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Commentary on: Irmgard Männlein-Robert, Forget about Atlantis – Plato’s Invention of Tradition or Symbolic Dimensions of Knowledge

in: Tobias Schade et al. (eds.), Exploring Resources: On Cultural, Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of ResourceCultures, Vol. 13 of the series RessourcenKulturen, Tübingen University Press, Tübingen 2021; pp. 113-123.

By Thorwald C. Franke © 1 August 2021.

The "Old Aula" in Tübingen

A failed quick shot

This article reproduces a lecture given by Prof. Dr. Irmgard Männlein-Robert at the International Conference ResourceCultures – Reflections and New Perspectives (12-14 February 2020) in the "Old Aula" in Tübingen. Unfortunately, it is full of errors and superficialities. After reviewing the argumentation of the article, we will venture a guess as to why it is so erroneous and superficial.

Introductory thesis

Männlein-Robert pursues the thesis that Plato's Atlantis story is essentially a poetic invention, a kind of epic in prose, and that the transmission of the Atlantis story from Egypt is an invented authentication device. She thinks that with this invented story, which should be clearly recognised as fiction due to fiction signals, Plato wanted to point to the cultural resources to be found in the various kinds of transfers which are depicted in the Atlantis story.

Männlein-Robert rightly points out at the beginning that the embedding in the framing dialogue is of decisive importance. By this she means above all the exemplary-allegorical mythos planned by Socrates at the very beginning, which the other participants in the dialogue were to invent on the basis of their philosophical and political competence, and whose truth is to be found not in the direct but in the figurative, exemplary, allegorical sense (Timaeus 19e-20c). This is stated on p. 115 with reference to Martin, Gill and Erler – "a 'true' fiction in a philosophical sense" – and is further reinforced on p. 120 by the phrase "testing a poetic model".

However, Männlein-Robert has thus overlooked a very important aspect of the framing dialogue. She also fails to reflect this aspect in the retelling of the course of the dialogue p. 116: namely, the turn away from an invented exemplary-allegorical mythos towards a true story as the basis of the exposition to be given. In the dialogue, Socrates refers to a true story as a clearly better basis for the exposition. And there is no longer talk of mythos, but of logos. This makes it very questionable whether the plan for the exemplary-allegorical mythos may still be referred to the Atlantis story at all. Rather, what we have here is the classic situation of an Platonic Anti-Mythos being replaced by a better story (cf. Franke (2021) pp. 94 f., 205). Of course, this could also be interpreted as a deceptive manoeuvre on Plato's part. But Männlein-Robert does not see it as a deception, among other things because of the signals of fiction. Here, Männlein-Robert has entangled herself in an argumentative situation that is not satisfactorily resolved, to say the least.

Moreover, one would like to ask why the dialogue-immanent turn from the invented to the true story remains unmentioned, when the embedding in the framing dialogue is so important, as Männlein-Robert rightly says? Unfortunately, we find this unhelpful approach in many scholarly authors, including Mario Regali, who is used by Männlein-Robert, e.g. p. 118, as a guarantor for her literary interpretation. Regali, however, does not concern himself at all in his work with the question of the reality of Atlantis, but rather quite carelessly concocts a purely literary interpretation, and in doing so explains completely naïvely and without worrying about consequences that Plato was concerned with showing what had been announced by him in the Republic, namely that an ideal state is also possible in reality. How this can be shown credibly with the help of an invention remains a mystery. But back to Männlein-Robert.

Aristotle as an argument?

Then Männlein-Robert takes Aristotle into service for her argumentation. She sees the thesis of the invented exemplary-allegorical mythos, quasi a fictional epic in prose, confirmed in Aristotle's Poetics IX. Männlein-Robert: "The entire distinction made by Plato's pupil Aristotle, who in his 'Poetics' (c. 9) argues and explains the specific truth of poetry in relation to the factuality in historiography is well known, see Erler ...; Schmitt ..." (p. 115 footnote 1) – But this is no evidence for the correctness of her thesis that the Atlantis story is an exemplary-allegorical mythos. One can only assign Aristotle's remarks to the literary category after the literary category has been established. As Männlein-Robert points out, Aristotle also describes the characteristics of fact-oriented historiography in the same passage, and these remarks apply excellently to the Atlantis story.

