The author and researcher Jason Colavito made a Bachelor of Arts at Ithaca College (Ithaca/New York) with a focus on both anthropology and journalism. In 2010 he started his Website and blog, There, he regularly debunks pseudoscience, especially Fake News concerning ancient history, with an eye on intersections of pseudohistory and pop culture. Jason Colavito has published several books over the years, and has written numerous articles in important and less important magazines and newspapers. He has been a consultant for TV programs such as National Geographic or the History Channel, and also for major museums.
Jason Colavito is – without any doubt – capable of elaborating a scientific topic in a convincing manner, with substance, clear logic and transparent documentation of sources, and he often adds additional interesting aspects and considerations no one has seen before him. Altogether, Jason Colavito is a capable debunker of pseudo-science, and it is often worth reading what he has to say, even if you disagree.
Nevertheless, Jason Colavito is failing on the question for Plato's Atlantis. How he is failing and why he is failing will be analyzed in the following.
Please note, that this analysis is not intended to "destroy" Jason Colavito. The idea of "destroying" dissenters is childish. The point here is to offer necessary and legitimate criticism, so that this criticism can have the effects that it has in a free society. Moreover, in our days it is not an isolated case, but the normal case, that authors – even scientific authors – fail on Atlantis because the subject is so complex that only a few have an overview of it.
As a basis for this analysis, we will draw on a whole series of publications by Jason Colavito:
If you find the factual analysis too dry to read all at once, you can skip to the "Interim Result" and read on later. Please note, that it is essential to clarify the factual arguments.
On p. 4 of his book "Golden Fleeced", Jason Colavito discusses the problem of handing down the information about Atlantis over time. First he says, that there is a need of "proposing a plausible method of transmission". But then he changes the wording, and suddenly he talks about "proving": "we would need to prove ... We would also need to prove ..." etc.
Here we have the classical case of a wrong attribution of the burden of proof. The burden of proof can rarely be attributed only to one side, if the case is not clear. Clear is only that the literalist reading of Plato's Atlantis has no chance to be real. But when interpreting Plato's Atlantis in its historical context, as it should be, nothing is clear anymore. When it comes to the debated concept of "Platonic Myths", or to literary devices which were developed only centuries after Plato, or to the typical errors concerning history and geography in Plato's time, nothing is easy anymore.
In questions concerning antiquity, certainty will most probably never be reached, not for this side and not for that side. The burden of proof has to be distributed wisely on the basis of reason, under the perspective to hit the ancient reality as close as possible, and not to exclude realistic possibilities by unrealistic claims for 100% proof. It is absolutely justified to claim more convincing explanations for e.g. the question of the alleged age of 9,000 years of Atlantis, but for the question of the transmission of the information from Solon to Plato, plausibility may be enough, as Jason Colavito himself indicated in his introductory sentences. In any case, the question of the burden of proof should be handled with care, should not be answered with one-sidedness but according to reasonable requirements, and should not be overlooked or even be confused as we can see it here.
Above all, it is not permissible to place 100% of the burden of proof on Atlantis supporters considering that the Atlantis story looks entirely historical in its historical context and does not describe a wonderland, while Atlantis sceptics see no need to present any proof for their vague hypotheses which are regularly based on arguments that have long since been refuted – or even to take the ludicrous position that one must first prove for 100% that Atlantis is real before one is allowed to look for whether it may be real.
On p. 4 f., Jason Colavito says, that there is allegedly "not a single scrap of evidence ... nothing that indicates Egyptian ... knowledge of anything like Atlantis prior to 360 BCE."
This is of course a premature conclusion. Since we do not know which ancient civilization was Atlantis, we cannot say whether the ancient Egyptians preserved knowledge about it or not. Most probably, this premature statement is based on the silent assumption to follow a literalist reading of Plato's Atlantis story, because only then such a bold statement would be correct. But this is highly unscientific. Ancient texts have to be interpreted in their historical context, which will reveal typical mistakes and misunderstandings of the time. Only on the basis of such an understanding it will be possible to start comparing Atlantis with known civilizations. Think only of ancient Egypt as described by Herodotus: It had allegedly an age of 11,340 and more years. Without seeing through Herodotus' mistake, we would never be able to identify Herodotus' Egypt with the real Egypt, which came into being only around 3,000 BC. Jason Colavito himself says that the description of Troy was distorted, on p. 6. The same is surely true for Atlantis, if it existed.
On p. 5, Jason Colavito contrasts the Atlantis story with the Iliad, which shows several genuine Bronze Age information. Plato's Atlantis, on the other hand, allegedly does not contain any Bronze Age details, says Jason Colavito.
This is simply not true. Very typical for the Bronze Age are large numbers of chariots in the army, as in Atlantis. The chariots of the Iron Age, as they were used by the Persians, were scythed chariots, whereas Plato describes two different types of chariots, and none of it is a scythed chariot. Also for the Iliad, the descriptions of chariots are considered typical for the Bronze Age. Then there is the description of the bull cult which resembles very closely the cultic rituals of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization. Or think of the fact that Plato correctly described that the Greeks once had the knowledge of writing but lost it. It is only true. Of course, all these aspects of the Atlantis story could theoretically be explained without the Bronze Age. But this is true for the Bronze Age aspects in Homer's Iliad, too.
On p. 5, Jason Colavito asks the question, why the Greeks of the classical age did not know almost anything about the Mycenaean era, while "the same people somehow retained street-level knowledge of Atlantis but not their own cities?"
This is a strange question, since according to Plato, the knowledge about Atlantis was allegedly preserved in Egyptian archives, not in Greece. The Greeks themselves did not remember this time. This is exactly the very claim of Plato's Atlantis dialogues: That it is possible to look far more back in time by reading in the Egyptian archives than the Greeks themselves could look back. – Maybe Jason Colavito's question is based on a mistake often made by Atlantis sceptics: It is the erroneous assumption that the founding of the Egyptian city of Sais 1000 years after the founding of the city of Athens would mean that the Atlantis story would have been passed down orally (!) among the Greeks (!) for 1000 years (!) before it was written down in the Egyptian Sais. But this is wrong. At the heart of the error lies a confusion of Egypt and Sais. Egypt of course existed (in the eyes of the ancient Greeks) for much longer, at least 10,000 years, as Plato, for example, confirms in the Laws (Laws II 656e), and as all ancient authors at Plato's time assumed. The error of the Atlantis sceptics can also easily be recognized by the fact that none of this is explicitly written in Plato' text: If Plato had really wanted to make such an extraordinary statement about 1000 years of oral tradition in Greece, then he would have written it explicitly.
