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Kenneth Feder is failing on Atlantis

A critical commentary on Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries

Thorwald C. Franke
© 03 October 2021

Kenneth L. Feder is Professor of Archaeology at the Central Connecticut State University and the author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries – Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Currently in its 10th edition, this book has made Feder famous far beyond the circles of his discipline, to the extent that he has been invited to countless interviews and has participated in numerous television documentaries. The fame is well deserved: Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries is indeed a very intelligent and valuable book on the basics of science and archaeology, explaining in detail many famous frauds and errors in the field of archaeology. In addition, Kenneth Feder is also convincing in human terms: compared to some radicalisations in the name of identity politics, there is much moderation and mildness in Feder's book, so that the reader is educated not only to reason but also to humanity – the two belong inseparably together.

Unfortunately, the chapter on Plato's Atlantis is thoroughly unsuccessful. This is not necessarily Feder's fault, for Feder had to rely on what his colleagues in ancient philology and philosophy and history had prepared for him. And that was and is rotten material. The following commentary is therefore intended as constructive criticism. This review is based on the 8th edition of the book.

Kenneth Feder about Atlantis in the film "Science Friction" by Skeptoid Media


Kenneth Feder begins his book with a surprising confession: he himself was once a follower of pseudoscientific theses. Until one day he became suspicious and adopted sceptical-scientific thinking. Today, he still wants to be open to strange theses, even if it almost always turns out that they lack the necessary substantiation. That is very likeable.

In a separate chapter entitled "Epistemology", the scientific method is explained: that all knowledge is provisional and a historical science like archaeology must practically always work with probabilities and plausibilities. In addition, Occam's razor and the terms hypothesis and theory are explained. This is a very strong chapter! However, it is unfortunate that Feder then speaks of "absolute certainty" (p. 40) in the "convergence of evidence". For, as he himself says, no scientific certainty can ever be as absolute as a religious dogma. The example of the Holocaust is equally unfortunate, because it is an event from recent history about which very many contemporary witnesses could be asked. Of course, such a high degree of certainty is not possible for ancient events.

Then again, the openness with which it is talked about that even scientists cheat is completely convincing. And that it is very difficult to maintain a minority position against the mainstream in science. However, it would have been good if Feder had presented more concretely what the consequences are of bravely defending a thesis against the mainstream of science (p. 41). This bravery can destroy a career, indeed a life, because personal fulfilment of meaning in one's job as well as a good income and, of course, social acceptance also depend on a successful career. And without all that, life becomes difficult. Depending on the degree of social exclusion and lack of success, one will not even be able to start a family, and that is hard. The self-correction of science will come, but it often comes too late for many.

Feder's epistemology focuses on physical evidence such as archaeological finds. But especially with a question like Atlantis, it is above all about the correct interpretation of a text and not first about physical evidence. That is why the reader of this book learns nothing about the historical-critical reading of ancient texts. He learns nothing about the thousand reasons there may be why an ancient text does not agree with the archaeological evidence. An invention is rarely the reason. This means that important foundations are missing for dealing with the subject of Atlantis. In any case, it is not legitimate to say that Atlantis does not exist because the literalist interpretation does not lead to a credible result. It is not that simple.

One reason for the absence of such considerations may be that Feder is an American archaeologist. For archaeology in America, the question of the correspondence between ancient texts and the archaeological record almost never arises. Mediterranean archaeology, on the other hand, is regularly confronted with this problem.

The Atlantis dialogues and the presentation of the Atlantis story

Feder correctly refers to Plato's dialogues as fictional dialogues (p. 190 f.). However, the fictionality of the dialogues does not transfer to the contents dealt with in the dialogues. The contents of the dialogues are to be taken seriously in principle, as long as nothing else speaks for an invention.

That Plato was still too young at the fictional time of the fictional dialogue to take notes of the conversation is also correct (p. 191). However, this thesis is only discussed in completely unserious publications. Completely wrong, however, is Feder's assertion that Plato would anachronistically compose the dialogue participants of his fictional dialogues (p. 191). The opposite is the case. If one assumes an older Critias for the dialogue participant Critias, who is historically attested, then the chronology is coherent also in this dialogue. It would be inconsistent if one wanted to see the tyrant Critias as Critias the dialogue participant. It is not entirely clear of which Critias Feder is talking. It is one of the many questions about Plato's Atlantis on which there is no agreement among scholars.

