For ancient seafarers, the ocean was a place of mists and uncertain landfalls. They described mysterious islands with godlike people, exotic creatures, and lost civilizations. Some islands magically appeared on the horizon, only to mysteriously disappear. Early maps became populated with islands floating in the oceans that, in the end, did not exist—as far as is known. But in between the mists of legend lie grains of truth. Maybe St. Brendan did set foot in North America before the Vikings. Perhaps a cataclysmic natural event did inspire the fall of Atlantis. Here’s what is known about six of the world’s most legendary isles.
Plato first wrote about the great island of Atlantis in his fourth-century b.c. dialogue, Critias. A godlike people famous for their “bodily beauty” and “moral excellence” dominated this mystical place, situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules (today, the Strait of Gibraltar). Atlantean kings ruled from a palace guarded by a wall of brass, a wall of tin, and a wall of copper.