The lost city of Atlantis was said to be an ideal, utopian society, flourishing under the noble leadership of 10 princes who swore an oath to the gods to never let greed, arrogance, or hate interrupt the peace of their righteous civilization. It was technologically advanced beyond our comprehension even today, a prosperous maritime trading post, an inspiring world leader. That is, until human nature - ego - got in the way as it so often does. Atlantis quickly fell from grace, smote by the gods, destroyed in a single day by earthquakes and floods, lost to the ages. But did you know, the questionably true story of Atlantis ironically inspired some of the most arrogant and hate filled atrocities ever committed by man? Let’s fix that.
Hello, I’m Shea LaFountaine and you’re listening to History Fix where I discuss lesser known true stories from history you won’t be able to stop thinking about. Ever since episode 10 about the Great Pyramid power plant theory, which is hands down my most popular episode, if you haven’t listened to that one yet you definitely should. But ever since I made that episode, I can’t stop thinking about this ancient apocalypse theory and how the lost city of Atlantis fits into that alternate narrative of world history.
To be honest, I was hesitant to make an episode about Atlantis because it verges more into the occult as opposed to history and this is a history podcast after all. But then again, it just might seem occulty because so little is known about it and because, obviously it’s never been found. So despite all of that, I decided to go for it, because I was personally curious to learn where the story of Atlantis even came from and if there could possibly be any truth behind it.
When I started my research I immediately realized this was a massive rabbit hole. The scope of this story is so broad and twisted and strange, it began to feel like I could never tackle this topic in a week, like this would have to be someone’s life’s work. Atlantis felt more like a PHD dissertation than a 30 minute long podcast episode. And I almost gave up, a few times. But I just couldn’t let this story go. So I did some more digging, and more digging, and more digging and it started to take an unexpected turn.
By the time I finished my research, this episode had taken on a new life, a completely different story, one that is so much more powerful and important than a questionably true ancient Greek myth wild goose chase, a story that I have to tell. Yes, it’s still about Atlantis, so if you’re here for that you’re in the right place, don’t worry. All of this just to say, it got unexpectedly deep on me. So let’s dive in.
The lost city of Atlantis is pretty well known, infamous really. But where did our knowledge of this supposed ancient city even come from? It’s never been found, there’s arguably no physical evidence that it ever even existed. Atlantis came from the writings of Plato. Not like the modeling clay kids play with, Plato like the ancient Greek philosopher like P-L-A-T-O… you know who Plato is I don’t know why I’m spelling his name for you.
Plato lived in Athens, the capital of ancient Greece, around 350 BC. He wrote a lot of philosophical texts that are still relevant today and is viewed as one of the founders of western philosophy. Plato had a distinct style of writing. Instead of just random rambling philosophical jargon, he wrote his thoughts as a dialogue between his teacher, Socrates, and other real life politicians, philosophers, and historians.
One of his most famous works is called The Republic. In this dialogue, Plato, through the voice of Socrates, envisions the perfect, ideal society and describes what that would look like. A decade or so later, Plato wrote a two part sequel to The Republic called Timaeus and Critias. The sequel takes place a day after the events in The Republic which ended with Socrates describing his ideal hypothetical city.
In Timaeus and Critias, Socrates is talking to real people - Hermocrates who was a politician, Timaeus, a historian, and Critias, a philosopher, writer, historian, politician, jack of all trades I suppose kind of guy. This sequel opens with Socrates asking his guests “I would be glad to hear some account of the ideal state engaging in transactions with other states.” So he wants them to put his perfect city in the real world, hypothetically, and compare it to real world cities.
I know this is super boring so far, I promise it gets better, just hang in there. So Hermocrates is like “Critias has just the story,” and Critias proceeds to tell a tale that was told to him by his grandfather who heard it from a guy named Solon. Now, Solon was a real guy. He was a statesmen, a politician from Athens and one of the 7 wise men of Greece. He’s credited with laying the foundations for democracy in Athens which is, in part, what inspired democracy in the United States 2,000 years later.
