The other day I stumbled across a website called The Atlantis Maps while I was looking for, yes, public domain maps of Atlantis to use in creating some graphics for my website section on Atlantis. The website, by a guy named Doug Fisher, claims to offer a unique interpretation of the legend of Atlantis in light of ancient maps that the author believes will prove that plate tectonics is wrong. It’s a lot to take in, and I’m not sure I really understood most of the argument, which seems to be based on selective evidence and ignoring several primary sources and the larger context.
The originates in the ancient world map produced by Marcus Vispanius Agrippa and carved into marble at the Porticus Vispania, near the Via Flaminia in Rome. Although the original was destroyed long ago, a copy made in the fourth century survived, known today as the Peutinger Map, after the man who owned it in the early sixteenth century. Scholars are fairly certain that the Peutinger Map is based on Agrippa’s original because it agrees substantively with the description of the Agrippa map offered in Pliny’s Natural History (3.3) and the geography of that book, which was based on the map. A reconstruction of Agrippa’s map follows:
Fisher, though, doesn’t think that standard reconstructions are accurate. Instead, he believes that he found the “true” copy of Agrippa’s map masquerading as Antarctica on Johann Schöner’s 1515 globe. This is highly unlikely since Schöner published a description of his globe, the Luculentissima quaedam terrae totius description, in which he described each part of the globe and his sources. The relevant material is in folio 61. Agrippa wasn’t one of them, and the continent, which Schöner named Brasilie Regio, appears as a southern ring below a triangular island named “America.” The southern continent is the mythical Antipodes of Classical geography, but Schöner took his name for it, and some of the shape, from a garbled account of a recent voyage to the Rio de la Plata that had been published in the pamphlet Newen Zeytung auß Presillg Landt (News of the Land of Brazil). When he made his next globe in 1520, more was known, and Brazil moved to its usual location, with the southern continent reverting back to the round shape it traditionally took in the fictional geographies based on Ptolemy. Later versions incorporated data from Magellan’s voyages and mistook Tierra del Fuego for part of the continent.
Anyway, even if Fisher is right that Schöner based the shape on Agrippa’s map, it implies very little about Antarctica or Atlantis, especially since the Peutinger Map had been circulating since the late 1400s.
All of this, which Fisher has been discussing in various forums since 2009, is of secondary concern to his main claim, which is that the appearance of a (fictitious) southern continent on Renaissance maps convinced him that a globe-bestriding Atlantis once mapped the world. To that end, he has tried to reconcile Plato’s description of Atlantis to facts and proposes that to do so we must (a) assume that the story originates, as Plato claims, with his ancestor Solon, and (b) Solon misrepresented genuine Egyptian accounts of North and South America by trying to squeeze them into Anaximander’s intellectual framework of a cylindrical world:
As it turns out a contemporary of Solon, Anaximander, theorized that the world was cylindrical in nature and Europe, Libya and Asia sat atop one of its flat surfaces surrounded by Oceanus which in turn was contained by the outer lip of the cylinder, a “boundless” unbroken ring of land. (Fig. 5) Since there are no boundless continents surrounding an ocean in the real world and the only historical descriptions of such a landform lie in a theory formulated in Solon’s time and in an account of Atlantis also from Solon’s time, simple logic dictates that these two boundless continents surrounding a large 'true ocean' were one and the same.
Thus, he believes Solon stretched North America into a ring around the (flat) world since its coasts could be encountered whether one sailed east or west from the Old World. South America, he says, is Atlantis itself, jutting out from the ring.
I am not familiar enough with Anaximander’s philosophy, but I don’t recall there being an outer continent in it. I believe that this edge of the cylinder is traditionally seen as the support for the vault of heaven, similar to Babylonian and Hebrew versions. Nevertheless, the presence of one is implied in the Greek mythical scheme from the earliest in that the inhabited world was thought to be surrounded by the River Ocean, and rivers should have two banks. But the opposite shore of Ocean wasn’t an inhabited land of Atlanteans; it was the great opposite world, the sunset realm of the dead. But it couldn’t be much of a continent since all of the Greeks believed that the earth was enclosed within a solid dome, which rested on this shadow land on the end of Ocean. Variations on this worldview were shared by the Hebrews and Mesopotamians.
Fisher concludes that Solon invented the claim that Atlantis sank in order to reconcile Egyptian knowledge of the Americas with Anaximander’s dogma of a cylindrical world and an empty Ocean. Needless to say, this argument contains so many assumptions that it renders the search for Atlantis pointless. Once you give yourself license to change Plato at will, you can bend the story to fit any outcome you please. Why is it more reasonable to conclude that Solon invented the sinking of two continents than it is to presume he got their size or location wrong, or that they never existed at all?
Sadly, Fisher does not seem to share on his website details of how any of this helped him to overturn plate tectonics since he is saving that for a future book version. He will only say that there are land features that indicate a different view of earth science.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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