Atlantis the Lost Empire
This is a research paper on Atlantis I did in school a couple of years ago. The images that accompany it can be found here It is in the nature of humanity to believe in things that cannot be proven. Every civilization in history has legends and myths. The legend of Atlantis, a lost continent, has survived for over 2000 years, a myth found in many texts and movies. Writers have created whole pantheons for Atlantis. While there may have been an island that sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Plato’s Atlantis is hidden in the remnants of a destroyed civilization in the Mediterranean Sea.
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Plato tells the readers of Timaeus “In a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men [the Greeks] in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in a like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea (Plato “Timaeus” 446). ” In his dialogues, Atlantis is an island, ringed by water, ringed by earth, which is in turn ringed by water with one more ring of land surrounding the island, all in concentric circles (see figure 1). These islands were divided between the ten kings of Atlantis. The Atlanteans built a grand temple of gold and orichalcum (a metal second in value only to gold), dedicated to Poseidon.
This temple, along with a magnificent castle, sat on a hill in the center circle. In order to have access to the center of the island, the Atlanteans constructed a canal: “Beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia [5. 75 miles] in length . . . (Plato “Critias” 482)” (See figure 2). The canal led to the development of a grand harbor, from which thousands of ships sailed for trade, exploration and empire building. Atlantis conquered all of the Mediterranean except for Greece (the nation that eventually defeated them).
They had the strongest navy their world had ever seen, and a technological advantage over all of their enemies. Atlantis supposedly possessed hot and cold running water, plumbing, and many “modern” conveniences. Their technology made their lives easier, so they had many artisans and wonderful architecture (Plato “Critias” 483). Even though Atlantis had this technology, they had a religious festival that utilized the most primitive of weapons. The ten kings of the island would hunt a bull using nooses, rather than impale it with spears or arrows, then sacrifice the bull to Poseidon, their patron and, according to Plato, their ancestor.
After the sacrifice, the Atlantean monarchs would sit in judgment over their empire. Atlantis met its end at the hands of the Athenians. The Athenian army had grown tired of the domination of the Atlanteans, and fought a bitter battle with them for dominion of the Mediterranean Sea. When the Greeks won, the Atlantean army returned to their island, which was racked by waves and earthquakes until it sank into the depths of the sea. Plato tells a fine story, but some argue that it was simply an analogy for a utopian society that grew corrupt. Plato had invented other lands for the purposes of edification.
Atlantis could be just like these other lands that only existed in Plato’s imagination. It has the hallmarks of an epic legend – a race of men that were the children of a god (Poseidon), advanced technology and a mysterious end. Also, he says, “They despised everything but virtue (Plato “Critias” 485). ” To the Athenians, that would have seemed an optimal civilization. People still wonder if such a perfect place could have existed. There are many reasons to accept Atlantis as real. First, we have the words of Plato himself. He states numerous times that it was a true story, something he never did for his purely fictional nations.
In addition, he says that he heard the story from Solon, the great lawmaker of Athens, who heard it from the Egyptians. Solon was a great man, revered by the Athenians for his wisdom and diplomacy (Plutarch). Plato would not have used Solon’s name to lend credence to a work of his imagination. Second, research into medieval maps by Professor Charles Hapgood and his students at Keene State College reveals a system of latitude and longitude that could not have been constructed in the middle ages, or even by the great Greek, Roman or Arabian civilizations.
They did not have the tools needed –making accurate maps based on longitude and latitude requires accurate time keeping and calculus. In addition, these maps are much more accurate than other maps drawn in the same period. Some of these maps show the coast of Antarctica without ice. A map from 1532 shows the Ross Sea free of ice, even though ice cores and carbon dating tell us that the Ross Sea froze over 10,000 years ago (see map 1). It is impossible that a medieval cartographer could have mapped the Ross Sea without the Ross Sea Shelf.