Männlein-Robert visibly relies on Mauro Tulli (2013; p. 80) at this point, whom she cites in her bibliography. Tulli thereby obfuscates Aristotle's words in a highly inadmissible manner before relating them to Atlantis. This is not the way to do it. Aristotle is not about a transposition of general concepts into a concrete reality, but is simply about truth and history. In Aristotle, philosophy is also not the example of theoretical, non-factual knowledge, but poetics. The whole of Tulli's work is full of oblique conclusions and must be read only with the utmost caution.

Back to Männlein-Robert: Unfortunately, she has completely overlooked another word of Aristotle, namely that no one has ever written a longer epic composition in prose (Aristotle Poetics XXIV 5 f.). Therefore, the Atlantis story cannot be such an epic in prose. This word of Aristotle was referred to Atlantis in Franke (2012) p. 28, but unfortunately this literature is missing in the bibliography of this article. – Apart from that, even a poetic epic does not necessarily have to be invented.

Aristotle is once again taken into service by Männlein-Robert: "According to the scientific communis opinio, basically since Aristotle (Diogenes Laertius III 37 ...), Plato's Atlantis story is 'philosophical poetry' in prose." (p. 115) – This one sentence contains several awesome assertions at once:
       (1) There would be a scholarly communis opinio that the Atlantis story is philosophical poetry in prose.
       (2) This opinion would be expressed in a sentence by Aristotle in Diogenes Laertius III 37.
       (3) This communis opinio would have existed since Aristotle.

Let us begin with the second assertion. Aristotle's fragment in Diogenes Laertius III 37 reads succinctly: "Aristotle remarks that the style of the dialogues [of Plato] is half-way between poetry and prose." (Translation R.D. Hicks, Loeb) Contrary to what Männlein-Robert claims, we do not see a reference to Plato's Atlantis story anywhere here. The sentence refers to Plato's entire work. Plato's complete work is indeed a mixture of fiction and reality. And it can also be roughly divided into what is fiction and what is reality: the dialogue situations are fictional, but the contents of the dialogues are real. Of course, not all dialogue situations are fictional: the Apology is based on a situation that was real. And not all of the contents are real either; but most of them are: above all, of course, the philosophy presented, but also many stories, from the spherical shape of the earth to the sexual abstinence of the athletes before the competitions. Be that as it may: one can by no means use this terse and completely general fragment of Aristotle to show that Plato's Atlantis story is a philosophical poem in prose. Why Männlein-Robert did it nevertheless is a mystery.

The third assertion, that since the times of Aristotle ("basically since Aristotle") scholars have agreed that the Atlantis story is philosophical poetry in prose, is also completely wrong. For the number of the ancient Atlantis supporters included, for example, Crantor or Theophrastus, the direct disciple of Aristotle, who succeeded Aristotle in the leadership of his school of philosophers. We also know from Strabo and Posidonius and many other leading ancient authors that in principle they assumed the reality of Atlantis. Only the emergence of fictional literary genres such as the historical novel, as well as the emergence of the idea among some Christians that the world is not older than 6000 years old, whereby the 9000 years of Atlantis no longer fit into the preferred scheme, caused doubt to sprout. The first Atlantis sceptic known by name only appeared 500 years after Plato. In any case, it was not until the 19th century that science clearly turned towards Atlantis scepticism. Until then, opinions were very mixed. All this has long been published (Franke (2016/2021)), but the relevant literature is missing from Männlein-Robert's bibliography.

Finally, let us come to the first of the three assertions, namely that there is supposedly a scientific communis opinio that Plato's Atlantis story is a philosophical poem in prose. This assertion is also wrong. Of course there is a prevailing opinion, but this is that Atlantis is an invention of Plato. But the opinion that Atlantis is an invention is not identical with the claim that it is philosophical poetry in prose in the sense presented here. All scholars who think Atlantis is a deceptive myth (a Noble Lie), for example, do not share this opinion. A deceptive myth that does not want to be recognised as fiction is to be classified literarily completely differently from Männlein-Robert's idea of the literary genre of the Atlantis story. And there are quite a few scholars who assume a deceptive myth, even if their number is difficult to determine, since many scholars hold this question in abeyance. And then there are indeed a few dissenters against Atlantis as an invention whom Männlein-Robert herself names, but only in footnotes: John V. Luce (p. 119 footnote 16, though Luce's existence hypothesis remains unmentioned) and explicitly Herwig Görgemanns (p. 120 footnote 23). It is at least strange to speak of a scientific communis opinio on the one hand, but to cite dissident Atlantis supporters on the other. We can only wonder.