It is wrong that the Apaturia festival, on which the Atlantis story is told, would be a "deception festival" in the sense of our April Fool's Day, thus marking the Atlantis story as a kind of April Fool's joke (p. 192). Few scientists hold this view. Most scientists know that this argument does not work. (But they do not correct their colleagues). – It is equally false that the Atlantis story would be marked as untrustworthy by an oral tradition over many stations (p. 192 f., "telephone"). Rather, Plato praises the advantage of the written tradition by the Egyptians, and Solon also brought written records from Egypt, which are said to have been in the possession of the family of Critias (and thus of Plato). The purpose of the oral chain of tradition is quite different: Plato had the problem of introducing a real subject into a fictional dialogue: This is what this oral chain of tradition serves for, parallel to the written tradition.

Like many other Atlantis sceptics, Kenneth Feder overlooks an important turn in the plot of the dialogue Timaeus (p. 192): first Socrates proposes to invent a story. But then comes the turn: Critias suggests to take a real story as a basis instead, and Socrates agrees: a real story is better than an invented story. This is an opinion that even we modern people must agree with. This turn in the plot of the Timaeus is of course no proof of the reality of the story, but it is firstly a very clear statement in favour of the reality of the story, which makes it more difficult to interpret as a recognisable allegory (one might then rather think of a deception, a Noble Lie). And secondly, one must not refer Socrates' statements about the invention of a story at the beginning of the dialogue to the Atlantis story, because that would completely contradict the plot of the dialogue. One would have to want to see an extreme amount of irony to still interpret it that way. The interpretation as a deception, a Noble Lie, is much closer, if one wants to stick to the opinion that it is an invention. Incidentally, scholars are not in agreement on this question either: should it be a recognisable allegory, or should it be a deceptive story, a Noble Lie, that is not to be recognised as such?

Kenneth Feder emphasises the ironic effect in Timaeus 25e that Plato's ideal state and primeval Athens would "by some mysterious coincidence" (p. 193) correspond "perfectly" in all details (pp. 191-193). But this ironic effect exists only in some translations and interpretations, not in reality. For this translation is wrong. First, the correspondance is not "perfect", but only a correspondance in many / most details. That is why Critias, as he himself says, must insert the citizens of the theoretical ideal state into the historical tradition, so that it becomes the perfect ideal state. Because the historical model is not perfect. That makes it a little more credible. And if it is an invention, one wonders at this point: Why did Plato invent it in such a complicated way? It would have been much simpler if Plato had written that primeval Athens was already the perfect ideal state?

Secondly, however, the passage Timaeus 25e is almost always mistranslated. It is not a "miracle" or a "coincidence" or "luck", but a reference to the daimonion of Socrates (ὡς δαιμονίως) and an event of fate. The daimonion of Socrates may not seem very credible to us modern people, but in Plato's dialogues it is always to be taken seriously. Using an incorrect translation is a forgivable mistake on Feder's part, for in fact few have realised this. Feder, by the way, gives the passage as "p. 446". The scientific notation is Timaeus 25e.

Kenneth Feder has also noticed that the supposedly ironic confusion about Atlantis is followed by a completely serious discussion, namely the cosmology of Timaeus (p. 193). However, Feder has not recognised that it is indeed a problem that supposedly ironic jest and complete seriousness stand so close together and are even inextricably interwoven. Most scholarly Atlantis sceptics also pass over this problem with silence.

Atlantis is no myth and not mythical

The Atlantis story is presented by Plato as written history and explicitly presented as the opposite of merely orally transmitted myths. Thus it can still be an invention, but it can no longer be a myth. Not even if it was invented. At most, one could say that Atlantis has become a "modern" myth, just as the Beatles have become a "myth". But that has nothing to do with a classical myth.

It is also completely wrong for Kenneth Feder to describe Atlantis as a wonderland or a mythical land – it is wrong for Atlantis to be compared to fairy-tale lands like Oz or Middle Earth – it is wrong to call Atlantis "fantastical" (pp. 187, 190, 195). There are no miracles in the Atlantis story. There are no mythical monsters or supernatural occurrences, except those that Plato himself found believable within the framework of his worldview. And a mythical founding story was what every real city had at the time.

