Right from the beginning, the show wrongly identifies Atlantis as “the city of the future,” which is not what Plato writes. (As we’ll see later, Shatner’s narration is meant to tie Atlantis to, of all things, EPCOT Center at Disney World, a project of the History Channel’s ultimate parent company, Disney.) Shatner asserts that Atlantis might have flown off into the sky, which is again not a Greek story but one proposed by sister show Ancient Aliens back in 2010. The History Channel fever swamp is now self-referential and mutually reinforcing.
The usual History Channel loons are on, with depressing familiarity, along with Richard Freund, who proposed in a National Geographic documentary a much-criticized claim that Atlantis was the biblical Tarshish and located in Spain, is on. Jonathan Young, ancient astronaut theorist from Ancient Aliens is on. Lynn Picknett, Templar conspiracy theorist from Ancient Aliens is on. Andrew Collins, a lost civilization conspiracy theorist, is on. Nephilim-giant conspiracy theorist Hugh Newman from Ancient Aliens and Search for the Lost Giant was on. William Henry from Ancient Aliens is on to claim that space aliens “mated” with human women and engaged in “genetic engineering.”
The various ignoramuses, liars, and grifters repeat Plato’s account of Atlantis and then compare Atlantis to Troy, the city that had never really been lost but which Heinrich Schliemann convinced the world only he had ever taken seriously. “Every metaphor has at its base a nucleus of historical information,” Freund lies. He is obviously wrong since there are some ancient “metaphors” that are obviously untrue: Euhemerus’ Panchaea, Lucians’s voyage to the moon. There is no reason to assume Atlantis is true without assuming the others are true, too.
The show calls Atlantis: The Antediluvian World author Ignatius Donnelly an “amateur scientist”—he was actually a congressman and never claimed to be a scientist—and exaggerates his “obsession” with Atlantis to propose that he was a sort of sainted ancestor to today’s internet obsessives. He spent only a couple of years of his life on Atlantis. He was much more interested in the question of who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and, of course, scheming for political power.
The show’s second segment recaps Freund’s Atlantis-in-Spain hypothesis and the 2011 documentary (and 2017 recycling) but fails to acknowledge adequately Spanish archaeologists’ condemnation of Freund’s deceptive ideas and what they considered unethical behavior. Then in the third segment Shatner recycles claims about Atlantis you previously saw on a 2014 episode of In Search of Aliens about Peter Daughtrey’s claim that Atlantis is in Portugal. I read Daughtrey’s book about it in 2013 and considered it so poorly reasoned and so lacking in evidence that I didn’t find it worthy to review. And yet it keeps coming back. As I said in 2014, “Daughtrey’s ideas are simply efforts to correlate various facets of Plato with his preferred location for Atlantis, ignoring what he doesn’t like.”
We also hear about the 2015 news report that orichalcum had been found, and Freund giggles like Jerry Lewis, telling us, basically, “Hey, lady! We found it!” Except what they found was a Greco-Roman brass known as orichalcum in later Antiquity, while Plato used the word to refer to a mythological substance, second in value only to gold, that was rather obviously not a copper-zinc alloy like the one found in Sicily in 2015.
The next segment discusses so-called prophet Edgar Cayce’s “prophecies” and his visions of an advanced Atlantis with death rays. The show declines to note that Cayce himself literally cited his claims to Theosophical sources and the book Dweller on Two Planets (reading 364-1). Andrew Collins tries to make the case that his own Atlantis book is correct at Atlantis is in Cuba. The evidence he offers is that Cuban cave art has circles in it and Atlantis was a circle. Oh, the tingles! Collins claims that in 1552 Francisco López de Gómara claimed that Native Americans had a tradition in Cuba that the Caribbean islands had all split from a lost continent and were therefore Atlantis. He actually said this: “But there is now no cause why we should any longer doubt or dispute of the Island Atlantide, forasmuch as the discovering and conquest of the west Indies do plainly declare what Plato hath written of the said lands. In Mexico also at this day they call that water Atl, [by the half name of Atlantis,] as by a word remaining of the name of the Island that is not” (trans. Richard Eden). He was also writing of Mexico. Not the same. We also get the usual fringe claim that the end of the Ice Age flooded Atlantis when the glaciers raised the ocean levels. Of course, that didn’t happen in a day and a night, so Plato is wrong in order to be right.
The next segment just outright presents the ancient astronaut theory and alleges (in the form of a question that is not really a question) that Atlantis was founded and ruled by space aliens. The show makes much of Atlantis being founded by a god, but it omits the obvious that every Greek city claimed a divine or heroic founder. Athens had its patron, Athena, for example. The B-roll confuses Atlas, the son of Poseidon, with the Titan Atlas who held up the heavens. Shatner, who narrated UFO documentaries long before I was born, calls the ancient astronaut theory “fascinating,” and then Henry repeats the Ancient Aliens claim that Atlantis was an E.T. mothership that flew into the sky. Obviously, Plato can’t be telling the truth if this “audacious” idea were true, which gets back into the trap of admitting that Plato was wrong in some measures and therefore can’t be reliable in others.
The final segment describes the Walt Disney’s Company’s EPCOT Center, originally envisioned as a prototype utopian city. Because it was based on a ring-and-spoke model (like Paris), the show claims Disney wanted to build “a modern-day Atlantis, perhaps without realizing it.” This has nothing to do with Atlantis as a historical place, any more than the Atlantis theme park in the Bahamas “speaks to the power of those models of utopian society” and the “elusive goal for mankind to achieve” that the show alleges—falsely—Plato’s Atlantis represents. Remember, Atlantis was the enemy in Plato’s stories, the evil example of a failed, corrupt state. Zeus literally plans its destruction in a story clearly borrowed from the Near East Flood Myth—you know, the one where God wipes away all the evil and corruption from the world to start anew. This is not an ideal to strive for, and had the brain trust behind this show and Ancient Aliens read Plato, they might have realized that.
But it’s probably about right for the History Channel to lust after an imagined golden age that never was in a warlike failed imperial state with divine pretentions. It’s very on-brand.
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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