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Titan, Atlas' Roman marble sculpture from the second century AD, the Farnese Atlas holding up a globe (heavens), is the oldest existing sculpture of the Greek god.
As per Hesiod, the ancient Greek poet, Atlas stood in the extreme west at the ends of Earth. Today, Atlas is a cultural association in the study of cartography.
Mythology buffs, this one is for you! In this article, we will be discussing the fascinating Greek mythology of the Titan, Atlas. This ancient Greek god was famous for his strength and role in the Titanomachy. He was also known for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Atlas also plays a vital role in myths of Greek heroes - Perseus and Heracles, or Hercules of Roman mythology. Read on to learn more about this significant figure from mythology.
Atlas was the son of Titans, Iapetus, and Clymene, who was also an Oceanid according to ancient Greek mythology. He had many siblings: Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius.
He also had five sisters named Asia, Europa (not the continent), Hesione (mother of Dardanus), Clymene II, and Pandora.
Atlas was also the father of Maia and Calypso, the nymph. Maia was the mother of Hermes, the messenger god and one of the Pleiades.
The origin of the name 'atlas' is unknown. The adjective for Atlas given by Virgil is 'durus' meaning 'enduring and hard.'
The Atlantic ocean was named after this Titan. 'Atlantic ocean' in Greek roughly means 'the sea of Atlas'.
The name Atlas was also given to the guide of maps. In ancient Greece, a famous location was named after Atlas, however, it does not show up in modern-day maps.
The name of the lost city of Atlantis means 'the island of Atlas' and the king of this city was called Atlas. Just the way Atlas was associated with North Africa, it is also said that he was the ruler of Atlantian culture.
With Oceanid Pleione, Atlas had seven daughters. The daughters were known as the seven Pleiades.
Atlas is also described to be Niobe's grandfather in the Theban form of events.
The story of Atlas transforming into a rock mountain may date back to the fifth century BCE.
It was first suggested by Herodotus that the sky was resting upon Mount Atlas in North Africa's western region.
Scenes of the '12 Labors Of Hercules', along with Atlas, were famously portrayed on Greek pottery decorations, especially Prometheus, the brother of Atlas.
On a ring, a mirror from Vulci, and two fifth century BC Etruscan bronze materials, 'Aril' was inscribed. These objects depict Hercle's encounter with Atlas in Etruscan mythology. However, 'Aril' was not Etruscan.
There are several symbols associated with Atlas, the Titan. One of the most prominent is the globe, which represents his role in bearing the weight of the sky.
It was said that Atlas was skilled in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy.
In antiquity, he was regarded as the inventor of the first celestial sphere. Some texts of history credit him for the discovery of astronomy itself.
As a punishment bestowed by Zeus, Atlas was commanded to hold up the heavens on his shoulders, standing at the west edge of the Earth or Gaia.
He was known as 'Atlas enduring' or 'Atlas Telamon', becoming Coeus' doublet, the representation of the celestial axis. The heavens revolved around this axis.
Carrying the heavens was a punishment for Titanomachy for leading the Titans against Olympian gods into a battle to gain control over the heavens. The Olympian gods eventually defeated the Titans.
In this battle, Atlas sided with his elder brother, Cronus, and was an ardent supporter of him. He fought against Zeus along with many other Titans and giants.
Other Olympians fighting with the Titans against Zeus were Hades and Prometheus.
After the defeat of the Titans, several of them, including Menoitios, were imprisoned in Tartarus, a deep dungeon used to hold the Titans.
The symbols of Atlas are: the tree, this symbolizes growth and strength; the urn, this symbolizes water and fertility; the lion, this symbolizes power and strength.
As one of the oldest and most popular gods in Greek mythology, Atlas has been featured prominently in art and literature over the centuries. Some of the most famous examples include John Milton’s epic poem 'Paradise Lost' and an 1838 painting by Benjamin West.
