Humanities for the Unbound Mind / My Bookshelf

Book Review ~ Pursuing Ancient Legends

Originally published September 2, 2012

Atlantis, The Antediluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly.  Available for under $16.00.

The History of Atlantis by Lewis Spence.  Available for under $10.00

So, this week we are back with a bang reviewing interesting and, perhaps, rather obscure texts on subjects of interest. I have chosen to review two titles together primarily because they represent the foundation of modern thought on that mystic island in the sea, Atlantis. Each has a slightly different perspective. If you are truly interested in Atlantis and lost civilizations, these books provide much food for thought.

The “book that started it all” was entitled Atlantis, The Antediluvian World. This text was written by Ignatius Donnelly an American descended from Irish parents. He was a US Congressman and lived from 1831 to 1901. Although many modern historians and scientists consider his approach “pseudo-science,” he is the first modern researcher to take the tale from Plato’s Timaeus and put together the pieces to see whether or not it might be true. Plato’s works describing the conversations between Timaeus and Critias were written in approximately 300 BCE. Be they history or be they drama is a question that remains unanswered to this very day.  They are our primary source for all things Atlantis.

The edition of Donnelly’s book that I have contains a forward by the second author mentioned in this post, Lewis Spence. In his forward he gives Donnelly credit for much basic work in the field. Beginning with fable and legend on both sides of the Atlantic as well as sources in scripture, Donnelly puts a case together that suggests many of our ancient legends do indeed carry fragments of fact. He also looks to the cultural similarities shared on both sides of the Atlantic, flora and fauna (that’s beasties and plants), and ancient tales regarding the navigational hazards of the Sargasso Sea. He also looks at art and culture as it spread through Europe during a time relevant to Plato’s chronology. It certainly goes beyond modern-day mystic interpretations of ancient spirit guides.

The book that was built on this first block-buster was The History of Atlantis by Lewis Spence. Spence was a Scotsman and lived from 1874 to 1955. He was a journalist and a literature major and authored a total of five works on Atlantis. Much of his literary work was on the history of the Celts.

He deepened the study begun by Donnelly, and added information that had become available in his own time a generation after Donnelly. He also corrected a few of the observations that were developed by Donnelly.  He gives full credit to his predecessor and near contemporary. This title was first published in 1926.

We have learned from experience that just about the time we think we have it all figured out, we discover something new and interesting about our distance past. We know now that islands can come and go in the sea and that cataclysms can happen which create major impacts on our globe and on civilizations great or small. If you are interested in a detailed approach to the possibility that this ancient civilization did exist, I suggest you try these volumes. They are fast and entertaining reads.

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