Jean-Pierre Pätznick and the Egyptian Atlantis
Thorwald C. Franke
© 08 August 2020
The French egyptologist Jean-Pierre Pätznick (Paris-Sorbonne University, Paris IV) recently published an article about Plato's Atlantis in the French Egyptology magazine "Pharaon". This magazine offers articles by scientists to an interested public audience like the "Antike Welt" in Germany. This article is the result of several presentations he held before about the topic.
His approach is to ask for the Egyptian version of the Atlantis story. This is of course exactly the right question and we should expect new insights and some progress concerning the question of Atlantis from this approach. But unfortunately, the article is disappointing. First, the author repeats a lot of wide-spread mistakes, and even adds several more mistakes:
- Allegedly, Plato insists many times that the Atlantis story is true. This modern myth, time and again repeated by Atlantis-is-an-invention believers, is of course wrong.
- Allegedly, Plato wrote the Atlantis story in the years 358/56 BC. From where did he get this information?
- Allegedly, Plato presents two different ways of handing down the Atlantis story: A written one in the Critias, and an oral one in the Timaeus. But this difference does not exist. The Timaeus, too, talks of a written tradition, and the (surely) fictional situation of the dialogue and the possible / partial fictional situation of the alleged last steps of handing down the story orally may not be confused with the (possible) reality of the written Atlantis tradition.
- The author takes the alleged names of the Egyptian priest talking to Solon, as mentioned by later authors, seriously. They are most likely not true. It is a striking feature of the original Atlantis story that the old priest is not a famous priest, which makes it more credible.
- The author heavily confuses the statement of ancient sources about Atlantis. No source says that the Atlantis story was located in any other temple, or that Herodotus heard of the Atlantis story.
- It is not clear why the author believes that Solon lived in Canopus for several years, or why he believes that Solon started to write his Atlantis poem in Cyprus.
- The number of 9000 years is not considered under a historical-critical perspective, but just only interpreted symbolically. Although this is a possibility, but an unlikely one, it is surely not as likely as the historical-critical interpretation.
- The assumption that Solon translated the Egyptian original text, and to make a question out of this, is unnecessary since it is obvious how this easily could happen, by Egyptians speaking Greek.
- It is wrong that the Spanish Empire styled itself as a successor to the empire of Atlantis. The opposite holds true. The Spanish official opinion rejected to call America Atlantis in order to keep the legitimate right of the first discoverer, i.e. Christopher Columbus in the service of the Spanish Crown. England tried to undermine this legitimacy by bringing up an allegedly earlier discoverer of America, the Welsh prince Medoc.
- The Critias does not end where Zeus decides about the destruction of Atlantis, but it ends where Zeus decides about a punishment of Atlantis to bring the Atlanteans back to the right path.
Concerning the identification of typical Egyptian phrases or topics, the article does provide almost no useful ideas:
- It is not likely that there was a pre-Egyptian version of the Atlantis story. Surely, the information about Atlantis came in a different language, but the first composer of the Atlantis story, i.e. the story about the war with Atlantis, was of course an Egyptian. The question about the original language of the non-Egyptian messenger(s) coming to Egypt remains valid, but it is not a question of writing. They may have been prisoners of war in Egypt.
- The phrase "god of gods" does appear only once in all works of Plato, at the end of the Critias, and may indeed be a transription of the Egyptian "god of gods". But this phrase may also be inspired by the philosophy of the Timaeus about the creation of gods (Timaios 39e-41a), and we find this phrase even serveral times in the Old Testament of the Bible. So, it may be a hint to a possible Egypitan source, yes, but only a small hint.
- To derive the etymology of "Atlantis" from the Egyptian language is a futile attempt and not at all convincing. Since Wolfgang Schenkel brought up this idea, it unfolded a life on its own. Of course, "Atlantis" is a Greek grammatical form derived from the Greek name Atlas, nothing else.
- Concerning the Egyptian measures of length and their possible erroneous transcription into Greek measures of length, the author asks the right question. But he gives no sufficient answers. He even has not realized that Egypt was no centralized state with unified measures. All his elaborated attempts to solve the problem with the measures of length in Plato's Atlantis story provide no useful results. Unfortunately.
Finally, the author is quickly jumping to Spain (or Morocco) as the only reasonable location:
- The meaning of the phrase "Pillars of Hercules", which does not exist in the Egyptian language, and the shift of the geographical horizon over time, is not discussed.
- There is no reason to see why the Egyptian priest should talk of a catastrophic event which happened most recently.
- Gadir is accepted to point to Cadiz / Tartessus, and the theory of the Donana swamps is supported.
- A recently discovered earthwork not far from Donana, a circular enclosure from the Bell Beaker period, is too early in chronology to serve as a hint to the historical Tartessus.
- A passage of Strabo about the Spanish Turdetani who allegedly had their own writing and literature for 6000 years, is cited credulously (Strabo 3.1.6 = III 139). Who believes this?!
We appreciate that an egyptologist approached the idea that Plato's Atlantis was not a pure invention. But the results of this attempt are too superficial and do not bring the expected progress. I dare to say that my own amateurial Egyptological studies will bring some more progress, in a coming publication.
Jean-Pierre Pätznick, Atlantis: "Lost in Translations": en quête de la version égyptienne, in: Pharaon – Le magazine del l'Égypte éternelle No. 41 (Mai-Juin-Juillet 2020); pp. 24-33.
COPYRIGHT © August 2020 Thorwald C. Franke