I’ve selected my next alternative book to blog my way through reviewing. I’ve gotten tired of aliens, so I thought I’d try a lost civilization bit of crazy this time. Many readers will remember Gavin Menzies as the British writer who advocated the idea that the Chinese discovered America in 1421. He relied on long-discredited evidence, false assumptions, and distortions of truth to do so, which I wrote about a decade ago. Well, Menzies hasn’t stopped producing books, nor have major publishers stopped giving him money to do so. (Here’s looking at you, William Morrow.)
Late last year, Morrow published Menzies’ latest opus, The Lost Empire of Atlantis, which supposedly presents the best ever evidence for the existence of the lost continent that, in the real world, was invented by Plato in the Timaeus and Critias. He believes Atlantis was “really” Minoan Crete, a long-suffering hypothesis that fails to overcome the chronological difficulties involved in transmitting the story across 1,300 years without any intervening acknowledgement.
I should begin by listing the book’s ridiculously long full time. Here it is.
The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History’s Greatest Mystery Revealed: The Astonishing True Story of the Rise and Violent End of the Minoans, the Forgotten Ancient Civilization that Discovered America and Sparked the Atlantis Legend.
Well, that’s quite a promise, and one based on the idea that Plato (and only Plato) knew of the Minoan civilization—then more than 1,000 years dead—and incorporated that knowledge into a political allegory when no other writer thought to make mention of it. I’ll be interested to hear how that’s going to happen.
Things do not begin well since Menzies has apparently made a major breakthrough in deciphering Linear A. He dedicates the book to his wife, whose name he gives in the un-deciphered Minoan script. This is a major advance in our knowledge, and clearly Menzies needs to share with the world how he miraculously learned to read Linear A. (I imagine he was relying on the theory that symbols shared by Linear A and the deciphered Linear B have the same values, something not universally acknowledged.)
The book has 41 chapters, but I certainly don’t intend to spend 41 days discussing this.
In chapter 1, things don’t start well. Menzies wonders whether the sea-faring Minoans inspired the Odyssey or Jason and the Argonauts, apparently ignorant of the sea-faring Mycenaeans who were those myths’ actual, if far-removed, inspiration. From there, things get a bit better as Menzies, in between bits of self-congratulatory biography, offers a potted history of Arthur Evans’ discovery of Knossos, the life and times of the Minoans, and their established trade relationship with Egypt.
However, Menzies proceeds to declare that the Minoans were the “first” to develop writing, despite the fact that both the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians had been writing long before Linear A. He acknowledges that this is common knowledge but then suggests that Linear A preceded all other writing on the strength of the Phaistos disk. Here’s the actual fact of the matter: the oldest known Minoan writing is the Phaistos disk from c. 1700 BCE, while cuneiform emerged around 3000 BCE. Menzies doesn’t tell his readers that part, leaving the deceptive impression of Minoan primacy.
From the maps at the front of the book, it seems Menzies is going to tell us that Stonehenge was built by the Minoans!
Well, this is going to be fun.
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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