The BBC seems to have a hit on its hands with Atlantis, its fantasy about Greek mythology that bears little direct connection to Plato’s allegorical city. Naturally, Atlantis seems to be having yet another moment for the first time since Disney’s Atlantis movie coincided with the “lost civilization” alternative history movement more than a decade ago. The screenwriter behind the hit movie Gravity announced his next project is going to be The Lost City, yet another “new take” on Atlantis, while Fox announced its own Atlantis series, this time about two brothers who take off on a quest to find the sunken city and uncover deep sea mysteries in weekly installments—a soggier Supernatural by way of SeaQuest.
But these projects, at least, are fiction. Not so the newest attempt to identify Plato’s fictional lost city with a real place. The latest claimant is Christos A. Djonis, whose new book Uchronia? Atlantis Revealed claims that the lost continent can be found amidst the Cyclades, when the author claims, a civilization existed on land on a now-sunken plain 11,000 years ago. Djonis claims that the Cyclades’ plain sank in 8000 BCE after the Bosporus broke open and the Black Sea flooded, the controversial but famous event several have tried to claim was in fact Noah’s Flood. While critics of that hypothesis suggest that the Black Sea flood was much gentler than its original proponents claimed, this is irrelevant anyway since the date for this event is 5600 BCE, not 8000 BCE or 9600 BCE. But what’s a few thousand years between friends?
This Cycladic plain is, in Djonis’s view, the location of Plato’s fantastical kingdom and lies 9 km from Santorini, which Djonis says matches Plato’s description of its location. That would be the part, I suppose, where Plato claims that Atlantis was in “the Atlantic Ocean… situated in front of…the Pillars of Heracles” and “larger than Libya and Asia put together” (Timaeus 24e)—aside from that, completely accurate. Oh, right, Djonis doesn’t believe this text applies.
First, the facts: During the Ice Age the area now known as the Cyclades was in fact one large island because sea levels were as much as 300 feet lower than today. This island was about 2,300 square miles (6,000 square km) in size, roughly two-thirds the size of Cyprus. Archaeology knows only of small animals and dwarf elephants, not humans, occupying the Ice Age super-island. Humans don’t show up until around 7000 BCE or later, and then only as small hunting groups. There is no evidence that Athens, much less Atlantis, existed at this time, as the Timaeus narrative claims. Thus, archaeology does not confirm the literal truth of Plato’s story in its surrounding details.
In 2010, geologist Kalliopi Gaki-Papanastassiou and several colleagues proposed a similar theory identifying the Cycladic island with Atlantis in a chapter of the edited volume Coastal and Marine Geospacial Technology, though they admitted it was speculation based on the unproven assumption of the existence of a city-state and based on throwing out details from Plato that didn’t match. However, they felt confident that the existence of Neolithic cultures in the surrounding area proved that an advanced culture existed between them. They did not propose a method whereby knowledge of this city-state—but no other aspect of Neolithic culture—transmitted from the Cyclades to Egypt to Plato. Gaki-Papanastassiou also claims to have found Homeric Ithaca by studying prehistoric coastlines.
Djonis claims that he is the first to discover that the English translations of Plato are wrong and by performing magical feats (sorry, analysis) on Plato’s Greek text, he concludes that it does not say what it actually says but something very different. Here’s the key passage of his press release that I think explains it all:
The English adaptation of Plato’s account had to be dissected and thoroughly examined. Also, to ensure that the original meaning from the Greek story was not lost during translation, the English version was compared to the Greek format which has a different syntactic structure. This evaluation revealed that simple errors and flawed interpretations by early translators led many researchers in the past to look for Atlantis in all the wrong places.
Notice that he does not actually read the Greek text; he compares the English translation to the Greek sentence structure, and rearranges the words based on the order of words in the Greek text. Languages, of course, are not convertible 1:1, so this method actually ensures that the translation is mangled by ignoring the meaning of the text in favor of its word order.
