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The Legend of Atlantis

The legend goes that there was once an island or continent whose name was Atlantis, possibly a place of some technological advancement and yet savage and warlike. It is said that Atlantis declared war against Athens (ancient Greece), but that Atlantis fell and sank beneath the sea in a single night and day of misfortune.

Later ideas about the lost civilisation of Atlantis have it pictured as not merely a great ancient naval power, but an advanced undersea empire with mermaids and other aquatic folk.

Archaeological evidence for the existence of Atlantis is scant, and there are not many writings about the place in ancient times. Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher and he was the first to write about Atlantis (in 360 BCE) in his dialogues Timaeus , Critias , and Hermocrates. However, Critias is incomplete, and Hermocrates was probably never started. There's quite a lot about this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis, and if you'd like a copy of Timaeus and the first part of Critias, these are available from Gutenberg as free books. I'm considering publishing them on this site. Do you think that's a good idea?

The date when Atlantis was suggested to exist was about 9600 BCE. However, there are problems with assuming this to be fact. For one thing, the location suggested by Plato, somewhat West of Gibraltar, does not have underwater features that fit with such a story.

A more likely idea is that Plato was dramatising various events that were known at the time, most notably the untimely destruction of the Minoan civilisation. It was a civilisation that was advanced for the time, and a major naval power, and it was destroyed by devastating tsunami following the eruption of Thera. Evidence to back this theory up includes such things as the veneration of bulls in both the account of Atlantis and the evidence of the Minoan civilisation, and the description of Atlantis having concentric rings of land and water, which is also a likely feature of pre-eruption Thera. Thera erupted in 2600 BCE, finishing off the Minoans and leaving the story as ancient history even in the time of Plato.

It's worth considering Plato was much more interested in philosophy than accurate recording of historical facts, and as he had written The Republic which is about his ideas for an ideal society, he probably put it to the test by writing an experimental account of how that society would fare if threatened by a power with superior might. It's a bit like H G Wells and War of the Worlds, where it's not a true historical account of Martians attacking Victorian England, but more of a "what if?".

Also bear in mind that Ancient Greeks generally believed in The Golden Age, which is the concept that their present day age was a pale shadow of some previous era that was much more glorious.

Modern creative fiction has taken the ideas of "Atlantis" and run with it, producing a wealth of imaginative material. Such things as "Man from Atlantis", "Battle of Atlantis", etc. There's even a place called Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, an aquatic resort you can visit and have fun, and when people ask "Where did you go on holiday/vacation?", you can say "Atlantis". There is a certain style to this, but it's best to make sure you can afford it. (You can book your stay via that link).

Meanwhile, if you're hunting for Ancient Atlantis, it's worth considering which of the aspects of the legend you consider to be important, and to look for evidence. Scientific consistency is important, so don't ignore evidence that doesn't match the theory. Many Atlantis theories are scuppered because of modern knowledge of the deep ocean, and the incompatibility of recent history with deep time and geological evidence. For example, it's tempting to believe that there is a continent under the sea on which The Azores would be mountain peaks. However, the land would be a mile and a half down, and it has not changed in ten thousand years or even millions of years. Geology and sedimentology are consistent like that.

It's worth reading Plato's Timaeus and Critias, and comparing the account with known aspects of the ancient Minoan civilisation and how it was destroyed in a cataclysmic aquatic event.

Map: Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, showing Atlantis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From Mundus Subterraneus, published in Amsterdam in 1669. It's an old map, so out of copyright. Available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis. If you like North to be at the top of the map, you'll need to turn it the other way up, because on that map, South is at the top.Map of Atlantis
Then again, if you'd like to compare it with modern maps of the Atlantic Ocean, it might be handy if I just turn it the other way up!...
Map of Atlantis