By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers
The Discovery Channel announced a series about Atlantis deciding that novelist Stel Pavlou was right to tie Plato’s allegory to the alleged flooding of the Black Sea around 5000 BCE, despite matching none of the details of Plato’s fictitious story.
As we will point out below the Atlantis myth has long been used in support of colonialist, imperialist, and racist narrative, including the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Anglo-American expansionist colonialism the Age of Empires, and Nazi searchers for the Aryan homeland.
Why We Never Found Atlantis
Numerous attempts have been made to rationalise Plato's myth and find a kernal of historical truth in it. Noble attempts to find this reality have been made by amongst others, J.V. Luce (1969) and Peter James (1996). All have failed. Proponents have to alter major parts of Plato's tale, such as location, dates and it's very nature in order to find that match. Also, more than enough groundless speculation has, and continues to be written about Atlantis, all of it based on pure conjecture. None of this need be considered anything other than what it is, speculation without regard to understanding Plato and Athens.
The originator of all lost civilisations is the Greek philosopher Plato, born in 427 BC three years after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war and about a year after the death of Pericles.
A member of an established Athenian family with political connections he was, through his stepfather, related to Pericles.As a young man Plato would have witnessed the downfall of Athens in 404 BC in the Peloponnesian war against the landlocked state of Sparta. Following Sparta's victory, Athens was plunged into chaos and tyranny. After eight months of enduring the tyrants, democracy was restored and the thirty oligarchs were either killed or driven out. Notable amongst the tyrants is Critias. This is surely theCritias of the synonymous dialogue in which Atlantis is introduced. Thesame Critias who knew Socrates.
The democracy, in settling old scores, had Socrates put to death on trumped up charges of corrupting the young, something that Plato never forgot or forgave. To Plato, Socrates' death meant a final disillusionment with contemporary politics. In the ten years following Socrates' execution Plato drifted away from politics towards philosophy.
Plato's seminal work, "The Republic" outlines the ideology of Plato's perfect state, one in which the rulers are philosophers. "The Republic" was written down in the early years of the Academy which Plato had founded in 386 BC. This institution was his answer to his disgust with contemporary politics and was, in essence, to train the philosopher-rulers of a future Athenian state. Plato died in 347 BC.
In considering the "Timaeus and the Critias", which includes the story of Atlantis, it has to be read against the background of "The Republic".The Critias dialogue is in direct response to Socrates demand to know how his ideal state will conduct itself in action. What Socrates means by this ideal state is of course Plato's Republic. In essence, this story is to be an illustration of how the ideal state conducts itself in warfare against it's neighbours. Three real states are bound up in this struggle; pre-Salamis Athens (the noble model), post-Salamis Athens and Persia (the Atlantean models).
The noble ancient Athens can be seen as the Athens which stood alone against Persia (Atlantean model). Atlantis in the tale is both Xerxes' Persia and Periclean Athens (Atlantean model), both maritime powers full of hubris, deceit and vanity.
Therefore the themes are the destruction of Atlantis by noble ancient Athens, in this have the defeat of Persia by Athens standing on her own and the defeat of Periclean Athens (Atlantis) by Sparta (the noble state). The moral lesson being that evil will not and cannot stand against determination, courage and integrity.Both Persia and Periclean Athens had large fleets, something very much in common with Atlantis. Both were expansionist, intent on empire and crushed whoever stood in their path.
Plato has placed many clues in the "Timaeus and Critias" which tell us that this is not literal history but a political and moral tale - a parable. Look at what happens to the hubristic aggressors; Persia, Athens and others. Follow the dictates laid down in the Republic or suffer the fate of Atlantis!
Atlantis is a paradeigma, a model, not a reality.
Now to the story of Atlantis itself, the story concerns the greatest and noblest action of Ancient Athens, the defeat of aggressive Atlantis.The story relates that this happened far back in history, so far indeed that the Greeks cannot recollect it. The story states that both Egypt and Athens were founded by the same goddess, namely Athena, patron goddess of Athens. It was said that Athena founded Athens in 9000 BC and Egypt in 8000 BC. At this point in the story, anyone who thinks that this is a factual account, is simply being naive.
There was no city of Athens in existence in 9,000 BC. There may have been a small Neolithic settlement but nothing else, no acropolis, no temples etc. As this was the stone age, the fine city of Socrates simply did not exist. This account also has nothing to do with the archaeological evidence regarding Egypt in the pre-Dynastic period. The Egyptians have their own creation myths and they have absolutely nothing to do with Athena.
