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Open letter to science editors


Lewis M. Greenberg

Copyright 1974 by Lewis M. Greenberg

9000 or 900 years before Solon?

Lewis Greenberg is assistant professor of history and art history, Moore College of Art (Philadelphia).

A date for the Sinking of Atlantis

Mighty Atlantis, proud island-empire of antiquity, was "swallowed up by the sea and vanished in one grievous day and night" (Timaeus 25D) [1]. A Saitic priest named Sonchis later confided the tale of this memorable event to Solon when the Athenian visited Egypt ca. 590 B.C. The story was conveyed third-hand to a descendant of Solon, Critias the Younger, who then told it to Plato.

Among other things, Solon was told that Atlantis had been engulfed within 9000, years prior to his own time. Whether or not the incident had occurred exactly 9000 years earlier was left somewhat ambiguous [2]; nevertheless, 9000 became the generally accepted figure.

The proposed sinking of Atlantis ca. 9600 B.C. creates a rather knotty problem. The description of Atlantean culture by Plato (Critias 115-120), assuming no Greek coloring, fits a Bronze Age civilization which would have appeared considerably later in time according to present understanding. Thus, some Atlantologists have sought to reduce the number of years by attributing a lunar rather than solar calendar to the Egyptians. While there seems to be no substantial evidence supporting such a view [3], this did not prevent the Spanish chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1572 and Olaf Rudbeck of Sweden in 1675 from suggesting 1320 B.C. and 1226 B.C., respectively, for the destruction of Atlantis; [4]. A variation on this theme was broached in this century by Comyns Beaumont, who sought to change 9000 years to 9000 months (750 years) and came up with ca. 1342 B.C. for the termination of Atlantis [5].

Velikovsky, on the other hand, introduced a simpler and more logical approach to the chronological question:

"There is one zero too many here. We do not know of any vestiges of human culture, aside from that of the Neolithic age, nor of any navigating nation, 9,000 years before Solon. Numbers we hear in childhood easily grow in our memory, as do dimensions. When revisiting our childhood home, we are surprised at the smallness of the rooms-we had remembered them as much larger. Whatever the source of the error, the most probable date of the sinking of Atlantis would be in the middle of the second millennium, 900 years before Solon. . . . " [6].

Unfortunately, Velikovsky's commentary on the submersion of Atlantis went unnoticed except by those bent on aspersion, and unacknowledged by those who embraced his idea. In 1952 Martin Gardner, with strained indulgence, chided Velikovsky for "dropping the extra zero" [7], while Isaac Asimov, employing warmed-over Gardner and a patronizing attitude, did the same in 1969 [8].

The intervening years witnessed significant and relevant developments in the field of Atlantology, however, which Gardner and Asimov failed to avow. In 1960 Arigelos Galanopoulos, a Greek seismologist, presented a paper before the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics linking Atlantis to the islands of Thera and Crete and assigning its destruction to ca. 1500 B.C. [9]. He arrived at this date by dropping a zero from the 9000 years which Plato had inserted between the last days of Atlantis and Solon. Neither one of Galanopoulos's ideas was original, yet the theories of his pioneering predecessors went unmentioned [10].

[*!* Image: A 17th century geographer's conception of Atlantis. (Bettman Archive.)

The Case for 900 Years

The rationale behind Galanopoulos's reduction of the date for the sinking of Atlantis from 9000 to 900 years before the time of Solon depended on: 1) The incongruity which obviously results when attempting to link Atlantean culture synchronistically with the Egypt, Greece, or of Near East of ca.

10,000 B.C. [11]; 2) Solon's incorrect transcription of Egyptian writings, mistaking the word or symbol representing 1,00 for 1000 [12]. (Velikovsky has often suggested a plausibility of error due to the youthful ages of those who participated in the oral transmission of the Atlantis story from Solon to Plato.) The second idea of Galanopoulos has been supported by his "disciple," J. W. Mavor, who conjectured that "if . the Egyptians obtained the story from a Cretan refugee [Crete being equated with Atlantis] who was sufficiently educated, it might have been written in the Aegean Linear A or B script.

In this writing system the symbols for 100, 1000, and 10,000 are very similar and could be easily confused" [13].

