Kerkennah is the name of a group of Tunisian islands situated off its east coast.*The archipelago is one of the locations claimed to include Homer’s ‘Island of Goats’ and the home of the Cyclops in the Odyssey.*
In a recent book by Antonio Usai he claims that the original Pillars of Hercules were situated between the islands and the mainland. In support of his contention he quotes fron The Voyageof Hanno and other classical writers.
The Voyage of Hanno, the Carthaginian navigator, was undertaken around 500 BC. The general consensus is that his journey took him through the Strait of Gibraltar and along part of the west coast of Africa. A record, or periplus, of the voyage was inscribed on tablets and displayed in the Temple of Baal at Carthage. Richard Hennig speculated that the contents of the periplus were copied by the Greek historian, Polybius, after the Romans captured Carthage. It did not surface again until the 10th century when a copy, in Greek, was discovered (Codex Heildelbergensis 398) and was not widely published until the 16th century.
The 1797 English translation of the periplus by Thomas Falconer along with the original Greek text can be downloaded or read online(h).
Edmund Marsden Goldsmid (1849-?) published a translation of A Treatise On Foreign Languages and Unknown Islands by Peter Albinus. In footnotes on page 39 he describes Hanno’s periplus as ‘apocryphal’. A number of other commentators(c)(d) have also cast doubts on the authenticity of the Hanno text.
Three years after Ignatius Donnelly published Atlantis, Lord Arundell of Wardour published The Secret of Plato’s Atlantis intended as a rebuttal of Donnelly’s groundbreaking book. The ‘secret’ referred to in the title is that Plato’s Atlantis story is based on the account we have of the Voyage of Hanno.
Nicolai Zhirov speculated that Hanno may have witnessed ‘the destruction of the southern remnants of Atlantis’, based on some of his descriptions.
Rhys Carpenter commented that ”The modern literature about his (Hanno’s) voyage is unexpectedly large. But it is so filled with disagreement that to summarize it with any thoroughness would be to annul its effectiveness, as the variant opinions would cancel each other out”[221.86].
Further discussion of the text and topography encountered by Hanno can be read in a paper by Duane W. Roller.
What I find interesting is that so much attention was given to Hanno’s voyage as if it was unique and not what you would expect if Atlantic travel was as commonplace at that time, as many ‘alternative’ history writers claim.
However, even more questionable is the description of Hanno sailing off “with a fleet of sixty fifty-oared ships, and a large number of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.” The problem with this is that the 50-oared ships would have been penteconters, which had limited room for much more than the oarsmen. If we include the crew, an additional 450 persons per ship would have been impossible, in fact it, is unlikely that even the provisions for 500 hundred people could have been accommodated!
Lionel Casson, the author of The Ancient Mariners commented that “if the whole expedition had been put aboard sixty penteconters, the ships would have quietly settled on the harbour bottom instead of leaving Carthage: a penteconter barely had room to carry a few days’ provisions for its crew, to say nothing of a load of passengers with all the equipment they needed to start a life in a colony.“
The American writer, William H. Russeth, commented(f) on the various interpretations of Hanno’s route, noting that “It is hard for modern scholars to figure out exactly where Hanno traveled, because descriptions changed with each version of the original document and place names change as different cultures exert their influence over the various regions. Even Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman Historian, complained of writers committing errors and adding their own descriptions concerning Hanno’s journey, a bit ironic considering that Romans levelled the temple of Ba’al losing the famous plaque forever.”
George Sarantitis has a more radical interpretation of Hanno’s journey, proposing
(e) that instead of taking a route along the North African coast and then out into the Atlantic, he proposes that Hanno travelled inland along waterways that no longer exist. He insists that the location of the Pillars of Heracles, as referred to in the narrative, matches the Gulf of Gabes .
The most recent commentary on Hanno’s voyage is on offer from Antonio Usai in his 2014 book, The Pillars of Hercules in Aristotle’s Ecumene. He also has a controversial view of Hanno’s account, claiming that in the “second part, Hanno makes up everything because he does not want to continue that voyage.” (p.24) However, the main objective of Usai’s essays is to demonstrate that the Pillars of Hercules were originally situated in the Central Mediterranean between eastern Tunisia and its Kerkennah Islands.
