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Alan Alford argues that in order to understand Plato’s story of Atlantis, it is vital to set it against the context of earlier Greek myths such as the works of Homer and Hesiod dating to the 8th-7th centuries BC. Below is an article, adapted from Alan Alford’s book ‘The Atlantis Secret’, which was first published by UFO Magazine in England in September 2001. In this article, Alan cites numerous examples of cataclysmic thought in the myths and scientific cosmogonies of the ancient Greeks, and discusses why modern scholars have overlooked the significance of cataclysmic theories of myth. He also touches on the important distinction between actual cataclysmic events from the historical past and theorised cataclysmic events from the mythical past.

An Investigation into the Myths, Mysteries and Mysticism of the Greeks
By Alan F. Alford

The Truth of the Myths

It was a fundamental idea in ancient times – and it is being increasingly recognised today – that myths were a form of transmission of ‘truths’ about the ancient past. But opinions have always varied as to what these truths are. To some researchers, the myths preserve a truth about enlightened human beings and a lost civilisation. To others, the myths preserve a truth about an alien intervention in the origins of man. And to others, the myths preserve a truth concerning the 26,000-year precessional cycle. Evidently, the ‘truth’ behind ancient myths lies decidedly in the mind of the beholder.

In the modern language, the word ‘myth’ is synonymous with a fiction or a lie. But in the ancient Greek language, a ‘myth’ (muthos) meant simply an ‘utterance’ or a ‘traditional tale’, and these tales, usually of gods and heroes, were held to be true stories about the ancient past. Such was the opinion of Plato who, writing in the 4th century BC, asserted that there was a truth behind the myths, though not one of the kinds listed above. In Timaeus, Plato used the myth of Phaethon, the son of the Sun-god, to suggest that the myths concealed a truth about cataclysms. He had a wise old Egyptian priest explain the way of the world to Solon thus:

“Ah Solon, Solon, you Greeks are ever children... There have been, and there will continue to be, numerous disasters that have destroyed human life in many kinds of ways. The most serious of these involve fire and water, while the lesser ones have numerous other causes. And so also among your people the tale is told that Phaethon, child of the Sun, once harnessed his father’s chariot, but was unable to drive it along his father’s course. He ended up burning everything on the Earth’s surface and was destroyed himself when a lightning bolt struck him. This tale is told as a myth, but the truth behind it is that there is a deviation in the heavenly bodies that travel around the Earth, which causes huge fires that destroy what is on the Earth across vast stretches of time... after the usual number of years, there comes the heavenly flood.”

Such was the truth behind the Phaethon myth, according to Plato. But what about the other Greek myths? Did they, too, convey truths of cataclysms in the ancient past?

Cataclysms of the Greeks

In Plato’s Timaeus, the myth of Phaethon is followed by the story of Atlantis – the island-continent that sank into the sea following a cataclysm of earthquakes and floods. The story, according to Plato, was true. But in what sense was it true? In search of an answer to this ever perplexing mystery, and curious to learn more about the foundations of Western philosophy, I initiated a study into the ancient Greek myths in their entirety. The result is my new book 'The Atlantis Secret' (to be published 8th October 2001) which not only contains a complete decoding of the Atlantis story, but also a complete decoding of all Greek myths, mysteries and mysticism.

What is the link between Atlantis and the Greek myths? The answer, in a nutshell, is that they all convey a true story about cataclysms. A few examples will set the scene.

In Hesiod’s Theogony, the creation of the Universe stemmed from an original fall of the sky, when Ouranos, the ‘Mountain of Heaven’, descended and impregnated Gaia, Mother Earth. In Hesiod’s words:

‘Great Ouranos came, bringing on Night, and desirous of love, he spread himself over Gaia (Earth), stretched out in every direction.’

As a result of this impregnation, terrible monsters were born inside the womb of Gaia, causing her to groan as a result of the ‘tight-pressed’ forces inside her. One of these Titans-gods was Kronos, who castrated Ouranos and ascended to heavenly Mount Olympus to become its new ruler. Hesiod then goes on to describe Kronos impregnating Gaia (in her name of Rhea), after which there occurred a cataclysmic struggle between the Titans of Kronos and an alliance of gods led by Zeus:

‘The Hundred-handers then engaged the Titans in grim slaughter, with sheer cliffs in their stalwart hands... the boundless sea roared terribly round about, the Earth crashed loudly, and the broad Heaven quaked and groaned. Tall Olympus was shaken to its foundations by the onrush of the immortals; the heavy tremors from their feet reached misty Tartarus, as did the shrill din of the indescribable onset and the powerful bombardment. So it was when the two sides discharged their woe-laden missiles at each other.’

