The Beasts of Atlantis

Plato Spoke of Them, but What Can They Tell Us About the Lost Civilization

A close reading of Plato’s dialogues concerning Atlantis reveals that he specified several animals connected in special ways to the oceanic empire. By examining them individually, they shed previously unconsidered light on its imperial capital.

Although he described the Temple of Poseidon in some detail, he told of only one ritual activity that took place there with ceremonial regularity. In the “Kritias” [4.(f),], we learn how the ten Atlantean rulers, representing various regions within their imperial network, convened together in the Temple of Poseidon alternately every fifth and sixth year—to honor the sacred numerals of male and female energy, respectively—during the late afternoon of a particu­lar holy day. Alone and without the assistance of priests or advisors, they “consulted on matters of mutual interest” (4f.119); i.e., the diplomatic, commercial and military concerns that primarily concerned the empire.

In all their decisions related to these issues they were guided by Poseidon’s ancient laws engraved on an orichal­cum pillar at the center of his temple. These injunctions were accompanied by “an oath invoking horrible curses on anyone who disobeyed it” (4f.120). But before any judgments could be passed, a special sacrifice was required to sanc­tify them. The ten monarchs began by forming a circle around the column, raising their hands in prayer to the sea-god that he might bless the offering they were about to make him.

They then repaired to an outside corral, where sacred bulls were allowed to roam freely, subduing one of them with staves and nooses only, because custom forbade the use of any metal utensils. Dragging their prey into the tem­ple, they used a sharp flint or obsidian blade to slit the beast’s throat atop the orichalcum pillar, allowing the blood to flow over its inscription.

Into a bowl of wine one clot of blood was dropped for each of the kings, who disposed of the carcass, lighted an al­tar fire, washed the pillar and bathed themselves. Thus refreshed, they drew golden cups into the bowl, poured a liba­tion over the fire, swore by Poseidon’s oath to give judgment according to his laws, and neither give nor obey any or­der contrary to them. With that, they drank to signify their pledge, each man dedicating his golden cup to the temple.

The kings’ ceremony appearing in Plato’s dialogue has a ring of authenticity beyond his power to invent, if only because it was mostly unlike the religious practices of his times. In fact, two of the golden cups—or something very much like them—were discovered in a beehive tomb for royalty known as a tholos at Vapheio, a region near Sparta in what is today southern Greece. Both date from the Late Bronze Age (the 16th to 13th centuries B.C.), and depict a shared scene: a man attacking a bull with staff and rope. Whether these cups were carried by survivors of the Atlante­an catastrophe or colonizers from Atlantis in the Aegean is not known. The cups nonetheless portray the same hunt described by the “Kritias,” but nowhere else in classical antiquity.

Moreover, the manner in which the Atlantean hunt was conducted seems to have derived from a remote, pre-civilized era prior to the introduction of metallurgy. This is in sharp contrast to Plato’s Atlantis, which he character­ized as a copper-, bronze-, silver-, and gold-rich economy. The ritualistic use of staves and nooses harkens back to a very early time—Neolithic, Paleolithic, perhaps even 16,000 years ago to the cave painters at places like Lascaux and Trois Freres—when Poseidon’s laws, which the ceremonial hunt was meant to commemorate, were first propounded.

Bull sacrifice implies astrological significance, specifically, the end of the Age of Taurus. It ended, according to Max Heindel (1865–1919), the famous Danish authority on the Zodiac, in 1658 B.C. (“The Message of the Stars,” NY: Cosimo Classics, 2006). For some scholars, his calculation is seen as remarkable, because it is virtually coincidental with what they believe to be the penultimate date for the destruction of Atlantis. These researchers point to the spe­cial significance of 1628 B.C.—a date which geologists have associated with a series of major, natural catastrophes which beset the earth, from a historically unprecedented eruption at the volcanic island of Thera-Santorini in the Ae­gean to its nuclear-like equivalent on the other side of the world in New Zealand.