Galanopoulos has pointed out that a similar mistake can occur even today in English, since the word "billion" means a thousand millions to an American but a million millions to a Briton, thereby introducing an error factor of a thousand. P. B. S. Andrews also theorized that "the error could have been made deliberately by the [Egyptian] priests to magnify their own antiquity" [14], while scholars such as J. V. Luce and G. Ashe summarily dismiss Plato's chronology as mere fiction, fancy, or misunderstanding [15].

One of the most careful analyses of Plato's Timaeus and Critias has been made by H. P. Lee [16], who observed that the Greeks "seem to have been curiously lacking in their sense of the time dimension," and when thinking of the past "they seem to have thought in terms of degeneration from a perfect primitive state or of cyclic repetition" [17]. This idea is met in the Republic (Book VII), the Politicus and again in the Timaeus. Doubt is further cast on Plato's concept of historical determinism [18], and in a discussion of Atlantis, Lee feels that "it is just possible that a misunderstanding of the original figures could have led to multiplication by ten" [19].

Thus Velikovsky's ."correction" of Plato's chronological data has been quite vindicated, if not conceded, by the learned opinions, conclusions, and work of others.

The Theran-Cretan Hypothesis

The modern revision of Plato's date for the sinking of Atlantis (from ca. 9600 B.C. to ca. 1500 B.C.) opened the way for a whole new school of Atlantological thought. The equation of Atlantis with Crete became chronologically feasible and its demise could be theoretically correlated with the cataclysmic explosion of the island of Thera ca. 1500 B.C.

The first person to recognize a possible identification of Atlantis with Crete, but on purely cultural grounds, was K. T. Frost, who wrote on the subject in an anonymous article for The London Times on February 19, 1909. This theory attracted the positive attention of Jane Harrison, a renowned student of Greek religion, in 1912 [20], and Frost himself expanded and annotated his original thesis more fully in 1913 [21].*

*Frost's anonymous essay appeared in The Times on February 19, 1909, but in referring to it Harrison gave a date of February 19, 1911. Then when Frost finally did identify himself as the author of the earlier work, he wrongly dated it to January 19, 1909.

Frost apparently made no effort to revise Plato's chronological figure, but contented himself solely with Atlantean-Cretan parallels. He also pondered over the question as to how Minoan Crete could have fallen, concluding that "the whole catastrophe was largely due to rebellion against the central power of Cnossus (Knossos)" [22]. No natural cataclysm was taken into consideration.

It was not until 1939 that Spyridon Marinatos linked the destruction of the late Minoan Palaces on Crete to the titanic volcanic eruption of the island of Thera (Santorini) in the ,15th century B.C. [23].

In 1960 and again in 1972 Marinatos reaffirmed his conviction that a natural cataclysm devastated Crete sometime between 1520 and 1450 B.C. [24]. The Atlantis correlation was not introduced by Marinatos, however. As a matter of fact, Marinatos has been somewhat guarded concerning the Atlantis-Crete connection [25].

Nevertheless, the syncretized work of Marinatos and Galanopoulos has gained such strong adherents in the academic world as Rhys Carpenter and H. E. L. Mellersh among others, with only L. Pomerance seriously opposing certain chronological details of the Marinatos hypothesis [26].

Pomerance could not find the "fearful symmetry" of total disaster which one would expect to encounter in an examination of 15th century B.C. ancient Eastern Mediterranean cultures. But Pomerance's disputation depends upon incongruities relating to the conventional chronology of ancient history and many of his points of objection are nullified or resolved by Velikovsky's revised chronology for the period 1500-800 B.C. as put forward in Ages in Chaos.

As Mavor has also stated, "unfortunately there exists considerable disagreement among archaeologists, historians, and philologists about the Aegean chronology from about 1500 to 1200 B.C.

Perhaps one day it will be determined that Thera itself is responsible for this confusion, having so shaken the ancient world that many of the antiquities became interstratified.

"But, whatever chronology is finally accepted, the fact of Thera's eruption and collapse cannot be denied nor its destructive power underestimated" [27].

Velikovsky himself did not overlook the potential significance of Crete in his discussion of Atlantis, though he personally feels that if there was an "Atlantis," it should be sought in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Much speculation has been offered, not only on the whereabouts of Atlantis, but also on the cultural achievements of its inhabitants. Plato, in another work of his (Critias), wrote a political treatise, and as no real place in the world could have been the scene of his utopia, he chose for that purpose the sunken island. Modern scholars, finding some affinity between American, Egyptian, and Phoenician cultures, think that Atlantis may have been the intermediary link. There is much probability in these speculations; if they are justified, Crete, a maritime base of Carian navigators, may disclose some information about Atlantis as soon as the Cretan scripts are satisfactorily deciphered" [28].

