Bell’s Christmas Trees

A lot of eminent historians and archaeologists insist that Plato invented Atlantis completely, but the explanation that the most important philosopher of all time would just make up this elaborate story about a sunken city and stick

AFTER FANBOYING OUT OVER HIS BOOKS AND TAKING A FEW SELFIES INTERVIEW:

I grew up outside of Chicago and studied English in college. I went off to grad school thinking I was going to be an English professor, but after getting my master’s, I took a year off and tended bar. One night a friend of mine said she’d met the managing editor of Outside magazine and that she thought I should apply for their internship program. Working for a magazine had never really occurred to me; it seemed like something people did in the movies.

In 2009, I was working as an editor at National Geographic Adventure magazine and realized I was seeing pictures of Machu Picchu everywhere—on the cover of the magazine, in the office hallways, in the materials we sent out to potential advertisers. At that time Machu Picchu had roughly the same status for travel magazines as pre-scandal Tiger Woods did for Golf Digest. You could put it on the cover again and again and again and people didn’t care. They’d buy it every time because it was on their wish list.

Another important thing to remember is that Plato was writing about Atlantis when written history was a new technology. For more than 2,000 years everyone assumed that The Odyssey and The Iliad were made up stories, but now many experts believe that they were based on real events. So the question is, how much of the Atlantis story that Plato tells did he intend to be fictional and how much of it did he intend to be taken at face value?

He may be telling stories for purposes we don’t fully understand. The Atlantis story, at least the first part, comes at the beginning of the work called Timaeus, which is Plato’s attempt to explain the nature of the cosmos, to explain how the universe worked, arguably the most important topic that could possibly be discussed. A lot of eminent historians and archaeologists insist that Plato invented Atlantis completely, but the explanation that the most important philosopher of all time would just make up this elaborate story about a sunken city and stick it at the beginning of what may have been his most ambitious work strikes me, at the very least, as a little weird.

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