The lost city of Atlantis is a legend that survives for thousands of years. According to the myth, it was a utopian civilization with a great naval power. Founded by semi-gods, Atlantis was one of the most affluent and successful city-states in the Mediterranean region. But its people soon started getting greedy and believing they are the greatest in the world. Until the great city sank and disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Is this story real? What is the connection to Plato, the philosopher? And if it is not real, could it be based on a true story? Today, we are resurfacing the story of Atlantis.
Plato’s Allegory of Atlantis
The story of Atlantis is a made-up story, and the creator is no other than the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. The philosopher was using allegories to make his points clear. In a previous video, we discussed Plato’s allegory of the “Cave” and its symbolisms. But what is the allegory of the lost city of Atlantis about?
In the Socratic dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias”, both written in 360 BC, Plato describes the conversations between his teacher, Socrates, with other thinkers of his time. These include the Pythagorean philosopher Timaeus of Locri and the Athenian politician and author Critias. Although Plato is not involved in the conversation, the main ideas and allegories are attributed to him.
Plato used the city of Atlantis as an example of what “hybris” can do to humanity. How an affluent state can sabotage itself. Hybris is any wrongful action against the divine order, usually stemming from over-confidence. Odysseus, for example, committed Hybris when he attacked a Cyclops for self-defense reasons but, instead of stopping there, he started teasing and mocking him. You can compare it with the concept of bad karma.
Atlantis, according to the philosopher, was a Mediterranean civilization, close to modern-day Gibraltar, that existed thousands of years before Plato’s birth and the beginning of the Classical Era. It was a land surrounded by sea and, from the description, we understand that it was a giant island. It was ruled by kings and it had well-organized military and naval forces. The city had an excellent irrigation system, and its land was fertile. Its god-protector was Poseidon, the god of the sea, and bulls were their sacred animals.
But the rulers of Atlantis were not satisfied with how successful the city was and wanted to dominate the world. Its army started occupying nearby lands and steal their resources. They would enslave people and force them to work for their own benefit. But one small city-state, Athens, wanted to stop the imperialistic plans of Atlantis. The Athenians managed to defeat the Atlantian army and even liberate some of the nearby occupied lands.
What followed was a period of decline for the city of Atlantis. Not only that, but a natural catastrophe gave Atlantis the final blow. Hit by earthquakes and floods, the legendary city sank and disappeared from the face of the Earth. Its rulers and citizens had committed hybris. Blinded by success, they became greedy and wanted more, even if others had to suffer.
Could It Be Real?
Scholars agree that the story of Atlantis is fictional. Plato is widely known for his imagination and his ability to craft stories to make his points clear. There is no proof that this civilization existed but there are several theories: that Atlantis was located in Santorini, in Spain, even in the Bermuda Triangle. These theories are considered pseudoscientific, rather than scientific.
But could Plato have been inspired by real events and then came up with this fictional city? This is possible. Plato could have been inspired by the destruction of the Minoan civilization (3000 BC – 1100 BC), the first advanced civilization in Europe. The civilization bears a lot of similarities with Atlantis: both located in the Mediterranean, both were islands, both were dedicated to god Poseidon, and both considered bulls as sacred animals.
Just like Atlantis, the Minoans suffered from a series of natural disasters, mostly earthquakes, until the great catastrophe known as the Minoan eruption. A catastrophic volcanic eruption that submerged part of the island of Santorini and caused enormous tsunamis that destroyed the ports of the Minoans in Crete. Not only that, but the ashes that covered the nearby lands, made the soil infertile, causing famine. Archaeologists speculate that this catastrophe caused the decline of this great civilization.