Thursday, June 27, 2024

On Atlantis, Graham Hancock and Ignatius Donnelly

Perhaps the most pernicious habit of Atlantis interpreters is the one pointed out by Dr Miano on Youtube: The typical Atlantis interpreter adopts the "8000-9000 years ago" time frame and very nearly NOTHING ELSE from the original story.  In fact, aside from believing Plato on the date, they seem to have little or no interest in Plato's Atlantis.  Lots of interpreters take up the description of the city with its alternating rings of water and earth. But plenty leave that out.  Those who do will usually concentrate on other matters, such as the size and shape of the plain of Atlantis, or its location.  

The war against the Greeks?  Rarely emphasized.  The ten kings of Atlantis?  Rarely mentioned. The bull ritual that the kings perform?  Rarely mentioned.  The large, oddly shaped temple of Poseidon in the center of town? Rarely mentioned. The loss of Greek literacy? Rarely mentioned. The Egyptian priest's claim that his people wrote down the story of Atlantis contemporaneously with the actual events?  Rarely mentioned.  The destruction both of Greek elites and of Atlantis on the same day in the same "flood from heaven"?  Rarely mentioned.  

Another irritating aspect of Atlantis talk is that there are several widely-shared ideas about Atlantis that do not come from the story by Plato. They come from a bastardization of the story that was invented by Ignatius Donnelly.  Plato never said that Atlantis was "advanced." Donnelly did. Plato never said that Atlantis traded with all the continents, but Donnelly did. Plato never mentioned or talked about survivors of Atlantis, but Donnelly did.  

Perhaps we should judge Atlantis interpretations by how much of Plato they can actually interpret. The best interpretations take in the most statements from the original story. The worst interpretations ignore the greatest number of remarks from Plato. 

If that were the standard, interpreters working in the shadow of Donnelly would suffer severely.  Hardly a word of Plato is found in them.  This is not because Donnelly did not discuss Plato. He did.  His 1882 book, The Antediluvian World, opens by reciting the entire Atlantis tale, including the full text from both Timaeus and Critias.  

A quick perusal of Donnelly's table of contents will show good readers exactly what he was up to.  

I don't know why this wikibook does not have links for Part V, but there it is.  

Donnelly includes Plato's entire tale of Atlantis on pages 5-22 of his book.  After that, Plato steps away and Donnelly's speculations take center stage.  

The main reason Donnelly's followers do not discuss Plato is probably that they have taken from Donnelly (and the zeitgeist he inspired) a completely wrong-headed approach to the Atlantis tale. Donnelly treats the Atlantis tale as if it is a story about a lost world.  That is a wrong emphasis.  The tale is about a war.  The loss of Atlantis is not the reason for telling the story.  The reason to tell it is to recall a great war.  

In addition, Donnelly treats the tale as a platform for his own speculations.  He does not seek to understand it or to interpret it.  He aims to promote his own ideas about it.  

Followers of Donnelly have fallen for both of these wrong headed approaches.  They treat all of Plato's remarks as though they boil down to saying there is a lost world, then they bring their own ideas into the story and talk about its location or influence.  

In Part II above, Donnelly teaches the world to conflate all ancient mentions of floods from around the world and to imagine that they all refer to a single event.  The Atlantis tale alone mentions several distinct and important floods, but that does not phase Donnelly.  He ignores the details of the story.  

Dr Miano has commented at length on Graham Hancock's depressing habit of conflating all flood myths from around the world, from all times and places, as if they all attempt to recall or warn about a single ancient event.  

Hancock learned this trick from Donnelly.  Or better, it was Donnelly who made the world ready to believe that all ancient flood myths might refer to the same event. Hancock gets an easy skate on this matter because Donnelly's ideas have been around for 140 years.  

The rest of Donnelly's table of contents demonstrates that Hancock gets almost his entire world view from Donnelly.  Or better: Donnelly made the world ready to recognize and not contest the rest of Hancock's story.  Donnelly came up with the idea of pretending to discover Atlantis as a forgotten meaning behind ancient literature and religion.  Donnelly came up with the idea of looking for similarities in artifacts from around the world and explaining them as derivatives from Atlantis. He began the habit of treating similarly shaped buildings around the world as if they might all have a single origin in Atlantis. Donnelly came up with the idea of treating ancient cultures as colonies of Atlantis. Hancock has dropped the unpopular word colony.  Aside from that, his thinking is very much in the groove laid down by Donnelly.  His vaguely defined advanced civilization in North America is nothing more than Atlantis moved to the shores of North America.   

In his work of 1883, Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, Donnelly defends at length the hypothesis that a comet hit the earth and destroyed a high civilization ~12,000 years ago, or ~10,000bce.  This puts its date close to that of Atlantis as dated by Plato's tale, ~9560bce.  In this work, Donnelly compiles and blurs his eyes over a large collection of ancient myths and tales about fires, concluding that they all discuss a single event, namely, his proposed comet strike.  

So, all ancient stories about floods are or might be about one flood, and all ancient stories about fires are or might be about one fire. 

Hancock follows Donnelly down the comet strike trail as well.  This move lets him point to almost any ancient artifact that can be construed as astronomical and treat it as if its original motive and meaning has to do with an ancient comet strike during the younger dryas.  This is the form Hancock applies to Gobekli Tepe.  He looks at a carving on a pillar, imagines that it has to do with constellations, then connects his imaginary star map with a comet strike.  It is pure Donnelly.  

In fact, Hancock has been doing Donnelly and almost nothing but Donnelly for a long, long time. The ancient aliens crowd have been doing almost nothing but Stichen and Von Daniken for a long, long time. Hancock is no more original than they are.  

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On Atlantis, Graham Hancock and Ignatius Donnelly

Perhaps the most pernicious habit of Atlantis interpreters is the one pointed out by Dr Miano on Youtube: The typical Atlantis interpreter ...