William Wilberforce Juvenal Colville (1862-1917) was a prolific English author, usually described as a Universal Spiritualist. In 1884 he delivered a lecture in London entitled The Lost Continent, Atlantis  and two years later in San Francisco, in a more extended form.
He was greatly influenced by Ignatius Donnelly’s then recently published book and he also opted for the Azores as the remnants of Atlantis,*describing Plato’s Island as ‘a bridge’ between Europe and America and speculating that “‘l’he fact of the existence of Atlantis as a centre of civilization, and a great sea~ of commerce between the eastern and western hemispheres, can alone satisfactorily account for the wonderful resemblance between the extant traces of antique civilizations on both sides of the world.”*
The term ‘Continent’, is derived from the Latin terra continens, meaning ‘continuous land’ and in English is relatively new, not coming into use until the Middle English period (11th-16th centuries). Apart from that, it is sometimes used to imply mainland. The Scottish island of Shetland is known by the smaller islands in the archipelago as Mainland, in fact its old Norse name is Megenland, which means mainland. In turn the people of Mainland, Shetland, will apply the same title to the Britain, who in turn apply the term ‘continuous land’ or continent to mainland Europe. Consequently it is clear the term is clearly relative.
The term has been applied arbitrarily by some commentators to Plato’s Atlantis, usually by those locating it in the Atlantic. In fact Plato never called Atlantis a continent, but instead as the sixteen instances below prove, he consistently referred to it as an island, probably the one containing the capital city of the confederation or alliance!
[Timaeus 24e, 25a, 25d Critias 108e, 113c, 113d, 113e, 114a, 114b, 114e, 115b, 115e, 116a, 117c, 118b, 119c]
A number of commentators have assumed that when Plato referred to an ‘opposite continent’ he was referring to the Americas, however Herodotus, who flourished after Solon and before Plato, was quite clear that there were only three continents known to the Greeks, Europe, Asia and Libya [4.42]. In fact prior to Herodotus only two landmasses were considered continents, Europe and Asia, with Libya sometimes considered part of Asia. So when Plato does use the word ‘continent’ [Tim. 24e, 25a, Crit. 111a] we can reasonably conclude that he was referring to one of these landmasses, and more than likely to either Europe or Libya (North Africa) as Atlantis was in the west, ruling out Asia.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-50 AD) in his On the Eternity of the World(b) wrote “Are you ignorant of the celebrated account which is given of that most sacred Sicilian strait, which in old times joined Sicily to the continent of Italy?” (v.139). It would seem that in this particular circumstance the term ‘Sicilian Strait’ refers to the Strait of Messina, which is another example of how ancient geographical terms often changed their meaning over time (see Atlantic & Pillars of Herakles).
The name ‘Italy’ was normally used in ancient times to describe the southern part of the peninsula(d). Some commentators think that Philo was quoting Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor. This would push the custom of referring to Italy as a ‘continent’ back to the time of Plato,*who clearly states (Tim. 25a) that the Atlantean alliance “ruled over all the island, over many other islands as well. and over sections of the continent.” (Wells). The next passage recounts their control of territory in Europe and North Africa, so it naturally begs the question as to what was ‘the continent’ referred to previously? I suggest that the context, had a specific meaning, which, in the absence of any other candidate and the persistent usage over the following two millennia can be reasonably assumed to have been southern Italy.*
Centuries later, the historian, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) refers at least twice[1523.6.209/10] to the ‘continent of Italy’. More recently, Armin Wolf (1935- ), the German historian, when writing about Scheria relates(a) that “Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria (southern Italy) they say they are going to the “continente.” This continuing usage of the term is confirmed by a current travel site(c) and by author, Robert Fox in The Inner Sea [1168.141].
I suggest that Plato used the term in a similar fashion and can be seen as offering a more rational explanation for the use of the word ‘continent’ in Timaeus 25a, adding to the idea of Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean.
Giovanni Ugas claims that the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain and France, along with the Italian peninsula constituted the ‘true continent’ (continente vero) referred to by Plato. (see below)
Furthermore, the text informs us that this opposite continent surrounds or encompasses the true ocean, a description that could not be applied to either of the Americas as neither encompass the Atlantic, which makes any theory of an American Atlantis more than questionable.
Modern geology has definitively demonstrated that no continental mass lies in the Atlantic and quite clearly the Mediterranean does not have room for a sunken continent .
