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The Walls of Atlantis (cont.)
By Doug Fisher

Certainly an impressive structure, yet one based on an imagined fourth wall, where clearly the original account defines only three walls.

First of all, let us consider the first portion of the passage:

"[117d] And after crossing the three outer harbors, [117e] one found a wall..."

It is clear that the translator is suggesting that 'after crossing the three outer harbors, one found a wall' lying 50 stades from the city at the sea, but contextually this is wholly incorrect. After crossing the three outer harbors one actually came to the mouth of the 50-stadium channel within the outer harbor, not at the sea, but more importantly one did indeed come to a wall, a wall lining 'the largest circle and harbor', one of three walls existing in the multi-ringed city. This conforms with an earlier passage where Critias states that the outer harbor or outermost circle was lined with a brass covered wall:


Figure 2 - This image demonstrates the correct placement of the three walls directly in and around the city complex. The wall of brass surrounded the 'outermost circle' of water, or harbor. The tin wall followed next, lining the outermost circle of land followed by the wall of orichalcum which surrounded the citadel, the central island.  

"[116b] And they covered with brass, as though with plaster, all the circumference of the wall which surrounded the OUTERMOST CIRCLE."

Now many have incorrectly assumed that this brass wall surrounded the outermost circle of LAND as indicated in figure 1, but without this portion of the account specifically stating whether this circle was associated with 'land' or 'water' we must adhere to contextual consistency and check other references to this 'outermost circle' to make that determination. And Critias' only other reference to the 'OUTERMOST CIRCLE' is clearly regarding the outermost circle of WATER or harbor and occurs just a few scant sentences earlier meaning it is highly doubtful that Critias would affix two different meanings to a unique phrase addressed within a single continuous thought:

" [115d] For, beginning at the sea, they bored a channel right through to the OUTERMOST CIRCLE, which was three plethra (303 feet) in breadth, one hundred feet in depth, and fifty stades (5.7 miles) in length; and thus they made the entrance to it [obviously the harbor] from the sea like that to a harbor by opening out a mouth large enough for the greatest ships to sail through."

"[116b] And they covered with brass, as though with plaster, all the circumference of the wall which surrounded the OUTERMOST CIRCLE; and that of the inner one they coated with tin; and that which encompassed the acropolis itself [116c] with orichalcum which sparkled like fire."

So this establishes that there was a brass clad wall lining the outermost circle of water, but let us take a quick look at the positioning of the remaining two walls. Critias specifies the location of this outermost brass wall and the location of the orichalcum wall he places on the small central island or acropolis, but he refers to the tin wall as merely 'the inner one'. Benjamin Jowett provides a translation with a slightly more specific location for the tin wall:

"The entire circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum. - Translation by Benjamin Jowett"

This would place the tin wall as an inner wall next in a sequence that begins with the brass outer wall and ends at the central orichalcum wall. If the brass wall had surrounded the outermost ringed island as many believe and the orichalcum wall surrounded the central island, this would establish a set or pattern of wall bound islands and therefore 'next' in this sequence would most definitely be discerned as the smaller ringed island. Figure 1 again demonstrates this common placement for the tin clad wall on this smaller ring of land.

However, since the brass wall actually surrounded the outermost ring of water and the orichalcum wall surrounded the central island, the sequence is not limited to the placement of walls around islands, but rather all delineations between rings of water and land become part of the sequence. Thus 'next' in the series after the brass wall would be the next delineation between land and water, establishing that the outermost circle of land was bounded by the tin clad wall, which coincides with the narrow channel through this island which restricted passage to a single trireme, demonstrating the secure exclusive nature of the three islands intended for military and royalty while the outer harbor and channel could be fully accessed by civilian merchant ships. Figure 2 therefore represents the definitive positioning of the three walls of Atlantis' capital city.

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