Atlas of Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, who was given the punishment of holding all of the heavens on his shoulders for eternity?

And the answer: Atlas.    

As one of the twelve Titans, Atlas sided with the Titans in their war against the Olympians. When the Titans were defeated, Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of the Earth, and hold up the sky on his shoulders.

Photo credit: Greek Boston

The image of a man cursed to hold the Earth on his shoulders is one which may be familiar to many of us, yet not many are as familiar with the true legend of Atlas. Not really a man at all, Atlas the Titan was actually cursed to hold Uranus — the personification of the sky and the heavens. Atlas was of the second generation of Titans, and brother to another famed legend: Prometheus (perhaps good luck doesn't really run in the family).

During the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Atlas sided with his family. Of course, then, when the the war ended, Zeus condemned Atlas by making an example out of his rebellion. His brothers and sisters were banished to Tartarus, the deepest pit of the underworld, but Atlas received a special task. Instead of the underworld, Atlas was sent to the edge of the Earth to hold the skies, forever separating Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). For this reason, Atlas is often recognized in mythology for his endurance, even sometimes being called Enduring Atlas as a means of recognizing his daily struggle and punishment.

Atlas went on to be regarded as the bearer of the heavens, which also had a close link with astronomy. When sailors set out to navigate the seas, they believed that they were being instructed by Atlas, as were farmers when they attempted to measure the seasons. Atlas' name now decorates everything from mountain ranges to navigational tools across the world.

Learn more about Atlas below.

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