Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Venice is sinking, Atlantis is rising?
November 25, 2004 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Has Atlantis been found? It's a good question. (Previous MeFi threads here, and here). Digging around at Atlantis Rising also provides some thoughts as to where it might be. (beware the worst of the tinfoil hat brigade, though) Or perhaps the whole thing bores you, and you'd rather build your own Atlantis or just take a cruise.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy (11 comments total)

 
One of the more accepted academic standings on this seems to be that Plato meant Atlantis to be a metaphor or sorts. It makes sense, really, when you consider how many of these old political theory/philosophical works were into the metaphors. It was a popular enough way of doing things.

Nevertheless, interesting stuff. And I'm always in the mood for a bit of mystery. Last I heard Atlantis was in Cuba or something, but I think that was on a Disney DVD special feature.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 4:01 PM on November 25, 2004


We know that the ancient Greeks used electrum, but wouldn't the discovery of orichalcum be the, ahem, gold standard for the confirmation of the discovery of Atlantis?

(sorry for the poor quality of the links - I'm supposed to be working)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:25 PM on November 25, 2004


Sorry, that's electrum and orichalcum
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:27 PM on November 25, 2004


Well, there are a few things that kind of bug me about the whole Atlantis thing.

1: A large part of treating Atlantis as real comes from a dubious historical motivation. Many people still do not believe that an African neolithic culture was capable of building the pyramids of Egypt. So lets just assume that a story by Plato absent collaborating evidence is literal truth and the pyramids were built with the help of a magical/technologically advanced culture, that just happens to be classically Greek. An irony is that Plato and his contemporaries

2: The Atlantis dialogues read like a shaggy dog story. Really, the yarn practically starts with "a friend of a friend," and continues with a wink and a nudge to "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away." Saying that Atlantis is about a real place, is rather like saying that Star Wars is about the Battle of Midway (come on here, are you really saying that the last half of Star Wars does not remind you of a bunch of WWII aviation movies?). Atlantis is not history and should not be read as such. It is propaganda embedded in a faery tale, and it was understood as such for centuries.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:29 PM on November 25, 2004


Atlantis is not history and should not be read as such. It is propaganda embedded in a faery tale, and it was understood as such for centuries.

But isn't that the same thing they said about Troy? Or the eskimos? Or UFOs for that matter?
posted by sour cream at 6:35 PM on November 25, 2004


sour cream: But isn't that the same thing they said about Troy?

Ohhh, I knew that someone was going to bring up Troy.

I think there is quite a bit of reason to doubt The Illiad and The Odyssey as a historical narrative. To start with, it is loaded with anachronisms combining details from several different sources into a narrative consistent story. In that respect it is much like Gilgamesh or Beowulf, both stories that combine prior fragments into an "epic" whole united by a common theme.

For a more modern example, you might try Hamlet. Hamlet is an 11th century character, who returns from a 16th century University to a 16th century castle and spends most of the phrase baffling his countrymen with Elizabethan philosophy. Why bring Hamlet back from Wittenburg to a castle that had only been a home for the Kings of Denmark a mere 20 years? Well, Wittenberg establishes Hamlet as a protestant intellectual, and Elsinore puts him in the center of a contemporary conflict between Denmark and Sweeden. The choice of these settings reflects the politics of Shakespeare's audience.

Likewise, for Greek audiences in the 8th century, Asia Minor was both the historic frontier, and a desireable route of colonization. With a political drive for a Greek unity and colonization, the Homeric epics seem to be an obvious call for both unification and expansion into Asia Minor. They may be based in a 500 year old oral history, that spans the Greek dark ages, but they are not really about history, but about great men touched or cursed by the gods, and a city destroyed by a larger-than-life battle.

In addition, I have my doubts as to the popular myth that Schliemann was a lone wolf or heretic standing against contemporary scholars. There seems to have been enough believers in Troy to foster debate about its location. The classic Greeks and Romans considered it to be historical truth after all.

There are a large number of reasons why Atlantis (and the claimed sites) don't pass a basic philosphical sniff test. Not the least of which includes a lack of collaborating evidence from the claimed source of the legend (Egypt), improbable claims by Plato and other authors, the absence of an Athenian culture 9,000 years before Plato, improbable geography, inconsistencies within the text, and similarities to other parables.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:21 PM on November 25, 2004


There are a large number of reasons why Atlantis (and the claimed sites) don't pass a basic philosphical sniff test. Not the least of which includes a lack of collaborating evidence from the claimed source of the legend (Egypt), improbable claims by Plato and other authors, the absence of an Athenian culture 9,000 years before Plato, improbable geography, inconsistencies within the text, and similarities to other parables.

Probably true, but should we let reason stand in the way of adventure and entertainment? Movie deals? HBO specials?
posted by sour cream at 9:04 PM on November 25, 2004


i'm with donovan.
posted by quonsar at 9:27 PM on November 25, 2004


Searching for Atlantis is like trying to catch the wind. First there is an Atlantis, then there is no Atlantis, then there is.
posted by euphorb at 11:20 PM on November 25, 2004


Superman or Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:31 AM on November 26, 2004


There are a couple of other difference between Atlantis and Troy that resonate with me.

First, as far as I've ever read, we know of "Atlantis" basically from a few lines in one source. We know of Troy from, at a minimum, an entire genre of literature. Illiad is only one of a great number of poems about the Trojan War. Many of the key events don't happen in the Illiad, but in other poems entirely.

Second, that "Illiad-era" epic genre was somewhat more recent and infinitely more specific than the few lines about Atlantis. I was taught that oral histories tend to begin to degrade at around 200 years, given an otherwise stable culture. My old-world ancient history is rusty, but as I recall, the events of the Illiad were said to have happened about 300 years prior. So there should still have been some value to the traditions. They were in the process of passing from historical recollection into legend at the same time that greek culture was replacing legend with literature. So the Trojan War poems became their first literature. The narrative that they created of Greek history served, I'm sure, a political and social purpose.

Atlantis, in other words, is almost wholly a creation of the modern imagination; it satisfies some need in us for something, just as stories of the Trojan War satisfied some need for the Greeks.

I'm sure someone could dig up the old Nazi-Atlantis links....
posted by lodurr at 5:27 AM on November 27, 2004


« Older Superhero Hype!...  |  New... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments