Brady Yoon is a software engineer who devotes his spare time to researching Atlantis, and in a recent Ancient Origins article he presents a confused and illogical argument for why he believes Plato’s accounts of Atlantis in the Timaeus and the Critias are based on fact. Amidst a mountain of verbiage—second perhaps only to Micah Hanks in logorrhea—he argues that the presence of fragments of genuine ancient knowledge embedded in the dialogues would therefore prove the correctness of the claim. He uses the example of pyramids to illustrate how he intends to reason. Note that he understands that Plato did not include any pyramids in his dialogue:
If, on the contrary, Plato had said that Atlantis built pyramids, it would be difficult to deny that Plato's account of Atlantis was a veritable fact, for to maintain that Plato’s account was fictional would mean that Plato, by pure chance, happened to invent a story about a prehistoric pyramid building civilization—precisely the civilization whose existence is pointed to by evidence only available in modern times—at a time when there was no evidence to suggest that such a civilization should have existed.
Leaving aside the obvious problem that “pyramids” are nothing alike the world over except for the necessity created by physics for them to taper in height, the logic here is utterly wrong. The existence of pyramids in Plato’s own world—from the true pyramids of Egypt to the step-pyramid-shaped ziggurats of Mesopotamia—gives more than enough inspiration to imagine pyramids in the deep past. Indeed, that exactly what Yoon’s hero, Ignatius Donnelly, did in developing his own claims about pyramids!
But using this logic, Yoon proposes that there is in fact an ancient motif that would prove that Plato was telling the truth about Atlantis: concentric circles. Yes, one of the most basic of geometric forms is somehow proof of a lost civilization.
Yoon doesn’t quite manage even this low bar for proof, however. In trying to gather examples of concentric circles, Yoon resorts to spirals, which are pointedly not the same as concentric circles. In the end, he tries to argue that a Google Earth artifact in the Caribbean that resembles concentric circles must be Atlantis.
And yet he doesn’t stop to consider for a moment whether Plato would have other reasons for suggesting that the island of Atlantis had been carved by Poseidon in the shape of alternating rings of land and water. Many explanations exist, of various levels of believability. Many archaeologists have assumed that the explanation is related to the shape of the island of Thera (Santorini), and the unique ring shape left behind by the explosion of its volcano, destroying the Minoan city on the island. I don’t buy that personally. Those of a more mystical mindset see the three rings of land as representing either the three divisions of the cosmos (heaven, earth, and the underworld) or a Pythagorean triad.
But perhaps the most useful parallel is the ancient conception of the Earth itself. The ancients believed that the inhabited world was surrounded by the River Ocean, itself ringed by the opposite continent. If you start your map of the world from an island, (like, for example, Greek islands), your vision of the world is of an island surrounded by a local sea, surrounded by the known continents, surrounded by the River Ocean, surrounded by the farthest ring of land. From a Greek perspective, then, Atlantis might well be a model of the world itself as Plato saw it, all the more appropriate since Plato uses Atlantis as a negative example of the fate of the world, even seeming at the unfinished end of the Critias to attribute to it the world-historical disaster that standard mythology called the Flood that destroyed the whole world.
Even if this isn’t what Plato had in mind, the fact that concentric rings occur outside of Plato’s Atlantis narrative in places where they would have been known to him undercuts the illogical supposition that the existence of concentric rings prove that Atlantis must have existed.
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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