It is also wrong to interpret the 9,000 years of Atlantis as a "distant" past, deliberately chosen to be so remote as to make the story mythical and unverifiable (pp. 194, 196). The truth is that in the context of the world view of the Greeks of the time, the 9,000 years points to a time after the founding of Egypt, which was thought to be somewhere around 11,000+ BC. Translated into our modern perception, this points to a time after 3,000 BC, when Egypt was actually founded. So it was a very real time for the ancient Greeks, and Plato reports very real written traditions. Nothing about it is mythical. Everything about it looks plausible.

The story is by no means "distant" in other respects either, but very close and verifiable: Aristotle also believed in the mud in the sea in front of Gibraltar, the alleged traces of primeval Athens in Plato's Athens are real, and of course Egypt was also accessible to the Greeks. Crantor is said to have actually gone to Egypt and found evidence there for the truth of the Atlantis story. Of course, we do not know what Crantor really saw in Egypt, but that the Atlantis story was deliberately invented "enormously distant" (p. 196) is definitely not true.

Feder has not understood that Plato's philosophy is serious

Kenneth Feder interprets Plato's dialogue "The Republic" as "fiction" and as "hypothetical" (p. 191 f.). But this is quite wrong. Plato's dialogue "The Republic" develops an ideal state based on the reality of the world and of man. This ideal state is not to be interpreted as an invention out of the blue, but was a completely serious plan that was based on reality and was to be realised in reality as far as possible. It is also said in the dialogue "The Republic" that such a state already existed approximately in the past and will exist again in the future. Plato's cyclical view of history is completely serious. It is therefore not too surprising that Plato presents an Egyptian account of a past time in which such a state is said to have existed.

That is why the comparison of Atlantis to fairytale lands and to Star Wars does not work (p. 194 f.). Because Star Wars is fantastic. The story of Star Wars cannot be real from the perspective of our current technical possibilities. Atlantis, however, could be real from the perspective of the ancient Greeks. And there is another thing: even in Star Wars there is still a serious message: that the "good guys" defeat the "bad guys" even though they are weaker is indeed a parallel, Kenneth Feder has quite rightly recognised that. But this message is also meant seriously in Star Wars! The author of Star Wars does not want to say: "Dear viewers, good only triumphs in fiction, so be evil in your life like Darth Vader and the Empire and leave being good to the dopes." No, Star Wars, too, of course, wants to send its viewers the message that it pays to be good, and that the bad guys perish from their own wickedness. So the comparison Kenneth Feder draws cannot prove the invention of Atlantis. Incidentally, it is a well-known topos of world history that great empires cut their teeth on small opponents. Empires fail because of themselves. Quite real. You don't have to make it up.

Kenneth Feder is completely on the wrong track when he quotes the historian William Stiebing: "Virtually every myth Plato relates in his dialogues is introduced by statements claiming it is true" (p. 196). This is simply false. However, the book from which this statement was taken is not a reference book on Platonic Myths, but is entitled Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions, and Other Popular Theories About Man's Past. – The so-called Platonic Myths are a chapter in themselves. The first realisation one should have is that Platonic Myths are not myths. The word mythos has a different meaning for Plato than the word myth has for us. Platonic Myths are, among others, attempts to approximate reality. For example, the first mention of the fact that the earth is a sphere is also found in a Platonic Myth. Please note: Plato's Cave is not a mythos, but an analogy. A mythos might be real, an analogy, of course, is not. And please note: Plato's Atlantis tradition from Egypt is not called a mythos but a logos and is explicitly understood as the opposite of a mythos.

Big mistake: No historical-critical reading

As already indicated in the chapter on the foundations of science, one of Kenneth Feder's very great weaknesses is that he does not think historically-critically. Feder reads the Atlantis story only in a literalist way. This is, of course, very unscientific. The Atlantis story must always be interpreted in the context of its time, even if it is an invention. But Kenneth Feder consistently reads the Atlantis story in a literalist way, just as Christian fanatics read the Bible in a literalist way.

A central error of Kenneth Feder is the question: "How many alterations does it take to make Critias's description of Atlantis match Minoan Crete?" (p. 199) This question is, of course, completely wrong. After all, not a single arbitrary alteration may be made to the original story. But if a change in interpretation arises from the historical context, then it does not matter how many changes there are, because every single change is legitimate and necessary.

