Atlantis, also spelled Atalantis or Atlantica, a legendary island in the Atlantic Ocean, lying west of the Strait of Gibraltar. The principal sources for the legend are two of Plato’s dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. In the former, Plato describes how Egyptian priests, in conversation with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, described Atlantis as an island larger than Asia Minor and Libya combined, and situated just beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar). About 9,000 years before the birth of Solon, the priests said, Atlantis was a rich island whose powerful princes conquered many of the lands of the Mediterranean until they were finally defeated by the Athenians and the latter’s allies. The Atlantians eventually became wicked and impious, and their island was swallowed up by the sea as a result of earthquakes. In the Critias, Plato supplied a history of the ideal commonwealth of the Atlantians.
Atlantis is probably a mere legend, but medieval European writers who received the tale from Arab geographers believed it to be true, and later writers tried to identify it with an actual country. After the Renaissance, for example, attempts were made to identify Atlantis with America, Scandinavia, and the Canary Islands. The story of Atlantis, if Plato did not invent it, may in fact reflect ancient Egyptian records of a volcanic eruption on the island of Thera about 1500 bce. This eruption, one of the most stupendous of historical times, was accompanied by a series of earthquakes and tsunamis that shattered civilization on Crete, thereby perhaps giving rise to the legend of Atlantis.
Atlantis (Ancient Greek: Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος, Atlantis nesos, “island of Atlas”) is a fictional island mentioned in an allegory on the hubris of nations in Plato’s works Timaeus and Critias, wherein it represents the antagonist naval power that besieges “Ancient Athens”, the pseudo-historic embodiment of Plato’s ideal state in The Republic. In the story, Athens repels the Atlantean attack unlike any other nation of the known world, supposedly bearing witness to the superiority of Plato’s concept of a state. The story concludes with Atlantis falling out of favor with the deities and submerging into the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite its minor importance in Plato’s work, the Atlantis story has had a considerable impact on literature. The allegorical aspect of Atlantis was taken up in utopian works of several Renaissance writers, such as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis and Thomas More’s Utopia. On the other hand, nineteenth-century amateur scholars misinterpreted Plato’s narrative as historical tradition, most famously Ignatius L. Donnelly in his Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. Plato’s vague indications of the time of the events (more than 9,000 years before his time) and the alleged location of Atlantis (“beyond the Pillars of Hercules”) gave rise to much pseudoscientific speculation. As a consequence, Atlantis has become a byword for any and all supposed advanced prehistoric lost civilizations and continues to inspire contemporary fiction, from comic books to films.
While present-day philologists and classicists agree on the story’s fictional character, there is still debate on what served as its inspiration. Plato is known to have freely borrowed some of his allegories and metaphors from older traditions, as he did, for instance, with the story of Gyges. This led a number of scholars to investigate possible inspiration of Atlantis from Egyptian records of the Thera eruption, the Sea Peoples invasion, or the Trojan War. Others have rejected this chain of tradition as implausible and insist that Plato created an entirely fictional account, drawing loose inspiration from contemporary events such as the failed Athenian invasion of Sicily in 415–413 BC or the destruction of Helike in 373 BC.