In response to:

Back to Atlantis from the December 4, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

I should like to comment briefly on M. I. Finley’s review of my book Atlantis: The Truth behind the Legend, in the December 4 issue of The New York Review of Books.

Troy was believed to have been wholly legendary until in 1873-81 its remains were excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Hissarlik. The remains have neither the splendor nor the dimensions of Ilion described by Homer. Nevertheless, it is now beyond any doubt that Troy had been an important city rebuilt many times before its destruction by the Greeks c.1200 B.C. Strategically able to control trade through the Hellespont, it was always a potentially rich city, and it may have been this that attracted the Greeks, not the legendary mission of revenge for the abduction of Helen.

According to Plato Atlantis was an island with very high civilization but in the Bronze Age there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods and one grievous day and night the island was swallowed up by the sea and vanished. It is now beyond any doubt that in the Bronze Age the Santorin Island had a well developed civilization, which disappeared within a short time by the collapse of the central part of the island. Thus the historicity of the Atlantis tale is well established geologically and archaeologically. To dogmatize that “the Atlantis myth was altogether a Platonic invention” on the grounds that the details of the story do not correspond exactly to the vaguely known civilization of that time is equivalent to refuse that the site of Troy was at Hissarlik. Professor Finley has no doubt of the historicity of the Homeric tale (see “The World of Odysseus”).

At the Thera Congress the very distinguished volcanologist, Professor R.W. van Bemmelen stated that “the Thera eruption alone released about one hundred times the mean energy release by world-volcanism per year…the total energy release of the eruption-cycle of There in Minoan time was the equivalent of about one thousand H-bombs of Bikini-type of 1954…volcanic events of that size occur only at intervals of circa 10,000 years on the average…and have not yet been observed in historical time.” (see Proceedings of the Congress under Press).

In the ancient times there were no Red Cross resources and the victims of epidemic disease as a result of the unburied dead have frequently outnumbered those killed outright by the Elements Rage. Wars, revolutions and the rest, even with our present day “kill-ratios,” are less effective to bring about the abrupt decline of a mighty empire.

A useful piece of information for the reviewer: Near the northwest coast of Karpathos the thickness of the upper tephra-layer amounted to 212 cm. Regarding the Exodus, I never mentioned “opening of the Red Sea.” That the Thera outburst also caused or started the exodus of the Jews was strongly supported by R.V. van Bemmelen at the Thera Congress.

I attended all sessions of the aforementioned Congress and I never heard “that the tsunami effect of Santorini was actually slight, most of it directed to the southeastern coast of Greece and never touching Crete.” I wonder why most of the tsunami was directed to the southeastern coast of Greece. The two breaks of the island through which the water spread out from the caldera face to the northwest and southwest, and there is no island, i.e. an obstacle between Santorin and Crete. Since I do not know the existence of the mentioned studies, although I am president of the Subcommission on Tsunamis of the European Seismological Commission, I would be very much obliged to Professor Finley if he could let me know the relative reference.

Prof. A.G. Galanopoulos


National Observatory of Athens

Seismological Institute

Athens, Greece

M.I Finley replies:

It is beyond doubt that Santorini collapsed in the Bronze Age. But what that has to do with the Atlantis myth escapes me as much after reading this letter as it did before. That “the details of the story do not correspond exactly” is the understatement of the year: there is no correspondence at all until Professor Galanopoulos and his supporters first rewrite Plato completely (including the attribution to Plato of a reference to the Bronze Age, the existence of which was unknown to him). Nor is there any ground for saying about me that I “have no doubt of the historicity of the Homeric tale” of the fall of Troy. For years I have been the most outspoken doubter. Anyway, it is nice to know that there is now a second vulcanologist who has become an authority on the Old Testament.

This Issue

March 12, 1970