Many scholars and historians believe that the Story of Atlantis had no precedent and that Plato was the first to mention the Story of Atlantis or even the Atlantis name as Location or even as History (Mythology) Figure. Well that is Dead WRONG.
Pre-Platonic Writings Pertinent to Atlantis
by R. Cedric Leonard
Scholars the world over have repeatedly declared that ancient sources describing Atlantis are plentiful, "but before Plato - nothing". They make such a declaration because of several reasons: (1) they disregard every record in which Atlantis is not mentioned by name; (2) they tend to disregard records which utilize a variant spelling of Atlantis; (3) they seem to be unfamiliar with the Sanskrit writings of India--apparently forgetting that those Sanskrit speakers originated in Central Europe. For a timeline of ancient writers before and after Plato, click Here.
Let us use an example from a hundred years before Plato in which Herodotus, the "father of history," mentions Atlantis by name in referring to the body of water into which it sank. Here is the Greek text of a portion of Clio (History, Bk I, 202) in which the waters outside the Pillars of Hercules is said to be known as the Atlantis Sea.
Greek text from the "History" of Herodotus which mentions Atlantis
"But one of the mouths of the Araxes flows with clarity into the Caspian Sea; but the Caspian Sea is by itself, not connected to the other sea. For the sea navigated by all the Greeks and the one outside the Pillars called the Atlantis Sea and the Erythraean, are one and the same." (Translated by R. Cedric Leonard)
One does not need to be a Greek scholar to recognize the word "Atlantis" in the above Greek text (line 5, 3rd word from the left). Many of my colleagues insist that the phrase should be translated "the sea of Atlas" instead of the Atlantis Sea. While it is true that Atlantis is an inflected form of Atlas, these very same colleagues have never suggested that when Plato speaks of the "island of Atlantis" it would be more properly translated as the "island of Atlas". The island and the ocean were called "Atlantis" because they were named after Atlas (which is what the name "Atlantis" means).
The point here, which cannot be gainsaid, is that Atlantis was known before Plato--so well-known that the sea outside Gibraltar was commonly called the Atlantis Sea in Herodotus' time. It had acquired that name because Atlantis had once occupied that area. We carry the same tradition down when we refer to that same body of water as the Atlantic. While in Europe, I noticed that their maps label the same ocean "Atlantischer," preserving the word "Atlantis" intact.
In the above quote, Herodotus also mentions another name of the Atlantic, the Erythraean. The word in Greek indicates the color red--descriptive of the effect of sunset on the water, as would be seen from a European vantage point. (Note: It is this word, not Geryon, that means "red glow of the sunset," Ignatius Donnelly notwithstanding; 1882 edition, p. 307). But even a minimal amount of research demonstrates that the Atlantic Ocean had yet another more common name in ancient times.
Ancient Egyptian, Sanskrit and European sources (e.g., Pliny the Elder) often refer to the Atlantic Ocean as the "Western Ocean"--important if one is looking for ancient records of Atlantis. It is a given that any records dating back before Plato are going to be hard to find; but even though the pickings are slim, records which have been overlooked by most modern scholars do exit.
As we encounter these writings, it should be noted that Atlantis itself is sometimes represented by various spellings (sometimes even unnamed); but it should also be noted that when the context is properly considered, there is no doubt about the identity of the island being referenced. And, as will be demonstrated, there is no doubt that the "Western Ocean" mentioned is indeed the Atlantic.
According to Critias, Solon was given the story by the Egyptian priests at Sais which they had obtained from engraved columns in the temples of Egypt. Manetho, whose writings form the basis of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, obtained his famous King-Lists from similar sources. So what about this source?
THE EGYPTIAN WRITINGS
Over a half-century ago Cambridge scholar and explorer, Harold T. Wilkins (1946), noted the depiction of a great festival on column 8 of the Great Hall of the temple of Rameses at Karnak, along with an accompanying text memorializing the loss of a drowned continent in the Western Ocean. The column mentioned cannot be easily dismissed, and is a relevant example of the type of source to which Solon (in Plato's Timaeus) refers.
Plato described Atlantis as being ruled by ten kings before its demise. Egyptian king-lists going back thousands of years before Plato (we will look at one example here) establish four important facts which we should notice. They are:
1) Egyptian tradition begins with the "reign of the gods"
2) In all there were ten of these so-called "god-kings"
3) They were said to have reigned in a foreign country
4) From all appearances they were called "Atlanteans"
This last statement will be challanged by scholars, so let's take a closer look at the Egyptian king-lists. One noticable fact is that Manetho (250 B.C.) calls the first series of kings who ruled during the "reign of the gods," Auriteans. This seems to be nothing more than a corruption of the word "Atlantean". Let me explain.
