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

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Joining The Dots


Joining The Dots

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


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Michael Grant

Size of Atlantis

The Size of Atlantis has been the subject of controversy for many years.  Debate has centred on the comparative of the Greek adjective Meizon used in Timaeus 24e where it was generally translated as ‘larger’ suggesting that Atlantis was larger than Libya and Asia combined.

The meaning of ‘Asia’ at different times in the distant past quite clearly had a variety of connotations. Edward Gibbon, who wrote a monumental work on the Roman Empire, stated that when the ancient Greek and Latin writers referred to ’Asia’ they meant Turkey. Another historian, Michael Grant, is of the opinion that ‘Asia’ could have been applied to the ancient kingdom of Lydia, which only occupied a small region of Eastern Turkey. Similarly, ‘Libya’ was sometimes applied to a relatively small narrow strip of coastal land to the west of the Nile Delta and more often to the entire Mediterranean coast of Africa except Egypt.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution to this debate has been from Felice Vinci who recently wrote in his book, The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales[019], that ancient seafarers measured territory by its coastal perimeter rather than by its area, as we do today. He refers to this coastal measurement method being still in use by Christopher Columbus. Acceptance of this contention would require a total review of the ‘Atlantis greater in size than Asia and Libya together’ controversy. In this regard is worth noting that Herodotus (Bk IV.45) refers to Europe being in length “equal to Asia and Libya combined” – eerily like Plato’s phrase, but endorsing Vinci’s contention. In a similar vein, Strabo (Bk Chap 4.1) recounts how Pytheas reported that the coast-line of Britain was more than forty thousand stadia (4,590 miles).

The application of Vinci’s coastal measurement to the combination of Asia and Libya could have suggested a relatively modest land area somewhere between that of Cyprus and Sardinia.

Irrespective of the size of Atlantis, if it was greater in any sense, it cannot have been located in either Libya or Asia, because according to the old mathematical axiom ‘a part cannot be greater than the whole’.

However, many researchers felt the need to seek a larger landmass in view of Plato’s description of the plain of Atlantis having dimensions of 2,000 x 3,000 stades (230×345 miles) which combined with sheltering mountains to the north implies quite an extensive total area for the island and would be far greater than an earthquake could destroy.

A more radical explanation for Plato’s description comes from the historian P.B.S. Andrews, who has suggested that the quotation has been the result of a misreading of Solon’s notes. He maintains that the text should be read as ’midway between Libya and Asia’ since in the original Greek there is only a difference on one letter between the words for midway (meson) and larger than (meizon). This suggestion was supported by the classical scholar J.V. Luce. This interpretation is quite interesting, particularly if the Lydian explanation of ‘Asia’ mentioned above is correct. Viewed from either Athens or Egypt we find that Crete is located ‘midway’ between Lydia and Libya.

If we return to the Greek meizon  and refer to the respected Greek Lexicon of Liddell & Scott we find meizon is given the sole meaning of ‘greater’. Furthermore, in Bury’s translation of sections 20e -26a of Timaeus there eleven instances of Plato using megas (great) meizon (greater) or megistos (greatest). In all cases great or greatest is employed except just one, 24e, which uses the comparative meizon, which Bury translated as ‘larger’! J.Warren Wells concluded that Bury’s translation in this single instance is inconsistent with his other treatments of the word and additionally does not fit comfortably with the context[0783.85].

This inconsistency is difficult to accept, so although meizon can have a secondary meaning of ‘larger’ it is quite reasonable to assume that the primary meaning of ‘greater’ was intended.

However, in a paper[750.173] delivered by Thorwald C. Franke to the 2008 Atlantis Conference he persuasively argued that “for Egyptians the world of their ‘traditional’ enemies divided in two: To the west there were the Libyans, to the east there were the Asians. If an Egyptian scribe wanted to say, that an enemy was more dangerous than the ‘usual’ opponents, which was the case with the Sea Peoples’ invasion, then he would have most probably said, that this enemy was “more powerful than Libya and Asia together.”

I find this a far more elegant and credible explanation than any reference to physical size which forced researchers to seek lost continental sized land masses. Furthermore it reinforces the Egyptian origin of the Atlantis story, demolishing any claim that Plato concocted the whole tale. If it had been invented by Plato he would probably have compared Atlantis to enemy territories nearer to home, such as the Persians.

However, although this explanation may seem to remove the need to look for a very large landmass, it still leaves the unrealistic dimensions of 2,000 x 3,000 stades of the cultivated plain of Atlantis. However as I will explain elsewhere all of Plato’s numbers in excess of 1,000, with a single exception, should be treated as approximations and then divided by 10.

Obsidian

Obsidian is a glassy rock produced as a consequence of rhyolitic volcanic eruptions. It was highly prized during the Stone Age when it was found to produce good sharp edges, suitable for tools and weapons, when fractured. Michael Grant remarked[661] ”it is the first traded substance of which there are material remains”.

Recent excavations in Northern Israel have revealed the use of obsidian tools over six thousand years ago(e).  The nearest source of obsidian was Anatolia, so these pre-Canaanite people must have had trade links that extended at least that far.

Obsidian tools

In 2011 it was reported(b) that a new technique, which permitted the dating of obsidian, revealed that the Greek island of Melos saw the mining of obsidian as early as 15,000 years ago and its exportation throughout the Aegean and beyond, which also is evidence of extensive marine travel at that early date.  However, 13,000 BC saw sea levels much lower than at present, as the Ice Age glaciation was still in place. This would have led to greater land exposure in the Aegean with shorter distances between islands, which were easily crossed with relatively primitive boats.

*Massimo Rapisarda has noted that the only obsidian west of the Aegean in the Mediterranean, is to be found in the Central region on the islands of Lipari, Palmarola, Pantelleria and Sardinia(g) . A graduate thesis(f) by Barbara A. Vargo, explores in detail the characteristics, history and distribution of Pantellerian obsidian.*

Robert Ishoy who advocates a Sardinian location for Atlantis suggested(a) that obsidian, “commonly used on ancient Sardinia” was in fact the mysterious orichalcum referred to by Plato. On the other hand. Pantelleria_Christian and Siegfried Schoppe, who support a Black Sea location also identify obsidian as orichalcum. This is quite improbable, as obsidian would not easily lend itself to being used as a wall cladding.  This idea is even more impractical than Jürgen Spanuth’s proposal that orichalcum was a reference to amber. Apart from that orichalcum was described by Plato (Critias 116b-d) as a metal not rock.

Dr. Ellery Frahm at the University of Sheffield has now developed a method whereby a piece of obsidian can be traced, not only to a particular volcano, but to a specific quarry at the volcano(c).

In September 2013 Frahm revealed(d) that a new technique had been developed that permits the sourcing of obsidian artefacts in just 10 seconds.

(a) http://www.atlantisdiscovered.org/thesis.htm

(b) http://bryanstrain.com/new-dating-method-rocks-the-aegean/

(c) http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/syria-obsidian-magnetic-sourcing-frahm-renfrew-1.275211

(d) http://www.shef.ac.uk/news/nr/10-second-sourcing-obsidian-archaeological-artefacts-1.307461

(e) http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/03012014/article/new-excavations-explore-6-000-year-old-settlement-in-israel 

(f) http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2500&context=etd

*(g) http://www.maxrap.it/atlantide/atlantisobsidian.htm*