Atlantida (L'Atlantide), by Pierre Benoit, , at sacred-texts.com
M. Le Mesge looked at Morhange triumphantly. It was evident that he addressed himself exclusively to Morhange, considering him alone worthy of his confidences.
"There have been many, sir," he said, "both French and foreign officers who have been brought here at the caprice of our sovereign, Antinea. You are the first to be honored by my disclosures. But you were the pupil of Berlioux, and I owe so much to the memory of that great man that it seems to me I may do him homage by imparting to one of his disciples the unique results of my private research."
He struck the bell. Ferradji appeared.
"Coffee for these gentlemen," ordered M. Le Mesge.
He handed us a box, gorgeously decorated in the most flaming colors, full of Egyptian cigarettes.
"I never smoke," he explained. "But Antinea sometimes comes here. These are her cigarettes. Help yourselves, gentlemen."
I have always had a horror of that pale tobacco which gives a barber of the Rue de la Michodière the illusion of oriental voluptuousness. But, in their way, these musk-scented cigarettes were not bad, and it was a long time since I had used up my stock of Caporal.
"Here are the back numbers of Le Vie Parisienne," said M. Le Mesge to me. "Amuse yourself with them, if you like, while I talk to your friend."
"Sir," I replied brusquely, "it is true that I never studied with Berlioux. Nevertheless, you must allow me to listen to your conversation: I shall hope to find something in it to amuse me."
"As you wish," said the little old man.
We settled ourselves comfortably. M. Le Mesge sat down before the desk, shot his cuffs, and commenced as follows:
"However much, gentlemen, I prize complete objectivity in matters of erudition, I cannot utterly detach my own history from that of the last descendant of Clito and Neptune.
"I am the creation of my own efforts. From my childhood, the prodigious impulse given to the science of history by the nineteenth century has affected me. I saw where my way led. I have followed it, in spite of everything.
"In spite of everything, everything—I mean it literally. With no other resources than my own work and merit, I was received as Fellow of History
and Geography at the examination of 1880. A great examination! Among the thirteen who were accepted there were names which have since become illustrious: Julian, Bourgeois, Auerbach. . . . I do not envy my colleagues on the summits of their official honors; I read their works with commiseration; and the pitiful errors to which they are condemned by the insufficiency of their documents would amply counterbalance my chagrin and fill me with ironic joy, had I not been raised long since above the satisfaction of self-love.
"When I was Professor at the Lycée du Parc at Lyons. I knew Berlioux and followed eagerly his works on African History. I had, at that time, a very original idea for my doctor's thesis. I was going to establish a parallel between the Berber heroine of the seventh century, who struggled against the Arab invader, Kahena, and the French heroine, Joan of Arc, who struggled against the English invader. I proposed to the Faculté des Lettres at Paris this title for my thesis: Joan of Arc and the Tuareg. This simple announcement gave rise to a perfect outcry in learned circles, a furor of ridicule. My friends warned me discreetly. I refused to believe them. Finally I was forced to believe when my rector summoned me before him and, after manifesting an astonishing interest in my health, asked whether I should object to taking two years’ leave on half pay. I refused indignantly. The rector did not insist;
but fifteen days later, a ministerial decree, with no other legal procedure, assigned me to one of the most insignificant and remote Lycées of France, at Mont-de-Marsan.
"Realize my exasperation and you will excuse the excesses to which I delivered myself in that strange country. What is there to do in Landes, if you neither eat nor drink? I did both violently. My pay melted away in fois gras, in woodcocks, in fine wines. The result came quickly enough: in less than a year my joints began to crack like the over-oiled axle of a bicycle that has gone a long way upon a dusty track. A sharp attack of gout nailed me to my bed. Fortunately, in that blessed country, the cure is in reach of the suffering. So I departed to Dax, at vacation time, to try the waters.
"I rented a room on the bank of the Adour, overlooking the Promenade des Baignots. A charwoman took care of it for me. She worked also for an old gentleman, a retired Examining Magistrate, President of the Roger-Ducos Society, which was a vague scientific backwater, in which the scholars of the neighborhood applied themselves with prodigious incompetence to the most whimsical subjects. One afternoon I stayed in my room on account of a very heavy rain. The good woman was energetically polishing the copper latch of my door. She used a paste called Tripoli, which she spread upon a paper and rubbed and rubbed. . . . The peculiar
appearance of the paper made me curious. I glanced at it. 'Great heavens! Where did you get this paper?' She was perturbed. 'At my master's; he has lots of it. I tore this out of a notebook.' 'Here are ten francs. Go and get me the notebook.'
