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Extract from Plato's Timaeus and Critias

This extract from the work of Plato (circa 427 - 347 BC) is the first appearance in classical literature of the Atlantis myth. It is supposed to be part of a story told by Plato's great grandfather (Critias), who heard it from his great-grandfather (Dropides), who heard it from an Athenian traveller (Solon). The narrator is an Egyptian priest talking to Solon. It is supposed to describe a historical war between the ancient Athenians and the legendary Atlantis. 'Our records show how your city checked a great power which arrogantly advanced from its base in the Atlantic Ocean to attack the cities of Europe and Asia. For in those days the Atlantic was navigable.

There was an island opposite the strait which you call the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar), an island larger than Libya (Africa) and Asia combined; from it travellers could in those days reach the other islands, and from them the whole opposite continent which surrounds what can truly be called the ocean. For the sea within the strait we were talking about is like a lake with a narrow entrance (the Mediterranean sea); the outer ocean is the real ocean and the land which entirely surrounds it is properly termed continent. On this island of Atlantis had arisen a powerful and remarkable dynasty of kings, who ruled the whole island, and many other islands as well and parts of the continent; in addition it controlled, within the strait, Libya up to the borders of Egypt and Europe as far as Tyrrhenia (Italy). This dynasty, gathering its whole power together, attempted to enslave, at a single stroke, your country and ours and all the territory within the strait. It was then, Solon, that the power and courage and strength of your city became clear for all men to see. Her bravery and military skill were outstanding; she led an alliance of the Greeks, and then when they deserted her and she was forced to fight alone, after running into direst peril, she overcame the invaders and celebrated a victory; she rescued those not yet enslaved from the slavery threatening them, and she generously freed all others living within the Pillars of Hercules.

At a later time there were earthquakes and floods of extraordinary violence, and in a single dreadful day and night all your fighting men were swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis was similarly swallowed up by the sea and vanished; this is why the sea in that area is to this day impassable to navigation, which is hindered by mud just below the surface, the remains of the sunken island' Translation by Sir Desmond Lee, first published 1965, Penguin Classics. Although Plato describes Atlantis as an island in the Atlantic Ocean, and some Canarian writers have associated Atlantis with the Canaries, it is now generally believed that the Atlantis myth is a memory of Minoan Crete, a civilisation which was overwhelmed by the volcanic explosion of the Mediterranean island of Santorini in the fifteenth century BC.