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harbors were full of vessels, and merchants coming from all parts who from their numbers kept up “a multitudinous sound of human voices and din of all sorts night and day.”
A copper column stood in the temple of Poseidon, on which the laws of the land were graven. The chief of these were that the people should not take up arms against one another, and that they should all come to the rescue if anyone in any city attempted to overthrow the royal house. On the plain and in the populous mountain valleys there was a system of military service by districts and chiefs of districts, somewhat like that of ancient Peru; and when Atlantis went to war ten thousand chariots moved in front of its armies, and twelve hundred vessels swept the sea lanes east and west. It was a powerful nation and a happy—so long as the divine nature of their founder retained its force among the people. Says Plato:
“They despised everything but virtue, not caring for their present state of life and thinking lightly on the possession of gold and other property which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtuous friendship with one another, and that by excessive zeal for them, and honor of them, the good of them is lost and friendship perishes with them."
At length, however, the divine nature in the Atlantines became diluted by mortal admixture. They were filled with avarice, pride, the lusts of the flesh; and “the fairest of their precious gifts” departed from them. Base to men of insight, they still appeared to others as glorious and blessed. In order to effect their chastisement and correction, says Plato, returning to the mythological vein, a council of the gods was called, and Zeus "spoke as follows." What the Olympian said will never be known, for here the Critias ends, and for the fate of the Atlantines one must recur to the Timæus.
The mythical prologue and epilogue excepted, the whole account reads as if the author believed it himself. It is singularly free from fantasy—this is no Cloud-Cuckoo Land of an Aristophanes. The transcriber of the legend was perhaps the largest mind of antiquity and a man of unblemished character; and “strange but altogether true” he calls his own story. He was, however, a constructive dreamer, and in his Republic he has given a detailed sketch of an ideal state. Was this another essay of a like nature? Might not the narrative carry further if it came from a man of less imaginative sweep from the contemporary Xenophon, or from Plutarch, both of them vivacious chroniclers with their eyes on facts? Phædrus had said to Socrates, “You can easily invent a tale of Egypt.” Has the great disciple of Socrates done this?
These questions are asked still, and antiquity asked them. Proclus in his commentary on the Timæus assumed that the leg. end was a symbol of the contest between the primeval forces and the spirit of art and science; he recites that Crantor, the first commentator, accepted it as literal history and was ridiculed for it. Strabo and Pliny barely mention the story. Thus Plutarch sets down the circumstances of its relation: “Solon at. tempted in verse a large description, or rather fabulous account of the Atlantic Island, which he had learned from the wise men of Sais; but by reason of his age he did not go through with it. Plato laid out magnificent courts and inclosures, and erected a grand entrance to it, such as no other story, fable, or poem ever had. But he began it late, he ended his life before the work, so that the more the reader is delighted with the part that is written, the more regret he has to find it unfinished.”
There is evidence that at any rate the legend is not an invention of Plato. It was claimed by Plato himself that the victory of the Athenians over the Atlantines was depicted on one of the ceremonial tunics which were borne in the midsummer festival of the Panathenæa. Diodorus has a reference to this war. Ælian says that Theopompus heard a similar story in Phrygia, in which, however, the island was called Meropis. Proclus quotes from the Æthiopica of Marcellus a tale of ten islands in the outer sea, the inhabitants of which preserved the memory of a large island that had ruled over the archipelago and was sacred to Poseidon.
The following are the main explanations, ancient and modern, of the legend: 1. Atlantis was no island, but a part of either Europe or Africa—the Iberian peninsula, or Senegal, for example-so remote from Egypt as to seem an island to mariners who reached it after beating about beyond the Straits. 2. Atlantis was Minoan Crete, resembling Plato's island in its configuration if not in its site; the ancient Cretan civilization was destroyed about B.C. 1500, almost as completely as if by a submergence in the sea. 3. “Atlantis is too obviously an earlier and equally colossal Persia, western instead of eastern.” 4. Atlantis is pure fiction, arising, like the tales of Homer and Hesiod, in the belief that the abodes of the heroes were in the extreme west. 5. Atlantis is a variant of the old tradition of a Golden Age. 6. Atlantis and the Fortunate Islands and the Azores are one, but tradition placed them too near the Straits, and the legend of a great sunken island arose when no land was found where people thought land should be. 7. Atlantis is another form of the solar myth—the setting of the sun in the red ruin of evening, and the coming of dark upon the deep. 8. Atlantis and the Republic are companion realms, the one no less imaginary than the other, and each intended to illustrate Plato's conception of ideal polity.
