Once it is understood what was the true nature and scope of Hanno’s discoveries, it becomes possible to face the hoary problem of the location of the island of Atlantis described by Plato. Apparently the report of Hanno was immediately grasped by the legend mongers, as Pliny intimates: It is Hanno whom the majority of the Greek and Roman writers have followed in the accounts that they have published... The island of Atlantis was made the seat of an ideal perfect civilization, just as in a later age the discovery of America and of other new lands gave origin to similar speculations about ideal civilizations, a development which had a decisive influence on the course of thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Political philosophers became accustomed since the time of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke to think of government as based on a social contract into which men living in a state of nature had entered . . . Locke himself declared that ‘in the beginning all the world was America.’ Such thinking resulted in revolutionary ideas about the ideal society and social reforms; one of its products was the philosophy of Rousseau which so deeply affects our thinking today. Therefore, it is not surprising that the voyage of Hanno influenced Plato’s image of the ideal city.
The concept that the Ethiopians living at the end of the world were particularly wise was already current in the time of Homer. Plato states that when the Oceanus was navigable the island of Atlantis was against its mouth (Timaeus 24E). In the original conception Oceanus was a river that continued the Nile along the line of the Equator: the island of Atlantis of Hanno was placed where there should have been the mouth of this river that could no longer be found. Plato puts the island in line with the Pillar of Herakles; this is a confusion of the Pillar of the Sky (Ahoggar, Atlas) mentioned by Herodotus, with the Pillars of Herakles, influenced by the identification of Atlantis with the mythical island of the Hesperides which should be at the extreme west, outside the Pillars of Herakles. According to Plato (Critias 108E) the island of Atlantis created an impassable barrier that prevented sailing further; Hanno stopped at Atlantis, and the concept that one could not go beyond the Equator was still much alive in our age of discoveries.
The majority of modern classical scholars have interpreted Plato so as to make him appear to have written his dialogues in a state of mental frenzy and made pronouncements that are as profound as they are incomprehensible or absurd. By this they have provided a justification to pathological characters whose minds conform to this description. As a result books on the subject of the location of the Island of Atlantis mentioned by Plato, written by graphomaniacs with pseudoscientific delusions, appear at the rate of about one every year or every two years. Since classical scholars have presented Plato’s statements as being totally chaotic and self-contradictory, this has made it possible to place Atlantis anywhere on the surface of the earth and even at the bottom of the seas, since Plato reports that most of the territory of Atlantis was sunk under water. It would be probably easier to list the areas of the globe where Atlantis has not been placed, but I shall not try to draw such a map, since I do not know but a fraction of the literature on the subject, although I have perused more than one hundred books and essays specifically dedicated to the location of Atlantis. All I can say is that the explanations written by academic persons in their commentaries on Plato’s works are somewhat duller and less imaginative, but not more rational.
Plato deals with the Island of Atlantis in the dialogue Timaeus which is the one in which he sums up his ideas about the structure of the cosmos. The details about the physical and political organization of Atlantis are presented by the dialogue Critias which is a sort of an appendix to the Timaeus.
Assuming that Plato had a sane mind and wrote for an audience capable of sober understanding, it is possible to interpret his words by the statements of ancient geographers and by the modern data of geography. He states that there used to be a circular Island of Atlantis, which had a diameter of 127 stadia and that this island had a territory that was approximately rectangular with a width of 2000 stadia and a height of 3000 stadia. The Island and its territory disappeared under the sea because of convulsions of the earth, so that there remain only islands which are like the skeleton of a person who died wasted by disease. Ancient geographers give the name of Atlantis to Ilha São Tomé (Pliny VI 36, 199); hence this volcanic island must be the remainder of the original island. Ilha São Tomé is described today as being about 30 km from east to west and about 50 km from south to north. Calculating in geographical stadia, the Island of Atlantis had a diameter of 23.5 km. The city of the Island of Atlantis consisted of an island with a central core with a diameter of 5 stadia, surrounded by a canal of 1 stadion in width, enclosed by a circle of land of 2 stadia and another canal of 2 stadia, followed by a second circle and a third canal of 3 stadia each; all this was surrounded by an outer circular district extending to the sea with a width of 50 stadia. I shall not discuss here the cosmological meaning of this arrangement, except to point out that the Chinese, for the same cosmological reasons, constructed royal palaces and capital cities on similar principles. Ilha São Tomé is a volcanic island the craters of which suggest a circular pattern; in one of these craters there is a lake: the Lake at the top of Mount Lagoa Amelia. Similar lakes in the craters of volcanoes occur also in the neighboring islands.