On p. 6, Jason Colavito writes, that Schliemann could find the city of Troy though the description was biased. And that many other sources also wrote about the city of Troy, among them Hittite texts calling Troy "Wilusa". Yet the Egyptians are silent about Atlanteans.
This is again a very premature conclusion. As Jason Colavito says himself for the city of Troy, the problem is the distorted description. And therefore, it is not so clear whether nobody else wrote about Atlantis. The problem is the identification of known historical places and events with Atlantis. Of course the Egyptians did not write about "Atlanteans" because this was not their name. But neither did the Hittites wrote about "Troy" or "Ilion", but about "Wilusa". Some research has to be invested before you can say that "Wilusa" meant "Ilion", and it is reasonable to expect the same for Atlantis. And, by the way, not every modern researcher accepts this identification. But anyway, there are indeed several events in Egyptian history which are candidates for Atlantis.
On p. 7, Jason Colavito writes, that "Even the ancient authors themselves were fairly certain Plato made it all up."
This is completely wrong. Known ancient authors like Theophrastus, Crantor, Strabo, or Posidonius, were all in favour of the existence of Atlantis. This is true also for Platonists who were in struggle with certain Christians who considered Atlantis an invention because its age of 9,000 years did not fit to their reading of the Bible which made these Christians believe in an age of the world of only 6,000 years. Also many Neo-Platonists in Late Antiquity assumed Atlantis to be real. The first Atlantis sceptic known by name appeared only 500 years after Plato. And no, there is no explicit statement by Aristotle against the existence of Atlantis. For details, see the book "Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis" by Thorwald C. Franke 2016, 2nd enhanced edition 2021, and for Aristotle in particular see "Aristotle and Atlantis" by Thorwald C. Franke.
On p. 7, Jason Colavito writes, that "in absence of any evidence ... we must conclude that Atlantis was ... fictional ...".
As we have seen, one cannot claim that no hints and connections at all can be found. Moreover, it is exaggerated to demand "evidence" right away. Just because there is no "evidence" that Atlantis was a real place, to conclude that it must therefore certainly be fictional is simply a false conclusion. – Here again, Jason Colavito fails in distributing the burden of proof correctly. It may be quite reasonable to be sceptical and to judge it unlikely that Atlantis existed, and it may be justified that the burden of proof may be attributed more to the side of the Atlantis searchers. But the burden of proof is not completely on their side.
There are also many implausibilities connected with the assumption that Plato fabricated the story: Didn't Plato follow a program of truth? Why did Plato connect a fabricated story so closely with very serious stuff? And if you assume a myth of deception, a Noble Lie, then again several nasty questions arise. It is not so easy with a fabricated Atlantis story as many Atlantis sceptics think. But they are completely silent about their share of the burden of proof.
In the end, it would have been acceptable if Jason Colavito would have called it e.g. "likely" that Atlantis was an invention by Plato, and would have declared openness for better answers to the question. But there is no reason for a strict judgement in favour of an invention. Not at all. What can strictly be excluded are those pseudoscientific Atlantis hypotheses who think of an Atlantis around 10,000 BC. But this is not what Jason Colavito said.
On p. 7, Jason Colavito writes that Plato meant Atlantis as a fictional double for Athens.
This looks as if Plato would have explicitly expressed his intention with the Atlantis story. But he did not. To be precise, the Atlantis dialogues express the exact opposite: that it was a real story. The claim that Plato meant Atlantis as a fiction, is first of all only a claim. The burden of proof is also on the side of the Atlantis sceptics.
On p. 8 and 10, Jason Colavito refutes Richard Freund's hypothesis of Atlantis in Spain by applying the literalist reading to Plato's Atlantis story: The island is not large enough, the exact pattern of concentric rings is missing, and the civilization in focus did not exist 9,000 years before Solon and Plato, but is much younger.
Granted: All these are legitimate questions, and Richard Freund who put forward this hypothesis did not answer them in any satisfying way. But of course, Jason Colavito knows that there are better answers, and that applying a literalist reading instead of a historcial-critical reading is simply unscientific. Plato did for sure not want to point to the end of the ice age, but to a time after the foundation of Egypt, even if he invented the Atlantis story. Atlantis sceptics who insist on a literalist reading of the 9,000 years are equally pseudoscientific as Atlantis searchers who assume that Atlantis existed 9,000 years before Solon's and Plato's time. The same is valid for sizes. Just think of ancient Greek geographers who really assumed vast continents beyond the sea because of a theory of balance on the spherical earth. They really believed such things and misunderstandings from Egyptian sources had credibility. The same is true concerning the mud in the sea in front of Gibraltar, allegedly a remainder of the sunken island. Even Aristotle believed that this mud existed. If Plato invented the Atlantis story, he did not invent a wonderland, this is safe to say. Besides the fact that Greek historians such as Herodotus made mistakes concerning times and sizes of comparable dimensions. What looks like an invention is in fact a mistake: This is a big difference! Therefore, it is really not so easy to say whether Atlantis was meant a real place or not.
In a blog entry of 27 April 2013, Jascon Colavito posits in passing that current attempts to consider Atlantis as real would blur the line between science and pseudoscience: "Blavatsky began to destabilize the distinction between science and science fiction, between history and mythology – something also seen in the contemporary claims for the reality of Atlantis – and thus, a century early, inaugurated what would become postmodernism’s attack on the authority of science."
It is of course wrong that really all current attempts to interpret Atlantis as a real place are pseudoscientific. Then John V. Luce, Eberhard Zangger, and Herwig Görgemanns are also pseudoscientists. In the comments section of the blog I tried to make clear – independent of any concrete Atlantis hypothesis – that the question about the reality of Atlantis is not as easy to answer as many think.