The battle raged on, finely poised, until Zeus himself entered the affray. He plunged down from Olympus (where he had been acting as cupbearer to Kronos) and threw his whole might against the Titans:

‘With continuous lightning flashes Zeus went, and the bolts flew thick and fast amid thunder and lightning from his stalwart hand, trailing holy flames. All around, the life-bearing Earth rumbled as it burned... The whole land was seething, and the streams of Oceanus, and the undraining sea. The hot blast enveloped the chthonic Titans; the indescribable flames reached the divine heavens... it was just as if Earth and the broad Heaven above were coming together.’

As a result of this battle, Kronos and his Titans were deposed from Olympus and consigned to Tartarus (the innermost depths of the Earth). Included among these Titans were the four brothers Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoitios, who provide yet further examples of cataclysmic thought in Greek religion.

Atlas, for example, was confined at the ends of the Earth, where Zeus forced him to support the Heaven, either with his head, hands and shoulders, or in the form of Mount Atlas, or by supporting the pillars ‘that hold Earth and Heaven together in opposition’. Atlas’ role was to maintain the world order of Zeus by preventing the Heaven from collapsing again onto the Earth. Clearly, the idea of cataclysms was fundamental to the Greek view of the cosmos.

The myths of Prometheus provide further grist to the cataclysmic mill. According to Hesiod, Zeus had chained Prometheus to a pillar and sentenced him to an eternity of torture by an eagle. But this age-old tale was elaborated upon later by the dramatist Aeschylus, who described how Zeus had chained Prometheus to ‘the Caucasus Mountain’, and plunged it into the Underworld amidst earthquakes, thunderbolts and violent storms, which shook the foundations of Heaven and Earth. Prometheus would remain in the Underworld for an eternity, or at least until the end of the age when a further cataclysm might elevate him from the murky depths.

The concept of world ages was of tremendous importance in the Greek myths. The first world age had begun when Ouranos impregnated Gaia and then returned to Heaven, taking up residence on Mount Olympus. The second world age had been instigated when Kronos castrated Ouranos and replaced him upon Mount Olympus. And the third world age had begun when Zeus deposed Kronos (it was made ever lasting after he vanquished Typhoeus and the Giants).

Significantly, each of these world ages began with, and was ended by, a cataclysm. And it was hinted that the present world age, too, might be ended by a cataclysm, which would herald another new age in the cycle.

In parallel with these world ages were the ages of man. According to Hesiod, the present race of man (the iron race) had been preceded by three earlier races – the golden race, the silver race, and the bronze race respectively. Each of these three peoples had been destroyed by cataclysms, at the command of the gods, the most recent of which had been the flood of Deucalion. The disappearance of Atlantis, rather intriguingly, was dated by Plato to the third cataclysm before this flood of Deucalion.

The Deucalion myth is perhaps the best known of all the Greek cataclysm myths, owing to its resemblance to the Noah’s Ark story. Curiously, in the Greek myth, the hero Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha renew the race of man not by sexual means, but by throwing stones. The idea, as I explained in my book 'When The Gods Came Down' (2000), was that meteorites had been the seed of mankind – a further example of cataclysmic thought in the Greek myths.

In the light of this, it is no coincidence that Hesiod linked the battle of Zeus and the Titans to the founding of a meteorite cult. Kronos, he said, had swallowed the meteorite, but had been forced by Zeus to eject it, whereupon Zeus fixed it in the Earth at Delphi ‘to be a monument and a thing of wonder for mortal men’. This famous meteorite was known to the Greeks as ‘the great navel-stone of the Earth’.

Cataclysms? What Cataclysms?

My overview has been brief, but it gives a general picture of the Greek myths which I have been studying during the past eighteen months. To me, it seems self-evident that cataclysms were of fundamental importance in Greek religion and mythology, even though the exact nature of the cataclysms remains as yet unclear.

But scholars have other ideas. To their mind, gods such as Ouranos, Kronos and Zeus have nothing to do with cataclysms, but rather personified rain, hailstones, thunder and lightning. Thus their home, Mount Olympus, belonged not in the heavens (i.e. in space), but in the troposphere. Remarkably, the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999) lends this weather-gods theory the status of an undisputed fact:

‘According to the Greek poet Homer, Heaven was located on the summit of Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and the logical home for a weather god.’