A 1912 English translation of the text can be read online(a),>as well as a modern English translation by Jason Colavito(k).<
Another Carthaginian voyager, Himilco, is also thought to have travelled northward in the Atlantic and possibly reached Ireland, referred to as ‘isola sacra’. Unfortunately, his account is no longer available(g).
The livius.org website offers three articles(i) on the text, history and credibility of the surviving periplus together with a commentary.
Syrtis was the name given by the Romans to two gulfs off the North African coast; Syrtis Major which is now known as the Gulf of Sidra off Libya and Syrtis Minor, known today as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisian waters. They are both shallow sandy gulfs that have been feared from ancient times by mariners. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27.13-18) it is described how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on ‘Syrtis sands.’
The earliest modern reference to these gulfs that I can find in connection with Atlantis was by Nicolas Fréret in the 18th century when he proposed that Atlantis may have been situated in Syrtis Major. Giorgio Grongnet de Vasse expressed a similar view around the same time. Since then there has been little support for the idea until recent times when Winfried Huf designated Syrtis Major as one of his five divisions of the Atlantean Empire.
However, the region around the Gulf of Gabes has been more persistently associated with aspects of the Atlantis story. Inland from Gabes are the chotts, which were at one time connected to the Mediterranean and considered to have been part of the legendary Lake Tritonis, sometimes suggested as the actual location of Atlantis.
In the Gulf itself, Apollonius of Rhodes placed the Pillars of Herakles(a) , while Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (c. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkennah at the western end of Syrtis Minor. Lucanus, the Latin poet, located the Strait of Heracles in Syrtis Minor. Mifsud has pointed out that this reference has been omitted from modern translations of Lucanus’ work!
Férréol Butavand was one of the first modern commentators to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf, while more recently Alberto Arecchi placed Atlantis in the Gulf when sea levels were lower(b) . George Sarantitis places the ‘Pillars’ near Gabes and Atlantis itself inland, further west in Mauritania, south of the Atlas Mountains. Antonio Usai also places the ‘Pillars’ in the Gulf of Gabes.
In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(c) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!
(a) Argonautica Book IV ii 1230
Antonio Usai (1957- ) was born in Assemini, 12 km northwest of Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. Having a passion for ancient history, he has written a number of papers(a) locating the Pillars of Heracles within the Mediterranean. An English translation of The Pillars of Hercules in Aristotle’s Ecumene is now available on the excellent Academia.edu website as well as a 67-page booklet. Included in his work is a critique(b) of Sergio Frau’s book.
Usai followed a reading of Frau’s book with a study of the works of Herodotus, Aristotle, Polybius and Strabo among others. He was drawn to the story of Hanno’s voyage, where Hanno is described as leaving Carthage, turning east, then passing through the ‘Pillars’ and following the coast south towards Syrtis Minor, which is described as being on their right.>However, the previous passage tells us that he first turned west, which is all rather confusing!<
According to Usai, this would only make sense if the Pillars had been situated between the east coast of Tunisia and the islands of Kerkennah. Furthermore, Usai contends that part of Hanno’s report of his voyage was a hoax!
Finally, after devoting most of his essays to identifying the original Pillars at Kerkennah,>in my opinion he weakened his credibility when he concluded his work by identifying Greenland as the location of Atlantis, contradicting Plato’s text, in which the Pillars are described as close to Atlantis.
For some reason, Usai incorrectly describes Greenland as being surrounded by a continent. It is not; to the west is a large Canadian island, there is nothing to the north, east or south and the nearest continental territory is 500 km away to the southwest.
Additionally, he must explain why or how the few people living on Greenland would attack Athens so many thousands of kilometers away.<
A number of translations of the Periplus (Sea Voyage Guide) of Hanno are available on the internet(c)(d).