Feder consistently follows the invention thesis that every element of the Atlantis story aims at an allegorical effect (p. 203). What he does not say is that Atlantis-sceptical scholars have a very hard time with this. In particular, the federal ritual act of Atlantis contains so many superfluous details that some scholars take refuge in the statement that Plato succumbed here to the "Lust zu fabulieren" (desire to fabricate). But that is a very weak argument.

Time and again, the literalist reading is insisted on. In the chapter "Current Perspectives" (p. 213 ff.), for example, the fundamental insight is conveyed that there was no Athens around 9,600 BC. Feder can tell that to Graham Hancock's fans, but it is no argument for scientific Atlantis supporters, because only the uneducated read the Atlantis story in a literalist way.

The hypothesis on the Minoan Civilisation

Especially in the chapter "Atlantis after Donnelly" (p. 212 ff.) the scientific representatives of the historical-critical hypothesis from the 20th century, for whom the Minoan civilisation was Atlantis, are missing. Strangely, these scientists are not mentioned even where Feder discusses this thesis. K.T. Frost is addressed without naming him, and John V. Luce is only mentioned in brackets as a source, not with his own theses nor with his central text (p. 196). This is despite the fact that John V. Luce's central text is contained in the same book from which Kenneth Feder cites the Atlantis-sceptic stance of J. Rufus Fears (p. 196, Atlantis and the Minoan Thalassocracy, in: Ramage (ed.), Atlantis – Fact or Fiction, 1978). It is a grave omission not to discuss one of the central texts of the opposing view, indeed not even to have it in the bibliography (John V. Luce: The Literary Perspective – The Sources and Literary Form of Plato's Atlantis Narrative, in: Ramage (ed.), Atlantis – Fact or Fiction, 1978; pp. 49-78).

It is certainly false that the Greeks still had a deeper memory of the Minoan culture, as Feder thinks (p. 197). As is well known, apart from a few superficial myths, nothing of knowledge was left with the Greeks. As Plato himself says, such knowledge could indeed only have come from the Egyptian archives. (Though this is not a proof for the reality of Atlantis.)

It is also wrong that the catastrophe of Atlantis would be the key element of the Atlantis story (p. 197). There have been many catastrophes in the course of human history. The special thing, for example, is the federal ritual act of the ten kings of Atlantis, but not the catastrophe.

Feder repeatedly emphasises that the Minoan civilization would not correspond to the Atlantis story: it was the wrong place, the wrong time, there were no elephants, etc. etc. (pp. 197, 199). But this is all just the literalist reading. With this method, one could also declare Herodotus' Egypt non-existent, because Herodotus attributes to Egypt, for example, a similar age as Atlantis and also makes many other mistakes in his descriptions. But Egypt does exist.

It is also noticeable that Kenneth Feder does not mention the Sea Peoples Wars of the Ramesside period, which are repeatedly mentioned by scholars as a possible basis for the Atlantis story. Instead, it is succinctly claimed that there are no records of a war with the Minoan civilization (p. 199). And the Egyptian sources allegedly have nothing to say about Atlantis (p. 195). But how does Feder know that? That the word "Atlantis" does not appear there is logical, because it is a Greek word. But to succinctly claim that there is nothing there and at the same time to remain dead silent about the Sea Peoples Wars is unacceptable.

Finally, Kenneth Feder has compiled a long table, which looks very much like the tables of less educated Atlantis searchers, in which he has compiled all possible elements of the Atlantis story and then ticked off what of them literally applies to the Minoan civilization (pp. 200 ff.). This ticking off of literalist correspondences is already wrong in its approach to the problem.

Beyond that, however, Kenneth Feder makes other mistakes in this table. In some points, Feder is simply too strict in his judgement: that there were not many plants and animals on Crete is a very narrow-minded judgement. The same applies to the black, white and red rocks, which of course also exist on Crete and Santorini. Or for ivory, which is of course attested in Mycenaean-Minoan palaces. Or for metal plating, which is also attested in principle as a technique. – Feder cannot decide that there was no Orichalcum and no temple of Poseidon and Cleito, because he does not know what Orichalcum is and what these gods were called by the Cretans. – Completely surprising is the checkmark at "Special Pleading" for the dolphin statues around Poseidon's statue. – Completely wrong not to make a checkmark for Crete at "Whole country lofty and precipitous". There are enough mountains in Crete. Equally strange is the checkmark at "Unkown" for the bull cult. Has Feder never heard of the cup of Vaphio?!

