantis’ demise. In addition, the late Ulf Richter reasoned that the plain described by Plato was in fact a river delta. So it is probable that the capital of Atlantis was built on a river delta near a tectonic fault line.
A chronological list of theories and their authors is available here. I recently (2014) counted that a full 40% of those listedsupported an Atlantic location. However, as I demonstrate elsewhere ((5105)) the Atlantic ‘Sea’ referred to by Plato (Timaeus 24e, 25a & Critias 109a, 114a) could not have been the Atlantic Ocean that we know today.
While it may appear that recent years have seen a considerable increase in the number of people publicly expressing their views regarding the location of Atlantis, we must allow for two developments; the expansion of self-publishing and the use of the Internet. Unfortunately, this has led to a greater proliferation of nonsensical ideas about Atlantis alongside the more thoughtful and valuable contributions to the subject.
Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) is not a name with instant recognition today, although most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘platonic love’, which was coined by him. However, it is largely due to his efforts that we are aware of Plato’s Atlantis story. He was the first translator of Plato’s complete works into Latin in the 15th century, while under the patronage of Cosimo di Medici. Unfortunately, the original Greek documents used by him are now lost. It is claimed that a comparison of Ficino’s translation with that of the partial translation by Chalcidius’ of Timaeus reveals a somewhat casual approach on the part of both men, a possible source of some of the problems encountered in the search for Atlantis.
Ficino was a Florentine priest who was a leading light of the Italian Renaissance. He is reputed to have had a prodigious knowledge of the ancient world and in particular early Greek and Egyptian religions. The late Philip Coppens contended(a) that Ficino believed that Christianity was in fact a development of earlier belief systems including the ancient Egyptian cult of Serapis.
Ficino also entered into an arrangement with his close associate Michael Mercator that whoever died first would give a sign to the survivor that there was an afterlife. Ficino was first to depart and allegedly did give such an assurance to his friend(b)
*(a) http://www.philipcoppens.com/ficino_mag.html (offline March 2018) See: Archive 2137*
Classical Writers Supporting the Existence of Atlantis
Although many of the early writers are quoted as referring to Plato’s Atlantis or at least alluding to places or events that could be related to his story there is no writer who can be identified as providing unambiguous independent evidence for Atlantis’ existence. One explanation could be that Atlantis may have been known by different names to different peoples in different ages, just as the Roman city of Aquisgranum was later known as Aachen to the Germans and concurrently as Aix-la-Chapelle to the French. However, it would have been quite different if the majority of post-Platonic writers had completely ignored or hotly disputed the veracity of Plato’s tale.
Alan Cameron, a devout Atlantis sceptic, is adamant that ”it is only in modern times that people have taken the Atlantis story seriously, no one did so in antiquity.” Both statements are clearly wrong, as can be seen from the list below and my Chronology of Atlantis Theories and even more comprehensively by Thorwald C. Franke’s Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis (Critical history of the hypotheses on Plato’s Atlantis).
H.S. Bellamy mentions that about 100 Atlantis references are to be found in post-Platonic classical literature. He also argues that if Plato “had put forward a merely invented story in the Timaeus and Critias Dialogues the reaction of his contemporaries and immediate followers would have been rather more critical.” Thorwald C. Franke echoes this in his Aristotle and Atlantis[880.46]. Bellamy also notes that Sais, where the story originated, was in some ways a Greek city having regular contacts with Athens and should thertefore have generated some denial from the priests if the Atlantis tale had been untrue.
Homer(c.8thcent. BC)wrote in his famous Odyssey of a Phoenician island called Scheriathat many writers have controversially identified as Atlantis. It could be argued that this is another example of different names being applied to the same location.
Herodotus (c.484-420 BC)regarded by some as the greatest historian of the ancients, wrote about the mysterious island civilization in the Atlantic.
Hellanicus of Lesbos (5th cent. BC) refers to ‘Atlantias’. Timothy Ganz highlights one line in the few fragments we have from Hellanicus as being particularly noteworthy, “Poseidon mated with Celaeno, and their son Lycus was settled by his father in the Isles of the Blest and made immortal.”
Syrianus (died c.437 BC) the neoplatonist and one-time head of Plato’s Academy in Athens, considered Atlantis to be an historical fact. He wrote a commentary on Timaeus, now lost, but his views are recorded by Proclus.
