by Eleanor Van Zandt and Roy Stemman
circa - 1976

The riddle of Atlantis is among the greatest of the world's unsolved mysteries. Where, for a start, was the exact site of this huge island civilization? did it really, as early historians reported, vanish from the earth in a day and a night? Small wonder that since the earliest times scholars, archaeologists, historians, and occultists have kept up an almost ceaseless search for its precise whereabouts.


Beginning with the Greek philosopher Plato's first description of the lost land that was apparently "the nearest thing to paradise on Earth," this chapter examines in detail the basic evidence for the existence and cataclysmic destruction of Atlantis.

(Note: Plato was not the first one to know about Atlantis. He was the first to describe it in detail. Pythagoras taught Plato what he knew)

Of all the world's unsolved mysteries, Atlantis is probably the biggest. Said to have been a huge island continent with an extraordinary civilization, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, it is reported to have vanished from the face of the earth in a day and a night. So complete was this devastation that Atlantis sank beneath the sea, taking with it every trace of its existence. Despite this colossal vanishing trick, the lost continent of Atlantis has exerted a mysterious influence over the human race for thousands of years. It is almost as though a primitive memory of the glorious days of Atlantis lingers on in the deepest recesses of the human mind.


The passage of time has not diminished interest in the fabled continent, nor have centuries of skepticism by scientists succeeded in banishing Atlantis to obscurity in its watery grave. Thousands of books and articles have been written about the lost continent. It has inspired the authors of novels, short stories, poems, and movies. Its name has been used for ships, restaurants, magazines, and even a region of the planet Mars.


Atlantean societies have been formed to theorize and speculate about a great lost land. Atlantis has come to symbolize our dream of a once golden past. It appeals to our nostalgic longing for a better, happier world; it feeds out hunger for knowledge of mankind's true origins; and above all it offers the challenge of a genuinely sensational detective story.

Today the search for evidence of the existence of Atlantis continues with renewed vigor, using 20th century man's most sophisticated tools in the hope of discovering the continent that is said to have disappeared around 11,600 years ago. did Atlantis exist, or is it just a myth? Ours may be the generation that finally solves this tantalizing and ancient enigma.

Atlantis is said to have been the nearest thing to paradise that the earth has seen. Fruits and vegetables grew in abundance in its rich soil. Fragrant flowers and herbs bloomed n the wooded slopes of its many beautiful mountains. All kinds of tame and wild animals roamed its meadows and magnificent forests, and drank from its rivers and lakes. Underground streams of wonderfully sweet water were used to irrigate the soil, to provide hot and cold fountains and baths for all the inhabitants. - There were even baths for the horses.


The earth was rich in precious metals, and the Atlanteans were wealthier than any people before or after with gold, silver, brass, tin, and ivory, and their principal royal palace was a marvel of size and beauty. Besides being skilled metallurgists, the Atlanteans were accomplished engineers. A huge and complex system of canals and bridges linked their capital city with the sea and the surrounding countryside, and there were magnificent docks and harbors for the fleets of vessels that carried on a flourishing trade with overseas countries.

Whether they lived in the city or the country, the people of Atlantis had everything they could possibly want for their comfort and happiness. They were a gentle, wise, and loving people, unaffected by their great wealth and prizing virtue above all things. In time, however, their noble nature became debased. No longer satisfied with ruling their own great land of plenty, they set about waging war on others. Their vast armies swept through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean region, conquering large areas of North Africa and Europe.


The Atlanteans were poised to strike against Athens and Egypt when the Athenian army rose up, drove them back to Gibraltar, and defeated them. Hardly had the Athenians tasted victory when a terrible cataclysm wiped out their entire army in a single day and night, and caused Atlantis to sink forever beneath the waves. Perhaps a few survivors were left to tell what happened. At all events, the story is said to have been passed down through many generations until, more than 9200 years later, it was made known to the world for the first time.

