A Commentary on Plato’s “Myth” of Atlantis

This article interprets sections of Plato’s two dialogs Timeus and Critias that discuss Atlantis in the context of Hapgood’s pole shift hypothesis.

The Goddess

Timeus was written by Plato 360 BCE. The dialog begins with a discourse by Critias who tells a story that was passed down from his grandfather, who heard it from his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather was a friend and relative of an Athenian statesman named Solon who visited Egypt sometime in the 7thcentury BCE.

“In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the river Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis came. The citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same whom the Hellenes call Athene; they are great lovers of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them.”

Neith was a very important deity in the Early Dynastic Period and was often equated with Mehet-Weret, a primeval goddess whose name means the Great Flood. She was the mother of the creator sun god and so had claims to be considered the oldest of beings (Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology). Athene or Athena was the goddess of Athens and is thought to have been a pre-Hellenic goddess who was later adopted by the Greeks.

In the Aztec creation myth of the Five Suns, the water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue presided over the Fourth Sun or the fourth creation of the world. It is believed that Chalchiuhtlicue retaliated against the ruler of the Third Sun, Tlaloc by destroying the world in a flood. Following the flood, the world that we now occupy (the Fifth Sun) was created.

The Fourth Sun is associated with the previous location of the North Pole as hypothesized in Before Atlantis. It has been suggested that a pole shift 12,000-18,000 years ago was responsible for the destruction of Atlantis. Could Chalchiuhtlicue have been an even earlier goddess who served as the inspiration for the Egyptian goddess Neith, and possibly even Athena? In other words, could Chalchiuhtlicue, Athene, and Neith all have represented the same deity in different places at different times?

A Species with Amnesia

Graham Hancock often refers to humans as a species with amnesia. Mankind in Amnesia is a psychological study published by Immanuel Velikovsky in 1982 that explains our inability to remember the distant past as a response to the trauma of certain past events. Perhaps the original reference to the idea that we have forgotten much about our past is in the next section of Timeus:

“To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour; he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world-about Phoroneus, who is called “the first man,” and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha; and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes.”

It is widely accepted that an enormous asteroid impact near the town of Chicxulub in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula approximately 66 million years ago caused a mass extinction in which 75% of plant and animal species on Earth became extinct. If an event of that magnitude had occurred within the past several hundred thousand years we probably wouldn’t have forgotten it, it probably would have destroyed us.

Periodic encounters with smaller objects such as those in the Taurid meteor stream might have been responsible for certain climate-changing events, the most recent being the Younger Dryas – a period of rapid cooling 12,800 to 11,500 calendar years ago that followed an abrupt period of warming that brought the last Ice Age to a close 17,500 years ago. Charles Hapgood proposed that rapid displacements of the earth’s crust would have had a similar effect. What is interesting about Hapgood’s pole shift hypothesis is that the effect of a rapid displacement of earth’s crust would likely have varied in degree and effect throughout the world. Tectonic subduction zones or reverse faults exist throughout Europe. A sudden shift of the crust would likely have triggered numerous earthquakes along fault lines. It would also displace a considerable amount of water likely inundating coastlines exposed to the open ocean. Egypt is a river valley far from a large body of water and located several hundred miles west of the Arabian plate. A crustal displacement in Egypt, similar in magnitude to that in Europe, would likely have had a lesser impact. Perhaps the Egyptians remembered the past because they were largely spared from the effects of the last crustal displacement and the resulting devastation that Europe had experienced by virtue of their more protected location.

Figure 1 The effects of a hypothesized pole shift from the Bering Sea to the Norwegian Sea in the Old World (top) and New World (bottom).

The Son of Helios

Figure 1 illustrates the effects of a crustal displacement. In some places a crustal displacement causes a shift in latitude while other places experience a rotation of the cardinal directions. For example the hypothesized pole shift from the Bering Sea to the Norwegian Sea would have shifted the latitude of Europe and Africa 50 degrees north and rotated the Americas counterclockwise such that a point on the horizon 50 degrees east of north would end up pointing due north.

This passage in the Timeus seems to describe a pole shift in mythological terms:

“There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.”

For a fixed observer, a change in declination of celestial bodies relative to their normal motion would occur if there were a change in the reference frame of the observer. A crustal displacement would generally both rotate and shift the observer and so affect their perception of celestial motion. For example, if the observer were rotated 90 degrees clockwise as the result of a crustal shift the sun would appear to rise to the north and set to the south relative to the original reference frame.

The statement in the above passage that those who live in the mountains are more liable to destruction than those who live near rivers and seas does not at first seem to be in agreement with the pole shift hypothesis. However, the Egyptians did not consider the Mediterranean to be a sea but merely a harbor (as stated later in the dialog) and so could be implying that the effects of earthquakes experienced in Europe were more severe than that of flooding along the Mediterranean coastline.

An Earlier European Civilization

Critias’ story then alludes to the existence of a great European civilization before the last deluge:

“The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or of summer does not prevent, mankind exist, sometimes in greater, sometimes in lesser numbers. And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed-if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children. In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones; in the next place, you do not know that there formerly dwelt in your land the fairest and noblest race of men which ever lived, and that you and your whole city are descended from a small seed or remnant of them which survived. And this was unknown to you, because, for many generations, the survivors of that destruction died, leaving no written word. For there was a time, Solon, before the great deluge of all, when the city which now is Athens was first in war and in every way the best governed of all cities, is said to have performed the noblest deeds and to have had the fairest constitution of any of which tradition tells, under the face of heaven.”

