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The incredible story of the lost city of Atlantis that inspired Jason Momoa’s Aquaman

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom | Teaser (DC)
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom | Teaser (DC)

The first full-length trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom landed last week, gearing up fans for the December release of the second part of the underwater superhero film, starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard.

The sequel follows Momoa’s character Arthur Curry, who is King of the underwater kingdom Atlantis, as he joins forces with his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to face down the malevolent pirate Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The trailer sees Aquaman in back-to-back dramatic scenes as his home and family both come under threat.

“Half a billion people from every known species in the sea call this place home,” says Curry in the nearly three-minute clip, introducing audiences to Atlantis. The trailer shows a bustling underwater city full of marine lifeforms; some that we are familiar with – such as fish, coral and jellyfish – and some that we are less familiar with, such as merpeople.

But the Aquaman films are by no means the first time that Atlantis has been depicted in popular culture: on the contrary, the lost underwater city has had a firm grip on the popular imagination since the story was first conceived in Ancient Greece over two thousand years ago.

Here we look at the origins of the long-lasting myth of Atlantis, which is now the backdrop of the Aquaman films.

What was Atlantis?

The fictional city of Atlantis serves as warning against hubris and unconstrained ambition, as with many Greek myths. The story goes that the island of Atlantis – which existed around 9,000 BCE – was one of the most advanced civilisations of its time, and wielded one of the world’s most powerful navies.

But one day, the rulers of Atlantis launched a war against ancient Athens, and lost. The attack angered the gods, who found the assault aggressive and arrogant: so to teach the inhabitants of Atlantis a lesson, the gods submerged the entirety of the island city under the sea. It has been ‘lost’ ever since.

Where does the myth come from?

The legend of Atlantis was created by the Greek philosopher Plato, who lived between 428 BCE and 348 BCE.

In Plato’s work, the story of Atlantis is spoken about in both of his “dialogues” Timaeus and Critias, though features more heavily in Critias. Although Critias was in fact a real person (he was a Greek philosopher and politician in his own right, as well as Plato’s maternal uncle), these “dialogues” were a collection of fictional writings that were used as a means of presenting and exploring various philosophical ideas.

What does it represent?

Atlantis, much like the Tower of Babel in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, has come to symbolise the dangers of unbridled human hubris. And, much like the case of the real-life Library of Alexandria (the ginormous Ancient Egyptian library whose decline is often regarded as one of history’s great losses) the island city has come to represent lost knowledge. Atlantis also stands as a reminder of the fragility of human creation – the city’s overnight destruction echoes the fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible.

Oddly enough, despite its demise, Atlantis has also come to symbolise an utopian city, possibly because Atlantis was one of the world’s most advanced civilisations, before it was destroyed.

Is there a real underwater Atlantis on Earth?

Unfortunately not – Atlantis does not exist. However it’s understandable why people have given the myth so much energy: there’s something incredibly enthralling about the idea of an underwater city existing somewhere in the depths of Earth’s gigantic ocean – 80 per cent of which hasn’t yet been mapped – just waiting to be discovered.

Atlantis in popular culture

The underwater city has captured the imagination of dozens of writers, artists and filmmakers over the last two millennia.

Just a few of these include humanist Thomas More (1478-1535), who wrote about a fictional island in his novel Utopia, and Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who also wrote about a mythical island in his novel New Atlantis. In French novelist Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, his characters set out to discover Atlantis’ ruins. In the novel, The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, English novelist C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1866-1944) reimagines Plato’s story.

There are dozens of other examples of novels which seem to have been influenced by Plato’s Atlantis. 1977’s The Silmarillion, by Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien, tells the story of the island of Númenor, which is submerged under water by an angry god. Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis were supposedly enthralled by the Atlantis myth and references to Atlantis can also be found in Lewis’ work, such as in the novels That Hideous Strength (1945) and The Magician’s Nephew (1955). Arthur Conan Doyle‘s 1929 The Maracot Deep also tells the story of a crew of adventurers finding Atlantis.

Critics and scholars have also argued that the Atlantis myth has influenced books including H. P. Lovecraft’s The Temple (1920), Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957), Aleksey Tolstoy‘s novel Aelita (1923) and Philip Reeve’s Mothstorm (2008).

Then there are the numerous films made about Atlantis. The most famous of these include Henry Levin’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), 10,000 BC (2008) and Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001).

Atlantis has also been featured in music, television, comic books and in operas: for example, the island was used in the title of American jazz composer Sun Ra’s 1967 album; The Isley Brothers had a 1977 song called Voyage to Atlantis; Ellie Golding had a 2012 track titled Atlantis; and Mike Oldfield had a 1994 song called Lament for Atlantis.

So while the island of Atlantis was originally made up, it has become so ingrained in popular culture that it now well and truly exists – only in myth form.