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.
Story of Atlantis
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Story of Atlantis
Plato was the first to mention the city of Atlantis around 300 BC. He was a Greek philosopher who had studied under Socrates in Greece. Plato gave detailed stories in the books Timeus and Critias about a land that was on the fringes of what we know as the Mediterranean Sea that occurred around 9,000 years from when it was written. Atlantis was said to be bigger than Libya and Asia combined. Critias was a book based on how Atlantis came to be and stories about Atlantis. Timeus was a book of teachings in which Plato wrote about morality. Plato did not see Atlantis himself but he heard it from the Greek king Solon who had heard it from an Egyptian priest. Plato’s Critias story described the Greek gods dividing up the earth for land. Poseidon chose an island on which to build his empire. Poseidon had five sets of twins with his wife Helios; a female mortal. The Island was divided up amongst the sons by the eldest. Atlas was the eldest son and was given control of the city in the middle of the Island.
Atlantis had cities with brilliant architecture and bountiful plains all on one island. The plains supported rare animals such as elephants, and that the land was rich with minerals and metals including gold, silver and copper. The inner area of Atlantis was main city then a moat around the first city and then a circular piece of concrete/land and then water again. This pattern was said to continue a six or seven more times until solid land and plains were throughout the rest of the Island populated with cities and canals.
Atlantis was seamed with gold, copper and Iron. It is also described in Plato’s books that with this wealth that the Atlantean’s built a magnificent fighting force of 10,000 chariots, 24,000 ships, 60,000 officers, 120,000 hoplites (elite warriors) and 600,000 archers. The area was also dominated by many mountains.
Atlantis also is the set of many stories and myths from Plato’s teachings but scientists today say that Atlantis also could have been created by Plato to illustrate a variety of teachings. This would explain the story of Atlantis being destroyed; being a demonstration that any advanced civilization tries to conquer Greece would be destroyed. Plato gave related to greed and morality using Atlantis as a reference.
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Atlantis Greek Philosopher Poseidon Heard Greek Gods Plains Concrete Mortal Ships Mediterranean
This is peculiar because Greek gods are considered as amoral, caring only about beauty and physical attributes in the real world. Lessons of morality coming from Plato are odd, and having Atlantis for the base of these lessons is an interesting coincidence.
The Atlantis story ends when Atlanteans are consumed with greed and jealousy. Zeus decides the only way to stop this horrific display is send the great island into the sea and the story ends with Atlantis sinking into the ocean because of an earthquake and flood.