Monday, 7 November 2011

Atlantis vs. Athens


Atlantis. The sunken utopia of the ancient world. Is it myth? Allegory? Fact? Many have sought it. Ignatius L. Donnelly fancied the Atlantis legend was for the world prior to the ubiquitous flood2. Jim Allen located it in South America3, whereas E. J. de Meester thought it was in southern England4. The "Ancient Aliens" crew likely imagine Atlantis to be a benevolent alien colony of ancient times populated by "gods." Some people would regard it as one of Donovan's most hippyish songs5.

However, many have speculated that the story left to Plato echoed garbled Egyptian memories of a real ancient civilisation decimated by a cataclysmic event. This civilisation was known to them as Keftiu6 (and, in all likelyhood, to the writers of the Bible as the Philistine homeland of Caphtor). This was the so-called "Minoan" civilisation of Crete, weakened by the eruption of Santorini and finally annexed to the Hellenic world by successive waves of Mycenaean and Dorian adventurers.

My purpose is not to conclusively locate Atlantis (erm, I can't) but to hopefully shed some light on the following information left by Plato in his Critias7 (emphasis mine): -

Let me begin by observing first of all, that nine thousand was the sum of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them; this war I am going to describe. Of the combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying, was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean.

Why on earth would Athenians be leading an anti-Atlantean coalition 9,000 years before Plato - and some 4,000 before any permanent settlement was established at Athens!?

The Athenian version

Interestingly, the Athenian cycle of legend does place Athenians in Crete during the Bronze Age (emphasis mine): -

XV. Not long afterwards there came from Crete for the third time the collectors of the tribute. Now as to this tribute, most writers agree that because Androgeos was thought to have been treacherously killed within the confines of Attica, not only did Minos harass the inhabitants of that country greatly in war, but Heaven also laid it waste, for barrenness and pestilence smote it sorely, and its rivers dried up; also that when their god assured them in his commands that if they appeased Minos and became reconciled to him, the wrath of Heaven would abate and there would be an end of their miseries, they sent heralds and made their supplication and entered into an agreement to send him every nine years a tribute of seven youths and as many maidens. And the most dramatic version of the story declares that these young men and women, on being brought to Crete, were destroyed by the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, or else wandered about at their own will and, being unable to find an exit, perished there; and that the Minotaur, as Euripides says, was
A mingled form and hybrid birth of monstrous shape,
and that
Two different natures, man and bull, were joined in him.
XVI. Philochorus, however, says that the Cretans do not admit this, but declare that the Labyrinth was a dungeon, with no other inconvenience than that its prisoners could not escape; and that Minos instituted funeral games in honor of Androgeos, and as prizes for the victors, gave these Athenian youth, who were in the meantime imprisoned in the Labyrinth and that the victor in the first games was the man who had the greatest power at that time under Minos, and was his general, Taurus by name, who was not reasonable and gentle in his disposition, but treated the Athenian youth with arrogance and cruelty.
- Plutarch, Life of Theseus8.

Albeit there are significant differences in the motivation of the invaders in Plutarch as opposed to Plato, I see both accounts as typifying a Cretan hegemony over a large area, including the region of Attica, whose capital was Athens.

Of course, Theseus, the crown prince of Athens, decides he's going to do something to liberate his people from this obligation (and seemes to have been unwittingly aided by Minos in this endeavour)8 (emphasis mine): -

XVII. Accordingly, when the time came for the third tribute, and it was necessary for the fathers who had youthful sons to present them for the lot, fresh accusations against Aegeus arose among the people, who were full of sorrow and vexation that he who was the cause of all their trouble alone had no share in the punishment, but devolved the kingdom upon a bastard and foreign son, and suffered them to be left destitute and bereft of legitimate children. These things troubled Theseus, who, thinking it right not to disregard but to share in the fortune of his fellow-citizens, came forward and offered himself independently of the lot. The citizens admired his noble courage and were delighted with his public spirit, and Aegeus, when he saw that his son was not to be won over or turned from his purpose by prayers and entreaties, cast the lots for the rest of the youths.
Hellanicus, however, says that the city did not send its young men and maidens by lot, but that Minos himself used to come and pick them out, and that he now pitched upon Theseus first of all, following the terms agreed upon. And he says the agreement was that the Athenians should furnish the ship, and that the youths should embark and sail with him carrying no warlike weapon, and that if the Minotaur was killed the penalty should cease.
On the two former occasions, then, no hope of safety was entertained, and therefore they sent the ship with a black sail, convinced that their youth were going to certain destruction; but now Theseus encouraged his father and loudly boasted that he would master the Minotaur, so that he gave the pilot another sail, a white one, ordering him, if he returned with Theseus safe, to hoist the white sail, but otherwise to sail with the black one, and so indicate the affliction.