These are the conjectures of a skepticism which properly refuses to believe that so great a thing has happened and left such slight traces in monuments or in tradition. Yet there are some details in Plato's story not so easily disposed of, and they appear more distinctly when Atlantis itself is erased from it. These are the islands on both sides of the legendary continent, the impassable sea that covers its site, the great ocean beyond it, and the continent in the west which hems in that ocean. None of these things the men of Plato's time knew of, but, to give them their modern names, they seem to be Madeira, the Canaries, the Cape Verde Islands and the Azores on the one side of the Sargasso Sea, the West Indies on the other, the Sargasso Sea itself, the open Atlantic, and the American continent.
If the classic world had few and faint traditions of a sunken continent and ignored them or dismissed them as idle tales, it had one overmastering feeling that could not be called a superstition because it never took a tangible form. The feeling was a blind terror of the Atlantic Ocean, as if something dreadful had happened there, but so long before that nobody knew what
Nothing has developed in Europe itself that makes Plato's story of a lost continent a whit more probable or less plausible than it was when he wrote it; but there have been contributions to the legend from the ocean floor and from the New World. The variations, and in a measure the shifts, of opinion on the Atlantis story in the last hundred years are represented by three names—Humboldt, Ignatius Donnelly, and Pierre Termier. Writing in 1826, the German savant noted evidences of an external influence in the historical monuments of Central America. In his book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, Donnelly boldly contended that a continent had disappeared in the mid-Atlantic, that this sunken domain had been the cradle of civilization, and that the widespread traditions of a deluge were race memories of its disappearance. This writer's identification with the Baconian cipher theory, and his espousal of fanciful beliefs and lost causes, political or other, together with his credulity and his snap judgments, obscured the industry, the wide range of information, and the real gift of generalization to which his book bore witness. It came with something like a shock to the scientific world when the French scholar, Prof. Pierre Termier, Director of the Geological Survey of France, read his paper on Atlantis before the Oceanographic Institute of France in 1912. This was published at Monaco in the Bulletin of the Institute of Oceanography in 1913, and a translation, included in the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1915, provoked a discussion among geographers in America that continued for sev
“It seems more and more evident,” concluded Termier, “that a vast region, continental or made up of great islands, has col. lapsed west of the Pillars of Hercules, and that its collapse occurred in the not distant past.
In support of this inference Termier arrays the evidence of the Atlantic's surface and of the floor which its waters conceal. A ship sailing due west from the Straits of Gibraltar four thousand miles to Cape Hatteras would meet with no land. But if it lengthened its course a little by making a detour, first toward the southwest, then toward the northwest, then again toward the southwest, it would bring in view Madeira, the more southern Azores, and the Bermudas. And if it took soundings it would discover that the marine depths over which it was passing were strangely unequal. If the ocean were drained dry, what would be seen would be a long elevated region lying between the Old and New Worlds, separated from both by two enormous valleys, the wider and deeper one on the American side. This is the revelation of oceanography—a hidden continent in the Atlantic basin with the islands named above as its mountain peaks.
Geology adds that the eastern region of the Atlantic over all its length and probably from pole to pole is a great volcanic zone. “Everywhere,” says the French geologist, “earthquakes are frequent, here and there islets may spring up abruptly from the sea, or rocks long known may disappear.” The ocean may conceal the continuity of these changes, but to geological science they are incontestable and they affect a zone which reaches from Iceland to the Cape Verde Islands and is about 1,875 miles broad.
When a ship was laying the cable between Brest and Cape Cod in 1898, the cable broke and was recovered by grappling. The grappling irons encountered various submerged rocks with hard points and sharp edges, and brought to the surface fragments of the vitreous lava called tachylyte. These “precious fragments," as Termier calls them, are in the Museum of the School of Mines in Paris. The significance of their structure is that if they had solidified under water they would have been composed of confused crystals. In the form in which they were found they must have cooled when they were still above the sea's surface. The sharp edges of the marine rocks, whence these fragments came, argue that the region collapsed suddenly and recently. Had they remained after the volcanic disturbance a long time above the sea, they would have been smoothed by atmospheric erosion. Had they been a long time under the sea, they would have been smoothed by marine abrasion. The inference is that "the entire region north of the Azores and perhaps the very region of the Azores, of which they may be only the visible ruins, was very recently submerged, probably during the epoch which the geologists call the present, because it is so recent, and which for us, the living beings of to-day, is the same as yesterday.”
The evidence of zoology has been arrayed by another French scholar, M. Louis Germain, briefly as follows: The present