If the writing of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato had not contained so much truth about the human condition, his name would have been forgotten centuries ago.
But one of his most famous stories—the cataclysmic destruction of the ancient civilization of Atlantis—is almost certainly false. So why is this story still repeated more than 2,300 years after Plato’s death?
“It’s a story that captures the imagination,” says James Romm, a professor of classics at Bard College in Annandale, New York. “It’s a great myth. It has a lot of elements that people love to fantasize about.”
Plato told the story of Atlantis around 360 B.C. The founders of Atlantis, he said, were half god and half human. They created a utopian civilization and became a great naval power. Their home was made up of concentric islands separated by wide moats and linked by a canal that penetrated to the center. The lush islands contained gold, silver, and other precious metals and supported an abundance of rare, exotic wildlife. There was a great capital city on the central island.
There are many theories about where Atlantis was—in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain, even under what is now Antarctica. “Pick a spot on the map, and someone has said that Atlantis was there,” says Charles Orser, curator of history at the New York State Museum in Albany. “Every place you can imagine.”
Plato said Atlantis existed about 9,000 years before his own time, and that its story had been passed down by poets, priests, and others. But Plato’s writings about Atlantis are the only known records of its existence.
Possibly Based on Real Events?
Few, if any, scientists think Atlantis actually existed. Ocean explorer Robert Ballard, the National Geographic explorer-in-residence who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, notes that “no Nobel laureates” have said that what Plato wrote about Atlantis is true.
Still, Ballard says, the legend of Atlantis is a “logical” one since cataclysmic floods and volcanic explosions have happened throughout history, including one event that had some similarities to the story of the destruction of Atlantis. About 3,600 years ago, a massive volcanic eruption devastated the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea near Greece. At the time, a highly advanced society of Minoans lived on Santorini. The Minoan civilization disappeared suddenly at about the same time as the volcanic eruption.
But Ballard doesn’t think Santorini was Atlantis, because the time of the eruption on that island doesn’t coincide with when Plato said Atlantis was destroyed.
Romm believes Plato created the story of Atlantis to convey some of his philosophical theories. “He was dealing with a number of issues, themes that run throughout his work,” he says. “His ideas about divine versus human nature, ideal societies, the gradual corruption of human society—these ideas are all found in many of his works. Atlantis was a different vehicle to get at some of his favorite themes.”
The legend of Atlantis is a story about a moral, spiritual people who lived in a highly advanced, utopian civilization. But they became greedy, petty, and “morally bankrupt,” and the gods “became angry because the people had lost their way and turned to immoral pursuits,” Orser says.
As punishment, he says, the gods sent “one terrible night of fire and earthquakes” that caused Atlantis to sink into the sea.
Six of the most notable theories about the lost civilization of Atlantis, one of the most enduring legends in history
1. Atlantis was a mid-Atlantic continent that suddenly sunk into the ocean.
The idea that Atlantis was an actual historical place, and not just a legend invented by Plato, didn’t surface until the late 19th century. In his 1882 book, Atlantis, the Antediluvian World, the writer Ignatius Donnelly argued the accomplishments of the ancient world (such as metallurgy, language and agriculture) must have been handed down by an earlier advanced civilization, as the ancients weren’t sophisticated enough to develop these advances on their own.
Assuming the Atlantic Ocean was only a few hundred feet deep, Donnelly described a continent flooded by shifting ocean waters that sank in the exact location Plato said it did: in the Atlantic Ocean just outside the “Pillars of Hercules,” the two rocks that mark the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar. Long after modern oceanography and a greater understanding of plate tectonics poked holes in his shifting-waters thesis, some continue to cling to Donnelly’s theory, mostly due to its adherence to Plato’s placement of Atlantis in the mid-Atlantic.
2. Atlantis was swallowed up by the Bermuda Triangle.
Inspired by Donnelly, many later writers expanded on his theories and added their own speculations as to where Atlantis may have been. One of these writers was Charles Berlitz, grandson of the founder of the well-known language schools, and author of many books on paranormal phenomena. In the 1970s, Berlitz claimed Atlantis was a real continent located off the Bahamas that had fallen victim to the notorious “Bermuda Triangle,” a region of the Atlantic where a number of ships had supposedly disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Supporters of this theory point to the discovery of what look like man-made walls and streets found off the coast of Bimini, although scientists have evaluated these structures and found them to be natural beach-rock formations.