Solon had traveled to Egypt some years back and spoken with an Egyptian priest who told him about a city called Atlantis. He told Critias’ grandfather about it and the grandfather told Critias. Now Critias is telling Socrates in the dialogue Plato is writing. So, if it’s even true, this story is pretty far removed from Plato himself.
A little more about the context before I tell you about Atlantis. In his writing, Plato is basically comparing two cities, a good city and a bad city. Athens is the example of a perfect, utopian, ideal society and Atlantis is the example of a flawed society that succumbs to greed and is ultimately destroyed because of it. So, although we often think of Atlantis as a utopia, it’s actually Plato’s example of a dystopian society, which is interesting.
Critias explains that Atlantis was formed when Poseidon, the god, fell in love with a mortal woman named Cleito. He crafted for her this beautiful island paradise that was a central island surrounded by two more islands shaped like concentric circles, like a bullseye basically. Together Poseidon and Cleito had 5 pairs of twin boys, yikes. So ten sons. The first born of the oldest set of twins was named Atlas. He was made king and the island - Atlantis - and the ocean - Atlantic - were named after him. So I have to imagine his twin brother was slightly salty about this. I mean he must have missed it by like 2 minutes, right? But the other 9 sons were all made princes and they each ruled over their own portion of the island.
I’m saying island but it’s really islands. A 300 foot wide canal was cut from the ocean, through the two concentric circle islands all the way to the central island where there was a mountain and a temple. Critias says Poseidon brought up two springs of water from beneath the Earth, one warm and one cold. He also made “every variety of food spring up abundantly from the soil.” There were also elephants. I’m getting major garden of Eden vibes.
The family of Atlas quote “had such an amount of wealth as was never before possessed by kings… and is not likely ever to be again.” Trade was important. They had a vast harbor for for maritime trade. Critias says “For because of the greatness of their empire many things were brought to them from foreign countries.” They also did some mining, apparently, especially for a particular type of metal called orichalcum. Critias says “and that which is now only a name and was then something more than a name, orichalcum, was dug out of the earth in many parts of the island, being more precious in those days than anything except gold.” That which is now only a name, meaning this mysterious orichalcum metal no longer existed in the time of Plato and Critias. Later, he describes a palace made of stone and coated in precious metals that had walls that quote “flashed with the red light of orichalcum,” suggesting this metal had some sort of energy producing ability or electrical conductivity.
Critias explains that Atlantis was located outside the pillars of Heracles whereas Athens and Egypt which also existed at the time were inside the pillars of Heracles. So the “pillars of Heracles” is what we call the Strait of Gibraltar today. It’s the narrow passage between the southern tip of Spain and the northern tip of Africa. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. He also says Atlantis was quote “greater in extent than Libya and Asia.” Which, I don’t know, I mean Asia is huge, it’s the largest continent. Unless “Asia” referred to a smaller land mass back then or unless he really meant “greater” as in better instead of larger and it was just translated incorrectly. Because all of this was translated from Egyptian into Greek and later into English. I can see how some of the details could have been lost in translation.
But Atlantis was apparently big. What I’ve described so far seems small but it wasn’t just the bullseye islands. There was also a vast rectangular plain measuring 340 by 230 miles. So it was big, but not sure it was bigger than Asia, what we call Asia now anyway. Because this was a long time ago. Critias claims Atlantis fell (which we’ll get to that part in a second), 9,000 years ago. And Critias lived over 2,000 years ago. That means Atlantis fell some 11,000 years ago and flourished even longer ago than that, which is why, if you listened to my Great Pyramid episode, I said Atlantis fit into the timeline of the ancient apocalypse theory.
So let’s talk about the apocalypse part. Initially, Critias describes the Atlantians as follows “They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.”
So, a very noble righteous people, at first. Later, Critias says “the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly.” They started trying to conquer all of the kingdoms within the pillars of Heracles, so Athens, Egypt, and all of the other ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Athens, which remember Plato is using as his example of a good city, the yang to Atlantis’ yin, is able to defeat Atlantis and stop them from conquering everyone. But this really makes Zeus mad. Atlantis had been created by the gods, its 10 kings or princes or whatever were part god, sons of Poseidon and they had misused their power and position. Zeus is livid. And this is how Plato’s Critias text ends… “Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows-* The rest of the Dialogue of Critias has been lost. The end.”
