Atlantis, part 2

Over the centuries, many have believed that the people of Atlantis, or at least some of them, survived the sinking of their homeland and became underwater dwellers.

The most popular version of this myth shows up in comic books. Both DC's Aquaman and Marvel's Prince Namor are monarchs of the sunken civilization of Atlantis (and both, interestingly, are cranky and given to suspicion, if not outright hatred, of surface dwellers.

Many novels have been written about this undersea civilization; there have been movies, TV shows, cartoons, and at least one song (Donovan's "Atlantis"). It's intriguing to imagine how different human life might be in a world of water. Would Atlanteans wear clothing? Would they have books? What would their pastimes and sports be like? And wouldn't they be keen to find out what was up there, above the water? As keen as we are to explore the depths of the ocean?

Imagine what would happen if a book fell overboard from a passing ship and an Atlantean found it and tried to figure out what this strange object was:

It was rectangular, and covered in a dry, stiff green skin. I thought at first it was some kind of box, but as I turned it over it seemed to come apart in my hands. The “box” was really a stack of superthin white membranes of some fibrous material that had been compressed together by the green cloth. I made a sound of alarm, thinking that the membranes were about to spill to the floor, but then I saw that they were all affixed somehow to the skin covering on one side.  I quickly grasped that this had been done to keep the membranes in a particular order: one could manipulate them back and forth without having to worry that they would slip out or become disorganized. I also noted the black rows of markings on both sides of each membrane, arranged in neat rectangular “boxes” of their own. The markings or symbols had not been carved or incised into the membranes; rather, they seemed to have been impressed there with some liquid medium that had later dried. I understood that these markings formed a text, such as we Atlanteans might have traced in the water with our pouches of squid ink. This text, however, was so long that a device for holding it all together had been found necessary. However, the reader could not swim through the text, or come at it from different angles, as we could. These land dwellers were limited to the shape and order that had been predetermined by whoever had bound together the membranes within the skin. Their only freedom from this order, it seemed to me, would be to place a marker of some kind at a certain point between the membranes, and move back or forward from there to another place.

[from The Logogryph, by Thomas Wharton, copyright 2004]

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