Taylor (1928) and Frutiger (1930) first suggested that the sudden and dramatic disappearance of Helike, destroyed by an earthquake and submerged in the sea, inspired Plato to devise the myth of Atlantis. See also Forsythe (1980), Giovannini (1985), and Ellis (1998).

The story of Atlantis and its destruction first appears in Platoís late dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written only a few years after the destruction of Helike in 373 BC. Plato certainly knew about the catastrophe, and may even have had a personal interest in it. In 388 BC, he had visited the court of Dionysios I of Syracuse, where he managed to offend the tyrant. According to Plutarch (Dion 5.2), Dionysios then asked Pollis, a visiting Spartan admiral and ambassador, to do him a favor and get rid of Plato. Pollis seized Plato, took him to the slave market on the island of Aegina, and put him up for sale. Diogenes Laertius (3.19) says that a fellow Athenian recognized Plato, purchased his freedom, and sent him home.

Fifteen years later, Pollis was drowned in the disaster at Helike. Dionysios heard about it and regarded the fate of Pollis as a portent from the god. Fearing for his own safety, Dionysios wrote to Plato, asking the philosopher not to speak evil of him. Plato replied that he had no time at all to think about Dionysios. The entire story looks suspiciously like propaganda of the Academy (Caven 1990), but it could have some basis in reality. Admiral Pollis may well have been drowned at Helike, because we know from Aelianís account that Spartan warships were anchored there on the night of the disaster.


Caven, B. (1990). Dionysios I: War-Lord of Sicily. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ellis, R. (1998). Imagining Atlantis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Forsythe, P.Y. (1980). Atlantis: the Making of a Myth. Montreal: McGill - Queen's University Press.

Frutiger, P. (1930). Les Mythes de Platon. Paris: Librairie Felix Alcan.

Giovannini, A. (1985). Peut-on demythifier líAtlantide? Museum Helveticum 42, 151-156.

Taylor, A.E. (1928). A Commentary on Plato's Timaeus. Oxford University Press.

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