/at lan"tis/, n.
a legendary island, first mentioned by Plato, said to have existed in the Atlantic Ocean west of Gibraltar and to have sunk beneath the sea, but linked by some modern archaeologists with the island of Thera, the surviving remnant of a much larger island destroyed by a volcanic eruption c1500 B.C. Cf. Akrotiri.

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Legendary sunken island in the Atlantic Ocean west of Gibraltar.

The main sources for the legend are two of Plato's dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. According to Plato, Atlantis had a rich civilization, and its princes made many conquests in the Mediterranean before earthquakes destroyed the island and it was swallowed up by the sea. Plato also supplied a history of its ideal commonwealth, and Atlantis is sometimes imagined as a utopia. The legend may have originated with the eruption с 1500 BC of a volcano on Thíra, which was so powerful that it gave rise to earthquakes and tidal waves.

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▪ legendary island
also spelled  Atalantis, or Atlantica,  

      a legendary island in the Atlantic Ocean, lying west of the Straits of Gibraltar. The principal sources for the legend are two of Plato's dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. In the former, Plato describes how Egyptian priests, in conversation with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, described Atlantis as an island larger than Asia Minor and Libya combined, and situated just beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar). About 9,000 years before the birth of Solon, the priests said, Atlantis was a rich island whose powerful princes conquered many of the lands of the Mediterranean until they were finally defeated by the Athenians and the latter's allies. The Atlantians eventually became wicked and impious, and their island was swallowed up by the sea as a result of earthquakes. In the Critias, Plato supplied a history of the ideal commonwealth of the Atlantians.

      Atlantis is probably a mere legend, but medieval European writers who received the tale from Arab geographers believed it to be true, and later writers tried to identify it with an actual country. After the Renaissance, for example, attempts were made to identify Atlantis with America, Scandinavia, and the Canary Islands. The story of Atlantis, if Plato did not invent it, may in fact reflect ancient Egyptian records of a volcanic eruption on the island of Thera about 1500 BC. This eruption, one of the most stupendous of historical times, was accompanied by a series of earthquakes and tsunamis that shattered civilization on Crete, thereby perhaps giving rise to the legend of Atlantis.

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Universalium. 2010.

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