And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 1. august 2019

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 4

This is the fourth and final blogpost in a series concerned with the application of the Atlantis myth in Ricard Ferrándiz' story Atlántida, a volume in the series El Capitán Trueno.

For the previous installments, see part one, part two, and part three.

Final remarks           

Atlántida has been my first proper encounter with the storyworld of Capitán Trueno, and I decided to begin with this lately composed volume solely because it contains an Atlantis fantasy set in the Middle Ages, a rare bird among the innumerable versions of the Atlantis story in modern narrative culture. Due to my interest in the reception of the Atlantis myth, and since I am a medievalist by profession, I have particularly enjoyed how Ricard Ferrándiz has followed certain tropes from the cultural history of Atlantis, while added some details that I have not seen elsewhere.         

The geographical setting of the fabled continent in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean, the temporal setting of pre-cataclysmic Atlantis in the early classical era, the blend of Egyptian and Greek culture visible in costumes, architecture and names, the high technological level of the empire, the subterranean survival following the cataclysm, and the existence of a mirror image in the shape of a technologically backwards culture, all these are common elements found in several of the fantasies spun around the Atlantis myth. There are, however, elements that are, if not entirely novel then at least found only infrequently in other Atlantis fantasies, and which make Ferrándiz’ Atlántida particularly interesting to a reader like me. One such element is the setting of the story in the Middle Ages, more specifically towards the end of the twelfth century. In those cases where the Atlantean culture has survived until the contemporary setting of the story in question, it follows, as that contemporary setting tends to be modern, that Atlantis has also continued through the medieval period, but typically without any contact with people of that time, skipping the Middle Ages altogether. In this way, Atlántida manages to blend a familiar trope with an unfamiliar temporal setting, namely that the final demise of the surviving Atlantean culture – which is the common trope – does not come about in the modern era after centuries of slumber, but instead takes place in the twelfth century, an unfamiliar temporal setting.       

Moreover, one further element that I found very refreshing as a medievalist was that the Atlantean culture is not depicted as impossibly further ahead than the cultures of the story’s temporal setting. Granted, it is a culture that has learned to manufacture explosives of a much more stable quality than any medieval culture can boast of, but since gunpowder can be made without any modern technologies, and since gunpowder even antedates the medieval period, this technological innovation does not seem too far-fetched in twelfth century Atlantis. There are, however, further innovations that appear to be even more sinister, as suggested by the codex containing knowledge for which the world is not ready, according to Djad-dze. But of what this knowledge consists is left unanswered, and might possibly become a good sequel to Atlántida sometime. Aside from the explosives, the most tangible evidence of the Atlantean technology is the codex, which makes Atlantis both further ahead than its pre-cataclysm contemporaries and also on a level very similar to that of the twelfth-century contemporaries of the last surviving Atlantean. That technological advancement can be demonstrated in such a clear, yet plausible way is not common in an Atlantis fantasy, and it is undeniably refreshing.     

All in all, Atlántida is a very welcome addition to the library of Atlantis fantasies, and I hope that it might serve to bring about further fantasies involving the Atlantis myth set in the Middle Ages. I am also very happy that Ferrándiz has brought the Norse world into contact with the Atlantis myth, something which only rarely happens, such as in the case of the Thorgal series, the Captain Newfoundland comic strip, and in the prologue of the animated Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), both of which involve Vikings. In Atlántida, however, it is the world of twelfth-century kingdoms, a time when the closest link between the Norse culture and Atlantis is a brief reference lifted, albeit most likely second hand, from Timaios found in the Latin chronicle Historia antiquitate regum norwagiensum (History of the old Norwegian kings), authored by Theodoricus Monk and probably written in Trondheim around 1180. This particular medievalist is very happy about that. 

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 3

This is the third of four blogposts. For the others, see the first, the second, and the fourth.
Scenes from the cultural history of Atlantis      

In this third part of my blogposts on the application of the Atlantis myth in the comic book series El Capitán Trueno, I will now address what elements of the cultural history of Atlantis have been used by Ricard Ferrándiz in his story Atlántida. Having given a brief introduction to the reception of Atlantis in post-medieval culture and a quick recapitulation of the story itself, I will now talk about how Ferrándiz’ Atlántida compares with other Atlantis fantasies through an investigation of selected elements common to such stories.   