The man who first committed the legend to paper was the Greek philosopher Plato, who in about 355 B.C. wrote about Atlantis in two of his famous dialogues, the Timaeus and the Critias. Although Plato claimed that the story of the lost continent was derived from ancient Egyptian records, no such records have ever come to light, nor has any direct mention of Atlantis been found in any surviving records made before Plato's time. Every book and article on Atlantis that has ever been published has been based on Plato's account; subsequent authors have merely interpreted or added to it.

Plato was a master storyteller who put his philosophical ideas across in the form of apparently real-life events with well-known characters, and his Atlantis story might well have been firmly relegated to the realms of fiction. The very fact that it is still widely relegated as a factual account 2300 years after he wrote it shows the extraordinary power of Plato's story. It has inspired scholars to stake their reputation on the former existence of the lost continent, and explorers to go in search of its remains.


Their actions were prompted not by the Greek story alone, bit also by their own discoveries, which seemed to indicate that there must once have been a great landmass that acted as a bridge between our existing continents.


Why, ask the scholars, are there so many remarkable similarities between the ancient cultures of the Old and New Worlds? Why do we find the same plants and animals on continents thousands of miles apart when there is no known way for them to have been transported there?

Map of Atlantis by the 17th-century German scholar Athanasius Kircher. Kircher based his map on Plato's description of Atlantis as an island west of the Pillars of Hercules - the Strait of Gibraltar - and situated Atlantis in the ocean that has since been named after the legendary land. Unlike modern cartographers, he placed south at the top of the map, which puts America at the right.


How did the primitive peoples of many lands construct technological marvels, such as Stonehenge in Britain, the huge statues of Easter Island in the Pacific and the strange sacred cities of the Andes? Were they helped by a technically sophisticated race that has since disappeared?


Above all, why do the legends of people the world over tell the same story of an overwhelming natural disaster and the arrival or godlike beings who brought with them a new culture from a far? could the catastrophe that sank Atlantis have sent tidal waves throughout the glove, causing terrible havoc and destruction?


And were the 'gods' the remnants of the Atlantean race - the few survivors who were not on or near the island continent when it was engulfed?


Even without Plato's account, the quest for answers to these mysteries might have led to the belief by some in a 'missing link' between the continents - a land-bridge populated by a highly evolved people in the distant past. Nevertheless, it is the Greek philosopher's story that lies at the heart of all arguments for or against the existence of such a lost continent.

Plato intended writing a trilogy in which the Atlantis story plays an important part, but he completed only one of the works, Timaeus, and part of the second, Critias. Like Plato's other writings, they take the form of dialogues or playlets in which a group of individuals discuss various political and moral issues. Leading the discussion is Plato's old teacher, the Greek philosopher Socrates.


His debating companions are Timaeus, an astronomer from Italy, Critias, a poet and historian who was a distant relative of Plato, and Hermocrates, a general from Syracuse. Plato had already used the same cat of real-life characters in his most famous dialogue, The Republic, written some years previously, and he planned his trilogy as a sequel to that debate, in which the four men had talked at some length about ideal government.

Plato set the meeting of the four men in Critia's house in June 421 B.C. Timaeus begins on the day following the debate recorded in The Republic, and the men start by recalling their previous conversation. Then Hermocrates mentions "a story derived from ancient tradition" that Critias knows. Pressed for details, Critias recalls how, a century and a half earlier, the great Athenian statesman Solon had visited Egypt (Solon was a real person and he did visit Egypt, although his trip took place around 590 B.C., so 20 years earlier than the date given by Plato.)


Critias says that while Solon was in Sais, an Egyptian city having close ties with Athens, a group of priests told him the story of Atlantis - "a tale that, though strange, is certainly true." Solon made notes of the conversation, and intended recording the story for posterity, but he did not do so. Instead he told it to a relative, Dropides, who passed it on to his son, Critias the elder, who eventually told his grandson, another Critias - the man who features in Plato's dialogues.

In Timaeus Critias gives a brief account of what the priests had told Solon. According to ancient Egyptian records there had been a great Athenian empire 9000 years earlier (that is, in about 9600 B.C.) At the same time there had been a mighty empire of Atlantis based on an island or continent west of the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) that was larger than North Africa and Asia Minor combined. Beyond it lay a chain of islands that stretched across the ocean to another huge continent.

The Atlanteans ruled over their central island and several others, and over parts of the great continent on the other side of the ocean. Then their armies struck eastward into the Mediterranean region, conquering North Africa as far as Egypt and southern Europe up to the Greek borders.

"This vast power, gathered into one, endeavored to subdue at one blow our country and yours," said the Egyptian priests, "and the whole of the region within the strait. . ."Athens, standing alone, defeated the Atlanteans.


"But afterward there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of destruction all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in a like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is so much shallow mud in the way, caused by the subsidence of the island."

Socrates is delighted with Critias' story, which as "the very great advantage of being a fact and not a fiction." However, the rest of Timaeus is taken up with a discourse on science, and the the story of Atlantis is continued in Plato's next dialogue, the Critias, where Critias gives a much fuller description of the island continent. He goes back to the island's very beginning when the gods were apportioned parts of the earth, as is usual in ancient histories.


Poseidon, Greek god of the sea and also of earthquakes, was given Atlantis, and there he fell in love with a mortal maiden called Cleito. Cleito dwelled on a hill in Atlantis, and to prevent anyone reaching her home, Poseidon encircled the hill with alternate rings of land and water, "two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe." He also laid on abundant supplies of food and water to the hill, "bringing up two springs of water from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold, and making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil."

Poseidon and Cleito produced 10 children - five pairs of male twins - and Poseidon divided Atlantis and its adjacent islands among these 10 sons to rule as a confederacy of kings. the first born of the eldest twins, Atlas (after whom atlantis was named), was made chief king. The kinds in turn had numerous children, and their descendants ruled for many generations.

Ass the population of Atlantis grew and developed, the people accomplished great feats of engineering and architecture. They accomplished great feats of engineering and architecture. The built palaces and temples, harbors and docks, and reaped the rich harvest of their agricultural and mineral resources.


The kings and their descendants built the city of Atlantis around Cleito's hill on the southern coast of the island continent. It was a circular city, about 11 miles in diameter, and Cleito's hill, surrounded by its concentric rings of land and water, formed a citadel about three miles in diameter, situated at the very center of the impressive city.

The kings built bridges to connect the land rings, and tunnels through which ships could pass from one ring of water to the next. The rings of land were surrounded by stone walls plated with precious metals, and another wall ran around the entire city. The outermost ring of water became a great harbor, crowded with shipping.

A huge canal, 300 feet wide and 100 feet deep, linked the great harbor with the sea at the southern end, and joined the city to a vast irrigated plain, sheltered by lofty mountains, which lay beyond the city walls in the north. This rectangular plain, measuring 230 by 340 miles, was divided into 60,000 square lots, assigned to farmers.


The mountains beyond housed "many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers, and lakes, and meadows, supplying food for every animal, wild or tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind of work." the inhabitants of the mountains and of the rest of the country were "a vast multitude having leaders to whom they were assigned according to their dwellings and villages." These leaders and the farmers on the plane were each required to supply men for the Atlantean army, which included light and heavy infantry, cavalry, and chariots.

Plato and Critias paint a vivid picture of Atlantean engineering and architecture with an attention to detail that bears the hallmark of a very factual account. Critias tells how the stone used for the city's buildings was quarried from beneath the island (Cleito's hill) and from beneath the outer and inner circles of land.

"One kind of stone was white, another black, and third red, and as they quarried they at the same time hollowed out docks within, having roofs formed of the native rock. Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, which they intermingled for the sake of ornament, to be a natural source of delight."

But it was into their magnificent temples that the Atlanteans poured their greatest artistic and technical skills. In the center of the citadel was a holy artistic and technical skills. In the center of the citadel was a holy temple dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon and this was surrounded by an enclosure of gold. Nearby stood Poseidon's own temple, a superb structure covered in silver, with pinnacles of gold.


