Stephen P. Kershaw
Stephen P. Kershaw is Classics scholar with a particular interest in myth ology. He was editor of The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology and has published a short series in his own right; A Brief Guide to the Greek Myths, A Brief Guide to Classical Civilization and A Brief History of the Roman Empire . In September 2017, A Brief History of Atlantis was published, which is a valuable introduction to the wide variety of opinions regarding Atlantis that have been expressed since the time of Plato.
His first chapter gives a number of instances where highly regarded ancient geographers have been quite inaccurate, citing the Roman belief that the west of Britain faced south. He concludes with ”the point here is that whether we are dealing with descriptions of the mythical Scherie, the real Britannia of Plato’s Atlantis, ancient geographical knowledge can be vague and contradictory.”
Kershaw is an Atlantis sceptic who concludes that, ”Too many difficulties get in the way of accepting Plato’s story at face value: the chronology of putting a developed civilisation in the Mesolithic period; the geological impossibility of there being a sunken continent beneath the Atlantic; the total absence of any finds from the ancient world carrying the name Atlantis; and the fact that there is no mention anywhere of Atlantis in any ancient text prior to Plato’s – not even in Herodotus or Solon. Put bluntly, there is no source of the Atlantis story other than Plato. Atlantis is just a tale from Egypt ‘the most brilliant and enduring of all hoaxes’(Trevor Bryce)”
With regard to the above, I must point out that the date for Atlantis noted by Plato is regarded by many atlantologists as a corruption and have offered a number of possible explanations for what is obviously incorrect. With regard to an Atlantic location, I along with others favour a Mediterranean setting. The name Atlantis was part of the Hellenising of the narrative recounting the war with an alliance whose members were likely to have been known by a variety different names. Plato also explains how Greece lost much of its history as a result of catastrophic floods (Timaeus 23b), which may explain why the Atlantis story was new to Solon.
Thorwald C. Franke has written a valuable and hard-hitting critique of Kershaw’s Atlantis book(a).
In January 2017, the University of Oxford began a short course on Plato’s Atlantis with Kershaw as the lecturer.
*October 2018 saw the publication of Kershaw’s The Search for Atlantis  which deals with the manner in which Plato’s narrative has be received over the centuries. What I found unexpected was the lukewarm review that Kershaw’s book was given by fellow Atlantis sceptic, Jason Colavito(b).*
Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676) was a French philosopher, lawyer and diplomat. Although brought up a Calvinist, he was later forced to convert to Catholicism. His theological views created quite a stir when he put forward the theory of humans existing before Adam & Eve in an attempt to explain where Cain’s wife came from. He argued that there must have been two creations; first the creation of the gentiles and later that of Adam, as father of the Hebrews.
He published his claims in 1655 in Praeadamitae, upsetting Catholics, Protestants and Jews. Stephen P. Kershaw relates how Peyrère added the testimony of Solon and Plato to bolster his claim, arguing that if Atlantis in 9600 BC, then humans existed earlier than Genesis suggests.
Some of his ideas are widely accepted today(a).
The University of Oxford through its Department for Continuing Education offered a weekly course over two months on Plato’s Atlantis commencing in January 2017, for a fee of £195. The course had a comprehensive programme beginning with Plato, Greek myths, Plato’s text, how the Atlantis story was viewed after Plato until the present and ending with a review of today’s search for and possible location of Atlantis.
Francisco Cervantes de Salazar (1514-1575) was a Spanish academic who travelled to Mexico around 1550 where he was twice elected rector of the newly established University of Mexico. In his Crónica de la Nueva España, he was a firm supporter of the idea of interpreting Plato’s 9,000 ‘years’ as lunar cycles, echoing the early statement of Eudoxus of Cnidos. His Crónica was not published until 1914.
Theopompus of Chios (c. 4th Cent. BC.) is quoted by Aelian (i) where he seems to describe a continent on the far side of the Atlantic in terms similar to Plato’s account of Atlantis. This excerpt is reputed to be from a play of Thespis, a contemporary of Solon, who is believed to have parodied Solon’s Atlantis poem, which, if true, adds credence to the view that Atlantis was not just an invention of Plato’s.
However, N. Zhirov urges caution as ‘Theopompus was considered a writer of fables even in antiquity’. *Stephen P. Kershaw notes that Aelian “exposes how Theopompus quite flagrantly ripped off the Timaeus and the Critias.” [1585.109]*
Ignatius Donnelly points out that Theopompus referred to Atlanteans as Meropes. In spite of any misgivings about reliability of Theopompus it would appear that he personally accepted the existence of Atlantis.
(i) Variae Historiae (III, 18)
C. C. M Hardy was a contributor to Egerton Sykes’ Atlantis magazine from its year of inception.
Hardy subscribed to the view that there had been a dam at Gibraltar that was breached around 4500 BC with such a force that it also led to the destruction of a landbridge between Tunisia and Italy. He believed that remnants of Atlantis will be found in the seas around Greece.
