Yesterday I began discussing Hyde Clarke’s 1885 paper on Atlantis, and today we’ll turn from some of his more general ideas about ancient history to his specific claims about Atlantis. These begin, as all Atlantis theories must, by trying to establish which parts of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias to accept and which to reject, since it is universally acknowledged that nothing matches the description Plato gave in those fictional dialogues.
Like most fringe writers of today, Clarke assumes there is a kernel of truth beneath the story’s surface, but unlike Ignatius Donnelly and his followers, Clarke rejects the idea that there ever was an Atlantic continent. Donnelly suggested that the mid-Atlantic ridge had once been a continent (something geology later disproved), but Clarke cites claims by Čedomilj Mijatović, the Serbian ambassador to the United Kingdom, to the effect that the Greeks mistook the Sargasso Sea for the remains of a sunken continent: “The navigators would naturally think that the weeds grew at the bottom of the sea, and consequently in mud, forming a serious impediment. This story got tacked on in due course to the tradition of Atlantis.”
Having asserted this, Clarke then is able to declare that the Americas must be Atlantis. He cites Plato’s description of the continent and adds, in true rationalizing fashion: “Elephants may be regarded as tapirs, horses as llamas.” May they? Anything becomes possible when we can rewrite words at will. To support this, Clarke begins to pick and choose his details. In reviewing the Timaeus, he decides to accept Plato’s claim that the Atlantis story came from Egypt and referred to a proto-historic era at the very founding of Athens, and the then takes as true Plato’s claim that Atlantis ruled the Atlantic and the western Mediterranean. Consequently, by accepting Plato’s description of Atlantis’s dominions, Clarke is able to point to an oddly specific location for the great citadel of Atlantis:
My comment on this is that the head seat of the great king was possibly in the Caribbean Sea; it may be in St. Domingo. It is to be noted, however, that at the Spanish invasion this island was under the Caribs, whose language is traced there. Consequently the relics of the former civilisation in this and the other islands was lost.
That’s one I hadn’t heard before. It probably goes without saying that archaeology has found no trace of the capital of Atlantis in those parts, though it is suspiciously similar to modern claims that such a city could be found off the coast of Cuba, not to mention Gómara’s identification of Atlantis with the West Indies in 1552.
Turning to the Critias, Clarke is much less accepting. He dismisses much of this dialogue as fiction, but he discovers what he believes to be a core of truth within it. He notes that other Atlantis investigators have dismissed much of the dialogue because it refers to elephants in Atlantis, but by identifying the elephant with the tapir Clarke is able to salvage it as factual! But even he can’t explain how Atlantis could have horses if horses didn’t exist in America, so he helpful decides that Plato has confused the European territories of Atlantis for the American! He does not explain, however, how Atlantis could have a sophisticated shipping and trading network but never moved a horse across the sea.
Clarke betrays his reliance on Donnelly in using him as his source for Classical passages referencing Atlantis and other Atlantic islands. However, since all of these passages are of later date than Plato’s, they cannot serve as independent confirmation of the lost continent, either in Donnelly’s literal form or Clarke’s American one. Similarly, his discussion of medieval legends of the antipodes and mysterious islands are no evidence of events many millennia earlier. He also suggests that the civilization of Atlantis was destroyed by a volcano, another detail cribbed from Donnelly.
But Clarke descends into racism to explain how it is that Europe “recovered” from the fall of Atlantis to produce Greece and Rome and then the Victorians, while the Americas languished in barbarism. Get a load of this:
The effect of the stoppage of the navigation would be to deprive the ten kingdoms of the Atlantic of their supply of trained Iberian civilians, warriors, navigators, and merchants, leaving the half-caste and native elements to acquire numerical preponderance. In fact, then, by the cessation of Iberian immigration, would occur what happened in our days by the rupture of intercourse with old Spain after the wars of independence. The migration of Spaniards ceasing, we have seen Indian blood assuming preponderance; and although the people still speak Spanish, and observe outwardly the new religion, the rulers of many republics are men of whole or half Indian blood, as well recognisable by their features and their characters as by their histories. It is because history repeats itself that we can from comparative history, too much neglected from our incomplete knowledge, obtain a better and more exact explanation of what we regard as events and facts.
America, colonized from Europe, ceased progress when its supply of Old World people ceased—which, of course, is the underlying assumption of so many Atlantis and lost civilization theories, when you get down to brass tacks. But Clarke is different from his contemporaries, for he does not ascribe to white people magical powers of progress. Indeed, he sees the Atlantis as a pre-Aryan and pre-Semitic civilization, not (as Donnelly would have it) the land of white gods. Therefore, he says that America was “protected from Semites and Aryans” and retained more not less of the culture of Atlantis—though at the cost of the progress that led to modern Europe.
