Lost Realms: Following the Mythic Trail

Ancient Clues Point to a Missing History

My article about lost, ancient, civilizations, “Searching for Antilia and Hyperborea,” had just gone to press with Atlantis Rising #130 (July/August, 2018), when I stumbled upon a forgotten passage in Homer’s Odyssey that seemed to reference one of these kingdoms.

The bard tells of ‘Laestrygonia,’ like Hyperborea, a high, seafaring culture, somewhere very far away in the far north, “where shepherds bringing their flocks at night hail and are answered by their fellows driving out at dawn. For, in this land, nightfall and morning tread so closely on each other’s heels that a man who could do without sleep might earn a double set of wages, one as a neatherd [a cowherd who looks after bulls, cows, or oxen] and the other for shepherding white flocks of sheep. Here we found an excellent harbor, closed in on all sides by headlands facing each other at the mouth, so as to leave only a narrow channel in between.”

Most classical scholars assume ancient Greek knowledge of and travel through the outside world was confined to the Eastern Mediterranean. According to them, all the locations cited in the Odyssey may be found only in Italian and Aegean waters. If not, then they must be imaginary. But William Gladstone, university-trained as a classicist before becoming British Prime Minister in 1880, observed that the Odyssey “speaks most explicitly bona fides of the tradition on which the Poet proceeds, and for the latitude from whence it came; and it seems far from improbable that Iceland may have been the dimly perceived original of Laestrygonia, of which the site in the Odyssey is near the actual site of Denmark” (Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. Oxford University Press, 1858)

If so, then the pre-Homer myth of Hyperborea may have been based on Bronze Age or even earlier memories of a civilization that long ago blossomed in Iceland. His Laestrygonia, where “nightfall and morning tread so closely on each other’s heels,” compares with the world’s minimum daylight at Iceland, with no more than four and five hours in January and February. Additionally, Laestrygonia’s “excellent harbor, closed in on all sides by headlands facing each other at the mouth, so as to leave only a narrow channel in between,” perfectly describes Mjóifjördur, a major fjord on Iceland’s southeast coast.

It seems unlikely, then, that the Bard could have created a pair of remarkably coincidental parallels out of whole cloth. Was his Laestrygonia a match for Iceland? And were both merely different, much later, names for the mythic Hyperborea?

Iceland’s earliest, physical evidence for human habitation so far uncovered belongs to Irish and Scottish missionaries, dated to around 1,300 years ago, some sixteen centuries after Homer’s time. This apparent discrepancy between the Odyssey and archaeology may lie among Iceland’s own, natural process, which perpetually turn over its land surfaces in fold upon fold of successive lava flows. Given the island’s ongoing history of active volcanism over the last twelve thousand years, all trace evidence for any premodern culture would have been long ago subsumed by geologic generations of seismic layering. As such, future advances in earth-science technology may some day locate the remains of Homer’s lost Laestrygonia deep under Iceland’s volcanic crust.

Philologically, at least, Hyperborea also seems to echo in Hy-Breasail, yet another vanished civilization, this one part of Keltic prehistory. Some Atlantean veterans of their empire’s wars of foreign aggression returned to Hy-Breasail, as described by Old Irish folk tradition, where they are known as the Tuatha de Danann, ‘Followers of the Goddess Danu,’ an earth-mother deity. Until the late seventeenth century, Hy-Breasail was still indicated on Irish sea charts of the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

According to encyclopedist, Anna Franklin, “maps have even existed which usually depict it as round, divided in the centre by a river, leading to comparisons with Atlantis” (Lughnasa, Lear Books, 2010). She goes on to relate that, in Irish myth, “a red-hot arrow was fired” into Hy-Breasail before it was dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the sea-god, Manannan. This variation of the legend suggests a comet or meteor fall that brought about the final Atlantean destruction, an implication reemphasized by Manannan, the Celtic counterpart of Poseidon, identified by Plato as the mythic builder of Atlantis. “There are still families with that name (Breasail) living in parts of Clare and Galway counties, even today,” writes Irish historian Dr. Bob Curran (Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms. NJ: New Page Books, 2007).

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the modern South American country of Brazil derived its name from the abundance of brasa trees found there, not from any pre-Flood civilization. Taken collectively, ancestral islands such as Hy-Breasail combine for folk evidence on behalf of the Atlantean capital’s former existence. Long after that most infamous kingdom met its drowned fate in the mid-Atlantic, other civilizers made their impact on South America during pre-Columbian times. South America was not, however, devoid of overseas’ contacts long before the official Age of Discovery.