This is complete baloney. As I explain in 'The Atlantis Secret', the true Mount Olympus lay not in the aer of the troposphere but in the higher realm of the aither, i.e. in the true heavens. Mount Olympus in Greece was just a symbol of the true Mount Olympus, which supposedly existed in the invisible aether, as if in a parallel Universe.

The seriousness of this misunderstanding has been fatal to scholars’ understanding of the Greek myths. By making the journeys of the gods begin and end in the clouds, they have dismissed, at a stroke, the idea of cataclysms, and invented, instead, a completely new myth involving weather-gods.

How can today’s scholars be so adrift from the reality of what the Greeks actually said? One reason is that the pioneering scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries had little or no concept of meteorites and meteoritic impacts. As astonishing as it might seem to us, the majority of scientists in those days regarded comets as harmless objects and disputed the idea that stones could fall from the sky. The American president Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), for example, when he heard reports about meteorites, allegedly said: ‘I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied than that stones fell from the sky.’ Similarly, at around the same time, the French Academy of Sciences stated dismissively that ‘in our enlightened age there can still be people so superstitious as to believe stones fall from the sky.’

Such was the backdrop of scientific ignorance against which scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries formed their opinions of ancient myths (not just the Greek, but also the Egyptian and Mesopotamian). It would have taken a brave man indeed to stake his reputation on a seemingly cranky idea.

Quite why scholars of the 20th century should have ignored cataclysmic theories of myths is more of a mystery, but part of the answer can be summed up in two words: Immanuel Velikovsky. This problem became evident when I contacted a few scholars to discuss my ideas. As soon as the word ‘cataclysm’ was mentioned, the scholar would immediately become suspicious and defensive, mutter some dismissive remark about Velikovsky, and politely bring the conversation to a halt.

The result of the Velikovskian affair, it would seem, is that scholars automatically associate ‘cataclysms’ with a theory of actual, historical events in our solar system, and thus treat the subject with extreme caution. As one scholar explained to me:

‘Regarding the scarcity of cataclysmic theories of myth, I think it takes a fair amount of courage to stick one’s neck out in such a way. In the academic world, of course, such theories are usually avoided because of their extremely hypothetical nature.’

To paraphrase, scholars consider it most unlikely that cataclysms could be the basis of ancient myths because cataclysms are rare and exceptional phenomena, for which categoric proof is very hard to come by.

Is this really true? One might concede the point if one were dealing with a specific date or a limited time period, such as the early centuries of Greek civilisation. But surely cataclysms are not ‘extremely hypothetical’ if we consider a broad period lasting for several millennia. If, for example, we were to contemplate the neolithic period, or the period of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations (running for several millennia from 4000 BC), then at least one major cataclysm would surely become a certainty.

Comets and Cataclysms

In recent decades, a number of eminent Hellenists, notably Walter Burkert and Martin West, have built up a mountain of evidence linking the Greek myths to the much older myths of the Near East, Mesopotamia in particular. It is their firmly held opinion that the Greek myths belong to an earlier time and to an earlier place.

Might the Greek myths reflect cataclysms from an earlier epoch? As readers of my previous books 'The Phoenix Solution' and 'When The Gods Came Down' will be well aware, the myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia are indeed pervaded by cataclysmic ideas. One thinks, for example, of the Babylonian Enuma Elish in which Marduk defeats the sky-goddess Tiamat. Or the Akkadian myths in which Ninurta defeats the evil god Zu. Or the Deluge myths in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atra-Hasis Epic. Or the myths of the sky falling and the gods descending from Heaven – these being widespread in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Egypt. Whilst the oldest versions of these myths date to around 2350-2000 BC, it is surely the case that they herald from the very earliest periods of Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations.

What inspired such ideas? The answer, almost certainly, is man’s experiences with comets, bolides and meteorites. In a series of recent studies, the scientists Victor Clube and Bill Napier have argued that Encke’s Comet and the Taurid meteor stream are the remnants of a huge comet, Proto-Encke, that broke apart in our solar system around eighty thousand years ago. In their 1990 book 'The Cosmic Winter', Clube and Napier plotted a series of dates at which the Earth’s orbit would have been intersected by the orbit of the comet’s debris, producing a high risk of cataclysmic collisions. Significantly, one of these dates, c. 3900-3600 BC, marked the formative phase of the Sumerian and Egyptian civilisations. I cite Clube and Napier’s description of what ancient man would have witnessed in the skies:

