DISSECTING PLATO'S STORY
The story of Atlantis was first mentioned in Plato's dialogues of “Timaeus and Critias,” written around 360 BC. According to Plato, Atlantis was a naval power that around 9600 BC controlled much of the eastern Mediterranean region. Of course, and contrary to a common belief, they were not the super-advanced civilization many people during the 20th century made them out to be. Without the technology we possess today, Plato explained that they were extremely innovative as well as capable navigators, who frequently traveled into the Atlantic Ocean to explore.
Today, there are all sorts of theories that Atlantis may have once existed in locations like off the coast of southeastern Cyprus, outside the Strait of Gibraltar 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 or the Pacific Ocean. There are also more mainstream theories that 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. Why is there so much confusion regarding its location though?
If Plato explained that Atlantis was the dominating power in the Mediterranean at the time, should not this revelation lead to the logical assumption that, as an island, it should have been somewhere within the Mediterranean as well? On the other hand, the mere mention of another grand island/continent across the Atlantic, outside the Pillars of Hercules (one Plato described as “larger than Libya and Asia put together”), often enough stirs people’s imaginations as well as their natural tendencies to pursue bigger and better things. This internal drive often causes many people to look for the lost island on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Indeed, under close examination, we see that Plato did not say Atlantis was located on the other side of the Atlantic, but rather he pointed to the fact that the Atlantians were capable of crossing the Atlantic outside the Strait of Gibraltar and traveling to all the lands that “encompass that veritable ocean.” This includes a grand “island,” or better yet, another continent on the opposite side of the Atlantic that was larger than Libya and Asia combined.
PLATO: “…(For) the Ocean that was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say ‘the Pillars of Heracles’ [Straits of Gibraltar] there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses the veritable ocean…”
Before attempting to make sense out of a translated document, those not familiar with Greek must know that the syntactic structure of the language that Plato used has a very different structure than the English language we often use to translate it. For example, when comparing the simple English phrase “The Queen began to talk”, the Greek version of the same reads, “Began to talk, the Queen.” What often seems strange to those who first try to learn Greek is the inversion of the possessive adjective in respect to the noun. Similarly, Greek text inversions like these may also exist in the sequence of entire sentences. In an independent clause, an item which is stressed, i.e. which is uttered with emphasis or is contrastive, generally goes at the beginning of the clause, rarely at the end. Middle position is occupied by an item receiving no particular emphasis. In a series of clauses in a sentence, an item goes at the beginning of its clause if it relates to the previous context, at the end if it relates to a following one. In the original text, for example, the information of a great continent across the ocean (the emphasis on the clause) is mentioned first and before the revelation of how people were able to cross the Atlantic to it. In short, when a story from ancient Greek is translated to English, the translated sentences may require some adjustment and/or proper repositioning prior to reading in order for an English reader to make better sense.
For instance, when understanding the syntactic structure of the Greek language and how to use it correctly, Plato’s three sentence paragraph above, when properly rearranged, reads as follows:
“....the (Atlantic) Ocean that was at that time navigable; and it was possible for travelers of that time to cross from it (from Atlantis) to the other islands and from the(se) islands to the whole of the continent over against them which (islands and continent together) encompasses the veritable ocean … for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say ‘the Pillars of Heracles’ [Straits of Gibraltar] (across the Atlantic Ocean) there lay an island (a continent, as he called it earlier) which was larger than Libya and Asia together;”
Plato clearly explains that during the time of Atlantis the Atlantic Ocean was navigable. He further clarifies that the Atlantians often navigated outside the Strait of Gibraltar (the Pillars of Hercules) and from island to island (most likely from Scotland, to the Faroe Islands, to Iceland to Greenland), they were able to reach another grand island/continent on the other side of the Atlantic, one that was “larger than Libya and Asia” combined. Which other continent is on the opposite side of the Atlantic and across from the Pillars of Hercules? The North American continent is the obvious answer. It was the North American continent that Plato said was larger than Libya and Asia put together and not that of Atlantis, as many wrongly had interpreted and even to this day continue to interpret.
