Friday, 16 October 2009
Jürgen Spanuth, Atlantis: the Mystery Unravelled (1956)
There are tens of thousands of crazy books about Atlantis, and this, for all its restrained, pseudo-scholarly tone, is one of the craziest. Spanuth disregards great galleon-loads of counter-evidence, focusses upon very few and very slender points of similarity (reed helmets may have been worn in Scandinavia similar to ones represented in Egyptian temple engravings; some swords in Egypt have a sort-of similar shape to some swords in northern Europe) and reads Plato in a deadeningly literal-minded way to reach the following baffling conclusion: Atlantis was actually Schleswig-Holstein. Here's his map of the great kingdom of Atlantis, now swallowed by the ocean (the shaded lands to the right are actual Schleswig and actual Holstein; the dotted areas to the left are the sand banks off the Schleswiggy-Holsteinian coast):
And even less convincingly, here's an echo-sonograph Spanuth took from a boat floating on the bosom of the North Sea:
Can you see the submerged towers and vasty battlements? Can you?
Certain smallish islands in the North Sea off the coast of Germany and Denmark were indeed inundated once upon a time, an event known to historians as the 'Cymbrian flood'. But this happened between 113 and 101 BC, not the 1500 years earlier it would have to be to have even a glancing relevance to the Atlantis myth. The Cymbrian flood is recorded by Strabo, who mentions that it forced some tribes of Cymbri and Teutons to relocate (they sent their best kettle to Caesar, rather sweetly, as a 'plea for his friendship and for an amnesty of earlier offences'). It has nothing to do with Atlantis.
Nevertheless I found the experience of reading Spanuth's crazy book to be poignant rather than entirely curlywurlycuckoo. The original German version (Das enträtselte Atlantis) was published 1953. That is to say: it was researched and written in the early years of the 1950s, only a few years after the catastrophic defeat of Nazi Germany. The thought of earnest Herr-Doktor Spanuth concocting his wafer-thin hypothesis in such a cultural context is weirdly touching -- dispatching to the depths of history a fabulation of Germans conquering the entirety of the known world, from Scandinavia to Egypt, from Asia Minor to Spain, only to be wiped-out in a sudden, vast cataclysm. It says very little about either Atlantis or the Cymbrian flood. It says a great deal about Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Spanuth deals with the trauma of his nation's quasi-Atlantean downfall by mutating it into distant myth and story.