"A quarter of an hour later, she was back with it. By good luck it lacked only one page, the one with which she had been polishing my door. This manuscript, this notebook, have you any idea what it was? Merely the Voyage to Atlantis of the mythologist Denis de Milet, which is mentioned by Diodorus and the loss of which I had so often heard Berlioux deplore. 1
"This inestimable document contained numerous quotations from the Critias. It gave an abstract of the illustrious dialogue, the sole existing copy of which you held in your hands a little while ago. It established past controversy the location of the stronghold of the Atlantides, and demonstrated that this site, which is denied by science, was not submerged by the waves, as is supposed by the rare and timorous defenders of the Atlantide hypothesis. He called it the 'central Mazycian range.' You know there is no longer any doubt as to the identification
of the Mazyces of Herodotus with the people of Imoschaoch, the Tuareg. But the manuscript of Denys unquestionably identifies the historical Mazyces with the Atlantides of the supposed legend.
"I learned, therefore, from Denys, not only that the central part of Atlantis, the cradle and home of the dynasty of Neptune, had not sunk in the disaster described by Plato as engulfing the rest of the Atlantide isle, but also that it corresponded to the Tuareg Ahaggar, and that, in this Ahaggar, at least in his time, the noble dynasty of Neptune was supposed to be still existent.
"The historians of Atlantis put the date of the cataclysm which destroyed all or part of that famous country at nine thousand years before Christ. If Denis de Milet, who wrote scarcely three thousand years ago, believed that in his time, the dynastic issue of Neptune was still ruling its dominion, you will understand that I thought immediately—what has lasted nine thousand years may last eleven thousand. From that instant I had only one aim: to find the possible descendants of the Atlantides, and, since I had many reasons for supposing them to be debased and ignorant of their original splendor, to inform them of their illustrious descent.
"You will easily understand that I imparted none of my intentions to my superiors at the University. To solicit their approval or even their permission, considering the attitude they had taken toward me,
would have been almost certainly to invite confinement in a cell. So I raised what I could on my own account, and departed without trumpet or drum for Oran. On the first of October I reached In-Salah. Stretched at my ease beneath a palm tree, at the oasis, I took infinite pleasure in considering how, that very day, the principal of Mont-de-Marsan, beside himself, struggling to control twenty horrible urchins howling before the door of an empty class room, would be telegraphing wildly in all directions in search of his lost history professor."
M. Le Mesge stopped and looked at us to mark his satisfaction.
I admit that I forgot my dignity and I forgot the affectation he had steadily assumed of talking only to Morhange.
"You will pardon me, sir, if your discourse interests me more than I had anticipated. But you know very well that I lack the fundamental instruction necessary to understand you. You speak of the dynasty of Neptune. What is this dynasty, from which, I believe, you trace the descent of Antinea? What is her rôle in the story of Atlantis?"
M. Le Mesge smiled with condescension, meantime winking at Morhange with the eye nearest to him. Morhange was listening without expression, without a word, chin in hand, elbow on knee.
"Plato will answer for me, sir," said the Professor.
And he added, with an accent of inexpressible pity:
"Is it really possible that you have never made the acquaintance of the introduction to the Critias?"
He placed on the table the book by which Morhange had been so strangely moved. He adjusted his spectacles and began to read. It seemed as if the magic of Plato vibrated through and transfigured this ridiculous little old man.
"'Having drawn by lot the different parts of the earth, the gods obtained, some a larger, and some, a smaller share. It was thus that Neptune, having received in the division the isle of Atlantis, came to place the children he had had by a mortal in one part of that isle. It was not far from the sea, a plain situated in the midst of the isle, the most beautiful, and, they say, the most fertile of plains. About fifty stades from that plain, in the middle of the isle, was a mountain. There dwelt one of those men who, in the very beginning, was born of the Earth, Evenor, with his wife, Leucippo. They had only one daughter, Clito. She was marriageable when her mother and father died, and Neptune, being enamored of her, married her. Neptune fortified the mountain where she dwelt by isolating it. He made alternate girdles of sea and land, the one smaller, the others greater, two of earth and three of water, and centered them round the isle in such a manner that they were at all parts equally distant! . . ."
M. le Mesge broke off his reading.
"Does this arrangement recall nothing to you?" he queried.
"Morhange, Morhange!" I stammered. "You remember—our route yesterday, our abduction, the two corridors that we had to cross before arriving at this mountain? . . . The girdles of earth and of water? . . . Two tunnels, two enclosures of earth?"
"Ha! Ha!" chuckled M. Le Mesge.
