Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5959bf8d4d-9mpts Total loading time: 0.798 Render date: 2022-12-09T22:00:12.492Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Alan Cameron
Columbia University, New York


The story of Atlantis, inspiration (on a recent estimate) of more than 20,000 books, rests entirely on an elaborate Platonic myth (Timaeus 20d–26e, continued in Critias 108d–121c), allegedly based on a private, oral tradition deriving from Solon. Solon himself is supposed to have heard the story in Egypt; a priest obligingly translated it for him from hieroglyphic inscriptions in a temple in Sais. It might be added that (unlike his modern readers) Plato is less concerned with Atlantis than with her rival and conqueror, the Athens of that antediluvian age 9600 B.C. That Plato himself made the whole story up (fashionable recent theories about Thera notwithstanding) is indeed virtually demonstrable. This is not the place for such a demonstration (not that any amount of proof could destroy the faith of the true believer), but it is at any rate possible to eliminate completely one of the crucial props on which belief has always leaned.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1983

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Much the best account of Atlantis literature over the centuries is Camp's, L. Sprague DeLost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science and Literature (revised edition, New York, Dover Books, 1970)Google Scholar. The estimate of 20,000 books is taken from O. Muck (next note).

2 The Secret of Atlantis (New York, 1978), pp. 1617Google Scholar.

3 The End of Atlantis (London, 1969), p. 12Google Scholar.

4 Diokles von Karystos: die griechische Medizin und die Schule des Aristoteles (Berlin, 1938), pp. 128–9Google Scholar.

5 e.g. Galanopoulos, A. G. and Bacon, E., Atlantis: The Truth Behind the Legend (Indianapolis/New York, 1969), p. 15Google Scholar: ‘Crantor had been shown panels bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions…’.

6 e.g. Bramwell, J., Lost Atlantis (New York, 1938), p. 64Google Scholar (‘contemporary Greeks’), Camp, De, Lost Continents (n. 1), p. 18Google Scholar (‘Egyptian priests who showed tourists columns’), and Martin, quoted below, n. 13.

7 Oswyn Murray's excellent recent study of the bias of Hecataeus' history (n. 16 below) carries as its motto Gibbon's remark that ‘falsehood… is not incompatible with the sacerdotal character'.

8 There is no reason to believe that this phrase is Crantor's rather than Proclus'; ψιλῸσ perhaps means rather ‘literal’ as opposed to metaphorical, a meaning amply attested in and after Origen (Lampe, Pair. Lex. s.v.l.a.).

9 The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato 1 (London, 1820), p. 64Google Scholar; Taylor had already made his misinterpretation public in the brief introduction to his translation of the Timaeus itself (London, 1804)Google Scholar.en témoignent, dit Platon (23a4), les prophetes aussi des Égyptiens, qui disent que ces choses ont éte gravees sur des steles conservees jusqu'à; ce jour.

10 See Ries, K., hokrates und Plalon im Ringen um die Philosophica, Diss. (Munich, 1959), pp. 51 fGoogle Scholar. It is in any case perfectly possible, in the small academic world of fourth-century Athens, that Plato's views might have become well known through lectures and discussions long before he issued the Republic in its final form.

11 Proclus: commentaire sur le Timée 1 (Paris, 1966), p. 111Google Scholar (my italics).

12 Though Camp, De, for example, quotes directly from Taylor's translation in an appendix (Lost Continents, pp. 309–11)Google Scholar.

13 2 (Paris, 1841), pp. 257–333.

14 A combination from Strabo 2. 3. 6 and 13. 1. 36. The second passage seems to be a quotation of a well known judgment on Atlantis, and the first implies that its author was Aristotle. But the attribution is far from certain.

15 Arnim, Von, PW xi. 2. 1585–8Google Scholar.

16 See the full discussion (with earlier bibliography) in Murray, O., ‘Hecataeus of Abdera and Pharaonic Kingship’, JEA 56 (1970), 141–71Google Scholar, and the summary in Fraser, P. M., Ptolemaic Alexandria 1 (Oxford, 1972), pp. 496505Google Scholar. Burton, Anne, Diodorus Siculus Book i: A Commentary (Leiden, 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, argues, following Spoerri, that Schwartz and Jacoby exaggerated the extent of the Hecataean material in Diodorus 1, but it is doubtful whether her objections go as far to undermine their case as she supposes. I take only one: ‘it is difficult to understand why Diodorus should not have named Hecataeus elsewhere in the book [i.e. elsewhere than 1. 46. 8], if he is excerpting him as assiduously as is generally believed, particularly when one considers, for example, the many references to Ctesias in Book II’ (pp. 8–9). But almost all the references to Ctesias are for silly stories or ridiculòus figures for which even Diodorus was unwilling to take sole responsibility, whereas he was anxious to conceal the extent of his debt to the more reliable Hecataeus, as the deliberately misleading form of his reference at 1. 46. 8 makes clear (cf. Murray, p. 145, n. 1).