Eumelos of Cyrene (c.400 BC) was a historian and contemporary of Plato’s who placed Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean between Libya and Sicily.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) Plato’s pupil is constantly quoted in connection with his alleged criticism of Plato’s story. This claim was not made until 1819, when Delambre misinterpreted a commentary on Strabo by Isaac Casaubon. This error has been totally refuted by Thorwald C. Franke. Furthermore it was Aristotle who stated that the Phoenicians knew of a large island in the Atlantic known as ’Antilia’. Crantor (4th-3rdcent. BC) was Plato’s first editor, who reported visiting Egypt where he claimed to have seen a marble column carved with hieroglyphics about Atlantis. However, Jason Colavito has pointed out that according to Proclus, Crantor was only told by the Egyptian priests that the carved pillars were still in existence.
*Crantor (4th-3rd cent. BC) was Plato’s first editor, who reported visited Egypt where he claimed to have seen a marble column carved with hieroglyphics about Atlantis. However, Jason Colavito has pointed out(a) that according to Proclus, Crantor was only told by the Egyptian priests that the carved pillars were still in existence.*
Theophrastus of Lesbos (370-287 BC) refers to colonies of Atlantis in the sea.
Theopompos of Chios (born c.380 BC), a Greek historian – wrote of the huge size of Atlantis and its cities of Machimum and Eusebius and a golden age free from disease and manual labour. Zhirov states[458.38/9] that Theopompos was considered a fabulist.
Apollodorus of Athens (fl. 140 BC) who was a pupil of Aristarchus of Samothrace (217-145 BC) wrote “Poseidon was very wrathful, and flooded the Thraisian plain, and submerged Attica under sea-water.” Bibliotheca, (III, 14, 1.)
Poseidonius (135-51 BC.) was Cicero’s teacher and wrote, “There were legends that beyond the Hercules Stones there was a huge area which was called “Poseidonis” or “Atlanta”
Diodorus Siculus (1stcent. BC), the Sicilian writer who has made a number of references to Atlantis.
Marcellus (c.100 BC) in his Ethiopic History quoted by Proclus [Zhirov p.40] refers to Atlantis consisting of seven large and three smaller islands.
Statius Sebosus (c. 50 BC), the Roman geographer, tells us that it was forty days’ sail from the Gorgades (the Cape Verdes) and the Hesperides (the Islands of the Ladies of the West, unquestionably the Caribbean – see Gateway to Atlantis).
Timagenus (c.55 BC), a Greek historian wrote of the war between Atlantis and Europe and noted that some of the ancient tribes in France claimed it as their original home. There is some dispute about the French druids’ claim.
Philo of Alexandria (b.15 BC) also known as Philo Judaeus also accepted the reality of Atlantis’ existence.
Strabo (67 BC-23 AD) in his Geographia stated that he fully agreed with Plato assertion that Atlantis was fact rather than fiction.
Plutarch (46-119 AD) wrote about the lost continent in his book Lives, he recorded that both the Phoenicians and the Greeks had visited this island which lay on the west end of the Atlantic.
Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD) is quoted by Frank Joseph as recording the existence of numerous sandbanks outside the Pillars of Hercules as late as 100 AD.
Pomponius Mela (c.100 AD), placed Atlantis in a southern temperate region.
Tertullian (160-220 AD) associated the inundation of Atlantis with Noah’s flood.
Claudius Aelian (170-235 AD) referred to Atlantis in his work The Nature of Animals.
Arnobius (4thcent. AD.), a Christian bishop, is frequently quoted as accepting the reality of Plato’s Atlantis.
Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 AD) [see Marcellinus entry]
Proclus Lycaeus (410-485 AD), a representative of the Neo-Platonic philosophy, recorded that there were several islands west of Europe. The inhabitants of these islands, he proceeds, remember a huge island that they all came from and which had been swallowed up by the sea. He also writes that the Greek philosopher Crantor saw the pillar with the hieroglyphic inscriptions, which told the story of Atlantis.
Cosmas Indicopleustes (6thcent. AD), a Byzantine geographer, in his Topographica Christiana (547 AD) quotes the Greek Historian, Timaeus (345-250 BC) who wrote of the ten kings of Chaldea [Zhirov p.40]. Marjorie Braymer[198.30] wrote that Cosmas was the first to use Plato’s Atlantis to support the veracity of the Bible.
There was little discussion of Atlantis after the 6th century until the Latin translation of Plato’s work by Marsilio Ficino was produced in the 15th century.
