Atlantis: the tale of the lost city continues to captivate, representing our collective fascination with lost civilizations and hidden knowledge | Photo: Su/Creative Commons

For millennia, the tantalizing mystery of Atlantis, the lost island kingdom, has ignited human curiosity and spurred countless theories about its reality, location, and eventual fate.

According to ancient accounts, this mythical city, often referred to as the island of Atlas, was a utopia, boasting an advanced civilization rich in wisdom and wealth.

Its grandeur, innovation, and subsequent downfall continue to inspire a myriad of speculations, inviting both believers and skeptics into an engaging discussion.

The story of Atlantis first appeared in two dialogues, "Timaeus" and "Critias," written by the Greek philosopher Plato in 360 BC.

In his works, Plato described Atlantis as an idyllic civilization located beyond "the pillars of Hercules" (the present-day Strait of Gibraltar).

The island, greater in size than Asia and Libya combined, was said to be home to a superior race of individuals who embodied the epitome of virtue and wisdom.

Plato depicted Atlantis as a powerful kingdom rich in precious metals and rare stones.

It had an intricately designed city layout, with concentric rings of water and land connected by tunnels wide enough to accommodate ships.

But despite its glory, Atlantis suffered a catastrophic downfall.

In a single day and night of misfortune, Atlantis was swallowed by the sea and disappeared, leaving only a vestige of an ocean where it once stood.

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right): the Greek philosopher holds his 'Timaeus' while he gestures to the heavens | Painting: Raphael

Common Myths and Misconceptions

While Plato's account served as the foundational narrative, many myths about Atlantis have taken shape throughout the ages.

These interpretations, amplified by popular culture, often lean into the fantastical, bending the bounds of reality.

Myth 1: Atlantis Was an Advanced Technological Civilization

Many believe that the Atlanteans were not just intellectually superior but technologically advanced as well.

They posit that the city possessed futuristic technology, often citing evidence from Edgar Cayce, an American clairvoyant, who claimed Atlanteans used crystals for energy production.

While intriguing, no archaeological evidence or historical text supports this claim.

Myth 2: Atlantis is Located in the Bermuda Triangle

The idea that the mythical city lies within the infamous Bermuda Triangle has often been romanticized in literature and films.

Despite the allure, no verifiable proof links the geographic anomalies in the triangle to the lost city.

Moreover, the location contradicts Plato's description of Atlantis as being beyond the "Pillars of Hercules."

Myth 3: Atlantis and the Lost City of El Dorado Are the Same

The conflation of the golden city of El Dorado and Atlantis stems from their shared status as lost, grand civilizations.

However, El Dorado is a distinctly South American legend, while Atlantis's origins lie in ancient Greek philosophy, making them separate entities.

Atlantis: many believe that the Atlanteans were not just intellectually superior but technologically advanced as well | Photo: Creative Commons

Myth 4: Atlanteans were Aliens or Had Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings

A fringe theory posits that the inhabitants of Atlantis were themselves extraterrestrials or at least had contact with alien beings.

This myth is often rooted in the interpretation that the advanced knowledge and technology Plato attributes to Atlantis could not have been possible without extraterrestrial intervention.

However, there is no evidence to support this claim, and it falls squarely into the realm of science fiction rather than historical fact.

Myth 5: Atlantis Was Destroyed by a Technological Disaster

This myth ties into the belief that Atlantis was an extraordinarily advanced civilization.

Some proponents suggest that Atlantis's destruction resulted from a technological catastrophe, such as a nuclear explosion or a disastrous experiment with advanced energy sources.

Again, no concrete evidence supports these assertions.

Myth 6: Atlantis is in Antarctica

Inspired by Charles Hapgood's "Earth Crust Displacement" theory, some speculate that Atlantis lies beneath the ice of Antarctica.

They believe that a rapid pole shift around 9,600 BC caused Atlantis to move to its current icy location.

This hypothesis, however, lacks concrete archaeological or geological evidence and has been widely criticized by the scientific community.

Myth 7: Atlantis was a Continent

Some interpretations of Plato's work suggest that Atlantis was not just a city or an island but a continent.

These theories often come from misinterpretations or mistranslations of Plato's original text.

The philosopher described Atlantis as larger than Asia and Libya combined, but most scholars interpret it as an allegory for Atlantis's vast influence rather than its physical size.

The Last of Atlantis (1928/1929): the painting by Nicholas Roerich

Myth 8: Atlantis Sank into the Atlantic Ocean

Despite Plato's original writings suggesting Atlantis was located beyond the "Pillars of Hercules," many believe it sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

This myth is likely due to misinterpretations of Plato's descriptions or romanticized versions of the tale.

