Lost cities have captured the imaginations of many throughout time. The idea that a whole civilization could have vanished without a trace has both fascinated and challenged.
The first accounts of Atlantis stem from the works of Greek philosopher Plato. Written in 360 BC, Critias is the source upon which all subsequent studies of Atlantis are based.
Plato described Atlantis as a veritable paradise, with fertile land abundant in fruits. Water was also plentiful, with a series of canals, as well as hot and cold water, which was diverted into at least three separate bathing pools.
Atlantis is portrayed as being constructed in a series of circles, central to which was a temple. In the middle of this temple stood a gold statue of the god Poseidon driving a chariot pulled by six winged horses- “of such a size that he touched the roof of the building with his head”.
Animals were also important, with elephants being mentioned to illustrate how plentiful food was.
The inhabitants of Atlantis are portrayed as loving art, beauty and knowledge, with an empire that stretched into Europe and North Africa.
According to Critias, Atlantis suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Athenian army followed by a sudden earthquake, this caused devastating tidal waves. The Athenian army was lost and Atlantis was swallowed into the sea “in a single day and night.”
The Inhabitants of Atlantis
Plato does not give a physical description of the inhabitants of Atlantis, but theories abound based upon various opinions.
These range from the interpretation of Plato’s words, (that the Atlantians were of superior intellect and had access to advanced technology) to the more unusual (that they were a hybrid race of aliens and human beings).
Some sources cite the people of Atlantis as being the most handsome in history, with one woman (Cleito) tempting Poseidon himself.
The Location of Atlantis
Opinions of the location of Atlantis vary. Plato describes it as being to the west of “the pillars of Herecles,” now known as the Gibraltar straits, which would indicate an area possibly near the Azores Island.
Others theorize that Crete could, in fact, actually be Atlantis. Crete was the seat of the Minoan empire, and the Minoan people were known to be an advanced and sophisticated culture. They mysteriously disappeared, possibly following a natural disaster on a nearby island.
The Case For Atlantis
In the text of Critias, Plato states several times that the story is the truth. The text is also very detailed, some believe this points to an oral tradition (Critias claims that the story was passed down through generations).
The description of Crete is also very similar to that of Atlantis, making it a plausible location.
The Case Against Atlantis
Together with this is the problem of the time frame, Plato claims that the events described took place 9,000 years before. Modern anthropology claims that it is impossible for such an advanced society to have existed at that time.
The theory of Crete also raises some questions, with the time frame again causing problems. The disappearance of the Minoans took place around 900 years before Plato’s writing. Crete is also situated to the east of the Gibraltar Straits.
It is argued by some that Atlantis is fictional, created by Plato to demonstrate the dangers of becoming too greedy as a civilization. According to historian Strabo, Plato’s students claimed that Atlantis was purely fiction.
The riddle of Atlantis will only be solved after extensive exploration. However, with no exact location, it may be some time before the ocean reveals it’s secrets.