We are asked to believe that the Atlantis myth reached Athens through the medium of Solon, who lived between circa 630 BC and 558 BC. Solon was a famous 6th century lawmaker and one of the seven sages. He was considered to be the founder of Athenian democracy and, in Plato's time, was thought of as a glorious icon of a better time. Who better to give the story authority and, as he is long dead, he can hardly refute the words Plato places into his mouth.
According to the story Solon learns of Atlantis during a visit to Egypt. Both Herodotus (1.29-30) and Aristotle (Ath.Pol 11.1) place Solon's visit to Egypt after his Athenian legislation. There is a discrepancy here as, according to Plato, Critias said that Solon had intended to use the tale as poetry but was prevented from doing so because of the state he is said to have found Athens in on his return. Solon had to abandon his poetic aspirations in order to take up law making and return order to the city. If both Herodotus and Aristotle are correct, and they were much closer in time to these events, then the inference is that Plato didn't fully check his facts when writing this part of the story.
Plato also uses the Egyptians, who were thought by the Greeks to be the wisest of peoples of great antiquity and the keepers of secret knowledge. In using both Solon and the Egyptians, Plato gives his tale two elements that can lend it both a ring of truth and authority.
We can state with the utmost confidence that no such story exists in the Egyptian record either at Sais or elsewhere.
According to the Egyptian priests who supposedly related the tale to Solon, the Greeks forgot their own history, forgot the noblest race of men who ever lived, who happened to be Athenians and Solon's ancestors ! Is this likely? No credence can be given to having the Egyptians know more of Athenian history than the Athenians, here Plato ignores plausibility for credulity.
In the connection then between theassociation of Athens, Egypt and Solon, Plato has Critias engage in atypical fourth century practice of tapping into an historical source forpolitical validation, and in this case the source is pseudo-history.
Within the "Timaeus and Critias", Plato has used the two interlocutors as role models for Athens and Atlantis. Timaeus represents the noble state, Athens, and Critias the hubristic state, Atlantis. An important clue as to the fictionality of the Atlantis story is the occasion on which Critias relates he heard the tale from Solon, the feast of the Apatouria. This feast was associated with deception and deceit and its traditional origin was a celebrated Athenian victory won by the deceitful abuse of an agreement. This is Platonic irony at work, a tale of noble Athens related on an occasion of deceit. Plato wants those with the eyes to see it, that Critias is both a liar and a deceiver. In response to Socrates, Critias says: we will transfer your city from myth to fact; we will assume that your city is ancient Athens; in all ways they will correspond and so we will not be out of tune in saying that your citizens are those very Athenians of long ago. Critias further embellishes this metamorphosis at 27a-b.
Plato uses the character of Critias to illustrate the tragedy of Athens. Just as Critias admired Solon's fame he also failed to perceive the moral of his story so, on the Panathenaea, the Athenians celebrated the glorious deeds of their forefathers in defeating the Persians but failed to perceive or heed the moral of that defeat.
In identifying Atlantis with both Persia and Periclean Athens we can realise that Atlantis did not exist as a real state but is, in fact, based in part on two expansionist maritime powers who came to grief in conflict with smaller, more noble, states.
The story is one that describes the moral and theological aspects of the two great wars in Greek history; the conflict with Persia and the Peloponnesian war. It could also encompass many other wars. It reflects Plato's ideas in as much as it reveals a paradigmatic and universal truth.
Pericles deserves some of the honour of making one of the surest identifications of Atlantis, as it was he who told his fellow citizens to think of their city as an 'impregnable island' (Warman Welliver, “Character, Plot and Thought in Plato's Timaeus-Critias”, Leiden 1977). The Athenians made little attempt to disguise their ideology: they spoke of themselves as "ruling over subjects", not "leading allies". Elsewhere Pericles and Cleon flatly state "we are ruling like a tyrant over cities which do not like it".
We can summarise the "Timaeaus and Critias" as a parable of good (ancient Athens) triumphing over evil (Atlantis). However, a good or an ideal state such as that described in the Republic is impossible due to the unpredictability of human nature and the world as outlined in the Timaeus sosmographic dialogue. Thus we don't have a broken narrative ending the Critias as its ending is in its beginning (Timaeus 25 b-d).
We must recognise that Atlantis is a speculative exercise in political rhetoric albeit philosophically based.
NB: The Greek word pseudos and its corresponding verb means not only fiction, stories and tales but also lies, fraud and deceit. This ambiguity must be remembered.