Plato describes with numerical details what was the territory of Atlantis before it sank into the sea. Most striking is Plato’s description of the territory surrounding the island as a rectangle of 3000 by 2000 stadia. It consisted of a perfectly level plain surrounded by mountains on all sides, except the southern side. These mountains protected the plain from the northern winds. The mountains were particularly high on the north side; the entire region rose sheer out of the sea to a great height. These details are obviously inspired by the descriptions of Mount Cameroon. The level plain proves to be represented today by the sea to the east and to the north of Ilha São Tomé. The body of Ilha São Tomé extends from 0°24’N to 0°01’N and from 6°28’E to 6°46’E; one of the islets in its vicinity, Ilheu das Rolas, is exactly at the Equator at 6°32’E and may have been chosen as a geodetic point. We may start to count from 0°00’ of latitude at longitude 6°49’E; the plain extended to the east for 2000 stadia or 3°20’, reaching longitude 9°09’E. The eastern side of the plain followed more or less the present line of the shore from the Southern Horn of Hanno to the north and passed through the peak of Mount Cameroon, continuing along the line of the coast to Baia del Rey. The northern side of the square extended along parallel 5°00’N (3000 stadia from the Equator) reaching the north-western corner at 5°00’N, 6°49’E, where Hanno placed the Great Island.
The perimeter of the rectangle received rivers that streamed down from the mountains. Even though the rectangle was surrounded by mountains, it was a smooth plain, whereas the mountains stretched as far as the sea. The city of Atlantis itself was a circle with a diameter of two stadia, surrounded by water; it had harbors and it was reached by ships, and within it there was a smaller island also surrounded by water. The image of the islands that today remain as the bones of a dissolved corpse is inspired by the chain of high volcanic islands that go from Ilha São Tomé through Ilhado Principe and Isla Fernando Poo to Mount Cameroon, forming the diagonal of the square.
From the mountain there used to come great streams which were made to move along the landward sides of the rectangle by a great canal. The image of the great canal is inspired by the canals that are to be found in the delta of the Niger and which encircled the Great Island of Hanno. I do not need to enter into greater details, because anybody can recognize the realism of Plato’s description by examining a map of the area I have delimited, while reading his account.
Ptolemy had the same numerical data that were available to Plato. His figures for the extension of the lost territory of Atlantis were the same, but he placed the island at the north-western corner, whereas Plato had placed it at the south-western corner. In his Geography he places the middle point of the Theon Ochema, Chariot of the Gods, at 5°N, 19°E; this point 5° north of the Equator corresponds to the north-eastern corner of the rectangle of Atlantis according to Plato. The Hippodromos of Ethiopia is placed at 5°15’N, 14°E. Plato had said that all around the island of Atlantis there runs a hyppodrome. According to Ptolemy the Hippodromos is 5° to the west of the Chariot of the Gods, but 5° of Ptolemy correspond to 3°35’ in reality; according to Plato the width of the rectangle of Atlantis is 3°20’. Ptolemy gives the extreme position of the Hippodromos which extends 15’ to the north and 15’ to the west of the north-western corner of the rectangle of Atlantis. Plato had said that the island of Atlantis has a diameter of 127 stadia or 12°5’. Ptolemy, who always rounds the data to 5’, counts 15’ for the diameter of the Hippodromos. Plato had identified the island of Atlantis with São Tomé, whereas Ptolemy identified the Hippodromos with the Great Island of Hanno. Plato had achieved an intellectually more neat scheme, since São Tomé is at the Equator, but Ptolemy is more correct geographically since the culture described by Plato was located at the mouth of the Niger River.
Ptolemy mentions a river Masitholos originating from the Chariot of the Gods and ending at 6°40’N, 14° W; apparently he had before him a chart that marked a line running all along the northern side of the rectangle of Atlantis, as the border canal that Plato describes, and continuing to the north of the Hippodromos for 1°25’; this last section of the river is actually the branch of the Niger River going to the Great Island.