It’s a cute idea to explain why the Americas were still at a Bronze Age level of civilization when the conquistadores came calling, but it blends together too many historical eras into one.
The remainder of the article is concerned with fanciful linguistic claims, insupportable even in his era. He claims that Atlantis was not a place but a person (like El Dorado), a title for the King of the West, i.e. America. He says that the first languages, in the primitive age of Atlantis, were of signs and gestures, not words. Speech came later, with new invaders:
The effect of introducing speech language was to produce in the world a psychological revolution, and this appears to be represented in the legends either as the creation of man or as the second creation of man, and in the legend of the ark when new men were carried over the waters (commonly called the deluge legend).
The same legend of the Ark that Donnelly takes to be proof of Atlantis’s destruction in the Flood, Clarke instead takes as proof of a memory of a post-Atlantis invasion of Old World people bringing spoken language!
6/19/2014 07:54:08 am
Hyde Clarke's article has been recently reprinted
6/19/2014 09:14:37 am
Here is a question I have for folks living and deceased who claim Atlantis was in America or even that Greeks and Romans or Phonecians visited America. It isn't on any of their maps. If regular visitations or colonies existed it would have been reported in their texts and maps. There is NO evidence of knowledge of America in those cultures and time period. And seriously where is the evidence in the new world. This reminds me of the UFO folks..."oh we have proof radar tracked this UFO" really? If they were ETs don't you think they would have stealth technology as well? Or if they don't want to be seen why are they flying around with their lights on? If you can't answer the basic questions, there probably isn't much to your theories.
6/19/2014 09:36:22 am
Hyde Clarke was 100% subjective
6/19/2014 12:13:54 pm
I don't support the existence of an Atlantis, but I could say that:
6/19/2014 12:46:37 pm
Back to the subject of ETs - "life" is ultimately meaningless, accidental and inconsequential - there is zero possibility of it existing anywhere else in the universe.
6/19/2014 02:00:08 pm
i'd peg the odds at 50/50 that easily one planet out of a thousand
6/20/2014 12:17:26 am
The moment you enter into a discussion of ETs you are entering into a discussion of theology
6/19/2014 11:04:10 am
Again, I'm not sure calling that paragraph racism is fair. It would be obvious racism if it were written today, but it wasn't. As animals, we've just recently evolved to the point of accepting others as equals. It wasn't racism to feel otherwise, it was how we lived and how the world worked. Anyone you could dominate was, by definition, inferior. That tenet certainly wasn't universal by the 1880s, but was still far more widely believed than it is today.
6/19/2014 11:30:38 am
So you are saying that racism didn't exist before 1932, when the word "racist" was invented? Just because we can understand that people in the past had different cultural assumptions and views, it does not mean that we must endorse those views today. It is possible to understand why the antebellum South held African slaves, but that does not mean that we must withhold judgment that slavery was wrong. Similarly, even if we recognize that Hyde Clarke meant no ill will and was blinkered by his cultural assumptions, that does not free him from having believed some races were better than others, which history judges "racism."
6/19/2014 01:10:43 pm
I don't disagree with anything either of you said, but it's all a matter of perspective. Before society decided it's wrong to be racist, it was considered right. We've evolved over so many thousands of years, yet we've just decided collectively in the last 500 years that all people are equal. For those 500 years, we've had favorable climatic conditions that have helped us prosper. But, odds are, we'll have more ice ages. What happens when we're suffering and starving again? Society may collectively decide that they'd better be racists if they want to survive. Then, they'll look back at our years, if possible, and wonder what the heck we could've been thinking to not be racists. It's all perspective.
6/19/2014 02:52:00 pm
Walt, I see your point about Jason's use of "descends", in that he wasn't descending any further than anyone else of his day, but I disagree that Clarke shouldn't be called a racist. I believe he shows racial prejudice in the paragraph quoted, and that's the definition of racism according Merriam-Webster, whether it exceeds the status quo or not.
6/19/2014 04:23:06 pm
Shane, he certainly does show racial prejudice, and there's no doubt he'd be considered a racist today if he expressed those same views, just as today's dictionary says. But I just have to wonder how one could characterize his words using a dictionary from the 1880s, or in the future from the 3880s for that matter.
6/21/2014 04:19:09 am
"And, really, anyone who was at least 20 years old by 1965 probably gets a pass."
6/19/2014 12:30:07 pm
Just to go with what Jason said, Relativism (what you're engaging in) is a dangerous path to trod. Sometimes it helps to swap out nouns to see if what you're arguing still makes sense. Would you claim that we can't label events as "rape" because females lacked suffrage or status in some (most, actually) times and places? What about genocide? Greed? Murder? Fanaticism?
6/19/2014 01:22:47 pm
If society and the law ever agreed in the past that what we call rape today had no name and was acceptable behaviour, then yes, I do believe it would be wrong to say they raped someone, without at least pointing out how drastically our belief system has changed.