Egyptian hieroglyphics only approximate real sounds: for instance, a hieroglyphic "k" must be used to represent the hard "g" sound. The hieroglyph that Manetho transcribed as r can equally be transcribed as an l. Thus the "Auriteans" of Manetho's king-lists could just as well be "Auliteans": phonetically almost identical to "Atlanteans". This idea obtains credible support from the fact that the ancient Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon (1193 B.C.) calls these very same kings Aleteans (Cory, 1826).
Although there are numerous ancient Egyptian king-lists in existence, only a few include the famous "reign of the gods". These include the Palermo Stone (2565-2420 B.C.), the Turin Papyrus (1300 B.C.), and Manetho's Egyptian Chronicles (250 B.C.). Of these, the Turin Papyrus is by far the most complete source.
The Turin Papyrus (Gardiner, 1987; Smith, 1872) lists ten kings who ruled during the "reign of the gods," complimenting the fragments of Manetho which have come down to us. Most importantly, it allows us to equate the Egyptian names with the Greek names given by Manetho. Below is a list of god-kings from the Turin Papyrus, with Manetho's fragmented list alongside:
The Turin Papyrus Manetho's King-list
Horus . . .
Thoth . . .
Ma . . .
So we have ten Auritean (or, Aletean) kings reigning in a "foreign land" during the precise time Plato says ten Atlantean kings reigned in Atlantis. The Turin Papyrus also records the installation of the next series of kings in 9850 B.C.! This date is so close to the date given for the end of Atlantis that coincidence is virtually out of the question. In such a case, the equation "Aletean=Atlantean" doesn't seem out of the question. (For more info, return to HOME Page and click on Mythological Traditions or the Writings from Egypt icon.)
THE SANSKRIT WRITINGS
The Sanskrit writings of ancient India contain several descriptions of Atlantis, and even assert that Atlantis was destroyed as the result of a war between the gods and Asuras (recalling the war between the gods and the Titans). Present day scholars are so steeped in Greek and Roman (western) literature that Indian sources are too often ignored.
A passage in Sanskrit from the Mahabharata
The Vishnu Purana (circa. 2000 B.C.), one of the oldest of the Hindu Puranas, speaks of Atala, the "White Island," one of the seven dwipas (islands) belonging to Patala (Book II, chaps. i, ii, and iii). This old text locates Atala geographically on the seventh (heat, or climate) zone, which according to Francis Wilford (the translator) is 24 to 28 degrees north latitude, putting it in the same latitude as the Canary Islands just off the North African coast. Col. Wilford rightly calls Atala, "Atlantis, the White Island". (Wilford, 1808)
At least one "authority" has attempted to identify Atala with Italy, but Italy is not an island. Also, Italy is 38 to 45 degrees north latitude. Finally, I fail to see any possibility that the "Western Ocean," mentioned as its location, could be the Mediterranean when the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata clearly describes Africa as comprising that ocean's eastern shoreline--a correct geographical description of the west coast of Africa.
Another non-Sanskrit scholar implies that Atala might be one of the well-known northern lands, such as Iceland or Greenland, and that the epithet "White Island" refers to its being covered with snow the majority of the time--even the mythological Hyperborea has been suggested. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.
Atala and Sveta Dwipa ("White Island") are not the only names for Atlantis in Sankrit lore. Another name, Saka Dwipa, is used just as often in the Puranas; and according to the Sanskrit Dictionary, Saka Dwipa means "island of fair skinned people." It seems quite probable that "white" refers to the islands inhabitants, rather than to the dominant color of the island--although it should not be imagined that all Atlanteans were white.
The terms "Atala" and "White Island" are used also by the Bhavishya Purana (4th cent. B.C.). Here it is stated that Samba, having built a temple dedicated to Surya (the Sun), made a journey to Saka Dwipa, located "beyond the salt water" looking for the Magas (magicians), worshippers of the Sun. He is directed in his journey by Surya himself (i.e., journeys west following the Sun), riding upon Garuda (the flying vehicle of Krishna and Vishnu) he lands at last among the Magas.
The Mahabharata (circa. 600 B.C.) also refers to "Atala, the White Island", which is described as an "island of great splendour." It continues: "The men that inhabit that island have complexions as white as the rays of the Moon and they are devoted to Narayana . . . Indeed, the denizens of White Island believe and worship only one God." (Santi Parva, Section CCCXXXVII)
I do have my critics on this issue. Despite the minute and detailed descriptions of the location, culture and technology of Atala provided in the Sanskrit literature, there are those who disagree. For instance, it has been alledged that Plato called Atlantis "a continent," whereas Atala was only an island; therefore, it is reasoned, they could not be one and the same.
