Pillars of Heracles
The River Danube is the second longest river in Europe, which was known to the ancient Greeks as ‘Istros’. It rises in Germany’s Black Forest and after passing through many countries, including four capital cities, it eventually empties into the Black Sea.
A number of researchers have associated the river with Plato’s Atlantis. One of the earliest was Nicolae Densusianu who proposed that Atlantis had been situated in ancient Dacia, his native Romania. Over a century later some of his ideas have been revived by other Romanian commentators such as Adrian Bucurescu and Alexandra Furdui. Densusian’s nationalism is now frowned upon and there is an understandable suspicion that his modern Romanian supporters may have similar underlying motivations.
There is a gorge on the Danube known as the Iron Gates which provides part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania. Densusianu located the Pillars of Heracles at the Iron Gates, an idea supported by Ticleanu, Constantin & Nicolescu who place Atlantis further west on the Pannonian Plain. However, Ranko Jakovlievic expressed the view that the Iron Gates section of the Danube was the location of Atlantis!
Christian and Siegfried Schoppe locate Atlantis east of the Danube Delta on Snake Island in the Black Sea an idea now adopted by George K. Weller (a).
Alexandra Ioana Furdui, is Romanian by birth, an architect by profession, who now lives in Australia. Her interest in ancient history has resulted in a book entitled Island: Myth…Reality …or Both?  in which she posits Atlantis as a large island in the antediluvian freshwater Black Sea ruled by the Titans of Greek mythology, some of whom later started another civilisation in the lower Danube, where she claims the Pillars of Herakles were situated, which is probably the result of being influenced by the earlier work of Nicolae Densusianu.
Pytheas was a 3rd century BC navigator from the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles) and is best known for his voyage in the north Atlantic, possibly around 240 BC. His trip took in the British Isles and as he ventured further north and claimed to have reached Thule. An assertion that has generated volumes of debate regarding Thule’s location. Pytheas described Thule as lying six day’s sail to the north of Britain. Iceland, Norway and the Faroes along with the Scottish Shetland and Orkney Islands have all been proposed as Thule.
Rhys Carpenter devoted an interesting chapter of his Beyond the Pillars of Hercules in which he suggested that Pytheas’ voyage was undertaken with commercial objectives in mind, but on that level it was unsuccessful. However, as a voyage of discovery, it was an unparalleled achievement earning for Pytheas Carpenter’s accolade of ”antiquity’s Greatest Explorer”.
Carpenter favours the idea that the term, ‘Pillars of Hercules’, 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.”[p156]
Fundamentalist Atlantology is a term that I use to describe the idea that everything written about Atlantis by Plato, must be taken at face value. In other words when he refers to 9,000 years, this along with all the other numbers he uses in relation to the dimensions of the plain of Atlantis, its structures or its military manpower should be accepted literally! Such an acceptance flies in the face of both common sense and science, particularly in the case of Plato’s dating of Atlantis, while the dimensions he has for the ditch surrounding the plain of Atlantis were deemed incredible (his word) by Plato himself (Crit.118c), he felt obliged out of deference to Solon’s reputation he recorded the details as he received them.
Without wishing to offend anyone, I believe that acceptance, for example, of Plato’s/Solon’s numbers is comparable with the belief of religious fundamentalists who hold that creation’took just six days.
Although it is understandable that researchers have accepted Plato’s details without question, there has been extensive research over the past century into seeking more rational explanations for many of those more difficult passages in the Atlantis narrative which has produced alternative explanations that are compatible with both science and common sense.
While Plato’s 9,000 years were initially, rather glibly dismissed as a transcription error and that hundreds and not thousands had been intended, it has been demonstrated that the ancient Egyptian priesthood used a lunar calendar so that the ‘ýears’ were in fact months, which was noted in the 4th century BC by Eudoxus of Cnidos and repeated by Manetho and Diodorus Siculus. This would reduce the timeline by a factor of twelve. Another explanation was put forward by Rosario Vieni who proposed that the ‘years’ actually referred to seasons of which there are three in the Egyptian solar year. These, as far as I am aware, are the principal alternatives suggested in place of a literal reading of 9,000 years. After all, neither Athens or Egypt was home to anything more than primitive societies 9,000 years before Solon’s visit.
A further example concerns the size of Atlantis, which Plato consistently referred to as an island and never a continent and is described by him as greater than Libya and Asia combined. Irrespective of how extensive in size the Libya and Asia in question were, the Greek word for greater – meizon, actually relates to greater in strength, power or influence not extent. A few years ago Thorwald C. Franke pointed out that the traditional enemies of Egypt came from Libya and Asia, so that to describe the threat from Atlantis as greater than Libya and Asia combined indicates how great the threat from Atlantis was.
