Knowing her fate
Atlantis sent out ships
To all corners of the Earth
Read full Lyrics
Donovan Phillips Leitch experimented with many different personas over the course of his half-century-long musical career. At various times he has been beatnik, folk musician, psychedelic space cadet, New Age guru, and many multidimensional combinations of all those things. With his song "Atlantis," Donovan embraces the identity that lies at the very core of all the others–the traditional Scots bard, singing the story of an ancient, mythical land.
Of course, it’s difficult to know if Donovan is actually talking about the ancient city that historians and conspiracy theorists are so familiar with, or if he is merely using the name as a launch pad for his own self-created mythology. This is difficult to discern, because the Atlantis that Donovan sings about is much different from the one that was first spoken about by Plato in his dialogues Timaeus
and the Critias
Donovan presents Atlantis as a kind of wondrous, fairytale-like civilization, the colonizers of the world and the precursors to the gods of every world culture. But in Plato’s version, the Atlanteans were a warlike, conquering people. They were, in fact, represented as the exact antithesis of the perfect society that was Athens, Greece. Their ships were rowed, not powered by “painted sails,” and the only “beautiful sailors” mentioned in the Platonic myth were from Athens. The original Atlantis was also not “antediluvian,” as Donovan asserts. The term antediluvian is given to places and people that are supposed to have preceded the great Flood of Christian mythology, but Plato does not talk about a single flood. The great philosopher talks instead about multiple earthquakes and multiple floods destroying Atlantis. Furthermore, Atlantis was not the home of “all gods who play in the mythological dramas / In all legends from all times.” Instead, its territory was bequeathed to the god Poseidon, who existed long before Atlantis did. There was also no mention about Donovan’s “Twelve,” and that part appears to be wholly fabricated from the singer’s imagination (T.C. Franke, "Mistakes in Donovan’s Atlantis Song," 2010).
For all his inaccuracies, Donovan is really just following a tradition of reinterpreting Plato’s Atlantis that has been going on practically since it was first uttered. Figures ranging from Francis Bacon to the Nazis have used Atlantis for their own ideological purposes. There is still a great deal of controversy around Plato’s account. Namely, people still debate rather vigorously over whether or not Atlantis was a real, historical place, or just an imaginary invention that Plato created in order to illustrate his philosophical ideas.
1888 map of Cadiz, Spain
There are those who deny that Atlantis ever actually existed, and then there are those who argue over its actual location. Over the centuries, the "real" Atlantis has been discovered in every ocean in the world and near just about every continent. The latest, "scientifically validated" location of the ancient island civilization has been identified by a U.S.-led research team as being in north of Cadiz, Spain. Using satellite radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology, the team believes they have located the elusive place in the marshlands of Dona Ana Park.
Whether Cadiz, Spain, holds up as the location of Atlantis, or if it becomes just another casualty of objective scientific scrutiny, right now there are some highly educated and well-funded folks who are supporting the notion.
"Atlantis" was released on Barabajagel
, an album that is notable because it included the Jeff Beck Group on several tracks. In 1968, "Atlantis" was released as a single. In the United States it was released as the b-side to "Susan on the West Coast Waiting," a song which it ended up strongly outperforming in the charts. It hit No. 1 on the Swiss charts, No. 2 in Germany and South Africa, and No. 4 in Austria. In the United States it reached No. 7. The album was not released at all in the U.K. because of contractual disputes. A new version of the song was released in 2001 after Donovan teamed with the German all-female pop trio No Angels for the Atlantis: The Lost Empire
soundtrack. So it is that Donovan’s Atlantis continues to evolve and be reinterpreted, just like the legend of the city that it is named after. Perhaps one day someone can pinpoint it on a geographic map for all the world to see. But then, which version would be played at the unveiling? Troubling times.
~ Jeff Suwak
(Thanks to Bazooka for the Songplace suggestion.)Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He also writes for The Prague Revue. He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at jeffsuwak.com.
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