One could also ask how Männlein-Robert would classify the following sentence by Walter Mesch about the Atlantis story: "The depiction of the primeval period, on the other hand, ... makes use above all of a likely narrative (eikos logos), which proceeds in a similarly constructing manner as the cosmology of the Timaeus ... In literature, it is therefore usual to distinguish the mythical past in the sense of a mere prehistory from the actual historical past. However, this should not obscure the fact that the Platonic account rather marginalises the difference. Just as for the Atlantis legend [German original: Sage] it is emphasised that it is a true story, so too the likely story of the Laws is supposed to provide more than mere assumptions." (Mesch in Horn et. al. (2009) p. 250; translated for this commentary) – Mesch here deliberately speaks of "legend" [Sage] in the sense of the literary genre "legend" [Sage], which has a historical core, and says that this legend should provide more than mere assumptions. This is certainly no longer a spotless invention thesis. The claimed scientific communis opinio does not exist.

Experience shows that a scientific communis opinio or "consensus" is almost always invoked only when it does not exist in reality. One should not play this game. A large majority is quite enough, one would think, to make a point of view heard. The rest has to be done by arguments. However, even a majority is not always worth anything. For the overwhelming scientific agreement with regard to Plato's Atlantis story consists practically exclusively in the one single assumption that it is an invention of Plato. On all other questions, including the question of what this invention is supposed to be, there is anything but unanimity among scholars. And that, on reflection, is weak. Very weak.

Some of these disagreements are also briefly touched upon by Männlein-Robert, but only in footnotes. First, there is the debate about who the dialogue participant Critias is (p. 116, footnotes 3 and 4). Then the question of why the dialogue Critias remained unfinished (p. 117 footnote 12; p. 119 footnote 18). Then the question of whether Solon and Plato were really in Egypt (p. 119 footnote 16). – Here, incidentally, anachronisms are all too easily interpreted as signals of fiction and the scepticism of the zeitgeist is not questioned enough. – And finally, that there are indeed dissenters on the question of the reality of Atlantis (p. 120 footnote 23). But many questions also remain unproblematised. For example, Männlein-Robert's repeated assertion that Plato aimed his Atlantis story at the Athens of his time (p. 114, p. 117 footnote 11, p. 121). However, there are also authors who assume that Plato had Syracuse and the threat of Carthage in mind. After all, Plato himself only revealed political ambitions in relation to Syracuse. Here, the bibliography of the article lacks literature. But perhaps Plato had no concrete plan for his own time at all, but was simply philosophising with a supra-temporal perspective?

Back to the claim of a scientific communis opinio: even if there were one, it would mean nothing. The history of science is full of how new ideas had to push through against prevailing old ideas, and it cannot be otherwise. At this point – where it is about widespread scientific opinions and about Aristotle – it is also appropriate to ask why Männlein-Robert is silent about the fact that in recent scientific literature the opinion is still very widespread that Aristotle explicitly spoke out against the existence of Atlantis? If she does not share such a widespread opinion, she should have addressed this. But Männlein-Robert remains silent. The work on this question is also missing from her bibliography (also Franke (2012) as above).

Alleged fiction signals

Like many other Atlantis sceptics, Männlein-Robert believes she can recognise various signals of fiction in Plato's Atlantis story that make the story recognisable as fiction (p. 115). She believes she can recognise a first such signal in the fact that Plato partially lays out the Atlantis story like a Homeric epic (p. 117). But unfortunately this is in no way a signal of fiction. For the Homeric epics, especially the Iliad, are built on events that are fundamentally historical. According to the ancient Greeks, the Trojan War had actually taken place. And the story of Achilles may also go back to a historical core that the poet partly shaped, partly spun on. In any case, it would be quite wrong to conclude from the writing of a story as an epic that it is an invention.

