Home » Blog » 2023 » April » Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis


Written by Graham on Tuesday 4th April 2023.

Probably more than anyone - certainly more than Plato - modern conceptions of Atlantis owe their being to the 19th century American politician and purveyor of weird and wonderful "history-adjacent" material Ignatius Loyola Donnelly.


Donnelly was born in Philadelphia in 1831, the youngest son of Irish immigrants who hailed from Fintona, County Tyrone. His father, a physician, having passed away at the horrifically-early age of 31, young Ignatius - only five when he lost his father - was brought up by his mother, who operated a pawnbroker's establishment in the city of brotherly love. Ignatius seems to have been something of a credit to his mother, being educated at Central High School and eventually entering the legal profession in 1852 ad marrying - as well as stumping up for the Democratic party - three years later.

By 1857, however, Ignatius had moved to the then-territory of Minnesota, co-founding a utopian settlement, Nininger City, in Dakota County, only for the endeavour to fall prey to the Panic of 1857. At this point, Donnelly resumed his politicking, gaining a reputation as a fine orator. He gained elected office in 1860, serving as Minnesota's Lieutenant Governor until 1863, when he was elected to the House of Representatives (until 1869). Stints in the Minnesota Senate followed from 1874-1878 and from 1891 to 1894, with Donnelly serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives between 1887 & 1888 and 1897 & 1898, being noted for his support for freedmen and women's suffrage, as well as his populism.


It was in the years after his first Senate tenure that he worked on his dubious magnum opus: Atlantis: the Antediluvian World. He begins with a list of "several distinct and novel propositions," a foreboding thirteen in number, which he attempts to demonstrate in the almost 500 pages of text which follow. The unlucky thirteen are: -

  1. That there once existed in the Atlantic Ocean, opposite the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a large island, which was the remnant of an Atlantic continent, and known to the ancient world as Atlantis.
  2. That the description of this island given by Plato is not, as has been long supposed, fable, but veritable history.
  3. That Atlantis was the region where man first rose from a state of barbarism to civilization.
  4. That it became, in the course of ages, a populous and mighty nation, from whose overflowings the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Pacific coast of South America, the Mediterranean, the west coast of Europe and Africa, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Caspian were populated by civilized nations.
  5. That it was the true Antediluvian world; the Garden of Eden; the Gardens of the Hesperides; the Elysian Fields; the Gardens of Alcinous; the Mesomphalos; the Olympos; the Asgard of the traditions of the ancient nations; representing a universal memory of a great land, where early mankind dwelt for ages in peace and happiness.
  6. That the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, the Phœnicians, the Hindoos, and the Scandinavians were simply the kings, queens, and heroes of Atlantis; and the acts attributed to them in mythology are a confused recollection of real historical events.
  7. That the mythology of Egypt and Peru represented the original religion of Atlantis, which was sun-worship.
  8. That the oldest colony formed by the Atlanteans was probably in Egypt, whose civilization was a reproduction of that of the Atlantic island.
  9. That the implements of the "Bronze Age" of Europe were derived from Atlantis. The Atlanteans were also the first manufacturers of iron.
  10. That the Phœnician alphabet, parent of all the European alphabets, was derived from an Atlantis alphabet, which was also conveyed from Atlantis to the Mayas of Central America.
  11. That Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations, as well as of the Semitic peoples, and possibly also of the Turanian races.
  12. That Atlantis perished in a terrible convulsion of nature, in which the whole island sunk into the ocean, with nearly all its inhabitants.
  13. That a few persons escaped in ships and on rafts, and carried to the nations east and west the tidings of the appalling catastrophe, which has survived to our own time in the Flood and Deluge legends of the different nations of the old and new worlds.

Thus, Ignatius L. Donnelly, himself popularising the speculations of early Mayanists such as Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (himself the originator of the theory of Atlantis' influence on the Maya) and Augustus Le Plongeon (who found much Maya influence in Freemasonry!), brought the notion of Atlantean control over portions of the Americas to popularity.

Needless to say, Plato failed to mention all of this.

Sir Graham