To which Jason Colavito replied curtly: "Try asking why the same people who want to read Atlantis as real somehow don't think much of Panchaea, an equally fictitious lost continent that Euhemerus also presented as a historical reality. The answers can be quite instructive."
Here, Jason Colavito fails to see that Euhemerus' text is quite easily recognized as fiction. The signals of fiction are clear in this case, but not in the case of Atlantis. The only question is, whether Euhemerus was inspired by Plato's Atlantis story, or not, and if so, what does this mean. As Franco De Angelis and Benjamin Garstad pointed out in 2006, the pattern for the invention of Euhemerus' Panchaea was most probably not Atlantis but something completely different, see De Angelis et al. (2006). The argument presented here by Jason Colavito is one of these superficial and brash dismissals of the Atlantis question, which do not work if looking below the surface of the argument.
When I put forward, that the Atlantis story is not meant to work like Plato's Analogy of the Cave, but that in case of Atlantis it is allowed to ask the question whether this would work if it would be invented, and that you cannot prove political theory by making up history, because only proving in real history works, Jason Colavito ansered: "I can't agree with you that Plato's Timaeus and Critias fail to work if Atlantis were fictional; nor can I agree that political theory cannot be illustrated with fiction. Immediately Utopia comes to mind. By your logic, it sounds like you'd also be asking us to believe Utopia was a real place."
Again, the work Utopia by Thomas Morus is clearly indicated as an invented story, even by its title: Ou-topos = Non-place. This cannot be said of Plato's Atlantis. If the author of a political theory invents a story which is claimed to be true and which is claimed to show that the political theory works, and which many ancients read as a real story, then this is simply a betrayal of the readers. One can certainly not say that the readers of the dialogues will have "understood" this. No. Therefore, several scholars see the Atlantis story as a myth of deception, a Noble Lie (which runs into other problems, but not more of this here). To put Thomas Morus' Utopia and Plato's Atlantis on the same level is just another one of these superficial and brash dismissals of the Atlantis question, which do not work if looking below the surface of the argument.
In a blog entry from 04 April 2015, Jason Colavito analyzed the statements of Plato's Atlantis story about primeval Athens. He concludes: "there isn’t a single detail of the supposedly Mycenaean Athens described by Plato that isn’t either (a) wrong for the date or (b) observable from the ruins Plato could have visited and seen himself in 360 BCE. Therefore, I can only conclude that Plato did not receive his information about Athens from a genuine historical report preserved by Egyptian priests and passed on to Solon around 600 BCE."
This is right and wrong at the same time. The question of date, the 9,000 years, has been discussed above. The argument of the 9,000 years is really a problem for Atlantis sceptics because it often gives them the impression that the whole story is not worth it and makes them stop thinking too early. Big mistake! But there is another problem: It is obvious also from other parts of the Atlantis story that Plato enriched the story by his own conclusions. These enrichments are not meant as fancy embellishments but as valid conclusions, i.e. what Plato really believed to have happened. It is true that no information from Egypt was necessary to invent, or conclude, many parts of the description of primeval Athens. They may have been concluded by Plato rather than found in an old Egyptian text. But this does not mean that there was no such Egyptian text. To the contrary: Why putting forward valid conclusions in close connection with a mere invention? It is anyway doubtful whether the Egyptian text talked of Athens. If there was such an Egyptian text, then it would have talked of Mycenae as the main city in Greece at the time, as Zangger pointed out correctly. And astonishingly, it still fits the description somehow, maybe even better.
In a blog entry from 07 August 2016, Jason Colavito wants to see elements of Babylonian astrology and the Near Eastern flood myth in Plato's Atlantis story.
This all has to be denied. The high numbers of years do not go back to Babylonian sources, but to misinterpretations of chronology from Egyptian sources, as can be seen with Herodotus. And the Near Eastern flood myth concerned the whole earth, and a pair of human beings is in focus which survives in a boat until the flood recedes – nothing of this can be found in Plato's Atlantis flood story: The Atlantis flood is only regional, there are no survivors, and the flood does not recede. Atlantis remains sunken.
In a blog entry from 21 July 2021, Jason Colavito supplements his argument in favour of the Near Eastern flood myth as inspiration for the Atlantis story with god Zeus deciding to destroy the morally corrupt Atlantis.
First of all, most classicists compare this to the Divine Council of the Olympian gods in Homer's epics, not to Near Eastern flood myths. Then, contrary to what Jason Colavito believes, we find indeed a similar Divine Council in Egyptian literature, in the "Book of the Heavenly Cow". Then again, it is not fully clear whether Zeus really decides to destroy Atlantis since the story breaks off. And finally, as already said, in Near Eastern flood myths the destruction hits all living creatures except selected few who survive, while the destruction of Atlantis is total and the flood does not even recede afterwards. (Because it is not a flood but an island which sinks: Big difference!)
In a blog entry from 07 August 2016, Jason Colavito says that there would be no typical Egyptian elements in the Atlantis story.
There are indeed typically Egyptian elements in the story. Of a sunken island we read in the Egyptian tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. Asia and Libya are the "canonical" enemies of Egypt. Floods and earthquakes were known in Egypt. Especially the attitude and the mistakes typical for the Late Egyptian period are reflected in the Atlantis story. If it is an invention, it is a very good invention. – Last but not least: The real question is not whether there are Egyptian elements in the story, but whether there are Atlantean elements in the story!
In the blog entry from 07 August 2016, Jason Colavito does not criticize that the Atlantis hypothesis of Edwin Swift Balch "dismisses many of Plato’s details as exaggerations or fabrications, either from Plato himself, his alleged source Solon, or his alleged source, the Egyptian priests." Colavito even says: "For its time, this was a very good argument".
This is strange. You would think, that the dismissal of details should be critized as cherrypicking. But it does not happen, here. Because the dismissal of many details plays into the hands of Jason Colavito's preferred hypothesis, that in the end everything turns out to be invented and has to be dismissed as not real. This is at least an insufficient argument. But there is more to say on this. The idea of Plato just inventing arbitrarily any kind of fairy tale is a problem. There are many obstacles to read the Atlantis story as a real story on a factual level, but there are also many obstacles to read the Atlantis story as an invented story on the level of Plato's philosophy and how he wrote his dialogues. But Jason Colavito almost always avoids this latter ascpect of the whole problem. It is quite unlikely that anything in the Atlantis story is just an embellishing invention and nothing more. Therefore, Plato researchers who consider Atlantis an invention have a tough job to interpret all these many details, and some of them openly admit this.