Reception history of Plato's Atlantis

It is surprising that Kenneth Feder thinks that the non-mention of Atlantis in Herodotus and Thucydides is an argument against the existence of Atlantis (p. 195). This is, of course, wrong. For both lived before Plato, and the knowledge about Atlantis is said to have come – and can only have come – from the Egyptian archives. The thesis of an inner-Greek tradition is firstly an arbitrary deviation from Plato's Atlantis story and secondly also implausible. And the fact that Herodotus did not hear anything about the Atlantis story in Egypt does not prove anything either, because he did not hear anything about the Sea Peoples Wars there either, and yet the Sea Peoples Wars are real.

Greek historians after Plato were silent about Atlantis, says Feder (p. 195). This is a questionable assertion. For example, it would first have to be clarified who can be considered a "historian" at all. Strabo, for example, reported many historical facts in his work, but is not considered a historian. And just as some ancient geographers did not mention Atlantis because it was considered to have perished and they only wanted to describe the current geography, some historians did not mention Atlantis because it existed long before the last catastrophe and before the last emergence of culture, i.e. it did not belong to the history of the current epoch. Of course, in order to consider Atlantis real, one had to accept Plato's cyclical view of history. In any case, the list of ancient authors who interpret Atlantis as a real place is long: from Theophrastus and Crantor to Strabo and Posidonius and Proclus. The first sceptics all remained anonymous. The first Atlantis sceptic known by name did not appear until 500 years after Plato. It was Numenius of Apameia around 150 AD. And the 9,000 years of Atlantis were first doubted by those Christians who believed in a biblical age of the world of only 6,000 years.

But this is what Kenneth Feder reports about this: nothing. Even worse: Feder claims that Plato's contemporaries allegedly knew that Atlantis was only a fairy tale (pp. 195 f., 203). And that the idea that the Atlantis story could be true only arose with Columbus (p. 203). Of course, this is all completely false. Here, too, Feder has become the victim of a completely neglected science. If one goes through the various scholarly authors, one finds only hopeless chaos. There are actually a few classical philologists who impudently claim that no one in antiquity believed in Atlantis.

It is interesting that in the 8th edition discussed here an assertion is missing that was still included in earlier editions under the heading "After Plato": namely, that Aristotle had explicitly spoken out against the existence of Atlantis, namely at the passage Strabo 2.3.6. The section "After Plato" still exists (p. 203), but the statement has been deleted without replacement and without justification. What has happened here? How can such an important thesis simply be dropped? – Well, in 2010 a book was published that severely shook this thesis, beloved by many Atlantis sceptics, in 2012 also in English. And then this thesis was suddenly missing from Feder's book. Other Atlantic sceptics also quietly dropped this thesis or dramatically changed their argumentation on it. But no one mentions the book and no one discusses his error. This is not very scientific, because such a dramatic change of opinion needs to be discussed. The book was Aristotle and Atlantis by Thorwald C. Franke.

There are a number of small errors in the reception history: Lopez de Gomara did not believe that the American Indians were emigrants from Atlantis (p. 203). Rather, he believed that "Las Indias", i.e. all of the Americas, were the island and mainland of Atlantis. – Brasseur de Bourbourg's research was not "complete fantasy" (p. 204): of course his translation was wrong, but that does not make it "complete fantasy". Brasseur de Bourbourg made a great contribution to Maya research. – Jürgen Spanuth did not believe that Atlantis was located in Scandinavia (p. 189), but near the island of Heligoland in the North Sea. The hypothesis of Atlantis in Scandinavia goes back to Olof Rudbeck in the 17th century. And we add: Olof Rudbeck was a meritorious polymath who also made many discoveries in the context of his Atlantis researches and is to be taken completely seriously, even if Atlantis was not located in Scandinavia. – In the case of Prince Madoc (p. 129 f.) it would have been appropriate to mention that he was supposedly in America before Columbus and that the English therefore based their colonial claims in America on Prince Madoc, and not on Atlantis, as some erroneously believe.

In the chapter on the Moundbuilder Myth, Kenneth Feder – perhaps unintentionally – gives the impression that Atlantis played an important role in the calculations of racists who wanted to deny the American Indians the right to exist by referring to a settlement of America before the Indians. The wrong impression is created in connection with the account of Lafcadio Hearn's opinion (p. 161). First, it is correctly reported that Lafcadio Hearn wrote the following sentence about the Mound Builders: "it is at least generally recognised that they were not Indians". Feder, by the way, omits to verify whether this statement is true at all, but that is another subject. – Then Feder reports that Lafcadio Hearn added a theory of his own: that the Mound Builders came from Atlantis. But here Feder omits to point out that it was part of Lafcadio Hearn's new theory that the Mound Builders of Atlantis were the ancestors of the Indians. And thus the potentially racist motivation for the Mound Builder myth falls away.

