What Became of Atlantis: The Flood from Heaven
Skeptics and believers alike tend to overlook the fact that the story of Atlantis, as told by the Egyptian priests who related the story to Solon, is a complex narrative involving three civilizations that supposedly existed contemporaneously with each other; namely, Athens, Egypt, and Atlantis itself.
According to Sonchis, the head priest of Sais, the distant ancestors of the Athenians had led a coalition that counted amongst its members’ other Hellenic city-states and an ancient Egypt to a spectacular victory over the armies of Atlantis—which had aggressed upon them and attempted to reduce all who dwelt along the shores of the Mediterranean to slavery.
Earthquakes and Floods
Not long after the Athenian victory, earthquakes and floods were said to have struck the earth, destroying both the victorious Athens and the vanquished Atlantis alike, but sparing the ancient Egyptians. All of these events, as per the priests, had taken place 9000 years before their time, or from our perspective, around 11,600 years ago. The priests then went on to explain that the Athenians had forgotten perhaps this greatest episode in their own history because of this cataclysm, and others besides, which had left only the uncultured and illiterate as survivors, whereas the land of Egypt was protected from such events by favorable geography.
A recreation of a devastating flood. (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )
In one of Plato's dialogues, the Timaeus, the priest goes on to explain how the Athenians were struck by not merely one, but several floods, and why his own homeland was spared:
“And when … the Gods purge the earth with a flood of waters, all the herdsmen and shepherds that are in the mountains are saved, but those in the cities of your land are swept into the sea by the streams; whereas in our country neither then nor at any other time does the water pour down over our fields from above , on the contrary it all tends naturally to well up from below (emphasis mine)” ( Timaeus, 22e).
‘The Deluge’ by Francis Danby, 1840. ( Public Domain )
Later on in the same dialogue, the priest describes these floods as "flood[s] from heaven" ( Tim., 23a).
Historical Disasters: What Happened?
The question that naturally follows is, of course, what caused these floods? I believe that the prosaic explanation of flooding caused by the overflowing of rivers or excessive rainfall cannot adequately account for the scale of devastation that the priests described. Such floods have repeatedly struck Greece over the last 3,000 years without "leav[ing] none of you but the unlettered and uncultured" ( Tim., 23b).
Plato's Atlantis described in Timaeus and Critias. ( Public Domain )
Referring back to the passage quoted, what could cause "water to pour down over fields from above" as opposed to "naturally welling up from below?" This would certainly have happened if the ancestors of the Greeks inhabited lands that were below sea level ; conversely, if the Egyptians had always lived on lands above sea level, any floodwaters originating from the ocean would indeed "tend naturally to well up from below."
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Any dry lands that are below sea level with a sea or ocean nearby are at a constant risk of catastrophic flooding, especially in a region that is prone to earthquakes and landslides, for if any portion of the higher lands that surround the below sea level region collapse below sea level, the surrounding sea, impelled by the force of gravity, will pour into the low lying lands. Moreover, the magnitude of such floods would certainly suffice to account for the near total destruction of the primeval Greeks and their loss of culture; these floods, by their very nature, would have come without warning and with tremendous rapidity. Thus far, we have only discussed Athens and Egypt, but what of Atlantis?
In a later passage, Plato recounts the destruction of the Athenians and the Atlanteans:
“But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors [the Athenians] was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished...” ( Tim., 25c-d).
Could the common fate of the Atlanteans and the Athenians be accounted for by a commonality in the geography of their respective lands? That is, could parts of Atlantis have been below sea just as I hypothesized the homeland of the primeval Athenians to have been?