Monday, February 16, 2009

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: Atlantis: The Antediluvian World

This book, incidentally, is now record holder for oldest book I've reviewed, unless you count my vague allusions to old Arthurian mythology, which I don't, especially since none of that is actually reviews.

If you've read anything modern that takes the existence of Atlantis seriously...

...this book, by Ignatius Donnelly, probably started it all.

Note that I am not approaching this particularly as either a skeptic or a believer. Skepticism and wild belief alike are not conducive to discovery and learning. (My sister, when I related various things I was reading about, basically threw fits and shouted about how "Atlantis is a story made up by Plato!!1!")

The edition of the book that I read was the 1949 edition. In effect, it was long after the time of geology in its infancy, but still before plate tectonics became the primary explanation of many mysteries of the geological record.

That said, no matter how crazy Donnelly's theories got (and they were actually not that crazy), he had nothing on the editor of the 1949 edition.

First off, this editor, Egerton Sykes, thought the Hörbiger theory was totally rock solid scientific fact.

If you've never heard of this theory and are too lazy to follow the link, I'll summarize the basic tenets of this theory, originally put forward by an engineer with no formal learning in advanced physics:
  1. The world is made of ice.
  2. No, seriously, that's the theory.
  3. Celestial bodies are made of ice.
  4. Yes. The moon is ice. This is why it's so crackly.
  5. The solar system was created when a big star exploded because a smaller, waterlogged star fell into it.
  6. This theory came to him in a "vision" after the creator of the theory concluded that the moon was made of ice because it looks crackly.
  7. Gravity stops somewhere outside of Neptune's orbit.
  8. The Earth once had a different moon, and when it melted away, it was replaced by the current one. (This is the primary application of the "World Ice Theory" as pertains to the editor's interpretation of Donnelly's book.)
  9. I am not making this up.

By the way, this theory was immensely popular in Nazi Germany, especially since it had been created by a good and patriotic German engineer/businessman rather than a Jew (it was considered an acceptable alternative to the Theory of Relativity-and I'm still not making this up).

Another theory forwarded by Sykes was the idea that some guys sacrificed offerings by stinging them with jellyfish and then feeding them live and paralyzed to giant squids.

Did this guy read a lot of comic books or something?

Anyway, Donnelly's theories were reasonably well-founded on the science, history, and archaeology of his day. For instance, then-recent soundings of the floor of the Atlantic indicated that the area where Atlantis would more or less have been (based on Plato's story and on Donnelly's other research) was considerably higher than most of the Atlantic's ocean floor. This is actually still entirely true.

He also suggests that the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Toltecs, the pre-conquest Peruvians (typically erroneously called the Inca or Incans-this would, by the way, be like calling the Egyptians Pharaohnians), the Egyptians (speak of the devil), the Phoenicians, the Hebrews, the Chaldeans (i.e. the ancient Mesopotamian civilization), the Aryans (keep in mind that this is the anthropological Aryans, who were the originators of the Indo-European language group and the founders of the Hindu religion, and not the Nazi propaganda Aryans), the Celts, the Etruscans, the Turanians (forebears of the Mongolian peoples, and by extension the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese), the Mound Builders, the Basques, and basically anybody who's ever had something resembling civilization were actually descended from or took their traditions and technology from the Atlanteans.

He goes on to suggest that the Greek mythology of the gods was a somewhat corrupted history of Atlantis, and that this is corroborated by things such as the idea that heaven and the dead were in the west in all European cultures, often explicitly about where Atlantis would have been.

He suggests that the Deluge stories of all peoples were all accounts of peoples who had escaped the destruction of Atlantis and assumed themselves the only survivors.

He analyzes the etymology of the name, connecting it with as far-reaching things as Aztlan (of Aztec mythology) and Olympus. (Those are not actually as far apart as they appear to be.)

He suggests that the Atlanteans were the first island people to become a world power, colonizing America, Europe, and the Mediterranean, and possibly trading as far as Pacific or Indian Ocean coasts, further suggesting that ancient Egypt's status as a nation that had seemingly come out of nowhere fully formed and then gradually decayed until its destruction proved that it was the last surviving colony. (A lot of Egypt's most impressive achievements were pretty early in its history.)

He basically says all sorts of crazy things. One of his claims is that an Atlantean invented gunpowder. (He equated this Atlantean with Zeus because of Zeus's Cyclops-forged thunderbolts.) According to Wikipedia, gunpowder was invented in China, so I guess that's out...

Obviously, the book itself doesn't really hold together. (The book also got on my sister's nerves because the author happily said "obviously," "the only conclusion we can draw," etc. He attributed numerous legends of large creatures, including the Cyclops, the Hekatoncheires [hundred-handed giants], and a creature called Oannes which supposedly came from the sea and taught the Babylonians everything they knew, to ships. How would someone mistake a boat for a land-going giant, exactly?) The research is too old, and too much has changed since then. Anyone looking for something useful on Atlantis that takes the story seriously ought to go to a newer source of some kind, preferably a scholarly one instead of one that says "by the author of this book which is compared to the theories of Erich von Daaniken."

It's really fired up my imagination, though.

-Signing off.

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