The conventional view is that the late 17th century B.C. cataclysm drew a line in history separating the Old from the Middle Bronze Age. It was precisely within this period lasting until the end of the Late Bronze Age around 1200 B.C. that, according to this school, Plato set his account of Atlantis. (It should be pointed out, though, that such an argument is at odds with a more literal reading of Plato which places the destruction of Atlantis at around 9,000 B.C., a dating which has always disturbed orthodox thinking.) These revisionist scholars place much weight on the argu­ment that Plato could not have known that the Age of Taurus almost perfectly coincided with the global upheavals of 1628 B.C.

Still, it can be made to fit the kings’ sacrifice, because to them the victim was an astral bull whose slaughter meant the end of the Age of Taurus. In numerous other cultures—Minoan, Mycenaean, Hittite, Trojan, Assyrian, etc.—bull sacrifice was regarded as a prelude to renewal in the rhythm of growth. Taurus himself signified rejuvena­tion and revival.

In much later Mithraism, Taurus assisted in the creation of life by having his own throat cut, thereby enabling plants and animals to spring from his blood. His myth was reenacted in a rite called the taurobolium to commemorate the death and resurrection of the hero, Mithras, who impersonates the next age, and baptized initiates into his cult.

Drinking wine clotted with bull’s blood also occurred among other peoples. As late as the 15th century A.D., Turk­ish soldiers, following an ancient tradition, drank red wine mixed with bull’s blood before battle to imbibe strength and resistance.

Clearly, the Atlantean kings celebrated a tauroctony, in which bull sacrifice not only marked the close of the Age of Taurus, but also was their appeal to Poseidon against the recurrence of such an awful catastrophe that blasted the world in 1628 B.C. Plato’s description of this ritual demonstrates the authenticity of his account, which finds its ex­traordinary close parallels in ages of the zodiac, and comparative cultures. The thirty-year discrepancy between the close of the Age of Taurus and its contemporaneous global catastrophe means only that the calculations of either the geologists or Max Heindel, or both, are off by an insignificantly minute degree.

In the “Kritias,” Plato tells us that “there was (on the island of Atlantis) every kind of animal, domesticated and wild, among them numerous elephants” (4b.114). There were so many, apparently, that their tusks were an Atlantean construction material. Describing the Temple of Poseidon, Plato stated that “inside, the roof was ivory picked out with gold, silver, and orichalcum [i.e., high-grade copper]” (4c.116). Until the late 20th century, Atlantis-deniers who dismissed the sunken city as nothing more than an allegory for Plato’s utopian dream, scoffed at the very notion of el­ephants out in the Atlantic Ocean. One of their most prominent spokesmen, the science and science-fiction writer, L. Sprague DeCamp, held up “Plato’s preposterous pachyderms” in the 1954 edition of his book, “Lost Continents,” as “a sure sign that the Greek philosopher was spinning yarn.”

But a 1967 issue of “Science” magazine reported the discovery of elephant teeth from the Atlantic Continental Shelf between 200 and 300 miles off the Portuguese coast at more than 40 different dredge-site locations, some from depths of 360 feet. The teeth were recovered from submerged shorelines, peat deposits, sand banks caused by surface waves crashing against a beach, and depressions that formerly contained freshwater lagoons. These features prove that the area was formerly dry land. The “Science” writer concluded, “Evidently, elephants and other large mammals ranged this region during the glacial stage of low sea level of the last 25,000 years.”

Moreover, elephants are known to have inhabited the northwestern shores of Morocco, which faces Plato’s loca­tion for Atlantis on a line parallel with Gibraltar. Geologists recognize that a land bridge long ago extended from northwestern Africa into the Atlantic Ocean toward the areas from which the elephant teeth were found. With the gradual collapse of this land bridge the animals, which had migrated across it into territories since claimed by the sea, found themselves stranded on a number of islands. Hence, elephants in Atlantis. Unless he actually had access to an authentic document about that “sacred isle,” Plato could have never guessed that the beasts once inhabited a re­gion of the world presently covered by the ocean. This fact alone supports the veracity of his account.

Unlike the elephants, which were a natural part of the Atlantean landscape, horses were more probably introduced by man. In any case, the creatures played major roles in the cultural, spiritual and military life of Atlantis. According to Plato, a commanding officer “was bound to provide a sixth part of the equipment of a war chariot, up to a total compliment of 10,000, with two horses and riders and, in addition, a pair of horses without a chariot” (“Kritias,” 4e.119). In other words, the Atlanteans could field 20,000 horses for chariots, plus an additional 20,000 for cavalry. With such an armed force at their command, Plato’s depiction of Atlantis as a world power seems justified.

They apparently held the horse in high esteem: the Atlantean king of Portugal, according to Plato (“Kritias.” 4b., 114), was Elasippos, or “Kingly Horse-Rider.” His name survives in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, which, as late as the Roman Era, was still known as “Elasippos.” The earliest recognized woman of Atlantis was Leukippe, or “White Mare.” Although Plato tells us nothing more of Leukippe, her name at least implies something of the sacred, because it was a metaphor for the waves of the sea as they break toward shore. He stated that the Atlantean colossus of Posei­don stood in an immense chariot drawn by a team of winged horses, six in number (yet again the Sacred Numeral). Metaphysically, the animal appears to have represented the mystical force or divine energy of the ocean, as personi­fied in wave-horse imagery.

Around the base of the towering sea-god were smaller statues of boys “riding on dolphins, a hundred Nereids” (“Kritias.” 4e., 116). The dolphin was so revered by Plato’s fellow Greeks they protected it with animal rights’ legisla­tion; killing the creature was a capital offense punishable by death. Their most sacred site, the Delphic oracle, derived its name from the word “dolphin,” a term synonymous for “womb,” evidence that the Greeks understood that the creature was a mammal, not a fish.

Boys riding dolphins are still a familiar art theme, but the significance of their combination as Nereids is not gen­erally understood. The ancient Greeks believed that inter-species communication on a fundamental (telepathic?) level existed between boys and dolphins, because the animals were incarnations of Apollo, the sun god, the deity of light and enlightenment. While thus engaged in such a relationship, the children were said to have undergone significant spiritual transformation and growth, enabling them to eventually mature into extraordinary statesmen, high priests, or military leaders. There is something to be said for the fundamental correctness of all this, as the interaction be­tween dolphins in the wild and humans they often rescue at sea is well known.

In non-Platonic tradition, Atlantis was referred to as the Isle of the Blest, where a great serpent, Ladon, guarded the Tree of Life, its immortality-bestowing golden fruits attended by seven Hesperides, also called Atlantids, daughters of Atlas, or literally, “Atlantises.” Apparently, the authors of Genesis got their idea for the Garden of Eden from Greek myth. More cogent to our investigations, the Tree of Life was the human spinal column climbed by the kunda­lini serpent (Ladon) through the seven “chakras,” or energy centers (the Hesperides), signifying spiritual empower­ment and ultimately oneness with divinity. That this transcending yoga, best known today in its Hindu form, should have been associated by the ancient Greeks with the “Isle of the Blest,” identifies its place of origin in Atlantis, from which it spread with its culture-bearers, or the survivors of its destruction, to various other parts of the world.

For example, located near Locust Grove, in the Ohio Valley, is the Great Serpent Mound, the 1,254-foot-long earthen representation of a snake writhing in seven humps across a high ridge. It disgorges an “egg,” or possibly a fruit, from its gaping jaws. As such, the Ohio geoglyph is the kundalini serpent incarnate, uncoiling from a perfectly surveyed spiral, just as the yogic snake emerges from its coiled root chakra.

Creation of the Locust Grove effigy has been dated by archaeo-astronomers to 4,000 years ago, when its hoops were aligned, appropriately enough, with the Constellation Draco, the “Dragon,” undoubtedly according to the an­cient principle of As Above, So Below. Nor is the bioglyph’s Atlantean identity in question. The Mandan Indians, the earliest people known to have resided in the vicinity of the Great Serpent, said it was built by “foreigners” who pre­ceded them. These mound-builders traveled north into the Ohio Valley from the Gulf of Mexico. They were also the descendants of flood victims, when a terrible cataclysm shook the world to obliterate a former age. Interestingly, the Mandan celebrated the annual Okipa, or “Bull Dance,” an elaborate commemoration of the deluge with transparently Atlantean overtones.

Collectively, the animals of Atlantis go far in confirming the former reality of that lost civilization. They also tell us that its people possessed some profoundly metaphysical concepts, as universally true as they are eternal.


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