L. Sprague de Camp
Georges-Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) was an eminent French naturalist who ruffled a few feathers when he carried out extensive experiments in order to calculate the age of the Earth. He arrived at a figure of 74,832 years that ran counter to the views of many of his mid-18th century contemporaries.
He also commented that the Atlantis story was an “ancient tradition that is not devoid of probability” and proposed that Atlantis had been situated on landmasses that had connected Ireland with the Azores and with America, although his reference to Atlantis is not as specific as it should have been.
In 1749 Buffon speculated in his Histoire et théorie de la terre, that the Mediterranean had been dry until an earthquake allowed the Atlantic to pour in.
John S. Bowman in his The Quest for Atlantis paraphrasing Buffon wrote that “this rush of water washed away Atlantis”(p.108), clearly reflects the ambiguity of Buffon’s words, which were intended to suggest that the inward rush of water into the Mediterranean somehow destroyed Atlantis in the Atlantic!
Buffon also proposed that the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Malta and others were just the mountain tops of the formerly dry Mediterranean. Some have erroneously linked Buffon’s two statements and concluded that Buffon believed that Atlantis had been situated in the Mediterranean. It is understandable, given that Buffon’s statement regarding the breaching of an isthmus at Gibraltar leading to the destruction of Atlantis follows on immediately after the non-specific passage about the Atlantic. Today, it is easier to believe that water gushing into the Mediterranean could destroy a civilisation located there rather than damage land in the Atlantic, where the only effects there might be a lowering of the sea level and expansion of the land area.
However, what is not generally known is that at that time many Europeans who accepted that Atlantis existed in the Atlantic, usually at different locations, attributed its demise to events in the Mediterranean. Tournefort thought Atlantis had been submerged by an outflow of water from the Mediterranean following an earthquake there. Bory de St. Vincent proposed that volcanic events in the Mediterranean drove water out into the Atlantic drowning Atlantis. Combined with Buffon’s theory, the Age of Enlightenment seems to have been the Age of Speculation.
Paul Jordan in The Atlantis Syndrome wrote that “Buffon thought that Atlantis had been flooded when Atlantic waters poured into the Mediterranean”
David Hatcher-Childress extended the boundaries of literary licence when he claimed in his Lost Cities of Atlantis that Buffon “suggested that Atlantis had existed near Sicily when the Mediterranean was dry land (p.178). Hatcher-Childress cited Sprague de Camp’s Lost Continents where that much quoted author wrote that Buffon “thought that Atlantis had been washed away by water flowing in the opposite direction, from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean” (p.86).
Buffon tantalisingly refers(a) to the idea of a dry Mediterranean being supported by the testimony of the elders, mentioning Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. He also notes that at Strait of Gibraltar the geological strata on the opposite coasts of Africa and Spain are the same at comparable levels.
Buffon’s Histoire et théorie de la terre was just the first in a series that eventually became an encyclopedia of 37 volumes collectively entitled Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière.
In 1792 an English translation of the first ten volumes was published by J.S.Barr of London. Volume One (and others) are available as a free ebooks(b).
Lyon Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) is probably better known as a science fiction writer with over 120 books to his credit, including, including two non-fiction titles, Citadels of Mystery (First ed.: Ancient Ruins and Archaeology) and Lost Continents, in which he was extremely sceptical of the reality of the Atlantis described by Plato. He offers the blunt declaration that Plato concocted the whole story, basing the tale on a mixture of the wealth of Tartessos in Spain, the destruction of the Greek island of Atalanta all intermingled with the mythology of Atlas. Although his criticism is harsh, it should be said that de Camp does display a reasonable degree of objectivity. It is probably because of his perceived integrity that other Atlantis sceptics continually trot out his views in support of their own position.
One of deCamp’s most quoted extracts is that “you cannot change all the details of Plato’s story and still claim to have Plato’s story.” While I fully endorse this comment, I must point out that there is a difference between changing and interpreting. For example when Plato refers to Asia or Libya, even deCamp accepted that in Plato’s day ‘Asia’ was not the landmass we know, stretching from the Urals to Japan, but a much smaller territory[194.27]. In fact the term ‘Asia’ at one point was just applied to a small region of modern Turkey. Similarly, ‘Libya’ was not the country we know by that name today, but the term was often employed to designate all of North Africa west of Egypt. There are a number of other details in Plato’s narrative that require explanation or interpretation and so as long as any such elucidation is based on evidence and reason they cannot be glibly dismissed as substantive ‘changes’.
He scathingly refutes the more outlandish Atlantis theories that have deviated dramatically from Plato’s narrative, commenting that without matching the “date, location, size and island character” with the text we do not have Atlantis.
DeCamp also considered Alfred Wegner’s theory of continental drift as “very doubtful”, but corrected this statement in a 1970 edition of his book. Immanuel Velikovsky also received the sharp end of deCamp’s pen, describing his catastrophic theories as ‘mad’.
Further information on de Camp can be found on the Internet (a) where excerpts from his Lost Continents are also available(b).
Henry Eichner drew attention to the fact that in three books relating to Atlantis authored by de Camp he describes a ring found by Adolf Schulten at the site of Tartessos slightly differently in all three! In Lost Continents it is plain, in Lands Beyond it is copper, while in Ancient Ruins and Archaeology it became gold!
Frank Joseph incorrectly claimed in the July/August 2011 issue of Atlantis Rising magazine that DeCamp “formerly a staunch disbeliever in Atlantis, was later convinced it did indeed exist in south-coastal Iberia.”
(a) http://www.lspraguedecamp.com/ (offline August 2016)