The roof's interior was covered with ivory, and lavishly decorated with gold, silver, and orichate - probably a fine grade of brass or bronze - which "glowed like fire." Inside the temple was a massive gold statue of Poseidon driving a chariot drawn by six winged horses and surrounded by 100 sea nymphs on dolphins. This was so high that its head touched the temple roof. Gold statues of Atlantis' original 10 kings and their wives stood outside the temple.

Critias tells of the beautiful buildings that were constructed around the warm and cold fountains in the center of the city. Trees were planted between the buildings, and cisterns were designed - some open to the heavens, others roofed over - to be used as baths.

"There were the kinds' baths, and the baths of private persons, which were kept apart; and there were separate baths for women, and for horses and cattle , and to each of them they gave as much adornment as was suitable.


Of the water that ran off they carried some to the grove of Poseidon, where were growing all manner of trees of wonderful height and beauty, owing to the excellence of the soil, while the remainder was conveyed by aqueducts along the bridges to the the outer circles; and there were many temples built and dedicated to many gods; also gardens and places of exercise, some for men, and others for horses in both of the two islands formed by the zones (rings of water) ; and in the center of the larger of the two there was set apart a racecourse of a stadium (about 607 feet) in width, and in length allowed to extend all around the island, for horses to race in."

At alternate intervals of five and six years the 10 kings of Atlantis met in the temple of Poseidon to consult on matters of government and to administer justice. During this meeting a strange ritual was enacted. After offering up prayers to the gods, the kings were required to hunt bulls, which roamed freely within the temple, and to capture one of them for sacrifice, using only staves and nooses.


The captured animal was led to a bronze column in the temple, on which the laws of Atlantis were inscribed, and was slain so that its blood ran over the sacred inscription. After further ceremony, the kings partook of a banquet and when darkness fell they wrapped themselves in beautiful dark-blue robes, sitting in a circle they gave their judgments, which were recorded at daybreak on tablets of gold.

In the course of time, the people of Atlantis began to lose the love of wisdom and virtue that they had inherited from Poseidon. As their divine nature was diluted and human nature got the upper hand, they became greedy, corrupt, and domineering. Whereupon, says Plato,

"Zeus, the god of gods, who rules by law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honorable race was in a most wretched state, and wanting to punish them that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into his most holy abode, which, being placed into his most holy abode, which, being placed in the center of the universe, sees all things that partake of generation. And when he had called them together he spoke as follows..."

And there, enigmatically, and frustratingly, Plato's story of Atlantis breaks off, never to be completed. Some regard the Critias dialogue as a rough draft that Plato abandoned. Others assume he intended to continue the story in the third part of his trilogy, but he never even started that work. He went on, instead, to write his last dialogue, The Laws.

Controversy has raged over Plato's story ever since he wrote it 2300 years ago. Was his account fact, part-fact, or total fiction? Each explanation has its inherents, and each has been hotly defended over the centuries. Plato's story certainly presents a number of problems. Critics of the Atlantis theory claim that these invalidate the story as a factual account. Supporters maintain that they can be accepted as poetic license, exaggeration, or understandable mistakes that have crept in during the telling and retelling of the story over many centuries before Plato reported it.

The greatest stumbling block is the date that the Greek philosopher gives for the destruction of Atlantis. The Egyptian priests are said to have told Solon that Atlantis was destroyed 9000 years before his visit, in about 9600 B.C., which is far earlier than any known evidence of civilization.


Supporters of Atlantis point out that modern discoveries are constantly pushing back the boundaries of human prehistory and we may yet discover that civilization is far older than we think. However, Plato makes it clear that in 9600 B.C., Athens was also the home of a mighty civilization that defeated the Atlanteans. Archaeologists claim that their knowledge of Greece in the early days of its development is sufficiently complete to rule out the possibility of highly developed people in that country as early as 9600 B.C. Their evidence suggests that either Plato's story is an invention or he has the date wrong.