The more contentious issue of the actual location of the Pillars of Heracles, I will not go into here, suffice it to say that a number of valid competing arguments have been put forward in favour of locations other than the Strait of Gibraltar. In fact all of them could have been correct at different times, changing their position as the Greek colonists and traders gradually moved westward. Eventually, I believe that at some point in time the term simply became a metaphor for the limits of the world as generally known to the Greeks.
My point is that understandable difficulties exist in the Atlantis texts and that a number of sensible alternative explanations have been put forward, which will be individually tried and tested until a consensus emerges, in the same way that the idea of a geocentric universe was gradually replaced by the simple fact that our little planet revolves around the sun.
Marco Goti is the Italian author of The Island of Plato in which he attempts to demonstrate that Atlantis was situated in Greenland. I say attempts, because in my opinion he fails dismally. He starts by locating the Pillars of Heracles in the Atlantic, with one side being the basaltic columns at the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland and their counterparts across the sea in Scotland’s Isle of Staffa.*This idea was touted by W. C. Beaumont over sixty years earlier(a).*
Goti then moves on to Iceland, which he identifies as Thule and spends too much time describing a variety of unpronounceable locations there. He eventually heads for Greenland, which he contends must be Atlantis as it is greater than Libya and Asia combined, ignoring that Plato was referring to might rather than size. Goti posits the huge plain apparently described by Plato to have been situated in the centre of Greenland, ignoring the fact that ice cores dated to over 100,000 years have been identified there, and apart from which the huge island is not submerged.
Goti decries other promoters of Atlantis theories for ignoring details in Plato’s account that don’t fit their particular ideas and then he moves Athens to Sweden, has Atlantis above water for hundreds of thousands of years, no elephants, no two annual crops and does not explain how Greenland Atlanteans controlled southern Italy as far as Tyrrhenia, all of which demands a thumbs down from me.
The Strait of Hormuz lies at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, which today has an average depth of just 35 metres. During the last Ice Age it has been shown the Persian Gulf was a completely dry basin and possibly the home of a pre-historic civilisation. This idea has been developed by Dr. Jeffrey Rose of the University of Birmingham(a).
Marilyn Luongo is a South African entrepreneur involved in social projects there(b). Her website has an unexpected section dealing with the history of the Middle East(a) of which the second half involves a review of Plato’s Atlantis account. She attempts to link Mesopotamia with Atlantis, beginning with locating the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ at the Strait of Hormuz and then using the highly controversial interpretation of ‘meizon‘ meaning ‘between’ rather than ‘greater’ she proceeds to argue that Mesopotamia is ‘between’ Asia and Libya and therefore is the home of Atlantis!
Ron Current is an American blogger with a passion for travel, history and photography. Beginning in March 2016 he has written a number of pieces(a) on Atlantis and has concluded that Thera (Santorini) and its 2nd millennium BC eruption was at least part of the inspiration behind Plato’s narrative.
He echoes the views of Galanopoulos & Bacon regarding the location of the Pillars of Heracles saying “There are two landmasses in the world of these ancient Greeks that were also called the Pillars of Heracles in that period. These are the two southward pointing headlands on each side of the Gulf of Laconia on Greece’s Peloponnese.” These would have been Capes Matapan and Maleas. This, of course, contradicts Plato’s clear statement that Atlantis attacked from the west, not the south.*In fact what Plato said was that the invasion came from the Atlantic Sea (pelagos). Although there is some disagreement about the location of this Atlantic Sea, all candidates proposed so far are west of both Athens and Egypt.*
Adrian Bucurescu is a Romanian ethnographer and a prolific article writer and also the author of Dacia Secreta and Dacia Magica. He identifies the Black Sea and what is now mainland Romania as the home of Atlantis. He locates the Pillars of Hercules at the Danube gorge at the mouth of S-W Romanian river Cerna (also known as Acheron, Charon, Geryon) and that the capital of Atlantis was the city of Tulcea (Tul=atlas+Cea=land) at the Danube Delta.
Furthermore, Bucurescu claims that Plato originally said 5,000 not 9,000 years had elapsed between the Atlantean war and Solon’s visit to Egypt. He bases this idea on his claim that the works of the Greek philosophers were preserved in Arabic translations after the fall of Constantinople and that their numbers ‘5’ and ‘9’ were sufficiently similar to have led to a transcription error!(b)
However, a further contribution on Graham Hancock’s website has him listing the ten kingdoms (of Atlantis) extending over a much larger region, including Poland, Egypt and Sumeria(a)!
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 and sea levels rose.
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) See: Archive 2946 Italian/English*