For decades, the insatiable conquistadors heard native rumors of El Ciudad de los Césares, the “City of the Caesars,” also known as Peru’s ‘city of the Patagonia.’ Said to have been founded by ancient Roman sailors fleeing civil unrest after Julius Caesar’s assassination and later shipwrecked at the Straits of Magellan, the city was supposed to be awash in gold, silver, and diamonds received from grateful Indians for Roman expertise in building the Incas’ extensive network of roads. Interestingly, an Inca aqueduct at Rodadero, Peru employs two tiers of rounded, stone arches often referred to as ‘true arches,’ according to American archaeologist, Gunnar Thompson, Ph.D. “This style of architecture was a characteristic of the ancient Mediterranean. Consequently, the Rodadero aqueduct represents a strong argument for Greco-Roman cultural diffusion.”

While El Ciudad de los Césares has not been not found, nor is it ever likely to be, it may nevertheless echo related, tangible discoveries of an ancient presence on America’s eastern shores, such as a Roman shipwreck investigated by underwater archaeologist, Robert Marx, off Rio de Janeiro, in 1976. Elizabeth Will, a professor in Classical Greek History at the University of Massachusetts, scientifically analyzed amphorae Marx retrieved from the vessel. She positively identified them as part of a 1,750-year-old cargo from the Mediterranean port of Zilis. Marx went on to find a bronze fibula—a garment clasp—in Brazil’s Guanabarra Bay.

Further north, near the Mexican Gulf Coast, bricks that went into building the Maya city of Comalcalco were stamped with second century Roman mason marks, while its terracotta plumbing—unique in all Mesoamerica—was identical to contemporaneous pipes found in Roman-occupied Israel. These and similar finds—such as the ceramic representation of a bearded European with Roman-style haircut and wearing a typically Roman cap retrieved during the excavation of a second century pyramid at Caliztlahuaca, Mexico—suggest that accounts of the “City of the Caesars” may have some basis in pre-Columbian contacts.

While the conquistadors were searching Peru for the “City of the Caesars,” their comrades in North America marched after the Seven Cities of Gold. Sometimes collectively referred to as Quivira or Cíbola, their story pre-dated the Spanish Conquest by 350 years. It began in 1150, as seven bishops and their congregations fled Spain by ship, carrying away certain religious relics before the Moors could seize the city of Mérida. Although the refugees were never heard from again, rumor had it that they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to land on another continent, where they set up seven cities, one for each bishop, soon growing very rich in gold and precious stones.

The legend persisted over the centuries but abruptly swelled to hysterical proportions with the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. The legend was reinforced in 1519, when Emperor Moctezuma-II told Hernán Cortés that prior to their occupation of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs dwelt north of the imperial capital at a place called Chicomoztoc. With its translation as ‘the Place of the Seven Caves,’ the Spanish concluded that the Aztecs’ former residence could have been none other than Cíbola’s Seven Cities of Gold. In reality, Chicomoztoc was either Rock Lake, in faraway Wisconsin, or a large, if relatively humble, settlement built around a height near the present-day town of San Isidro Culhuacan, sixty miles northeast of the Valley of Mexico.

In either case, there was no gold to be found in Rock Lake or San Isidro Culhuacan. Spurred on by inflated traditions of Chicomoztoc and other local tales describing far-off cities overflowing with riches, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza dispatched an expedition led by Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan monk, in search of Cíbola and Quivira. After ten months, de Niza returned to claim he had visited a populous urban center where its residents ate from dishes of gold and silver, decorated their houses with turquoise, and adorned themselves with enormous pearls, emeralds, and other stunning gems.

Sure that the Seven Cities of Gold were to be had for the taking, de Mendoza ordered a large military contingent to conquer the famous Cíbola and Quivira. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who set out at the head of the Viceroy’s well-equipped army from Culiacán on April 22, 1540, led the expedition. But by the time he reached the Arizona desert, Coronado realized that the Franciscan monk had lied.

Contrary to the elusive splendor of Cíbola or Quivira, Sodom and Gomorrah are still regarded as the wickedest cities that ever existed. Or did they? Their Old Testament story recounts that they were actually two of five urban centers, along with Admah, Zeboim, and Bela (also called Zoar), known collectively as “the Cities of the Plain”, because they lay together on the plain of the Jordan River. In the Tanach version, Yahweh makes up his mind to destroy Sodom for the iniquity of its residents, then dispatches a pair of angels to warn the city’s only virtuous citizens, Lot, his wife, and children. Earlier, Paltith, his daughter, gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city, for which she was burned alive by the Sodomites, as described in the Talmud and the Book of Jasher. Her unnamed friend they smeared with honey and then hung her from the city wall until she was stung entirely to death by bees.