In a blog entry from 21 July 2021, Jason Colavito relies again on the literalist, unscientific reading in his argument: "Because the story of Atlantis as written cannot be literally true—Athens did not exist in 9,600 BCE alongside Atlantis, for example—every believer in the Atlantis story has to pick and choose which parts of Plato to accept and which to reject, inevitably meaning that they are hunting something that is not the Atlantis of Plato."
If this was true, how is it possible then to identify Herodotus' Egypt with the real Egypt? The whole argument shows that any deeper idea of historical criticism is missing. Interpreting an ancient text in its historical context is no cherrypicking, it is the only reasonable way to read it. Strangely enough, Jason Colavito himself suggests an interpretation in the historical context, several lines later: "Herodotus reckoned (estimated, actually, at three generations per century) all Egyptian history to have lasted 11,340 years (Histories 2.142), so if Plato were inspired by Egypt, he would locate his story somewhere within the limits of history as known to him." Very true, this is exactly what I have told the world for years. Presumably my seed has taken root here, after all?
In the same blog entry, Jason Colavito says that Plato confused the time of the foundation of primeval Athens and Atlantis with the war of Atlantis. And since it would not match, it would be made up.
First, there is no such confusion. The dates are obviously rough dates, given in rounded numbers of thousands of years. There is enough space for variations of several centuries. But even more important is that no experienced reader of ancient texts, let alone a classicist, would easily conclude from a mistake, an inconsistency, or an anachronism, to an invention. There are plenty of possibilities why an ancient text can be inconsistent. And it is rarely because it is an invention. Among classicists this is a generally accepted opinion, but strangely, this generally accepted opinion vanishes always when it comes to Plato's Atlantis.
Concerning Atlantis, the book creates the impression that the Atlantis story had "long considered to be fictional", until the 19th century, and then had been revived by fraudulent Europeans such as Fortia d'Urban (pp. 273 f.). But this is wrong. Atlantis had been long considered real, and what started in the 19th century was not a revival of the idea of a real Atlantis, but quite the opposite: It was the start of the idea that Atlantis had been fictional becoming the prevailing idea.
It is also wrong that "the Spanish" considered Mexico Atlantis (pp. 273). Only "some" Spanish thought of Mexico as Atlantis, not "the" Spanish. The official Spanish position was to reject this idea (e.g. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas 1601).
Missing is Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis". Here, the Indian civilizations of Southern America are Atlantis, and Plato's cyclically repeating catastrophes are the reason why the Indians fell down from a higher level of civilization. This would have been an example of Atlantis belief fitting better to reality than usually expected, and it would be interesting to see whether and how Francis Bacon's view influenced the views of the 18th/19th century.
Ignatius Donnelly is misrepresented as a racist (chapter 11). Of course, Donnelly's views are partially racist under a modern perspective, but under the perspective of his time, the opposite holds true. Donnelly was a progressive politician, fighting for the abolition of slavery. He even wrote a novel about a white man living like a black and suffering discrimination ("Doctor Huguet", 1891). Furthermore, Donnelly's Atlanteans were not only white, but also yellow and red, and even excluded some white peoples. According to Donnelly, Europeans were not purely white but a mixture of white and yellow. And in American prehistory, all races of all kinds had met and lived together, as he wrote. Donnelly's core motivation was clearly not racist although he expressed various racist stereotypes prevailing in his time. The abuse of Donnelly's work, e.g. by omitting that Donnelly's Atlanteans are not only white, is much more harmful than the original work itself.
Jason Colavito's handling of the subject of Atlantis is, as usual, deeply flawed. Admittedly: The subject of Atlantis is very complex and Jason Colavito is not the first to make these mistakes.
First, Atlantis is called "fabulous" (p. 23) and there is talk of "its wonders" (p. 24). But Atlantis was neither "fabulous" nor a wonderland, but fit perfectly – in the eyes of the ancient Greeks – in their view of the world at that time. There was nothing fantastic or magical about Atlantis. Jason Colavito also omits to relate the 9,000 years of Atlantis to the 11,340 years of Herodotus' Egypt (p. 23), about which he had told about shortly before (p. 11). But it is only from this point of view that one can understand how to interpret the 9,000 years. Plato certainly did not want to refer to the last Ice Age, that much is certain.
In Plato's account of Egypt, Jason Colavito makes two serious errors: "Plato attributed the whole story to the Egyptians, claiming it had been written on pillars in an old temple and known only to the wise priests". (p. 23) – Both claims are wrong. Plato's Timaeus 24a says that the priest, together with Solon, will "take the written text to hand" (ta grammata labontes), and this can only be a papyrus. The legend of the temple pillars came later, presumably with the story of Crantor as handed down by Proclus. – But the "wise priests" are also false. For the priest who points Solon to Atlantis is described as a nameless, old priest, not a "wise" priest. This is one of the many clues that make the story seem very realistic. Only later authors have attempted to portray the priest as a named and famous priest-scholar (Plutarch, Proclus, Clement of Alexandria, Cosmas Indicopleustes). – Inasmuch as the emergence of a false image of Egypt is the central theme of this book, we are dealing with two serious errors.
And Jason Colavito makes a third serious mistake on the same page, with which he also entangles himself in a self-contradiction: On the one hand, Plato's statement is correctly presented that the cyclically occurring flood catastrophes spare Egypt – on the other hand, it is claimed that the Atlantis story speaks of a world flood ("its history occurred before the greatest flood of all, the one that destroyed the world."; p. 23, also p. 37). But this is wrong. The flood catastrophes in the Atlantis story are regional catastrophes. As has already been correctly stated, Egypt in particular is said to have been spared from these flood catastrophes in each case.