He smiled as he looked at me. I understood that this smile meant: "Can he be less obtuse than I had supposed?"
As if with a mighty effort, Morhange broke the silence.
"I understand well enough, I understand. . . . The three girdles of water. . . . But then, you are supposing, sir,—an explanation the ingeniousness of which I do not contest—you are supposing the exact hypothesis of the Saharan sea!"
"I suppose it, and I can prove it," replied the irascible little old chap, banging his fist on the table. "I know well enough what Schirmer and the rest have advanced against it. I know it better than you do. I know all about it, sir. I can present all the proofs for your consideration. And in the meantime, this evening at dinner, you will no doubt enjoy some excellent fish. And you will tell me if these fish, caught in the lake that you can see from this window, seem to you fresh water fish.
"You must realize," he continued more calmly,
the mistake of those who, believing in Atlantis, have sought to explain the cataclysm in which they suppose the whole island to have sunk. Without exception, they have thought that it was swallowed up. Actually, there has not been an immersion. There has been an emersion. New lands have emerged from the Atlantic wave. The desert has replaced the sea, the sebkhas, the salt lakes, the Triton lakes, the sandy Syrtes are the desolate vestiges of the free sea water over which, in former days, the fleets swept with a fair wind towards the conquest of Attica. Sand swallows up civilization better than water. To-day there remains nothing of the beautiful isle that the sea and winds kept gay and verdant but this chalky mass. Nothing has endured in this rocky basin, cut off forever from the living world, but the marvelous oasis that you have at your feet, these red fruits, this cascade, this blue lake, sacred witnesses to the golden age that is gone. Last evening, in coming here, you had to cross the five enclosures: the three belts of water, dry forever; the two girdles of earth through which are hollowed the passages you traversed on camel back, where, formerly, the triremes floated. The only thing that, in this immense catastrophe, has preserved its likeness to its former state, is this mountain, the mountain where Neptune shut up his well-beloved Clito, the daughter of Evenor and Leucippe, the mother of Atlas, and the ancestress of Antinea, the sovereign
under whose dominion you are about to enter forever."
"Sir," said Morhange with the most exquisite courtesy, "it would be only a natural anxiety which would urge us to inquire the reasons and the end of this dominion. But behold to what extent your revelation interests me; I defer this question of private interest. Of late, in two caverns, it has been my fortune to discover Tifinar inscriptions of this name, Antinea. My comrade is witness that I took it for a Greek name. I understand now, thanks to you and the divine Plato, that I need no longer feel surprised to hear a barbarian called by a Greek name. But I am no less perplexed as to the etymology of the word. Can you enlighten me?"
"I shall certainly not fail you there, sir," said M. Le Mesge. "I may tell you, too, that you are not the first to put to me that question. Most of the explorers that I have seen enter here in the past ten years have been attracted in the same way, intrigued by this Greek work reproduced in Tifinar. I have even arranged a fairly exact catalogue of these inscriptions and the caverns where they are to be met with. All, or almost all, are accompanied by this legend: Antinea. Here commences her domain. I myself have had repainted with ochre such as were beginning to be effaced. But, to return to what I was telling you before, none of the Europeans who have followed this epigraphic mystery here, have kept
their anxiety to solve this etymology once they found themselves in Antinea's palace. They all become otherwise preoccupied. I might make many disclosures as to the little real importance which purely scientific interests possess even for scholars, and the quickness with which they sacrifice them to the most mundane considerations,—their own lives, for instance."
"Let us take that up another time, sir, if it is satisfactory to you," said Morhange, always admirably polite.
"This digression had only one point, sir: to show you that I do not count you among these unworthy scholars. You are really eager to know the origin of this name, Antinea, and that before knowing what kind of woman it belongs to and her motives for holding you and this gentleman as her prisoners."
I stared hard at the little old man. But he spoke with profound seriousness.
"So much the better for you, my boy," I thought. "Otherwise it wouldn't have taken me long to send you through the window to air your ironies at your ease. The law of gravity ought not to be topsy-turvy here at Ahaggar."
"You, no doubt, formulated several hypotheses when you first encountered the name, Antinea," continued M. Le Mesge, imperturbable under my fixed gaze, addressing himself to Morhange. "Would you object to repeating them to me?"
"Not at all, sir," said Morhange.
And, very composedly, he enumerated the etymological suggestions I have given previously.
The little man with the cherry-colored shirt front rubbed his hands.
"Very good," he admitted with an accent of intense jubilation. "Amazingly good, at least for one with only the modicum of Greek that you possess. But it is all none the less false, super-false."
