“Enchanted Island: The Search For Atlantis; New Book By Steve P. Kershaw

“Enchanted Island: The Search For Atlantis; New Book By Steve P. Kershaw

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     One of the most prominent, enduring mysteries of humankind – was ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s reference to a lost city of Atlantis actually based on fact.  Steven P. Kershaw doesn’t think so, and he provides his reasoning why in his newly released book, “The Search For Atlantis,” just out by Pegasus. According to Dr. Kershaw’s online biography, he an author and lecturer, having taught the classics at Oxford, and is authored several books, focusing mostly on the world of ancient Greece and Rome. Dr. Kershaw’s new book was reviewed in the Friday, October 5, 2018 edition of the Wall Street Journal, by James Romm.  Mr. Romm is an author, reviewer, and the James H. Ottoway Professor of Classics at Bard College.  Mr. Romm’s latest book, “Theophrastus’ Characters: An Ancient Take On Bad Behavior, just published by Callaway.Mr. Romm begins, “In history’s long gallery of hoaxes and half-truths, Plato’s myth of Atlantis holds a privileged place. Spun out in only a few pages of the dialogues, “Timaeus,” and “Critias,” the tale of this sunken island, supposedly destroyed by an ancient flood after losing a war with Athens, has generated reams of speculation over the past two millennia — and still interests modern-day geologists, treasure hunters, and New Age cultists.”

     “The list of places where Atlantis has been sought reads like a testament to human ingenuity — or folly” Mr. Romm wrote. “Plato’s texts clearly situate the island outside the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) — that is in the Atlantic Ocean, as the name might suggest. Nonetheless,” he adds, “fervid interpreters have linked it to nearly every spot on the globe, including Antarctica, Australia, and Alaska, to sample only the “A” segment of a long list presented by Steve Kershaw in the last chapter of “The Search For Atlantis.”“Plato would no doubt be appalled at how seriously his story has been taken,” Mr. Romm observes. “True, he dressed Atlantis in the guise of fact, claiming that the Athenian sage Solon, had heard of it from learned Egyptian priests, who’s records went back 9,000 years.  But, such elaborate attributions were often used winkingly, by Greek fantasists. It’s just as easy to read Plato’s introduction to the tale as an admission of its fictionality.”Mr. Kershaw himself, believes Atlantis to be pure myth,” Mr. Romm wrote, “though he doesn’t reveal this view until the end of, “The Search For Atlantis.” “In a paragraph that will not endear him to true believers, he compares Plato’s island to the richly imagined, Hogwarts Academy, of the Harry Potter,” novels. Could anyone go out and search for Hogwarts based on J.K. Rowlings descriptions?,” Dr.Kershaw asks. “Of course not,” he writes. “It’s all about the story.””Or rather, it’s about how one uses the story, for Mr. Kershaw’s subject is not Plato’s texts; but, the ways in which readers have dealt with it over the millennia,” Mr. Romm explains. “As his exhaustive survey shows, Atlantis has been adapted to countless ideologies, and agendas over time, serving the needs of every sort of reader — “harmless Hippies, or Heinrich Himmler,” in Mr. Kershaw’s memorable phrase. Whether one wants to stake a colonial claim on New World lands, or find the lost ten tribes of the Hebrew Bible, or give support to the theory of continental drift, the Atlantis tale, properly twisted, can help,” Mr. Romm wrote.

     Dr. Kershaw, who teaches in Oxford University’s continuing-education branch, has done some thorough digging to unearth his collection of kooks and curiosities,” Mr. Romm wrote.  “Take the case of Olof Rudbeck, a Swedish scholar of the late 17th century, known today only to historians of Uppsala University, where he was once rector. Rudbeck combined Atlantis lore with Icelandic sagas, then sprinkled in bits of Greek myth and the Book of Genesis, to place Atlantis, as well as the homeland of the biblical Japheth, in Scandinavia.” “The meaning is obvious,” Dr. Kershaw wrote: “the Swedes, not the Jews, are God’s chosen people,” labeling Rudbeck’s scheme an example of “Atlanto-Nationalism.”     “The Search For Atlantis,” explores many such theories, perhaps too many,” Mr. Romm wrote. “Mr. Kershaw’s journey through the list of Atlantis seekers feels at times, like a forced march, and even he seems to grow weary,” Mr. Romm added. “The ‘same-old-same-old’ views of Plato’s Atlantis continued to be recycled in the Enlightenment,” he writes near the start of one chapter, inducing a mild sense of “here we go again.”

