The Eruption of Santorin (Thera) and Greek Myths 


The Santorini volcanic archipelago is made up of five islands located in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Crete. The two larger islands are called Thera and Therasia and the three smaller islands are called Aspronisi, NeaKamen, and Palaea. (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002). 



Map of Santorini (Courtesy of Santorini-Web).

Myth 1: Theseus and the Minotaur 

Athens was once a Mycean City ruled by King Minos. It is said that Poseidon gave a great bull to King Minos as a gift. The kings' wife, Pasiphae, fell in love with the bull and seduced him, the result was the Minotaur. When King Minos discovered the Minotaur he locked him in a great maze (this maze is thought to possibly be the palace at Knossos. Minos had rule over much of the Mediterranean, and when his son, Androgeus was killed by the Athenians he forced them to send a tribute of seven men and seven women Crete as prey for the Minotaur. Theseus, son of the Athenian King Aegeus, volunteered to go to Crete, where he defeated the Minotaur, lead the people out of the maze, and freed the Athenians in Crete. (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002). It is said that this myth could reflect the fall of the Minoan empire. 



Figure 2: Theseus killing the Minotaur

Myth 2: Jason and the Argonauts. 

After Jason had retrieved the golden fleece, he was traveling near Crete and Thera (the volcano). On his way to Crete he was stopped from getting close to the island by the island guardian, a giant named Talos, who was made of bronze. Talos was almost indestructible except for a weak spot near his ankle. Talos stood on the mountain top and threw rocks at ships on the sea. Hephaestus, god of fire and metal working, had made Talos for King Minos to keep intruders away from his kingdom. Talos could make himself very hot, he would then grab intruders killing them. When the Argonauts came upon the island they had to run away from the rocks being throw at them. As they were fleeing, Medea, Jason's wife, cast a spell on Talos dimming his vision. As Talos was preparing to throw another rock, he slipped and fell, all his vital fluid leaked out and he died. (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002)

Talos could be a mythical representation of Thera. Talos is also known as Circinus, the circle, which could represent the shape of the island. The rocks could be volcanic bombs, and the leaking of his vital fluids could be lava leaking out (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002).  

After the Argonauts left Talos, they were enveloped in darkness, which could have been the ash cloud.It was also said that Talos had a son, Leukos (the white one). Leukos drove away the king of Crete and destroyed parts of the Island. Leukos could represent the white ash that covered Crete. Talos also had a daughter, Kleisithera, or key of Thera (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002).

Myth 3: Atlantis

Most people have heard about the lost city of Atlantis and there is a lot of speculation as to the location of the lost city. One such location is in the Atlantic Ocean near the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea (Vitaliano, 1973). Another location is Santorini and the island of Crete (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002). Greek seismologist Angelos Galanopoulos proposed that the island of Santorini was Atlantis in 1969 (Christopher, 2001). The city of Akrotiri was found on Santorini by archaeologist, and this could be the fabled city Plato was referring to (Christopher, 2001).  

Plato is the first person to write about this great city. He heard the story from someone else, who heard it from his grandfather, etc. Atlantis was a prosperous place, full of wealth and peace. They built great ships and traded throughout the area (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002).

Many of the myths described about Atlantis seem to follow closely with Crete and the Minoans, including their sudden demise (Zeiling de Boer and Sanders, 2002).

The location of Atlantis is hard to predict by using the ancient texts. Plato could be wrong about his dates, or the city could have never existed at all. The correlation between Santorini and Atlantis does seem to fit in that an ancient city fell into the sea due to the collapse of the caldera. If this is the great city of Atlantis then it will take a lot more then theory to prove it.



  • Christopher, Kevin. Atlantis: No Way, No How, No Where. Created 2001. Accessed May 1, 2006.
  • Labyrinth of Crete: The Myth of the Minotaur. Created 1997. Accessed May 1, 2006.
  • Shepard, David. Santorini (Thira). Created 2000. Accessed May 1, 2006.
  • Vitaliano, Dorothy B, Legends of the Earth, their geologic origins. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1973.
  • Zeilinga de Boer, Jelle and Donald Theodor Sanders. Volcanoes in Human History, The Far Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, p. 47-73. 2002. 

    Jessica Phillips
    Volcano Myths, Legends, and Folklore
    May 2, 2006
    SpSt 438 Volcanism: A Planetary Process I