He must have copied the map from an older map, a chain that stretched back 10,000 years – into the middle of the Paleolithic Age, the very beginning of the Holocene epoch (the current post-ice age era). According to archeologists, there was not a civilization – that had been discovered – advanced enough to have created these maps, lending weight to Plato’s tale of a lost empire. There is no one “solution” to the problem of Atlantis. In today’s society of disenchantment, many say that it was simply a fantasy, a parable to warn the Athenians away from hubris.
Some archeologists say that they found Atlantis in the Mediterranean Sea – on the isle of Crete. Yet others say that Atlantis really resided in the Atlantic Ocean, but was destroyed by whatever killed the Atlanteans, and will never be found (Keyes). The realists who say that Atlantis was a story cite the lack of evidence of the historic empire. If it was so advanced, there should have been some trace of the island remaining. These people think that, even if Atlantis was wiped from the earth, some Atlanteans would have been off the island, and we should have seen some trace of their civilization appear in other nations.
The very fact that there is no proof for the existence of Atlantis supports their beliefs. Those who take Plato at his word argue that, if it sank to the bottom of the sea, it would be difficult to find. Deep Sea exploration is still being developed, and though the entire Atlantic Ocean floor has been mapped, there is little to no digging under the sediment. A massive disturbance in the ocean, such as an island violently falling beneath the waves, would have disturbed the sediments and left the island covered. It is possible that Atlantis lies beneath the sand at the bottom of the ocean, and that is why it has not been found.
Plato took the time to explain what the island looked like, their resources and how it came into existence. Details are the heart of good writing, but Plato simply carries it too far for it to be a story. If it was to be a parable, instead of describing the place, he would have described the government and why they were destroyed, especially as he grew older. Plato died before he could finish “Critias,” and it was supposed to be the second of a trilogy. He would have known that he was nearing the end of his life – he was rather old (about 85) – and spent his remaining time on teaching, not describing, if that was why he wrote the story.
Another theory, a very recent one, is that Atlantean Kingdom was the Minoan Empire, and the island of Atlantis was Thera. There are many striking similarities between Plato’s account of Atlantis and what archeologists have discovered in a buried Minoan city on the island remaining above the sea. In addition, the history of trade in the Mediterranean allows connections to be drawn, explaining why Egyptians had records of the destruction of Atlantis. Even better for this theory: Thera now lies beneath the waves, where before there was a tall volcano, a volcano that collapsed in a single day as it wreaked havoc on the Mediterranean.
Thera (Place of Fear) was originally called Kalliste (Place of Beauty) until the volcano on the island erupted. It was an island where all edible fruit grew (much like Atlantis. ) Little is known about Thera because little remains above the sea. What is known is that Thera is an atoll, the circular shape reminiscent of Plato’s description of Atlantis. The eruption of the volcano would have caused tsunamis in the Mediterranean, tsunamis that caused the floods that Plato asserts destroyed both the Atlanteans and the Greeks.
Thera was also home to many springs, which could be Plato’s hot and cold fountains (Plato “Critias” 482). Thera fits what we know of Atlantis’ geography (Pellegrino). When the volcano exploded, it covered surrounding cities in 200 feet of ash. Now, archeologists are digging up a preserved city buried underneath, one that has been undisturbed for 3000 years. The city, dubbed Akrotiri for the modern city built atop the ash, has murals, pottery, indoor plumbing/bathrooms and buildings that would not be out of place in New York City. These innovations were far ahead of other places, and fit what Plato described for Atlantis.
The physical evidence points towards Thera as a place for the birth of the Legend of Atlantis (Pellegrino). The Egyptians give more evidence for the case of Thera. They called Thera “Keftiu,” or roughly “Sky Pillar (Pellegrino 48). ” When this was translated to Greek, they would have related it to Atlas, the man who was turned into a mountain by Perseus, and on whom the heavens rested (Bulfinch, 118). From Atlas, who was supposedly the first of the ten sons of Poseidon and the greatest of Atlantis’ kings, Plato derived both the word Atlantis, and the name for the Atlantic Ocean.
Plato says that Solon translated the Egyptian names to Greek, so it is conceivable that the name of the Lost Empire was translated as well. One more fact calls for the examination of “Timaeus” and “Critias” in relation to Thera: Thera was part of the Minoan Empire, an empire that revered bulls. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is derived from the Minoan worship of bulls – a trait that Plato gives Atlantis. In the myth, Theseus goes to Knossos (Crete) to defeat the half-human, half-bull Minotaur residing in a labyrinth, winning freedom from the tribute that Athens paid every year (Bulfinch 152).
The legend of the Minotaur may be another remnant of the Atlantean story. Proponents of the Thera theory have answers for almost every argument raised against the idea. The biggest problem is the location of Thera, and the timeframe of the volcanic eruption. Thera is found in the mid-eastern part of the Mediterranean, while Plato placed Atlantis outside the Pillars of Hercules, in the Atlantic Ocean. Thera erupted 900 years before Plato’s time, whereas Plato says Atlantis sank into the sea 9000 years before he told the story.
This can easily be explained by the human tendency to exaggerate when telling a story, much like the “whopper story” – a caught fish, really eight inches long, becomes two or three feet long. Plato may have exaggerated (or maybe Solon did) to make the story sound better. In addition, there is a scientific premise called Occam’s Razor, which states that for any problem, the simplest solution is usually correct. Based on the evidence found in Crete, the Minoan civilization would appear to be the simplest solution to the problem of Atlantis.
Artwork from Egypt that allegedly depicts the Minoans tells us that they were advanced, as Atlantis probably was. Based on what archeologists know, the theory seems probable. The largest problem with that argument is that the Egyptians told Solon that the Atlantis/Greek battle took place 1000 years before the rise of the Egyptian civilization. Egyptian society became based on a hunter-gatherer and fishing culture sometime from 10000-9000 BC, about 8500 years before Plato. Unless the Egyptians were ignorant of their own history, either Solon or Plato would have had to change what the Egyptian tale said, since Thera exploded around 1600 BC.
They may have done so to make the story sound better, but this evidence detracts from the Thera solution to the Atlantean legend. There is one other possibility – Plato took the history of Thera and mixed it with tales of a disappearing island in the Atlantic Ocean. Exploration of the seas has revealed islands that slowly sank beneath the waves, much like Hawaii is slowly sinking today. Other civilizations have stories of disappearing lands, such as Avalon, from the legends of King Arthur, the Mayan land of Mu, and an island in the Indian Ocean, Lemuria.
It is interesting that all of these civilizations have stories of vanishing isles, and that we have maps that could not have been drawn by any known civilization other than our own. Deep-sea exploration indicates that islands that used to be active volcanoes slowly sank after they stopped erupting. These “disappearing” islands may have been seen, and may have inspired the myths of vanishing islands. The myths, if seen by some as more than legend, could have inspired many stories, including the exaggeration of the tale of Atlantis.
There is an island on top of what is today the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that disappears in a series of maps (Hapgood 65). Plato tells his readers that Atlantis was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That island over the Mid-Atlantic ridge could have inspired the location of Atlantis, even if it did not meet a violent end. Perhaps Plato merged history with myth, creating a new legend that has kept historians, archeologists, oceanographers and novelists dreaming, searching and creating. When searching for Plato’s Atlantis, archeologists need not look farther than Thera, 200 miles southeast of Greece.
This may disappoint some. After all, Atlantis is supposed to be more mysterious than a land destroyed by a volcano, but the evidence (and Occam’s Razor) weighs heavily on the side of the Thera theorists. The Atlantis legend has been brought to life in a dig site underneath the city of Akrotiri, but not all of the mysteries have been solved. There is plenty of digging left to do, and many things to be discovered – how to read the language of the Minoans, for example. As time wears on, the legend of Atlantis will be replaced by the true story of Thera, a story just as fascinating as Plato’s tale of a destroyed utopia.