Richard Ellis is obsessed with all things Atlantic, and he's written a number of books on the Atlantic Ocean's inhabitants and legends. Of all the stories to be found in this big sea, the lost civilization of Atlantis has been the hallucinogenic focus of passionate scholarship--why is that? Ellis writes, "Whether its source was extraterrestrial, prehistorical, or imaginary, Atlantis, unique among the Western world's myths, has become a part of our mythohistory."
In Imagining Atlantis, Ellis turns his eye to the oceanic legend that has captured the imagination of countless people, forming the basis for archaeological expeditions, historical analyses, mystical revelations, and even extraterrestrial influence. The book's first chapter, entitled "What Plato Said," relates the story in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias that started the enduring hunt for a land lost beneath the sea: "There was an island opposite the strait which you call ... the Pillars of Heracles, an island larger than Libya and Asia combined," wrote Plato. He went on to describe in ostentatious detail the civilization of Atlantis, its buildings, commerce and people--and how it was "swallowed up by the sea and vanished."
Ellis traces the conclusions of the most persistent theories of the 2,000 or so scholarly works "proving" that what Plato meant was, variously, the island of Santorini, Palestine, the Peloponnesian town of Helice, the Americas, or something more bizarre. Ellis's treatment of the multitudes of Atlantean researchers is thorough, respectful, and interested, no matter which of Desmond Lee's Atlantis response categories they fall into: crazy, geological, or historical. He follows the theories of scientists, archaeologists, mystics, and science fiction authors to their conclusions with equanimity. After outlining these theories, suggestions, and delusions, Ellis leads the reader ineffably toward the firm conclusion that Plato invented Atlantis. Plato himself would probably be either alarmed or amused that his fiction has been the subject of so much inquiry and emotion. Perhaps the philosopher--looking around for real places to write about--found that he needed a utopia to show what a civilization could be.