Jason Colavito wants to equate the flood of Atlantis with the biblical flood, between which he sees "extremely close parallels" (p. 24), but this is wrong. Not only is the flood of Atlantis not a world flood, but it is also wrong that Zeus announces the destruction of Atlantis at the end of the Atlantis story, as Jason Colavito thinks (p. 24). Rather, a punishment is announced there for the betterment of the Atlanteans, and that cannot be the destruction. After all: perhaps the destruction of Atlantis was decided at a second assembly of the gods. It is also wrong when Jason Colavito writes: "In all of these stories, key elements repeat", because besides the fact that the Atlantis flood was not a world flood, Jason Colavito lists an important key element that does not occur at all in the Atlantis story: "A small number of people are saved" (p. 24). There is no Noah's Ark in the Atlantis story, that much is certain. – So there are no "extremely close parallels" between the Atlantis story and the biblical flood saga, but several important differences.
It is completely misleading when Jason Colavito moves from Plato's Atlantis story to Apollodorus, Ovid and Lucian with the words "Parts of the story can be found in" (p. 24). These authors do not speak of Atlantis. Moreover, Apollodorus probably means the Bibliotheca of the pseudo-Apollodorus. For Apollodorus himself is known for a list of implausible miracle stories known at the time, in which the Atlantis story is conspicuously absent; it was apparently not an implausible miracle story for him.
It is also wrong when Jason Colavito writes that "later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic commentators, all of whom saw ... a reason to associate Atlantis with the antediluvian world that existed before Noah's flood". While it is true that some Christian authors mistakenly made this connection (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Cosmas Indicopleustes), other Christian authors well recognised that the flood of Atlantis was not a world flood (e.g. Tertullian, Arnobius Afer).
There can therefore be no question of the Atlantis story being "the blueprint for associating Egypt's greatest wonders – the pyramids – with Noah's flood" (p. 25). I am not aware of any ancient text that mentions pyramids in Atlantis. This idea only came up in modern times when the pyramids of Indian civilizations in America were compared to the pyramids in Egypt. It is true that the pyramids were already associated with the biblical flood in antiquity, but the Atlantis story was not involved.
Jason Colavito himself does not mention such a connection anywhere in the following chapters, especially not where it should have been mentioned if there had been such a connection, e.g. in the discussion of the "Many Flood Stories" (p. 29). Nor is there any mention of the alleged fact that the Atlantis story was written on temple pillars in the following chapters, although there is much talk there of the myths surrounding the inscriptions on pillars and temple walls. It is almost as if Jason Colavito did not trust his own claims about Atlantis, so that he preferred to leave them out of his later arguments. The arguments he presents instead are also much better and undoubtedly correct (e.g. Flavius Josephus p. 32).
It is almost surprising that Jason Colavito only comes back to the connection between Atlantis and the pyramids with Ignatius Donnelly. The assumption that the Egyptian pyramids are connected to the pyramids of the Indian civilizations in America via the sunken continent of Atlantis is considerably older. This observation goes back at least to Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora in 1680.
Jason Colavito also abbreviates Ignatius Donnelly's account in a way that distorts the actual meaning. According to Colavito, Donnelly would have written "that Atlantis had been populated by White people and Jews, the chosen races of God. 'Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations,' he wrote." (pp. 207 f.) – But if we read Donnelly, we find something quite different. There it says: "That Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations, as well as of the Semitic peoples, and possibly also of the Turanian races." (p. 2 Donnelly) The "Semitic peoples" include much more than just the Jews, and the Turanians are "yellow". And there is no mention of "chosen races" at all. Only "chosen people" is mentioned in relation to the Jews on a completely different page (p. 212 Donnelly). Europeans, too, are not pure whites for Donnelly, but a mixture of different "colours" (p. 197 Donnelly). – Of course, from a modern perspective, all this is still racist, but it is by no means as racist as Jason Colavito makes it sound.
What we have seen so far are insufficient arguments. But they are not only insufficient. In part they are worse than that. They are way too simple, and this from an author who shows time and again that he can argue on a higher level of quality: There is e.g. a blog entry from 07 August 2016 in which Jason Colavito judges an Atlantis hypothesis concerning the Minoan civilization quite fairly and explicitly under the (strange) perspective of its own time. And in a blog entry from 27 July 2018, Jason Colavito even discovered the bright side of Ignatius Donnelly who was motivated by progressive political ideas which are reflected in his Atlantis hypothesis. Therefore, why so simple?
There is a certain intention recognisable to deny acceptance to any kind of interpretation which does not consider Atlantis essentially fictional, not because of good reasons but because of principle. We can see this e.g. by observing how the argument often makes the simplistic turn, that it cannot be real anyway, no matter what, and important questions are systematically omitted. Especially the lack of understanding what it means to read the Atlantis story by applying historical criticism, but instead to assume time and again a literalist reading, is striking.
Thus, the line between legitimate science and legitimate questions on the one hand side, and pseudoscience on the other hand side, is too strictly drawn. The exclusion of a historical-critical analysis is particularly strange. When you are not allowed to question established scientific opinions on the basis of reasonable arguments, science appears as an authoritarian system and looses credibility. Many goodwilling, reasonable readers are left with the impression that their reasonable and legitimate questions are not respected as what they are, and many of them will presumably fall for the pied pipers of pseudoscience, although their first approach was not pseudoscientific at all. Overstrict judgement of legitimate questions produces pseudoscience instead of fighting it. The question remains: Where does this overstrict judgement come from?
There is a second soul in Jason Colavito's heart, and this is a political soul. Behind every kind of pseudoscience Jason Colavito sees a political motivation, and not just any political motivation, but mostly a radical right-wing, racist motivation. And indeed, Jason Colavito is often right with this assumption. There were and are indeed pseudoscientists who see non-white peoples as inferior, and therefore they develop pseudoscientific ideas of all sorts, e.g. that the non-white peoples allegedly did not build their pyramids and temples on their own. This includes also hypotheses about "ancient aliens". It is worth reading what Jason Colavito has to say on the matter since he has a point.
But there is a big problem here: Not every pseudoscientist and not every pseudoscience is motivated by racism. And not every careless statement is a hint to a racist mind set. And even more: Not every topic typically discussed by pseudoscientists is by itself a pseudoscientific topic. You can e.g. think about aliens from outer space or Plato's Atlantis in a very reasonable way. And you have to differentiate between the abuse of a topic, and the topic itself. So, a lot of careful differentiation is necessary in these sensitive questions.