‘The slow evolution of the cometary orbits ensures that, at a few brief epochs in the past, the orbital tracks of the major comet and Earth intersected. Close encounters with a major, active fragment, over those centuries, must have been spectacular if not terrifying, with the comet nucleus, brighter than Venus, crossing the sky in a few hours, accompanied by a complex, striated red tail bisecting the sky. Meteor storms of ferocious intensity, recurring annually when the Earth crossed the debris of the comet, must have taken place during those epochs, the shooting stars blazing out from a small region of sky in Taurus or Aries. On some such occasions the sky must have been filled with brilliant fireballs, such storms lasting for several hours. Some of these fireballs would on occasion reach the upper atmosphere or the ground, and there would be explosions – there could be no doubting the association of these spectacular phenomena with the supreme being in the sky.’

In Clube and Napier’s theory, we have a catalyst and a time scale that provides a very plausible explanation for the cataclysmic ideas in ancient religion and myths. And yet, if we are yet to make sense of it all, there remains one vital puzzle piece that still needs to be grasped.

The Exploded Planet Hypothesis

It is all very well proposing that historical comets were the trigger for cataclysmic myths, but the fact of the matter is that ancient myths rarely describe cataclysms in historical terms. Rather, the fundamental theme, shared by the myth-makers of Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia, was that the cataclysms occurred at the beginning of time, when the seeds of life were first sown in the Earth. It follows, by definition, that these cataclysms could not have been witnessed by any man and thus should not be described as historical cataclysms. On the contrary, they may best be described as mythical cataclysms – imaginary events which, even so, were held to be true as a matter of unquestioning faith (a perfect analogy, here, is the modern concept of the Big Bang). The point is fundamentally important and yet, until now, it seems to have eluded everybody.

What appears to have happened is that ancient man witnessed cataclysms, such as those triggered by Comet Proto-Encke, and then drew upon those experiences to generate a hypothesis concerning the beginning of the world and the origins of life. The outcome of these deliberations, revealed in my books 'The Phoenix Solution' and 'When The Gods Came Down', was the Exploded Planet Hypothesis – the idea that a living planet had exploded and sown the seeds of life in the Earth. But this hypothesis then became a dogma in the hands of the Egyptians and Sumerians, whose religions may best be described as ‘Exploded Planet cults’. Just as Christians, today, believe that Jesus died on the cross and came back to life again, so did the Egyptians and Sumerians believe that a living planet had died in Heaven and come back to life again.

Because the Exploded Planet was, by nature, invisible, ancient peoples worshipped it by means of visible symbols (such as the Sun, Moon and stars) and thereby sowed the seeds for later confusion. Nevertheless, the myth-makers made sure that the ‘true story’ of the Exploded Planet would never be forgotten. It shows through, for example, in the belief in Heaven as an Earth-like planet (particularly evident in Egyptian tombs), and in the description of Heaven and Earth as ‘twins’, and in the use of identical metaphors to refer to both Heaven and Earth.

The same ilk of clues feature in the Greek myths, too. In Theogony, Hesiod referred to Ouranos, the ‘Mountain of Heaven’, as ‘one equal to’ Gaia, the Earth, implying that Ouranos, too, was a planet. And in the Iliad, Homer had Zeus boast of how he could reconstitute an Earth-like planet in Heaven:

“Or come on, try it, gods... Hang a golden rope down from Heaven, and all you gods and goddesses take hold of it: but you could not pull Zeus down from Heaven to the ground... But whenever I had a mind to pull in earnest, I could haul you up, earth and sea and everything; then I could hitch the rope on the peak of Olympus, so that everything, once more, should hang in mid-air.”

Whether Homer knew it or not, he had described the Exploded Planet to a tee, as indeed would several famous philosophers of the 6th-4th centuries BC.

Anaximander, for example, described how all things had begun with the tearing apart of a mysterious mass called ‘the Unlimited’. A nuclear reaction inside the Unlimited had caused it to produce a sphere of flame which first surrounded it and then exploded into rings of fire. These rings of fire had then fallen to Earth and become buried in the Underworld, whence they gave birth to the fiery lights of the heavens – the Sun, Moon and stars.

Empedocles, in a similar vein, described how all things had begun with a God-Sphere, which had been torn apart by the forces of Strife. ‘Strife waxed mightily in the members of the Sphere’, he said: ‘they all trembled in turn.’ As a result of this discord, the elements of earth, air, fire and water had been born, culminating in all material things on the Earth.

