Myths and Traditions of Antiquity

by R. Cedric Leonard

The traditions and mythologies which will be brought forward here are not intrinsically a part of Plato's account. They are separate in themselves, but will be compared to Plato's story of Atlantis to illustrate the similarities. Plato did not create a mythology when he wrote of Atlantis; rather, he repeated a tradition which had been handed down to him as "historical".

Here we will be dealing in supposition and interpretation rather than solid scientific facts. The story as related to us by Plato has seemingly mythological elements in it, just as the Hebrew Bible contains similar elements even though it is usually thought of as basically historical. At least one of these "mythological elements" will be mentioned below, since it is found in both the Platonic and traditional accounts.

Again, the whole purpose of this website is to acquaint the inquirer with information that is not widely known. Therefore, be ready for some real surprises. The thrust here is specifically to compare Plato's quasi-historical account of Atlantis (including both its rise and demise) to mythologies and traditions which were in existence long before Plato, and to show how they relate to Plato's story of Atlantis.

I believe very strongly that real events gave rise to these traditions—even though they do not mention Atlantis by name—and it is the events which are important, not formalities which would satisfy scholars. The traditions and myths I am about to describe correspond so closely to details given in Plato's Atlantis narratives that mere coincidence is simply out of the question.

Egyptian Traditions

The ancient Egyptian records give us several kinds of information relating to the era of Atlantis. First of all, there is what is called the First Time, Zep Tepi, or the Golden Age, when the gods ruled. This is the time when mankind was given the elements of civilization, when the primordial darkness was banished. During Zep Tepi there were intermediaries between the gods and men, a time of the Neteru, the "Watchers", who lived on the earth as the guardians and guides of mankind.

Not only do we have the king-lists bequeathed to us in Greek translation by Manetho (250 B.C.), we also have direct Egyptian sources, such as the king-list given on the Palermo Stone (2565-2420 B.C.) and in the Turin Papyrus (circa. 1300 B.C.). One of the important aspects of Manetho's king-list is that since he writes in Greek, he gives us the Greek equivalent of each Egyptian king mentioned in the lists.

After telling us that the total number of years covered by all the king-lists equals 36,525 (which, incidentally, agrees nicely with the era of Cro-Magnon Man), he continues: "the first series of princes was that of the Auritae (or the Aletae according to Sanchuniathon)." Then he lists the kings who ruled during this "reign of the gods". Here is Manetho's king-list, including the names from the Turin Papyrus on the left (there are two separate kings named "Horus"):

The Turin Papyrus Manetho's King-list
Horus. . .
Thoth. . .
Ma. . .

According to Manetho the "rule of the demi-gods" immediately follows the reign of the gods (Cory, 1832). And Manetho's king-lists have been confirmed by the Egyptian sources mentioned above. (For an explanation of the omission of three kings, click on Manetho's king-list.) The important thing is that whenever the "reign of the gods" is included, Cronos (Seb) is always listed in one form or another.

Manetho is careful to point out that these first kings ruled not in Egypt itself, but rather in a foreign country. King Cronos and his connection with this Golden Age is very important in connecting up these traditions.

The Oldest Egyptian name for Cronos (Saturn) was Seb, or Keb. A later form appears as early as the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the LXX) as Raiphan (Amos 5:26), which became Repha among the Coptics. Modern translations of the Christian Bible use Rephan where the Amos passage is quoted (e.g., Acts 7:43). There is no doubt among modern scholars (Tyndale, 1962) that King Cronos-Saturn is the referens in both these cases.

This is in itself interesting, since the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years and acquired many loan-words during that period. So it appears that Repha is an Egyptian loan-word, and the Hebrews' use of Rephaim (plural of Repha, usually translated "giants") is most likely a reference to the gigantic sons of Cronos—the Titans.

One of the god-kings listed in the Turin Papyrus which is omitted in our copies of Manetho's king list is the god Thoth. King Thoth is important for several different reasons. First, he is credited as being the inventor of writing; secondly, he wrote a large number of religio-mystical works known as the Books of Thoth; and thirdly, he ruled on an island located in the west (Budge, 1960). The well-known Egyptian Book of the Dead allegedly contains some of the writings of Thoth.

Libyan Traditions

Both Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus described certain "Atlantean" tribes who lived in Libya. Herodotus describes them as living in the vicinity of Mt. Atlas (History, Book IV), and Diodorus (Lib. Hist., Book III) says they lived "in the regions which lie close to the shore of the ocean." Both descriptions fit the modern North African country of Morocco. But most importantly, these very people retained traditions of a time when they were ruled by the gods Ouranos, Cronos and others, whose origin (they say) was in the Atlantic Ocean!

