A Philosopher’s Imaginary Realm
Circa 360 BC, the philosopher, Plato, wrote in his Timaeus and Critias dialogues about a utopian, advanced, and dramatically lost country that vanished beneath the waves. That kicked off the legend of Atlantis. In popular culture today, Atlantis is presented as a peaceful and wise country, and an idealized model of what humanity could be. That was not Plato’s Atlantis, though. He wrote about a rich, technologically advanced, and militarily powerful country that was corrupted by its power. It tried to conquer the world, and the good guys in Plato’s narrative were not the good people of Atlantis, but Athens and her allies, who fought back. If Plato’s Atlantis existed today, it would probably try to conquer and enslave us all.
That Atlantis was eventually sunk by the gods as punishment for its people’s hubris and moral decline. It was entirely fictional – a plot device to advance some philosophical points. Centuries later, many people began to believe that Atlantis was real, and tried to prove its existence. The legend’s revival in the modern era and its transformation into popular pseudoscience can be traced back to a nineteenth century amateur historian and Congressman, Ignatius Donnelly. He wrote an 1882 book, The Antedeluvian World, in which he added new “facts” that became part of the Atlantis myth. He also theorized that all key human advances can be traced back to Plato’s sunken island. Is there any archaeological evidence, though, that Atlantis ever existed?