In general, Männlein-Robert makes a mistake that runs like a red thread through almost the entire scientific Atlantis literature: Poetry is fundamentally interpreted as invention. But nothing could be more wrong. Neither Plato's ideas of good poetry nor the empirically existing poetry of classical antiquity support the thesis that poetry is to be understood first and foremost as invention. Yet when it comes to Atlantis, this is often assumed as a matter of course. Männlein-Robert, for example, thinks that the poetic elements are subversive to the historical aspect (p. 118). However, this is by no means the case, especially not with Plato. The cosmology of the Timaeus is also addressed as poetry in the dialogues, but it is meant completely seriously.

Very strange, too, the view that the invocation of the goddess of memory is a signal of fiction and typical for epics (p. 117). For only a few lines earlier, Männlein-Robert herself declared that the invocation of the goddess of memory was "unusual". The invocation of the goddess of memory fits perfectly into the interpretive scheme of a remembered historical story, but not into the interpretive scheme of an invented poem, as Männlein-Robert herself correctly recognises. It remains puzzling why this should then be a signal of fiction.

Männlein-Robert also wants to recognise a signal of fiction in the time specification of 9000 years (p. 117 footnote 13). But this is very clearly wrong. For at the time of Plato, all Greeks were under the misapprehension that Egypt was 11,000 and even more years old. Interpreted in the historical context, the 9,000 years thus fit perfectly into the scheme of the erroneous assumption of the time, especially since the Atlantis story is supposed to be an Egyptian story. Regardless of whether Plato invented the Atlantis story or whether he worked on a tradition from Egypt: Plato certainly did not want to refer to the last Ice Age with the 9000 years, but to a point in time after the founding of Egypt, and that means, according to the modern view, to a point in time after 3000 BC.

From other Atlantis sceptics Männlein-Robert also adopts the erroneous assumption that the founding of the Egyptian city of Sais 1000 years after the founding of the city of Athens would mean that the Atlantis story would have been passed down orally (!) among the Greeks (!) for 1000 years (!) before it was then written down in the Egyptian Sais (pp. 116, 117 footnote 13, 119). But this is wrong. At the heart of the error lies a confusion of Egypt and Sais. Egypt of course existed (in the eyes of the ancient Greeks) for much longer, at least 10,000 years, as Plato, for example, acknowledges in the Laws (Laws II 656e), and as all ancient authors at Plato's time also assumed (e.g. Herodotus II 142: 11,340 and more years).

The error of the Atlantis sceptics can also easily be recognized by the fact that none of this is explicitly written in Plato. The idea of a thousand-year oral tradition (especially in Greece!) exists only in the erroneous conclusions of modern Atlantis sceptics, but not in Plato's text. If Plato had really wanted to make such an extraordinary statement, he would have written it explicitly. In truth, the war of Atlantis, in Plato's sense, was also waged against Egypt, and Egyptian scribes wrote down the event. The only legitimate conclusion that can be drawn here is that Plato believed that the written records must have come to Sais from another Egyptian temple at some point. This is not too extraordinary an assumption. – The true chronology, of course, was quite different. The late Egyptian period, when Solon and Plato were presumably in Egypt, is known to have had completely wrong ideas about its own Egyptian past.

Nevertheless, Männlein-Robert herself expresses slight doubts about her hypothesis of a thousand years of oral tradition: "But we may ask, how the Attic illiterate highlanders are supposed to preserve such a complex description of human and religious conditions in ancient Athens and Atlantis, and how they could hand it down all the way to Egypt? (p. 117 footnote 13) – This justified doubt, however, should not be directed against Plato, who does not say such things, but against those Atlantis sceptics who impute such things to Plato.

Männlein-Robert has also completely misunderstood the meaning connected with looking into the Egyptian archives in Plato's Atlantis dialogues. Männlein-Robert writes: "It falls into a quasi-prehistoric time, only remembered in the written tradition of the priests of Sais." (p. 116) – Looking into the Egyptian archives does indeed open up a glimpse into a past that was literally prehistoric for the Greeks, for the Greeks had no written tradition of it. But the Egyptians did have it, and through the written tradition prehistory suddenly becomes a historical time. This is a very essential aspect of the Atlantis story (Timaeus 22b-23b). That is why it is completely inappropriate when Männlein-Robert writes of "only remembered". What is minimised here with "only" is in reality the very big thing! And to give honour to the truth: Modern historians also only know about many historical events because the Egyptians made written records of them. Plato's idea of a deeper look into the past with the help of Egyptian records has lost none of its validity to this day.