According to Diodorus, King Ouranos married Titaea and their sons were called Titans—the most prominent among them were Cronos and Atlas. Atlas was given the regions near the shore of the ocean to rule. Cronos eventually deposed King Ouranos, becoming the next king (Lib. Hist., Book III). Nothing is said in these accounts that any of the Titans themselves ever became individual rulers. Possibly certain details have dropped out over the millennia.

The kings mentioned more closely resemble the "gods" of Homer and Hesiod than the Atlantean kings of Plato's account, which reveals that Diodorus did not use Plato's Atlantis narratives as a source. (Critias explains that the original king-names had first been translated into Egyptian using the meanings of the names, which the priests in turn translated into the Greek for Solon.)

Diodorus' "Atlanteans" were without doubt the survivors of the cataclysm and, finding themselves in North Africa, evidently retained memories of being ruled by the Atlantic gods. It is more than interesting that Herodotus had already called these people "Atlanteans" (Book IV), and the ocean to the west of them the "Atlantis Sea" (Book I) nearly a hundred years before Plato. And it is also curious that a people calling themselves "Atlanteans" happened to be living precisely in an area expected of survivors of such a catastrophe!

The standard word for "west" in the Tamacheq language of the Tuareg people is ataram. Since the /r/ and /l/ are controvertible over time in the North African language group—likewise the /m/ and /n/—it is possible the Tuareg word for "west" was originally atalan [Atalan]. (The word "Attala" is prominent among the Rifians of West Africa; Berlitz, 1969)

According to several modern investigators, the present day Tuaregs of North Africa have tribal legends of a lost homeland named Atlantis, and when questioned they point to the west as the direction from whence they came (Krippenes, 1981, et al.). Considering their proximity to the Atlas mountains and the historical relationship with ancient Atlantean tribes, we should not be surprised at the use of the very word "Atlantis" by these individuals when orally expressing their tribal legends.

While recognizing "modern contamination" (modern travelers and media) as a possible influence, one's judgment should be tempered with the certain knowledge that such things as tribal origins are usually very sacred, especially to nomadic peoples. Moreover, the Tuaregs are a "fiercely independent" people, unlikely to accept outside influences into their tribal traditions.

Greek Mythology

Diodorus got much of his information from an earlier Greek historian, Euhemeros of Messene (ca. 300 B.C.), who lists the order of the first kings as Ouranos, Cronos, then Zeus. Euhemeros tells us that once Zeus became king (which would have been after winning the war with the Titans), he travelled to all the different regions of the world, arriving ultimately at an island called Panchaea, "which lies in the Ocean" [viz., the Atlantic]. On that island he set up a shrine to the first king Ouranos: a shrine to King Ouranos in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—that should tell us something!

It appears that Plato might not have invented the golden tablets forming an important part of his Atlantis narrative. Describing the shrine mentioned, Euhemeros writes: "There is also on the island, situated on an exceedingly high hill, a sancuary of Zeus, which was established by him . . . And in the temple there is a stele of gold on which is inscribed in summary, in the writing employed by the Panchaeans, the deeds of Ouranos and Kronos and Zeus." (Hiera anagraphe, or "Sacred Register," ca. 300 B.C.)

Prehistoric traditions involving a Western island known as White Island (also called "Elysian Fields") existed among the Greeks (Warren, 1885; Burkert, 1985, et al.), as well as in the Sanskrit epics of India. As in India, with the passage of time the White Isle became associated with the final destination of certain dead heroes. According to Apollodorus (Epitome 5.5), it was the final destination of the soul of Achilles. Several accounts on the White Isle belong to Leonymus, king of Crotona.

According to the ancient Greeks, the White Isle was a paradise located in the far western streams of the river Oceanos, and ruled over by King Cronos. Some modern authorities associate it with certain of the Canary Islands, just off the West African coast (Burkert, 1985); but it seems to me quite likely that originally it was an ancient name for one of the larger islands of the Atlantis archipelago, if not of Atlantis itself. However, given the evidence from all available sources, some connection between the White Island and Plato's lost paradise seems imperative.

I believe it significant that the names of Cronos, Poseidon, Atlas, even Atlantis itself, have no etymology in the Indo-European languages (Zeus is the one exception, coming as it does via the Sanskrit Dyaus). Although several later Greek deities seem to originate from the north or east, this particular group was evidently introduced into Greek culture from the West, i.e., from the direction of Morocco and the Canary Islands. According to Homer's Iliad (Book XIV), Atlas dwelt, not in Libya, but far out in the Ocean stream which was believed at that time to encircle the earth—which is to say, he had an Atlantic origin.

