Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review: Survivors of Atlantis

Atlantis. Just the name conjures up mysteries and undiscovered secrets of a past, magnificent, and now fallen civilization. Unsurprisingly, in modern times, countless books have been written on the subject; numerous movies have been made; and just as many theories have been espoused. Did Atlantis exist? If so, why are there no physical traces of an island  past the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ (Straits of Gibraltar) that Plato (427-347 BC) describes as being ‘larger than Libya and Asia together’ when the island supposedly was destroyed overnight in a volcanic explosion? The writings of Plato have prompted theories and debate for over 2000 years. Plato was not the only person to speculate about Atlantis. There are 24 or so references to Atlantis by ancient authors, whose works date from 4000 BC to 450 AD (Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Indian writers). Many people believe the tale to be complete fiction; others believe that the story was inspired by catastrophic events that may have destroyed the Minoan civilization on the islands of Crete and Thera. Still others maintain that the story is an accurate telling of a long-lost and almost completely forgotten land.

I love the whole concept of Atlantis, and fell upon Frank Joseph’s book eagerly. The author puts forward the theory, and compellingly so, that the culture itself spread widely throughout the Mediterranean, Africa (north and west), and as far as the Americas, although the physical island base was not as large as Plato describes. Various jumping off points and
established colonies maintained the strength and control of the Atlanteans over conquered territories. The author provides numerous cited examples, including wars, archaeological discoveries, massive architectural remains, similarities in names of places, people, gods, rulers, etc. (although I found some linguistic links a little tenuous).

The only area where I disagreed was the date. This has created problems ever since Plato pinpointed Atlantis as being in existence around 9600 BC, according to the legendary 6th century BC Athenian lawgiver Solon (supposedly the source of his story). Frank Joseph puts his Atlanteans rise and fall within more accurate periods, identifying the Atlanteans and their battle allies as the historically documented ‘Sea Peoples,’ a confederacy of seafaring raiders that attacked various countries such as Egypt, Anatolia, Syria, and Cyprus at the end of the Bronze Age (3200-600 BC). Plato calls the Atlanteans by name; historical records in the time the author cites (3200+) do not. Surely, such a powerful group, if they existed in the time of established record keeping (from 3100 BC), would have been named directly, although the 3rd century BC Egyptian historian Manetho describes a group that have similarities to the Atlantean survivors as ‘Auriteans.’
Plato describes the destruction of Atlantis as having taken place 9000 years earlier than the time he wrote. While this cataclysmic destruction sounds farfetched, the melting of ice caps and glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age (around 12000 BC) resulted in the Mediterranean Sea level rising by 200 feet or more, swamping coastal and island settlements. In addition, around 7500 BC extraordinary rainfall in the Middle East led to catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters, which again affected civilizations. Frank Joseph is more specific and points to four catastrophic events—the cyclical return of a comet and its debris—as being the downfall of this magnificent culture (3100; 2200; 1628 and 1198 BC.). Mass immigrations that followed each disaster spread the Atlanteans’ culture and achievements to Peru, Ireland, Greece, and Mexico, where descriptions of superior visitors are recorded.

The author also points to the particular metal, orichalcum, as being the source of the Atlanteans’ wealth, enabling them to achieve power quickly over their neighbours. Sound far-fetched? The Menomonie Indian tradition mentions fair-skinned strangers that mined the Earth’s ‘shiny bones’ in the North American Great Lakes area. However, by the time Plato wrote, the metal was known by name only.

Another telling point that resonates with the 21st century and the future is the reason the Atlanteans perished. Natural disasters aside, Plato describes the Atlanteans’ hubris, their overweening pride, as a symptom of a sick society. Once heralded for their pure and noble qualities, the Atlanteans became materialistic, proud, aggressive, and forgot the source of their good fortune. They ignored the gods, with dire consequences. Frank Joseph describes how the Atlanteans, at the zenith of their magnificence, thought they could go on conquering various people forever. In control of a purported global empire, who would stop them? They assumed that the rest of humanity would be better off under an Atlantean warlord. The author describes this kind of arrogance as just one of many that various civilizations indulged in before they crashed. “History is littered with the wreckage of broken civilizations…” The pattern of a rise to power, a period of uncontrolled carnage in conquering, and then decline is all too familiar. Herein lies a moral, historical, and cautionary tale for the future. An extensive bibliography is testament to the author’s mammoth research. Despite quibbling about dates, I enjoyed this book so much that I will definitely read other works by this author.

I own a copy of this book and received no remuneration for this review.
by Fiona Ingram

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