The Antediluvian World

Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World was published in 1882 by the former Congressmen from the State of Minnesota. Apparently having taken advantage of the availability of the Library of Congress while he was in Washington, D.C., Donnelly published his influential book on Atlantis shortly after his retirement from public life. Though there had been books on Atlantis before Donnelly's, none managed to gain the popular attention that his did, especially in the English-speaking world. Other modern speculators had identified Plato's Atlantis with various ancient cultures, perhaps most importantly with the ancient cultures of the Americas, so Donnelly was certainly not the first in that regard. His work, however, had the benefit of being well written and accessible to the average reader of the day.

Donnelly's approach to his subject is quite bold. He begins his book with a statement of claims that he intends to demonstrate. It is quite an ambitious list. There are 13 claims in all:

1. That there once existed in the Atlantic Ocean, opposite the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a large island, which was the remnant of an Atlantic continent, and known to the ancient world as Atlantis.

2. That the description of this island given by Plato is not, as has been long supposed, fable, but veritable history.

3. That Atlantis was the region where man first rose from a state of barbarism to civilization.

4. That it became, in the course of ages, a populous and mighty nation, from whose overflowings the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Pacific coast of South America, the Mediterranean, the west coast of Europe and Africa, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Caspian were populated by civilized nations.

5. That it was the true Antediluvian world; the Garden of Eden; the Gardens of the Hesperides; the Elysian Fields; the Gardens of Alcinous; the Mesomphalos; the Olympos; the Asgard of the traditions of the ancient nations; representing a universal memory of a great land, where early mankind dwelt for ages in peace and happiness.

6. That the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, the Phrenicians, the Hindoos, and the Scandinavians were simply the kings, queens, and heroes of Atlantis; and the acts attributed to them in mythology are a confused recollection of real historical events.

7. That the mythology of Egypt and Peru represented the original religion of Atlantis, which was sun-worship.

8. That the oldest colony formed by the Atlanteans was probably in Egypt, whose civilization was a reproduction of that of the Atlantic island.

9. That the implements of the 'Bronze Age' of Europe were derived from Atlantis. The Atlanteans were also the first manufacturers of iron.

10. That the Phrenician alphabet, parent of all the European alphabets, was derived from an Atlantis alphabet, which was also conveyed from Atlantis to the Mayas of Central America.

11. That Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations, as well as of the Semitic peoples, and possibly also of the Turanian races.

12. That Atlantis perished in a terrible convulsion of nature, in which the whole island sunk into the ocean, with nearly all its inhabitants.

13. That a few persons escaped in ships and on rafts, and, carried to the nations east and west the tidings of the appalling catastrophe, which has survived to our own time in the Flood and Deluge legends of the different nations of the old and new worlds. (1-2)

Whew . . . Donnelly not only seeks to show that Plato's story of Atlantis describes a historical island nation but also claims that Atlantis represents the source of human civilization: its technology, religion, culture, and art.

Donnelly's approach is multifaceted. He argues that Plato's story of Atlantis was intended as an historical account. Then he turns his attention to the question of whether or not such a disaster, as described byplato, 4 ATLANTIS PERISHED IN

was possible He examines a TERRIBLE CONVULSION OF

evidence for the lost continent on the floor of the Atlantic NATURE • • • THE WHOLE ISLAND Ocean. He compares the flora SUNK INTO THE OCEAN }

and fauna of the new world with that of the old to show how a mid-Atlantic continent could have been the source of the cross-propagation of species. Donnelly explores the similarities among flood accounts from various cultures and suggests that the story of the fall of Atlantis is at their source. He compares the religion and culture of the old and new worlds, finding in their similarities evidence of a common origin.

Finally, Donnelly describes his reconstruction of the civilization of the Atlanteans. The Atlanteans, he tells the reader, were residents of a great island nation, with smaller islands forming 'stepping stones' to Europe and Africa to the east and the Americas in the west. The central island was marked by volcanic peaks, rising to 1,500 feet. There were four rivers on the island, flowing north, south, east, and west from the center. The people themselves were of two different races. One was a race of dark complexion whose descendants spread to Central America and Egypt. The other was a fair-skinned race, the progenitors of the people of northern Europe. They worshipped an omnipotent creator god and saw the sun as the emblem of the deity. The religion of the Atlanteans had an ordered priesthood. The civilization of Atlantis was prosperous and strong, ruled by a monarchy and structured by law. Their trade ships and their navies crossed the Atlantic, east and west, and sailed the waters of the Mediterranean. Their culture was truly the highest of the ancient world:

They had processions, banners, and triumphal arches for their kings and heroes; they built pyramids, temples, round-towers, and obelisks; they practised religious ablutions; they knew the use of the magnet and of gunpowder. In short, they were in the enjoyment of a civilization nearly as high as our own, lacking only the printing-press, and those inventions in which steam, electricity, and magnetism are used. (323)

The loss of the great empire must have sent shock waves around the world. Atlantis passed, but not before its influence had transformed the peoples and cultures of the earth.

Donnelly's understanding of Atlantis is a product of his quest for an answer to the mysteries of cultural origins. Seeing similarities in the religion, technology, and art of cultures separated by vast oceans, he seeks a common source that would explain these similarities. For him, Atlantis seems the most logical explanation. Attested to by Plato, Atlantis is compelling to Donnelly because its existence can provide an explanation of why cultures in Egypt and the Americas each built magnificent pyramids, for example. Donnelly's knowledge of Atlantean culture is thus arrived at through a bit of reverse engineering. The culture of Atlantis, by definition, must have possessed those qualities that seem to be a part of the common culture of humanity. Since religion is a cultural universal, Atlantis is the source of all religion, its Atlantean form representing the source from which other religions grew. Donnelly took his argument, and it was taken by many of his readers, to be a rational and scientific theory of cultural origins. Donnelly's theory was weird but, to Donnelly and many of his readers, it was also science.

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