Caledonian Atlantis

Watching Great Books on Discovery recently, covering Jules Verne’s fantastic classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (the title actually relates to the length of the globe-trotting journey, not the depth). A book I first read as a young boy and one that was always at the back of my mind when watching films by Jacques Cousteau. Some of it I knew already – Verne predicting the self-contained aqualung, submersibles travelling beneath the polar ice sheets.

Some I didn’t actually know that were of particular interest to me, such as the fact that on a holiday to Scotland Verne climbed Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano right here in the heart of Edinburgh. Resting on the summit he looked out over the city of Edinburgh, spread across and surrounded by hills. Watching the sunlight hit some of the neo-Classical buildings from his volcanic heights Verne found his model for his description of Atlantis. Later on a walk along the coast he was lost in the sea mist. He was invited into a large country mansion. Warming himself in the sumptuous interior he found the room he would model Nemo’s plus study on.

And Nemo himself? This ‘science pirate’ with the mysterious, revolutionary, unknown past. Entering Edinburgh Castle he paused to read the Latin motto above the gates – no-one injures me with impunity. No-one in Latin? Nemo – no-one. The dark, enigmatic figure with no discernable past upon whom we are free as readers to project our own fantasies. And of course, a century after his book the first nuclear powered submarine became the first ship to reach the North Pole by cruising beneath the solid ice, just as Nemo had in the Southern Polar Regions. The name of the vessel? The Nautilus.