While the heavenly messengers were staying at Lot’s house, a crowd outside called to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, and let us know them.” Lot refused to give the visiting angels to the inhabitants of Sodom. He offered them his two daughters instead, but the people did not accept the girls. His fellow townspeople must have been particularly degenerate for Yahweh to have singled him out as the city’s only righteous man, because, according to the Bible, Lot was not only willing to hand over his own children to the mob, but committed incest with them while drunk.

The Roman Era Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, writes how “God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance, and not only to uproot their city, but to blast their land so completely that it should yield neither plant nor fruit whatsoever from that time forward.” But while Sodom and Gomorrah were bombarded with “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven,” the angels instructed Lot and his family that in leaving Sodom they were to avert their gaze from its imminent destruction. Lot’s wife, however, unable to control herself, looked back at the dying city and was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt. In the Qur’an’s version, she was deliberately left behind to perish along with the rest of the Sodomites, because she refused to renounce polytheism.

The Old Testament specifically locates Sodom and Gomorrah near the Dead Sea in the southern limit of the lands held by the Canaanites on the Jordan River plain, a position affirmed by Strabo, who wrote that locals living near Moasada (probably Masada) reported “there were once thirteen inhabited cities in that region of which Sodom was the metropolis.”

Even so, archaeologists have never been able to identify the remains of either city. In 1850, the French antiquarian, Ferdinand de Saulcy, declared that a limestone and salt hill at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea known as Jabal (Mount) Usdum, together with its nearby ruins of Kharbet Usdum, were ancient Sodom. Excavations in the next century proved him wrong. A volcanic eruption is often posited for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, because they sat along a major fault, the Jordan Rift Valley, the northernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley of the Red Sea and East Africa.

Yet, geologists determined that no volcanic activity occurred there within the last 4,000 years. They have, however, confirmed that the area was catastrophically bombarded with meteoric debris generated by a passing comet in 1198 BCE, the same period that witnessed the final destruction of a possible Bronze Age Atlantis (as I described in my 2004 book Survivors of Atlantis, Bear & Company), a parallel with special significance, as we will soon see. A renowned scholar of ancient linguistics, Archibald Sayce, translated an early twelfth century BCE Akkadian poem memorializing a number of unnamed urban centers obliterated by a rain of fire from the sky. Written from the point of view of someone who escaped with his life, it appears to provide an eyewitness account of the historic cataclysm that may have claimed the biblical ‘Cities of the Plain.’

In 1973, archaeologists Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub excavated Bronze Age ruins near the Dead Sea. Bab edh-Dhra, Numeira, es-Safi, Feifeh and Khanazir all showed evidence of extensive burning and abrupt evacuation. Although these sites generally fit the profile of Admah, Bela, Zeboim, Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical story may allude to something altogether different. Three years later, however, an Italian archaeolinguist, Giovanni Pettinato, found that a cuneiform tablet from the newly discovered library at Ebla contained the names of all five of the Old Testament cities, listed in the same order as provided by Genesis.

Pettinato discovered that the original name of Sodom was Si-da-Mu, while Gomorrah – I-ma-ar – is based on the root gh m r, which means to “be deep,” or “copious (water).” These indications suggest that the lost cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will never be found on the plain of the Jordan River, because they are instead under “copious” fathoms of seawater. As such, Sodom and Gomorrah are biblical allegories, respectively, for the vanished cities that belonged to the Atlantean Empire in antediluvian times.

To be sure, comparisons with Plato’s account are unavoidable: Zeus and Yahweh were alike determined to utterly destroy both cities with celestial fire for the degeneracy of their inhabitants. Although the sea finally enveloped Atlantis, Zeus was, after all, a sky-god. Meanwhile, Plato prefigured the destruction he did not describe with talk of Phaeton, “a mythical version of the truth that there is, at long intervals, a variation in the course of the heavenly bodies, and a consequent widespread destruction of fire of things on the Earth.”

If this interpretation of the sinful Cities of the Plain is correct, then at least two of our lost civilizations—Hy-Braesail or Atlantis—have come full circle with the like fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.


CAPTION: The fleet of Odysseus destroyed by the Laestrygonians. (based on a wall-painting from 1000 BC, Vatican Museum, Rome)

By Frank Joseph