Ocean or Sea
Ocean and Sea are words employed by classical writers in a manner different to our present usage. Originally the Greek word Oceanos referred to the ‘Great River’ that was assumed to flow around the then known world. Stecchini wrote that “the existence of a river Oceanus as an extension of the Nile along the Equator was considered a serious reality in Greek times” (e)
Anton Mifsud has pointed out that Homer used the word ocean for the sea and in fact used the same word for the Tyrrhenian ‘Sea’ (a). Both Seneca and Cicero referred to the Mediterranean Sea as the Atlantic Ocean(b)(c). Diodorus Siculus notes further that the word for ocean has even been applied to the Nile(d). Herodotus noted that Homer also called the Nile ‘Okeanòs’(f), as it was generally believed that it began and ended in an ocean (quoted by J.H. Agnew)[1232.123].
Georgeos Diaz-Montexano made a similar point when he commented that the classical writers had three words for bodies of salt water; pontos (small), pelagos (medium) and okeanos (large). Plato always referred to Atlantis being in a pelagos.
Alfred C. Moorhouse, among others, has pointed out(a) that ‘pontos’ is seemingly derived from words meaning ‘path’ or ‘bridge’, which in turn gave us the Latin ‘pons’ for bridge. Understandably, early sailors preferred shore-hugging and the use of trusted sea routes. ‘Pelagos’ refers to open seas, probably when out of sight of land. Agnieszka Adamowicz-Pospiech suggested that the words were used to distinguish “between the familiar and the foreign”.
We can conclude therefore that since Plato never used the term ‘ocean’ in connection with Atlantis there is no proof that he was referring to our present-day Atlantic, while in all likelihood he was indicating the western basin of the Mediterranean or the reported large inland sea where the chotts of Tunisia and Algeria are all that remain of it today.
(a) Odysseus x. 508,
(b) Quaestiones Naturales,
(c) Somnium Scipioni
(d) Biblioteca Storica i.
(e) https://www.metrum.org/mapping/cosmol.htm (link broken Oct 2020)