6/19/2014 03:12:06 pm
I guess we'll just have to "agree to disagree", then, as I cannot accept the Assassin's Creed motto of "All is permitted, nothing is forbidden". More to the point, one could at least note that technical definitions and moral definitions need not be (and sometimes are not) identical. That is to say, genocide does not require your abhorrence to be genocide. Rape does not require your approval to be rape. Racist behavior is racist behavior, regardless of whether or not you find racism objectionable.
6/19/2014 05:28:54 pm
I think I just don't take our species as seriously as some others. We're just animals to me. You say rape has always been rape, but at some point we were just wild animals mating without consent just like plenty of other animals. Rape had to become our modern definition of rape at some point in our evolution. And the same is true of racism.
6/19/2014 06:36:15 pm
While a lot of what you just said is true, I like to keep in mind that our definitions of such acts, and our decision that they are not acceptable (as they apply to the human condition), hinge on one facet that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: the recognition of self and its intrinsic value to each of us.
6/20/2014 12:19:55 am
Homo Sapiens are part of the Animal Kingdom
6/20/2014 12:34:13 am
Human evolution is the evolutionary process leading up to the appearance of modern humans. While it began with the last common ancestor of all life, the topic usually covers only the evolutionary history of primates, in particular the genus Homo, and the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species of hominids (or "great apes"). The study of human evolution involves many scientific disciplines, including physical anthropology, primatology, archaeology, ethology, linguistics, evolutionary psychology, embryology and genetics.
6/20/2014 05:47:28 am
Just think - had Jesus Christ really existed - he would have had ancestors that ultimately evolved from lower primates as an act of evolution
6/20/2014 07:58:56 am
Goody, more meaningless and inconsequential comments from someone who proves that not all lower primates actually evolved. Your continued attempts to razz anyone who doesn't share your worldview has also allowed you to miss the point.
6/20/2014 04:49:43 pm
The biological evolution of Homo Sapiens only marks the point at which all of the tools of our ancestor species came together in one package to allow for a more complete human. How we used those tools and elevated ourselves to achieve things no other species on earth has done is our social evolution process. By this development we prove time and again to be more than "just animals".
6/20/2014 06:29:48 pm
Biologically Homo Sapiens are part of the Animal Kingdom
6/20/2014 08:17:18 pm
Then turn off whichever miracle of human ingenuity is allowing you to send electronic signals through base minerals to be interpreted as data, translated and retranslated into several formats, and then displayed and/or read aloud to make your baseless accusations and reductionist world view heard. Then go out and live in the woods, hunt your own food, find your own drinkable water, and build your own shelter- all with your bare hands.
6/21/2014 01:00:01 am
You're applying emotional feeling into objective facts. Trying to muster spiritual and moral purposes to everything. When I listen to a music CD it is not engaging in a miracle. It's something much more banal than that.
6/19/2014 11:40:18 am
It's sort of original, I'll give it that. If I were inclined to believe his theory, I'd compare the golden statues of Poseidon described by Plato with the real golden statues of Viracocha in South America. And, if I believed such things, I'd speculate that the Greeks practiced a bit of early "Interpretatio Graeca" and associated Viracocha (whose name means "Fat of the Sea") with the Greek sea god.
6/20/2014 03:23:16 am
I haven't ever heard that Poseidon was Cthonic. He was originally a god of horses growing out of the Indo-European roots in the Steppes. Even when he became the god of the seas, he was still also the god of horses.
6/20/2014 07:17:54 am
His lack of connection to the sea in Mycenaean sources, combined with his "Earth-Shaker" epithet and his chthonic children in Theogony lead some scholars to believe that before he was a sea god he was chthonic in nature. Noriko Yasumura adds that the proximity of his altar to another associated with chthonic worship in Apollo's temple at Delphi is further evidence, and Bernard Dietrich believed, citing earlier 20th-century writers, that Poseidon was an underworld god.
6/20/2014 08:19:54 am
Thanks for the references, I will have to look more into it.
6/19/2014 01:20:00 pm
Plato filled his dialogues with myths of various kind like the myth of the metals in The Republic. He was also fond of saying that they were "true". Believers in Atlantis keep asserting that Plato was not lying and thus the Atlantis tale is "true". However such believers ignore that by far the greater part of the Timaeus dialogue is concerned with a lengthy myth of the creation of the world and related matters and Plato in the dialogue asserts repeatedly that this is "true". So why do Atlantis believers ignore this after all to Plato in the dialogue the myth of the creation of the world was just as "true" as the Atlantis tale.
6/20/2014 12:21:14 am
What Plato did was give a Parable
6/19/2014 01:53:11 pm
Columbus and crew after experiencing the Sargasso Sea
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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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