Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P.1

The search for Atlantis will never end. And not all its searchers will wind up in outer space. The attempt will always be made, again and again, to find Atlantis on earth. A book called Atlantis in America revived in 1998 the sixteenth-century speculations of men like Fracastoro and Dee, with our old friend the comet as the agent of destruction in 10, 513 BC: wonderful the precision these Atlantologists go in for. 

Another book published in 2000 illustrates what a weight of erudition can still be brought to bear in an effort to find some clue to the terrestrial whereabouts of the lost civilization. 

Andrew Collins (who recently co-wrote: "The Exodus Conspiracy") starts his story in "Gateway to Atlantis" in a cave, on some as yet unnamed tropical island, where he "almost" feels he is being called to delve into its deposits by "some unseen gemus loci." 

He soon spots some concentric markings on the rocks which he says resemble lines to be seen in certain megalithic constructions of western Europe. In that characteristic way in which these researchers struggle to retain their objectivity. Plato, Theopompus, Pseudo-Aristotle and Strabo are cited by Andrew Collins in "Gateway To Atlantis" to indicate that the ancient world had knowledge of another continent beyond the ocean; their work can, of course, with at least as much plausibility, be seen simply as evidence that they speculated about other lands overseas very much as we speculate about other worlds in space. 

For Collins "it seems certain" that Plato was somehow aware of America and the West Indies: the general lack of references to these lands (and complete lack of details) in classical literature he is inclined to attribute to a situation in which only "a select few" knew about these things. So the secrecy theme makes an early appearance in Collins: "Information . . . deliberately withheld from the outside world." Collins thinks Plato might have got knowledge of the transatlantic world through Solon from those priests of Saite Egypt. No sooner is this possibility articulated than it is thereafter taken for granted that he did. But Collins himself is rather stumped by Plato's assertion that the kings of Atlantis (over in the Americas) controlled areas within the Mediterranean, so he does at least entertain the thought that Plato might have made it all up out of family stories of Solon's sojourn in Egypt and various remarks of  Herodotus, as we noted earlier on. Collins clings to the possibility that Plato himself may have visited Egypt (though we recall that Plato never says so - only much later anecdotes suggest it): "It is conceivable that Plato learned of the Atlantis story - or at least found confirmation of it - during his own stay in Egypt." Many things are conceivable without being demonstrable. 

Collins works hard to substantiate the conceivability of Atlantis beyond the Sargasso Sea, despite Plato's claim that its easterly part was next door to Gibraltar. He makes much of Plato's mud shoal in the aftermath of Atlantis, Aristotle's shallows beyond the Pillars of Hercules and the shoals and seaweed mentioned by Pseudo-Scylax (at about the same time as Plato and Aristotle) as blocking navigation beyond a certain Phoenician-occupied island off the African coast. Only in the compilation called Pseudo-Scylax (posing as the work of a much earlier navigator) does seaweed appear in addition to the mud shallows, but it is enough to remind Collins of the floating weeds (actually quite without mud and shallows) of the Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso is, of course, much further to the west than Gibraltar or the coast of Africa, beyond the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Only by putting together Plato and Aristotle (who was Just following his teacher in the matter of mud) with Pseudo-Scylax can Collins come up with what we might call his Pseudo-Sargasso of shallow mud and weeds. (The real Sargasso is between 1,500 and 7,000 metres deep.) 

Collins would like to think the Carthaginians had already seen the Sargasso before Plato's time, and it is just possible that they had, though quoting the remarks of a writer of the fourth century AD about a Carthaginian voyage of the fifth century BC is hardly very persuasive. It seems unlikely, moreover, that the square-rigged ships of the Phoenicians and Greeks, with one or two sails and no central rudder, unable to tack against the wind, could ever have reached the Sargasso Sea "in the teeth of the prevailing westerlies," as L. Sprague de Camp points out. Collins further speculates that the shoals might be a reference to the shallow waters off the Bahamas - Bimini country, in fact. And, "in accepting the supposition that Plato was alluding ... to the Sargasso Sea, and perhaps even the Bahamas, we are left with one inescapable conclusion," he says. It is difficult to see how an inescapable conclusion follows from a supposition about one thing and perhaps another, The conclusion is that "whether by accident or design, Plato located his sunken island somewhere on the western Atlantic seaboard." Which plainly, he did not, since it came up practically to Gibraltar in the east. 

For Collins the considerable distance between the Sargasso and the Bahamas is accommodated by the suggestion that "in singling out the Sargasso Sea" (which is a huge assumption on Collins' part since there is nothing at all to suggest Plato was talking about the Sargasso) Plato was just trying to indicate the general location of his sunken island. This cannot be said to be a very rigorous way of arguing. The attempt to add some associating Atlantis with the Bahamas by means of the coconut is just as weak. A passage in Plato's account of the wonderful fruits of Atlantis, which Collins takes to refer to coconuts, has been interpreted by other translators as a poetic reference to olive trees. Collins is aware that coconuts were not introduced to the West Indies till colonial times - he adopts an unorthodox view of the diffusion of coconut cropping and invokes a Haitian folk-tale about coconuts thrown down to become men and women after a flood to suggest a further antique, Atlantean connection. Ah, there are always the folk-tales! (Collins makes nothing much either way of Plato's assertion of elephants on Atlantis.)

Collins can see as well as most of us that Plato drew on Athens, on Syracuse, on Babylon and Ecbatana and the rest to supply details for his city of Atlantis, but he is determined to believe that none the less some real knowledge of old Atlantis and its topography came through to Plato from maritime sources available at the time merchants' maps, in fact. Collins wants to strip Plato's Atlantis material of "its political and fantastic overtones" to show how the story "preserves knowledge of an island kingdom or empire that thrived in the Atlantic thousands of years before recorded history." But Plato's political and moral purposes are not overtones, they are his central theme, and the colourful details of his story are the disposable bits, not gems of accurate information brought back across the Atlantic to the ancient world of the Mediterranean by seafarers to the Americas. In the matter of the contentious dimensions of Plato's Atlantis, Collins is content to arrive at a much smaller island than something "bigger than Libya and Asia together," as Plato puts it. If Plato is not to be taken literally about his lost island's size, why take any of the rest of his details seriously? The attempt to reinterpret Plato as meaning that the sphere of maritime influence of Atlantis was equal in size to that of Libya and Asia is doomed by the simple fact that that is not what Plato says. He says in plain Greek, as we have had occasion to note before, that Atlantis was bigger than Libya and Asia.

See also:

Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P. 2: Cocaine

Gateway to Atlantis P.3: Seven Cities, El Dorado

Gateway to Atlantis P.4: Urheimat der Arier

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