For those of you interested, the point of discussion here is whether Atlantis, if it existed at all, lay somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean just off the European coast. I took a closer look at Plato's original account and came up with a different interpretation altogether. Those of you who are familiar with Greek, please let me know what you think. For instance, is the translation rendered on the quoted website representative of other translations, and are the other/different versions of the Greek text available elsewhere?
According to Plato (428 BCE), the mystical island of Atlantis lay (just) beyond the Pillars of Hercules, generally assumed to be mountainous outcrops on opposite sides of the Strait of Gibraltar. The Rock of Gibraltar has been identified as one, but the location of the other ‘pillar’ remains disputed.
The famous passage from Plato’s Timaeus (24e) in English reads http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillars_of_Hercules
“…both for magnitude and for nobleness. For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot. For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles,' there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together
; and it was possible for the travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent…”
A Greek version of the sentence about the Pillars of Hercules can be found here http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0179&layout=&loc=Tim.+24e
“nêson gar pro tou stomatos eichen ho kaleite, hôs phate, humeis Hêrakleous stêlas, hê de nêsos hama Libuês ên kai Asias meizôn”.
A translation of each word can be viewed by clicking on the word (at the link provided), but for ease of reading I have included the translations directly below (of the sentence in bold italics above):
“nêson [island] gar [for] pro [before] tou [the / that] stomatos [mouth] eichen [to have / to hold] ho [the / that] kaleite [call, summon], hôs [this / that] phate [declare / make known], humeis [you yourselves] Hêrakleous [Heracles / Hercules] stêlas [a block of stone], hê  de [but] nêsos [island] hama [at the same time] Libuês [Libya] ên [to be / exist] kai [and] Asias [Asia] meizôn [larger]”.
It appears though that a completely different interpretation of the Greek text listed above is possible when other interpretations of key words are considered. The word nêson actually refers to a small island or islet (Strong’s Greek Concordance #3519, nesion), whereas nêsos refers to a (larger) island (Strong’s #3520). The word pro can mean either in front of (position) or before (in time).
The Greek word for pillar is stulos
, which is similar but not identical to either stêlas or even stele. The latter two words are not to be found in any of Strong’s Concordance, the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, the Oxford Greek Minidictionary or the Oxford Greek-English Learner’s Dictionary. That is however not to say that it does not exist, and I have indeed been able to find an interpretation of the word stele as http://www.wordinfo.info/words/index/info/view_unit/2031
“Greek: an inscribed stone slab; a block of stone, gravestone; a column, a pillar…”
It therefore seems that stêlas should be interpreted as an inscribed block of stone, possibly even a gravestone, rather than a pillar or pillars as it is understood today.
Crucially, the word stomatos
in classical Greek can mean mouth, an opening (in the earth) or chasm.
This brings us to the last of the twelve labours of Hercules, the capture of Cerberus from Hades http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerberus
“He found the entrance to the underworld at Tanaerum (Cape Tainaron, Peloponnese peninsula, Greece) … In the underworld, Hercules met Hades and asked his permission to bring Cerberus to the surface, which Hades agreed to if Hercules could overpower the beast without using weapons. Hercules was able to overpower Cerberus and proceeded to sling the beast over his back, dragging it out of Hades through a cavern entrance in the Peloponnese.”
Hercules is therefore associated with an opening in the earth, leading to the underworld, and the ‘pillars’ of Hercules may be a reference to an ancient belief that the entrance to the underworld, as supposedly discovered by Hercules, was demarcated by inscribed stone blocks. In a lost passage of Pindar (552 BCE) quoted by Strabo (64 BCE), Pindar calls these pillars the ‘gates of Gades’ and asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles, suggesting that the pillars were in ancient times indeed associated with an entrance to the underworld.
With this background, it is possible to translate the original text in an entirely different context,
“For (long) before that little island (Peloponnese, effectively an island as the land bridge at Corinth is less than 6km wide) that has the opening to the underworld (i.e. at Tanaerum) that beckons (us all, i.e. death), which you Greeks declared to be the Grave(stone) of Heracles, (there once) existed an ‘island’ which was larger than Libya and Asia together.”
Solon, through the words of Plato, therefore appears to have been mocking the Greeks, who believed that the entrance to the underworld was to be found on their territory. If so, it would imply that the location of Atlantis would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Strait of Gibraltar, and if it indeed existed, it could have existed anywhere on the planet. That would include any place in the Atlantic Ocean, even down to Antarctica, a ‘distant point in (right at the end of, in fact) the Atlantic Ocean’.