His expedition proves successful8: -

XIX. When he reached Crete on his voyage, most historians and poets tell us that he got from Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him, the famous thread, and that having been instructed by her how to make his way through the intricacies of the Labyrinth, he slew the Minotaur and sailed off with Ariadne and the youths. And Pherecydes says that Theseus also staved in the bottoms of the Cretan ships, thus depriving them of the power to pursue. And Demon says also that Taurus, the general of Minos, was killed in a naval battle in the harbor as Theseus was sailing out. But as Philochorus tells the story, Minos was holding the funeral games, and Taurus was expected to conquer all his competitors in them, as he had done before, and was grudged his success. For his disposition made his power hateful, and he was accused of too great intimacy with Pasiphae. Therefore when Theseus asked the privilege of entering the lists, it was granted him by Minos. And since it was the custom in Crete for women to view the games, Ariadne was present, and was smitten with the appearance of Theseus, as well as filled with admiration for his athletic prowess, when he conquered all his opponents. Minos also was delighted with him, especially because he conquered Taurus in wrestling and disgraced him, and therefore gave back the youths to Theseus, besides remitting its tribute to the city.

Athens is liberated, either from Theseus slaying the Minotaur or the more prosaic defeat of Taurus in either personal or naval combat.

But doesn't Plato say...?

Yes, Plato follows on from the passage quoted above by giving his reasoning for why no specific Atlantis reference occurs in the Athenian mythos7 (emphasis mine): -

This I infer because Solon said that the priests in their narrative of that war mentioned most of the names which are recorded prior to the time of Theseus, such as Cecrops, and Erechtheus, and Erichthonius, and Erysichthon, and the names of the women in like manner.

Family portrait: Theseus and his mummy9.

What needs to be borne in mind is that, in my hypothesis, the war between Atlantis and Athens occurs after the destruction of Atlantis. This may make no sense, but we must bear in mind that the civilisation was on Crete, whilst the cataclysm of Atlantis was on the nearby island of Santorini or Thera.

The infamous eruption of Thera occurred in around 1628BC10 11 according to dendrochronology12 and radiocarbon dating evidence13. Theseus, on the other hand, is a contemporary of Herakles14, with his successor on the throne of Athens, Menestheus, being present at the Siege of Troy15.The Trojan War takes place a couple of generations16 prior to the Dorian invasion ("the return of the Heraclids"), which is dated to around 1200BC based on the date of the end of the Late Helladic (Mycenaean) IIIB archaeological stratum17. Thus, using a rough generational date of 25 years, we come to c.1250BC for the Trojan War (Eratosthenes gave 1183BC18) and c.1275BC for Theseus and his expolits. That's 357 years after the Theran cataclysm.

So, how do you fight an extinct civilisation?

Quite easily, in fact.

Minoan civilisation, you see, was not extinct: it survived the Theran eruption and survived until the end of the Bronze Age. Theseus' time syncs with the Post-Palatial phase in Crete (Late Minoan IIIB)19, whilst the Theran eruption and ensuing tsunami took place in the Late or New Palace Phase II (Late Minoan IA)19.

Between the two, Crete seems to have fallen prey to Mycenaean adventurers from the mainland, who are seen as likely culprits in the destruction of all palaces except Knossos in around 1450BC19. Further conflagration occurs in 1400BC19, accounting for all palaces, with Linear B, a Mycenaean script derived from a Cretan forebear, Linear A and used to write an early form of the Greek language20, appearing thereafter19. Fires again claim the palaces in around 1200BC at the end of Late Minoan IIIB. Incoming Dorians, the snappily-titled n3 ḫ3s.wt n<.t> p3 ym ("Sea Peoples") or civil war are often cited as causes19.

Mycenean fashion: prizing functionality over comfort.21

Theseus' adversary Minos, for his part, would appear to be derived from good Greek stock. Although he is commonly taken as a son of Zeus, the randy chief god of Olympus, his adoptive father is Asterius, husband of his mother Europa, a Phoenician princess22. Asterius' own father is Tectamus, a grandson of the Greek patriarch Hellen - surprisingly through Dorus, the father of the Dorian tribe who weren't supposed to arrive on the scene until some time after. Tectamus married an unnamed daughter of Cretheus, king of Iolchus22 (and grandfather of another noteworthy seafarer Jason)23.

Could Tectamus and his followers be behind the torching of the Mycenaean palaces? Suffice to say that there was most definitely an overbearing presence on Crete at the time of Theseus with the nautical skills necessary to exercise a thalassocracy.

But... what about everywhere else the "Atlanteans" held sway?

My proposal is that Plato's dialogue is pieced together from disparate sources. I have already argued against a specific connection between Atlantis' demise and her war against Athens & friends. Now I propose a tenuous link between Atlantis' vast empire and the Middle Bronze Age heqa khasewet or Hyksos.

The Hyksos are regarded as a West Semitic group who took control of Lower Egypt during the 17th & 16th centuries BC. This map shows a distribution of the "glacis fortifications" seen as diagnostic of their culture. Okay, it's not an island and it's not huge, but it does at least stretch from Libya to Asia....

The Hyksos had connections with Crete: a Minoan fresco was found in their capital Avaris24, whilst a piece of alabaster bearing the name of the Hyksos ruler Khyan has been uncovered on Crete25.