The location of Atlantis        

As mentioned, the location of Atlantis in this story is not specified, beyond that it lies in the Atlantic Ocean and that its vegetation suggests a subtropical climate. The fact that there is an active volcano on the island makes it tempting to point to a location near the Canary Islands (which were not known to European sailors until the fourteenth century), although it seems that the accuracy of this matter has been deliberately avoided by Ferrándiz. That Atlantis is situated in the ocean with which it is onomastically linked is not surprising, although it bears pointing out since some stories place Atlantis in North Africa (as we shall see below), and the Mediterranean has likewise been held as a good candidate for the location of the fabled empire. In particular, the island of Santorini is suggested to have served as an inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis myth, and the islanders themselves seem to encourage this suggestion, as Santorini has restaurants, hotels and even a bookshop carrying Atlantis in their names. However, the Atlantic Ocean is by far the most common location of the lost continent in most of its reception history, although there are differences of opinion as to where in the Atlantic Ocean it can be found. Olof Rudbeck the Elder equated Atlantis with Scandinavia, while the iconic map found in William Scott-Elliott’s Story of Atlantis depicts the continent as stretching between the Caribbean and Europe. Arthur Conan Doyle, in his novel The Maracot Deep (1929), situates Atlantis in a submarine ravine in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge some days’ voyage south of the Canary Islands. The continent has even been suggested to have changed location, as in Pezzin and Da Vita’s Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, where a comet strikes Atlantis which such force that it is moved south and becomes the modern-day continent of Antarctica. These few examples, in short, indicate that Ferrándiz follows the general consensus of Atlantis’ reception history in placing the remnant of the continent somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.


Aside from the geographical location, another feature to be noted is that in Atlántida the surviving Atlanteans have moved underground. This, too, is a topos very common to the Atlantis stories, and it comes in several variations. In The Maracot Deep, the surviving part of Atlantis is buried under tons of mud on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and although the inhabitants utilise this terrain as a hunting ground through their diving gear, it is a world that can only be accessed temporarily, which means that in practical terms the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Atlanteans are subterranean. In the Thorgal comic book series, the location of Atlantis is expressly revealed in volume 26 (from 2001), Le Royaume sous le Sable (the kingdom under the sand), where it is found under the mountains somewhere in North Africa. In this location, Jean van Hamme possibly follows Pierre Benoit’s L’Atlantide, who situates the surviving remnants and the descendants in the Ahaggar Mountains of Southern Algeria. It should be noted, however, that although Benoit has placed the Atlantean court in a system of man-made caves, and although most of the exchanges between the protagonists and the Queen Antinea’s retinue take place inside the mountain, the Atlanteans are able to leave their caverns as they please, so their lives are not entirely subterranean. In Atlántida, the subterranean life of Djad-dze and his fellow Atlanteans is on the one hand similar to that of Benoit’s story, in that they live in caves in the mountains, like moles, as Djad-dze himself says. On the other hand, this subterranean lifestyle is also similar to the kind of confinement we see in The Maracot Deep, in that Dajd-dze and his compatriots have grown so unaccustomed to sunlight that overexposure can prove fatal – as evidenced by the dead crew encountered by Capitán Trueno, Sigrid, and the others. What allows Djad-dze to move about on the island – albeit in safe distance from the red men – is its perpetual fog owing to the volcano. Consequently, although Atlántida deals with the topos of subterranean dwellings in a manner that is unique to the way Ferrándiz has constructed his version of Atlantis, it nonetheless fits with established tradition.   