In truth, only a few racists believed that the Mound Builders came from Atlantis or via Atlantis as a land bridge and at the same time were not Indians, e.g. Josiah Priest 1833. Most racists did not abuse Atlantis but other theories. On the contrary, most who speculated about Atlantis believed that the Mound Builders once came from Atlantis and were at the same time the ancestors of the Indians. For example, Rafinesque-Schmaltz in 1836, David Baillie Warden in 1836, Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1862/1864, John Denison Baldwin in 1869, Lafcadio Hearn in 1876, John Thomas Short in 1880, or Ignatius Donnelly in 1882. Even though this idea is, of course, completely wrong, it had a humanistic aspect: for it acknowledged that the Mound Builders were indeed the Indians respectively their ancestors.

Unfortunately, many modern Atlantis sceptics lump everything together. For them, it is enough to note the pseudoscientific character of the thesis in order to draw the conclusion directly and without further ado that there must be every conceivable racist motive behind it. They see no difference between the racist Josiah Priest and, for example, John Thomas Short ("... leads us to the truth that God 'hath made of one blood all nations of men.' ") or Ignatius Donnelly, who was a very progressive politician in his time. In this way, Atlantic scepticism, out of sheer zeal, paints a far too black picture of historical reality.

It should be noted in passing that Kenneth Feder also pays far too little attention to the fact that it was quite understandable that many doubted at the time that the Indians were the descendants of the Mound Builders. For, as Kenneth Feder himself says, the connection between the Indian cultures and their Mounds was largely severed (p. 159 f.). It is therefore wrong to suggest that doubts about the connection between Indians and Mounds were primarily racially motivated (p. 175). It would still have to be proven by a complete survey of all the theories and their authors how many of them were really racially motivated. For the representatives of the Atlantis theories we could show that the vast majority of them acknowledged the connection of the Indians to the Mounds.

Many small mistakes

We all make mistakes, but there shouldn't be too many. Here we will summarise some of Kenneth Feder's minor errors.

In the caption to an illustration of the city of Atlantis, Feder writes that it is "true to Plato" (p. 188). This, of course, is not true. In Plato there is only one bridge, but here there are five. Moreover, the bridges extend into the plain in a star shape to form roads. The plain, however, was organised in rectangular plots by canals. One could find further discrepancies. Virtually none of the representations in circulation is correct.

Kenneth Feder thinks that the dialogue held on the eve of the dialogue Timaeus is the dialogue "The Republic" (p. 191). This is not quite true. It must have been a similar dialogue, but it is not identical with the dialogue "The Republic". This is general opinion in academia.

Critias is called "poet and teacher" by Feder (p. 191). It is puzzling where this information comes from. It is possible that Critias means the tyrant who also wrote poetry, but then it would have been better to write "tyrant" instead of "teacher". But it would also be wrong because the dialogue participant Critias is not the tyrant.

Feder uses a translation of the Atlantis dialogues in which the word logos is constantly translated as "tale". This often creates an ironic effect that is not present in the original. For logos denotes a completely neutral story, whereas "tale" usually means a story whose credibility is at least in question. – In addition, Feder sometimes uses quotation marks to create an ironic effect, for example around the word "gymnastic" (p. 192) or around the word "true" in "true story" (p. 192). However, these quotation marks are inappropriate, because first one has to perceive Plato's story as it presents itself, and only afterwards can one consider whether it is irony. In the end, one is quite sure that it is irony, because one has deceived oneself by making all kinds of little mistakes.

It is highly unclear whether primeval Athens perished in the same catastrophe as Atlantis, as Feder claims (p. 193). Most scholars also reject Feder's thesis that Plato – shortly after leaving the dialogue Critias unfinished – died (p. 194). Most follow the thesis that Plato lived for several more years and wrote the long dialogue "The Laws".

