Friday, August 24, 2018

2018.08.23

Erika Daniels-Qasim, Atlantis im Großen Fünfstromland. Platons Timaios und Kritias führen über Saïs zur Induskultur. Bonn: Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2017. Pp. 408. ISBN 9783774941168. €85.00.

Reviewed by Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Seminar für Klassische Philologie, Georg-August-Universität (hnessel@gwdg.de)

Version at BMCR home site

There have been innumerable attempts to find an earthly location for Plato's Atlantis, but this book may be the first to propose an identification of Plato's magnificent island with the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished in what today is Pakistan and Northwest India between (approximately) 2600 and 1900 BCE. The ingenuity with which the author sets about to prove her thesis is truly remarkable; but ingenuity—I hasten to add—is no synonym for probability, let alone truth.

After a short introduction on "Mythos Atlantis" (9–12), the book is organized in six parts ("Teile"). Parts I ("Spuren" ["Traces"], 13–64) and II ("Die Indizien" ["Indicators"], 65–112) set out to remove some of the main difficulties of Daniels-Qasim's thesis. According to Plato's speaker Critias, Atlantis was an island in the middle of an ocean, while the Indus Valley Civilization lay squarely in the northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent, but for the Egyptians—so Daniels-Qasim explains (41–3)—all foreign lands were "islands-amid-the-ocean", and the Greeks took the term in the original Egyptian reports (on which see below) simply too literally. 1

Next problem: According to the Platonic Critias, Atlantis lay to the west of the Mediterranean beyond the Pillars of Hercules, while the Indus Valley Civilization was far to the southeast of the Mediterranean World. Again, Daniels-Qasim takes refuge with Egyptian linguistics (71–7): in her opinion, "west" and "east" were confused, because they were first expressed as "left" and "right", and Egyptians and Greeks had different (in fact, opposite) ideas with regard to how to interpret "left" and "right" in geographical terms. Thus a big continental region in the far southeast could become a big island in the far west.

With these two big obstacles removed, Daniels-Qasim sets out to develop a fairly detailed picture of the Indus Valley Civilization, in which she now also without any hesitation integrates details that can only be read in the Critias (which, in her eyes, has now been proven to be an authentic report of this Middle Bronze Age civilization, having come to Greece via Egyptian intermediaries and then been archived at Saïs, ready for Solon to take to Athens). In Part III ("Interaktive 2 Darstellung der Induskultur" ["Interactive presentation of the Indus Valley Civilization"], 113–295), Daniels-Qasim fills many pages with discussions of archaeological remains of this civilization and attempts to show how they might possibly fit in with what Plato's Critias has to say about the rich natural treasures allegedly found on Atlantis and their use by the island's inhabitants. In fact, we may have here what made Daniels-Qasim come to the conclusion that the Indus Valley Civilization might actually lie behind Plato's Atlantis in the first place: the remarkable natural wealth that seems characteristic both of this Indian civilization and Plato's big island.

The remaining parts are mainly devoted to the demise of this remarkable civilization and its consequences for certain aspects of Plato's Atlantis. The rather short Part IV ("Die Induskultur—Aufstieg und Niedergang" ["The Indus Valley Civilization—Rise and Decline"], 296–311) is concerned with chronology and the presumably natural causes that led to the eventual collapse of this civilization. The more extensive Part V ("In der Nachfolge der Induskultur" ["What came after the Indus Valley Civilization"], 312–351) discusses the circumstances of the takeover of the territories of the Indus Valley Civilization by Indo-Aryan populations after about 1900 BCE. Interestingly, Daniels-Qasim finds evidence for this again in sections of the Platonic Critias which in her view must be later additions to the "original" Egyptian reports, but which, again, were already integrated into the earlier reports stored in Egyptian Saïs before the text came into Greek hands. She is even prepared to posit the integration of such additions (now also via Babylonian transmission) right up to the time of Solon's alleged visit to Saïs around 580 BCE. 3

The short (and last) Part VI (somewhat enigmatically called "Systematisches und Ausblick" ["Systematic remarks and prospects/overview"], 352–362) tries to grapple with what Daniels-Qasim calls "Unüberblickbare Zahlen" ("ungraspable numbers"). The 9000 years between the flourishing and subsequent demise of Atlantis and Solon's time (Tim. 23e, Criti. 108e) cause her considerable difficulties, which she decides to resolve by claiming that they simply mean "very, very old" (357). There follow some inconclusive remarks about the end of the Critias 4 and a short summary (360–1) of the book's theses. The remaining pages are filled by a comparative chart of the chronologies of Egypt and Babylon (but not of the Indus Valley Civilization) (363), a (not very comprehensive) glossary of some names and terms (365–8), a rather sprawling subject index (369–82) and an index of passages from the Critias and the Timaeus (382–4), a bibliography (385–395; more on which below), a register of the illustrations found in the book and their credits (396–8), and the notes to the text (399–408).

The scope of this review does not allow for more than the preceding fairly general overview of the contents of this book. Before I finish, however, some rather fundamental problems of Daniels-Qasim's thesis must be pointed out.