As unsettling as it is to some, the revelation that the ancient Greeks knew of the American continent thousands of years before its “discovery” by Christopher Columbus, we must remind ourselves that even much earlier in time the ancient Greeks were fully aware that the Earth was round and not flat, as many European civilizations assumed at the time. In fact, the “Antikythera Mechanism” is a testament of such advanced knowledge.
Actually, around the 4th century BC, it seems that not only did the Greeks know of the American continent, but others did as well, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. In 1996, Mark McMenamin, a professor of Geology at Mount Holyoke College, discovered and interpreted a series of enigmatic markings on the reverse side of a Carthaginian gold coin, minted circa 350 BC, as an ancient map of the world. The map is interpreted as representing the Mediterranean basin. An image to the right of it is interpreted to represent Asia, while the image to the left is interpreted to represent the American continent. Professor McMenamin also found that all known specimens of this type of coin formed the same type of “world” map. This was an interesting discovery no doubt, however, what is most interesting about this finding is that this particular Carthaginian coin was minted within the same decade that Plato quoted the story of Atlantis and revealed that there was a continent across from the Pillars of Hercules.
PLATO: “For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot.”
In this case, and contrary to what many automatically assume, Plato does not point to the direction of Atlantis across the ocean. As explained earlier, the phrase “your state stayed the course of a mighty host” at the beginning of the clause is where the emphasis should be placed. While in this part he clearly reveals the close proximity of Atlantis to Greece (the word "host", by definition, implies of a landmass at the doorstep of Greece,) in the rest of the sentence he poetically describes the might of Atlantis and its capacity that stretched around the world to a “distant point” and another continent across the ocean. Of course, once he illustrates their incredible capability, he then describes their audacious and warlike character and their plans to “advance against the whole Europe and Asia.”
PLATO: “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 was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal of mud which the island created as it settled down”.
To begin with, the eruption of Santorini around 1600 BC, which many scholars theorized destroyed the legendary island, could not have been the event that destroyed it because the primary island of Atlantis was not part of the Santorini setting at that time. As Santorini alone during that period did not match Plato’s whole description, this leads to the logical conclusion that either Plato’s Atlantis was somewhere else, or the story of Atlantis took place much earlier in time as Plato suggested (around 9600 BC), when the landscape in this region was much different.
If not the eruption of Santorini around 1600 BC, though, what other disaster could have destroyed Atlantis 10,000 years ago? Without a doubt, it was the rise of the oceans after the end of the last ice age. More particularly, it was the abrupt rise of the oceans just prior to 8000 BC that led to the flooding of the Mediterranean first and ultimately to the flooding of the Black Sea. This “Great Flood” was the single, long-lasting event which drastically reshaped the coastlines of our planet and the one which simultaneously affected every coastal civilization around the world at the time. The 10,000-year-old city found beneath 130 feet of water in the Gulf of Cambay, off the coast of West India, reinforces such a presumption.
The mere mention of earthquakes and floods by Plato in the plural form not only confirms that the island’s destruction was gradual, but this statement further corroborates that the periodic floods were likely associated with the rise of the oceans as earlier indicated. Furthermore, the remark “one grievous day and night”, more of a stock phrase (like "once upon a time"), does not necessarily imply that the island was lost within 24 hours, but that the end event occurred afterwards at some unknown point in time.
When following Plato’s description of the end, it reads as if for a period of several decades, strong earthquakes and frequent floods (associated with the rise of the oceans) began to take a toll on the island. At some point in time, prior to 8000 BC and just before the flooding of the Black Sea, when the melting of the glaciers reached a climax and the ocean levels began to rise more aggressively, the sea level in the Mediterranean abruptly rose high enough to flood the valleys and lower elevations of Atlantis. This was the particular flood that essentially claimed the island. Practically overnight, the entire island became “impassable and impenetrable,” and as Plato explained “this was caused by the subsidence of the island.” Of course, knowing nothing of the natural forces at play, Plato totally misinterpreted the rise of the sea and called it the “gradual sinking” of the island.
PLATO: “(Atlantis was) 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 555km2), but across the center island it was two thousand stadia (about 370km2). 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 0.92 km)”.