Nor did Velikovsky [29] fail to take into account the relationship between Crete and the volcano of Thera in considering the "unimaginable fury" of the latter and the devastation of the former in the light of recent archaeological finds.

The Destruction of Atlantis

"There is at long intervals a variation in the course of the heavenly bodies and a consequent wide-spread destruction by fire of things on the earth."

Timaeus 22C

According to Velikovsky "these words of Plato received the least attention, though they deserved the greatest" [30]. Yet, the Atlantis-Crete hypothesis, which attributes the terminal destruction of that civilization solely to the Theran eruption, completely ignores celestial factors.

Thus Galanopoulos took Velikovsky (among others) to task for "calling up bizzare and completely imaginary extraterrestrial phenomena which are directly contradicted by geological and cosmological science relating to the history of the earth and solar system" [31].

Dorothy B. Vitaliano, an affiliate of the U.S. Geological Survey, was also quick to dismiss "the wildly improbable Worlds in Collision of Velikovsky," although she, too, is much concerned with the Atlantis-Crete problem [32].

Nonetheless, the words of Plato and those of Velikovsky should not have gone unheeded, for the final destruction of Minoan Crete is not devoid of enigma. D. L. Page, after careful study and considerable analysis, was unable to come to a definitive conclusion concerning the ultimate disaster which befell Minoan Crete and could only surmise that the island "was destroyed by a violent earthquake, followed after a short interval by one of the most violent eruptions of which we have any record" [33].

Sir Arthur Evans, the initial excavator of the ruins of Crete, had already concluded, after many years of archaeological work, that the island had been "shattered in violent catastrophes that were accompanied by fire"--a fact of which Velikovsky was fully cognizant [34].

Pomerance was also puzzled by certain inconsistencies in the fiery destruction found on Crete [35]. He could not, for example, account for the damage wrought by fire to the palace of Kato Zakro ca. 1450 B.C.--a fire which should have been quenched by the great tsunami that the eruption would have generated. He therefore concluded that the final eruption of Thera was considerably later, ca. 1200 B. C.

J. W. Graham, too, has wondered at the destruction which occurred to high Cretan sites well above the reach of the ravaging waves [36].

What was not considered by the archaeologists, geologists, and seismologists, however, were two additional questions: 1) Could another agent independent and in concert with Thera have caused the widespread destruction that was found on Crete and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean? 2) Why did Thera erupt when it did and with such unprecedented force?

C. Wilson has actually suggested that the cause of ". . . the eruption of Santorin [Thera] ... may well have been Velikovsky's comet [Venus]" and "in matters of this sort, where science knows almost as little as anybody else, it is well to keep the mind open" [37].

Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision, hardcover editions, pp. 277-278) has, in fact, discussed the possible relationship between torsion of the global crust and "the direct attraction of a cosmic body when in a close contact" with the earth, and in Earth in Upheaval (hardcover editions, p. 153) he even went so far as to state that "volcanic activity is generally considered as connected with seismic activity; and the latter appears to be a response to a stress; and stress appears to have its origin in forces outside our earth." Could cometary Venus have triggered the process necessary for the Theran eruption? Here indeed is a problem for the volcanologists, seismologists, and geologists. What is the correlation, if any, between volcanic activity and extraterrestrial phenomena, and is there any evidence that would indicate world-wide volcanic upheaval ca. 1500 B.C. [38]? As Velikovsky has already submitted, "whatever the source of the error, the most probable date of the sinking of Atlantis would be in the middle of the second millennium, 900 years before Solon, when the earth twice suffered catastrophes as a result of 'the shifting of the heavenly bodies'." And yet, "these words of Plato received the least' attention, though they deserve the greatest." The fact that Thera appears to have erupted twice within an interval of fifty years lends even greater significance to the above statement [39].

Before and after the Santorini volcano eruption of 1500 B.C. Dots in upper sketch show limits of Minoan civilization from stone age to time of volcano blast. Dots in lower sketch show limits of Mycenaean civilization from 1500 B.C. Santorini eruption to fall of Troy. (Copyright

1966 by Saturday Review Company. Sketches by Doug Anderson following Ninkovich-Heezen. Reprinted by permission.)


Velikovsky's recognition of Plato's numerical exaggeration by a factor of ten for Atlantis' sinking gains support from still another quarter.

It would appear that "the cyclical view of Plato is akin to that of the Pythagoreans," who made ten the perfect number, and that Plato's "number mysticism" and the length of his astronomical Great Year depended upon a large multiple of ten [40]. Thus the length of Plato's Great Year may have coincided with 10,000 earthly years which, in turn, were bound up with the movements of the heavenly bodies [41]. Plato, then, most likely chose his 9000 year figure as narrated in the Timaeus in line with Pythagorean thinking.

Plato's awareness of cosmic phenomena, however, does seem to indicate something other than mere philosophizing, for in one significant passage he apparently goes out of his way to emphasize the truth of that awareness.

"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" (Timaeus 22CD).

Velikovsky's grasp of the full import of this statement still remains unique as students of the Atlantis story, for all their efforts, continue to overlook it.

Those who have sought to extricate and retrieve an historical basis from the Atlantis legend have all failed to realize that what they were doing was only a variation of what Velikovsky had already done in Worlds in Collision.

As an example, Dorothy Vitaliano's geologic euhemerism (the interpretation of myths as traditional accounts of historical personages and events) and her attempts as a geomythologist "to find the real geologic event underlying a myth or legend to which it has given rise" [42] in no way differs from Velikovsky's cosmological euhemerism.

The eruption of Thera was only one of numerous 15th century B.C. cataclysms when land and sea changed place and the entire earth reeled under a celestial blow (Worlds in Collision, chap. 4).


[1]   For a comprehensive study see N. Zhirov, Atlantis (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), pp. 374-85.

[2]   Zhirov, Atlantis, pp. 24-25.

[3]   See E. J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 40-43.

[4]   J. Imbelloni and A. Vivante, Le livre des Atlantides (Paris: 1942), p. 36; O. Rudbeck, Atlantica, sive Manheim very Japhete posterorum sedes ac patria (Uppsala: 1675). De Gamboa was evidently the first to advance this idea.

[5]   C. Beaumont, The Riddle of Prehistoric Britain (New York: Rider & Co., 1946), p. 133.

[6]   I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York: Doubleday, 1950), P. 147; also see G. Kubler, The Shape of Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), pp. 17-18, 21-22.

[7]   M. Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover, 1957), pp. 170-71.

[8]   I. Asimov, The Stars in their Courses (New York: Ace Books, 1972), "Worlds in Confusion," pp. 50-51.

[9]   Also published separately: A.G. Galanopoulos, "The Origin of the Deluge of Deukalion and the Myth of Atlantis," Athens Archaiologike Hegaireai, 3 (1960): 226-31; also see A. G. Galanopoulos, "On the Location and Size of Atlantis" (in Greek with English summary and captions), Akademia Athenon Pratika, 35 (1960): 401-18.

[10]   See for example Saturday Review, 5 November 1966, pp. 57-66; ibid., 3 December 1966, pp. 93-94; ibid., 1 April 1967, pp. 55-56; Newsweek, 31 July 1967, pp. 52-55.

[11]   A. G. Galanopoulos and E. Bacon, Atlantis: The Truth behind the Legend (N.Y.:1969),p. 40; also see N. Platon, Zakros (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), pp. 304-5.

[12]   Galanopoulos and Bacon, Atlantis, p. 133.

[13]   J. W. Mavor, Voyage to Atlantis (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969), pp. 34-35.

[14]   P. B. S. Andrews, "Larger than Africa and Asia?" Greece and Rome, 14 April 1967, p. 76. Article contains a key discussion of the Greek word, "larger," being substituted for the word "between."

[15]   J. V. Luce, Lost Atlantis (N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 1969), p. 177 and n. 131 where reference to Diodorus 1. 26 is cited as evidence for Egyptian "years" which were really months; The Quest for America, ed. G. Ashe (New York: Praeger, 1971), p. 18.

[16]   H. P. Lee, trans., Plato: Timaeus and Critias (Baltimore; Penguin Books, 1971,), pp. 14546. It is a curious coincidence that the name, "Timaeus," which Plato chose for his dialogue dealing with Atlantis should be the same as that of the Pharaoh who drowned during the Exodus ca. 1500 B.C. as discussed in Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos (New York: Doubleday, 1952), pp. 40, 44, 45.

[17]   For a discussion of Plato's conception of time see The Voices of Time, ed. J. T. Frazer (N.Y.: Braziller, 1966 p. 129; M. Eliade, Cosmos and History (N.Y.: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), p. 89, n. 59. L. Edelstein in The Idea of Progress in Classical Antiquity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 105ff. presents an alternate theory of Plato's cyclical concept of time.

[18]   Lee, Plato: Timaeus and Critias, p. 146; also see S. Toulmin and J. Goodfield, The Discovery of Time (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 42-44.

[19]   Plato: Timaeus and Critias, p. 159.

[20]   J. Harrison, Epilegomena and Themis (New York: University Books, 1962), p. 164, n.1; C. Seltman, History Today, 1952, p. 332.

[21]   K. T. Frost, "The Critias and Minoan Crete," Journal of Hellenic Studies 33 (1913): 189206.

[22]   Ibid., p. 194.

[23]   S. Marinatos, "The Volcanic Destruction of Minoan Crete," Antiquity 13 (1939): 425-39.

[24]   S. Marinatos, Crete and Mycenae (N.Y.: Abrams, 1960), pp. 20, 22, 26; ;National Geographic 141 (May, 1972): 715. Also see D. Ninkovich and B. Heezen, "Santorin Tephra," Colston Papers, vol. 17 (1965), pp. 413-452 for comprehensive information on all aspects of the Theran eruption and its consequences published up to 1965.

[25]   Smithsonian Magazine 2 (January 1972): 19; but also see Time, 28 February 1972, p. 57.

[26]   R. Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek Civilization (N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1966; H. E. L. Mellersh, The Destruction of Knossos (London: 1970), pp. 28ff.; L. Pomerance, "The Final Collapse of Santorini (Thera) 1400 B.C. or 1200 B.C.?" Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, 26 (Goteborg: 1970).

[27]   Mavor, Voyage to Atlantis, p. 270.

[28]   Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, p. 147.

[29]   Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval (New York: Doubleday, 1955), the supplement, pp. 27576.

[30]   Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, p. 148; also see Eliade, Cosmos and History, p. 122 and n. 17. The Timaeus passage is quoted from Lee, Plato: Timaeus and Critias, p. 35.

[31]   Galanopoulos and Bacon, Atlantis, p. 83.

[32]   See D. B. Vitaliano, "Geomythology," Journal of the Folklore Institute, vol. 5, No. 1 (June, 1968), p. 11; also see D. B. Vitaliano and C. J. Vitaliano, "Plinian Eruptions, Earthquakes, and Santorin: A Review," Acta of the 1st Int'l Scientific Congress on the Volcano of Thera (Athens: 1971).

[33]   D. L. Page, "The Santorin Volcano and the Desolation of Minoan Crete," The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, Supplementary Paper no. 12 (London: 1970), pp. 3842; also see Pomerance, Collapse of Santorini, p. 14.

[34]   See Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval, pp. 27 -76.

[35]   Pomerance, Collapse of Santorini, p. 13.

[36]   J. W. Graham, The Palaces of Crete (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 12.

[37]   C. Wilson, The Occult (New York: Random House, 1971), pp. 163-66; see Science News, 13 January 1973, p. 26 for a proposed correlation between eruptions of mud volcanoes and the positions of the sun and moon.

[38]   See Science Digest 68 (August, 1970): 48 where it is stated that Mt. Rainier erupted about 3500 years ago and two river valleys were filled by deposits to depths of 700 or 800 feet.

[39]   Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, pp. 147-56. See Ninkovich-Heezen, loc. cit.

[40]   G. E. Cairns, Philosophies of History (New York: Citadel Press, 1962), p. 207, 209; Sir Thomas Heath, A History of Greek Mathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19 2 1), Vol. 1, pp. 14lff.

[41]   G. E. Cairns, Philosophies of History, pp. . 207-11; T. Gomperz, Greek Thinkers, trans. C. G. Berry (New York: Humanities Press, 1955), Vol. 3, p. 223; also see Plato, Phaedrus, trans. B. Jowett, in The Philosophy of Plato (New York: Modern Library, 1956), p. 289.

[42]   D. Vitaliano, "Geomythology," p. 5; Luce, Lost Atlantis, p. 195.


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