Männlein-Robert sees another temporal gap in the tradition between the death of Solon (c. 560 BC) and the birth of Critias the Elder (c. 540 BC here, others say 520 BC) (p. 117 footnote 13). This gap, too, of course, does not really exist. This gap exists only if one sees in the dialogue participant Critias the tyrant Critias. However, this implicit assumption is nowhere explicitly stated in Männlein-Robert. One page earlier, she had left the question of the identity of the dialogue participant Critias completely open (p. 116 footnotes 3 and 4). The dialogue participant Critias was not the tyrant but a "middle" Critias, and his grandfather in turn is the Critias from the scene of the Apaturia festival. There is no chronological gap here, and this opinion is well represented in the scholarly literature. However, important works are missing from the attached short bibliography.

Like many Atlantis sceptics, Männlein-Robert emphasises the aspect of an alleged oral tradition of the Atlantis story. We already saw this with the alleged one-thousand-year tradition above, which does not exist at all in Plato's text. In connection with this, Männlein-Robert thinks about a "collective memory" (p. 120). Moreover, Solon would transform the Egyptian records into an oral history (p. 119). Of course, an oral tradition is always tainted by variation and forgetting. – This is to be countered: The Atlantis story was recorded in Egypt from the beginning, and Solon also made records in Egypt, which then (in the dialogue) came into the possession of Critias and (in reality) presumably into the possession of Plato. Männlein-Robert herself mentions the manuscript in the possession of Critias (p. 119). The oral tradition from Solon, step-by-step into the dialogue situation was probably shaped by Plato, because he had to solve the task of bringing a historical tradition into a fictional dialogue situation. That is the main reason for this parallel oral tradition from Solon to Critias. Of all places, where Plato was actually a little inventive in order to manage a plausible transfer of history into his fictional dialogue, the Atlantis sceptics take it too seriously.

Männlein-Robert cites the complexity of the history of tradition as another signal of fiction (p. 117). But as we now know, the history of tradition is comparatively simple: written records in Egypt, written records by Solon, and that's it. The real problem lies in the transfers from age to age, and from culture to culture. Anyone who knows about the differences and typical misunderstandings of ages and cultures will discover many such typical errors in the Atlantis story, which makes many a fantastic-sounding statement suddenly seem very realistic. But the Atlantis sceptics have never bothered about this business.

Männlein-Robert sees further signs of fiction in the truth assertions allegedly contained in the Atlantis story, which are also said to be frequent, and in the abundance of details and numbers. Männlein-Robert writes: "In ancient literature, all these features are to be meant as characteristics of fictional and utopian texts." (p. 118) – However, this statement is not valid for all epochs of ancient literature. The historical novel, for example, a fictional historical account intended to be understood by readers as fiction, did not emerge until the 2nd century AD, long after Plato. The repeated statement that a story is true and the fact that it contains many details and numbers would indeed be a fiction signal in later times, but not in Plato's time. With this criterion, one could also declare Herodotus a novelist. Moreover, one has to consider how Plato wrote his dialogues and according to which principles he shaped his so-called Platonic Myths (cf. Franke (2021)). The Atlantis story was "shaped" by Plato, that much is certain, but that it was pure invention is rather unlikely. Moreover, on closer inspection, most of the assertions of truth are none at all. Here, too, many things have been imputed to Plato by Atlantis sceptics and naïve Atlantis supporters.

Finally, it is recognised as a fiction signal that the story evades "all factual examination" (p. 118), and that Solon is the first concrete quasi-historical evidence for the truth of the Atlantis story (p. 119). This too is false. Plato connects the Atlantis story to the known reality several times, for example through Athenian geology or the mud in the sea that supposedly existed before the Pillars of Heracles, which Aristotle also believed to be real (Meteorologica II 1 354a.). The most important connection to reality, however, is the city of Sais in Egypt. Supposedly, Crantor had actually travelled to Egypt, where he supposedly found the Atlantis story confirmed. More factual examination is not possible, even though today, of course, we no longer know what Crantor really had to offer in terms of evidence.

