Greek mythology is highly influenced by the Etruscan mythology. The Greek gods and goddesses very much resemble Greek deities and some of their similarities are hard to ignore. The Greek mythology consists out of many stories and myths that can teach us a lot about life and us. These stories represent a combination of old stories and religion that represent a very colorful representation of life and relationships.
The highest Greek deity was Zeus and the rest of Greek gods and goddesses were lower in status, but not lower in their significance. Their significance can sometimes be bigger, even though some of these deities are minor in status. Greek mythology wasn’t as important to Romans as it was the Greek mythology to Greeks, but it still persevered until today and the symbolism of that time can be found even today.
Greek mythology definitely kept a much stronger significance in the world, but the Greek mythology is not far off.
In today’s text we will learn more about the Greek god Atlas and his significance to the ancient Greeks and today’s popular culture. This Greek deity’s symbolism is still very present today, and we will be talking about that as well. So if you were ever interested in finding out more about this Greek god, here is your chance to do that.
Mythology and Symbolism
In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan and his appearance in Roman mythology is actually taken from Greek mythology. Atlas together with his brother Menoetius sided with the Titans in the war against Gods. This war was called Titonomachy. After the defeat of the Titans, many of them became loyal to Tartarus but the Zeus, the highest Greek deity, decided to punish Atlas in a very peculiar way.
Zeus condemned Atlas to stand in the western part of the Earth and hold the sky on his shoulders for eternity. Because of this, Atlas was remembered as enduring Atlas and he became one of the most interesting motifs in later art and literature. Many confuse the celestial axis above Atlas’s head with the globe; so many artists depicted Atlas holding the world or Earth above his head.
Another myth about Atlas was the one about Atlas the giant. According to the myth, Atlas the giant tried to drive a wandering Perseus from the place where the Atlas Mountains are now located. In this story, Perseus discovered Medusa’s head and turned Atlas into stone, which later became the Atlas Mountains. According to the writings of Plato, the first ruler of the Atlantis was also named Atlas, but this Atlas was the son of Poseidon and mortal woman Cleito.
According to another myth, Atlas received an opportunity to get rid of his burden. Heracles came to pick the apples of a tree guarded by the Atlas’s daughters Hesperides to take them to the king Euristerius. The apples were located in the Hera’s garden and were hard to reach. Atlas decided to offer to the Heracles to fetch the apples for him, if only he would hold his burden until he gets them. Heracles agreed to take on the burden until Atlas goes and gets the apples, because he knew that the apples were guarded by the Ladon dragon that was almost impossible to defeat.
After Atlas managed to get the apples, he brought them to Heracles and asked to take them to the Mycenaean king himself. Heracles saw what Atlas was up to, so he asked him to hold the burden just until he puts some grass between his shoulder and the burden because it was too hard for him to hold it. After Atlas took on the burden again, Heracles went with the apples and Atlas was left to hold the burden for all eternity, even after his death.
In another story, Heracles decided to help Atlas by building him Atlas’s pillars that helped him take off the weight from his shoulders and freed Atlas from his burden. There are even a monument of Heracles’s pillars in Gibraltar. According to an old story, Atlas died after the hero Perseus came to show him the head of Gorgonina. Her head was so terrifying that everyone who would see her would turn into stone.
Atlas didn’t believe Perseus that he killed her, so when Perseus showed him her head Atlas turned into stone. He was actually turned into a mountain that still stands today and he is still holding the entire sky on his back, while his head (top of the mountain) is peeking through the sky. In some interpretations, Atlas holds the sky and in other he holds the Earth on his shoulders.
Meaning and Facts
Atlas wasn’t actually a Greek deity, but because of his significance and influence on modern culture, he became one of the best known characters from the Greek mythology. He was a Titan who fought on the Titan’s side during the war between Titans and the Gods. In this epic battle, Titans were defeated and while many of them decided to give in to the power of Gods, Atlas was condemned by Zeus for eternity.