Not kidding, that’s what it says. But we know from earlier in the dialogue that Atlantis was destroyed by earthquakes and floods in one day and one night and sank into an impassable barrier of mud. So, I don’t know about the whole chastened to improve thing. Seems like a pretty permanent punishment situation to me.
And that’s basically it. That’s where the whole concept, the idea, the obsession of Atlantis came from - just one text written over 2,000 years ago, the end of which is missing. The city has never been found. No conclusive evidence of the city has ever been found. Did it ever exist? Is there any truth to it? It’s hard to say. Sometimes Plato wrote accurate historical records of things and sometimes he wrote allegories - which are just made up stories meant to teach a lesson. One of his more famous allegories is The Cave about people held captive and chained inside a dark cave. When they get out of the cave, the sunlight burns their eyes and they’re mad and overwhelmed but eventually realize that the world outside the cave is the real reality and it’s much better than the darkness of the cave. The whole thing is really a lesson about freeing yourself from intellectual darkness and accepting new ideas and perspectives.
It’s pretty obvious that the cave was not a real place, just a made-up hypothetical story to make a point. Plato’s account of Atlantis through the dialogue of Critias is very different from The Cave though. It’s super detailed, painfully detailed, like, I spared you most of it. He gives every minute detail about the size and appearance of Atlantis down to the colors of the rocks used to construct buildings. He gives geographic details within a real world context and all of the other civilizations he mentions - Athens and Egypt - were real places. Some believe Plato is giving a historically accurate account of a real place here, not a vague, hypothetical allegory.
But then Aristotle, who was a student of Plato and went on to become a famous philosopher himself, supposedly joked about Plato’s ability to conjure nations out of thin air and then destroy them. For the first centuries of the Christian era, Atlantis wasn’t even discussed. Which makes sense, early Christians wouldn’t want to associate themselves with a civilization supposedly created by polytheistic deities. Greek gods were pagan gods. That was sacrilege. Plus they just didn’t have the maritime navigation technology to even hope to search for a sunken, underwater city. What was the point of concerning themselves with it.
Then the Renaissance happened, a cultural rebirth with a focus on reviving the achievements of classical antiquity AKA Plato. He was like their John Lennon, right? After 1,000 years of just struggling to survive, the dark ages, people are finally emerging from the darkness, finally climbing past that first rung of Maslow’s hierarchy. People can read again they care about philosophy and enlightenment again and anything ancient Greece is like super trending. So Plato is in and Atlantis along with him.
Along with this cultural rebirth came technological rebirth. Ocean navigation advanced such that Europeans were able to cross the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in the Americas by the late 15th century. The Spanish were first of course, sending Christopher Columbus in 1492. When they stumbled upon the great civilizations of Central America, the Mayans and the Aztecs, they simply couldn’t believe that these people, these “savages,” could have built such advanced and impressive civilizations with stone pyramids that far surpassed the buildings and monuments in Europe. They began to wonder if maybe this new land they had found was, in fact, Atlantis. It was beyond the Pillars of Heracles after all, its own continent in the Atlantic Ocean. But it’s impossible to ignore the racism and Eurocentrism behind that idea. They were basically like “there’s no way these wild savages living in the jungle, these brown people, there’s no way they are smart enough, capable enough to build this great civilization. Surely this was built by the Atlantians and they just stumbled upon it themselves. They couldn’t have done this, it must be Atlantis.” Yeah, you can see how that sentiment could conjure up an American Atlantis theory. Admitting the indigenous people of the Americas were responsible for all of this was a huge blow to European ego.
In 1870 the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Troy were discovered. Yeah, Troy like the trojan horse story from The Odyssey. You see, people kind of thought Troy was a fictional place, made up as a setting in the story. They didn’t know it was real, until it was found. And this got them thinking, “if Troy was real, maybe Atlantis was real too?”
In 1882 Ignatious Donnelly, who was a US congressman, writer, and fringe scientists/fringe historian, wrote a book called Atlantis: The Antediluvian World about Plato’s Atlantis and this set off a frenzy of excitement and interest in locating the lost city of Atlantis. It kind of started a whole movement. This was also when Egyptology was really popping and rich dudes were just becoming archaeologists, or hiring them, to go look for ancient treasures. I talk in depth about this movement in episode 6 about Highclere Castle. So Atlantis is especially appealing in the late 1800’s, riding on the coattails of the discovery of Troy and countless finds in Egypt.
Enter Helena Blavatsky, a Russian occultist who founded the theosophical society in New York City in 1875. The goal of this society was to study old religions to learn about the overlap between science, religion, and philosophy. So Atlantis was right up her alley. Based on some Indian religious texts she studied, she formed the theory that there were 7 root races of humanity from which all humans had descended. She believed Atlantis was the 5th root race. She proposed that the Atlantians were superior god-like people that were 2 to 3 times bigger than modern humans. She thought all human achievements to date had only been possible because we were descended from these intellectually superior beings. Which, the 10 dudes who ruled Atlantis were supposedly the sons of Poseidon so, yeah, there’s a demi-god thing going on. Not sure how scientifically possible that is, but okay. The theosophical society isn’t super concerned about science.
The ideas about Atlantis put forth by Helena Blavatsky caught the attention of Herman Wirth. Wirth was a Dutch/German historian and a Nazi. Yeah, he ends up being a Nazi, we’ll get to that. Wirth specialized in ancient religions and symbols. He believed there was a single language that linked all cultures and religions. He had noticed patterns in his studies of ancient cave paintings which led him to believe that a single culture was the root of all humanity so he lands upon the root race theory too. Blavatsky was proposing Atlantis as that root race and Wirth latches onto the idea
But Wirth took a lot of liberties with Plato’s story. He gave a presentation about his Atlantis root race theory at the University of Berlin in the early 1930’s. At the presentation, he explained that Plato was wrong about the location of Atlantis and that it was really in the Arctic, not near the Mediterranean. Which, okay but it had all those lovely plants and fruits and warm water and elephants… I just don’t see how that’s possible in the Arctic, during an ice age, but okay Wirth. He thought it was destroyed by a meteor, not earthquakes and floods, and that a handful of survivors moved south and intermingled with humans to create a race of light haired, blue eyed people. So this is basically Wirth’s theory of where white people came from. But I don’t know where he’s getting any of this from. Like, he’s literally just making it up. The only reference we have about Atlantis comes from Plato’s dialogue in Critias. That’s literally where the entire concept of Atlantis came from. And Wirth’s just like, nah, he was wrong it was in the Arctic and it was a meteor not a flood. Umm, okay.
Well, unfortunately a certain someone was sitting in Wirth’s audience that day at the University of Berlin and his ears pricked up at the mention of a superior white root race. No, not Hitler, but pretty much just as bad - Heinrich Himmler attended Wirth’s lecture that day. Himmler was Adolph Hitler’s right hand man. He was a major player in the Nazi party, commander of the SS, created and controlled concentration camps and was directly responsible for the murders of more than 12 million people. Himmler was arguably the main architect behind the Holocaust. He was a bad dude. And, apparently, a self-proclaimed occultist. He became obsessed with proving the existence of Atlantis in order to prove this master race theory. Because, if he could prove that white people were actually descendants of these superior part-god Atlantians, he could justify all of his horrible beliefs about Jews and basically all other minority groups. Except Himmler didn’t call them Atlantians, he called them Aryans.
Himmler hires Wirth to find Atlantis. He’s like “okay, you’re the expert, you obviously know more about it than Plato did, even, where is it?” and Wirth is like “Oh, ummm… let’s see, well the survivors would have gone to the highest point on Earth to get away from floods right?” Um, no dude, you already said it was a meteor and not a flood, but whatever, switch back to flood when it’s convenient for you I guess. So he theorizes the most direct descendents of the Atlantians must be in Tibet, in the Himalayas, which is the highest point on Earth, right? Mount Everest. He’s like “they’re in Tibet, let’s go find them, prove they’re superior so we can prove we’re superior,” cause this is really all about white male fragility, sorry, but it is. Don’t even try to defend them guys, they’re Nazis ok. They need that validation and they think it's in Tibet. Wirth also proposes some of the survivors went to Iceland, Scotland, Sweden, and France - you know, just like, the whitest countries.
So they go to Tibet. A guy named Bruno Beger is with them. He’s the guy who measured people’s skulls to determine if they were white enough or not. So he’s in Tibet measuring people’s heads in order to quote “collect material about the proportions, origins, significance, and development of the Nordic race in this region.” Only problem is, they had a really hard time finding light haired, blue eyed people in Tibet. They pretty quickly determine that Tibetans are not white enough to be descendents of the Atlantians. Wirth is like “Actually, they are not in Tibet, I’m right about everything else though, but they’re just not in Tibet. Nevermind.”
Now at this point, Himmler likely would have continued searching for this master Aryan race elsewhere but he gets really busy mass murdering innocent people, plus WWII is popping off and it’s hard to get into other countries at this point. They’re all “um, no thank you nazis, please leave.” Funding for projects like this is cut and put towards the war effort instead so Wirth is forced to stop searching.
At the end of the war, Himmler was captured and committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill, as he was instructed to do. Bruno Beger, the head measuring guy was tried as a war criminal in 1974. He apparently played an active role in helping to select 86 victims from concentration camps in 1943. These victims were then killed in gas chambers and included as part of a skeleton collection that was meant to quote “capture the Jewish distinctiveness.” He was found guilty as an accessory to the murder of 86 people and was sentenced to 3 years in jail which he served precisely none of. He served no jail time for this whatsoever. Worse, during the trial quote “none of the defendants evinced any remorse . . . and many defended their work as ‘good science.’” Monsters. Wirth was captured by the US Army at the end of the war in 1945, detained, and interviewed for two years then apparently just let go. He ended up returning to Germany where he lived out the rest of his life as a quote “private scholar.” Cool. Cool. How bout that for justice.
Himmler’s misguided search for Atlantis wasn’t the last time people tried to locate it and there are actually several leading theories as to where it might be, if it in fact ever existed. In the year 2000, an archaeological team led by a Russian Canadian researcher named Paulina Zelitsky mapped the seafloor around Cuba and Florida using sonar, remote pilot devices, and underwater dive teams and they actually found some pretty crazy stuff that looked a whole lot like the remains of an ancient civilization. Around a half mile below the surface, Zelitsky’s team found massive stones, some 16 to 20 feet tall, arranged in straight lines with 90 degree angles. Some even stood on top of each other creating pyramid-like structures. Some experts believe this is all just naturally occurring lava formations, others are convinced it’s the ruins of an ancient civilization. Zelitzky doesn’t believe in Atlantis. She thinks Plato made it all up. But she does think what she found may be the remnants of a local culture that she believes once existed on a 100 mile land bridge between Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and Cuba. Weirdly, no further research or excavating has been done in this area and it’s really just radio silence when you try to look into it. So, I don’t know, it’s pretty weird.
In 2015, archaeologists exploring a 2,600 year old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily made another strange discovery - metal ingots. So think gold bars, but they weren’t made of gold. They were made of an unknown metal, a mix of zinc, copper, lead, nickel, and iron created with a smelting process we thought didn’t exist until around 1,000 years ago… and yet here they are in a 2,600 year old shipwreck. Could this be the orichalcum described by Plato in his tales of Atlantis? It’s certainly the closest thing we’ve found to actual evidence of what Plato described.
Another leading theory arose in 2018 when a search and recovery team noticed an anomaly in Donana National Park in southern Spain, just outside the pillars of Heracles AKA strait of Gibraltar. Near the water line, they found dozens of naturally occurring circular formations, ruins made of a type of cement never seen before, and rocks covered in a metallic patina, plus the remains of what they believed to be a harbor wall. They immediately proclaimed they had found Atlantis. The trouble is, many ancient civilizations were known to inhabit that area - the Greeks, the Romans, and the Tartessians (an ancient city mentioned in the Bible and rumored to be in that exact location in southern Spain). This area is a muddy, swampy bog, partially submerged in water for most of the year which makes it very difficult to excavate. Plus, it’s a world heritage site and national park so it’s well protected. Spain isn’t interested in doing any digging there.
Mauritania in northern Africa is another theory. There’s a naturally occuring circular structure there called the “eye of the Sahara.” It’s a series of concentric circles around 25 miles in diameter. It’s pretty wild actually if you check it out on Google Earth. Its size and appearance are eerily similar to Plato’s description of Atlantis plus human artifacts have been found there - neolithic stone hand tools from 8,000 to 15,000 years ago which fits Plato’s timeline. But they’re primitive stone tools, not exactly what you’d expect from a technologically advanced society. Plus this site is in the middle of the desert, not underwater or even anywhere near it.
One of the most popular theories has always been that the Atlantians were really the Minoans, who lived on the modern day Greek island of Crete. The Minoans were a relatively advanced civilization for the time - around 4,000 or 5,000 years ago so not old enough to match Plato’s story but whatever. They had multi-story buildings, temples, and a vast trading network, ships, docks, harbors, all that. They were mostly destroyed by a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini to the north around 1,600 BC and then, whatever was left was conquered by the Mycenaean culture which came after it. The Mycenaeans built on top of Minoan structures, melted down their gold, and just completely absorbed Minoan culture and artifacts into their own. Actually, for a long time no one even knew the Minoans existed. They thought it was all Mycenaean until carbon dating in the 20th century revealed that some Mycenaean artifacts were actually much older Minoan artifacts. So that led some to wonder, is it possible we haven’t found any artifacts from Atlantis because they were absorbed into another, later civilization? Or are they really all buried deep in the ocean under an impassable barrier of mud as Plato claimed.
You know, my issue with all of these theories is that they aren’t really underwater. I mean Plato was very clear that Atlantis sunk below the sea into an impassable barrier of mud. These places are still on land, except for the site off the coast of Cuba, which is honestly the most compelling to me except that, I don’t know, I just can’t find much information about it. It’s weird that further research hasn’t been done. That seems like a massively important find and yet, there’s really nothing. Same with the discoveries in Donana National Park in Spain it just goes silent. So, I don’t know it seems fishy, something’s off there.
So I’m left thinking, maybe Atlantis was complete fiction. Maybe Plato just made it all up to teach a lesson, to illustrate what happens to civilizations when men get too greedy, too arrogant, too superior in their own minds. Because that was the purpose of Atlantis in Plato’s writing - it’s the example of the bad city, the foil to Athens perfection. Its demise is a cautionary tale warning societies of the dangers of flying too close to the sun.
So it’s really so ironic that Heinrich Himmler and the Nazi’s latched onto Atlantis as something divine and superior, as the origins of the master Aryan race that they felt was better than the rest. That they used it to validate and justify the horrific crimes they committed against humanity. They clearly did not understand the moral of the story and they met the same demise as the lost city itself. No they weren’t smote by Zeus and sunk overnight in earthquakes and floods. But they were ultimately defeated, their arrogant, twisted plans for world dominance foiled and they, in turn, became the cautionary tale of our civilization. And I hope people keep talking about it for at least as long as we’ve been talking about Atlantis. And I hope this time around, the moral of the story is obvious. That’s the power of history. That’s why we tell these stories, why we pass them on for generations in the hopes that the lessons they teach will be understood and will help us avoid the next Atlantis, the next Holocaust.
Thank you all so very much for listening to History Fix. I hope you found this story interesting and maybe you even learned something new. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Atlantis! Do you think it was a real place or all made up by Plato to teach a lesson? Weigh in on the conversation over on my instagram @historyfixpodcast. There you can check out some images that go along with this episode and to stay on top of new episodes as they drop. I’d also really appreciate it if you’d rate and follow this podcast on whatever app you’re using to listen, that’ll make it much easier to get your next fix.
Information used in the episode was sourced from Critias by Plato, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, History.com, byarcadia.org, a BBC article, a PBS article, ancientorigins.net, wikipedia, answersresearchjournal.org, a History’s Great Mysteries podcast episode about underwater mysteries and a 2 part Unexplained Mysteries podcast episode about Atlantis. You can find links to all of these sources in the show notes.