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What is Atlantis?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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Atlantis is an ancient island that sank into the ocean, according to the Classical Greek philosopher Plato, who tells the story in his dialogues. While most people today believe that the story is simply an allegory, the idea of a lost continent has captured public imagination since the days of Plato. Atlantis was supposedly home to an advanced civilization that had conquered many nations before failing in combat against Athens and collapsing into the ocean during an earthquake.

It is a matter of speculation whether or not the idea of Atlantis or a similar island predates Plato, as no earlier ancient sources are known. In the Classical era, philosophers and historians were divided over whether or not the story had any basis in fact. Though some claimed to have proof of the island's existence, none of it was definitive. Some writers of the ancient era wrote their own stories of vanished utopias that appear to parody Plato's tale.

In the Middle Ages, the story of Atlantis was largely forgotten, but it resurfaced during the Enlightenment, when Francis Bacon used it as a symbol of Utopia in his The New Atlantis (1626). Bacon's account is similar to that of Plato, except that Bacon places the island in the Americas. In the late 19th century, the idea of the island as a real historical place regained popularity, and many expeditions sought proof of its existence. Scholars theorized a link between it and Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs. Atlantis was often portrayed as a very advanced society, with technology surpassing that of the present, and it began to interest those in Spiritualist circles.

Though Plato portrayed Atlantis as a flawed society, the antithesis to the ideal of Athens, the missing island became increasingly interpreted as a pinnacle of culture and enlightenment in the modern era. While the current understanding of plate tectonics has made the possibility of it as a real place unlikely to say the least, the vanished continent remains a powerful cultural symbol. It often appears in science fiction and fantasy works of all kinds, from books and films to video games and cartoons.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Historical Index editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon285531 — On Aug 16, 2012

Hindu traditions speak of partly sunken islands of the ocean called by names such as Atala, Patala, Shveta-Dvipa ("Pure Land") or Saka-Dvipa ("White Islands"). These paradisial islands were the remains of a vast sunken continent which they called Rutas.

This sunken continent they cited was somewhere in the outer ocean that encircled the (ancient) world. The sinking of this vast continent was ascribed to the collapse of its Holy Mountain, called Meru or Atalas. This collapse also caused the skies to fall and to asphyxiate that paradisal land which subsequently sunk in the (Indian) ocean. It is from this myth of Atala and its Holy Mountain, Atalas, that the Greeks got their myths on Atlas and on Atlantis.

By anon185937 — On Jun 13, 2011

It is inaccurate to say that plate tectonics makes Atlantis unlikely. The fact is that it was a supervolcanic island off Portugal that exploded and sank in the 17th century BC. Supervolcanoes can occur anywhere and do not contradict plate tectonics in any way (See Roots of Cataclysm, Algora Publ. NY 2009).

By OceanSwimmer — On Nov 18, 2010

@chrisinbama: Plato was known as a classical Greek philosopher. He was born with the given name of Aristocles on 428-7 B.C.E and died in 348-7 B.C.E. at around 80 years old. The fundamentals of Western philosophy were laid out by the trio of Plato, Socrates (his teacher) and Aristotle (his student).

Plato was born into a wealthy family. His parents were Ariston and Perictione. His family had political connections but was not looked at as being commendable people.

Plato started his philosophical career under Socrates’ guidance. After the death of Socrates, Plato traveled to Egypt and Italy and studied in Pythagoras. He remained an advisor for the rulers of Syracuse. Upon his return to Athens, he started his own academy. He tried to use to Socratic teaching style with his students. The academy was closed down because many considered his teachings a threat to Christianity.

By chrisinbama — On Nov 18, 2010

I would like some more information about Plato if anyone could help out. Thanks.

By StormyKnight — On Nov 18, 2010

Some stories about Atlantis say that over 11,000 years ago, this island was populated by a powerful and noble race of people. It is said that they possessed great wealth due to the natural resources found on their island. The island was the center for trade and commerce.

Plato speaks of Atlantis as having walls constructed of white, red, and black rock that was quarried from the moats. Every passageway into the city was guarded by gates and towers.

The island was the domain of the god of the sea, Poseidon. When Poseidon fell in love with a mortal woman named Cleito, he created a dwelling on top of a hill in the center of the island. He surrounded the dwelling with rings of land and water that were supposed to protect her.

It is said that a violent surge of some sort destroyed the island. Some speculate an earthquake, tsunami, or volcano. Atlantis and its people were swallowed by the sea.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Historical Index editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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