Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher
Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher

Freaky Friday: The Lost City of Atlantis

February 13, 2023

Over the course of history, hundreds, maybe even thousands of civilizations have been lost to time or destroyed by humanity. Such civilizations include the Mississippians, The Maya empire, the Khmer empire, and many, many more. But of all of these lost civilizations,  none are as famous or as legendary as the Lost City of Atlantis.

Building A City in A Day, Losing An Empire in A Night

Atlantis, or the Island of Atlas in Greek, is a fictional city that was created by the Greek philosopher, Plato. It was said that Atlantis was bigger than Asia Minor and Libya combined. The city was to have existed in 9,600 BC and was featured in Plato’s works Timaeus and Critias. The city was meant to stand as an enemy to Ancient Athens. The empire collapsed after the gods of ancient Greece became angry with Atlantis, causing the once great city to become submerged under the Atlantic Ocean.

The myth of how Atlantis came to be was that the Greek god, Poseidon, fell in love with a mortal female named Cleito. Together, they had five sets of twin boys, of whom the eldest was named Atlas. Each of the sons was given a large piece of the island to rule over. Each of the kings had ten generations of children, which thinned their divine blood and left them vulnerable to the corrupt nature of their luxurious lifestyle.

The message Platos wanted to tell using Atlantis was that material wealth, luxury, and personal belongings were bad and could cause people to become violent. The city of Atlantis was full of wealth and luxury, but because they were human and flawed, their vices and corrupt nature caused them to lose everything. Platos wanted to show that the people of Athens were pure and tossed out luxury for a Spartan lifestyle and that they had no personal belongings. This shows that the purpose of Atlantis was to serve as a foil to the city of Athens.

The Lost City in the Media

Atlantis is a place surrounded by mystery, so it’s no wonder that people have started creating their own interpretation of the city. Some people depict the city as being more technologically advanced and having some mystic element to it.

One of the most popular versions of Atlantis is the city in Aquaman. In all versions of the sea superhero, Aquaman has heritage in the lost city and the Atlanteans live in a functioning society under the sea.

Another somewhat well-known interpretation of the lost city comes from the Disney film: Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It shows the remains of a great civilization that was destroyed because of their own pride and ambition. The only thing keeping them alive was a magical crystal that holds back the ocean, saving the city from complete and utter destruction.

Another depiction from Disney comes from an episode of Phineas and Ferb, titled “Atlantis”, in which the main characters locate Atlantis and attempt to raise it back to the surface.

The Search for Atlantis

On the surface, the Atlantic Ocean seems like the perfect place to search for a lost continent. The Atlantic Ocean and Atlantis share a very similar name, and there are plenty of archipelagos where the civilization might have been located. In fact, there is a submerged island called Spartel in the Strait of Gibraltar that would have been the right size to support a city-state like Atlantis.  However, the island’s sinking was due to rising ocean levels after the end of the last Ice Age, making it very unlikely that a Bronze-Age civilization would have inhabited it before it was swallowed up by the sea.

Doggerland is a large area of land that once connected the British Isles to mainland Europe. It was a vast expanse of land, with a large variety of terrains and fauna, which would have made it an ideal place for early humans to form hunter-gatherer civilizations. In fact, several artifacts have been found that prove early humans may have thrived in the region. The location is considered a real-life Atlantis by some due to its sudden submergence by the sea during the last Ice Age. Despite this connection, it is unlikely that Plato was referring to Doggerland in his writing. Like Spartel, it would have disappeared long before the rise of the Greeks, and therefore wouldn’t have been a threat to ancient Athens.

Most historically proposed locations for the lost city are in the Mediterranean Sea, including islands such as Sardinia, Crete, Sicily, and Cyprus. Crete is notable because it was home to the Minoans in the 1000s BC before the Minoan Civilization was destroyed by a tsunami caused by a massive volcanic eruption in 1600 BC. More clues hinting towards Atlantis being in the Mediterranean include the Pillars of Heracles, a series of mountains near the Laconian Gulf, that was mentioned in Plato’s work.

An Island-Sized Lie

It’s said that the story of Atlantis was first learned about when a man named Solon took a journey to Egypt sometime around 580 BC and translated ancient Egyptian records that told the myth of Atlantis. It was also learned that there was a time when Athens stopped an invasion from Atlantis nearly nine thousand years before.

There is no record that these events ever took place, so it is a very big possibility that Platos could have made these events up. During the time that Platos told the story of Atlantis, the city of Athens had only been around for a few centuries, so there was no way that the city could have stopped an invasion of an island empire nine thousand years prior.

An Empire Lost to the Ages

People are fascinated with the idea of a civilization long lost to time. So much so that even today, we’re searching for where the great city possibly once stood, even if it’s completely possible that Platos made the city up in his stories. Something about the idea of this great empire that sank under the ocean fascinates people, causing them to create their own fictional version of the city and to search for any proof or evidence that it existed in the first place.

Was Atlantis a real place? Was the island a fictional creation made up from the mind of Plato or did Solon really learn about the city on a trip to Egypt? Perhaps we will never know. Perhaps the real Atlantis doesn’t want to be found, and would rather stay hidden from the world on land. If this is the case, then maybe it’s best that we leave the lost civilization, not forgotten, but forever surrounded by mystery and myth.

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