Atlantis, Lost Lands & Liminal Places: The Lure of the Unknown


The purpose of this series of essays is to examine the Atlantis narratives in Plato's dialogues Timaeus & Critias. The historical background of the Mediterranean world in the early-to-mid 4th century BC will be summarised and claims within the dialogues that the narrative represents and account of historical events [Timaeus 20d, 21d, 26e; Critias 109a, 110a, 111d] originally revealed to the Athenian statesman Solon by Egyptian priests will be examined. The place of the narrative within the context of the Platonic corpus, as well as whether or not it was deliberately intended by Plato to illustrate a utopian society unmade by arrogance will be touched upon. The majority of the work endeavours to identify possible sources which Plato could have used in the construction of the narrative.

Atlantis. The sunken utopia of the ancient world described in Plato's dialogues Timaeus & Critias1 2. Is it myth? Allegory? Fact? Many have sought it and have expended many hours of research on the subject, producing a breadth of of all manner of weird, wonderful, interesting & odd material. Writing in the 19th century, the American politician & writer – and arguably the father of a host of modern notions of Atlantis – Ignatius L. Donnelly3 regarded Atlantis as the wellspring for myths & legends of a primordial earthly paradise and its destruction as the Ur-flood myth. Alongside this, Donnelly first posited the notion that survivors of the cataclysm went out into various cultures, thus supplying the founders of numerous civilisations across the globe. Others have posited locations in widely-separated places still problematically above sea level: in the wake of the European discovery of the Americas, notions associating this continent with Atlantis were not unforthcoming4. More recently, Jim Allen5 a located it in South America, finding the prototype for Plato's submersion in a story of indeterminate date about a lake breach which was supposedly carried to Egypt by South American sailors. A denizen of that continent, Arysio Nunes dos Santos6, however, claims that Atlantis was located in Indonesia. During the last glacial maximum, a large swathe of land now covered by the sea, termed Sundaland, was exposed. "Sundaland," according to the scientist Sunil Prasannan, "fits the bill" as Atlantisb, despite its being located in completely the wrong part of the worldc. Additionally, based on the Piri Reis map, the bizarre notion that Atlantis was really an ice-free Antarctica has also been put forward, despite the start of the current glaciation on the southern continent being established as having taken place somewhere in the region of 45.5 million years ago7. Other hypotheses suppose a European location: for example E. J. de Meesterd thought it was in southern England, with Stonehenge inevitably providing a cornerstone of his thesis. The seventeenth century Swedish medic Olaus Rudbeck8 located Atlantis almost literally in his own back yard, suggesting that Gamla Uppsala was the location of the Atlantean capital. Additionally, Atlantis has been sought within the Mediterranean, most commonly in suggestions that the eruption of Thera represents the "reality" behind Plato's account. More outlandish fare is to be had from spheres such as those featured in The History Channel's Ancient Aliense: one of the show's principal contributors, mercurial Greek-American publisher & bodybuilding promoter Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, has stated his belief that Atlantis "lifted offf." Some people would regard it as one of Donovang's more thought-provoking treatises, others among the worst Aquarian excesses of the hippy era. Graham Hancockh, the doyen of lost Pleistocene civilisation researchers, says: -

I avoid using the word Atlantis in my books because most people when they hear the word Atlantis immediately think that they're dealing with the lunatic fringe.

Platonic scholars would dispute this: in contrast to Hancock's contention there is a wealth of academic material by many eminent scholars covering the subject of Atlantis. For the majority of these academics, Atlantis is no more than what Kathryn A. Morgan9 terms a "hybristic island empire" developed by Plato as a foil for his ancient Athenians, whose society is developed along the lines he sets out in his Republic, and whose development & demise forms part of a "noble lie," designed as a charter myth for contemporary Athens. Are scholars within academia reluctant to seek a real Atlantis due to fears of ridicule, thus leaving the Atlantis hunting to interested dilettantes? The erudite historian of Early Modern Britain & contemporary Paganism, Ronald Hutton10, states: -

[O]ne of the quickest ways to create a major impact in academe is to prove the truth of something that has hitherto been derided or dismissed.

The discovery of Troy is commonly cited as an example of such a paradigmic redefinition. However, only tantalising snippets have emerged suggesting an Achaean presence at the site11 and the reality of the city does not vouch for the reality of Homer's war. Similarly, there is a weight of scientific evidence against Atlantis having ever existed in the general region in which Plato (who was, it must be said, a philosopher rather than a historian) located it. As such, the literal truth of the account in its entirety is extremely unlikely. Consideration of the truth or otherwise of the account will be given elsewhere.

Athanasius Kircher's Atlantis map.

A series of pages on the mythical prehistory of various aspects of Plato's lost island.

Socrates cameo.

The dramatis personae: characters from the Timaeus & Critias.

Text of Hellanicus of Lesbos.

Atlantis in the work of other ancient Greek & Roman authors.

The Cadmaea at Thebes.

Some historical background to Plato & Atlantis.


The western location of Atlantis.

A grey alien.

Assessing the claims of others about Atlantis & its location.


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