As we have seen, it is virtually impossible to separate King Cronos from Atlantis. The war waged by the Atlanteans against the nations within the Mediterranean area and the mythological War of the Titans and Olympian gods have many important parallels. In both cases it happened just before the end of the invaders' homeland. In both accounts it was Zeus who was responsible for the demise of the opposing army. Both wars ended in the violent destruction of a western oceanic island. (ref., Plutarch's "Saturnian Continent"; Baldwin, 1869.)

Statue of the God-King Cronos

In the Atlanteans' case it was earthquakes, cataclysmic floods, and finally subsidence. In the case of the "Saturnian Continent," it was a huge ball of fire cast down upon the Titans out of the hands of the angry god Zeus, which "set the forested land on fire, and made the ocean boil". The hills and valleys heaved and shook in the throes of chthonic destruction. The Titans were ultimately imprisoned in Tartaros, which the ancient poets Orpheus and Homer placed beneath the waves of "Oceanos," which was the ancient equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean of today.

In Plato's unfinished Critias, Zeus had just decided to convene a council of the gods to determine the fate of the Atlanteans; but his Timaeus had already informed us of the result of that council: i.e., after suffering tremendous earthquakes and floods, the island of Atlantis, with all her warlike inhabitants, was destroyed, disappearing beneath the unforgiving waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlanteans were described by Plato as being in the beginning a most noble race; but slowly the godly element of their nature became diluted by the baser human side. They eventually became greedy, materialistic, and warlike. In Hesiod's Theogeny, King Cronos ruled during a Golden Age, introduced agriculture, established cities and civil order. The Golden Age was one of abundance and peace. The first age is followed by increasingly deteriorating ages: the Silver, Bronze, Hero, and finally the pitifully wicked Iron Age.

Hesiod correlates his Ages with the races of man in his Works and Days, (lines 109-201). Here he portrays mankind in a series of five "races," beginning with a Golden Race, going through the Silver and Bronze Race, which eventually degenerates into an Iron Race. The original Golden Race, of course, "lived in the time of Cronos" during the Golden Age. (Hesiod, 735 B.C.)

Ovid's Metamorphoses (lines 85-151), has basically the same scheme, but omits Hesiod's Race of Heroes. Since these are oral traditions carried down by the ancient Greeks, mostly in ballads and epic poems, no time frame is given; but the sequence as given is certainly indicative of the gradual deterioration of mankind parallel to Plato's description of the fate of the Atlantean people.

King Cronos ruled a western kingdom, was said to have invented agriculture, and instructed men how to live in a civilized manner. But to prevent rivals to his throne he began to kill all his own sons. Zeus (who was destined to depose him), was hid by his mother on the isle of Crete, where he grew up finally to defeat his father and rule as king of the gods (Hesiod, 750 B.C.).

The manner in which Zeus finally defeats Cronos and his Titans (the sons of Heaven) is reminiscent of the account found in the Mahabharata. After the war had continued unabated for ten years, Zeus was finally presented with "weapons" which resembled lightning, and the earth began to quake as fiery bolts flew from his hands. The vast forests were set on fire and the waters of the ocean itself "boiled and seethed" (Hesiod, 750 B.C.).

Cronos and the Titans are finally imprisoned in Tartaros, located deep beneath the ocean waves. In this passage from the Iliad (Book XIV), the queenly Hera proposes "to visit Oceanus at the far end of the earth, from whom the gods are sprung," where Zeus "had also thrust great Cronos down beneath earth and the restless sea." (Homer, 850 B.C.) Once the Titans are sealed in their infernal prison, Atlas himself is left guarding the gates, preventing a future escape (Rose, 1969). A lot of Atlantean connections here!

During the yearly festival known as the Cronia—similar to the Roman Saturnalia festival—the bound statue of Cronos was brought forth and loosed, but only for the duration of the festival. At the same time all slaves were temporarily freed, gifts exchanged, and a seven-day-long party ensued during which there was drinking and merry making. Slaves were allowed to order their masters around (although the severity of such orders was tempered by the knowledge that in a few days they would again be ruled by these same masters). This was all, of course, to honor Cronos, the first great king and civilizer of mankind; but also to commemorate the defeat, binding, and imprisonment of Cronos at the end of the 10-year-long war.

statue of Poseidon

Just how did Plato's Atlanteans obtain their "godly" nature to begin with? According to Plato's Critias, the god Poseidon fell in love with an earthborn girl named Cleito. He had intercourse with her (the "mythological element" of the Atlantis story), and built her a palace in Atlantis on a hill. They eventually had five sets of twins (ten princes), the eldest of which was named Atlas, for which the entire island, and the sea surrounding it, was named Atlantis.

This "admixture" of divine and earthborn would, of course, make each of their offspring one-half divine and one-half human. The natural result of this generation mating with other earthborn women would result in only a "quarter" of the divine element, etc., etc., until eventually the divine element would become so diffused that the baser, human characteristics would finally dominate. Now let's compare this scenerio with another prominant body of legends.

