Category: Plato in 80 entries

The Myth of Atlantis

The myth of Atlantis is located both in the beginning of Plato's Timaeus, and in the unfinished dialogue Criatias. Critias, an Athenian oligarch, recounts the story that was passed on to him as a kid by Solon, who, in turn, had learned it by Egyptian priests.

Atlantis was a big island situated in the Atlantic ocean. The island developed into a mighty naval power. In its apogee, Atlantis accumulated great wealth, and built a huge army and fleet. Nine thousand years before Critias' account of the myth, Atlantis, in an attempt to conquer all nations, embarked on an overseas expedition in the Mediterranean sea.However, they were blocked by the resistance of Athens. Abandoned by all their allies, Athenians repelled the intruders and freed the enslaved countries. Their victory was credited to the constitution of the city - evidently, a scaledown version of Plato's ideal city. The triumph of Athens fell into oblivion because Athenians never archived any records. Thus, when the world was struck by a cataclysm, Greece lost its memories of the past. In addition to that, the arrogance of Atlantis incurred Zeus' punishment who plunged the island into the sea.

The myth of Atlantis is the most widely-known myth of antiquity; a myth that has stirred the imagination more than any other. Plato's narrative is so impressive and realistic that many construed the myth as a historical document. Since antiquity tones of ink have been shed in investigations in the identity, and the exact time and place of the lost island. Various hypotheses have placed Atlantis in Palestine, India, Spanish islands, Sweden and America; while a well-known theory identifies it with Minoan Crete, which was probably destructed by the Santorini volcanic eruption circa 1500 B.C.

For all that, we have to admit that the myth is fascinatingly conjured up by Plato. Ancient commentators puzzled out the myth with allegorical metaphysical interpretations. Proclus, for example, associated Atlantis with infinity, and Athens with finitude. Nevertheless, the reduction of the myth to political terms is lent more plausibility. The situation of ancient Athens being under the threat of a barbarian intruder evokes in mind Athens of Marathon. Therefore, the modern historian Vidal-Naquet proposed the attractive intrpretation that the mythical conflict between proto-Athens and Atlantis betokens the contrast between the unified and continental Athens of Marathon, and the posterior nautical and volatile democratic Athens of Pericles.

Author: Vassilis Kalfas
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