This “amazing” discovery allows him to detach the phrases of Timaeus 24e and consider them as separate lines. The relevant segment reads, in standard translation:
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.
Djonis asserts that the “structure” of Plato allows him to conclude that this description does not apply to Atlantis; instead, he reads this as a separate island of the Atlantic used for “illustration” that the Atlantic was navigable; it is North America. Atlantis, he says, was a separate island, even though Plato sums up the preceding by calling it a description of “this island of Atlantis” (25a) and specifically explains that the Atlanteans crossed the Pillars of Heracles to conquer lands within the Mediterranean basin. Thus, Djonis simultaneously introduces prehistoric trans-Atlantic diffusionism and exempts Atlantis from Plato’s more specific description of Atlantis’s geographical location.
Specifically, Djonis argues that because in Greek the subject comes at the end of the sentence, we can then move the words of the English version around to eliminate pesky direct objects; thus he makes 24e read: “the (Atlantic) Ocean that was at that time navigable; and it was possible for travelers of that time to cross from it (from Atlantis) to the other islands and from the(se) islands to the whole of the continent over against them which (the islands and continent together) encompasses the veritable ocean.” See how cleverly he has inverted the actual meaning of Plato by reversing the word order? Too bad Greek words have grammatical cases, which is how we know which are the subject and object of actions. Djonis simply throws out Greek grammar to force the words into an order of convenience. I would guess that Djonis, a native Cypriot who has lived in the U.S. since 1981, does not actually read ancient Greek, which differs markedly from Modern Greek, or else every other reader of ancient Greek has been wrong since the time of Plato.
Note, though, that when his method fails, Djonis is open to special pleading. In 24e, Plato writes that Atlantis “starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot.” Unable to rearrange this satisfactorily to eliminate the clear reference to the Atlantic Ocean, Djonis simply declares Plato a poet and this a “poetic attempt of his to describe the might of Atlantis.”
In short: Plato is absolutely accurate about those details Djonis likes, but when Djonis doesn’t like them, Plato was conveniently making stuff up.
Djonis doesn’t stop there. He drags in every alternative history staple from the past fifteen years to support his discovery—you know, everything except geology, archaeology, etc. He claims that Göbekli Tepe in Turkey proves that humans were much more advanced than previously thought 10,000 years ago; however, Göbekli Tepe actually refutes the idea of Atlantis, for its sacred structures were constructed without the infrastructure of civilization—cities, farming, archaeologically visible political hierarchy, etc.
He also takes as a given the discovery of a “city” in the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) off the coast of India. Supposedly this city is 9,000-10,000 years old, but the only evidence of it is (a) a piece of wood carbon dated to around 7200 BCE but which skeptics believe is simply the remnant of an Ice Age forest, and (b) some disputed debris that advocates believe is manmade but skeptics contend is natural. But even accepting this at face value, the city would have been no more advanced than a Neolithic settlement—hardly the world-bestriding colossus that was Atlantis.
Then to wrap it all up in a bow, he brings in haplogroup X to claim that both the Atlanteans and the Minoans mated with Native Americans and bequeathed to them their magic DNA. One of these Atlanteans or hybrids is therefore Kennewick Man, the “Caucasoid” skeleton found in 1996. Amazing how the DNA transfer never goes in the other direction. As I reported in Skeptic magazine many years ago, “In fact, after examining the mitochondrial DNA code instead of its relative frequency, a 2002 study linked the Native American haplogroup X genetically to that found in Siberia. This clearly tied Native Americans to Asia and not Europe.”
Djonis’s Atlantis book is yet another in an endless line of imaginary claims founded on the assumption that one can pick and choose details from Plato while claiming the result is true to the original. I’ll admit though that claiming he is the only person to correctly understand ancient Greek through the expedient of rearranged English translations catapults him even beyond Zecharia Sitchin in the realm of abuse of language.
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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