What is really getting me shouting at the television, however, is that the bloated, rotting, stinking cadaver of Atlantis has been dragged out again. Was Plato's tale of Atlantis a folk memory of the destruction of Minoan civilization, the programme asks.
The tale of Atlantis is only known from Plato's Timaeus and Critias. It is not independently attested in Greek literature, unlike other myths, such as that of the Minotaur. Plutarch mentions it in his Life of Solon, but he explicitly cites Plato, so is not an independent witness. Secondly, the tale is given in great detail. For some, this is evidence that Plato can't have made it up. It is precisely the opposite. Plato wrote the Timaeus in about 360 BC. The conversation that it allegedly reports must have a dramatic date of about 425 BC. The tale of Atantis is told by one of the speakers, Critias, who heard it when he was a boy of ten. We know Critias was born in 460, so that dates Critias getting the tale to 450. He got the tale from his grandfather, who was about 90 at the time - the grandfather allegedly got it from the Athenian statesman Solon, but since he died about 558, one must start to question that detail. Solon himself was told by Egyptian priests. That the story is then told in such clear detail by Plato suggests large-scale embroidery. Without independent evidence, which does not exist, one cannot get anywhere in finding a historical core to the legend.
But why should we look for one in the first place? The trouble with the way Plato's account of Atlantis is used by those who believe in a historical Atlantis is that it ignores the genre that Plato writes it in. Contrary to what this programme has said (and I cannot forgive them for this), Plato was not a historian. He was a philosopher. That difference is very important. He is not interested in recording history or folklore - he is interested in making philosophical points, and uses a number of devices to do so. He is quite prepared to make things up to do so. Atlantis is surely another example of this. It is no more sensible to search for Atlantis than it is to try to find More's Utopia, or Swift's Liliput, or Orwell's Animal Farm.
Notably, not one of the experts they have on screen have mentioned Atlantis once - this appears to be entirely the imposition of the narration, presumably the idea of the producer, slipped in to get people to sit up and pay attention. And so more people will be encouraged to take a postivistic view of the Atlantis tale.
In the olden days, programmes like Timewatch and Horizon used to debunk nonsense like this, not contribute to it.