     “Indeed, Mr. Kershaw would have been well advised to omit some of his minor figures, and expand on the more interesting, and influential ones,” Mr. Romm wrote. “The fact that Arnobius of Sicca, a Christian apologist of the fourth century probably “regarded the Atlantis war as a genuine historical occurrence, doesn’t carry great resonance; and, in the short entries Mr. Kershaw devotes to such obscurities, one feels the dead hand of the scholarly reference work.”  Ouch.

     “Other Athenians, by contrast, deserve a more probing discussion than Mr. [Dr.] Kershaw gives them,” Mr. Romm wrote. “Ignatius Donnelly., a colorful Midwestern politician and author of the late 19th century, was by Mr. [Dr.] Kershaw’s account “the most influential writer on Atlantis since Plato.” “But, his treatment of Donnelly’s study, “Atlantis: The Antediluvian World,” is surprisingly thin, and doesn’t take account of the work’s racist underpinnings,” Mr. Romm noted. “By tracing all “advanced” civilizations back to the Atlanteans, here defined as a light-skinned, European people, Donnelly sought to credit his own race with humanity’s greatest achievements. This much reprinted book might have received a fuller treatment here,” Mr. Romm argues.

     “Mr. [Dr.] Kershaw does pick up the white-supremacist thread in the Atlantis story further on, when he comes to early, 20th century Germany,” Mr. Romm noted. “Three writers and scholars that he discusses — Karl Zschaetzsch, Edmund Kiss, and Albert Hermann — found  in Atlantis, the roots of the Aryans later mythicized by Hitler. It was a place they sometimes fused with the equally mysterious island of Thule, often linked to the North Atlantic, in order to produce a prehistoric, Valhalla-like German homeland.”

     “Mr. [Dr.] Kershaw closes this chilling chapter with a quote from Hannah Arendt, suggesting the larger importance of his topic,” Mr. Romm concludes: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule,” Arendt wrote, is “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…..and the distinction between true and false…..no longer exist.” “The tortured moves that Mr. [Dr.] Kershaw documents, by which the Atlantis myth has been recast as fact, and willfully misread, remind us how vital such distinctions are for a society striving to stay free.”

Extraordinary Claims Requires Extraordinary Evidence

     While the romantic in me, and all of us, likely want to believe that Atlantis was once a real city — there is just not any substantive evidence to substantiate such a spectacular claim.  Having said that, last year/Jan. 29, 2017, the National Geographic Society aired a documentary called, Atlantis Rising, in which they detail the discovery of large stone anchors — underwater — in the Strait of Gibraltar. The documentary was produced by James Cameron, Director of the epic Hollywood films – Titanic, and Avatar. Director Cameron led a lengthy, sophisticated, and intricate search in the Strait of Gibraltar — including employing an elite team of scientists and marine archaeologists, using advanced navigation techniques, and multi-spectral imaging to try and acquire the evidence and artifacts necessary to substantiate the claims that Atlantis was indeed a real city, long, long ago. One anchor they discovered, was estimated to be between 3,000 – 4,000 years old; and, measured 83 cm across, with a hole in the middle — “which is massive, and designed for a very large boat,” said Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford, and who participated in the project. “These anchors could be between 3,500 – 4,000 years old;” and, could be evidence of an ancient harbor in the Atlantic Ocean and in the sweet spot of the Pillars of Hercules, said filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. “If we found six on a few dives, there must be thousands out there, confirming Plato’s report of a port, just past the Pillar of Hercules.”

     But alas, compelling and indisputable visual evidence remains lacking.  The search, no doubt will continue. But for now, Dr. Kershaw’s skepticism rules the day.  RCP, fortunascorner.com

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