Culture of the Atlanteans      

Despite Atlantis most often being situated somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, most, if not all, stories of the mythic kingdom depict its culture as being related to that of Ancient Greece or Ancient Egypt, and sometimes – as in the case of Atlántida – a mixture of the two. This is perhaps only to be expected, given that the oldest known textual source for the transmission of the story is one of Plato’s dialogues, and that Plato claims that this knowledge has been transmitted from the Egyptians. In the case of Edgar P. Jacobs’ L’Énigme de l’Atlantide, the subterranean Atlantis – accessible through a system of caves on one of the islands of the Azores – has continued its culture which resembles that of Ancient Greece in its mythology, part of its clothing, and its titles. For instance, the leader of the Atlantean air force is called aerostratego, meaning air-general, the leader is addressed as Basileus, i.e. king, and its capital is named Poseidopolis. In the long-running story arc of the Scandinavian The Phantom universe Mörkrets hjärta (Heart of Darkness) written by Claes Reimerthi and drawn by Joan Boix, the prologue which takes place in Atlantis shows architecture and ships clearly modelled on Ancient Egypt. In Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, on the other hand, Atlantis of 10 000 years ago resembles a Mesopotamian culture with ziggurats and beards modelled on Assyrian and Babylonian reliefs. Moreover, a joint Mesopotamian and Egyptian inspiration can be seen in the name of the culture’s divinity, Ishta-Ra, combining the names of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar with the Egyptian god Ra. In what seems to be a curious attempt at emphasising the chronological otherness of the high-cultured Atlantis, dinosaurs have survived and are used as domestic animals.         

In Ferrándiz’ story of Capitán Trueno, the cultural affiliation of Atlantis is somewhat more mixed and curious. Its architecture and its pantheon, judging from what little we see of either, are both decidedly Greek, and soldiers depicted in a flashback wear typical Greek helmets. Yet the ship encountered by Trueno and Sigrid underway to Atlantis bears a stronger resemblance to Egyptian ships than the triremes of Greece, and the name Djad-dze seems modelled on some idea of Egyptian names rather than Greek names. (I would like to note that its similarity to the contemporary Malian name Djadja, as exemplified in Aya Nakamura’s 2018 single, could be used to connect Ferrándiz’ Atlantis with the Saharan location of Benoit’s L’Atlantide, but this is merely a fun coincidence.)


What is curious about Ferrándiz Atlantis and its culture is not its blend of Greek and Egyptian elements, as these are fairly well established in the reception history of the fabled continent. What is curious, and, to my knowledge, a novel detail, is the Atlanteans’ ability to communicate in Latin, as this language – at least as a written language – presumably postdates the apogee of Atlantis. Naturally, Ferrándiz has chosen Latin so as to enable a medieval European like Trueno, presumably receiving some basic education in the cathedral schools of Spain, to read the message and to read the volumes of Atlantean knowledge bestowed upon the group by Djad-dze. The curious nature of Latin being used by an Atlantean need not be unduly problematised since it mainly serves to make the story possible, but it does open up for a lot of interesting implications of Atlantis’ place in the storyworld of Capitán Trueno. Have the Atlanteans managed to monitor the development of the outside world to keep up with some of its linguistic developments, for instance?    

One final point of interest with regards to the cultural affiliation of Atlantis is the so-called red men. These serve as the cultural and intellectual foils of the Atlantean empire, and they are presented as living in the stone age, eating raw meat, clothed in furs, and their appearance is reminiscent in part of the stereotypical relict Neanderthal of pulp fiction, in part of Conan the Barbarian. If the latter resemblance is more than a mere coincidence, Ferrándiz might have created a reversal of Robert E. Howard’s origin story of the Cimmerians of his story world, who were descendants of colonists from Atlantis. In Ferrándiz’ story, however, it is the Atlantean empire that has been colonised by these men of the perpetual stone age. Be that as it may, the term “hombres rojos” for this people is also noteworthy and might contain some suggestion of Ferrándiz’ inspiration. One possibility is that it is drawn from the theosophical Atlantis mythology, as exemplified by, but not unique to, William Scott-Elliot, where the red men were degenerate Atlanteans. Another possibility is that they are meant to invoke the Native Americans, suggesting perhaps that Atlantis once connected Europe and America, and that the stone age appearance of these red men provides another indicator of the antiquity of Atlantean cataclysm. The idea of contact between Atlantis as Native American cultures is far from new to Ferrándiz’ story. For instance, in L’Énigme de l’Atlantide, Edgar P. Jacobs has imagined a neighbouring subterranean culture whose technological level is inferior to that of Atlantis, but which is modelled on the apogees of the Meso-American cultures of the Maya and the Aztecs. There are, of course, other possible sources for Férrandiz’ hombres rojos, but they do nonetheless seem to fit with one of the tropes of the reception of Atlantis in popular culture, namely the counterpart to the high culture of the Atlanteans, be that culture Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian or a conglomerate of all. 