During the Roman and Hellenistic periods, the Titan, Atlas is often depicted in the familiar position of being bent backwards on his knees, straining to hold onto the globe of the heavens resting on his shoulders.
In a few versions of the '12 Labors Of Hercules', it is said that Hercules was the one to build the two pillars of Hercules, holding the Earth away from the sky, freeing Atlas like he freed his brother Prometheus.
Atlas mythology is very significant because he's one of the oldest and most powerful gods in mythology. He played a significant role in many stories and legends, including several myths about Zeus.
He became akin to the Atlas Mountains in modern Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, as well as northwest Africa, where, as per legend, he became a big rock mountain range at the hands of a shepherd, using Medusa's head and deadly stare.
In this tale, Atlas fathered (in some versions of this story) the nymphs, Hesperides, who guarded the tree of golden apples. Gaea, the Earth goddess, gave this tree of golden apples as a wedding present to Hera, then placed the tree of golden apples in a secret area.
Atlas was told by the oracle that one day Zeus' son would steal the golden apples. Hence, Atlas would not let anyone visit his house.
As Atlas denied Perseus hospitality in his land, Perseus transformed this Titan into the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa, as the legend goes.
Both Polyidus and Ovid describe the tale of Perseus turning Atlas into stone.
Atlas mythology also states that he was the one who held up Uranus (the sky) for Zeus after Cronus overthrew him from power. This is how he came to be known as 'the Titan who holds up the sky'.
In the popular Disney movie 'Hercules', Atlas plays a significant role as one of Hercules’ opponents in the Underworld.
Atlas is also regarded as the source of great wisdom and the father of many constellations.
Atlas is usually featured in Greek art from the sixth Century BCE as part of the '12 Labors Of Hercules', especially in a metope from the Zeus Temple at Olympia, where Atlas is present in the Hesperides gardens.
The popular myth of Atlas that's commonly celebrated is his role in the '12 Labors Of Hercules'. The main version of this story is found in the Library of Athens in Apollodorus.
The second century CE sculpture of Atlas holding the globe of the heavens is now at the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Myths also suggested that after Atlas was free of his burden, he took a place among the stars.
As one of the oldest and most powerful gods in mythology, Atlas played a significant role in many stories and legends. He is also associated with other mythological figures such as Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Dardanus.
Atlas was Mauretania's legendary king and also its first king, which was the land of the Mauri that roughly corresponds with today's Maghreb.
In addition to bearing the weight of the sky (heavens) on his shoulders, Atlas was also known for being incredibly strong. He is often depicted in mythology as carrying a great burden or holding up something heavy.
'Ovid’s Metamorphoses': in this poem, Atlas is described as a powerful figure who is forced to carry the weight of the sky on his shoulders.
In 'The Iliad', an epic poem by Homer, Atlas appears in a minor role, but is still depicted as a powerful figure.
In 'Paradise Lost', another epic poem by John Milton, features an extensive description of Atlas and his mythology.
In 'Dante’s Inferno', a classic work of literature, Atlas is mentioned alongside other famous mythological figures such as Cerberus and Medusa.
In 'Odyssey', Homer describes Atlas as being responsible for holding the pillars that separate Earth from the heavens, and describes Atlas as 'deadly-minded.'
In the popular legend of the '12 Labors Of Hercules', Eurystheus needed Hercules to retrieve golden apples from the Hesperides' fabled gardens that were very sacred to Hera. This garden was also guarded by the fearless, Ladon, the hundred-headed dragon.
Hercules took the advice of Prometheus and asked Atlas to fetch some apples as Hercules, with Athena's help, took the heavens upon his shoulders for some time, giving Atlas a break.
When Atlas did give the golden apples to Hercules, Atlas was averse to continue carrying the burden of the heavens on his shoulders.
The sneaky Hercules then tricked Atlas into swapping places temporarily, as Hercules had gotten cushions for himself to bear the weight of the heavens more comfortably.
As soon as he returned the burden of the heavens to Atlas, Hercules hurried back to Mycenae.
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