Atlantis is purportedly a ‘lost,’ now sunken, continent which, according to some accounts, occupied most of the area of the present Atlantic Ocean. The question regarding whether or not it actually existed is one usually answered in the negative by modern scientists and scholars (especially those who point to maps of the ocean floor which seem to show no place for such a large landmass to have been located). The idea appears to have originated at an early date, for Plato in Timaeus states that the Atlanteans overran Europe and were only repulsed by the Greeks. Elsewhere it is stated that the Hindu priesthood believed, and still believe, that it once existed; and there are shadowy legends among the American native races which would seem to assist these beliefs. At the same time definite proof is conspicuous by its absence. Brasseur de Bourbourg held that Atlantis was an extension of America which stretched from Central America and Mexico, far into the Atlantic, the Canaries, Madeiras, and Azores being the only remnants which were not submerged; and many similar fantastic theories have been advanced.
Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) – former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, as well as congressman – undertook to prove the existence of such a continent by modern scientific methods, and located the Atlantis of Plato as an island opposite the entrance to the Mediterranean – a remnant of the lost continent. He thought that Atlantis was the region where men first arose from barbarism to civilization, and that all the civilized peoples of Europe and America derived their culture thence: that it was indeed the antediluvian world of the Garden of Eden; that the Atlantians founded a colony in Egypt; that the Phoenician alphabet was the Atlantian alphabet: that not only the Aryan but the Semitic people, and perhaps the ‘Turanian’ races, emerged therefrom; that it perished in a terrible revolution of nature in which the whole island sank into the ocean with nearly all its inhabitants; and that only a few persons escaped to tell the story of the catastrophe, which has survived to our time in the Flood and deluge legends of the Old and New worlds. Even some serious scientists have not disdained to examine the question, and it is claimed that ocean deposits show remains of what must have been at one time a land above the ocean.
The theory that the Atlanteans founded the civilizations of Central America and Mexico has been fully proven to be absurd, as that civilization is distinctly of an aboriginal nature, and of comparatively late origin. The late Dr. Augustus le Plongeon and his wife spent many years in trying to prove that a certain Queen M�o of Yucatan founded a colony in Egypt; but as they professed to be able to read hieroglyphs that no one else could decipher, and many of which were not hieroglyphs at all but ornamental designs, and as they placed side by side and compared with the Egyptian alphabet a ‘Mayan’ alphabet, which certainly never originated anywhere but in their own ingenuity, we cannot have much faith in their conclusions. We do not learn from Dr. le Plongeon’s works by what course of reasoning he came to discover that the name of his heroine was the rather uneuphonious one of M�o, but probably he arrived at it by the same process as that by which he discovered the ‘Mayan’ alphabet.
The claims of certain spiritualists and occultists to restore the history of Atlantis are about as successful as those of the pseudo- scientists who have approached the question. They claim to have reconstructed almost the entire history of the island-continent by means of messages from spirit controls, which acquaint us minutely with the politics, life, religion, and magical system of the Atlanteans; but in the face of scientific knowledge and probability these accounts fail to convince, and are obviously of the nature of imaginative fiction. There is also a certain body of occult tradition concerning Atlantis which may either have originated from oriental sources, or else have come into being in the imaginations of later occultists; and this is to some extent crystalized in the works in question.
In popular culture, Atlantis has often stood in as being the pinnacle of mankind’s lost Golden Age, possessing fantastic technology and knowledge about our origins. The post-sinking Atlantis has also a convenient place to locate races of undersea men; see such pop-culture examples asAquaman and Sub-Mariner in comic books, or Stingray and Man From Atlantis on television.