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Revised Approach: Italos = Atlas

Thorwald C. Franke 14th October 2010

The argumentation on "Italos = Atlas" presented on the Atlantis Conference 2008, cf. Franke (2008), is on the right track but nevertheless partially wrong. So the mistakes have to be pointed out. A revised approach is presented on the basis of deeper studies of Egyptian phonetization, vocalization and transcription into Greek. The balance of possibility and uncertainty of the revised approach is discussed and compared to Wolfgang Schenkel's well-known statement on Atlantis = "at-lant=s" = "nameless (scil. island)".

The Mistakes

The phonetization and vocalization of the Egyptian language and the transcription of Egyptian words into Greek words is a science, which cannot be accessed easily. Few experts are specialized on this topic. Published books and papers cover only superficial parts or very special aspects of the topic. Scientific discussion on many details is still ongoing. So access to this science is only possible by having access to the experts.

But the experts often refuse to cooperate when realizing that they are expected to contribute to Atlantis research. Some express the opinion, explanations to Atlantis researchers are useless, because all Atlantis researchers without exception were fanatics who will not learn anything. But this is not a reason to complain, but a reason to learn.

I had to learn, that the knowledge of the Middle Egyptian language is by far not enough to say something on the transcription of words from the Egyptian to the Greek language. I made e.g. the following mistakes:

a) The Egyptian consonant j, sometimes also written as i, has nothing to do with the phoneme /i/. Vowels are not at all written in the Egyptian language, they have completely to be added by the reader by vocalization.

b) The conventional transcriptions of Egyptian consonants do not reflect the real phonemes of the consonants. They only reflect what once upon a time was thought by former Egyptologists to be the real phonemes.

c) The observation that Egyptian words beginning with the consonant j are often transcribed into Greek words beginning with alpha, is not wrong, but it is only a statistical observation without any inner functional reason. It is not a rule.

d) It is not the j, which is transcribed to alpha. It is rather an unwritten vowel /a/, which seems to accompagny the j frequently, which is transcribed to alpha.

e) So it were not the Greeks, who transformed an /i/ to an /a/.

f) The approach to transcribe vitlu as jtl.w in Egyptian was a bit hazardous.

g) The changes of the the Egyptian language in the course of time like vowel shifts were ignored.

Revised Approach

By this it is clear that the idea "Italos = Atlas" has no substantial basis any more in the explanations from 2008. But by dipping deeper into the science of phonetization, vocalization and transcription of the Egyptian language by books, papers and some frustrating but also enlightening discussions with experts, two other ways opened up to give explanations to support "Italos = Atlas". As in 2008 the intention is not and cannot be to provide a proof of this equation, but to show its general possibility.

So let us start again. As already demonstrated in 2008, the original Siculean word for "Italos" is unknown. We have to substitute it by the equivalent word in the closely related Italian languages, i.e. "vitulus" in Latin, "vitlu"/"uitlu" in Umbrian, respectivly "viteliu" in Oscan language; cf. e.g. Buck (1904). The central question is the change of /i/ into /a/ whereas the consonants provide much less difficulties.

Vowel Shifts

The first possibility to explain the change from /i/ to /a/ is given by various vowel shifts which happened during the history of the Egyptian language. The first vowel shift of interest happened in the New Kingdom and shifted i => e. Schenkel (1990; p. 87) dates this vowel shift to the time of Ramesses II. (1303-1213 BC) and later. Loprieno (1995; p. 38) dates it to "the early New Kingdom" until the time of Ramesses II. Considering the fact, that it takes a longer transition period to perform such a shift, we can roughly say, the shift happened around the time of Ramesses II. Considering also, that at least the name resp. title of Italos must have been known in Egypt (e.g. by Sardinian mercenaries) before the wars with the sea peoples started, we can assume the possibility, that this name also became subject to this vowel shift.

The second vowel shift of interest shifted e => a. Schenkel (1979; p. 58) postulates an Egyptian dialect in the area of Naucratis and Sais, which performed this shift earlier than other Egyptian dialects, i.e. at the time of Saitic Egypt. Satzinger (1990; p. 414) supports the idea of such an advanced dialect.

It is clear, that the two vowel shifts combined, i => e and e => a, make together the needed transformation i => a.

Mistaken Vocalization

The second possibility is given by the simple fact, that vowels are generally not written in the Egyptian language. So there is the possibility, that the Egyptian priest, who read the Atlantis story at the time of Saitic Egypt, did not know any more, how to vocalize the name of Italos. Especially for foreign proper names this is likely. So the priest chose a usual vocalization and vocalized with /a/, where originally a vocalization with /i/ was intended.


It is important to consider the question concerning the leading v: As we can see, our starting point is not "itlu", but "vitlu"/"uitlu" resp. "viteliu" resp. "vitulus". So the beginning of the word is a phoneme similar to the double-u at the beginning of the English "what", i.e. a weak phoneme. Nevertheless it is not allowed just to omit or ignore this v.

It is possible, that this phoneme was omitted when transcribing the name into the Egyptian language, but if it was not, it most likely was transcribed to a waw. There are examples of Egyptian words beginning with waw transcribed to Greek words beginning with alpha. And generally the waw is not harmful concerning the sequence of consonants and vowels. As with other aspects of our problem, we cannot be sure, but there is a fair possibility that the leading v is not disturbing our transcription.