The far-reaching claims of the book are backed up by no hard evidence, while the "coulds", "mights", and "maybes" proliferate on almost every page. With refreshing candor, Daniels-Qasim herself admits (361): "It looks as if for the time being [!, HGN] no Old Egyptian text about the then distant 'strange countries' of the Orient—Sumer, Akkad, the Great Land of Five Streams—is accessible to research". 5 Thus her elaborate construction of the way by which Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom period might have come by information about the Indus Valley Civilization rests on thin air. For Daniels-Qasim, the all-important pivot of her construct is Saïs, the capital city of Egypt at the time Solon allegedly had his conversations with the Egyptian priests: it was here, she claims (38, 293, 313, 329, 360), that the reports about the Indus Valley Civilization were received, stored and even updated over the centuries. The fact is, however, that Saïs plays no major role in Egyptian history before 1100 BCE, and becomes the capital only for the 24th and the 26th dynasty of Pharaohs (i.e. not before 730 BCE) 6—how then could there have been records from the Middle Kingdom (about 2055—1650 BCE) in this place?

Daniels-Qasim only very briefly considers the possibility (which is nowadays more or less the academic communis opinio about Atlantis) that Plato himself might have been the inventor of Atlantis and rejects it (342–3). In her opinion, there are too many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Critias to allow for the possibility that the story was created by one single author (61–4); upon closer examination, however, these inconsistencies and contradictions mostly vanish into thin air, as they are often caused by misunderstanding the Greek text. 7

Some words must also be said about the bibliography presented by Daniels-Qasim. At first sight it looks rather impressive, but on closer inspection glaring gaps appear. She has in no way bothered to ensure that she is up to date with scholarly literature on Atlantis: nowhere does she cite the most recent English and German translations and commentaries of the Critias.8 The bulk of her bibliography is made up by studies concerning the Indus Valley Civilization, but even here many recent works, which would have been relevant for her study, are missing.9

If this book has a merit, it may be the attention it devotes to the Indus Valley Civilization, which indeed is a subject well worth studying; but it should not be press-ganged to serve yet another far-fetched theory about the location of Plato's magnificently conceived island—so magnificently, in fact, that people still want to believe that it once was real and are prepared to go to any lengths to "prove" it.



Notes:


1.   One might ask "What about the vast continent surrounding the ocean in which Atlantis and other islands lay (Tim. 24e–25a) ? How would the Egyptians have distinguished said islands and said continent?" Daniels-Qasim provides no answers to these questions.
2.   I am at a loss to explain what meaning the term "interactive" used here has.
3.   It is, in this context, a rather bad blunder to assume that at this time knowledge of the Persian military came into this text as well (353: "Einige Einzelheiten deuten jedoch daraufhin [sic], dass eventuell Kenntnis über die Armee der Perser aus Zeiten kurz vor oder um 580 v. Chr. zugrunde lagen […]"): around 580, the Persians were not much more than almost unknown vassals of the Medes.
4.   359: "Das Ende soll nach anderen Quellen verloren sein" ("According to other sources, the end [i.e. of the Critias] is supposed to be lost"): these "other sources" I would really like to know …
5.   In the German original (reproduced here with the syntactic muddle found at the end): "Es scheint, als sei für die Forschung im Moment kein altägyptischer Text über die damals fernen Fremdländer des Orients—Sumer, Akkad, Großes Fünfstromland—zugänglich zu sein."
6.   See I. Shaw and P. Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, London 2008, 279–80.
7.   To give just two examples: 1. the claim (62) that Plato has the Atlantean kings erect gates and towers "upon a footpath or corridor leading around the city in front of the city wall" ("auf einem vor der Burgmauer um die Stadt führenden Fußweg oder Gang") and then even "a whole city upon a narrow causeway with a racecourse in its midst" ("auf einem schmalen Damm […] eine ganze Stadt […] in ihrer Mitte zudem noch eine Rennbahn") rests upon serious misinterpretations of the relevant Greek passages (Criti. 116a, 117bc). Apelt's translation (which she cites every now and then) could have helped Daniels-Qasim to avoid her misunderstandings. 2. She criticizes (63) that Plato—at the end of the Critias—endows Zeus with the role of a punishing deity, while—with regard to the earthquakes and floods that destroyed Atlantis—it should really have been Poseidon. If, however, she had read the text more carefully, she would have recognized that Zeus' punishment for Atlantis is not its destruction but its defeat by Athens; for Zeus does not want to destroy Atlantis but to improve its wayward kings (Criti. 121bc). Atlantis' (and the Athenians') subsequent destruction has nothing to do with this: it is just a natural occurrence within the periodic cycles of destruction of large parts of the earth by fire and/or water as described in Tim. 22c–23b.
8.   H.-G. Nesselrath, Platon, Kritias, Übersetzung und Kommentar, Göttingen 2006; Chr. Gill, Plato's Atlantis story: text, translation and commentary, Liverpool 2017 (this might have been too late for Daniels-Qasim's book; she could, however, have used the first edition of Gill's book, which came out in 1980—but she does not cite this either).
9.   Here is a sample: D. K. Chakrabarti, Indus Civilization Sites in India: New Discoveries, Mumbai 2004; R. Coningham and R. Young, The Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka, c. 6500 BCE—200 CE, Cambridge 2015; M. Danino, The Lost River—On the trail of the Sarasvati, New Delhi 2010; J. M. Kenoyer and K. Heuston, The Ancient South Asian World, Oxford/New York 2005; J. McIntosh, A Peaceful Realm: The Rise and Fall of the Indus Civilization, Boulder 2001; J. McIntosh, The Ancient Indus valley. New Perspectives, Santa Barbara et al. 2008; A. Parpola, The Roots of Hinduism. The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilisation, New York 2015; G. L. Possehl, The Indus Civilization. A Contemporary Perspective, Lanham et al. 2002.

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