Story of How the Titan God Atlas Held Up the World
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Greek mythology is full of countless tales and characters, such as the gods and goddesses. There were essentially three basic levels of the gods and goddesses – the primordial beings, which included Uranus and Gaia, the Titans, which included Kronos and Rhea, and the Olympians, which included Zeus, Hera. and the other Olympians.
Atlas was one of the Titans, and he was known especially for his extreme strength. He was also known as the god who held the world up on his back. Here’s a closer look at who Atlas was and the story of how he held up the world:
About the Titans
The Titans were the gods and goddesses who were the offspring and Uranus and Gaia. They were approximately twelve titan gods and goddesses, and each had a role that related to both the sky and the earth. For the most part, they were about a generation or so removed from the Olympians. There are also some sources that believe that there were about two generations of Titans before the Olympians came about.
As mentioned above, Atlas is one of the Titans. However, he actually had mixed parentage. He was the son of Iapetus, a Titan God, and Clymene, who was a water nymph. Iapetus had four sons and, due to common interpretations as humanity’s ancestors, are all regarded as having the worst qualities of humankind. Atlas actually had many children, including the following:
- Hesperides or Atlantides, who were light nymphs living within Hera’s garden.
- Hyades, who were rain nymphs.
- Pleiades, who were seven rain nymphs whom Zeus transformed into doves and then into stars to ease Atlas’ mind.
- Calypso, a nymph who ruled the island Ogygia and appears in “The Odyssey.”
Story of Atlas Holding Up the Earth
After the war against the Titans and the Olympians, many of the Titans were sent to Hades as punishment for their takeover. The Titans lost against the Olympians. However, the victorious Olympian gods made an exception for Atlas. Zeus determined that Atlas’s punishment was to stand alongside the western edge of the Earth in order to keep the sky from crashing down.
There are some who believe that the image of Atlas upholding the world is a bit of a misconception, especially when the actual myth has him standing on the planet in order to uphold the sky. Art from the Classical period depicts Atlas holding many celestial bodies, not just the Earth. This misconception is not helped by Atlas’ depiction in the “Farnese Atlas,” a Roman statue from 2nd Century CE, which shows him holding just the earth, or the many appearances of Atlas on 16th Century maps.
Atlas Appears in Other Greek Myths
Besides the myth of him holding up the earth, Atlas appears in many stories. These include:
- Perseus – His tale involve the hero petrifying Atlas. Ovid’s account has Atlas become an entire mountain range after refusing hospitality to Perseus.
- Hercules – He runs into Atlas during his Twelve Labors. Hercules must acquire golden apples from the Hesperides and decides to ask Atlas if the Titan would get the fruit in exchange for holding up the sky in Atlas’ absence. While Atlas tries to back out of his Zeus-given punishment, Hercules tricks him into retaking the sky.
Atlas was a unique figure in Greek mythology. While many have associated Atlas with maps and immense strength, it is important to remember that Zeus punished him to uphold the sky, not the planet.
Categorized in: Greek Mythology
This post was written by Greek Boston