Gateway to Atlantis: Urheimat der Arier
The Carolina Bays are shallow oval depressions widely scattered over some south-eastern states of the USA, of unknown date and speculative origin. True to the rather scrupulous candor he has earlier shown in his book, Collins tells us that these Bays have never evidenced any traces that might have come from a comet or asteroid and he acknowledges that geologists have not proposed - among their several theories - any extraterrestrial explanation for them. Nevertheless, some wants to date them to about 8500 BC and relate them to the fall of a comet, that caused (or at least mightily contributed to) the end of the last ice age. He mentions the notion of an ex-Second World War rocket engineer (no prizes given for guessing which side he was on) that there are two "deep impact sites" in the ocean east of the Bahamas. He doesn't mention the absence of any sedimentological evidence from seabed cores in the Atlantic of any such disturbance as the deep impact of a comet or asteroid would surely make. Nor has any young lava been identified that would have erupted as a result of the impact, nor is there any extraterrestrial material in ice cores of the required date or any magnetic record of disturbance. As a special explanation for the end of the last ice age, the commentary impact theory leaves much to be desired. For a start, we would have to wonder how all the other ice ages ended - did a comet always come along to finish the job?
Needless to say, this belongs to the nightmare-scenario persuasion when it comes to the end of the last ice age, and even quotes Frank C. Hibben at some length from his Lost Americans of 1946. (You really would conclude, to go by the Atlantologists, that no up-to-date, let alone scholarly, work had been done on glacial geology for the last half-century.)
So a comet is quite in order in believers' eyes as an added ingredient to the pictured mayhem of mass extinctions that Hapgood ascribed to earth crust displacement. For believers, the comet supplies the sudden tsunami to break up Atlantis in the Antilles, and the postglacial rise in sea level renders that flooding permanent.
The comet idea wasn't a new one with the German rocket man: as far back as 1788, Glan Rinaldo Carli suggested that Atlantis may have been sunk by comet strike, Donnelly more than toyed with it, and the idea was renewed with Karl Georg Zschaetzsh in 1922 in his ominously titled Atlantis: die Urheimat der Arier, "the original home of the Aryans."
Collins realizes that all the amateur geologizing and glyphinterpreting rather go for nothing unless it can be shown that there were any people in the region of the Antilles and Bahamas in about 8500 BC to witness his comet, tsunami and flooding. (By this time, he is taking it for granted in Gateway to Atlantis that Cuba was the core of Plato's Atlantis and that Plato got it right, even if accidentally, that the catastrophe occurred in 8500 BC - not that that is altogether what Plato says. He is also taking it for granted from hereon that a comet did indeed strike the western Atlantic at that date.) Believers avers that "outside the constraints of archaeological opinion," a reference I take it to the sober, systematic search for a body of consistent evidence that professional archaeologists demand, outside those constraints "there is compelling evidence to show that the sunken regions of the Bahamas and Caribbean still hold important clues concerning the historical reality of lost Atlantis."
What we get is some footprints of unknown age in mud-rock, the Bimini Road again and those odd sightings from the air, and reports of underwater caves with bones. It is certainly true that archaeologists are not going to find any or all of that in the least bit compelling as evidence for the previous existence of the "shining jewel" of Atlantis on Cuba and its empire among the Antillean archipelagos. Believers think these areas "may well" provide us with proof of a settled neolithic culture that was terminated by this commentary impact of about 8500 BC.
"Neolithic" means the New Stone Age way of life of the world's earliest farmers, before the use of metals, usually with pottery but no written records. Even if such a neolithic presence in this region were satisfactorily demonstrated at an early date of 8500 BC (and there is not a scrap of serious evidence for that), we should still be obliged to note that such a way of life was a far cry indeed from Plato's highly sophisticated, indeed luxuriously oversophisticated, kingdom of Atlantis. Believers even seem to think that Plato's shipfilled, canal-ringed city of gold and silver palaces, awash with statuary, may yet be found somewhere near Cuba. Does he seriously think all that could have arisen in a neolithic context evidenced at best by some bones, footprints and dubious marks on the seabed, plus axe, idol, standing stone, earthworks and poor quality pictographs, all undated. A line of Latin poetry comes to mind as one nears the end of believers' weighty and erudite tome, when a putative bunch of neolithic farmers in Cuba with very little to show for them turn out to be the chief product of all that heavy delving into mythology, geology, philology, cartography, archaeology and cosmology:
Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.
("Mountains are in labour, there'll be born a laughable mouse.")