Myth 9: Atlanteans had Unique Physical Characteristics

In some popular culture interpretations, Atlanteans are portrayed with unique physical characteristics such as unusual skin or hair colors, heights, or even abilities such as breathing underwater.

These portrayals, however, have no basis in Plato's original descriptions and are purely fictional additions.

Myth 10: Atlantis was a Peaceful Utopia

Many depictions of Atlantis portray it as a peaceful utopia where war and conflict were unknown, and its citizens lived in perfect harmony.

This is, again, another largely romanticized version of the tale.

While Plato indeed describes the Atlanteans as virtuous and noble in their early days, he also portrays them as a formidable military power that waged war on other nations.

Over time, according to Plato, the Atlanteans became morally corrupt, and their society's initial virtue and wisdom deteriorated, ultimately leading to their downfall.

Thus, the image of Atlantis as a consistently peaceful utopia is more myth than reality, based on Plato's own descriptions.

Confirmed Facts and Truths

Despite the numerous myths, a few established truths about Atlantis are universally accepted among scholars.

These truths, grounded in Plato's original account, provide the framework for all other theories and speculations.

Fact 1: Atlantis Was First Introduced by Plato

The existence of Atlantis, as we know it, was indeed first presented by Plato in his dialogues "Timaeus" and "Critias."

These are the primary and sole ancient sources of the Atlantean narrative.

Fact 2: Plato's Description of Atlantis

Every detail we have about Atlantis - the concentric design, its location beyond the pillars of Hercules, and its tragic fate - comes directly from Plato's dialogues.

The philosopher offered an elaborate account of the city's infrastructure, political system, and military might.

Fact 3: Atlantis Is a Philosophical Tool

Many historians and philosophers agree that Atlantis was an allegory used by Plato to convey his philosophical ideas.

They argue that the city represented Plato's vision of an ideal society, highlighting his notions about morality, honor, and the perils of hubris.

Atlantis: the lost underwater city was first presented by Plato in his dialogues 'Timaeus' and 'Critias' | Photo: Creative Commons

Fact 4: The Search Continues

Despite numerous expeditions and studies, the actual existence and location of Atlantis remain elusive.

Plato's precise geographic descriptions have led explorers to various possible locations, including the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and even Antarctica.

However, none of these explorations have produced definitive evidence of the lost city's existence.

Fact 5: Plato Described Atlantis as a Naval Power

In the "Critias" dialogue, Plato wrote about Atlantis's mighty naval power, claiming it could field a fleet of as many as 1200 ships.

This fact, coupled with the detailed descriptions of the city's docks and harbors, highlights the importance of naval strength and maritime activity in the Atlantean civilization, as portrayed by the philosopher.

Fact 6: Atlantis Was Described as a Confederacy

Plato described Atlantis as a confederacy of kings.

Each king had power over his own territory, but there was a common rule, under the eldest king, that decisions regarding war could not be made without the consent of all the other kings.

This sheds light on the political structure of the society that Plato envisioned in Atlantis.

Fact 7: The Story of Atlantis Has Influenced Various Cultural and Literary Works

While not a truth about Atlantis itself, it is a fact that the story of the lost city has had a substantial influence on various forms of media, including literature, films, video games, and other cultural artifacts.

This can be seen in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, the "Indiana Jones" franchise, and the "Assassin's Creed" video game series, among many others.

Atlantis: Atlantis was an allegory used by Plato to convey his philosophical ideas | Illustration: SurferToday

Fact 8: Atlantis Was Fabled to Have a Rich Supply of Orichalcum

Plato described orichalcum, a metal second in value only to gold, as being mined on the mythical island, stating that the city's buildings were clad with it, glinting in the sun.

Historically, orichalcum was known in the ancient world, but its exact composition remains a subject of debate among scholars.

Fact 9: Atlantis, as per Plato, Fell Out of Favor with the Deities

In Plato's dialogues, the decline of Atlantis was linked to its people's moral degradation.

They fell out of favor with the gods because they became greedy, petty, and "morally bankrupt," leading to their downfall.

Fact 10: Atlantis Represents the Theme of "Hubris" in Greek Philosophy

The story of Atlantis is believed to illustrate one of the central themes in Greek (and indeed much of ancient) philosophy - that of "hubris," or extreme pride and arrogance, often in defiance of the gods leading to an inevitable downfall.

The city, with all its advanced civilization, is described as having been punished by the gods for its hubris, a reminder of the moral and societal decay that can stem from unchecked power and pride.

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