Since the fourth century B.C.E., the fabulous island of Atlantis has invited avid curiosity and speculation.
Kershaw (Classics/Oxford Univ.; A Brief History of the Roman Empire, 2013, etc.) ranges widely and deeply to create a comprehensive overview of the origins, meaning, and legacy of Atlantis, described by Plato in two dialogues. Besides translating and analyzing Plato’s texts, Kershaw draws on geophysical, archaeological, and historical sources to investigate the tale and respond to still-unresolved questions: Was Atlantis a real place? What did Plato mean to convey by his story of the rich and powerful island that disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean? Those questions have spawned responses from historians and archaeologists as well as from many who “have taken the discussion, quite literally, to another world.” Theosophy founder Madame Helena Blavatsky, for example, claimed that Atlantis arose about 850,000 years ago and was the home of the “Fourth Root Race,” one of seven human Root Races corresponding to seven eras in world history. According to Blavatsky and other occultists, Atlantis “had the type of extraordinarily advanced scientific knowledge that has become a standard feature of Atlantological books.” Mystic Edgar Cayce, who said that he connected with spirits of individuals who had once lived on Atlantis, similarly claimed that the island “had some astonishingly advanced technology, much of it driven by energy derived from the power of crystals.” A 17th-century Swedish scholar argued that Atlantis—located in Sweden—was peopled by the descendants of one of Noah’s sons. In addition to presenting assorted bizarre theories, Kershaw explores Greek and Egyptian mythology, Homeric works, and mid-fifth-century Athenian culture to conclude that Atlantis was “an amalgamation of a variety of places and events that Plato would have been aware of from his own upbringing, reading and life experiences.” He believes Plato’s message is “a timeless one about the pernicious effects of wealth on the ruling class,” with lasting appeal because of the “brilliance of Plato’s story-telling.”
A treasure trove of information for readers seduced by the drowned land.