(c) https://archive.org/details/cu31924031441847 (Schoff translation)
(d) http://www.jasoncolavito.com/periplus-of-hanno.html (Colavito translation)
Cerne was an island mentioned in the Pseudo-Scylax as being twelve days sail from the Pillars of Heracles. It adds that parts beyond the isle of Cerne are no longer navigable because of shoals, mud and seaweed. Although some have seen this as a reference to the Sargasso Sea, mud and shoals are not characteristics of the Sargasso, which is a mile or more deep.
Diodorus Siculus (iii.54) wrote of the Amazons fighting the Atlantoi in the city of Cerne. Some commentators have identified Cerne with the islands of Kerkenna off the east coast of Tunisia, where on the other hand Egerton Sykes linked the Cerne referred to in Pseudo-Scylax with Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
Frank Joseph erroneously claims[108.117] that the only known ‘Cerne’ was Cerne Abbas in England, the site of the famous naked giant carved into the chalk. There is certainly no suggestion of any Amazon invasion there and the physique of the giant was certainly never matched by even the most butch Amazons. Not for the first time, Joseph is blatantly wrong. As in the case of so many other places mentioned in connection with Atlantis story there were a number of ancient towns named Cerne. The most famous such reference is in the record of Hanno’s voyage(b), generally accepted to be along the Atlantic coast of Morocco, where south of Lixus, he settled and named an island Cerne(a).
Greenland was first proposed as the location of Atlantis in the 17th century by François de la Mothe le Vayer. More recently some of the more imaginative writers have tried, unsuccessfully, to revive interest in this idea. One of these is the American, Dale Huffman, who claims that the outline of Greenland is comparable with Kircher‘s famous map of Atlantis. He has also proposed that while Atlantis primarily consisted of Greenland it also included “the islands of the United Kingdom and Iceland”(h).
Another proponent is Mario Dantas who is equally determined to link Plato’s description with the enormous island of Greenland(a) and has submitted a paper on the subject to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in Athens.
Another site(b) advocates the Baffin Basin just west of Greenland, as the Great Plain of Atlantis. This idea developed by a New Zealander, Ian Fox, is based on a re-interpretation of Plato’s text combined with the studies of Charles Hapgood.
In 2014, Antonio Usai published an English translation of his 2011 booklet on the Pillars of Hercules in which he places the original ‘Pillars’ at the Tunisian island of Kerkennah and then unexpectedly proposed that Atlantis was situated at Greenland.
Another proponent of the Greenland location is Stefan Grossmann in his book, Atlantlantean(sic) Philosophy(d), a commentary on the non-existent ‘Emerald Tablets of Thoth’(e), concocted by Maurice Doreal (Claude Doggins).
In October 2011 a team of researchers from the Laboratory of Geology in Lyon may have elevated the importance of Greenland to an even higher level with their claim(c) that life on earth may have originated there 3.8 billion years ago.
In 2013, Lucio Russo, an Italian mathematician and science historian, located Thule on the coast of Greenland, having identified errors in Ptolemy’s geographical calculations.
In 2014 Antonio Moreno Checa published La Atlántida. El mito hecho realidad (Atlantis. The myth comes true) in which he also locates Atlantis in Greenland. Gennaro Anziano, an Italian writer, has also located Atlantis in Greenland(g) in his 2001 book, Atlantis – Discover the land of the gods.
>David Chase Taylor, journalist and conspiracy theorist, published, Greenland Theory: Apocalypse Now, which placed Atlantis in Greenland. However, he is more concerned with the location of the CIA, which he continually repeats has its headquarters under CERN in Switzerland(j)!!! An April 2020 review gives a flavour of the wide-ranging nonsense to be found within this book(k), with little to advance our knowledge of Atlantis.<
Leaving aside any suggested connection with Atlantis, there are other features of the vast island that deserve attention. There are a number of raised beaches which clearly indicate that “the whole of this large island has been raised, or the sea has sunk, in post-glacial times” and that “the upheaval has been greater in the north”. Their height above sea level varies from 325 and 480 feet!