WeepingElf wrote: ↑
29 Jun 2020 15:57
jimydog000 wrote: ↑
29 Jun 2020 02:20
What's the counterargument that it wasn't the Minoan culture? They even had (the idea of) hieroglyphs that may indicate that there was more going on than just trade routes with Egypt.
The geography does not fit! It is not "beyond the Pillars of Hercules" (some authors have tried to move the Pillars elsewhere, claiming a translation error or something like that, but if you look at a map of the Eastern Mediterranean, you will see that there is simply no place anywhere where Athens and Egypt are on one side and Crete on the other), and the description of the island doesn't fit either. For starters, Crete is too small.
This seems a poor argument, to me.
We can have three different theories about the text: that it is ancient, transferred exactly to Plato; that its origins are ancient, transferred in the usual way of intermediaries to Plato; or that Plato (or an immediate predecessor) invented it entirely.
If we take the third theory, there's obviously no discussion. If we take the first, then we do indeed need to look closely at the details of the account. But it's incredibly unlikely that this is the case. Even in Plato's own story, Plato doesn't pretend to have direct knowledge - rather, he says that the Egyptians recorded it, and that Solon learnt of it from the Egyptians, and that Solon mentioned it to a mate, and that the story had been passed down through that mate's family for many generations, before finally being passed down to Critias (Plato's character), who happens to talk about it. Indeed, even Critias says that he learned the story when he was 10 years old, from his grandfather, who was 90 years old. Which is not exactly the ideal circumstance for the transmission of geographical details.
So at the very least, we certainly cannot take "I've heard that the Egyptians say that it's beyond the pillars of hercules" to mean "it's on the opposite side of the pillars of hercules from Egypt
- because after all, we don't know whether the "beyond" was in the Egyptian, or was added by a Greek explaining it to a Greek.
And then if you look at the account of Atlantis - an island larger than Libya and Asia combined, with a central plain, in which are concentric rivers, and walls of tin and orichalcum (an imaginary metal), and a central mountain carved into a palace - it doesn't exactly scream "realistic geographical survey to the details of which we should pay great attention".
Finally, even in Plato's day, people thought he'd made it up. The man who should have known best, Aristotle, believed that Plato, his teacher, invented Atlantis for use in teaching philosophy (to, amongst others, Aristotle).
Meanwhile, in the same dialogue, Plato can't even accurately portay the clearly-recorded history of his own country (the number of generations between Solon and Critias is clearly wrong). Similarly, Plato says that at the time that Atlantis was an island, the Greek islands were high hills, and Athens was sustained by underground springs. And even places like Spain weren't accurately described even by expert Greek geographers.
So the best case scenario is a chinese whispers chain of hearsay. A much more plausible scenario is that that hearsay was then substantially embellished by Plato. Therefore, even if we take Plato's story seriously, as historically informed, we certainly should not take it literally.
What can we really take from the story, if we're trying to take it as historical? Leaving aside the fantastical elements and suspiciously detailed descriptions probably added for verisimilitude, we can pick out some key claims:
- it happened a long time ago
- a powerful overseas nation subjugated the Greeks (and allegedly much of the Mediterranean), before Athens (yes, Athens was a powerful city 9,000 years ago apparently - another reason not to take the story too literally!) fought them off
- the invaders came from over the sea, from an island
- the island was located beyond the pillars of hercules
- the island was in the atlantic ocean
- the island later sank beneath the sea
- some of the above was known to the Egyptians
Most of this can obviously be ascribed to the Minoans: a long time ago, a powerful overseas nation subjugated the Greeks, before the Greek cities (not Athens, but predecessors) fought them off; they came from an island, and the island later sank beneath the waves (or at least, one of them did, while the main island was hit by a giant tsunami that devastated the empire... so close enough).
The only problem is the location. Why would Plato say it was in the Atlantic?
Well, the general answer is that it probably sounded plausible. Plato puts it in the most convenient place possible: right on the edge of Greek knowledge. Close enough that it would be believable that someone might know about it, but far enough away that you couldn't easily go and check up. Geographically, there are a number of shoals, reefs and sandbanks in and beyond the straits of gibralter, so sailors might well have had the idea that there had been a sunken landmass there once. And culturally, the other place 'beyond the pillars of Hercules', Tartessos, fits in with the myth, as a place of considerable wealth and age, one of the most exotic places the Greeks knew about. In particular, Tartessos' reputation for an immense wealth of metal, and in particular its vast tin industry, fits in well with the idea of an Atlantis ringed with immense walls of metal, and specifically a wall of tin. Tartessos itself cannot have been intended as Atlantis by Plato, because Tartessos was still around at that time (or only lately submerged? Certainly not something from thousands of years before that only one family knew about...), but Plato could have intended a sort of 'continuity theory' - look, it's believable that the Atlanteans lived there, because look at their survivors living on land! If Tartessos is just the survivors, imagine the original empire!