Atlas is always portrayed as a muscular and strong man, middle aged and holding a globe above his head. Even though, according to myths, he was holding the sky and not the earth itself, most of his depictions in art and literature describe him holding the earth. Atlas was the son of Iapetus and nymph Clymenthus. Atlas’s spouse was the nymph Pleion. His brothers formed a pact with the Olympian gods after the Great War, while he was condemned to hold the sky for all eternity.
Atlas’s struggle to hold the entire sky on his shoulders became an important metaphor in popular culture. People often refer to their struggles or the weight they have on their shoulders by mentioning Atlas. His struggles were universal examples for the weight of the life and how humans need to find a way to cope with it.
The story about Atlas can also be related to the story about humans and religion. Those who decide to fight against it or denounce it will spend their lives in pain and suffering. To them, the salvation might never come just like the salvation and end of the Atlas’s suffering never came. He was forced to spend his eternity holding the weight of the sky on his shoulders, while others walked freely and lived their lives carelessly waiting for eternal salvation. The story about atlas is so deep and meaningful that many stories can be derived from it.
Atlas’s punishment was so cruel and unthinkable, that many felt sorry for him but no one was brave enough to confront the highest deity, Zeus. Atlas comes from the Greek mythology and from there he was introduced into the Greek mythology. This is why the story about Atlas is universal and doesn’t’ have much differences in comparison to the Greek version of the story. This is only one example of how Roman and Greek mythology were linked and connected and how they actually complemented each other.
In popular culture, Atlas is best known for his association with cartography. The phrase Atlas is used to represent a book of maps of various regions on the Earth. It represents a collection of maps and we use it to study geography and cartography. The reason why this phrase was used to resemble such a thing is because Atlas was often portrayed as holding the entire Earth above his head, which should actually be a map of the sky and not the globe.
In the period of Renaissance, artists took the liberty to paint Atlas in a different way and present him holding the Earth and not the sky or celestial axis as it was initially ordered by Zeus in the myth.
The first publisher who was associated to the Titan Atlas, Antonio Lafreri, printed and sold, who engraved the title pade ad hoc assemlages of maps. Even though this first collection of maps didn’t hold the name Atlas in its title, this mistake was corrected by Gerardus Mercator, who was the first person to dedicate the collection of maps to the Greek Titan Atlas, who was also a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer.
In modern psychology, the name Atlas was often used to describe a child whose childhood was marked by excessive amounts of responsibilities. The burden the child felt growing up reflected on his adult life and caused many consequences both positive and negative.
In art and literature, Atlas is mostly painted or sculpted holding the earth or the celestial axis. According to the original myth, Atlas was condemned to stand on the western side of the planet and hold the sky for eternity. But latter, artists took the liberty to portray Atlas holding the Earth or a globe on his shoulders which is the image that mostly prevailed in the latter period.
The Greek mythology consists out of many stories and myths that can teach us a lot about life and us. Even though Atlas wasn’t the Greek deity, he still made quite an impact on the Greek mythology and remained popular even today.
Greek mythology is highly influenced by the Etruscan mythology. The Greek gods and goddesses very much resemble Greek deities and some of their similarities are hard to ignore. There are many references to Atlas and his punishment, which can be found in modern psychology and literature.
Many artists used the Atlas metaphor I their works of art to send a strong message out to the viewers or readers. Atlas’s punishment represented the weight of the world that lies on humans and our inability to withstand this difficult punishment.
Greek mythology definitely kept a much stronger significance in the world, but the Greek mythology is not far off. In today’s text we will learn more about the Greek god Atlas and his significance to the ancient Greeks and today’s popular culture.
The story about Atlas is completely taken over from the Greek mythology. In the Greek version we have the same story about the leader of the Titans who fought against the Gods and lost. In this story there is a strong message of betrayal and a message that there is something bigger and more important than humans, and that is religion itself. Those who oppose it are going to be condemned to live their eternity in suffering and pain, and the salvation will never come to them.
The story about Atlas might not be as detailed and deep as the story about other Greek mythological figures, but it surely teaches us about life and people. If we look deeper into the symbolic meaning of this story, we will notice many different layers and symbolic meanings that can be taken from it. If nothing, references to this ancient titan are still relevant today, which is only one proof more about its importance.