On the basis of this Khyan's Horus name, Hr inq idb.w, the Egyptologist David Rohl proposes that he is the figure known to Greek legend as Inachus26. Interestingly, said Horus name means "Horus who unites the shores27."

Khyan is succeeded by one Apepi, sometimes rendered in Greek as Apophis. I don't know about either of my two readers, but this does look similar to Epaphus, the son of Zeus and Inachus' daughter Io in Greek mythology. His daughters include Libya by Memphis. There is also an Epopeus of Sicyon (though his name is more likely derived from a Greek term for the hoopoe).

Apophis: no, not this guy!28

This is all bull!

Bull is good when we're talking ancient Crete. For a kickoff, Io the daughter of Inachus, though not linked to Crete per se, was transformed into a heifer by Zeus to guard her against the wrath of his long-suffering ball-and-chain Hera29. Her son Epaphus was also known as Apis30. Coincidentally (or not), this was also the name of a bull god worshipped in the region of Memphis31.

All of this ties in well with Minos' court on Crete. First of all, his champion against Theseus is either the Minotaur, with a man's body with a bull's head (also reminding one of the gods of Egypt) or the bullishly named Taurus8. So bovine-sounding either literally (we presume) or figuratively.

The Minotaur was said to be the offspring of a rather bizarre union between Minos' glorious wife Pasiphaë and a white bull sent by Poseidon22, god of both the sea and earthquakes (earth tremors could have been equated by the Minoans with the angry lowings of such a beast). In addition, he is both the god of Atlantis32 and a deity invoked by Minos22.

Minos himself was born from the mating of Europa (a descendent of Io and Epaphus) and Zeus, with the latter seducing Europa in the form of a bull, before carting her off to Crete22.

In addition, the Cretan casus belli was Androgeos' death in battle against a bull at Marathon - the same champion beast who had his wicked way with Pasiphaë22.

Bull leaping: it's a good job the Minoans didn't invent the Olympics33.

Considering that some have suggested that the Minotaur was a man by the name of Asterion34, I find it highly plausable that, given the role of priestesses in Minoan society, it was believed that the designated king was an "adopted" successor born to the queen and a bull deity.

What's in a name?

Finally, the name of Minos has been likened to another name: Menes, legendary founder/uniter of ancient Egypt35.


1Kircher, Athanasius (c.1669). Map of Atlantis [link]
2Donnelly, Ignatius L. (1882). Atlantis. The Antediluvian World [link]
3Allen, Jim (2005). Atlantis Bolivia: The Real Atlantis [link]
4de Meester, E. J. (c.2002). Did Atlantis lay in England? [link]
5Leitch, Donovan P.(1968). Atlantis [link]
6Luce, J. V. (1969). The End of Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend [link]
7Plato (360 BC), translated by Jowett, Benjamin (1871). Critias (from The Dialogues of Plato. Vol III) [link]
8Plutarch (1st-2nd centuries AD), translated by Perrin, Bernadotte (1914). Life of Theseus (from Plutarch: Lives. Vol I) [link]
9de La Hyre, Laurent (c.1635-1540). Theseus and Aethra [link]
10Portland State University. The Island of Thera [link]
11San Diego State University. Santorini Eruption (~1630 BC) and the Legend of Atlantis [link]
12Baillie, M. G. L. (1989). Irish Tree Rings and an Event in 1628 BC [link]
13Manning, Stuart W.; Ramsey, C. B., Kutschera, W., Higham, T., Kromer, B., Steier, P., and Wild, E. M. (2006). Chronology for the Aegean Late Bronze Age 1700-1400 BC [link]
14Precourt, B. (2005). Herakles (Hercules) and Theseus [link]
15Timeless Myths by Blademaster/Jimmy Joe. House of Athens [link]
16Timeless Myths by Blademaster/Jimmy Joe. House of Pelops [link]
17Furumark, Arne (1972). Mycenaean Pottery [link]
18Eusebius of Caesarea (early 4th century AD), translated by Perrin, Bernadotte (1914). Chronicon (quoted by Velikovsky, Immanuel) [link] Minoan chronology [link] Linear B [link]
21Portrias, Mike. Mycenaean Kit (from the website Bronze Age [link]
22Timeless Myths by Blademaster/Jimmy Joe. Minoan Crete [link]
23Timeless Myths by Blademaster/Jimmy Joe. Heroes I: Jason [link]
24Bietak, Manfred (2008). The Palatial Precinct at the Nile Branch (Area H) [link]
25Pendlebury, John D. (1991). The Archaeology of Crete [link]
26Rohl, David M. (2007). The Lords of Avaris: Uncovering the Legendary Origins of Western Civilisation [link]
27Kinnaer, Jacques. The Ancient Egypt Site: Khiyan [link] Peter Williams as Apophis [in Stargate SG-1] [link]
29Timeless Myths by Blademaster/Jimmy Joe. Heroines [link] Epaphus [link] Apis (god) [link]
32Proclus Lycaeus (5th century AD). Commentary on Plato's Timaeus []
33anon Bull-leaping fresco from Knossos (in Heraklion Museum) [link]
34Kerényi, Károly (1951). The Gods of the Greeks [link] Minos [link]


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