Plato had assigned to the Island of Atlantis a width of about 30 km, which is actually the width of the Ilha São Tomé from east to west; but since Ptolemy gave this same width to the Great Island we must search also for another explanation. The Great Island and the Island of Atlantis are on the meridian of the Atlas, that is, the massif of the Ahaggar. The eastern point of the Island of Atlantis and of the Great Island was assumed to be on the meridian of the easternmost major peak of the Ahaggar which is Adrar Edelkel at 6°49’E (the easternmost point of Ilha São Tomé, excluding the surrounding islets, is 6°44’E), but the massif of the Ahaggar extended from that point to the west and accordingly the corresponding islands extended to the west of meridian 6°49’E. The Great Island must have extended to the west of the present harbor of Degema at 6°49’E, and the Ilha São Tomé extends to 6°28’E.
Apparently Plato had before him a geographical description that gave the position of the Great Island of Hanno, gave its diameter as being 12’ or 120 stadia, and placed it 5° from the Equator and 3°20’ from the peak of Mount Cameroon. The Great Island was called Hippodromos of Ethiopia; apparently the term originated as an error of transcription for hypodromos, which refers to a harbor on the island accessible from the sea. Plato followed a document that contained the same error as the document followed by Ptolemy. Hanno had described the Great Island as containing a lake with an island. Plato combined the information about the Great Island with that applying to the Island of Atlantis, which is directly to the south at the Equator, and placed an hippodrome all around it, giving to it a cosmological meaning.
We can surmise what was the information contained in the source which was used by Plato and Ptolemy, because this information in some form must have reached Francis Bacon. He wrote his New Atlantis in 1627, when the text of Hanno’s Portulan had not yet been published, but although he refers to Plato, he reports facts that are not to be found in the Platonic dialogues, but seems to reflect some details of Hanno’s account.
In listing the nations that 3000 years earlier used to come to Great Atlantis, there is mentioned first of all that the Phoenicians, and specially the Tyrians, had great fleets; so had the Carthaginians, their colony, which is further west. Towards the east the shipping of Egypt, and of Palestine, was likewise great. Bacon adds a brief mention of China and America to what may have been the old version. To Atlantis there came also Persians, Chaldeans and Arabians, who were not sailors, but were carried by the people mentioned before. It could be that the original version mentioned the Carthaginians and then the Persian Sataspes who followed the route of Hanno with an Egyptian crew.
Bacon relates how one day the people of Atlantis saw in a cloudy night to the east of their island a pillar of light rising from the sea a great way up towards heaven. Bacon gives a Christian dress to the story, that is used to explain the miraculous conversion of the inhabitants of Atlantis to Christianity, but if his connecting Atlantis with a fiery pillar in the sky is a pure coincidence, it is a peculiar coincidence indeed.
Bacon in speaking of the island as described by Plato declares that the several concentric circles of rivers that formed the core of Atlantis were arranged in ascending order, so as to form a scala coeli. This is not in Plato, who certainly makes clear that the several canals were at level with the sea. But the notion of the stairs to heaven is in perfect agreement with what an ancient pivot of the sky was supposed to represent.
When Plato spoke of the island of Atlantis he was speaking of a place that was known and recognizable: the island of São Tomé. He places the island outside the Pillars of Hercules and specifies that when Oceanus was navigable it was against its mouth. In the original conception the Nile was continued by the river Oceanus that moved along the Equatorial line and joined the seas: this mythical river was no longer to be found by those who explored the area, but the Island of São Tomé, which extends to the north from the equatorial line would have been against the mouth of Oceanus. The estuary of Gabon, the gulf of the Southern Horn, must have been interpreted as the estuary of the former river Oceanus.