Horace, Ars Poetica, line 139
To pile on top of such a truly laboured construction the idea that, much later, Phoenician merchants (for whom there is likewise not a scrap of serious evidence in the New World) could have taken an accurate memory of this Atlantis back to Plato might strike many as laughable indeed.
Many statements about Atlantis hark back to the old colonialist attitude resurfacing at the end of the twentieth century, which saw it taken to horrible extremes by the Nazis (no strangers themselves to entertaining every sort of alternative archaeology).
Eric Kurlander, the professor of history at Stetson University, traced the strange movements in Germany of about a hundred years ago in his book "Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich" This possible connection to India and Tibet was a particular obsession for Heimlich Himmler, the ruthless head of the SS and the Gestapo police. For the Aryan myth to be proven true, he figured, the actual location and history of the Aryans needed to be uncovered. Himmler spent a decade on a semi-mystical project that had an SS unit called the Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Heritage), which included archaeologists and scientists, searching the globe for the lost Aryans of Atlantis.
As the historian, Sir Richard Evans of Cambridge University pointed out: "The Nazis saw world history in terms of a struggle between races and survival of the fittest. They thought all races were inferior to the Aryans. Himmler wanted to press forward with a new religion, including sun worship and old gods. He wanted the SS to become a kind of cult or Aryan aristocracy."
Like the rest of the Atlantological riters, believers make much throughout of stray finds and random similarities, yet consistently they make very little of one of the most important aspects of real archaeology: its insistence on full cultural context and repeated association of finds, with corroborated dates.
Merlin Burrows, a North Yorkshire, England based company that claims to “find anything that has been lost, forgotten or hidden with pin-point accuracy. We provide a full project management service to a bespoke level depending on the client requirements and the scope and parameters of the works required.” According to their website they use “deep-scan surveys” and employ historians, marine archaeologists, and specialist researchers to locate national treasures, search for wartime shipping and aircraft (ancient, modern, and current), and–of course–archaeological sites.
This resort to folklore is positively Donnellian in its recklessness, seizing on anything like tales of fire or ones from the sky as evidence of commentary catastrophe, and quietly downplaying such grotesque and impossible twaddle as serpent-bodied goddesses without navels that inextricably goes with these tales - and reveals their highly imaginative nature.
Lastly, believers' work evinces that need to subvert the findings, indeed the entire approach, of the academic archaeologists that we almost always find - more or less virulently - in all the writers of "alternative archaeology." I suppose that the proponents of theories wildly divergent from the conclusions of the paid, appointed professors are always under pressure to do down the work, the attitudes and even the motives of the professionals. After all, how can it be that the university professors disagree with, worse still ignore, the startling insights achieved by the independent researchers? They must be blind, or hidebound, or jealous, or fearful for their own jobs, surely. The "alternative archaeologists" seem to find the published work of the professionals unrewarding in its lack of colorful hypotheses, its emphasis on data to do with potsherds and pollen grains, its graphs, and sections, its statistics, its satisfaction with modest gains in detailed knowledge and its rigorous testing of all interpretations of its material, old and new. I sympathize with their evident bafflement when faced with the publications of the professionals. But then I would be baffled if I browsed through some article in Nature about cell chemistry or stellar physics. (I wouldn't, however, tend to think that the authors of such articles were generally up to no good.) It has to be said that plowing through various books about Atlantis can itself call for some stern dutyfulness on the reader's part, just to keep on with it, not so much to the bitter as the anticlimactic end. Whole tracts of these "alternative" archaeological writings manage to be both thin and heavy going at the same time, with nothing at all certain to show for it at the end, as I fear more - even among their most well disposed readers - have found out than would care to admit it.
Believers have not contributed any startling new details to our diagnostic list of features of the Atlantis myth. The literal reliance on Plato, the idea of a vanished primal civilization, the ready resort to folklore, the predisposition to catastrophe, the theme of secret elites, the fixation on transatlantic intercourse before Columbus, the penchant for amateur philologizing and geologizing, the defiance of the academic archaeological establishment - all these are well-worn signs of the Atlantis myth syndrome. What, perhaps, he has highlighted more than most - though he's by no means the only exemplar, far from it - is the potential for hard labor without significant issue that is contained in this whole genre.
But our main task now is to make a full characterization of the multi-symptomed Atlantis myth syndrome and to ask why its "victims" (to keep up the medical simile for a moment) are so prone to it - both the writers and the readers of the genre. In what follows, it should not be thought the suggestion is being made that all the proponents of Atlantology have ever presented all the features of the syndrome, or that any particular one of them has shown signs of any particular tendency.