The mechanism of the decrease of the divine part in the kings of Atlantis is described far too casually by Feder (p. 194), yet it is central: While the kings of Atlantis rely on their divine blood, the inhabitants of primeval Athens rely on education to uphold the constitution. The lesson is clear: education is more important than innate talents. Incidentally, the Atlantis story is thus also not amenable to racism. For apart from the fact that it is only about the kings of Atlantis and not about the people of Atlantis, and apart from the fact that children of gods in the sense of Greek mythology have nothing to do with racism, the teaching of the Atlantis story is downright anti-racist. Of course, this has not stopped some racists from misunderstanding the Atlantis story. But that is not the fault of the Atlantis story.

Final conclusion

Kenneth Feder has written a good book, and he has good intentions. But on the subject of Atlantis, he is off the mark. This is also due to the literature he uses. Paul Jordan and his outrageous book that accuses every Atlantis supporter of having an "Atlantis syndrome" is simply beneath standard. And Sprague de Camp is undoubtedly funny, but many a punchline turns out to be a mistake and is therefore not as funny as it seems at first glance. It is by no means true that Atlantis supporters are "the less-than-great, nonrational minds of the modern world", as Feder thinks (p. 213). He should take a look at John V. Luce's chapter, which is in the same book as the chapter by J. Rufus Fears that he uses.

Ultimately, however, Feder is also the victim of the poor state of science in the question of Atlantis. For there is no single, consolidated invention thesis that is smooth and reliable. Rather, behind the facade of the one great, all-too-simple thesis that Atlantis was supposedly an invention of Plato, there is a great chaos of contradictory opinions. Some see a recognisable allegory, others see a deception, a Noble Lie. Some believe that this Critias is the dialogue participant, others believe that it is that Critias. Some see these cities and events as the template of an invention, others see those cities and events as the template. In the end, the joke that Kenneth Feder makes over several pages about the chaos of the various localisation hypotheses (pp. 188-190) also applies to the various invention hypotheses.

Feder thinks that the speculations about Atlantis could have ended in the 19th century if it had not been for Ignatius Donnelly (p. 204). This is a big error. The reason why the question of Atlantis remains virulent is the simple fact that it is indeed an open question. In the second half of the 19th century, science made it far too easy for itself to summarily declare Atlantis an invention. In doing so, numerous legitimate questions were excluded from science and declared pseudoscience. The result is that science itself can no longer speak openly about the subject. We have arrived here at a question that Kenneth Feder himself raises at the beginning of his book: Even a scientific opinion, no matter how securely believed, must remain open for verifying.

At least we can reassure Kenneth Feder: America certainly has nothing to do with Atlantis. All hypotheses worth discussing do not date Atlantis to 9,600 BC, and they locate Atlantis in the Mediterranean or nearby. Instead of banning Atlantis completely from the debate, it might be wiser to draw a less strict but more certain line between debatable and non-debatable hypotheses: In this way, gross nonsense would be excluded on a reliable basis and attention would be drawn to those theses that are legitimately debatable.

One final, important error must be noted. Kenneth Feder lists the various motivations out of which pseudoscience is practised (p. 10). There are seven basic motivations:

But of course there is a motivation missing that has become increasingly important in our days. It is the motivation of those who want to promote the good in the world, and in doing so overshoot the mark by becoming radical and using improper means. They are those who are against racism and now smell racism everywhere, even where there is none. They are those who want to save the climate and therefore produce the darkest climate forecasts and radically exclude dissenters from the peer review process. And they are those who see the pseudo-scientific misuse of Atlantis and therefore want to ban the subject of Atlantis completely. In short, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One can exaggerate everything, even the supposedly good. The point that is missing from Feder's list, for example, could be called this:

In some places, Kenneth Feder's book already contains examples of measured judgement. This aspect of the book should be made explicit: Good science is moderate and humble. It is also philanthropic and steers clear of radicalism. Politics and science should be as separate as possible. A scientist, in his function as a scientist, does not make himself common with any cause, not even a good one.


Kenneth L. Feder, Frauds, Myths, And Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, 8th edition 2014, McGraw Hill, New York 2014. First edition was 1990. Currently the book is in its 10th edition.

Thorwald C. Franke, Aristotle and Atlantis – What did the philosopher really think about Plato's island empire?, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2012. First German edition was 2010.
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Thorwald C. Franke, Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis – von der Antike über das Mittelalter bis zur Moderne, 2nd enhanced edition in two volumes, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2021. First edition was 2016 in one volume. No English translation available yet.
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