Atlantis: Examining the Legendary Tale of Plato
Around 360 BC, in his dialogues of Timaeus and Critias, the Greek philosopher Plato introduced an incredible story, a tale of an enigmatic island civilization which has since captivated the imagination of every generation that followed. This was the story of Atlantis, thought to be one of the most advanced societies of the ancient world, an idyllic island paradise of skillful navigators capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to conquer and explore!
"For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, .....and it was possible for travelers of that time to cross from it (from Atlantis) to the other islands and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses the veritable (Atlantic) ocean ..." – Plato
Today, popular theories place Atlantis in locations like off the coast of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, around the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic, somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of the United States, or even in more exotic locations such as Antarctica and Indonesia. Of course more mainstream studies point to the tiny island of Santorini, the island of Crete, Malta, Spain, and other archaeological sites around the Mediterranean. Overall, there are countless theories on the location of Atlantis, while more seem to surface every year.
Artist’s representation of Atlantis. Source: BigStockPhoto
Despite all the scientific and nonscientific speculation though, and due to the lack of tangible evidence in the past, the vast majority of modern historians believe that Plato’s tale of Atlantis is either a myth, or they assume Plato crafted a story around a fictional place while using a mix of real elements from later times.
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Is it possible then that the story of Atlantis was entirely a figment of Plato’s imagination? It is certainly possible, although if the story is not real, how otherwise can we explain the tangible evidence that supports Plato's story, including a recently discovered site that perfectly matches Atlantis' description.
Essentially, and contrary to a common belief that Plato’s Atlantis may have been somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a recent study shows that Plato's island of Atlantis was in the Mediterranean Sea and just few kilometers north of the island of Santorini. This now-underwater primary island, along with the island of Santorini, fits Plato's entire description of Atlantis.
Lost in Translation
To successfully decode Plato’s puzzle, and to ensure that the meaning from the original Greek story was not lost during translation, the English version was compared to the Greek format which has entirely different syntactic structure. (Actually, when it comes to Greek, sometimes even a single comma can cause a short sentence to have two different meanings. A good example is a famous quote from the oracle of Delphi. "Go, return not die in war" can have two entirely opposite meanings, depending on where a missing comma is supposed to be - before or after - the word "not.") This recent evaluation of Plato's text revealed that simple errors and flawed interpretations by early translators led many researchers in the past to look for Atlantis in all the wrong places. Consequently, unlike all past “discoveries,” including recent ones that led to more speculation rather than real evidence, for the first time, there is a tangible site where all the physical characteristics perfectly match Plato’s account.
Lost Island Found
It seems that 11,000 years ago, according to Plato the story of Atlantis took place, many of the Cyclades Islands were connected by a flat terrain, today called the “Cyclades Plateau.” This now-400 feet (122 meters) underwater plateau formed the body of a large island, while the modern islands of the Cyclades fashioned rows of mountains that emerged in all the “right places,” when those are compared to Plato’s story!
Just as Plato described Atlantis, the northern portion of this island was entirely comprised of mountains which reached the shores. There was an oblong valley directly below this mountainous region, and a second valley closer to the center of the island that was encircled by low rise mountains. This central valley was two thirds in size of the oblong valley. Moreover, Santorini itself, a setting of an island within an island, and a place where many mainstream archaeologists in the past had placed the crown-city of Atlantis, falls precisely within 5.6 miles (nine km) from the grand island, and as Plato depicted (See image below, from the book “ Uchronia Atlantis Revealed ”.)
“....an island comprising mostly of mountains in the northern portions and along the shore, and encompassing a great plain of an oblong shape in the south extending in one direction three thousand stadia (about 555km 2), but across the center island it was two thousand stadia (about 370km 2). Fifty stadia (9km) from the coast was a mountain that was low on all sides…broke it off all round about…the central island itself was five stades in diameter (about 0.92km)”. - Plato
(Image courtesy author)
Interestingly, and just as Plato mentioned, this super-island drowned by the sea at around 8000 BC during the rapid rise of the Mediterranean and just prior to the flooding of the Black Sea (see 2005 UNESCO study). So, in light of this latest discovery, having a site that finally matches Plato's description of Atlantis, is it possible to accept that Plato's story was based on a real setting and a prehistoric civilization known to ancient Greeks? Of course it is, especially since disproving a perfectly matching site may be even more difficult than finding such a site to begin with.