In Before Atlantis we propose that a series of pole shifts over the past 125,000 years have demarcated four past ages that can be identified with what remains of ancient structures originally built in alignment to four previous locations of the North Pole. We speculate that former poles in the Bering Sea, Norway Sea, Greenland, and Hudson Bay were associated with what is commonly known in the Old World as the “Ages of Man” that begin with the Golden Age, and decline in the Silver Age and Bronze Age. The fourth age, which the Greeks called the Heroic Age, existed prior to the deluge and corresponds to the time mentioned in the above passage that refers to the people of Athens and their heroic deeds.

That a civilization existed in the Old World for a considerable period of time prior to the deluge provides a context for the tale of Atlantis, which is the next passage in Timeus.

Atlantis in the New World

The first part of Critias’ story about Atlantis in Timeus concludes as follows:

“Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.”

Figure 2 Change in sea level in the Caribbean over the past 20,000 years.

The Caribbean is one of several proposed locations for Atlantis. It is interesting that the region of the Caribbean Sea between the Yucatan Peninsula and the Bahamas would have been much less navigable at this time according to sea level estimates (Figure 2)

Figure 3 The last pole shift from Hudson Bay to the current pole (left to right) rotated but did not significantly change the latitude of Europe or Africa (top) while shifting Mesoamerica south from mid-latitudes to the tropics (bottom).

Figure 3 shows the effect of the Hudson Bay pole shift in the Old and New Worlds. Its effect in Europe and Egypt was relatively benign to what was likely experienced in Mesoamerica. As shown in the figure the effect of the crustal displacement in the New World was a 40-degree shift south in latitude that moved North America from a polar to temperate climate and Mesoamerica from a temperate to a tropical climate. It is likely that the impact of the pole shift was much greater in this part of the world due to its exposure to tidal waves from the open ocean and a chain of volcanos along the spine of Mesoamerica that has been active over the past million years (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Geologically active areas during the past one million years.

Greece, Before

The story continues in Plato’s other related dialog Critias that describes first Athens and then Atlantis and the surrounding countryside.

“Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left. But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, as they are termed by us, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to bees, not so very long ago there were still to be seen roofs of timber cut from trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, cultivated by man and bearing abundance of food for cattle. Moreover, the land reaped the benefit of the annual rainfall, not as now losing the water which flows off the bare earth into the sea, but, having an abundant supply in all places, and receiving it into herself and treasuring it up in the close clay soil, it let off into the hollows the streams which it absorbed from the heights, providing everywhere abundant fountains and rivers, of which there may still be observed sacred memorials in places where fountains once existed; and this proves the truth of what I am saying.”

Evidently, the climate changed in this part of Europe from a lusher “primitive state” in the distant past to a more arid condition during historical times.  According to our pole shift model, if the North Pole were in Greenland, the latitude of Greece would have been slightly higher than it is today and so might have had a more temperate climate. More rainfall would promote greater vegetation growth whose byproducts would accumulate over time to form the thick soils mentioned above.

The Acropolis

This is an excerpt from a latter part of Critias that discusses Athens proper:

“Such was the natural state of the country, which was cultivated, as we may well believe, by true husbandmen, who made husbandry their business, and were lovers of honour, and of a noble nature, and had a soil the best in the world, and abundance of water, and in the heaven above an excellently attempered climate. Now the city in those days was arranged on this wise. In the first place the Acropolis was not as now. For the fact is that a single night of excessive rain washed away the earth and laid bare the rock; at the same time there were earthquakes, and then occurred the extraordinary inundation, which was the third before the great destruction of Deucalion.”

One interpretation of the last line is that if the destruction of Deucalion was the fourth, which is associated with the pole shift from Hudson Bay to its current position, the third would have been the Greenland to Hudson Bay pole shift, the second the Norwegian Sea to Greenland pole shift, and the first the Bering Sea to Norwegian Sea pole shift. As illustrated in Before Atlantis the Parthenon and other structures on the Acropolis are oriented in the direction of the Greenland pole, which would have been the time frame of the above passage.

Atlantis

In contrast to the rather factual description of Athens and its people, the language becomes markedly mythological as Solon goes on to describe the origin of Atlantis.

“In this mountain there dwelt one of the earth born primeval men of that country, whose name was Evenor, and he had a wife named Leucippe, and they had an only daughter who was called Cleito. The maiden had already reached womanhood, when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in love with her and had intercourse with her, and breaking the ground, inclosed the hill in which she dwelt all round, making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre, so that no man could get to the island, for ships and voyages were not as yet. He himself, being a god, found no difficulty in making special arrangements for the centre island, bringing up two springs of water from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold, and making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil. He also begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children; and dividing the island of Atlantis into ten portions, he gave to the first-born of the eldest pair his mother’s dwelling and the surrounding allotment, which was the largest and best, and made him king over the rest; the others he made princes, and gave them rule over many men, and a large territory. And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he named Atlas, and after him the whole island and the ocean were called Atlantic…”

The description of the city and surrounding countryside that follow seem less factual for the most part except for the following passage:

“The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia, but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north.”

It is interesting to note that 2000 x 3000 stadia = 229 x 344 miles is roughly the size of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Discussion

That certain statements in the above passages in Timeus and Critias appear to be consistent with Hapgood’s pole shift hypothesis and the application of his hypothesis that explains the alignment of ancient sites discussed in Before Atlantis suggest that at least part of the Solon’s story may have had a factual basis – that Plato’s Atlantis was a real place and existed within a worldwide civilization which shared common ideas and experiences. Perhaps the “Old World” and “New World” were simply two parts of the world that experienced the effects of pole shifts and climate change by different amounts, in different ways, and at different times.

The featured image at the top of the article is from the 1960 movie, Atlantis, The Lost Continent.

One Reply to “A Commentary on Plato’s “Myth” of Atlantis”

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