For in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles,' there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together...Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent.-- Timaeus, Plato, 360 BC
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Cities Beneath The Sea: Atlantis
In five millenia of human seafaring, tales of mythical islands and continents abound, but none holds on to the popular imagination like the lost continent of Atlantis. The first mention of the Lost Continent is in the fourth century BC, in Plato's works Timaeus and Critias. It was only in the 1800s, though, that people really began to take the possible existence of Atlantis seriously, primarily after the publication of Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World in 1882.
Origins. Although Plato's works suggest that Atlantis sank into the sea in a single day around 9,000 BC, scholars who believe the story is based on true events point to the eruption of the volcano Thera, on the island of Santorini, around 1,600 BC as a more likely date. Modern studies of the Thera eruption estimate it threw four times as much material into the atmosphere as the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, causing a similar "Year Without A Summer" and causing crop failures as far away as China.
Not all scholars believe the fall of Atlantis necessarily describes a natural disaster, suggesting it may be a metaphor for the fall of Troy (twelfth or thirteenth century BC) or even events in or near Plato's own lifetime.
Evidence. There is no evidence that a land mass the size that Plato describes ever existed in the Atlantic. Although the Azores islands lay in the general area described in Timaeus, those islands are the peaks of very steep underwater mountains that reach more than a mile off the nearby sea bottom.
Ignatius Donnelly. Although many writers in the centuries following Plato wrote about Atlantis, it was usually in metaphorical terms. In 1882, American real estate speculator and politician Ignatius Donnelly published Atlantis: The Antediliuvian World. Donnelly's book took the legend of Atlantis quite seriously, citing archaeological and other evidence that Atlantis was the source of the classical Greek religion and the progenitor civilization of Egypt.
Nazi Atlantis. In the same period Donnelly published, many others were also writing seriously about Atlantis, including Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, American psychic Edgar Cayce, and Ukrainian spiritualist Helena Blavatsky. It was Blavatsky who put forth the notion that the Atlanteans were the "Root Race" that was succeeded by the modern "Aryan Race." This latter concept was seized on by both German and Italian fascists a generation later, including Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler. Himmler organized a scientific expedition to Tibet in 1939; its goal may have been to find "Aryan Atlanteans."
Modern Atlantis. More than 6,000 books about Atlantis are currently in print in the English language. Atlantis has been located in Indonesia, the Great Lakes, and Antarctica. Lately, there has been a spate of speculation that the Maya took much of their science from Atlantis, tying the lost continent to the scare over the "end of the world" in 2012.
The classic Benjamin Jowett translation of Plato's Timaeus can be found at Project Gutenberg here.
The complete text of Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World can be found at Project Gutenberg here or Google Books here.
Humorist Charlie Pierce covers the career of Ignatius Donnelly in his book Idiot America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue In the Land Of The Free. Click here for a free excerpt.
For a YouTube video asking the question "Has Atlantis been found on Google Earth?' click here.
For a brief SciFi Channel video on the Nazi search for Atlantis, check out DailyMotion here.
British singer-songwriter Donovan (Donovan Leitch) recorded his hit "Atlantis" in 1969, echoing Donnelly's themes. Find a TV performance of the song -- backed up by the Smothers Brothers and Peter, Paul and Mary -- here.
Posted by Rob Earle at 12:01 AM