For my entire life, I have been fascinated by the myth of Atlantis – a legendary civilization under the sea, filled with magic and wonder and fantasy, and possibly holding the deepest wisdom known to man that could solve problems such as world peace. And I’m not the only one. People have spent entire fortunes and lives looking for Atlantis, based on the limited evidence of its existence, and the fact that it may contain not only wisdom, but also valuable and ancient treasures.
A lot of you may have heard about Atlantis from the Disney movie that I myself loved as a child, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I’m pretty sure that’s actually where I heard about it as well! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching it if you’re interested in this whole topic, for a fun little fictional story about a bunch of adventurers in search of the lost empire, Atlantis. But it’s important to know that Disney, as it is with most of the classic Disney movies, is not responsible for coming up with the original idea, in this case, of there existing a mythical city under the Atlantic. This also includes the many portrayals of the ocean-city in video games, books, and more.
But the questions remain, after thousands of years of speculation: is it fact or fiction? Is there really a land under the sea, or did there used to be, and it was destroyed somehow? How could it even possibly exist when it pretty much defies nature and science altogether?
The first time we heard about Atlantis was in 335 B.C., in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. That is, his two dialogues entitled Timaeus and Critias.
In his writings, Plato describes Critias retelling a story he told from his grandfather who heard it from Solon who heard it from the Egyptians. The story went on to tell of an island in the Atlantic Ocean called Atlantis, which ruled over other islands and parts of the continents of Africa and Europe. Atlantis was a powerful and mighty empire until one day, when a war was waged on the remainder of Asia and Europe. Atlantis attacked, but was defeated by Athens. When the war was over, violent earthquakes and floods occurred, sinking Atlantis into the sea.
Could it be that Plato used this dialogue as a way to bring awareness to the reality of Atlantis? Probably not, but it is interesting to think of. The reason why the Atlantis story started gaining so much credibility and conspiracy was its impact on literature including Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis and Thomas More’s Utopia. These literary creations sparked the imagination of audiences far and wide, and Atlantis soon came to be a subject of curiosity and speculation, which turned it into a mythical island that may actually exist, like that of El Dorado or Avalon.
Historians and literary experts agree that the story of Atlantis was a tale of literature designed to teach a lesson, as is the case with all of Socratic dialogue. Timaeus and Critias are no exceptions, and are simply parables, likely not to foretell of some civilization under the sea, but to warn of the implications of war and how easily a civilization, no matter how mighty, can fall. The powerful do not always win – and they have much to lose.
As much as I want to believe in Atlantis, it seems to me that it was just a made-up fantasy civilization by Plato. But who is to say that an underwater civilization doesn’t exist? In fact, the Celts have their own version of a powerful city flooded by the sea. It just may not be Atlantis . . . and maybe Plato really was hinting to the true existence of such a place, whether he knew it or not.