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MAPPING THE MYTHICAL

THE MYTHICAL lost continent of Atlantis has been found again -- this time in the Mediterranean south of Cyprus. Curtis Runnels, a professor of archeology at Boston University, says he hears at least 20 Atlantis theories a year and that the legendary sunken empire, first described by Plato in the fourth century BC, has been said to have thrived in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Utah, the North Pole, the South Pole, Great Britain, Holland, India, Malta, the Sahara, off the coast of Cuba, and a lot of other unlikely spots.

There have been thousands of books published on the place, which may or may not have had some connection to geologic fact. The island of Thira, now called Santorini, which was nearly destroyed by a volcano in 1470 BC, may have inspired Plato when he wrote the dialogues "Timaeus" and "Critias."

Or he may have simply made up this story of an advanced society corrupted by greed whose warriors were beaten back by the men of Athens before the god Poseidon sent it to the bottom of the sea.

The latest book -- "Discovery of Atlantis" by Los Angeles writer and self-described mythologist Robert Sarmast -- offers sonar mapping as evidence that a land mass 1 mile down in the eastern Mediterranean bears a striking similarity to Plato's detailed descriptions.

"If it's not Atlantis," says Sarmast, "then it has to be the biggest coincidence in world history."

Or maybe it's just a lot of rocks. After all, the presumed Atlantis site off the island of Bimini proved to be just that, according to Runnels, who calls such evidence "pseudo science." Sarmast admits that he published his book without knowing anything for sure -- a lot more mapping and underwater exploration are needed to determine what, if anything, is there.

But that won't stop people from devouring the theory. "All you have to do is put `Atlantis' in a title and you'll sell books," says Runnels.

The movies sell, too, as do the documentaries -- and there is even an Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. This strange fascination has blossomed over the past 100 years, according to Runnels, though he has no idea why.

Perhaps the obsession is born of a yearning to be connected to the gods, however dangerous that might be. Or maybe the tale of a mighty civilization that vanished has particular resonance in the nuclear age or for superpower America in this age of terrorism.

There could be longing for the wisdom of ancients, too, and for the days when great minds like Plato's contemplated the meaning of existence without the jangling interruptions of electronics. Whatever the reasons, Atlantis continues to beckon, and people are eager to follow, no matter how illogical the route.

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