Tag Archives: legends

Reviews ~ Discoverer, or Last Guy to the Party?

Columbus Was Last, by Patrick Huyghe, available for $25 on Amazon – there are several alternates as well. The link is to the version I read.


I have a confession. I’ve never been a fan of Columbus. For some reason I could not get all excited about someone who “discovered” the American continents – when there were already a whole lot of people here. I get it. The colonists wanted some pin in history that didn’t draw a direct line to England. Some point in history that said, “This is where it all began.” Except, well, Columbus was far from first; and it was in a photo finish for last.

The story of Columbus is filled with ambiguities. We don’t know for sure where he came from, who he really was, or what his true motives were. We don’t even know for sure where he is buried. His logs are filled with contradictions and he did not receive the riches and notoriety he sought in his own life time. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that he received general recognition. The “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” was somewhat of a flop in his own time even if he made at least four successful voyages to the “New World.”

That said, questions regarding the settlement, and repeated “discovery” of the Americas, are still suffering from heated debate. The only events of note that appear to be generally accepted in the academic community are the arrival of homo sapiens over a land bridge or sea route from Asia to Alaska (the Bering Strait), and the occasional visitations and settlement attempts by the Nordic peoples.

When the migration to the east occurred, and how often, is a battle ground in the literature. Each year, each decade, each millennia that the date is pushed back is a hard won victory. Although it is now generally accepted (and supported by archeology) that the Vikings arrived in the Americas around 1000 CE, where all of their landings took place and how long these places were occupied seems to be up in the air. Meanwhile, other stories, legends, and evidence, are constantly brewing in a pot of, ‘Who was here first, how often, where and what were they doing?” And that is the kind of mystery I love.

Huygue’s little book is an easy read that leads the curious through the tales, legends, and evidence of previous visitations to the American continents. He collects what we know about the ancient tales and the archeological evidence unearthed in pottery, inscriptions, sculpture and artifacts. He provides sign posts to those who have compared flora and fauna, common language, rituals and dress. He also provides references to those who have analyzed the ancient tales to locate possible routes of travel and settlement. There are also descriptions of carvings throughout South America which depict races not currently accepted as visitors and matches them with corresponding tales and legends from possible, or probable, points of origin.

This was a very busy place. Collectively, there is at least some indication that these lands were visited by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Polynesians, the Irish, the Africans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs and the Jews. The book mentions but does not address possible visitations by the Celts and the Greeks. At the time of Columbus, there appears to be a number of records, maps, and sailors’ tales from the Danes, the Portuguese, the British and the Irish. And then there is the Welsh bastard prince, Madoc.

This book is not a fanciful collection of theories. The notes and bibliography support the research and provide a road map to a serious student of the history of this part of the world. Huyghe also provides details when the authenticity of an artifact is questionable. I found the roots of many of the bits and pieces I have found in academic literature and well researched historical fiction.

The journey of Columbus did indeed have a major historical impact on the future of these lands. Even if the original result was slavery, exploitation and disease, I would like to think that at least some of the heirs to these lands have contributed much that was beneficial to the human race. Columbus’ journey, and those of his contemporaries, “stuck” and the whole world learned of, and remembered, the land across the seas.

The point, I think, is that we really can’t approach the world with a sense of absolute. It is arrogance to believe we have it all figured out when we know so little about what has come before. As my poem says, “Is it something that we’ve left behind, Or something that we’ve yet to find? …” Enjoy the magic of the journey. Don’t be swayed by every whimsical interpretation of the bits and pieces we find of the past; but keep an open mind. Who knows what treasures we have yet to find? And just what they might tell us about who we are?

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Book Review – Pursuing Ancient Legends

Atlantis, The Antediluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly.  Available for under $16.00.

The History of Atlantis by Lewis Spence.  Available for under $10.00

So, this week we are back with a bang reviewing interesting and, perhaps, rather obscure texts on subjects of interest.  I have chosen to review two titles together primarily because they represent the foundation of modern thought on that mystic island in the sea, Atlantis.   Each has a slightly different perspective.  If you are truly interested in Atlantis and lost civilizations, these books provide much food for thought.

The “book that started it all” was entitled Atlantis, The Antediluvian World.  This text was written by Ignatius Donnelly an American descended from Irish parents.  He was a US Congressman and lived from 1831 to 1901.  Although many modern historians and scientists consider his approach “pseudo-science,” he is the first modern researcher to take the tale from Plato’s Timaeus and put together the pieces to see whether or not it might be true.  Plato’s works describing the conversations between Timaeus and Critias were written in approximately 300 BCE.  Be they history or be they drama is a question that remains unanswered to this very day.  They are our primary source for all things Atlantis.

The edition of Donnelly’s book that I have contains a forward by the second author mentioned in this post, Lewis Spence.  In his forward he gives Donnelly credit for much basic work in the field.  Beginning with fable and legend on both sides of the Atlantic as well as sources in scripture, Donnelly puts a case together that suggests many of our ancient legends do indeed carry fragments of fact.  He also looks to the cultural similarities shared on both sides of the Atlantic, flora and fauna (that’s beasties and plants), and ancient tales regarding the navigational hazards of the Sargasso Sea.   He also looks at art and culture as it spread through Europe during a time relevant to Plato’s chronology.  It certainly goes beyond modern-day mystic interpretations of ancient spirit guides.

The book that was built on this first block-buster was The History of Atlantis by Lewis Spence.  Spence was a Scotsman and lived from 1874 to 1955.  He was a journalist and a literature major and authored a total of five works on Atlantis. Much of his literary work was on the history of the Celts.

He deepened the study begun by Donnelly, added information that had become available in his own time a generation after Donnelly.  He also corrected a few of the observations that were developed by Donnelly.  He gives full credit to his predecessor and near contemporary.   This title was first published in 1926.

We have learned from experience that just about the time we think we have it all figured out, we discover something new and interesting about our distance past.  We know now that islands can come and go in the sea and that cataclysms can happen which create major impacts on our globe and on civilizations great or small.  If you are interested in a detailed approach to the possibility that this ancient civilization did exist, I suggest you try these volumes.  They are fast and entertaining reads.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era