Assuming that Plato's facts are right but his date wrong, what evidence do we have to support his account of the origin of the Atlantis story? Bearing in mind that the war was principally between Atlantis and Athens, it seems odd that there were no Greek records of the battle, and that the account would have originated in Egypt. However Plato has an explanation for this. The Egyptian priests are said to have told Solon that a series of catastrophes had destroyed the Greek records, whereas their own had been preserved. The problem here is that if the Egyptian disappeared as completely as Atlantis itself.

Supposing that Solon did hear about Atlantis during his Egyptian trip, is it credible that such a detailed story could have been passed down through the generations as Plato asks us to believe? This is not impossible, because the art of accurate oral transmission was highly developed in the ancient world. Moreover, Solon is said to have taken notes of his conversation with the priests, and Critias claims that these were handed down to his relatives.


However, here again we encounter a difficulty. For whereas in one place Critias states that he is still in possession of Solon's notes, in another he declares that he lay awake all night ransacking his memory for details of the Atlantis story that his grandfather had told him. Why didn't he simply refresh his memory from Solon's notes? And why didn't he show the notes to his three companions as incontrovertible proof of the truth of his rather unlikely story?

Yet another problem is that Plato dates the meeting of Socrates, Timaeus, Critias, and Hermocrates, during which Atlantis is discussed, as 421 B.C. Plato may have been present during their conversation, but as he was only six years old at the time, he could hardly have taken in much of their discussion, let alone made detailed notes of it. Either his account is based on records made my someone else, or the date is wrong, or this part of his story at least is an invention.

Critics of the Atlantis story believe that it is simply a myth invented to put across the great philosopher's views on war and corruption. Plato used real people in his other dialogues, and put his words into their mouths, too, as a dramatic device to present his ideas. There is no reason say the detractors, to assume that Timaeus and Critias are different in this respect, but Plato seems to expect his readers to draw different conclusions.


He is at great pains to stress the truth of his account, tracing it back to Solon, a highly respected statesman with a reputation for being 'straight-tongues,' and having Critias declare that the Atlantis story, "though strange, is certainly true." And why, if his sole intention was to deliver a philosophical treatise, did Plato fill his account with remarkable detail and then stop abruptly at the very point where we would expect the "message" to be delivered?


In spite of the errors and contradictions that have found their way into Plato's account, his story of Atlantis can still be viewed as an exciting recollection of previously unrecorded events.

History provides us with many examples of supposedly mythical places and subsequently being discovered. For example, Homer wrote about the Trojan War and subsequent research has shown that it was based on real historical events. Troy has since been found and dug up. In 1871, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schlieman excavated in Hissarlik and uncovered Troy just where Homer had placed it over 1000 years previously in his epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.


As the Irish scholar J.V. Luce observes in his book The End of Atlantis: "classical scholars laughed at Schlieman when he set out with Homer in one hand and a spade in the other, but he dug up Troy and thereby demonstrated the inestimable value of folk memory Sir Arthur Evans did much the same thing when he found the labyrinthine home of the Minotaur at Knossos." Indeed, Sir Arthur Evans revealed that a highly advanced European civilization had flourished on the island of Crete long before the time of Homer, some 4500 years ago.

This should be justification enough to keep an open mind on Plato's account. The problem is that whereas Troy and Knossos were simply buried. Atlantis could be submerged hundred or even thousands of feet beneath the waves. And the force of the destruction may have destroyed the remains beyond recognition.


However, if Plato's account is based on fact, then we know that the Atlanteans traded with their neighbors.. In this case there would be some evidence of their influence and culture in lands that survived the catastrophe. Believers in Atlantis have furnished us with a formidable array of such "proofs". Certainly there are scattered around the glove to lend support to the idea of a highly advanced, Atlantean-type civilization that was responsible.

Although Plato appears to place Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean and early cartographers did likewise, numerous scholars and other Atlantis enthusiasts have since scoured the globe for more likely sites. Surprisingly, these have not always been in the ocean.


The lost kingdom of Atlantis has been "found" at various times in the Pacific Ocean, the North Sea, the Sahara desert, Sweden, southern Spain, Palestine, Cyprus, Crete, the West Indies, and Peru, but to name a few.