Chalcidius (Calcidius) was a fourth century Christian neo-Platonist. At the request of Bishop Hosius of Córdoba he produced one of the earliest Latin versions that we have of part of Plato’s Timaeus, sections 17a-53c(f), based on long lost Greek manuscripts. Chalcidius also gave us a commentary on the text. which was at times more studied than the translation itself. One researcher claims that Chalcidius was possibly Saint Augustine(a).
The oldest known complete manuscript of a number of the dialogues is known as the Clarke Plato (Codex Oxoniensis Clarkianus 39, or Codex Boleianus MS E.D. Clarke 39), which was written, in Greek, in Constantinople in 895(b).
The Digby23 codex contains a 12th century copy of Chalcidius’ Latin translation of Timaeus bound with a copy of The Song of Roland, which is also kept in in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, can now be read online(d).
We had to wait until the 15th century for a full translation, of all the dialogues, also in Latin, to be produced by Marsilio Ficino.
The Chain of Transmissionof Plato’s tale to us today should be borne in mind when applying any interpretation to elements in the text available to us. We have absolutely no idea how many languages had to carry the story before it was inscribed on their ‘registers’ (Jowett) in Sais, assuming that aspect of the story to be true. The Egyptian priests translated this tale from the pillars for Solon, who then related the story to his friend Dropides who passed it on to his son the elder Critias who, at the age of ninety conveys it to his grandson, the younger Critias, aged nine. Critias then conveyed the tale to his nephew Plato. Platothen composed his Timaeus and Critias dialogues, which eventually reached us through a rather circuitous route.
There are a number of versions of Plato’s family tree, Sprague de Camp records[194.324] three from ancient sources, Diogenes Laërtius, Iamblichus & Proclus, which have small variations. Some sceptics have sought to undermine the credibility of the Atlantis story by highlighting these differences and/or questioning whether the persons recorded by Plato adequately span the years between Solon and Plato. Some of the controversies stem from a number of family members, historical figures of that era and participants in the dialogues who share the same name.On the other hand, I would argue if the Atlantis narrative was just a concoction, I would expect Plato to also have invented a more watertight pedigree.
Plato’s original writings were essentially lost to Western civilisation but for the efforts of Muslim scholars who preserved them until they eventually emerged in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, after they were brought from Constantinople in the century before its fall. In due course the texts were translated into Latin from those Greek versions, which are now lost.
Wilhelm Brandenstein suggested that Solon had combined two accounts, one from Egypt relating to the Sea Peoples and the other concerned a conflict between Athens and Crete(c). However, this is not convincing as it conflicts with too many other details in Plato’s narrative.
Wikipedia notes that ‘the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages did not have access to the works of Plato – nor the Greek to read them.’ Today there are only seven manuscripts of Plato’s work extant, the earliest of which dates to around 900 AD. It is unfortunate that the earliest versions of Plato’s work available to us are only Latin translations of the original Greek text.
Chalcidius undertook the first translation of Timaeus from Greek to Latin in the 3rd century AD. He translated the first 70% of the text from earlier Greek versions, now lost. The earliest translation of Plato’s complete works into Latin was by Marsilio Ficinoin the late 15th century. Janus Cornarius provided us with a Latin translation from earlier Greek sources, apparently different from those used by Ficino. A comparison of the partial Chalcidius and complete Ficino translations shows considerable divergences. The Ficino Latin text was in turn translated back into Greek at the Aldina Academy in Venice in the 16th century.
In chapter two of his History of Atlantis Lewis Spence has produced a version of the Atlantis texts that is an amalgam of various earlier translations ‘acceptable’ to him.
Diaz-Montexano has written, in his distinctive poor English, a short criticism(a) of the quality of medieval translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias that are the basis of the vernacular versions available today.
There are legitimate questions that can be raised regarding the accuracy of the text used by researchers and since some theories relating to Atlantis are often dependant on the precise meaning of particular words, this lack of an original text, leaves some doubt over the persuasiveness of individual hypotheses. It is highly improbable that current texts do not contain a variety of errors when we consider the number of links in the chain of transmission.
Many quotations from Plato’s text will have alphanumeric references, which are derived from the earliest printed edition of Plato’s works by the 16th century French scholar and printer, Henricus Stephanus; these show page numbers and the letters A-E at equal distances down each page. Although they bear no relationship to the natural breaks in the narrative, the majority of editions and translations now include them.
The entirety of Plato’s Dialogues is to be found on many sites on the Internet. However, I can highly recommend the Perseus website(b) where the works of most ancient authors can be found there in both English and their original languages. It has a number of valuable search tools for both the novice and seasoned student of Atlantology.