The mystery of the ancient civilization of Atlantis, and its sudden disappearance into the depths of the ocean, have captured the imagination of thousands. The story has been retold in countless forms of modern media and remains a topic of genuine interest, but the situation continues that Atlantis is often considered myth and is dismissed as nothing more than legend. Still, the question persists, could it have been real? And while the answer is far from definitive, there remain some tantalizing clues hidden away in the text of one of Greece’s famed philosophers.
Timaeus and Critias are two of Plato’s later dialogues that were written shortly after The Republic in an attempt to clarify what an ideal republic would actually be. Timaeus, and later Critias, centers around the conversation of four speakers known as Timaeus, Critias, Socrates and Hermocrates. In addition to discussing the nature of the physical world and the purpose of the universe, Timaeus recounts the existence of an ancient island civilization that was unmatched in power and prosperity. And it was only after a failed invasion of Athens that this society disappeared beneath the waves, never be seen again.
It is said that during the creation of the universe, the various lands of the known world were divided among the gods. These deities would act as patrons to the lands and would guide them to prosperity. In the way a shepard might lead sheep, so were the gods determined to direct their flock to happiness. Therefore, it was the god of the sea, Poseidon, that was given dominion over a massive island nation known as Atlantis.
“This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles” – Plato, from Timaeus
Atlantis was described as larger than ancient Asia and Libya combined. It existed far out in the Atlantic ocean, in front of the straits known as ‘The pillars of Heracles’. The story goes that when Poseidon first took responsibility for the well being of Atlantis, he fell in love with a mortal girl Cleito. Together they had many children, who would eventually rule over the civilization of Atlantis. The first king fathered by Poseidon was named Atlas, who would have a large and extensive family. Atlantis was then divided into ten kingdoms and all the children of Atlas would govern over these separate kingdoms peacefully.
On Atlantis there was a mountain in the center of the land. Atop the mountain, there was a glorious temple constructed in honor of Poseidon. The inhabitants would regularly offer sacrifices to their patron god and worship him faithfully. Within the temple of Poseidon there existed a column which was inscribed with all the laws of Atlantis. It described how the massive nation would be governed and it lead the inhabitants to live peacefully and prosperously. The ten kings lived in harmony and celebrated in each other’s friendship and love and did not concern themselves with the superficial treasures that can poison a kingdom.
“they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.”- Plato, from Critias
Although Atlantis lived peacefully for some time, they eventually were overcome with the desire to conquer and consume. It is said that the mighty nation of Atlantis launched an invasion on Athens with the intent to conquer all of Greece and Asia. Being threatened with slavery and subjugation, Athens responds militarily, and defeated the invading Atlantians, then sent them back to the sea. It is at this time that great earthquakes seize the island nation. Floods consumed the once peaceful nation, and in the span of one day and night, Atlantis sunk beneath the waves forever. This is described by Plato when he writes:
“in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.” -Plato, from Timaeus
Read Part 2 here