Trip Reports

Beneath The Waves (31-May-2002-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Friday, May 31 (0500 May 31 UTC) 36 10 N 029 39 E. Temp. 74, Humidity 69%, Cloud Cover 5%. Anchored with a stern line to shore in Bayindir Bay, near Kas, Turkey.

All of the talk about subduction and volcanic eruption last time brings us, of course, to the topic of Atlantis. There have been well over a thousand books, perhaps as many as 5,000, written on this subject and, admittedly, the Captain has read only a small percentage of these, a number not statistically distinguishable from zero. Nevertheless, we soldier on.

The first written mention of Atlantis in history occurs, as the reader well knows, in Plato's dialogues, the Timaeus and Critias, among the last Plato composed. Plato was neither the empiricist that his student, Aristotle, was, nor had he traveled widely, like Herodotus. It would be quite out of character for Plato to be attempting a serious rehearsal of historical fact, which is nowhere else his purpose. This reporter believes he had other goals in mind that are more akin to his customary attempt to describe the ideal as he envisions it, with little emphasis on the real as he observes it.

Plato treats the story with a few mythological flourishes. In addition, he introduces it with an elaborately complex tale of how the story of Atlantis came to be known by Critias, the character in the Timaeus who tells the tale, and it is thereby shrouded in a bit of writerly mystery. Plato doesn't do this often, usually setting the stage and then diving right into the argument, but does use the same device of convoluted introduction earlier in his "Symposium," where another hazy topic, love, is under discussion. Plato was not a careless writer, and it is hard not to conclude that in using this method of introduction, he was trying to accomplish what we used to call "deniability" back in the twentieth century. For these and other reasons, it is best to take Plato's story, our fundamental source for the Atlantis myth, with a grain of salt.

In any case there are only two possibilities: (1) Plato made the whole Atlantis thing up out of whole cloth, or (2) He didn't. I tend to believe the latter, which is to say I think there was some similar legend he was familiar with that had basis in historical fact.

Plato places Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean. (The name Atlantic comes from Atlas, not from Atlantis.) This is impossible, as the Atlantic has been far too deep since long before the evolution of anything like human beings. Since the story as Plato tells it comes originally from an Egyptian priest, and most of the Med lies to the east of Egypt, and there were no satellite photos of earth, I'm thinking this is just wrong and a mistake of early geography, nowhere very accurate by today's standards, which themselves, the crew of Maverick knows, are not impeccable.

Plato also says, or has Critias relate, that the destruction of Atlantis occurred 9,000 years before the time of the dialogue. But coincidentally, about 900 years before Plato's time an island in the Mediterranean called Thera, in antiquity also named Calliste, or "most beautiful," exploded. The remnant still exists as the island of Santorini. OK, it is believed to have been about 1500 BC that Thera erupted, or more like 1100 years before Plato; but who had radio carbon dating? The Greeks had no zero in their number system, nor decimal point, making this kind of ten-fold mistake pretty understandable. The Greeks also had no continuous written chronology from an event that early. At any rate, the blast was bigger by a considerable margin than that of Krakatoa and caused a whole suite of disasters, including, undoubtedly, a tsunami and a huge cloud of ash that fell as far away as Israel. At the time of the explosion the closest major country, however, was the Minoan civilization of Crete, with which Thera was closely associated. Shortly after this volcanic eruption, there was a significant decline in Minoan Crete, although opinions differ on how soon after the explosion this decline occurred. But undeniably, much damage was caused there, and Thera was utterly destroyed. All things considered, it is remarkable that we don't have many more references in ancient literature recalling an event that significant.

It's good enough for me that some vague legend inherited by friends of Plato is loosely corroborated by archaeological and geological evidence, because I, personally, am not looking for a magic kingdom. The destruction of Atlantis is as good a story as the Biblical flood, which according to recent discoveries also seems to have been linked to a real geological event that caused the Black Sea to rise at a very fast rate. The Atlantis tale was told, as was the story of the flood, as a moral parable, and the truth of its message, whatever that may be, really isn't affected one way or the other by archaeological and geological speculation.

PS to Mark Wiltz: We use a Monitor and it is one of the few pieces of gear that has given us no trouble at all.

PS to Mike and Janice: The Captain has no qualifications whatever for spreading the kind of information you read here. We do have some reference materials aboard, but they're too boring so I make up my own facts. Please keep this to yourself.

PS to all the rest who've written with words of encouragement: We sure appreciate everything you send. Keep those cards and letters coming to

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