3. Atlantis was Antarctica.
Another theory—that Atlantis was actually a much more temperate version of what is now Antarctica—is based on the work of Charles Hapgood, whose 1958 book Earth’s Shifting Crust featured a foreword by Albert Einstein. According to Hapgood, around 12,000 years ago the Earth’s crust shifted, displacing the continent that became Antarctica from a location much further north than it is today. This more temperate continent was home to an advanced civilization, but the sudden shift to its current frigid location doomed the civilization’s inhabitants—the Atlanteans—and their magnificent city was buried under layers of ice. Hapgood’s theory surfaced before the scientific world gained a full understanding of plate tectonics, which largely relegated his “shifting crust” idea to the fringes of Atlantean beliefs.
4. The story of Atlantis was a mythical retelling of the Black Sea Flood.
This theory presumes Atlantis itself was fictional, but the story of its demise was inspired by an actual historical event: the breaching of the Bosporus by the Mediterranean Sea and subsequent flooding of the Black Sea, around 5600 B.C. At the time, the Black Sea was a freshwater lake half its current size. The flooding inundated civilizations known to flourish along its shore with hundreds of feet of sea water in a short period of time (perhaps less than a year). As inhabitants of the region scattered, they spread tales of the deluge, and may have led—thousands of years later—to Plato’s account of Atlantis.
5. Atlantis is the story of the Minoan civilization, which flourished in the Greek islands circa 2500-1600 B.C.
One of the more recent Atlantean theories concerns the civilization that flourished on the Greek islands of Crete and Thera (now Santorini) more than 4,000 years ago: the Minoans, named for the legendary King Minos. Believed to be Europe’s first great civilization, the Minoans built splendid palaces, constructed paved roads and were the first Europeans to use a written language (Linear A). At the height of their power, however, the Minoans suddenly disappeared from history—an enduring mystery that has fueled belief in a link between this great, doomed civilization and Plato’s Atlantis. Historians believe around 1600 B.C., a massive earthquake shook the volcanic island of Thera, triggering an eruption that spewed 10 million tons of rock, ash and gas into the atmosphere. Tsunamis that followed the eruption were large enough to wipe out Minoan cities throughout the region, a devastation that may have made the Minoans vulnerable to invaders from the Greek mainland.
6. Atlantis didn’t exist at all—Plato invented it.
Most historians and scientists throughout history have come to the conclusion that Plato’s account of the lost kingdom of Atlantis was fictional. According to this argument, the Greek philosopher invented Atlantis as his vision of an ideal civilization, and intended the story of its demise to be a cautionary tale of the gods punishing human hubris. No written records of Atlantis exist outside of Plato’s dialogues, including in any of the numerous other texts that survive from ancient Greece. Furthermore, despite modern advances in oceanography and ocean-floor mapping, no trace of such a sunken civilization has ever been found.
Top 10 Amazing Facts About the Lost City of Atlantis
Where is Atlantis – The Mysterious Location
The biggest question that boggles the minds of all the scientists is that where is Atlantis. The narrations suggested that the city is believed to have sunk into the sea after an earthquake or tsunami. According to him, the so-called Atlantis was a large island located near the Rock of Gibraltar and consisted of a Poseidon temple and concentric walls and canals.
Plato added that the city under the sea should have been somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. However, no technology so far has revealed any such city on the ocean bed.
While some theories suggested that the Atlantis is located in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain, few also argued that it could be even under Antarctica.
For a long time, Azores was believed to be the site of the city of Atlantis. However, the new researches have revealed a new site and the scientists are sure that Atlantis can be found in Cadiz, somewhere between the Spain and Morocco waters.
The extent of truth in this story is really a mystery in itself. Questions like where are Atlantis or do it even exist for real are still unanswered. But until the truth beneath it can be completely unravelled, the world will continue speculating about the existence of the greatest city of all times.
The unknown size of ‘the giant city’
Plato, talking about the mysterious underwater kingdom, wrote:
“For the ocean, there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean.”
Agreeing with Plato over the size of the island, Tertullian, an early Christian author who believed that Atlantis really once existed in the Atlantic Ocean, said it would be bigger than today’s Libya and Asia combined.
Since many others proposed the location of the city of Atlantis in the Mediterranean Sea, narrations have come out scaling the size of the city to Crete, Greece’s largest island.