Constructed transfers or normal tradition?

Männlein-Robert finally establishes the connection to the conference topic by interpreting various transfers that become visible in Plato's Atlantis story as symbolic resources to which Plato had wanted to point through his Atlantis story (pp. 118-121). Plato would thus have understood his Atlantis story as a kind of demonstration object, not as reality, and the transfers it contains are not real for Männlein-Robert, but simulated for demonstration purposes.

However, these are quite usual transfers that can be found in every historian, e.g. also in Herodotus. Knowledge is transferred from old to young: how could it be otherwise? It is transferred from culture to culture. Language is translated. It is transferred back and forth between different sign systems, carriers of writing, and languages. It is retrieved from memory, and memory is preserved in written records.

The question arises, what is so special about this? Plato didn't have to write the Atlantis story. He could have simply used Herodotus' Histories. And why doesn't Plato point out that the Atlantis story is only to be understood as a demonstration? All in all, this approach is not convincing. Not wanting to interpret the Atlantis story historically is an over-complicated twisting of the perspective. From a scientific point of view, more obvious interpretations would be preferable.

It must also be asked how much real resources an invented history can offer. Männlein-Robert writes, for example, of "values constructed by the Atlantis story as 'historical' resource." (p. 114) What are "constructed values" actually worth? I always thought that Plato conceived his philosophy as a discovery of reality, not as the invention of an ideology. In any case, an invented ideology that is out of touch with reality is useless. It is not a helpful resource. Socrates is right: a real story is really better than an invented story.

Astonishing careless mistakes

Männlein-Robert's article contains some mistakes that one can only wonder about. About pseudo-scientific Atlantis supporters, for example, it says that they would search for an Atlantis "a thousand years ago" (p. 114). She certainly means "ten thousand years ago" or similar, otherwise it makes no sense. Männlein-Robert says of Atlantis: "the population is depraved", and of Zeus that he is carrying out "revenge" (p. 117). Both are false, of course. Only the kings of Atlantis are "depraved", not the people of Atlantis, and Zeus does not want revenge, but seeks a punishment for the betterment of the Atlanteans. Apart from that, how is it possible that a good god, in Plato's sense, should desire revenge?

A strange double negation astonishes: "This poetical fiction in prose does neither belong to traditional Greek myth nor is not bound to historiographic precision of facts." (p. 118) The "not" in "nor is not" is clearly too much. Anything else would be surprising. The phrase "the presumably historic - Atlantis" (p. 121) is also surprising. It should probably be "allegedly" or "supposedly", but not "presumably".

It is also inaccurate that the ideal state is "equated" with primeval Athens (p. 120, similar p. 113). It is better said by Männlein-Robert here: "Socrates confirms the close affinity between the two states ..." (S. 116). The difference is crucial. – Also wrong is the portrayal of the Atlantis story as a simple morality tale (p. 120), in which the "good" primeval Athenians defeat the "bad" Atlanteans, who then perish. For the primeval Athenians also perish in the end. This, however, remains unsaid, and important literature is also missing on this, especially Brandenstein (1951).

At the very end, the Atlantis tradition is described as a "myth" (p. 120). We cannot do anything with this. Surely it was supposed to be a recognisable invention, according to Männlein-Robert, a demonstration object? So it surely cannot be a myth? It can't even be an artificial myth, because the Atlantis tradition, if invented, is still clearly not a myth but a historical tradition, though an invented one. No matter how you look at it, it is not a myth.

How could it come to this?

The quality of this article is not good. How could it have come to this? We have a guess. The lecture reproduced by this article was given in the early evening as the last lecture before the conference dinner (Thursday 13 February 2020, 05:15pm). Usually, conference organisers make sure that this lecture does not engage the conference participants intellectually too much, because it is already late, and that this lecture is suitable to get the conference participants in the mood for the joint conference dinner. The quality of the lecture is not particularly important in all this.