The statement that the river Oceanus no longer exists explains why Plato states that the convulsion that caused the ruin of the Island of Atlantis took place 9000 years before his time. The figure of 9000 years indicates that he computed the Great Year of the precession by the round figure of 24,000 years (2 human generations of 40 years to one degree of precession). There had been a time before Plato, which can be counted as 45° of precession or 3000 years, in which the Vernal Equinox was near Sagittarii, the point of the arrow of Sagittarius, with the result that the Equator, the Ecliptic, and the Milky Way crossed each other in one point. This was the happy age in which the three Gorgons were united in one place, forming a single pivot of the cosmos. At this time the Nile, which is the equivalent on earth of the Milky Way, originated from this pivot of the cosmos. At that time the territory of Buganda on the shores of Lake Victoria was the Garden of the Hesperides or Garden of Eden. This Garden, with the tree that holds the apple, (i.e., the cosmos), was placed at the Equator at longitude 32°38’E. Plato reasoned that since it is the course of the Milky Way that determines the course of the Nile, the river Oceanus that goes from Lake Victoria to the Southern Horn could not have existed at that time: the Oceanus must have existed 6000 years earlier when the Milky Way was at an angle of 90° with the Nile. In other words, the river Oceanus existed as earthly counterpart of the Milky Way 9000 years or 135° of precession before Plato’s time. At this time the Island of Atlantis was against the mouth of Oceanus and hence was the Garden of the Hesperides, the seat of the Gorgons, the pivot of the world.
But if the Island of Atlantis is considered the pivot of the cosmos, the Nile can no longer be the north-south axis of the Oikoumene. But that problem had already been solved because the position had been computed as being placed on the meridian at Mount Atlas, the Pillar of the Sky, which was already considered a pivot of the world. Longitude 6°49’ replaced longitude 32°38’ as the axis of the Oikoumene. Even though Plato claims that his information was derived from Egypt, it must have been the Carthaginians who performed these calculations that robbed the Egyptians of the privilege of living on the axis of the Oikoumene.
It was because of the Atlas–Pillar of the sky that the pivot of the cosmos was placed at Ilha São Tomé, called Island of Atlantis. A result of the procedure by which this island became significant is that when Plato lists the founder of Atlantis and his ten sons, he mentions the ancestors of the Berbers, who must have been originally associated with the Atlas, Pillar of the Sky. This fundamental fact was discovered by the geologist Paul Borchardt. The founder of the dynasty of Atlantis is called Euennor by Plato, which is a clear rendering of the name of Uenur, the mythical father of all the Berbers. The name of his daughter Kleito possibly corresponds to Kel-Ait, people of the south. She had five couples of twins whose names seem to represent the main tribes of the Berbers. In at least half of the cases the names can be certainly identified with Berber tribal names; in the other cases the identification is less certain, but the certain identifications prove the case. According to Plato, the first couple of twins was called Atlas and Gadeiros, that is, Eumelos in Greek. The name Atlas does not need explanation. Plato is reporting a confused interpretation when he states that Gadeiros means Eumelos in Greek: the true story is that the Carthaginian term agadir, accepted by the Berbers, corresponds to a native term mel. Pliny (IV 22, 122) explains the name of Cadiz as follows: Poeni Gadir ita Punica lingua saepem significante. This detail proves that Plato was drawing on a Carthaginian source. Plato also states that Gadeiros received as his portion the portion of the island near the Pillars of Herkules ; this proves that the original document did not place the descendant of Euennor in the Island of Atlantis, but in the geodetic square Kerne, Pillars of Herkules, Carthage.
The first in the second set of twins is called Ampheres. In Berber am means people ; Ptolemy mentions a Berber tribe called Pharusioi and today there is an area called Adrar of the Iphoras (i is a prefix for the plural). In the name of the second twin Euaimon one can recognize the word imanan, plural of amanokel, king, ruler ; today there is a tribe called Imohagh. The other names can be explained on similar principles. Plato explains that the five sets of twins ruled over several islands and part of the continent besides the Island of Atlantis and extended their power from the Pillars of Herkules along the Mediterranean to Libya and Egypt and to Tyrrhenia (Timaeus 25 B, Critias 114 C). It is obvious that Plato is speaking of the Berbers. He fits the story into the mythology of the Island of Atlantis by stating that this island was ruled by the descendants of Atlas. This proves that it is Mount Atlas (the Ahaggar) that links the Island of Atlantis with the Berbers. It is because of the Atlas of the Berbers that Ilha São Tomé acquired geodetic significance.