And there is always the other side of the coin: Behind many pseudoscientific ideas there is not the political right, but the political left. Everybody knows e.g. that the anti-authoritarian movement of 1968 brought about much pseudoscientific nonsense. Science was just another "bad authority" to be distrusted in the flower power years, which made anti-science go along with hostility to technology, the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-vaccination movement, the anti-war movement, anti-capitalism, hostility to genetically modified food, and "New Age" mysticism. It was no coincidence that Erich von Däniken had his great success exactly in the year of 1968.
But Jason Colavito seems to lack the sensitivity and impartiality, needed to differentiate and to keep measure and balance, more and more. Years ago, the problem did not stand out. There was a small political bias in Jason Colavito's writings, not bigger than with other authors, and as long as you knew about it, you could live very well with it. But over the Trump years, as it seems, Jason Colavito underwent a process of radicalization. Maybe this is because of the constant smear campaign the Left has been waging against president Trump, because here, too, Jason Colavito was always in full sail, beyond any differentiation. Recent messages of Jason Colavito on Twitter speak a clear language: "Conservatism is the use of hypocrisy to impose power imbalances. It always comes down to hate." (25 July 2021). "The Right has moved to an open embrace of dictatorship, hoping to impose fascist values by force." (04 August 2021)
Jason Colavito wants to suppress and to ban any topic which could potentially be pseudoscientific, just because it could play politically into the hands of the other side! If you have a harmless interest in UFOs or if you make some reasonable thoughts about Plato's Atlantis – it should be banned from the media in any case, according to Jason Colavito. There is no longer the question, what the motivation is, or how the topic is handled: It's the topic itself which is considered toxic, now.
In a blog entry from 19 June 2021, Jason Colavito wrote about Scott Wolter: "I very clearly and frequently said that I did not believe that he is personally racist; instead, I have consistently said that the claims he makes about European colonization of the pre-Columbian Americas and the Old World origin of secret knowledge are rooted in Victorian era racism and carry with them racist implications."
Please note: Scott Wolter's claims about a possible pre-Columbian colonization are a topic not judged by their possibly questionable scientific value, or by a possibly existing racist perspective. Scott Wolter's topic is judged by Jason Colavito under "racist implications" allegedly inherently connected with the topic itself, independent from whether Scott Wolter's claims are true, or whether Scott Wolter presents his claims with or without a racist perspective. These latter points are certainly legitimate starting points for criticism, but independent from this? Rather not.
In a "Salon" interview from 21 June 2021, Jason Colavito explains his views concerning UFOs: "But in a more practical sense, [Tucker] Carlson has been all in on pushing flying-saucer conspiracy theories, in large measure because flying-saucer conspiracy theories have long been associated with right-wing extremism. Now, that is not to say that everyone who is interested in UFOs and flying saucers is a right-wing conspiracy theorist – but right-wing extremist groups have made a concerted effort to infiltrate flying saucer and UFO communities in order to use that belief in conspiracy theory as a wedge issue to draw more people into that type of conspiratorial thinking." Jason Colavito adds that "at least one one of the Capitol rioters was wearing an 'Ancient Aliens' sweatshirt with Giorgio Tsoukalos' face on it."
There is more than one question to be asked here: Have UFOs really "long been associated" with right-wing rextremism? Of course not! In the 1950s it may have been a "conservative" topic (yet "right-wing extremist"?), but in 1968 it became an "alternative" topic, always following the spirit of the times. Did right-wing extremist groups really infiltrate UFO communities in recent years? Rarely, or how did they do this only recently, if allegedly UFOs "have long been" associated with right-wing extremism? Has Tucker Carlson really gone "all in" on UFOs? Surely not! He may be more open to the topic than it is justifiable, but he is surely not "all in" like e.g. Erich von Däniken. Is Tucker Carlson a right-wing extremist? Wikipedia describes him as paleoconservative, not as a radical. It is safe to say that he is capable to ask legitimate questions which are unpleasant to a radicalized Left. And is it really true that once you believe in UFOs you are easily led to any other pseudoscientific theory? From a full-blown UFO belief, yes. But what does belief in UFOs exactly mean? Reasonable considerations about aliens on a scientific level? Speculations about aliens on a philosophical level? Legitimate questions whether UFOs could be yet unknown Chinese technology? – And then the 'Ancient Aliens' sweatshirt with Tsoukalos' face on it: In another interview with Slate on 12 February 2021, Jason Colavito reveals that "Tsoukalos is an outspoken liberal". The face of an outspoken liberal as the symbol of right-wing extremism?! – It is easy to see that Jason Colavito's hypothesis of UFOs as a symbol for right-wing extremism does not work.
Rather the opposite holds true: If the currently predominant left-whing media (and Jason Colavito is part of them) denounce UFOs long enough as a right-wing symbol, and avoid the topic, thus leaving it to right-whingers, then it might indeed become a right-whing symbol. But this is then a self-fulfilling prophecy. You produce yourself what you pretend to fight against. Jason Colavito seems to have no awareness of such dialectical dynamics. Here not, and generally not. Or he does not care. Or it is his silent intention to create such dialectical dynamics, to create a strawman and then to beat on him. Whatever it is: It is a problem.
And what about the other side of the political spectrum? Jason Colavito is silent, thus heavily damaging his credibility. In a "Salon" interview from 09 August 2021, Jason Colavito blames the Conservatives of the 1950s for the anti-vaccination movement of our time, while avoiding to mention the "alternative" anti-vaccination movement of 1968. And what about left-whing groups who infiltrated the universities? What about the many questionable theories, respectively questionable exaggerations of legitimate theories, produced by leftist scholars? We all know the exaggerations in the fields of gender theory, critical race theory, decolonization, or e.g. concerning man-made or not man-made climate change. Are we obliged to accept all these exaggerations as science only because they were made at universities? At universities who are heavily in danger to loose all their credibility because of their political bias? There is more at stake here than only the credibility of one author. But back to Jason Colavito: As we can conclude from blog entries and tweets, Jason Colavito accepts many of these exaggerations. For him it's science as it should be. But what if these theories are a kind of ideological bait, too, in order to open us for leftist ideas? How gullible do you have to be to accept the known exaggerations as normal science? Isn't this gullibility also dangerous? And if we are of the opininon that a radical interpretation of the gender theory or of man-made climate change is pseudoscience and somehow connected to a sinister political motivation, as it is Jason Colavito's opinion concerning UFOs, do we have the right to call for a ban of these topics, as Jason Colavito does?