In actual fact Plato never calls Atlantis a continent (only a "large island,"). That Atala is also a very large island can be deduced from the Mahabharata, which describes Atala as having a capital (Tripura), other major cities with houses, palaces, and streets, and as being populated by numerous tribes, some of whom chose to wage war against other nations (details in the Mahabhrata.) This is not a description of a small island.
It has also been alleged that the Sanskrit word tala means "place"; its negative (a-tala) would then mean "no-place". But, according to the Sanskrit Dictionary tala means a "surface," "plane" or "land". Atala is the "name of a hell," "bottomless," "at the bottom" (McDonnell, 1974).* It is not unusual for a destroyed or sunken land like Atala to re-emerge in later religion as a "land of the departed" (whether hell or paradise). Among the Egyptians, Amentet ("Land of the West") eventually became the "realm of the dead".
This well-known Sanskrit epic contains more than one account of a powerful islandic empire in the Atlantic which sank to the bottom of the "Western Ocean" ending a horrendous war. Although originally described in the Mahabharata as an island in the far West, in modern times Atala has become a "hell", and its original inhabitants, the Daityas, Danavas and Asuras, have become demons.
The Santi Parva also describes Atala as being inhabited by white men who never have to sleep or eat. (Ibid.) Interestingly enough, the Greek historian Herodotus (450 B.C.) describes a tribe of Atlanteans who "never dream and eat no living thing". (History, Book IV) Can this be coincidence? And just as the god Poseidon is very much involved in the Atlantis story, likewise in the Sanskrit accounts we find Varuna (the Hindu Poseidon) very much involved in Atala.
Another description is remarkably similar to Plato's, even down to its circular capital city, Tripura! Tripura is made in three concentric parts, just as Plato's Metropolis is divided into three parts by concentric canals. During the war of the gods and Asuras, the wicked cities of the Asuras began to fall, one by one, amidst loud cries of woe. "Burning those Asuras, he [the hero] threw them down into the Western ocean" (Karna Parva, Section XXXIV).
Concerning the "concentric arrangment" of Tripura, a recent archeological discovery of a fortified palace in Bactria, India, known as Dashly-3, turned out to be a concentric 3-ringed structure of the "tripura type". [Their words, not mine.] The archaeologists, excavating under the auspices of the Archaeological Departments of Pakistan and India (Mahadevan, 15), also state that the Dasyas, the builders of Dashly-3, were "Asura-worshippers".
In the Surya Siddhanta, an ancient Sanskrit text on astronomy, the translator (W. D. Whitney, 1860) mentions an "island" (dwipa) called Jambu Dwipa, surrounded by rings of alternating land and water. I am tempted to equate Jambu Dwipa with the Atlantean capital, which Plato describes as surrounded by circular canals, "making alternate zones of sea and land" (Critias).
The geographical specifics given in the above writings render the location of the powerful island civilization known as Atala beyond question: Atala was a large island, containing numerous cities, located off the western shore of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. Following a tremendous war, the island with all its cities and inhabitants, was sent burning to the bottom of that ocean, after which peace prevailed. To attempt to separate these accounts from Plato's Atlantis is an exercise in triviality.
I believe the above accounts constitute ample evidence that my years of research have not been wasted. Perhaps literary scholars' assertion that no pre-Platonic accounts of Atlantis exist should be seriously reconsidered.
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*These extremely old traditions were formed more than 10,000 years ago when the Aryans of India were living in Central Europe--before they became literate. The initial a of Atala may not represent the negative. It is possible that the name Atala came about by adding the prepositional prefix ati, meaning "over," "beyond," to the word tala (land). The result would initially be Ati-tala which could later be contracted to At'tala, a "land beyond" [the horizon]. Such a derivation corresponds to the Sunset Land of several nations who had traditions of a sunken homeland. The double t (resulting from contraction, and not pronounced) would easily have been dropped by the time writing was adopted. [Back]
Champollion, Jean Francois (translator), Turin Papyrus, 1300 B.C.
Cory, Isaac Preston., Ancient Fragments, London, 1832.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book III, 54.1, 8 B.C.
Donnelly, Ignatius, "Atlantis: the Antediluvian World," Harper & Brothers, New York, 1882.
Gardiner, Sir Alan H. (translator), "The Royal Canon of Turin," Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1987.
Herodotus, "History": Book I, Clio (Leonard's translation), 450 B.C.
Herodotus, "History": Book IV, Melpomene (Rawlinson's translation), 450 B.C.
Leonard, R. Cedric, Quest for Atlantis, Manor Books, New York, 1979.
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College, New Haven, 1860.
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