Anaxagoras, meanwhile, suggested that, at the beginning of time, the Universe had tilted towards the south ‘in order that some parts might become uninhabitable and others habitable’. Thus his famous line: ‘All things were together’. After a visit to Egypt, he returned to Greece to declare that meteorites had seeded the beginning of all life on Earth.

And then there was Plato, the author of the Atlantis story. In his famous Theory of Forms, he envisaged all things on Earth as being corrupt copies of perfect originals which existed in the heavenly ‘world of Forms’. This world of the perfect archetypes was an invisible, metaphysical construct, which lay beyond the visible heavens. In Phaedo, Plato described it explicitly as an Earth-like planet, which he called ‘the true Heaven, the true Light and the true Earth’. Scholars, by their own admission, have been baffled by these ideas, but it must be said that the Theory of Forms is the Exploded Planet cult to a tee.

Many of Plato’s ideas were Pythagorean in origin, and it is no coincidence that a Pythagorean theory of cosmogony dominates Plato’s Timaeus, in which the story of Atlantis is told. Here, the ‘world of Forms’ is personified by the Demiourgos (God) who creates the visible Universe as a sphere in his own spherical image. The story is a cosmogonical riddle, intended for initiates who had the ‘eyes to see’ and the ‘ears to hear’. But what, we might ask, is it doing in the middle of the story about Atlantis?

The answer, revealed in 'The Atlantis Secret', is that Atlantis was no lost continent or lost civilisation, but something far more important – a metaphor for the lost planet that stood at the heart of the ancient religions. How did this metaphor work? The answer is not immediately obvious, and I would rather not give the game away in this article lest I spoil the fun for the reader of my book. Suffice to say, however, that Plato was no historian or geographer, but a mystic. Therefore, when he declared that the story of Atlantis was ‘true’, he had a mystical ‘truth’ in mind. To Plato, the true Atlantis lay in Heaven, in the invisible world of God and the gods.

A True Story?

Does the Exploded Planet myth represent a scientific truth? Modern scientists are indeed speculating that the molecules of life might have been conveyed to the Earth by meteorites and comets. In recent years, evidence of biological organisms has been found in meteorites, as has salt water, whilst in July of this year a British team of scientists claimed to have evidence of primitive extraterrestrial bacteria floating high in the Earth’s stratosphere. All of these discoveries seem to vindicate the ancients’ belief that meteorites were the seeds of life.

The Exploded Planet is a thornier issue, but even here the scientific evidence tends to suggest that the ancient myth-makers were right. The astronomer Tom Van Flandern, in particular, has mounted a powerful argument for the origin of comets and asteroids in the explosions of planets and moons. In his opinion, the original solar system included two additional planets in the region where the main asteroid belt now lies. For an overview of his theory, see my book 'The Phoenix Solutio'n or my website

Beyond this, however, there are greater questions to be asked pertaining to the nature of life itself. Is a planet just a lump of rock, or is it a living organism (the Gaia Hypothesis)? If the latter, does a planet, like a human being, have a consciousness? And, if so, what happens to that consciousness if the body dies?

The ancients asked and answered this question. As if with one voice, they declared that the Exploded Planet had conveyed to the Earth an invisible breath of life, which we would call the soul or spirit of God (cf Genesis 1:2). Thus all creatures, man included, comprised an Earth-born body and a Heaven-born soul. It was the belief of the Egyptians, and later the Orphics and Pythagoreans, that this soul could return, upon the death of the body, to the Exploded Planet whence it came.

Plato was an outspoken advocate of this ‘soul religion’. To him, the most important truth of the Atlantis story (and other Exploded Planet myths) was not the physical seeding of life on Earth, but the transmission of the soul-substance from Heaven to Earth, with all that that entailed. As I argue in 'The Atlantis Secret', Plato’s theory of the soul stands independent from the Exploded Planet Hypothesis, and fits with the modern Big Bang myth or any other Universal origin myth we care to choose. Thus, whilst it is fascinating to study the physical origins of the world and life, Plato would urge us rather to consider the metaphysical aspects of these questions, so that we might ultimately recognise the greatest truth of all – that the soul of man does exist and is as old as the Universe itself.

Copyright Notice

'These pages are the copyright of Eridu Books 2004. The images and diagrams are the copyright of Alan Alford or of other photographers, where indicated. Eridu Books welcomes the reproduction and dissemination of these pages, in original, unaltered form, for non-commercial purposes, but permission must be sought for any other usage, other than 'fair dealing' quotations.'

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