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Fat Hercules? The Triangle Guy? A Guide to Demystifying Atlantis' Mix of Myth and History

On Saturday at 9/8c, the producers of Merlin launch their new fantasy series Atlantis, which is set in a world that weaves together ancient Greek myths and history. What is this "lost" city, anyway? And why are historical figures chumming it up with mythological heroes? To help keep these facts and fictions straight, check out our guide to Atlantis:

Hanh Nguyen

Atlantis, the legendary underwater lost city, has been found ... on BBC America.
On Saturday at 9/8c, the producers ofMerlin launch their new fantasy seriesAtlantis, which is set in a world that weaves together ancient Greek myths and history. Jason (Jack Donnelly), a young man from our world, somehow winds up in Atlantis. With the help of two new friends -- a rather rotund Hercules (Mark Addy) and wide-eyed Pythagoras (Robert Emms) -- Jason seeks answers for his father's disappearance, his own origins and a destiny foretold by an oracle.
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How did Jason arrive in the lost city? What is this "lost" city, anyway? And why are historical figures chumming it up with mythological heroes? To help keep these facts and fictions straight, check out our guide to Atlantis:
Atlantis, the lost city
What history/tales say: Atlantis was a fictional island city that eventually was "lost" when it sank into the ocean. Stories of Atlantis have cropped up in fiction, sometimes as a city that continues to mystically exist under the sea whether it's under a dome, force field, dimensional anomaly or through magic.
What the series says: The BBC America series is playing the mystery close to the vest for now, but Jason does journey underwater before he inexplicably ends up on the shores of Atlantis. Pythagoras is suitably bewildered when he hears of Jason's knowledge of the city. "You call it lost," he says. "How can a city exist under the ocean? Surely everyone would drown."
Time period
What history/tales say: The fictional Atlantis was supposed to have sunk around 9564 B.C.
What the series says: It's not clear during what portion of Atlantis' history this takes place because it could be post-sinking, but for a historical reference, executive producer Howard Overman tells TVGuide.com, "We're saying it's Bronze Age Greece and a bit of ancient Persia. That's the look we're going for. We didn't want men to be wearing togas in that kind of classic, idealized images of Greece." Fans of both Greek myths and the ancient tale of Atlantis, the producers decided to combine those with history. "We made the decision from the start that we were going to do what we wanted," executive producer Johnny Capps says. "I'm sure there will be some Greek scholars who will go, 'That didn't happen.'"
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What history/tales say: Jason was an ancient Greek mythological hero who led the Argonauts on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Other heroes that influenced the character of Jason include Theseus (known for defeating the Minotaur) and Perseus (known for killing the Gorgon Medusa).
What the series says: Jason appears to be a normal young man living in the modern day who searches for his missing father. Once he arrives in Atlantis, however, he'll learn that there's much more to his past than he realized, including information about his father. "Jason is the main driving force. Him learning what his destiny is and learning his place in the world of Atlantis very much helped by Hercules and Pythagoras," Capps says.
What history/tales say: Hercules is a divine hero, son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman. He's known for his great strength and various adventures that include the 12 Labors of Hercules.
What the series says: Apparently, you can't believe everything you hear! Apparently, this Hercules is a hero in his own mind first and somewhat overweight. "Hercules, he isn't the muscle man of legend," Overman says. "You realize actually what Hercules has done is spin stories about himself that aren't necessarily true." Despite Hercules' less-than-stellar physique though, the series still thrusts him into plenty of adventures. "I hadn't fully thought through all the action I would have to do as someone rapidly approaching 50," says Mark Addy, who plays the pudgy Hercules, "but there we are. There's a lot of action. Also, there's action in the drinking department, the gambling department, telling tall stories department." As for his 12 Labors, producers say they'll touch on them eventually, but not right away.
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What history/tales say: He was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician best known for his Pythagorean theorem involving the relationship of the three sides of a right triangle.
What the series says: Although Jason identifies Pythagoras as "the triangle guy," he's not quite there yet. "We started with the idea that we'd meet well-known characters before they became the characters of legend," Overman says. "That was sort of a breakthrough moment for the show. It was just looking at the famous characters of Greek mythology and history and spinning them in a different way. So you're meeting Pythagoras when he's a young man and hasn't had all of his ideas and his theories yet. He's reaching for something and is very intelligent and he's a scholar, but he's way off coming up with his theorem."
The gods
What history/tales say: The ancient Greeks saw their gods as human in figure with human feelings, especially the lustful, nasty or vindictive ones. The difference was that they had powers, so this combination of passion and power often led to the gods interfering a lot with mortals, whether it's having sex with them or cursing them or other similarly unfortunate dealings.
What the series says: The gods exist, but don't expect anyone to be cast as Zeus, Hera and the rest. "Our rule was we didn't want to see the gods. The gods exist, and the people believe in the gods," Capps says. "The people in power use the gods to manipulate and grow fear in their subjects. So in that respect, the gods are very imporant to the story. But we didn't want to actually cut to them or see them because, visually, it never works for us. It always looks a bit weird seeing a guy with a beard sitting on a cloud."
Check out this first look at Atlantis, which premieres Saturday at 9/8c on BBC America.