Pre-war ritual of the neighbouring civilization to the Atlanteans
From Edgar P. Jacobs’ L’Énigme de l’Atlantide

Despite the obviously high technological level of the underground civilisation based on the Maya culture, they nonetheless serve as the barbarian foil to the even more technologically advanced Atlanteans in Edgar P. Jacobs'  L’Énigme de l’Atlantide
The red men, hombres rojos, serving as the technological foil to Ferrándiz' Atlanteans

Tecnhological advancement  

Perhaps the most famous common denominator of all Atlantis fantasies is its culture’s high technological level. In some cases, the height of this technology level is relative to other contemporary cultures, meaning that Atlantis is a culture of its time. An example of this can be seen in Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, where the architectural and astronomical achievements on the one hand antedates the Mesopotamian cultures which inspired it by millennia, but where the anachronisms do not extend to modern technology. In other cases, the technological level of Atlantis is imagined to have been higher than even the technology of the twentieth century. This latter group can be further divided into stories where this high level of technology was reached already prior to the cataclysm, and stories where the high technological level is reached after the cataclysm has happened.

n the case of Atlantis in the storyworld of Capitán Trueno, its technological and scientific advancement is an interesting case when seen in comparison with other Atlantis fantasies. There are no inventions that appear wildly and even ludicrously anachronistic, neither with regards to the pre-classical origin of Atlantean history or the twelfth-century setting of the story. The one item that is notable for its sophistication are the explosives, which appear to be far more volatile yet far more controllable than anything known from the Middle Ages, resembling nitro-glycerine rather than the grenades that would be produced centuries later. In other words, these explosives seem impossibly out of place and time in the twelfth century. On the other hand, as the manufacture of these explosives is not explained, the disbelief is suspended, and the technology behind it appears advanced yet not necessarily far-fetched. Another item worth noting is the invention of a ventilation system designed to enable the mole-like subterranean continuation of the Atlantean culture. This is also an element found in other Atlantis fantasies where the surviving Atlanteans are trapped underground, as in the case of The Maracot Deep.    

One final technological detail worth mentioning is interesting because it at first appears almost mundane, but which really points to the advancement of the Atlantean culture in Ferrándiz’ version. This is the invention of the codex, which is a ubiquitous feature in Djad-dze’s library. By making the codex the primary form of textual transmission in the Atlantean culture, Ferrándiz has both made this culture centuries ahead of its contemporaries of the classical era – supposing that the invention of the codex either antedated or followed shortly after the cataclysm – and also on the level of the medieval setting of the story. While scrolls also have an important part in Atlantean textual culture, a flashback during Djad-dze’s recounting of the survival of the Atlanteans shows that already during its early stage of survival, Atlantis had made good use of the codex. This is significant, as the invention of the codex in the classical world appears to be in the first century CE, with the codex taking over the importance of the scroll by the early seventh century. While the Atlantean codex of Atlántida is not as eye-catchingly advanced as the explosives, or as the sundry machines of other Atlantis fantasies, to a historian of text such as myself, the codex remains the most interesting invention of Ferrándiz’ Atlantis, and also a sublimely elegant way of signalling how the technology of Atlantis has advanced relative to its contemporaries of the classical era but without reaching an impossibly advanced level. 



In the next and final blogpost in this series, I will summarise some of my reflections on Ferrándiz' Atlántida.

tirsdag 30. juli 2019

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 2

This is the second of four blogposts on the comic book story Atlántida by Ricard Ferrándiz, which is a part of the storyworld of El Capitán Trueno. See also the first, the third and the fourth installment.

El Capitán Trueno and Atlantis      

Due to the scarcity of medieval, or perhaps rather medievalist, Atlantis fantasies, I was very excited to find the Capitán Trueno album Atlántida, and I read it eagerly in the course of a dark evening before Christmas. I should note, however, that this album is my first encounter with the comic book series El Capitán Trueno (aside from a parody/homage in the comic book series Mortadelo y Filemón which was what made me aware of the captain’s existence). Consequently, I cannot evaluate the book in light of the history of the series, and in my comments and reflections I will be unable to catch elements that will be obvious to long-time readers. My aim with this text is, instead, to examine the treatment of the Atlantis myth and to see how the author has dealt with certain issues that are standard topoi of stories about Atlantis.  

