Wednesday 12 August 2009

An Evergreen Myth

Oh, yes, of course Atlantis exists; you will find it to the north of Utopia and to the east of Erewhon! Yes, it exists; it existed in the imagination of Plato, just as the latter two places existed in the imagination of Sir Thomas Moore and Samuel Butler.

There is nothing, no mention of Atlantis whatsoever, in the literary or historical record prior to the composition of Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and the unfinished Critias. Quite simply it is Plato’s Utopia, set up as a mirror to contemporary Greece . It fell in the end, Plato concluded, because of its impiety, a warning to his fellow countrymen. It was, in other words, simply a dialectical device, one the author used to illustrate and develop his political theories.

So, that’s it. There is no archaeological evidence, no chronicles, no remains, no coins; absolutely nothing. The only dispute amongst serious scholars is the extent to which Plato based his literary invention on older stories or some specific historical event, possibly the eruption of Santorini in the Cyclades Islands in 1500BC, which caused widespread devastation in the Aegean region, and is thought to have led to the beginning of the end of the Minoan civilization on Crete.

The idea was taken up, of course, by those who followed Plato, often only to be parodied and dismissed, beginning with Theopompus, who invented Meropis, his own fantastic world beneath the ocean. The current obsession probably dates no further back than the publication in the seventeenth century of The New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon.

And so it went on. Those who believe in Plato’s fiction are in the company of Heinrich Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg, the chief Nazi ideologue, and other such inspired mystics!

But, hey-what the hell?-when a myth is up and running it is impossible to knock down. :-))

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