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Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis

  • Alan Cameron (a1)

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.

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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). The estimate of 20,000 books is taken from O. Muck (next note).

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

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

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

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

6 e.g. Bramwell J., Lost Atlantis (New York, 1938), p. 64 (‘contemporary Greeks’), Camp De, Lost Continents (n. 1), p. 18 (‘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. 64; Taylor had already made his misinterpretation public in the brief introduction to his translation of the Timaeus itself (London, 1804).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 f. 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. 111 (my italics).

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

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. 1585–8.

16 See the full discussion (with earlier bibliography) in Murray O., ‘Hecataeus of Abdera and Pharaonic Kingship’, JEA 56 (1970), 141–71, and the summary in Fraser P. M., Ptolemaic Alexandria 1 (Oxford, 1972), pp. 496505. Burton Anne, Diodorus Siculus Book i: A Commentary (Leiden, 1972), 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. 442.

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 F51.

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, Zenon6, 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.; Hofer , Roscher's Myth. Lexicon iv. 275.

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 93, though often doubted: see most recently Abel K., Rh. Mus. 107 (1964), 371–3, and cf. Cherniss H., Plutarch , Moralia 13, 1 (1976), 217 f.

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

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) 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. 1. 6, 343b2; 1. 7, 344b34 f.; 2. 8, 368b7 f.

35 Strabo 7. 7. 2.

36 Jacoby , FGrHist 124 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. 30.

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

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. 103–34.

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

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

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

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

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