Today I’d like to present another of those lying ancient texts I’ve written about recently. Today’s lying ancient text ought to give fits to both Atlantis aficionados as well ancient astronaut theorists. First, I will present the text, and then I will offer a few comments on the ways this text confounds “alternative” theories.
Our selection today is a fragment of the fourth-century BCE atheist writer Euhemerus, as preserved in the work of the fourth-century CE scholar Eusebius, quoting Diodorus Siculus' summary of Euhemerus. (If you think this seems too indirect, remember: ancient astronaut theorists count anything within 4,000 years of an event as “direct evidence.”) In this rarely seen text, Euhemerus discusses a voyage into the Arabian Sea, where he visits the Atlantis-like island of the Panchaeans and reads the records of their kings, whom the Greeks ignorantly worship as gods. This translation comes from the 1876 edition of Cory’s Ancient Fragments (pp. 172-174).
The Ancient Text
Eu[h]emerus, (the historian), was a favourite of Cassander the king, and being, upon that account constrained by his master to undertake some useful, as well as extensive, voyage of discovery, he says that he travelled southwards to the ocean, and having sailed from Arabia Felix, stood out to sea several days, and continued his course among the islands of that sea, one of which far exceeded the rest in magnitude, and this island was called Panchaea.
He observes, that the Panchaeans who inhabited it were singular for their piety, honouring the gods with magnificent sacrifices, and superb offerings of silver and gold. He says, moreover, that the island was consecrated to the gods, and mentions several other remarkable circumstances relative to its antiquity, and the richness of the arts displayed in its institutions and services, some of which we have related in the books preceding this. He relates also, that upon the brow of a certain very high mountain in it, there was a temple of the Triphylaean Zeus, founded by him at the time he ruled over all the habitable world, whilst he was yet resident amongst men. In this temple stood a golden column, on which was inscribed, in the Panchaean characters, a regular history of the actions of Ouranos, and Kronus, (Saturn), and Zeus (Jupiter).
In a subsequent part of his work, he relates that the first king was Ouranos, a man renowned for justice and benevolence, and well conversant with the motion of the stars; and, that he was the first who honoured the heavenly Gods with sacrifices, upon which account he was called Ouranos (Heaven). He had two sons by his wife Hestia, (Vesta), who were called Pan and Kronus; and daughters Rhea and Demetra. And Kronus reigned after Ouranos; and he married Rhea, and had by her Zeus, and Hera, and Poseidon. And when Zeus succeeded to the kingdom of Kronus he married Hera, and Demetra, and Themis, by whom he had children; by the first, the Curetes; and Persephone, (Proserpine), by the second, and Athena, (Minerva), by the third. He went to Babylon, where he was hospitably received by Belus, and afterwards passed over to the island of Panchaea, which lies in the ocean, where he erected an altar to Ouranos, (Heaven), his forefather. From thence he went into Syria to Cassius, who was then the ruler of that country, from whom Mount Casius, (on the borders of Egypt), receives its name. Passing thence into Cilicia, he conquered Cilix, the governor of those parts ; and, having travelled through many other nations, he was honoured by all and universally acknowledged as a god." — Eusebius Praep. Evang. ii., as quoted from Diodorus Siculus Ecl., p. 681.
This text poses an insoluble problem for both Atlantis believers and ancient astronaut theorists. In this text, Euhemerus (as recorded by Diodorus and Eusebius) has traveled to an island, Panchaea, that draws its details from an obvious model, Plato’s Atlantis. (The full description of the island, with its Atlantis details, is given in Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 5.41.4-5.64.7) But this island is not Atlantis, as Euhemerus insists that the island is in the Indian Ocean. Further, Euhemerus makes clear that the “ancient texts” he found on this island prove that the Greek gods were in fact human beings, who lived and died as the royal family of Panchaea.
There are three choices in dealing with this text, none good for those of the “alternative” historical persuasion. The most obvious solution (and the correct one) is to reject this account as a mere literary device--i.e., fiction. But if we do this, then we have no warrant for accepting Plato’s Atlantis as real. Both islands exist solely in narratives meant to serve ulterior, philosophical purposes. Both islands are equally fantastic, equally unmentioned outside their original authors’ works, and equally non-existent in any archaeological sense. To reject Panchaea is to complicate belief in Atlantis exponentially, requiring the believer to justify why one fantasy should be accepted and the other rejected while navigating the treacherous waters of hypocrisy and contradiction.
The second choice is to accept Euhemerus’ account as accurate. But doing so raises a huge problem for ancient astronaut theorists. Euhemerus makes very clear that the “gods” were human beings later worshipped as gods—not supernatural entities, and certainly not aliens. The fundamental principle of the ancient astronaut theory is that the “gods” were aliens, even the Greek gods, as Erich von Däniken asserted in Odyssey of the Gods and Giorgio Tsoukalos repeated on Ancient Aliens. To accept this text as genuine is to accept that the gods were humans. And doing so undercuts everything the ancient astronaut theory stands for.
The third choice is the most difficult of all: To accept some of the text but reject other parts. One could, theoretically make a coherent case that Panchaea was real (perhaps an outpost of Atlantis) while arguing that the account of the birth and death of the gods was either false or actually about aliens. But to make this case, alternative historians would need to engage in textual criticism rather than merely taking the text at face value. And once one engages in textual criticism, this opens every ancient text to such criticism. Why, for example, should we accept the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a nuclear explosion, or Ezekiel’s vision as a UFO, or the Minotaur as genetic engineering if we admit that ancient texts have purposes and meanings beyond their surface reading? To exercise discretion in one case is to force alternative authors to justify the use of every “ancient text”—something they simply cannot, or will not, do.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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