In 1966 he investigated the possibility of setting up a University Chair of Atlantean Studies either in the USA or Europe(a). Unfortunately, the idea did not appeal to conservative academia and was consequently shelved. I think that there is even more validity in the idea today.
It is remarkable, therefore, that commencing January 2017 the University of Oxford offered a short course on Plato’s Atlantis. The lecturer is Stephen P. Kershaw, a specialist in Greek mythology(b), which suggests that the lectures may only be concerned with the mythological content of the Atlantis narrative without due regard for any historical underpinnings. Kershaw had A Brief History of Atlantis published as a Kindle book in September 2017.
Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) is not a name with instant recognition today, although most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘platonic love’, which was coined by him. However, it is largely due to his efforts that we are aware of Plato’s Atlantis story. He was the first translator of Plato’s complete works into Latin in the 15th century, while under the patronage of Cosimo di Medici. Unfortunately, the original Greek documents used by him are now lost. It is claimed that a comparison of Ficino’s translation with that of the partial translation by Chalcidius’ of Timaeus reveals a somewhat casual approach on the part of both men, a possible source of some of the problems encountered in the search for Atlantis.
Ficino was a Florentine priest who was a leading light of the Italian Renaissance. He is reputed to have had a prodigious knowledge of the ancient world and in particular early Greek and Egyptian religions. The late Philip Coppens contended(a) that Ficino believed that Christianity was in fact a development of earlier belief systems including the ancient Egyptian cult of Serapis.
Ficino also entered into an arrangement with his close associate Michael Mercator that whoever died first would give a sign to the survivor that there was an afterlife. Ficino was first to depart and allegedly did give such an assurance to his friend(b)
*(a) http://www.philipcoppens.com/ficino_mag.html (offline March 2018) See: Archive 2137*
Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831-1901), was an Irish-American born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1852. He moved to Minnesota in 1857, where he was elected Lieutenant-Governor when it became a state in 1859, at the age of twenty-eight and was re-elected in 1861. He served as a Congressman from 1863 until 1869 and was a state senator from 1874 to 1878. The People’s Party, of which he was a founder, nominated him for Vice-President of the United States. He was a political liberal, being in favour of women’s suffrage and against slavery.
Donnelly was also a journalist and the author of a number of books. In 1882 he published his most famous work on the subject of Atlantis, which is still in print today, although many of the more recent editions have been heavily edited to exclude some of Donnelly’s more outlandish ideas. Bill Lauritzen has remarked that Donnelly’s legal background led him to limit his case for the existence of Atlantis to a discussion of the ‘pros’ while ignoring the cons’.
The public reaction to Donnelly’s book was reflected in the New Orleans ‘Mardi Gras’ of 1883 having had an Atlantis theme.
Donnelly concluded that Atlantis was real and located in the Atlantic. He suggested “the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Hindus, 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.” Similar ideas have been developed by the late Joseph Robert Jochmans.
Nevertheless, Donnelly endeavoured to match Plato’s Atlantis with his chosen Atlantic location for the lost civilisation, which can be fairly compared with the equally comprehensive but also flawed effort two centuries earlier by Olof Rudbeck endeavouring to identify Sweden as Atlantis.
Donnelly’s book contains a list of thirteen theses (See: Atlantis: The Antediluvian World), which he then proceeds to ‘prove’, drawing on Plato’s text and the scientific knowledge of this period, not to mention a generous helping of pure conjecture. J.V. Luce remarked that “Donnelly bemuses his readers into a mood of infinite credulity” [0120.29].
In 2017, Stephen P.Kershaw includes a brief critique of Donnelly’s work in A Brief History of Atlantis and concludes that Donnelly is unquestionably the most influential writer on Atlantis since Plato. I would argue that even though his ideas are more bizarre than Donnelly’s, Edgar Cayce is probably more quoted today than Donnelly. This is just a reflection of the number of gullible people that are out there. Donnelly’s influence has been greatly diminished over the decades as many of his theses have been undermined by later researchers. Cayce’s influence will only diminish if critical thinking becomes more widespread. In the meanwhile there are a few highly qualified dedicated Atlantis investigators who are slowly closing in on a solution.
Many have followed his thinking since then and in 1886, Donnelly published a sequel, Ragnarok to his work on Atlantis that dealt with the idea of a cometary impact with the earth. In fact, in 1883 twelve years after the Great Chicago Fire, Donnelly proposed(g) that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was not responsible for the conflagration but instead was the result of the impact of a meteor fragment, with Comet Biela as the prime suspect.
Following the remarkable reception that his books received, Donnelly was elected to membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. However, it did not take long before critics emerged. One was John Francis Arundell also known as Lord Arundell of Wardour (1831-1906) who published his criticism in book form in 1885 in which he claimed that Plato’s Atlantis story was based on the account that we have relating to the Voyage of Hanno.* It can be read or downloaded online(c).
Donnelly also wrote a 1,000-page work that attempted to prove that Shakespeare had not written all that he has been credited with. Obviously a man with time on his hands, he also published a number of works of fiction under the name of Edmund Boisgilbert MD.