Consequently, earlier this year, the same image was sent to a popular blog site (one that prides itself to contain the most comprehensive data on Atlantis) with the following comments:
" ....if we remain true to Plato’s account and look for a setting at around 9600 BC, the place on the image must have been the prehistoric site Plato was talking about, whether ‘Atlantis’ as we know it was real or not. As you see, the geography is perfectly identical, the volcanic geology is there, and the flora and fauna (including elephants) chronologically match the topography. Furthermore, a pre-Bronze Age civilization in the immediate area further reinforces this likelihood. If Plato’s Atlantis was ever real, this site offers the perfect match! As you also know, before any geographical area qualifies to be considered the site of Plato’s Atlantis, the 2005 conference of Milos established two dozen criteria. This site meets most of these criteria while the remaining few, especially past suppositions ‘hinting’ to its possible location being somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, are also explained when properly interpreting Plato from ancient Greek to English.… Obviously, it is no longer considered a farfetched hypothesis to accept that, 10,000 years ago, humans were more advanced and just as Plato asserted. Along with the ancient city of Jericho in Palestine, which long ago was determined that some of its structures date back to the 10th millennium BC, the mega-site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey (12000BC), as well as the submerged city off the coast of West India in the Gulf of Cambay (8000BC), prove conclusively that prehistoric humans had progressed earlier than anthropologists previously thought.” - Christos A. Djonis
Regardless of the many archaeological discoveries though, which clearly point to past advanced civilizations, it seems that most skeptics continue to argue, as this blogger did, that “Plato’s 9,000-year-old Atlantis conflicts with common sense and archaeology.” In fact, he also indicated that “since several details in Plato’s story are not compatible with the 10th millennium BC (horse races, triremes, the city of Athens, Egypt, etc.), that leaves no doubt in his mind that Atlantis was a myth.”
Subsequently, in order to demonstrate how important supportive details are to a true story, and to show how Plato's story suffers from verifiable details, a few days later he posted an article in his regular blog in which he outlined the military and the ‘population of Atlantis,’ (which he based on three different past theories) and pointed out that those theoretical numbers cannot be right.
While, of course, this can be explained in a couple of ways, one being the so-called ‘expert’ opinions in the three conflicting examples are wrong, conversely, he never discussed or explained away the ancient island on the image proposed. Apparently, as other skeptics often do, he formed an opinion he based either on modern interpretations of the story, or on oddities from Plato’s own account, as if every “true story” we are ever told always turn out to be real down to the last detail.
Fictions Turned Reality
So, were the Atlantians truly a prehistoric civilization as Plato claimed, or was that a myth? Was the story of Atlantis entirely a product of Plato’s imagination, or is it possible he created a fable around a real setting and an ancient civilization known to ancient Greeks, which in order to successfully communicate some of his philosophical ideas, (divine vs. human, ideal societies vs. corrupt) he filled with familiar matter and details from later times. Could this ideological story otherwise appeal to his audience if they could not connect or relay to it?
A parallel example, of Plato’s legend of Atlantis, is Homer’s Iliad. Just as in the case of Atlantis, for several centuries we thought that the city of Troy—the centerpiece in Homer’s epic saga—was a myth. All that changed obviously when Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaeologist, found Troy in 1868 while following location tips from Homer’s book.
In the case of Troy, after discarding all the details regarding beauty queens, demigods, Trojan horses and scaling back the armies to more rational levels, it was ultimately acknowledged the setting, as well as the bulk of this story, were real. Essentially, Homer’s entirely fictional story, which he filled with principles and common elements from his own time, apparently revolved around a true setting and a real incident which took place nearly six centuries before his time.
The walls of the acropolis belong to Troy VII, which is identified as the site of the Trojan War (c. 1200 BC). ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Another example that proves the “true part” of a story does not always rest in the details, is the account that surrounds the historic Battle of Thermopylae. In this case, we have ancient reports of a famous battle which in order to reasonably authenticate, we had to know the factions involved as well as their military force. Do we have such a legitimate testimony? Not exactly! What we have is far from real. More specifically, Herodotus wrote that King Leonidas, with 300 Spartans, along with few thousand Greeks, fought against 2.6 million Persians, followed by two million support personnel. The poet Simonides reported that the Persian army reached four million. Ctesias, a Greek physician and historian downscaled the Persian forces to 800,000.
Greek phalanx formation based on sources from the Perseus Project. ( Public Domain )
Just as in the case of Atlantis, once more, we are presented with conflicting and grossly exaggerated figures. If these guys were the ‘credible’ sources we got this true story from, why then did we discard their details and create our own? After brushing aside the troop count as quoted in all ancient accounts, modern calculations indicate that the Persian force could not have been higher than 300,000 troops.
In the case of Thermopylae, amongst other debatable details, did the ancient Greek historians inflate the size of the Persian army? Of course they did, as the story undoubtedly sounds better that way. Ultimately though, and regardless of the enormous inconsistencies in the facts, we accept this story as real. Interestingly, Troy and Thermopylae are not isolated cases in our recorded history, which is full of stories with serious discrepancies and circumstances where mythological places, or “fairy-tales,” eventually turned out to be true. Such, among others, was the Palace of Knossos in Crete, which it was associated with the Minotaur (a mythical beast of half man and half bull.)