"It is because I suspected as much that I put my question to you," said Morhange blandly.
"I will not keep you longer in suspense," said M. Le Mesge. "The word, Antinea, is composed as follows: ti is nothing but a Tifinar addition to an essentially Greek name. Ti is the Berber feminine article. We have several examples of this combination. Take Tipasa, the North African town. The name means the whole, from ti and from ναπ. So, tinea signifies the new, from ti and from εα."
"And the prefix an?" queried Morhange.
"Is it possible, sir, that I have put myself to the trouble of talking to you for a solid hour about the Critias with such trifling effect? It is certain that the prefix an, alone, has no meaning. You will understand that it has one, when I tell you that we have here a very curious case of apocope. You must not read an; you must read atlan. Atl has been lost, by apocope; an has survived. To sum up, Antinea is composed in the following manner: τι-νεα—
[paragraph continues] ἀτλ Ἀν. And its meaning, the new Atlantis, is dazzlingly apparent from this demonstration."
I looked at Morhange. His astonishment was without bounds. The Berber prefix ti had literally stunned him.
"Have you had occasion, sir, to verify this very ingenious etymology?" he was finally able to gasp out.
"You have only to glance over these few books," said M. Le Mesge disdainfully.
He opened successively five, ten, twenty cupboards. An enormous library was spread out to our view.
"Everything, everything—it is all here," murmured Morhange, with an astonishing inflection of terror and admiration.
"Everything that is worth consulting, at any rate," said M. Le Mesge. "All the great books, whose loss the so-called learned world deplores to-day."
"And how has it happened?"
"Sir, you distress me. I thought you familiar with certain events. You are forgetting, then, the passage where Pliny the Elder speaks of the library of Carthage and the treasures which were accumulated there? In 146, when that city fell under the blows of the knave, Scipio, the incredible collection of illiterates who bore the name of the Roman Senate had only the profoundest contempt for these riches. They presented them to the native kings. This is how
[paragraph continues] Mantabal received this priceless heritage; it was transmitted to his son and grandson, Hiempsal, Juba I, Juba II, the husband of the admirable Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the great Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Cleopatra Selene had a daughter who married an Atlantide king. This is how Antinea, the daughter of Neptune, counts among her ancestors the immortal queen of Egypt. That is how, by following the laws of inheritance, the remains of the library of Carthage, enriched by the remnants of the library of Alexandria, are actually before your eyes.
"Science fled from man. While he was building those monstrous Babels of pseudo-science in Berlin, London, Paris, Science was taking refuge in this desert corner of Ahaggar. They may well forge their hypotheses back there, based on the loss of the mysterious works of antiquity: these works are not lost. They are here. They are here: the Hebrew, the Chaldean, the Assyrian books. Here, the great Egyptian traditions which inspired Solon, Herodotus and Plato. Here, the Greek mythologists, the magicians of Roman Africa, the Indian mystics, all the treasures, in a word, for the lack of which contemporary dissertations are poor laughable things. Believe me, he is well avenged, the little universitarian whom they took for a madman, whom they defied. I have lived, I live, I shall live in a perpetual burst of laughter at their false and garbled erudition.
[paragraph continues] And when I shall be dead, Error,—thanks to the jealous precaution of Neptune taken to isolate his well-beloved Clito from the rest of the world,—Error, I say, will continue to reign as sovereign mistress over their pitiful compositions."
"Sir," said Morhange in a grave voice, "you have just affirmed the influence of Egypt on the civilizations of the people here. For reasons which some day, perhaps, I shall have occasion to explain to you, I would like to have proof of that relationship."
"We need not wait for that, sir," said M. Le Mesge. Then, in my turn, I advanced.
"Two words, if you please, sir," I said brutally. "I will not hide from you that these historical discussions seem to me absolutely out of place. It is not my fault if you have had trouble with the University, and if you are not to-day at the College of France or elsewhere. For the moment, just one thing concerns me: to know just what this lady, Antinea, wants with us. My comrade would like to know her relation with ancient Egypt: very well. For my part, I desire above everything to know her relations with the government of Algeria and the Arabian Bureau."
M. Le Mesge gave a strident laugh.
"I am going to give you an answer that will satisfy you both," he replied.
And he added:
"Follow me. It is time that you should learn."
134:1 How did the Voyage to Atlantis arrive at Dax? I have found, so far, only one credible hypothesis: it might have been discovered in Africa by the traveller, de Behagle, a member of the Roger-Ducos Society, who studied at the college of Dax, and later, on several occasions, visited the town. (Note by M. Leroux.)