Thirty years ago Marjorie Braymer wrote of Donnelly’s work in the following manner[198.65], “Modern editions of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World are streamlined and heavily revised; whole sections have been scissored out and dropped. The reason is clear: Donnelly offered many theories as known and established facts that science did not support even then and wholly discredits today.” Some consider aspects of his ideas to be somewhat racist! However, his influence is still pervasive, exemplified by the fact that the first translation of his Atlantis in Sinhala, the principal language of Sri Lanka, was only published in 2014(d).
Donnelly also questioned the authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare in The Great Cryptogram. The Shakespeare debate has raged for two centuries and now the editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare are convinced, on the basis of computer analysis, that Christopher Marlowe was a co-author of several plays credited, until now, solely to Shakespeare(h). Coincidentally, another Atlantologist Comyns Beaumont held similar views, which he published nearly half a century later in The Private Life of the Virgin Queen, considered to be the least controversial of his literary output!
At the end of the 19th century, a Mrs Donnelly, a fortune-teller from San Francisco, adopted the professional name of ‘Madame Atlantis’!
There is a wealth of Internet material relating to Donnelly e.g. (a)(b).
Donnelly’s Atlantis is now also available as a free audio book(e).
In a book concerning the history of the Peruvians he expressed his belief that a close encounter with a comet altered the orbit of the earth, lengthened the year and was responsible for the Deluge. A consequence of this catastrophic fly-by was also the destruction of Atlantis, which he located in the Atlantic, leaving the Azores and Canaries as its remnants today.
His idea of a cometary interference with the earth is an extension of the theories of William Whiston (1667-1752), the Anglican priest who sought to reconcile science and religion. The French astronomer, Jérôme Lalande, developed Carli’s cometary ideas further.
Olof (Olaus) Rudbeck, (1630-1702), was a 17th century nationalistic writer from Uppsala, Sweden (a very powerful nation at that time). He was a professor of botany and anatomy, and was one of two discoverers of the lymphatic vessels. He also had an interest in astronomy, taught mining and fortification theory and was Sweden’s first field archaeologist.
Olaf published, Atlantica between 1679 and 1702, in Latin and Swedish , , which placed Atlantis, not altogether surprisingly, in Sweden. This was a massive 2500 page work(b), published with the financial help of the Swedish King Carl XI, in which he offered 102 ‘proofs’ to support his thesis. Atlantica included a map showing Uppsala as Atlantis(a). He also contended that Swedish was the root tongue of all languages!
Rudbeck built his Atlantis theory on a number of details, including references to the Icelandic Eddas.
- He assumed that the mythical Swedish king Atle was the original Atlas,
- He linked the Swedish Atlefjell (Atle’s Mountain) with the Atlas Mountains and an old name for Sweden was Atland, which crops up in the Oera Linda Book,
- He cited Sweden’s large copper deposits as one of his proofs of his country’s identity with Plato’s Atlantis.
It is also of interest that Rudbeck was an early proponent of the idea that the ‘years’ referred to by Plato were in fact originally Egyptian ‘lunar cycles’ and concluded that Atlantis was destroyed circa 1500 BC.
Rudbeck also noted that the Greek word ‘nesos’ could mean ‘island’ OR ‘peninsula’, the latter being applicable to Sweden. He argued that the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ was a designation formerly used to refer to a number of locations. Rudbeck claimed that the Øresund strait between Sweden and Denmark was the site of the Atlantis ‘Pillars’.
It should be noted that Rudbeck’s theory was a development of the earlier ideas of another Swede, Johannes Bureus (1568-1652), a runic scholar, also born near Uppsala.
Half a century after Rudbeck’s death, a fellow Swede, Johannes Jacobi Eurenius, wrote Atlantica Orientalis, published in 1751, in which he placed Atlantis in the Holy Land and argued forcefully against Rudbeck’s Swedish location.
*However, another two centuries were ro pass before a comparably comprehensive study of the Atlantis question was undertaken by Ignatius Donnelly. The passage of time has demonstrated both to be heavily flawed.*
In recent years, Gunnar Eriksson, professor emeritus of the History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University, published the first Swedish biography of Rudbeck. He also compiled a shorter version, in English, that looked at Rudbeck’s 17th century ‘proofs’ that Sweden was Plato’s Atlantis. David King of the University of Kentucky has published a further look at this remarkable, if eccentric, individual.
Stephen P. Kershaw has commented[1410.193] that Rudbeck’s Atlantica ”was written while Lutheran Sweden was still coming to terms with the abdication in July 1654 of ‘Queen of the Swedes, Goths and Vandals’, and her conversion to Roman Catholicism. For the Protestant Rudbeck, the Atlantis project was part of an attempt to champion Swedish nationalism, both politically and religiously; annexing Atlantis, which the Catholic/Mediterranean world had so often used to assert its own supremacy, and moving it to Protestant Sweden was an ingenious move.”
Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and after whom the annual Nobel Prizes are named, was a direct descendant of Rudbeck.