The story of Atlantis originates from the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, specifically in two of his dialogues, “Timaeus” and “Critias,” which were written around 360 BCE. There is no other primary source or verified archaeological evidence that supports the existence of Atlantis outside of Plato’s works. Therefore, the “history” of Atlantis is effectively a retelling of the story as conveyed by Plato, along with various interpretations and speculations that have arisen in later times. The detailed account would look something like this:
The story of Atlantis was conveyed by the character Critias in Plato’s dialogues. According to Critias, the story of Atlantis was passed to him by his grandfather, who heard it from the famous Athenian statesman Solon, who in turn learned it from Egyptian priests during a visit to the city of Sais in Egypt.
The priests told Solon about a great civilization that existed nine thousand years before their time (and thus about 9,600 years before Plato’s time), a powerful and advanced kingdom called Atlantis. The civilization of Atlantis was said to be located “beyond the pillars of Hercules,” often interpreted as the area beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. It was an island larger than Asia and Libya combined.
The island was described as a paradise, with abundant natural resources, fertile soil, and a great variety of flora and fauna. The Atlanteans built a magnificent city with a central acropolis surrounded by concentric rings of water and land, connected by bridges and a canal that linked to the sea. The central island housed a palace and a temple dedicated to Poseidon and Cleito, the divine parents of the first Atlantean king, Atlas, after whom the island and the ocean around it (the Atlantic) were named.
The Atlantean society was organized into ten kingdoms, each ruled by a descendant of one of the ten sons of Poseidon and Cleito. These kings had great power and wealth but were also expected to obey certain laws set down by Poseidon, which emphasized peace, generosity, and a sense of community over aggression and greed.
Atlantis was a technologically advanced society for its time, as suggested by its splendid architecture, its complex system of canals, and the use of orichalcum, a red metal said to be second only to gold in value.
The War with Ancient Athens and The Fall of Atlantis
Plato’s story continues with Atlantis growing ambitious and seeking to expand its influence. They waged war against other parts of the known world, including an ancient version of Athens, a city-state that Plato describes as ideal in its administration and philosophy. Despite being smaller and less advanced, the Athenians resisted the Atlanteans, with their commitment to justice and virtue proving stronger than the Atlantean might.
Plato describes a single day and night of catastrophic earthquakes and floods, a divine punishment for the Atlanteans’ hubris and deviation from the divine laws. In this disaster, the Athenian warriors were swallowed by the earth, and Atlantis sank beneath the sea, disappearing forever. Its disappearance was so complete that afterward, the area of the ocean where it had been was said to be impassable, with shoals of mud blocking the way, remnants of the sunken continent.
Interpretations and Speculations about Atlantis
Since Plato’s time, the story of Atlantis has inspired many interpretations and theories. Some view it as a philosophical allegory about the dangers of hubris and the importance of virtue, while others have taken it as a literal history and have sought to find the lost island. Various locations have been proposed for Atlantis, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean to Antarctica. Still, none of these theories have found wide acceptance among scholars.
In popular culture, Atlantis has become a symbol of a lost utopia, a technologically advanced civilization that was nonetheless undone by its pride and ambition. It has been the subject of countless novels, movies, and video games. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the search for Atlantis continues to captivate the public imagination.
19th and 20th Century Speculations and Reinterpretations
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the myth of Atlantis underwent a significant transformation, fueled in part by new discoveries in archaeology and a growing interest in the occult. The American author and politician Ignatius L. Donnelly wrote “Atlantis: The Antediluvian World” in 1882, in which he argued that Atlantis was the source of all ancient wisdom and the ancestor of all human civilizations. Donnelly’s book was highly influential, inspiring a wave of interest in Atlantis and other “lost worlds.”
At around the same time, theosophist Helena Blavatsky incorporated Atlantis into her esoteric history of humanity in “The Secret Doctrine” (1888), portraying it as the home of a spiritually advanced but eventually corrupt civilization. Followers of Edgar Cayce, a self-proclaimed psychic, claimed he predicted that Atlantis would rise again in the 1960s, and that Atlanteans had developed technologies such as energy crystals and aircraft far beyond what we have today.
Atlantis in Modern Literature and Film
In the realm of fiction, Atlantis has been reimagined in countless ways. It often appears as a lost utopia, an advanced civilization that fell from grace, or a cautionary tale about the misuse of power or technology. H.P. Lovecraft included Atlantis in his Cthulhu Mythos, presenting it as a corrupted, ancient civilization associated with cosmic horror.
Atlantis has also been a popular theme in film and television. In Disney’s animated film “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Atlantis is depicted as a technologically advanced civilization powered by a magical crystal. The TV series “Stargate: Atlantis” envisions it as an outpost of the Ancients, a race of advanced beings from another galaxy.
Atlantis in Pseudoscience and Popular Belief
Pseudoscientific theories about Atlantis often focus on its supposed location, with suggestions ranging from the Bermuda Triangle to the Caribbean, the Azores, Antarctica, or even Japan. Some claim that the residents of Atlantis were extraterrestrials or that they had developed advanced technology such as crystal energy, levitation, or telepathy. These theories often overlap with beliefs about ancient astronauts, Lemuria, or other aspects of the New Age and the occult.
Despite its mythical nature, many people continue to believe in the literal existence of Atlantis, and numerous expeditions have been launched to try to find it. These efforts are often dismissed by mainstream archaeologists and historians, but they reflect the enduring appeal of Atlantis as a symbol of lost wisdom and vanished glory.
In conclusion, the story of Atlantis continues to evolve, reflecting our deepest fears and highest aspirations. Whether viewed as historical fact or enduring myth, it remains a potent symbol of the rise and fall of civilizations and a warning about the dangers of hubris.