The Myths & Legends of Atlantis

Greek philosopher Plato wrote of the lost civilization of Atlantis, sparking centuries of debate over its existence and location.
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The story of the ancient civilization of the lost island of Atlantis has inspired books, films and even a TV series. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) wrote of its existence in his dialogues, “Timaeus” and “Critias,” and arguments over whether it actually existed have been the subject of heated debate ever since. Some believers have spent fortunes on expeditions to find it. Others speculate that Plato used the story of Atlantis as a parable to warn of excessive ambition and greed. Whether true or not, and modern experts overwhelmingly fall on the side of the story being fictional, it's a legend that has captivated the world's interest and imagination for centuries.

1 The Great Civilization of Atlantis

Plato described Atlantis as being an advanced utopian society founded by a population who were half human and half god. The island boasted impressive caches of silver, gold and other metals, and was lush with species of exotic animals and plants unknown to the region. Its physical size was described as being “larger than Libya and Asia together.” However, there was a dark side to the advanced civilization of Atlantis. The society had become corrupt warmongers who brought the wrath of the gods upon themselves by their immoral deeds.

2 What Happened to Atlantis?

According to Plato, the gods destroyed Atlantis with fire and earthquakes so strong that the entire island sank to the bottom of the sea. The recorded destruction of the island Santorini in the Aegean Sea by the violent eruption of the island's volcano is often linked to the legend of Atlantis. Santorini was the home of an advanced Minoan society wiped out by the volcano. Some believe this to be Plato's Atlantis, although the volcanic eruption of Santorini took place about 3,600 years ago and, according to Plato, Atlantis was to have existed 9,000 years before his own time.

3 Where in the World was Atlantis?

Charles Orser, curator of history at the New York State Museum, has said, “Pick a spot on the map, and someone has said that Atlantis was there.” Although Plato described its location as being west of the Pillars of Hercules, also known as the Straits of Gibraltar, speculation of Atlantis' location has placed it in such diverse locations as the Canary Islands, virtually all of the islands in the Mediterranean, Palestine, Antarctica, Sweden and the Americas.

4 Fact or Fiction?

Atlantis has become an obsession for some of those who believe in its existence. The Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck wrote 3,000 pages over 30 years during the 1600s attempting to prove that the legendary Atlantis was located in Sweden. The odd team of American lawyer Ignatius Donnelly and British Prime Minister William Gladstone planned an elaborate search for Atlantis in the mid-Atlantic that never reached fruition. Searches, research and speculation over its location and existence have never rendered conclusive results or proof. A majority of historians agree that Plato created the story to match his theories on human corruption and that the legendary island was nothing but the fruit of the great philosopher's imagination.

Lynn Blanch is a writer, translator and educator. She is the co-founder of an educational/cultural nonprofit in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese and has published a travel blog. She holds a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College.