As best demonstrated in the book, in addition to other self-inflicted difficulties, it seems that the biggest problem in locating Atlantis, by far, is that most people have been looking for it in the wrong time period. As it appears, the only way to have found the lost island was to look for it in the right chronology rather than just in the right topography, a common mistake many people make once they read about this story. Although Plato made it clear that the story of Atlantis took place around 9600 BC, mainstream conclusions and other earlier story interpretations lead many people to look for Atlantis during the time period of 1600 BC and around the time when the Santorini volcano erupted. This group of people ultimately realize that other than the island itself and the volcanic eruption that destroyed it, which by the way are both convincing matches, nothing else seems to correspond to Plato’s description. So, as they arrive at a dead end, they either give up their search or continue to look for Atlantis elsewhere, including sometimes in the most unusual places.
Of course, there are those who put aside Plato’s testimony and from the very beginning follow their own presumptions of what Atlantis once was. Often enough, these people not only are looking for Atlantis in the wrong time and continent, but most frequently, they are looking for an ultra-modern civilization that never existed.
Alternatively, though, when one sets aside all personal interpretations and faithfully searches for Atlantis in the right time period (10,000 years ago), then somehow all the pieces of this great puzzle begin to fit. First and foremost, the island of Atlantis, an island nearly the size of Crete, emerges out of the sea before our eyes. This obviously happens by lowering the Mediterranean Sea by 400 feet, in order to correspond to the sea level during the 10th millennium BC.
Sure enough, once the sea is lowered, the Mediterranean looks like a whole different world. Many coastlines drastically change, and Greece and the island region around the Aegean Sea become nearly unrecognizable as several islands now merge. When the sea level was 400 feet lower, many of the Cyclades Islands were connected by a flat terrain, today called the “Cyclades Plateau.” This now-submerged plateau formed the body of a large island, while the modern islands of Cyclades fashioned rows of mountains that emerged in all the right places when they are compared to Plato’s story. The northern portion of this island was entirely comprised of mountains. There is an oblong valley directly below this mountainous region, and there is a second valley closer to the center of the island that is encircled by low-rise mountains. This central valley is two-thirds the size of the oblong valley. Moreover, Santorini itself, a setting of an island within an island, a place where many scholars in the past had also placed the crown city of Atlantis, falls within 9 kilometers of the Grand Island and just as Plato described.
For the first time, we have a location where all the physical characteristics match Plato's description of Atlantis. The geography is absolutely identical, the volcanic geology is there, and the flora and fauna chronologically match the topography.
PLATO: “The two springs, cold and hot, provided unlimited supply of water for appropriate purposes, remarkable for its agreeable quality and excellence…”
As the origin of the hot water was clearly geothermic, this further indicates that the island of Atlantis must have been volcanic, just as Santorini (a sea volcano with a collapsed center.)
PLATO: “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.”
“But in former days, and in the primitive state of the country, what are now mountains were regarded as hills; and the plains are they are now termed, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for there are some of the mountains which now only afford sustenance to bees, whereas not long ago there were still remaining roofs cut from the trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, bearing fruit, and abundance of food for cattle.”
Many skeptics would argue that according to Plato, Atlantis was swallowed by the sea and vanished, while in this particular case remnants of the island, along with Santorini, were left behind. Contrary to this common belief though, in the above paragraph Plato describes the particular region and further explains that once the flood cycle ended, the mountaintops of Atlantis remained above water and formed small islands. Then, poetically once again, he compared these remaining islets to the “bones of the wasted body" of Atlantis.
His description did not end there, though. He went even further and dramatically described the environmental transformation that occurred in the region between 9000 BC and his own time, nearly seven millennia later. He explained that the heavily forested mountains, which once supplied timber of sufficient size to cover even the largest houses, now as small islets, can barely provide “sustenance to bees.” This is another vital piece of information where Plato perfectly depicts the total transformation of the region and explains how the once large, green islands of the Aegean, from ten millennia ago, ultimately became the small, dry islands we know today.
© Images by Christos A. Djonis