Atlantis: The Biography of a Legend Critical Essays

Marjorie Braymer


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As Plato tells it, Atlantis was a huge island west of the Pillars of Hercules in the Atlantic Ocean. When invaders from Atlantis threatened the eastern Mediterranean, the Athenian army defeated the attackers. Later, Athens was devastated by earthquakes and floods, and Atlantis was destroyed by earthquakes so powerful that the island was completely swallowed up in a day. Whether Plato’s Atlantis really existed—and if so, where it existed—have been disputed for centuries by believers in the legend. Places as far apart as Spain, Mongolia, Nigeria, Brazil, Greenland, and Yucatán have had their supporters.

The notes that Plato summarized from Solon told how Poseidon, the god who ruled the sea and stirred up earthquakes, built for his wife, Cleito, a hilltop palace surrounded by three rings of water and two of land. Plato describes in detail the resulting Metropolis and its environs, abundant in everything (including herds of elephants) needed to develop a great civilization. The government was just and the domestic life was peaceful until the spark of divinity that the island inherited from Poseidon died out. At this time, the citizens became undisciplined and their rulers grew overreaching in ambition. Beholding these conditions, Zeus assembled the Olympian gods to pronounce his punishment for Atlantis, but Plato never reveals Zeus’s judgment. His story breaks off abruptly with the words “and when he had gathered them together, he said . . . .” This is all that is known from Plato.

Over the years, self-designated “Atlantologists” propagated much nonsense about the legendary city. One of the most interesting figures who turn up in the story is a young missionary friar, Diego de Landa, who arrived in Yucatán in 1550 and by 1562 was that region’s bishop. Although Bishop Landa did not...

(The entire section is 744 words.)