And, of course, Tartessos was closely affiliated with the Phoenicians, who are the other shadow players in the Atlantis narrative. The phoenicians didn't subjugate the Greeks, but they were a powerful maritime enemy who had, like the Atlanteans, conquered Libya and sailed beyond the pillars of hercules. Also, the Greek attitude toward Phoenician politics was suitably confusing: Phoenician constitutional republicanism was an inspiration for the Greek writers, even though in general they were the enemies of the Greeks. This fits in well with Plato's Atlantis - a nation that had once been just and noble and well-governed, but that had degenerated into villainy (i.e. become enemies of the Greeks). So it wouldn't be surprising for Plato - assuming he didn't just invent the whole story completely on the basis of the Phoenicians - may have recognised the Phoenician parallels and placed his Atlantis in a location that would be Phoenician-coded for his listeners.
Finally, there's two more farfetched but still possible ideas. One is that fact that, centuries before Plato, the gulf of laconia was apparently known as the 'pillars of hercules' - beyond these pillars would have been a way of saying that something was south of Greek territory, as these pillars were the southern points of the Greek world at the time. That would fit well with Crete; it's possible then that the outline of "island nation beyond the pillars of hercules" was passed down in oral lore, and Plato knowingly or accidentally re-located it beyond the new
pillars of hercules at Gibralter. The other is the question of the origin of the name. "Atlantis" obviously looks like a derivative of Atlas; but if we fancifully imagine that the name is non-Greek in origin, that could be a folk etymology; in which case, it would be natural for a Greek looking to locate a place called 'Atlantis' to place it in a part of the world already associated with the mythological figure of Atlas (i.e. near the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Sea). Notably, there's some confusion around this: Plato uses the story of Atlantis to explain the name of the Atlantic, whereas the real explanation is that the Atlantic was the sea next to the Atlas mountains; the name of the Atlas mountains in English derives from Berber, and while it may be assumed that the Berbers named the place they lived after a mythological figure in Greek stories, it may also be that the Greek association of the mountains with Atlas was itself a folk etymology for a native Berber name of unknown origin.
Regarding the Egyptians, incidentally - the Egyptians have no surviving records of Thera, but the records of the invading 'sea peoples' could potentially have contributed to the idea of a maritime invading power, and if people knew about this story then Plato could have been trying to link the Atlantean invasions to this [or it could just be yet another case of 'if you want to sound knowledgeable about a secret thing, claim to have been told by an Egyptian"...]
While Britain is of course "beyond the Pillars of Hercules", and it fits Plato's characterization of the island of Atlantis not perfectly, but reasonably well. For instance, the "canal" that connects the capital of Atlantis with the sea may have been Southampton Water (which also tells us where to look for the capital).
As I say, I don't think the depiction of Atlantis can be taken seriously. But in any case, I don't think that that description - larger than Libya and Asia combined, a giant central oblong plain, concentric rivers, giant walls, a palace-mountain - necessarily reminds me that much of Britain. Other than yes, there's hills in the north, but I'm not even sure that Plato would have considered the scottish highlands to really be 'mountains'.
What's more, it's in the wrong place. Plato said Atlantis was immediately beyond the pillars of hercules, in the 'mouth' of the straits (and specifically close enough to enable coast-hugging ships to cross to it), and in the Atlantic sea - which to the Greeks meant specifically the coastal sea along the shores of Morocco and Spain, before it widened out into Oceanus, the world-encircling ocean. Britain is a very long way from there, and not in the Atlantic in the Greek sense, so a literal interpretation of the text doesn't allow Britain as a location. In any case, there's no historical or mythological association between Britain and an invasion of Greece.
Plus, the Irish tradition of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Germanic tradition of Elves may mean that there once was a relatively advanced culture in the British Isles. In fact, I was thinking of these northerly traditions when I started working on my Elves, and the idea that they may have been the Atlanteans or rather a part of the story only came later as an afterthought.
If every culture (i.e. almost all cultures) that had stories about another race or another species previously inhabiting their land and surviving in the woods were the site of Atlantis, there would have to have been about ten thousand Atlantises.
[the elves aren't really relevant to Britain, since they appear in Germanic stories far from Britain; indeed, Britain's probably the one part of the Germanic world with the LEAST elf-stuff in its literature...]
It does seem clear that the Tuath Dé are a depiction of the neolithic inhabitants of Ireland, yes: they're explicitly said to have retreated into the neolithic tombs and megalithic monuments. [fun fact: it's just been shown that their royalty/priesthood practiced sibling incest... (at least, two of them did!)]. However, the same civilisation covered the whole of Europe, so it doesn't specifically link Britain with Atlantis. And in any case this was still a stone-age culture.