So, a fundamental question remains. Was Atlantis simply a cautionary tale or is it possible that Plato crafted a tale based on a real setting and a prehistoric civilization known to ancient Greeks, while he supplemented all the ‘modern’ details (including the familiar Minoan aspects) as Homer similarly did few hundred years before him? If true, the ‘true-part’ of this story, as in the case of Troy, should not rest in the details, but in the detection and authentication of Plato’s “lost island.” Identifying a perfectly matching site, one that preferably exhibits signs of an advanced civilization in the area, should be the first step in solving this mystery.
Is it possible then that the “mighty host” who “stayed the course” (inhabited the path) to mainland Greece be that of the prehistoric island of the Cyclades Plateau? Certainly every element of this site seems to match Plato’s given chronology as well as physical description. If so, can the signs of an early Neolithic presence in the immediate area be the remnants of an even older civilization that was able to recover on the surrounding islands after the Great Flood at the end of the last Ice Age? And finally, was that lost civilization capable of navigating to the Americas via island hopping as Plato claimed?
According to the same study, and as best demonstrated in the book “ Uchronia Atlantis Revealed”, the enormous island/continent Plato mentioned on the opposite side of the Atlantic, “across from the Pillars of Hercules" (Strait of Gibraltar,) one that “encompasses that veritable ocean” and is “larger than Libya and Asia combined," was that of America and not of Atlantis, as many had speculated in the past (see also Ancient Origins article titled, The Legendary Hyperborea and the Ancient Greeks: Who Really Discovered America? )
If so, can this very early knowledge of the American continent best explain how haplogroup X, a Middle Eastern gene, found itself in the region of the Great Lakes 10,000 years ago? If an advanced Mediterranean culture did not travel to North America via island hopping as Plato claimed, how else then can we justify that elevated concentrations of haplogroup X also ‘strangely’ exist in Scotland, Orkney Islands, Faroe Islands, and Iceland, essentially all the island stops on the way to North America from Europe. Finally, how do we otherwise explain that official mtDNA maps show that the highest concentration of haplogroup X away from the eastern Mediterranean exists on the east coast of North America, around the Great Lakes, and not in Alaska or alongside the west coast of the United States, where mainstream scientists maintain haplogroup X infiltrated the American continent. The fact that there is no conclusive scientific explanation to justify the lack of haplogroup X in the enormous void between Altai Republic in southern Russia and the greater region of the Great Lakes, unquestionably raises legitimate doubts on the Bering Strait hypothesis.
mtDNA Map: Spread of Haplogroup X (Courtesy author)
As for the Solutrean/Clovis theory (Europeans simply made it to America on a partial ice sheet via the Atlantic), how can the supporters of this hypothesis rationalize that out of a dozen distinct haplogroups in Europe at the time (H,V,J,HV,U,T,UK,X,W, and I), only haplogroup X conveniently made it to North America?
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If we ignore Plato's claim that a particular race of prehistoric Mediterranean navigators (in a contained environment) crossed the Atlantic via island hopping 10,000 years ago, and simply assume that 10 millennia ago the path to North America was open from both directions (the north Atlantic as well as the Bering Strait), how do we explain that only a single European/Mediterranean gene managed the journey to the New World via the Atlantic, while on the opposite side, every one of the four Asian haplogroups (A,B,C and D) sequentially followed each other to America through the Bering Strait?
Finally, as for the general notion that Atlantis “was swallowed by the sea and vanished” this is simply another misconception.
"But at a later time there occurred portentous earth quakes and floods, and one grievous day and night .... And the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished." - Plato
We must not ignore that in the same paragraph Plato points out that Atlantis' demise came after several “portentous earthquakes and floods.” The mention of earthquakes and floods in the plural not only confirms that the island’s destruction was gradual but this statement further corroborates that the periodic floods were most likely associated with the rise of the oceans as earlier indicated. Furthermore, the remark “one grievous day and night”, more of a stock phrase among Greeks, does not necessarily imply that the island was lost within 24 hours, but that the end event occurred at some unknown point in time.
Not speaking in literal terms but poetically, Plato said the island on that very day was “swallowed” (claimed) by the sea, and it “vanished.” In another paragraph though, he accurately describes the particular region and explains that once the flood cycle finally ended, the mountain tops of Atlantis remained above water and formed small islands (just as in the case of the modern Cyclades). Poetically once more, he compared these small islets to the “bones of the wasted body” of the "country" that once was there.
"The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining in small islets only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the country being left." - Plato