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The Real Destruction of Atlantis

October 20, 2015

The legend of Atlantis comes from Plato. In Timaeus and particularly Critias, written around 360 B.C., the Greek philosopher describes an island society ruling a great empire. But the Atlanteans’ pride angers the gods, who destroy the island with floods and earthquakes, sending it beneath the sea.

Terror Antiquus by L. Bakst (1908)

Terror Antiquus by L. Bakst (1908)

The story has fascinated Westerners for centuries. Many scholars consider Atlantis entirely fictional, but others think Plato based the story on history. The leading contender for the real Atlantis is the Minoan settlement on the island of Thera (a.k.a. Santorini).

The Minoans were Bronze Age people who lived on the large island of Crete and built great palaces there. We don’t know what they called themselves, but we use the name “Minoans” because of the Greek myth of Crete’s King Minos. Crete’s palace of Knossos was a giant maze to the more primitive Greeks across the Aegean Sea, and the palace elites enjoyed watching acrobats jump over charging bulls. So real history probably gave rise to the Greek myth of Minos, king at Knossos, and the Minotaur (bull-headed monster) in a maze under the palace. The Minoans build towns on Aegean islands other than Crete, including Thera, which lies between Crete and Greece. The Minoans of Thera and elsewhere likely dominated the Greeks through sea power, so stories of empires and excessive pride make sense, from a Greek point of view. Anyway, Thera was a volcano, and sometime around 1600 B.C., it erupted spectacularly, sending most of the island beneath the sea and wiping out the Minoan towns there. According to the theory, the Greeks never forgot Thera, and Plato gives us its history as the tale of Atlantis.

This is one of the stories told in my book, The Jericho River: A Novel About the History of Western Civilization. Please buy a copy to read more!

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© 2015 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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