What did Plato say about Atlantis?

What is atlantis

"Atlantis" is the name of an island that was discovered by the Greek philosopher Plato in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias around the year 360 BC. has been described. It has become common practice to call this island "Atlantis" without further ado, although in the original text "Atlantis" is not a name, but a grammatical form of "Atlas", the king of the island. In truth, the island was not called "Atlantis" but rather "Island of Atlas".

The dialogues Timaeus and Critias to read


On the island of Atlantis there is said to have been a large city with triple nested moats. It has become common practice to speak of the "city of Atlantis" without further ado, but in the original text this city has no name at all. The name of the people of Atlantis is also unknown. It has become common practice to call them "Atlanteans" without further ado.


In the Atlantis story, Plato described not one, but two ancient cities: primeval Athens and Atlantis. While Plato described Ur-Athens as an ideal state, which always remains an ideal state, Atlantis is falling more and more into decadence. By comparing the two state systems, Plato wanted to draw conclusions about the correct political philosophy.


According to Plato, the island of Atlantis in the Atlantic was directly west of the pillars of Heracles. The pillars of Heracles marked the Strait of Gibraltar in Solon's and Plato's time. Whether Atlantis really was there is of course the big question at the beginning of every Atlantis hypothesis.


No. The Atlantic was originally named after the Titan Atlas from Greek mythology. Plato replaces Titan as the namesake with King Atlas of Atlantis. Note that the King Atlas of Atlantis is not the same person as the Titan Atlas from Greek mythology!


According to Plato, Atlantis existed around 9,000 years before the time of Solon, i.e. around 9600 BC. Here, too, the question at the beginning of every Atlantean hypothesis is whether this can be true or how it should be interpreted.


This is not precisely stated in Plato. The rulers of Atlantis became more and more decadent. Therefore Atlantis started a war against ancient Athens and Egypt and other countries in the eastern Mediterranean. Sometime after Atlantis lost this war, it went under.


The only key word in Plato's text that can explain the process of destruction is "earthquake". There is no explicit mention of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, meteorites and other things. Note that ancient Athens was also destroyed in a catastrophe by earthquakes and rain.


According to Plato, the Greek gods first decided to punish the island of Atlantis in order to bring it back on the right path. Of course, that cannot have been the downfall. It is not known whether the gods later decided the downfall of Atlantis.


Plato advocates a theory of cyclically recurring catastrophes. The Atlantis catastrophe is said to have been the third catastrophe before Plato's time. Only Egypt is spared from the catastrophes, which is why knowledge of the past is preserved there. So the disaster in primeval Athens is not a punishment. Perhaps even the fall of Atlantis was not meant as a punishment?


The dialogue of Critias was probably never finished by Plato, which is why we do not know many details about Atlantis. We do not know why Plato did not finish the dialogue.


Plato writes that it came from Solon. Solon, in turn, allegedly brought them with him from Egypt. This narrative was in writing in Egypt after it was recorded in the days of the Atlantean war against Egypt. It is important that Plato himself says that he has supplemented the description of Ur-Athens a little so that it corresponds completely to his ideal state. He doesn't say that about Atlantis, because Atlantis is not an ideal state. So it is clear that not every detail of the narrative is a historical lore, but the gist could be historical.


There are basically three types of Atlantis hypotheses:
a) Invention: Atlantis is an invention of Plato, a so-called "Platonic Myth". That is the overwhelming majority opinion in science right now.
b) existence: Atlantis really existed, but it didn't look exactly as Plato described it. For certain errors have crept into the tradition, and Plato may have changed some details.
c) misunderstanding: Plato himself believed in Atlantis as a real place, but the tradition of Atlantis is only a summation of various tradition errors, so that there is no real Atlantis behind it.


No, unfortunately not. Neither the alleged location in front of Gibraltar, nor the alleged 9000 years, nor the strange tradition from Egypt ultimately provide a proof for or against the existence of Atlantis. A more detailed discussion of the difficulties can be found in the following article:

The labyrinth of Atlantis: wrong ways and dead ends of Atlantis research


It is certainly wrong that Atlantis was off Gibraltar, because that is where the sea floor has been explored today. It is certainly wrong that Atlantis was said to have been around 9600 BC. existed, because such a high culture at that time and such a long tradition are impossible. These high dates are a common mistake made by Greek historians of the time. If Atlantis was real, it wasn't that old. It is also certainly wrong that Atlantis was the size of a continent, because nowhere on earth was a continent sunk, especially not a few thousand years ago.
Hypotheses that see Atlantis as the origin of humanity or of a certain race, or that link esoteric content or modern inventions to it, are also certainly wrong: Because none of this occurs with Plato. The idea that Plato wanted to create a myth of deception with the Atlantis story, which was supposed to simulate a glorious past for the Athenians, is also certainly wrong. Because Plato openly admits that he supplemented the description of Ur-Athens so that Ur-Athens corresponds to his ideal state.


Of course it is forbidden to "downsize" Atlantis without good reason, or to convert the 9000 years to another date: You have to be able to justify this very well in individual cases and is one of the main tasks of a good hypothesis.


No. In ancient times, in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance and in the Baroque, people usually thought of Atlantis as a real place. It was not until 1800 that scientific opinion began to tip in the direction of invention.


Yes, there have always been scientists who saw the possibility that Atlantis could have been a real place, and it still exists today. These include Alexander von Humboldt, August Boeckh, Wilhelm Christ, Theodor Gomperz, Wilhelm Brandenstein, Massimo Pallottino, Spyridon Marinatos, John V. Luce, Eberhard Zangger, Herwig Görgemanns.


If it existed, Atlantis was probably a much smaller island with a not-so-ancient culture. Maybe it was in the Mediterranean. The hypothesis that the island of Crete or the island of Santorini was Atlantis is very problematic, but to get an impression of what could realistically be possible, this hypothesis is very well suited. The same is true of the theory that Troy was Atlantis.


the reader can now find their way around the extensive literature on Atlantis. In doing so, the reader will gradually learn to understand why this brief introduction made this or that statement with this or that word, and that this brief but precise introduction put the reader well into the picture. You will find what you are looking for!

Tips on introductory literature on Atlantis!

FAQ on the point of view of Thorwald C. Franke