Atlantis from a Geographer’s Perspective  by Dr. Ulf Erlingsson, a Swedish geographer and geomorphologist, endeavours to identify Ireland as the original Atlantis described by Plato. As an Irishman, I would be delighted to support this view, if the evidence was strong enough. Unfortunately, I cannot see Erlingsson’s book advancing the case for an Irish Atlantis. I am willing to accept that the megalithic cultures of Western Europe and North Africa were probably part of a loose confederation of societies that led to a later tale of a mighty empire, as its existence was relayed through the myths of succeeding civilisations. However, to claim that Ireland was the centre of this civilisation is rather fanciful and unsubstantiated by anything other than the fertile imagination of Dr. Erlingsson.
Erlingsson refers to Henry O’Brien’s book, The Round Towers of Ireland as a sort of precursor of his own. In fact, O’Brien’s book was an attempt to link the Round Towers of Ireland with a pre-Christian period. O’Brien never referred to Plato or Atlantis at all. Now after more than a hundred and fifty years, no evidence to support O’Brien’s claim has been forthcoming. There is a consensus that the round towers date from the early part of the first millennium AD, but it must be admitted that with regard to their purpose, some mystery still exists.
The most glaring flaw in Erlingsson’s theory is his arbitrary use of the diagonal dimensions of Ireland in order to shoehorn it into Plato’s dimensions. Using the island’s latitudinal and longtitudinal dimensions, a much smaller figure would have resulted. However, his application of Plato’s 3,000 x 2,000 stadia (550 x 370 km) to the entire island, is dishonest as Plato’s figures only refer to the plain of Atlantis, whereas the Central Plain of Ireland would only occupy a fraction of that area.
Some of my other reasons for dismissing Dr. Erlingsson’s theory are:
- Ireland is too far north to have produced two crops annually and was mainly covered in ice during the last Ice Age. Furthermore;
- Ireland did not disappear beneath the sea
- Ireland has always been somewhat short of elephants
- Ireland does not have hot springs
- There is no evidence of any harbour in the immediate vicinity of Tara or Newgrange.
- Conventional archaeology indicates that Ireland did not have dressed stone structures until around 5th Century AD.
*Erlingsson, in order to explain the fact that Ireland was not submerged, has proposed that when the story of megalithic Ireland reached Egypt, it became confused with the tale of the inundation of Doggerland, which resulted from the Norwegian storegga event of around 6200 BC.*
My final gripe with the book, or should I say booklet, as it contains just a hundred pages, is that it lacks an index, an irritating omission that a number of authors reviewed here have also been guilty of.
On 19th August 2004, the respected The Irish Times newspaper, reported(c) that Erlingsson had appeared to backtrack on some of his initial claims when he said that “The existence of Atlantis has never been proven” and that “the purpose of his book was to test Plato’s claim that he based the utopia on a real, historic place.”
UPDATE – JULY 2016
It’s over ten years since I read Erlingsson’s book and have only recently re-read it because the author wrote to me complaining that I had included inaccuracies in my original comments on his book. Having perused the first chapter again, I quickly realised that any shortcomings on my part were greatly exceeded by those of Erlingsson’s.
Firstly, he claims that Atlantis was Ireland, but the island which sank, referred to by Plato, was in the North Sea, part of Doggerland. He claims that the story of a sunken island was a tale from Atlantis, not about Atlantis! He attempts to explain this away by simply claiming that Solon/Plato made a mistake! It is far more likely that Erlingsson is making a mistake.
He then uses Doggerland to explain away the elephants that Plato said inhabited Atlantis, claiming that the remains of mammoths were reclaimed from the North Sea. However, he fails to record that the mammoths in question were dated at 40,000 BC(b), tens of thousands of years before Atlantis.
My second complaint is that he initially matches the dimensions of the entire island of Ireland with those of the plain of Atlantis given by Plato, namely 3000 x 2000 stadia. I have already pointed out that if you remove the mountains from the Ireland, the remaining plains of our island, if combined, might amount to a third of that of the plain of Atlantis(a). In order to shoehorn Ireland into his hypothesis he abitrarily chose to use a value of 166m to the stade, instead of the more generally accepted 185m. On top of that, as already noted, he measured Ireland diagonally rather than north-south and east-west.
Furthermore, speaking of mountains, the highest Irish peak is only 1,038m high. On the other hand, Plato describes the mountains of Atlantis being renowned for their number, size and beauty, which apart from beauty cannot be applied to the low Irish mountain ranges. I would expect better from a geographer.
The first chapter contains other errors, including the idea that the ancient Greeks knew of America. In fact they only knew of three continents, Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa). Herodotus, who flourished after Solon and before Plato, was quite clear that there were only three known to the Greeks. [Histories 4.42].
There are more speculative claims in this first chapter, but, at this point I could take no more and gave up, unwilling to waste any more time on this nonsense. Erlingsson claims that his hypothesis matches Plato’s Atlantis story with a probability of 99.98%. Hilarious.