However, in many stories after Plato’s era, the Atlantis was described as a giant city, missing anything specific about the size of the city. Edgar Cayce, an American Christian mystic, suggested that the Atlantis and Eurasia were equal in size.
Tale of God’s love
Legend says that the Atlantis city was built by Poseidon- the God of Sea, of storms and earthquakes- when he fell in love with a mortal woman Cleito. He made this city on top of a hill, on an isolated island in the sea, to protect her and named it Atlantis.
According to the story, Poseidon walked through the world in an effort to find the biggest island until he reached the biggest of them all Atlantis and found it to be inhabited by people who were more beautiful and intelligent than the rest of the world.
It was then he fell in love with Cleito when he finds her on the island.
The ‘Captivation’ Palace
The new home built by Poseidon for his love in the City of Atlantis was surrounded by rings of water and land. The five rings of water were connected to the land with the help of five tunnels, where a huge canal connected the outer rings of water to the ocean.
The tunnels were able to accommodate ships and every route to the city was guarded by gates and towers. Moreover, the wall that surrounded the rings was built using red, white and black rock and was decorated with precious metals.
Meanwhile, there was another hill called the ‘Hill of Cleito’ where, it is believed, Poseidon captivated his wife because he was distrustful of her loyalty. This hill was surrounded by huge moats and pillars.
The Golden Statue of Poseidon
The fable tells that Cleito had five pairs of twin sons with Poseidon, the eldest of which was named Atlas. The ten sons inherited the great city and the first child, Atlas, became the first ruler of Atlantis.
However, it is believed they also built a huge temple for their father with a giant statue of Poseidon riding a chariot carried by winged horses.
The statue was completely built-in gold and placed in a temple with its spiral roof so high up that the clouds drifted through the spirals of the temple.
The self-sufficient and rich city
The fertile and beautiful city of Atlantis, where half-god and half-human beings lived, is believed to have been a self-sufficient region where people grew their own food and reared animals.
Farmers in the city used to grow the crops in the fertile plains on the outskirts with the help of a well-maintained irrigation system.
They also built beautiful buildings and other architectures from materials like black and red stone. They also had access to rare metals and even alloys like brass made and used crystals extensively for leisure and experimental purposes and had a lot of free time to even play with volcanoes.
Rising of Atlantis
Other than the legend of the lost city of Atlantis and other fables, the fact about the city still remains unknown. Among historians and other researchers, the findings of Edgar Caycehad something different to tell.
Edgar Cayce believed in the rising of the lost city once again like ‘the sun rises from the sea’. He predicted a new land would appear off the east coast of North America.
He also suggested that the souls of a number of people lived in Atlantis had been incarnating to America in order to usher in a new era of enlightened human consciousness.
Atlantis’ extra-terrestrial connection
Stories also claim that the original inhabitants of the lost city of Atlantis are believed to be of extra-terrestrial origin who reached there about 50,000 years ago from the Lyrian star system.
Despite being much taller and fairer than today’s average human being, the average life span of these people is believed to have been 800 years, making them really robust and strong prototype of the existent human race then.
Exceptional powers of Atlanteans
As some claim that the Lost City of Atlantis was on Mars, or was just a colony of an alien civilization, the inhabitants of the Atlantis city are believed to have the possessors of exceptional powers such as the ability to control the weather, modify volcanic eruptions.
Some accounts also mention their possession of some sort of device that allowed them to channel energy from time and space.
Even though the myth says that the inhabitants of Atlantis City were superior beings, there are some of the opinions that it is just a mythical representation of a barbaric fashion of life.
A fable based on real events?
While many still consider the Lost City of Atlantis is just a legend, there are many conspiracy theories doing the rounds suggesting that the fable is actually based on real events.
Ocean explorer Robert Ballard finds logic in the story as it has similarities with a massive volcanic eruption in the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea near Greece.
Ballard says a highly advanced society that lived there disappeared suddenly as happened with the Atlantis. Similarly, Ignatius Donnelly also confirms the existence and disappearance of a mid-Atlantic continent that was in the exact location that Plato mentioned.
As the debate goes on, few researchers claimed that this utopian kingdom was a real continent located off the Bahamas and it was swallowed up by the Bermuda Triangle later, while another group suggested current Antarctica is the newer version of Atlantis.
Meanwhile, James Romm, a professor at Bard College in Annandale in New York, says Plato himself created the story in order to convey some of his philosophical theories, mostly about his vision of an ideal civilization.