This arbitrary cultural cleansing of allegedly "contaminated" topics is of course not an acceptable approach, for several reasons. First, it is a matter of freedom. By Jason Colavito's current approach you could arbitrarily strangulate any kind of freedom. But it is also a matter of reason and science to have freedom of thought. You cannot make science without freedom. Then it is a matter of reason and differentiation. These topics simply are not inherently "contaminated", but abused. Finally, such an approach does not increase the credibility with those who have reasonable and legitimate questions and need friendly guidance to understand what is possible and plausible, and what not. In the end, the political radicalization again only produces the pseudoscience it wants to fight.
Let us now see how this plays out with Plato's Atlantis.
In a blog entry from 02 June 2021, Jason Colavito commented on the Discovery Channel's sudden and surprising removal of the series "Hunting Atlantis" from its TV schedule. Jason Colavito triumphed:
"Hunting Atlantis generated controversy online after critics (myself included) pointed out that the Atlantis myth has long been used in support of colonialist, imperialist, and racist narrative, including the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Anglo-American expansionist colonialism the Age of Empires, and Nazi searchers for the Aryan homeland."
Note well, that the alleged historical "use" (better: abuse) of Plato's Atlantis by colonialism, racism etc. is sufficient for Jason Colavito to claim and to celebrate the cancelling of the series. There is not a single argument that the series would deal with Atlantis in any way supporting colonialism, racism etc. The mere fact, that it is a series about searching Atlantis, regardless of its contents and of its presentation and of its perspective and of its quality, serves as the reason to condemn it. This is outraging.
And then it turns out to be even not true that Atlantis has long been abused in support of all these things. Jason Colavito's bias made him overlook the facts.
For the first centuries of the Spanish conquest of America, not Atlantis belief but Atlantis scepticism was the doctrine of the Spanish state to justify its claim to conquer the New World. The official Spanish solicitor for America, Juan de Solórzano Pereira, explicitly rejected the idea that America was Atlantis in 1629. So did the official Spanish historian of the Spanish conquest in the New World, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas in 1601. The reason is easy to see: Spain based its claims on the right of the first discoverer. If America was Atlantis and had been known before Columbus, then this claim had no basis any more. So Spain officially and explicitly rejected the idea that America was Atlantis. But Jason Colavito never has claimed to ban Atlantis scepticism from the media, although it had been so obviously abused to support colonialism.
It was not until much later that a small group of Spanish authors attempted to increase the weight of the Spanish monarchy compared to other European monarchies through a connection to Atlantis, for example José Pellicer de Ossau in 1673, Antonio Fernández Prieto y Sotelo in 1738 and finally Francisco Javier Manuel de la Huerta y Vega in 1738. The fact that this would also have justified colonial rule in America, had these authors prevailed, was rather a side result of these efforts. Be that as it may, the theses of these authors were quickly subjected to criticism by the incipient Enlightenment and never attained any official status.
Jason Colavito also consequently ignores the fact that the idea that the American Indians are descendants of Atlantis helped early supporters of Indian rights to back up their claims against colonialists. Because, if the Indians once had come from Atlantis like, allegedly, the Europeans, then they would be on equal foot. Though weird the idea may seem for us today, it lived for centuries, and was proposed e.g. by Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora 1680 and by Gian Rinaldo Carli 1780, to name only few examples of many, against those who thought that the American Indians would be an inherently inferior people.
It is anyway strange to associate Plato's Atlantis with a racist motivation. Because it is a story about two cities, one of them relying on the heritage of divine "blood", the other on the heritage of education (paideia). While the city of education prevails, the city of "blood" suffers its defeat. This does not sound like a racist story.
Also ignored is the fact that Atlantis once was the argument of science against religious superstition. When the Christians rised in antiquity, Platonists – i.e. the "scientists" of the time – put forward the age of Atlantis of 9,000 years against the (allegedly Biblical) claim of certain Christians that the world has an age of only 6,000 years. And when science started again to rise its head after the Middle Ages, again guided by Plato's writings, Atlantis was once again one of the arguments against the dogmatism of the church. But you never read that Atlantis played this positive role in the history of mind. Also not in texts written by Jason Colavito where Atlantis is always connected to bad things.
The English colonialism did not make use of Atlantis at all. The mastermind of the evolving British Empire, John Dee, used "Atlantis" as the name for America, obviously because he thought America to be Atlantis. No colonialist intention was connected to this use. Like the Spanish Empire, the British Empire based its claims to colonial land on the right of the first discoverer, but not on Atlantis.
Also the claim, that "the Nazis" believed in Atlantis, voiced time and again in varying formulations by Jason Colavito, is not true. There were single Nazis like Heinrich Himmler who privately and silently believed in pseudoscientific ideas, among them Atlantis. A few of the scientific expeditions started by Himmler could be called inofficial Atlantis expeditions, yes (but not the Tibet expedition). Yet "the Nazis" as such? They did not care about Atlantis. While the National Socialists were in power, classicists at German universities continued to consider Atlantis an invention of Plato in their publications. Atlantis was no topic in German schoolbooks. And Hitler even mocked Atlantis believers in a speech. The tape records the laughter of the audience about the silly Atlantis believers. By ridiculing Atlantis supporters, Hitler had obviously success with his audience. Many an Atlantic sceptic of today provokes exactly the same ridiculing effect against Atlantis supporters as did Adolf Hitler. And last but not least: Would we consider "the Communists" Atlantis believers, if we found out that Trotsky silently believed in Atlantis, but Lenin and Stalin did not?
