It’s been some time since I had news about Atlantis, so let’s take a look at some unfortunate ideas about Plato’s sunken continent from this week’s news.
First up we have a letter to the editor from the Recorder of Greenfield, Mass., which demonstrates the degree to which science fiction and fringe history views of Atlantis have superseded anything resembling Plato’s original account. Take a look:
I imagine most readers are at least somewhat familiar with the legend of Atlantis. The enduring myth of an ancient technologically advanced civilization might serve as a warning to us today. As I understand it, they messed with forces beyond their control, and were destroyed.
Here, Joyce accepts two science fiction and/or fringe history claims that do not appear in Plato’s account: (a) that Atlantis was technologically advanced and (b) that they were destroyed for presumptuous use of technological forces. Neither is found in Plato. He wrote in the Timaeus that the Atlanteans were about as technologically advanced as Classical Greeks. In the Critias he wrote that the end of Atlantis came not due to presumptuous use of technology but because they had become sinful and too enamored of power:
For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them. By such reflections and by the continuance in them of a divine nature, the qualities which we have described grew and increased among them; but when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased, for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous power. Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. (trans. Benjamin Jowett)
The parallel between the last words of Plato’s unfinished dialogue and the Genesis account the end of the antediluvian world have not escaped the attention of critics. But to our point: As late as Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882), Atlantis is very clearly depicted as nothing more than a well-developed Bronze Age culture, not as a technological super-civilization.
But the fringe history version bears little resemblance to this account. It derives instead from a different source. In Dweller on Two Planets (1894, published 1905), Frederick S. Oliver presents Atlantis as a technologically advanced civilization, and Edgar Cayce picked up on this in reusing Oliver’s material (reading 364-1) in his prophecies. There Cayce assigns to the Atlanteans a death ray, among other things (reading 364-11).
Science fiction similarly built Atlantis into a powerhouse of mysterious technology, particularly the movie serial Undersea Kingdom (1936), which also gave Atlantis high technology and a kind of death ray (a disintegrator).
The popular image of Atlantis built on these ideas has all but replaced Plato’s own.
That leads us to the latest claims from Christos A. Djonis, the author of Uchronia? Atlantis Revealed (2013), a book I discussed last fall that claims to locate Atlantis in the Cyclades islands, repeating earlier claims proposed by geologist Kalliopi Gaki-Papanastassiou et al. in 2010.
In a new press release sent out this week, Djonis now claims that Atlantis was much more than just the Cyclades. Now Djonis has adopted and adapted material popular in fringe history sources like Donnelly’s Atlantis and many, many later Atlantis books. You’ll recognize the following claim from Gavin Menzies’s Lost Empire of Atlantis (2011), Scott Wolter’s America Unearthed, and numerous other fringe history sources:
With DNA evidence and an array of other clues, it [Uchronia] confirms the likelihood that Atlantians discovered North America more than 10,000 years ago. Other ancient civilizations followed later, including the Bronze-Age Minoans, a post-Atlantian culture which regularly mined copper out of the region of the Great Lakes.
This claim, as I discussed several times before, derives from faulty calculations about the amount of copper mined from the Great Lakes during the Old Copper culture.
But wait: There’s more! Djonis also claims his book will also provide the truth about the human genome, the Nazca lines, the chamber under the Great Sphinx, and the Hebrew Bible! Of course it does. What’s a fringe claim nowadays if it doesn’t include the Bible, DNA, and all the greatest hits of Chariots of the Gods? Fringe claims aren’t just claims; they’re worldviews.
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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