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*
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 a number of towns in Calabria where ancient Greek is still spoken(i).
Theophrastus (372–287 BC) was a student of Aristotle, whom he eventually succeeded at the Lyceum, the home of the Peripatetic school of philosophy,*which he headed for thirty-six years. Eventually, he was succeeded by Strato of Lampsacus.*
Theophrastus is frequently quoted as referring to Atlantis having colonies in the ‘sea’. Philo of Alexandria in his De Aeternitate Mindi has cited Theophrastus’ belief in the reality of Atlantis. Thorwald C. Franke expands on this in Appendix F of his Aristotle and Atlantis.
Theophrastus is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of botany’ and was one of the earliest writers to note that trees gained an extra outer layer each year. However, it would take over two thousand years before this fact led to the development of today’s invaluable science of dendrochronology.
The Strait of Sicily is the name given to the extensive stretch of water between Sicily and Tunisia. Depending on the degree to which glaciation lowered the world’s sea levels during the last Ice Age; three views have emerged relating its possible effect on Sicily during that period:
(ii) The Strait of Messina was closed, joining Sicily to Italy, while the Strait of Sicily remained open.
(iii) Both the Straits of Messina and Sicily were closed, providing a land bridge between Tunisia and Italy, separating the Eastern from the Western Mediterranean.
I find it strange that what we call today the Strait of Sicily is 90 miles wide. Now the definition of ‘strait’ is a narrow passage of water connecting two large bodies of water. How 90 miles can be described as ‘narrow’ eludes me. Is it possible that we are dealing with a case of mistaken identity and that the ‘Strait of Sicily’ is in fact the Strait of Messina, which is narrow? Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(a) 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(b). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor.
It is worth pointing out that the Strait of Messina is sometimes referred to in ancient literature as the Pillars of Herakles and designates the sea west of this point as the ‘Atlantic Ocean’. Modern writers such as Sergio Frau and Eberhard Zangger have pointed out that the term ‘Pillars of Herakles’ was applied to more than one location in the Mediterranean in ancient times.
In 1910, the celebrated Maltese botanist, John Borg, proposed that Atlantis had been situated on what is now submerged land between Malta and North Africa.*A number of other researchers, Axel Hausmann and Alberto Arecchi, have expressed similar ideas.
The Strait of Sicily is home to a number of sunken banks, previously exposed during the Last Ice Age. As levels rose most of these disappeared, an event observed by the inhabitants of the region at that time. The MapMistress website(c) has proposed that one of these banks was the legendary Erytheia, the sunken island of the far west. The ‘far west’ later became the Strait of Gibraltar but for the early Greeks it was the Central Mediterranean.*
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.*Furthermore, Anaximander drew a ‘map’ of the known world (left), a century after Herodotus, showing only the three continents, without any hint of territory beyond them.*
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 of the term 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 .
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) also known as Philo the Jew, was a philosopher based in Alexandria. He was a firm supporter of the reality of Atlantis’ existence. He wrote on the subject in his On the Eternity of the Earth[1423.v.141](a) where he is thought by some to be quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor. This view is held by Thorwald C. Franke[0880.131] and J. V. Luce in Atlantis: Fact or Fiction[0522.51].