I should first, however, give some brief notes of introduction to readers who are as unfamiliar as I am with the universe of Capitán Trueno. The comic book series was created in 1956 by the author Victor Mora Pujadas and the artist Miguel Ambrosio Zaragoza, and it is centred on the exploits of four protagonists: Capitán Trueno who is a Spanish knight, his girlfriend Sigrid who is the queen of the island Thule in the far north, and their friends Goliath the giant and the young boy Crispín. The temporal setting of the series is the end of the twelfth century, and in the course of the series’ long history the quartet has been brought to many distant geographical locations. El Capitán Trueno has enjoyed immense popularity in Spain, and several other comic book writers and artists have contributed to the growth to the series. The album in focus here is drawn and written by Ricard Ferrándiz. Perhaps needless to say, the following paragraphs will contain several spoilers.    

Atlántida begins in Sigrid’s island kingdom Thule, presumably modelled in part on Iceland – often identified as the classical Thule by several medieval scholars – and in part on Norway, considering that Iceland in the twelfth century was not a kingdom whereas Norway was. The idea of a female ruler of a distant northern island touches on several elements found in medieval depictions of the far north, for instance in Adam of Bremen, but these cannot be addressed here. As the story begins, however, the kingdom is in preparation for the wedding of Sigrid and Capitán Trueno, a wedding that – true to the vagaries of comic book series – has been decades in the making. In order to escape the hubbub of the preparations, Goliath and Crispín go fishing, and Goliath hooks a bottle with a message inside it. This message is what sets the sequence of events unfolding.      

The text of the message is in Latin, which is translated by Capitán Trueno, and it is a call for help with a map of the island and a drawing of the constellation Orion. The captain remarks that it is an island not found on any nautical map (which makes perfect sense at the turn of the twelfth century, both considering that the Atlantic south of Spain was for all intents and purposes uncharted territory, and that the portolan charts were to be invented first in the thirteenth century). Due to the mystery of the island’s location and the call for help, Sigrid, the queen of Thule, decides to go in immediate search of the sender of the bottle and let the nuptial ceremonies wait until their return.

After an eventful voyage, during which they encounter a strange ship filled with a dead crew in black cloaks which appear to signal that the island is in the vicinity, they reach their destination, which is cloaked in volcanic fog. The group of four split into two teams and go exploring the island to look for the sender of the message. Suddenly, Trueno and Sigrid are ambushed by a group of humans cloaked in fur and armed with clubs and stone axes, of a broad and strong build reminiscent of the stereotypical stone age man. These men are later called “hombres rojos”, red men, by the narrator of the story, and they abduct Sigrid and bring her to an ancient ruined city where they tie her up for a human sacrifice, barely stopped in time by Trueno and, with timely aid, Crispín and Goliath. The latter two are armed with jars of explosives, which they have been given by the sender of the message whom they have met in the meantime. This man is the last surviving descendant of Atlantis. 

Once the situation has calmed down, the pale and cloaked Atlantean Djad-dze invites them into the subterranean realm which is the last remnant of the once mighty city state. Here, in the laboratory and library, he recounts the history of Atlantis, once so prosperous and advanced, then brought low by a cataclysm interpreted as divine retribution for the struggle and bloodshed that eventually tainted the Atlanteans. He then explains why he has sent for their aid: The volcano is about to erupt, and this will most likely wipe out the entire island and with it all the accumulated knowledge of physics, history, chemistry and other disciplines of Atlantis. It is Djad-dze’s wish that at least some of this is preserved, with the exception of one red-bound volume, whose content the human species is not yet prepared to receive. The four then prepare their departure from the moribound island, and after a brief but violent encounter with another band of red men, they are underway to Thule where they still have problems awaiting – but that is irrelevant to the Atlantis element and also an unnecessary spoiler, so I will say nothing of it here. With this summary of the events in Atlántida pertaining to Atlantis, I hope to have prepared the ground for a reflection on some of the elements in the story and how they fit with the wider cultural history of the Atlantean civilisation, to which I will return in the next blogpost.