Concerning the suffix it is still valid what was said in 2008: It is likely, that the transcribed word got a Greek masculine suffix s. Furthermore, we have to consider, that Egyptian words were transcribed to Greek words in a more liberal way, if the Greeks thought they could recognize a known word or name in an Egyptian word, in this case the name "Atlas" (which is not necessarily identical with the mythological titan Atlas).

Egyptian Transcription

This time no attempt is made to present an Egyptian transcription of the name resp. title of Italos. This would be very speculative, and for our purposes it is not necessary: The demonstrated argumentation works on the level of phonemes, not on the level of actually written consonants, i.e. hieroglyphic symbols.

The question, how the /l/ was written, is also not of importance. On the one hand side, in the New Kingdom a grapheme for /l/ was already developed, on the other hand side, /l/ was expressed by graphemes of other consonants. So there are enough possibilities.


We could demonstrate convincingly that it is generally possible, that the name resp. title of Italos, assumed to be near to the known Italian words "vitulus", "vitlu"/"uitlu", "viteliu", was transcribed from the Siculean via the Egyptian to the Greek language from the time of the sea peoples to the time of Solon into the name "Atlas". Though this cannot serve at all as a proof and stays uncertain, it is not unlikely at the same time.

In this balance of possibility and uncertainty the presented approach corresponds to the mockery on Atlantis researchers of Wolfgang Schenkel (1979), who demonstrated, that the name "Atlantis" could theoretically have been derived from the Egyptian phrase "at-lant=s", i.e. "nameless (scil. island)". Also Schenkel presents his approach as a possibility, only.

But the presented approach is better than Schenkel's in one aspect: While Schenkel starts with the word "Atlantis", which most likely did not come from Egypt but was derived from "Atlas" within the Greek language, the presented approach is concerned with the word "Atlas", which is more likely to have come from Egypt, than the derived word "Atlantis", as already demonstrated in 2008.


The presented approach - besides its speculative character - remains incomplete, of course. It is not possible to advance further into detail without the support of experts. As long as the experts do not start to deal with the Atlantis problem in an unprejudiced way and with real interest, no further progress can be expected in this area. But this will not happen, unless substantial progress is made on other fields of Atlantis research, which will attract the interest of Egyptologists. So we have to wait and to exercise patience.


Brunsch (1978): Wolfgang Brunsch, Untersuchungen zu den griechischen Wiedergaben ägyptischer Personennamen, in: Enchoria - Zeitschrift für Demotistik und Koptologie, Vol. 8/1, 1978; pp. 1-142.

Buck (1904): Carl Darling Buck, A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian - With a Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary, Ginn & Co. Publishers / The Athenaeum Press, Boston 1904.

Franke (2008): Thorwald C. Franke, King Italos = King Atlas of Atlantis? A contribution to the Sea Peoples hypothesis, in: Stavros P. Papamarinopoulos (editor), The Atlantis Hypothesis - Searching for a Lost Land, Book of Proceedings of the International Conference Atlantis 2008, Heliotopos Publications, Santorini/Greece 2011(?).
Not yet published, cf.

Loprieno (1995): Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian - A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995.

Peust (1999): Carsten Peust, Egyptian Phonology - An Introduction to the Phonology of a Dead Language, Vol. 2 of the series: Monographien zur Ägyptischen Sprache, edited by Holger Gutschmidt and Carsten Peust, Peust & Gutschmidt Verlag GbR mbH, Göttingen 1999.

Quaegebeur (1974): Jan Qaegebeur, The Study of Egyptian Proper Names in Greek Transcription - Problems and Perspectives, in: Onoma No. 18 / 1974; pp. 403-420.

Satzinger (1990): Helmut Satzinger, On the prehistory of the Coptic dialects, in: Wlodzimierz Godlewski (ed.), Studia Koptyjskie - Prace na Trzeci Miedzynarodowy Kongres Studiów Koptyjskich / Coptic Studies - Acts of the Third International Congress of Coptic Studies, Warszawa/Warsaw 1990; pp. 413-416.

Schenkel (1979): Wolfgang Schenkel, Atlantis - die "namenlose" Insel, in: Goettinger Miszellen GM No. 36/1979; pp. 57-60.

Schenkel (1983): Wolfgang Schenkel, Ylantis!, in: Goettinger Miszellen GM No. 67 / 1983; pp. 9-11.

Schenkel (1990): Wolfgang Schenkel, Einfuehrung in die Altaegyptische Sprachwissenschaft, Series: Orientalistische Einfuehrungen, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1990.

Schenkel (2006): Wolfgang Schenkel, Atlantis, Labyrinthos - Statt einer Fussnote, in: Goettinger Miszellen GM No. 211 / 2006; pp. 9-10.

Thissen (1988): Heinz J. Thissen, Etymogeleien, in: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik ZPE No. 73 / 1988; pp. 303-305.

Thissen (1993): Heinz J. Thissen, Zum Umgang mit der Ägyptischen Sprache in der griechisch-römischen Antike, in: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik ZPE No. 97 / 1993; pp. 239-252.

Thissen (1994): Heinz J. Thissen, Varia Onomastica, in: Goettinger Miszellen GM No. 141 / 1994; pp. 89-95.

Thissen (2002): Heinz J. Thissen, Ägyptologische Randbemerkungen, in: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie RhM No. 145 / 2002; pp. 46-61.        Contents Overview        Inhaltsübersicht
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