Paul Borchardt made the important discovery that the mentioned names are Berber tribal names because as a true scientist he began with the assumption that Plato was speaking sensibly about something that had a basis in reality. Borchardt also operated on the sound scientific ground that it should be possible to locate the island Atlantis on the map and that the physical features should correspond to those mentioned by Plato. But since he was impressed by his discovery of the occurrence of Berber names in Plato’s story, he searched too far in the north, and kept trying to discover the physical features described by Plato in Berber territory. He placed Atlantis in the massif of the Ahaggar; he was not too wrong in his reading of the texts, since the Ahaggar was a corner of the geodetic square Kerne—Ahaggar—São Tomé.
There was a direct link between the Atlas Pillar of the Sky and the Island of Atlantis, because the former was on the Tropic and hence corresponded to the Ecliptic, whereas the latter was the point at which there met the three circles of the cosmos: the Equator, the Basic Meridian, and the Ecliptic. The Island of Atlantis was the place where the three Gorgons, the three pivots, did overlap. This is the reason why the Island of Atlantis is composed of three concentric circles. On the third land belt there ran in a circle the hippodrome; since the ancient ritual race represents the race of the planets along the Ecliptic, this third belt corresponds to the Ecliptic.
An entire book case of literature dealing with the location of Plato’s Atlantis could be consigned to the flames, but in the ashes we would find a few valuable nuggets.
The prince of ethnologists, Leo Frobenius, examined the report of Plato from the angle of cultural traits and placed it in the delta of the Niger. He observed that a luxuriant vegetation, plants that grow like trees and provide food, drink, and smearing oil (palm oil), are found in the Niger Delta, that the same area produces the easily-spoiled fruit of the orchard tree (banana), and several spices, such as pepper. Also elephants used to live there. Yet the attempt of Frobenius to maintain that Plato described an African culture that flourished in the area in the thirteenth century B.C., was not successful.
It could be concluded that the territory of the deep end of the Gulf of Guinea was well known to the Berbers and that they had settled there for the purpose of trading. Hanno speaks of the area as familiar to his Berber interpreters. Perhaps the Berbers were using São Tomé as a safe trading post. It could be that the Berbers told the story that some of their ancestors had settled at São Tomé or one of the neighboring islands and that this island was most prosperous because of the local trade and that their settlement was destroyed by an eruption.
Perhaps we have a contamination of the story of the wealth of Atlantis told by the Berbers with the national history of the Berbers. It is probably perfectly correct to state that the Berbers were ruled by a confederation of kings and held sway as far as Egypt and as far as Tyrrhenia.
In Europe the limit of the Oikoumene was indicated by meridian 8°24’E, but in Africa this limit was indicated by meridian 6°48’E which goes from the Pillar of the Sky or Adrar Edekel to the mouth of the Niger (latitude 5°00’N) and to the island of São Tomé or island of Atlantis at the Equator. Since this left a rectangle between latitude 5°00’N and the Equator and between longitude 6°48’E and the western coast of Africa that was not filled by land, there was conceived the theory, reported byPlato, that the Bight of Biafra was once land, the rectangular territory of Atlantis destroyed by a cosmic catastrophe. In this gap the Egyptians placed their Elysian Fields. Since meridian 6°48’E is 1°36’ to the west of meridian 8°24’E, the width of the territory of Atlantis was reckoned as 3°12’, twice this difference (2000 geographic stadia in Plato). When Ptolemy says that Thule has a dimension north-south of 35’ (a round figure for 32’) he may be repeating the supposed dimension of the Island of Atlantis. São Tomé actually extends from 0°28’N to 0°01’ S. When he says that in longitude the width of Thule is 2°24’, which in our terms means 1°55’, he may be following a source that meant to give to Thule a dimension equal to the distance 1°56’ from meridian 8°24’E to the westernmost point of São Tomé which is at 6°28’E. However, I am inclined to suppose that one tried to find a correspondence between these dimensions based on the territory and the Island of Atlantis and the actual features of the Peninsula of Molde taken as Thule. Just where São Tomé touches the Equator, it presents the unusual geographical feature of the equivalent of a fiord. This feature together with the fiords of Thule may have suggested the conception, reported by Plato, that this Island of Atlantis was subdivided by canals that were branches of the sea. Those who in trying to locate Plato’s Island of Atlantis, have identified it with Thule, have not been entirely misguided.