mandag 29. juli 2019

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 1

The following is an attempt to gather some thoughts on a comic book in the series El Capitán Trueno (Captain Thunder) that deals with the myth of Atlantis. I have a great interest in both the modern reception of the Middle Ages, and also the modern reception of the Atlantis myth, and since these two interests converge in the album Atlántida I have decided to write this piece in order to situate the album loosely within the cultural history of the Atlantis myth, and also to record some reflections on the use of the myth and the application of the myth into the medieval temporal setting of the comic book universe of El Capitán Trueno. This is therefore neither a comprehensive review of the comic book, nor a text with a coherent argument – it is rather a melange of observations and associations brought on by the particular elements that fill my frame of reference. For reasons of length, this rumination is divided into four blogposts (see also the second, third and fourth installment). 

Introduction – the reception of Atlantis in western culture          

The legend of Atlantis is a perennial feature of the cultural history of the modern west, and most people you ask will presumably have an idea about this place, an idea that is founded on the same basic details: That it was an advanced civilisation that flourished several thousand years before the common era, and which sank into the ocean in a cataclysmic event. Some will possibly take it as established history and speculate with varying degrees of earnestness about where the remnants of Atlantis can possibly be found. Others recognise it for what it is, namely a myth, or at best a metaphor formulated by Plato in his dialogues Timaios and Critias and based on material allegedly brought to Greece from Ancient Egypt by Solon. The idea of such an ancient superpower whose technological level has often been depicted as even beyond that of our modern times is unquestionably tantalising. Moreover, the details of the legend – the nature of the civilisation and its social structures, its location, its date, the background for its fall – are all very flexible within the general framework of the story. Because of this flexibility, it is very easy for readers and writers of very different tastes to imagine Atlantis in accordance with their own views and frames of reference. It is perhaps this flexibility, above everything else, that has made the myth of Atlantis so popular.

I myself have a strong interest in the cultural reception of the Atlantis myth, and also in the cultural history of utopian societies in general. However, I am also a medievalist by profession, and it is very rare that I am able to combine my interests in the Middle Ages and the reception of the Atlantis myth. Granted, Plato’s Timaios was translated into Latin with a commentary by the Christian writer Chalcidius already in the fourth century, and Plato was of course well known in the learned world of the medieval Latin West, which is my general area of expertise. Yet despite the undisputed importance of Timaios, the myth of Atlantis did not garner much interest, and I do not know of any medieval text in which an ideal society inspired by the myth was formulated. The reason for this lack of interest is beyond my knowledge, but I feel obliged to emphasise that it is not in any way indicative of a lack of imagination on behalf of the medieval intelligentsia, only that the myth did not strike the necessary chords to engender literary imitations.

This situation changed in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when fantasies of ideal societies became very common on the European literary stage. Such fantasies are of course rooted in the preceding centuries and draw on a complex web of literary forebears, but with the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) we see a text formulating an ideal society along the lines of Plato’s Republic and the thoughts of late medieval humanism. Such literature became a genre of its own, and it is here we find one of the first post-classical in-depth engagements with the myth of Atlantis, namely Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (published 1627) in which an ideal society of exceptionally high technological standing is described. This society is located on the island of Bensalem, which is situated in the East and was converted to Christianity by the apostle Bartholomew (who was historically believed to have operated in India). While this ideal society is not called Atlantis, the title of the book is a marker of the works of Plato to which Bacon’s ideas are indebted.

Since the publication of New Atlantis, a wide range of texts has been written in which this mythical civilisation is touched upon in varying degree of detail. Some of these works make serious claims about the historicity of Atlantis, such as the Swedish scholar Olof Rudbeck the elder who published his four-volume work Atlantica in the period 1679-1702, claiming among other things that Plato’s Atlantis was situated in modern-day Sweden. Another, and later, work that seriously claims Atlantis as a historical fact is The Story of Atlantis written by William Scott-Elliot in 1896. Scott-Elliot was a theosophist, and the Atlantis myth formed the kernel of his formulation of a history of mankind that envisioned the disintegration of the Atlantean civilisation and the degeneration of mankind. The theme of degeneration can already be found in the classical Atlantis myth, in which the fall of the civilisation was seen as its punishment for a society that had become corrupt. In his occasionally detailed, but predominantly extremely superficial, sketch of thousands of years of imagined human history, Scott-Elliot describes the emergence of lesser races – yellow-skinned, red-skinned, black-skinned – that brought about the collapse of Atlantis. These can easily be read as the forebears of Asians, Africans and Native Americans, and they point to the hard kernel of racism in much of theosophist thought. The theme of degeneration was something that could easily fit into the zeitgeist of the turn of the nineteenth century, when concerns of miscegenation, degeneration and eugenics were common across the political and moral spectrums.

