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7.8.04

Bonny Atlantis

Ireland Is Lost Island Of Atlantis, Says Scientist

Atlantis, the legendary island nation over whose existence controversy has raged for thousands of years, was actually Ireland, according to a new theory by a Swedish scientist.

... Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly.

... His book, "Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land," calculates the probability Plato would have had access to geographical data about Ireland as 99.98 percent.

-- via Moe Lane


I used to be a fan of the Crete/Thera theory, and it still seems like the most plausible real-world location for Atlantis. But I also have to wonder whether the assumption that Atlantis is based on a real place is accurate. Schliemann's vindication of the stories about Troy seems to have pushed us too far toward the "myths are amateur history" side. For one, if Plato had such accurate geographical information about Ireland (or Crete), you'd think he'd also have heard the little factoid that Ireland has not in fact sunk under the ocean.

There's also the fact that we only have one ancient source for the Atlantis story -- Plato's Critias. I don't know how many sources attest most of the myths we know of from the Greeks, but it's telling that Atlantis isn't typically included in overviews of Greek mythology (at least the ones I've seen). And neither are the other myths that Plato uses in his dialogues, like the one about how people were once all siamese twins and love is the search for your lost half, from the Symposium. If Atlantis is a hazily remembered tale of Ireland or Crete, you'd expect to find it showing up, at least in reference, more often. It's quite possible that Plato used bits of real history and geography as inspiration, but in that case his Atlantis is to Crete or Ireland like Toilkien's Middle Earth is to the European middle ages.

The way that Atlantis has captured people's imaginations and made them want to believe in it demonstrates that Plato understood what makes myths work. Myths are not simply attempts to accurately remember history that get distorted by the telephone game of oral history. Neither are they pseudo-scientific hypotheses about the natural world. Both history and nature furnish raw material, of course, but myths grow and survive because of their ability to reflect on contemporary society and give people a sense of their proper place within the world.

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