Statue of the god Poseidon

Hebrew Records

The traditions recorded by the Hebrews parallel the above account closely. A strange, often puzzling, passage appears early in the Hebrew Bible which bears looking into at this point. In the book of Genesis one finds the following:

"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. . . .
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughter of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men (heroes) which were of old, men of renown." (Genesis 6:1-2,4)

Now this is basically how Plato says the Atlanteans came to be. (Remember also that Hesiod calls the Titans "sons of Heaven".) The Hebrew account even contains a reference to a "dilution" of the divine element with the human: "And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (verse 3), after which man grows more wicked until he is eventually destroyed by a tremendous flood. The account in the Book of Enoch (Laurence, 1883) even mentions a tilting of the planetary axis!

In those days Noah saw that the earth became inclined, and that destruction approached. Then he lifted up his feet, and went to the ends of the earth, to the dwelling of his great-grandfather Enoch. And Noah cried with a bitter voice, Hear me; hear me; hear me: three times. And he said, Tell me what is transacting upon earth; for the earth labours, and is violently shaken. Surely I shall perish with it." (I Enoch LXIV. 1-3; italics added, R.C.L.)

This account (no doubt a reflection of extremely ancient traditions) depicts a Noah who is not quite so confident that he has been chosen to be saved from the impending cataclysm. And, unless it really happened, how would this ancient author have even known of an "axis" which might become "inclined"—unless the true shape of our planet was known even at that time?

The more familiar account found in the sixth chapter of Genesis depicts a less violent picture of the cataclysm (see Hebrew scroll at left) in which forty days of rain (including, perhaps, a tsunami originating in the "great deep"), and a hero which seems much more confident. The Flood account depicted on the left is from a scroll written in northeastern Europe several centuries ago. It reads in part: "And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them [humans]; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth." (Gen. 6:13)

Two of the most surprising, and mistranslated, verses in the Hebrew Bible may actually concern Atlantis. The passage found in the Book of Job, as translated in the King James Version of 1611, reads like this:

"Dead things are formed from under the waters, and the inhabitants thereof. Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering." (Job 26:5-6)

An innocuous enough sounding passage: no clue here to the famous sunken land. But in reality, these verses deserve a second look. The very first word in the above passage is the Hebrew word Rephaim (Heb. plural of Repha), a reference to the descendants of Repha! In other words, this is a direct reference to the sons of King Cronos—the famed Titans of Greek mythology. And the Hebrew verb translated "formed" above, would translate more accurately as "tremble," "shake" or "writhe" (see any modern translation). What a change this makes! A rather literal, yet informed, translation would read:

"The Rephaim writhe [or tremble] in agony beneath the waters, and those dwelling therein. Their prison lies naked before him, and destruction has no covering." (Job 26:5-6)

Dr. James Moffett (1922) of Oxford University is almost poetic in his expressive rendering of the verses in question. Undoubtably he has caught the meaning of what this passage is all about.

"Before him the primaeval giants writhe, under the ocean in their prison; the underworld lies open to his eyes, the nether regions are unveiled." (Job 26:5-6)

If this is not a reference to the fateful destiny of the Titans, I don't know what it is! It was the god Zeus who had won the battle (leading the Olympian gods against Cronos and the Titans), and had imprisoned them at the bottom of the ocean (Oceanos, which we now call the Atlantic). Yahweh, the Hebrew equivalent of Zeus, is said to be able to see right through the "covering" (the waters) and view "destruction" as if it were lying naked before him. Tartaros is the Greek name for this underwater prison (translated "hell" in II Peter 2:4 of the New Testament), but this term is not used in the Hebrew texts—it is not a Hebrew word. However, if there ever was a place where the Hebrews could have used a Greek loan-word in place of sheol, this would be it.

The only scholarly reference I've ever seen acknowledging this ancient Hebrew concept of a special "prison" or "hell" located beneath the sea is that of Dr. Alexander Heidel, Assyriologist and Member of the Research Staff of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He states unequivocally that: "The Hebrew Bible localizes the realm of the dead, or, rather, the realm of certain disembodied human spirits, within the innermost parts of the earth, below the sea." (Heidel, 1946; italics added, R.C.L.) In support of this, he quotes the very passage from the Book of Job which we have been analyzing.

The above reference to the Rephaim (giants), the descendants of Repha (Cronos), the agony of their imprisonment beneath the ocean, and the obvious reference to "destruction" covered by water is about as close as the Bible comes to mentioning the demise of Atlantis and the fate of its inhabitants. It is without doubt a reference to the war with the Titans, but whether or not this is actually a reference to Atlantis remains a matter of interpretation.

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