From Edgar P. Jacobs' Atlantis Mystery

The various fantasies of Atlantis that have emerged in the twentieth century have taken many forms, but in most cases the stories are set in ancient and/or modern times while skipping the Middle Ages. For example, the Mickey Mouse story Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto (Mickey and the lost continent of Atlantis) from 1987 (written by Giorgio Pezzin and drawn by Massimo De Vita), is set entirely in ancient times, as it is a story of time travel where Mickey and Goofy witness the destruction of Atlantis by a comet. Other works describe how Atlantis has survived into our own times, for example in a state of reduced, almost wistful splendour as in the case of Pierre Benoit’s classic novel L’Atlantide (1919), or in a thriving utopian society that has regained and perhaps exceeded its former glory, as in the case of Edgar P. Jacobs’ story L’Énigme de l’Atlantide (1955-56) which is part of his comic book series Blake and Mortimer.

The Maracot Deep, Arthur Conan Doyle's Atlantis novel

And yet, there are exceptions. In the fantasy comic book series Thorgal by Jean van Hamme and Grzegorz Rosinski (started in 1977), the eponymous protagonist is brought up among Vikings. It is soon revealed, however, that Thorgal’s parents were part of an expedition of Atlanteans from a distant planet, to where the survivors of Atlantis had escaped following a natural disaster on earth thousands of years earlier. The temporal setting of Thorgal is obscure and appears to have changed somewhat in the course of its running, but it is clearly medieval, and Thorgal is therefore one of very few cases where the engagement with the Atlantis myth is set in the Middle Ages. Another is the episode of Capitán Trueno to which I will turn in the next blogpost.

Welcome to Atlantis

Saint Olaf in Denmark - late medieval examples

Today is the feast of Saint Olaf, patron saint of Norway, who was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 in an attempt to regain the title of Norwegian king. Throughout the Middle Ages, Olaf was an important saint in the religious landscape of Scandinavia, and his cult flourished outside the borders of both the Norwegian kingdom and the significantly more extensive Norwegian archdiocese. Due to the extensive contact between Norway and Denmark - through trade and political and religious ties - the cult of Saint Olaf was very strong among the Danes, and several churches, chapels and altars were dedicated to him. Part of the reason why the cult of Saint Olaf gained such popularity in Denmark had to do with him being seen as protector of seafarers, which can be seen in some of the miracles associated with him that have been recorded in the saint-biography now known by the title Passio et Miracula Beati Olavi. Another reason for Olaf's popularity in Denmark had to do with one fundamental feature of the Danish cult of saints. This feature was that the cult of native saints in Denmark - i.e. saints who were either Danish by origin or who had died in Denmark - was very regional. Consequently, there were very few Danish saints whose cults had a significant impact throughout all of Denmark.

Saint Olaf and Saint Knud Rex
The Church of Our Lady, Skive, Northern Jutland, c.1500

The two Danish saints that came closest to a Denmark-wide veneration were Knud Rex (d.1086) and Knud Lavard (d.1131, can.1169), but even though both their cults were propagated by the reigning royal dynasty for a period, this was not sufficient to maintain a long-standing popularity throughout Denmark. The popularity of Knud Rex was revitalised with the establishment of the Kalmar Union, where Knud and Olaf became representatives of two of the three union kingdoms (Saint Erik of Sweden was the third representative). As a consequence, Olaf and Knud, and sometimes also Erik, were increasingly depicted together from the late 1300s onwards. This can be seen in the pictures from Skive Church in Northern Jutland, which were executed around 1500, where Olaf can be seen holding his battle axe (which by this point had become a halberd), and Knud Rex holds his sword. It is tempting to suggest that because of Olaf's popularity in Denmark prior to the Kalmar Union, it was perhaps more natural for Danish patrons to commission Olaf and Knud Rex as part of their pictorial programme, while often leaving Erik of Sweden out of it, because he did not have a strong place in the Danish catalogue of saints prior to 1397.

