Since there is so much material about Atlantis that has been published over the centuries, I can hardly be said to have read it all. That’s why old Atlantis literature still has the ability to surprise me. I picked up Lewis Spence’s 1943 book The Occult Sciences in Atlantis, and I was by turns amused and dumbfounded by what I read in its early chapters.
Spence (1877-1955), an occultist who was no stranger to pseudohistory, proposed to glean hard data about Atlantis by identifying Plato’s island continent with Classical accounts of the Fortunate Islands. He then proposes that we can further expand this by folding in the Hebraic and Near Eastern accounts of “the Antediluvian or pre-Deluge world, which was certainly one and the same with Atlantis,” and the legends of the Cabiri, a pre-Greek mystery cult on Samothrace, home to another deluge legend. “If all these evidences are compared, in the analogical sense with what we know of similar types of belief as entertained by other races, a reasonably complete picture of religion as it was known in Atlantis should result.”
As ought to be clear, Spence sees that Atlanteans and the Nephilim as one and the same, but more interesting is that he correctly understood that there was a connection between all of the ancient Near Eastern accounts of the world before the Flood. But somehow he decided that this connection didn’t prove a common body of myths and legends that found local expression but rather a fundamental reality beyond them all. This he traces back to the first Europeans, whom he identifies as the Cro-Magnons, “who were probably migrants from early Atlantis,” and who bequeathed to later cultures the worship of the bull. He projects this backward from Plato’s account of a bull sacrifice in Atlantis, and therefore this claim is useless unless you assume Plato’s account to be factual.
But following this vague understanding that bull worship seems to trace back to the Paleolithic, Spence makes a very interesting comparison between Atlantis and the Phoenician theology of Sanchuniathon, a Hellenistic, semi-rationalized account of Phoenician beliefs that claimed to date back to the Bronze Age. Spence noted that the kings of Atlantis given in Plato share a suspicious similarity to the most ancient gods of the Phoenicians. In the Critias, for example, Plato gives Atlas, Hypsistos, and Autochthon among the kings, and those three are also Phoenician gods in the Hellenistic summary of Sanchuniathon. Spence believes this confirms that these characters were common to Phoenicia and Greece and therefore were original to Atlantis.
The more correct interpretation is that Philo of Byblos, producing an edition of Sanchuniathon for Greek readers used Greek terms. The appearance of the term Hypsistos (“Most High God”) in Sanchuniathon’s account of Phoenician religion is pretty clear, but it’s rather less clear how it ended up in Plato. The names of his other kings—Autocthon (“Indigenous”), Mestor (“The Skilled”), Diaprepes (“The Illustrious”), etc.—seem to imply symbolic attributes, so it looks like Plato was kind of going for the same result. We can’t be entirely sure since some of the etymologies are conjectural. (Not that people haven’t tried—Kenneth S. Guthrie, back in 1905, tried to prove that the names could be broken down into exact equivalents of Maya gods from the Popul Vuh, which he took to the be “most scientific” and original version of the story.) Other kingly names refer to objects of wealth, such as Eumelus (“rich in sheep”), Elasippos (“horse-driver”), etc. Azaes is the weirdest of them, almost asking us to relate him to Azazel the Watcher from the Book of Enoch (later Azael of the Zohar), but not providing enough reason to do so. His name might mean “dark one” or “burnt one” and refer to the old belief that the lands of the farthest west, being closest to the sun, led residents to have dark skin.
But I have spent too much time on a question that no one really cares about. I’ll skip ahead to the part that was surprising. Spence goes on to correctly note that there is a strong similarity between the Hebrew account of the Fallen Angels and the Greek account of the Titans, and the Giants that succeeded both generations of disgraced divinities. He then assumes that Atlantis, being destroyed in a Flood, must have been the Giants’ homeland. But here it gets interesting when he compares Greek and Hebrew Giants: “I believe both to have had their rise in a much more ancient tradition respecting the rebellious lower caste in Atlantis against its more civilized inhabitants.” Such a claim does not exist in the literature, and Spence jumps through hoops to make it so.
His evidence for this is the usual material, familiar from every other fringe author’s use of the same: The Fallen Angels were really the “Sons of Seth,” a kingly race that emigrated from the Near East to Atlantis, remembered in myth as gods. They became corrupt because they had too much sex with the vulgar and ignorant daughters of Cain, whom he identifies as the natives of Atlantis, and their children, the Nephilim or Gigantes, rebelled against their corrupt kings, threatening the very foundations of Atlantis’s government. The resulting political disaster destroyed the old world and left only the memory of the old kings as the gods of old. Spence makes no bones about the resemblance of his hypothesis to that of Euhemerus, who had declared the gods to be the long lost human kings of an Atlantis parallel called Panchaea; he actually declares that “the theory of Euhemerus is justified.”
It’s tempting to think that Spence’s idea of an uprising by native people against a corrupt but sophisticated outside aristocracy is a reflection of his own political beliefs. It bears, after all, a distinct similarity to his own views on Scottish nationalism. Spence was a steadfast nationalist, but one who at this point in his life had grown weary of the infighting among other nationalists and attributed to their bickering the failure of their cause. The romantic notion of wild and free Scots suffering under the yoke of England’s royal pretensions can’t help but recall Spence’s idea of an imported kingly caste in Atlantis reigning over a rebellious native population. The uprising and crushing of the Giants parallels the ability of England to keep the Scots divided and subjugated after the ancient battles that had long preserved Scotland’s traditional freedom.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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