For this purpose, a "colourful" topic is often chosen, which is often rather makeshiftly bent towards the theme of the respective conference. This "colourful" theme was Atlantis in this case. And usually an attempt is made to invoke the commonality of the conference participants. This was done by polarising scientific Atlantis scepticism against pseudo-scientific Atlantis support, culminating in the call: "Forget about Atlantis" (title and conclusion of the article). Reporters also reflect the intention of the lecture with the following words: "the search for Atlantis should end, as it is only a story." It was probably more emotional than the printed article suggests.

In the meantime, there are quite a number of scientific publications on Atlantis that have followed such a pattern. It is not far-fetched to assume that this article also fits into this pattern. We had already expressed this suspicion in Atlantis Newsletter No. 134 of 5 April 2020, and we see ourselves confirmed now.


Atlantis is not, of course, "obviously an artistic and meaningful invention of tradition." (p. 120) It is not permissible to assume as a matter of course that the Atlantis story was invented and then to gather together all seizable arguments to support this thesis. In particular, one must not under any circumstances project modern views into ancient contexts. Männlein-Robert aptly quotes Edmund Husserl that "past is always constituted from the present." (p. 120 footnote 21; translated for this commentary) Science has to take care that this constitution of the past from the present follows a claim to truth. It is also not permissible to present Atlantis supporters as ignorant and pseudo-scientific across the board (p. 114). The question of Atlantis as a real place must on no account be forgotten, for it is a question of the correct interpretation of Plato. Instead of Atlantis, it would be better to forget the present article.

Less educated readers of this commentary are cautioned not to question or ridicule academic scholarship. Though suffering from many imperfections there is no alternative to academic scholarship. And in my humble opinion, Irmgard Männlein-Robert is generally an example of excellent academic scholarship.

Cited Literature

Brandenstein (1951): Wilhelm Brandenstein, Atlantis – Größe und Untergang eines geheimnisvollen Inselreiches, part 3 of the series: Arbeiten aus dem Institut für allgemeine und vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft Graz, edited by Wilhelm Brandenstein, published by Gerold & Co., Vienna 1951.

Clay (1999/2000): Diskin Clay, The Invention of Atlantis: The Anatomy of a Fiction, with an introduction by Gary M. Gurtler SJ, in: John J. Cleary / Gary M. Gurtler SJ (eds.), Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. XV / 1999, Brill, Leiden / Bosten / Köln 2000; pp. ix-xi, 1-21.

Franke (2012): Thorwald C. Franke, Aristotle and Atlantis – What did the philosopher really think about Plato's island empire?, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2016. German first edition was 2010.

Franke (2016/2021): Thorwald C. Franke, Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis – von der Antike über das Mittelalter bis zur Moderne, 2. edition, 2 volumes, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2021. First edition was 2016.

Franke (2021): Thorwald C. Franke, Platonische Mythen – Was sie sind und was sie nicht sind – Von A wie Atlantis bis Z wie Zamolxis, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2021.

Horn et. al. (2009): Christoph Horn / Jörn Müller / Joachim Söder (Hrsg.), Platon Handbuch – Leben – Werk – Wirkung, published by J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2009.

Männlein-Robert (2021): Irmgard Männlein-Robert, Forget about Atlantis – Plato’s Invention of Tradition or Symbolic Dimensions of Knowledge, in: Tobias Schade et al. (eds.), Exploring Resources: On Cultural, Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of ResourceCultures, Vol. 13 of the series RessourcenKulturen, Tübingen University Press, Tübingen 2021; pp. 113-123.

Regali (2012): Mario Regali, Il poeta e il demiurgo – Teoria e prassi della produzione letteraria nel Timeo e nel Crizia di Platone, Vol. 30 of the series: International Plato Studies, published under the auspices of the International Plato Society, Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin 2012.

Tulli (2013): Mauro Tulli, The Atlantis poem in the Timaeus-Critias, in: George Boys-Stones / Dimitri El Murr / Christopher Gill (eds.), The Platonic Art of Philosophy, Festschrift für Christopher Rowe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2013; pp. 269-282.

International Conference ResourceCultures 2020

Conference Proceedings with Männlein-Robert's article to download for free.

Conference page with program.

Conference report with a few words about Männlein-Robert's lecture.
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