Atlantis: Myth or History?

Atlantis figures prominently in the novel ARIADNE:A Tale of the Minotaur, and had a part in MEDUSA as well. Plato describes Atlantis in his essay Critias and goes into great detail, describing the political structure, size, geography, and history of the island. Plato didn’t view the island nation as some type of utopia, but rather as a prior rival. The Atlanteans had conquered then world up into Egypt and Libya, but were finally cast out of much of Europe by the Athenian forbearers.  The Atlantis of Plato’s work was located west of the Pillars of Hercules (Gibralter). In other words, in the Atlantic Ocean, the ocean that was named for the fabled land. If Plato’s accounts are to be believed, Atlantis would be more properly termed a continent rather than an island.

Plato placed Atlanta’s zenith as several thousand years prior to his own. Other writers, including some older than  Plato, confirmed the existence of a powerful and advanced Island nation called Atlantis, with varying accounts of its size, dated,  and location. Oddly enough, some of these ancient writers point to existing hieroglyphics in Egypt which confirmed the accuracy of these stories. These hieroglyphics no longer exist or have not been rediscovered. The Egyptians themselves describe as being attacked by powerful “Sea People” and some equate these to the Atlanteans.

The story of an advanced island nation that was destroyed by the gods by either quake or catastrophic flooding is a common one through much of Europe, northern Africa, and the near East. The stories are too widespread and similar to be coincidental. Could there have indeed been an ancient Atlantis? 

Many scholars believe that the tales relate to the civilizations arising from Crete. Prior to the rise of classical Greece, the Minoan civilization (named for Minos) was the predominant power of the Mediterranean, both culturally and politically. These Island kingdoms were far advanced than their contemporaries and included the islands of Crete and Santorini (Thera). To the early inhabitants of the Greek mainland living in mud and thatch huts and fishing in primitive barks, the sight of a Minoan galley sailing into harbor with dozens or oars rhythmically splashing and its huge sail with a bull motif catching the breeze must have seemed magical. The traders and soldiers wearing fine woolens and linens dyed in beautiful patterns and bearing swords and armor of beautifully wrought bronze must have made them seem almost like gods. But somewhere in the 16th or 17th century BC the civilization abruptly vanished. The explanation seems to be the Thera volcanic eruption, a catastrophic volcanic event that devastated Crete and Santorini Island, another proposed location for events. Some researchers believe that Plato was working with mistranslations of ancient Egypt to report size and distance. If “hundreds” was substituted for “thousands”, his accounts would have been archeologically accurate.

Fresco at Santorini
But there are other explanations. Professor Freund from Connecticut has found ruins in Spanish Andalusia  submerged under swampy water which he claims could be the location of Atlantis. Tantalizingly close to the Pillars of Hercules, a program was devoted to his research on the National Geographic channel. Researchers have also pointed to ancient ruins in many other Mediterranean locations as well as Africa, Turkey, Ireland, and even North America. 

Did Atlantis exist? Probably. It was likely a civilization more sophisticated that its neighbors that was destroyed by a natural catastrophe. The take home lesion is the same today as it was in Plato’s day: Don’t get Poseidon mad at you!