And what about left-whing Atlantis supporters? They do exist of course! But not in the world of Jason Colavito. The most prominent leftist Atlantis supporter of our times was most probably Martin Bernal, professor at Cornell University. Martin Bernal made never a secret of his radical leftist agenda, and when he published his notorious book "Black Athena" in 1987, he created a fulminant scandal in the world of classics. Plato's Atlantis story was one of his major arguments. Bernal's vastly exaggerated and poorly reasoned thesis was that the racist white Greeks had stolen all their wisdom from black Africans and Asians. For Bernal, Plato as the author of the story about Solon, who learned from Egyptians (Africans ...) about Atlantis, was a crown witness for his pseudoscientific thesis. Bernal accepted the historical reality of the story to support his political agenda. Bernal's simplistic, pseudoscientific approach to abuse Plato's Atlantis story for his radical left-whing agenda would really deserve the rejection of every debunker of pseudoscience. But Jason Colavito never mentioned Bernal's abuse of the Atlantis story. In "The Legends of the Pyramids" it is merely said that Bernal overshot the mark with his political intention to reduce the cultural arrogance of the Europeans (pp. 209 f.). That Bernal was a dyed-in-the-wool left-wing extremist and that it was about Atlantis, too, remains unsaid. – Concerning Peter Kolosimo, an Italian Communist who published pseudoscientific ideas about Atlantis and other things in 1969, Jason Colavito pointed out in a blog entry from 21 February 2014 that he is a Communist in order to connect him with Soviet publications of the time. But it is neglected to ask the crucial question for connections to the Western leftist movement of 1968. Connections that run through the left political spectrum to this day.
It is not a problem to have a political opinion, but you can exaggerate everything. We found that Jason Colavito's political zeal has become a problem for the quality of his statements concerning science and pseudoscience. The phenomenon is not new, but in recent years it has crossed a threshold: What once was a tolerable peculiarity has become a serious problem now.
When you loose your impartiality, when you start seeing radical right-wing "implications" and motivations where there are none, while being blind for everything on your own side of the political spectrum, when you start to denounce harmless and legitimate topics as allegedly contaminated with political radicalism, then you have stopped being reasonable and you are loosing your credibility. Then you have stopped to be an activist against pseudoscience, and you have started to be an activist against science. You started to promote pseudoscience, because who will believe in science which is defended in this way? And you even started to produce pseudoscience yourself: Because what else is it, if not pseudoscience, if you take science into service for your political agenda?
Jason Colavito should pay attention to balance. He is fundamentally capable of doing so. A hopeful sentence from his new book "The Legends of the Pyramids" reads: "... but as with so many correctives, they often tried to make too strong a case for the opposite, reproducing many of the same errors in reverse." (p. 210)
In our days, this is not only a problem of Jason Colavito. The complete system of science should be very careful not to fall into the trap of political one-sidedness. Since its credibility is at stake. And without credibility, science is nothing. You cannot make democracy, if only leftists are allowed to participate. But you cannot make science, either, under such circumstances.
Plato's Atlantis has nothing to do with all these zeitgeist-related politics. It is obvious that the question whether Plato's Atlantis was meant a real place, and exactly which place, has nothing to do with all that. The problem is now 2,500 years old and survived many ups and downs of history. This highly complex problem has to be dealt with far away from the noise of the day, in the silence of loneliness and timelessness.
The author of this article sponsored Jason Colavito on Patreon from December 2017 to June 2021 with very small amounts of money. The sponsoring was publicly announced in the comment section of Jason Colavito's Patreon page from the beginning with the following text: "Jason Colavito does a good service to society by creating transparency in some dark corners. He is not perfect, but alas, who is? So, Thorwald C. Franke from Atlantis-Scout gladly supports Jason Colavito!".
Jason Colavito, Golden Fleeced – Lying about Atlantis, Aliens, and Argonauts in Greek Myth, no editor, 2011.
Fee download: External Web Link
Jason Colavito, The Mound Builder Myth – Fake History and the Hunt for a 'Lost White Race', University of Oklahoma Press, 2020.
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Jason Colavito, The Legends of the Pyramids – Myths and Misconceptions about Ancient Egypt, Red Lightning Books, Bloomington/Indiana 2021.
External Web Link
Jason Colavito, Website and Blog
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Blog entry "The Blurry Line Between Fact and Fiction in Alternative History" of 27 April 2013.
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Blog entry "Review of Peter Kolosimo's 'Not of This World' (Pt. 1)" of 21 February 2014.
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Blog entry "A Minor Atlantis Mystery: Did Plato Correctly Describe Mycenaean Athens in the 'Critias'?" of 04 April 2015.
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Blog entry "A 1917 Argument for Atlantis in Bronze Age Crete" of 07 August 2016.
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Blog entry. "Ignatius Donnelly and the Politics of Atlantis" of 27 July 2018.
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Blog entry "Discovery's 'Atlantis' Series Sinks" of 02 June 2021.
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Blog entry "Scott Wolter Attacks Me in Epic Rant" of 19 June 2021.
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Blog entry "Review of Hunting Atlantis S01E01 'Mystery of the Golden King' " of 21 July 2021.
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Jason Colavito in SLATE 12 February 2021.
"What UFOs and Joe McCarthy Have to Do With the Assault on the Capitol"
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Interview with Jason Colavito, by Chauncey Devega, in: Salon 21 June 2021.
"Why Tucker Carlson loves UFOs: Jason Colavito on the hidden links between conspiracy theories"
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Interview with Jason Colavito, by Chauncey Devega, in: Salon 09 August 2021.
"Vaccine paranoia: Why right-wingers are worried about their 'precious bodily fluids' "
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Tweet 25 July 2021.
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Tweet 04 August 2021.
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Thorwald C. Franke, Aristotle and Atlantis – What did the philosopher really think about Plato's island empire?, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2012. First edition, in German, was 2010.
External Web Link
Thorwald C. Franke, Review of: Jason Colavito, The Mound Builder Myth: Fake History and the Hunt for a Lost White Race, 2020.
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Thorwald C. Franke, Review of: Jason Colavito, The Legends of the Pyramids – Myths and Misconceptions about Ancient Egypt, 2021.
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Thorwald C. Franke, Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis – von der Antike über das Mittelalter bis zur Moderne, 2nd edition in two volumes, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2021. First edition was 2016 in one volume. There is no English translation yet.
External Web Link
Franco De Angelis / Benjamin Garstad, Euhemerus in Context, in: Classical Antiquity Vol. 25 No. 2 (2006); pp. 211-242.