Saint Olaf and Saint Knud Rex
The Church of Our Lady, Skive, Northern Jutland, c.1500

The interior of the Church of Our Lady, Skive

The Church of Our Lady, Skive, c.1200

Due to the regional nature of the Danish cult of saints, Olaf was more widely venerated in Denmark than any native Danish saint. This can be seen in the higher number of dedications of both churches, chapels and altars when compared with the saints native to Denmark. Moreover, while each of the episcopal centres of medieval Denmark had its own patron saint that bound their region to the divinely ordained history of Christendom - as per the historical understanding of medieval Christians - the veneration of Saint Olaf was present in the episcopal cities as well. For instance, in the bishopric of Odense, where Knud Rex had his cult centre, there were two chapels dedicated to Olaf, while in the city itself there was established a hospital shortly before 1437 by the priest Peder Jensen, which was dedicated to the Holy Ghost, Saint Antony (either of Egypt or of Padua) and Saint Olaf.     

Saint Olaf and the dragon
Roskilde Cathedral, c.1500

Also the episcopal city of Roskilde displays several examples of the cult of Saint Olaf, especially from the turn of the fifteenth century. Two wall-paintings featuring the same motif - Olaf trampling the dragon - can be found, one in the chapel of the three magi (above), and one on a column in the nave (below). The city of Roskilde also had a church dedicated to Saint Olaf, and two more such churches were found in the diocese. Many of these examples of the cult of Saint Olaf in Denmark have survived, but many more have been lost, and we must expect the popularity of the king-saint to have been even more significant than we can establish from surviving evidence.

Bishop flanked by Saint Lucius and Saint Olaf
Roskilde Cathedral, c.1500

Sanctus Olauus
Roskilde Cathedral, c.1500

torsdag 25. juli 2019

Santiago Matamoros at San Pedro de Arlanza

Today, July 25, is the feast of the apostle James the Greater. According to legends that accrued in the course of the Middle Ages, James buried in Spain where he became known as Santiago, eventually taking on the role as a saintly knight who aided the Christians against the Muslim Spaniards of al-Andalus, earning him the nickname Matamoros, Moor-killer. The history of his cult is both long and complex, and something that deserves far more depth than I can give it in this present blogpost. But as a nod to the Spanish legend of Santiago, here is a weather-worn statue of Santiago killing an enemy, presumably a Moor, from the monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza in the province of Burgos. The monastery became defunct under the confiscation of its lands in the nineteenth century under the aegis of  Juan Álverez Mendizábal in the period 1836-37, and what remains of it now is a set of impressive and beautiful ruins. The date of the statue is not known to me. It occupies a niche above the main entrance into what was once the great monastery complex, and served as a reminder to the visitors of Santiago's prowess against whoever was considered the enemy. 

søndag 30. juni 2019

Two views from the cabin

A little lowly Hermitage it was,
Downe in a dale, hard by a forests side
- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (Booke 1, Canto 1)

This weekend I've been spending some time in the old family cabin, something I always look forward to when I return home from a prolonged stay abroad. With some provisions and a book I moved in yesterday afternoon and came back today about 25 hours later, having enjoyed the weather yesterday that permitted me to take a few short excursions into the woods and along the river, and also the weather today that forced me to stay inside with a roaring fire in the stove and the sound of rain hammering on the roof. It is an old structure which used to serve as the sleeping quarters - similar to a Scottish shieling - for the milkmaids who stayed with the cows of our farm all summer to milk them. In the 1950s, the cabin received its present shape and position when it was moved and expanded with a kitchen and a bedroom. These cabins are common in Norway as most farms had their own, and at the very least were co-owners of one together with some neighbours. Now, however, there is no longer any need for milkmaids, and we do no longer have dairy cows on our farm. Consequently, the cabin has become a little refuge to which we retreat when we want to take a break and feel less involved in the world, quite like a little hermitage.