Going overboard with the Minoans

Author's latest Atlantean stretch an exercise in hubris

Peter Warland

“If you wish to appear wise, contradict yourself frequently.”


A while ago my son loaned me a book to read. It was one of those old-fashioned ones with pages made out of paper and bound with card-boardy stuff. It felt good in my hands as I flicked through it; it even had illustrations. I placed it in the bathroom ready to be enjoyed. Our bathroom is probably the only fully tiled, air-conditioned library in town; I get things done in there.

That book is another one of those theoretic masterpieces by Gavin Menzies, the retired British submarine captain who reckons that the Chinese were circumnavigating the whole world before Christopher Columbus was even a gleam in his daddy’s eye. This time, Mr. Menzies is on about the Minoans of what is now Crete and the mysterious disappearance of Atlantis.

The trouble with real books is that they are awkward to pack around and so, after a pleasant 20 minutes or so reading one, I found the need to look up a word. I went in search of a dictionary: there are several in our house; I couldn’t find one of them, not even the whacking great beast that can give a grown man a hernia.

Anyway, after wasting an immense amount of reading time, I headed for the computer and searched on Google. The word I needed was hubris: why Gavin threw that one at his readership, I have no idea – showing off, probably. I’ve already forgotten what it means.

Another word that caused me no end of trouble was ‘inchoate’. Now, I have had a fairly good, albeit lengthy, education and I did think that it did have something to do with ‘early form’ or ‘rudimentary stage’ but that wasn’t what made me drop the loaned book and go looking for the newspaper.

I’d been having fairly good success with the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in the weekend Vancouver Sun but had been brought to a halt in the top right-hand corner. I’d been stuck; but I now knew what was missing: inchoate.

Of course, I couldn’t find the newspaper. Had I put it downstairs with the other old papers? Had I ripped it up in a fit of pique? I spent a lot a time looking for the paper and, when I did find it at last and scrabbled through the wrinkled pages and discovered the crossword, I couldn’t find the spot where ‘inchoate’ should fit. How much time I spent on that fruitless chore I have no idea but Mr. Menzies’ book was forgotten for days.

I did however recall that the Greek Plato wrote about the destruction of Atlantis. He claimed that he didn’t make up the story; he was merely reiterating old Greek legends. Anyway, I had to show off to the guys when they came around last week. I told them all I knew of Gavin Menzies’ theories about the Minoans crossing the Atlantic and mining copper near Lake Superior but, like me, the guys had their doubts.

“Bet they had fun sailing up Niagara Falls,” commented Fred, then added, “or how did they find their way through the Mississippi delta?” He helped himself to some peanuts and maundered on. “Wonder if they founded New Orleans.”

“Nah!” argued Bill. He’s not the brightest light on the Christmas tree. He said, “They couldn’t’ve founded it if it wasn’t there yet.”

It was about that time that I decided to give up on Gavin Menzies for a while. I’d grunted in agreement with him when I read his theories about the Chinese sailing all over hell’s half acre. I’d even accepted his suggestion that the Chinese got to Venice and gave a boost to the Renaissance, but his statements that the Minoans not only crossed the Atlantic thousands of years ago but stole all the copper ore from Lake Superior were too much of a stretch. I decided that I was going to give up on him. There was to be a film about the Minoans on Knowledge the very next week; I think I’ll skip real books for the nonce.


Peter Warland is a retired teacher living in Cranbrook

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