17 Breasted, J. H., Ancient Records of Egypt (Chicago, 1906), p. 442Google Scholar.

18 Murray, pp. 166–9.

19 Burton is at her weakest when she argues (p. 11) that this section might as easily derive from Plato (who said the opposite) or ‘Theopompus’ (whom she takes to be Theopompus). In the context it is obvious Ptolemaic propaganda (Murray, pp. 145–8). Diodorus concludes (1. 29. 5–6) that these stories of the spread of culture to the rest of the world through Egyptian colonies were not sufficiently documented, and ‘since no historian worthy of trust supports them, I have not thought their accounts worth recording’. Burton infers that this excludes Hecataeus (p. 18), but Diodorus surely means that Hecataeus' improbable colonization stories (as he rightly judged them) were not borne out by any of the obvious other sources (i.e. the relevant local historians). Who but a pro-Egyptian writer such as Hecataeus would have invented such stories?

20 Murray, p. 166.

21 I. p. 97.27f. Diehl with the notes in Festugière's translation, p. 139.

22 Jacoby, F., FGrHist IIB 124 F51Google Scholar.

23 FGrHist III B 325 F25, with Jacoby's commentary in IIIB Suppl. I, pp. 193–4.

24 FGrHist IIA F20. For Athens as a Saite colony see too Charax of Pergamum (now known to be of the 2nd c. A.D.), FGrHist 103 F39.

25 Abel, , PW XA, Zenon6Google Scholar, 138–40.

26 The fact that Plutarch (Solon 26) names two different priests from Sais and Heliopolis does not necessarily prove both lists fictitious, though of course either or both may be.

27 Rusch, , PW s.v. Neith, 2190 f.Google Scholar; Hofer, , Roscher's, Myth. Lexicon iv. 275Google Scholar.

28 Rusch. ib. 2197–8, argues that she only rose ‘zur offiziellen Reichsgottheit’ in the XXVI (Saite) dynasty.

29 According to Empiricus, Sextus, adv. math. 7 93Google Scholar, though often doubted: see most recently Abel, K., Rh. Mus. 107 (1964), 371–3Google Scholar, and cf. Cherniss, H., Plutarch, , Moralia 13, 1 (1976), 217 fGoogle Scholar.

30 2. 3. 6 (trans. H. L. Jones) = frag. 49. 298 in Edelstein, L. and Kidd, I. G., Posidonius I: the Fragments (Cambridge, 1972)Google Scholar.

31 FGrHist IIA 87 F28, with the commentary in IIC, p. 177.

32 The experts are in any case becoming increasingly sceptical about the supposed role played by the Thera eruption in the destruction of the palaces of Minoan Crete: see the papers and discussions in Doumas, C. (ed.), Thera and the Aegean World: Papers of the Second International Scientific Congress, Santorini, August 1978, I (1979)Google Scholar and II (1980).

33 Strabo 8. 7. 2 and Pausanias 7. 24. 4 f., with J. G. Frazer's commentary, the notes in Peter Levi's Penguin translation, and Jacoby's commentary to Callisthenes F21 (quoted n. 36). The fate of nearby Bura is usually linked to that of Helice, but though both were destroyed in the same earthquake, only Helice was inundated: fcr thedetails, see the PW entries for Bura and Helice.

34 Aristotle, , Meteorol. 1Google Scholar. 6, 343b2; 1. 7, 344b34 f.; 2. 8, 368b7 f.

35 Strabo 7. 7. 2.

36 Jacoby, , FGrHist 124Google Scholar F21, assuming (perhaps wrongly) that Callisthenes' discussion was a digression in his Hellenica; so too Pearson, L., The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (1960), p. 30Google Scholar.

37 Jacoby, notes to Callisthenes F19–21, IIB, p. 423; Gottschalk, H. B., Heraclides Ponticus (Oxford, 1980), pp. 94–5Google Scholar.

38 Diodorus, 15. 48–9.

39 Strabo, 8. 7. 2.

40 Critias 112a.

41 See Fears, J. Rufus, in Atlantis: Fact or Fiction? (Indiana, 1978), pp. 103–34Google Scholar.

42 REG 77 (1964), 420–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. too Gill, C., CP 72 (1977), 287304Google Scholar, and the fascinating first chapter (to be read with caution) in Onians, John, Art and Thought in the Hellenistic World (London, 1979)Google Scholar.

43 For all the details, see Taran, Leonardo, Essays in Ancient Greek Philosophy, ed. Anton, J. P. with Kustas, G. L. (1971), pp. 387–90Google Scholar.

44 Tarán, , I.c. and in Speusippus of Athens (1981), p. 384Google Scholar.

45 Camp, Sprague De, Lost Continents, pp. 166–70Google Scholar.

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *