I have to admit I'd never considered Syracuse as a possible source of inspiration for Plato's Atlantis. I would broaden it to include Sicily in general, given its lofty status in the minds of Greeks back on the mainland. Sicily was much desired by numerous Mediterranean peoples. The Greeks took it from the native Sicani, and the Greeks themselves fought over it between themselves for centuries. The Greeks fought the Carthaginians for Sicily, several times. Then the Romans fought the Carthaginians for it before the Romans emerged victorious in the Punic Wars.
It's a blood-soaked island, and also one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. It also marked a sort of zenith in Greek architecture and poleis. Greeks back home on the mainland had the impression that everyone living in Sicily was wealthy and enjoyed lives of leisure.
I see no possibility in regarding Syracuse or any other polis in Sicily as the historical Atlantis, but Athens' own experience with the place certainly taught them a lesson that Plato could've folded into his allegorical narrative.
If UM has done anything for me over the years, it has been to help me see that more than one source of inspiration may have colored Plato's tale when he wrote it. From ancient Thera there was a colossal natural destruction of a great island city inhabited by a wealthy and powerful culture, whose thalassocracy then began to slip into decline. There is the lost great civilization of Atlantis fame. From Plato's own time was the natural destruction of the Peloponnesian polis of Helike. This city-state appears to have been of minor repute in the Greek world, but here is the destruction of an actual city. And from Syracuse we have the perfect example of the hubris from which a great people might suffer.
During the Peloponnesian War, Athens launched an assault against Syracuse. Plato would've been only around ten years old at the time, but the events that transpired in Sicily would've left an indelible and frightening effect on the minds of all Athenians, young and old alike. As Thucydides tells us in his accounts of the war, Pericles had warned the Athenians not to try to expand the empire. But with Pericles dead in the early years of the war and Athens no longer under the benefit of such a great and cautious leader, Athens did just that—tried to expand its empire.
The Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 BCE was an unmitigated disaster in every conceivable way. Not only did the Syracusens and their Spartan leader defeat Athens on land and at sea, but given the massive war effort Athens had thrown at the island, Athens lost a significant percentage of its male population and a very important corps of talented military leadership. While it's true that Athens was able to rebuild its fleet late in the war, it never seemed to rebound from its losses in Sicily and its later leadership was often cowed and hesitant at best. (The one direct benefit to Athens' war effort might have been the death of Nicias, but that's a personal, parenthetical insertion on my part.) This had to have been a humiliating and humbling defeat to Athens.
So here I see where Plato might have gotten the idea for the way a city might pay for its arrogance, just as Atlantis did in his tale. Athens most certainly did, in real life.
Academic approaches towards Atlantis as a real place!
Posted 05 January 2013 - 11:51 AM
kmt_sesh, on 05 January 2013 - 04:44 AM, said:
I have to admit I'd never considered Syracuse as a possible source of inspiration for Plato's Atlantis. I would broaden it to include Sicily in general, given its lofty status in the minds of Greeks back on the mainland. Sicily was much desired by numerous Mediterranean peoples. ................ ..................So here I see where Plato might have gotten the idea for the way a city might pay for its arrogance, just as Atlantis did in his tale. Athens most certainly did, in real life.
I think you could enjoy reading Gunnar Rudberg's work.
What I find also intriguing with this book is that he goes through all hypotheses of his time which shows two astonishing things:
( a ) Rudberg does not neglect the existence hypotheses, the takes them very serious but decides against them, in the end. This is very credible.
( b ) All the hypotheses of today were still in place at Rudberg's time, at least in principle. You do not so much have the impression to read a book which is 100 years old. It's very modern!