In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity after the Titanomachy.

Although associated with various places, he became commonly identified with the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa (modern-day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). Atlas was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Asia or Clymene.

He had many children, mostly daughters, the Hesperides, the Hyades, the Pleiades, and the nymph Calypso who lived on the island Ogygia. According to the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, Atlas stood at the ends of the earth towards the west.

Sources describe Atlas as the father, by different goddesses, of numerous children, mostly daughters. Some of these are assigned conflicting or overlapping identities or parentage in different sources.

  • By Hesperius:
    the Hesperides
  • By Pleione (or Aethra):
    the Hyades
    a son, Hyas
    the Pleiades
  • By one or more unspecified goddesses:
    Calypso
    Dione
    Maera

According to Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths, the Pelasgians believed the creator goddess Eurynome assigned Atlas and Phoebe to govern the moon.

Hyginus emphasizes the primordial nature of Atlas by making him the son of Aether and Gaia.

Punishment

Atlas and his brother Menoetius sided with the Titans in their war against the Olympians, the Titanomachy.

When the Titans were defeated, many of them (including Menoetius) were confined to Tartarus, but Zeus condemned him to stand at the western edge of Gaia (the Earth) and hold up the sky on his shoulders.

Thus, he was Atlas Telamon,enduring Atlas,” and became a doublet of Coeus, the embodiment of the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve.

A common misconception today is that he was forced to hold the Earth on his shoulders, but Classical art shows Atlas holding the celestial spheres, not a globe; the solidity of the marble globe borne by the renowned Farnese Atlas may have aided the conflation, reinforced in the 16th century by the developing usage of atlas to describe a corpus of terrestrial maps.

Variations

In a late story, a giant named Atlas tried to drive a wandering Perseus from the place where the Atlas mountains now stand.

In Ovid‘s telling, Perseus revealed Medusa’s head, turning him to stone (those very mountains) when Atlas tried to drive him away, because Perseus, who went there accidentally and asked him for hospitality, named himself a son of Zeus and a prophecy said that a son of Zeus would steal the golden apples from Atlas’ orchard.

As is not uncommon in myth, this account cannot be reconciled with the far more common stories of Atlas’ dealings with Heracles, another son of Zeus, who was Perseus’ great-grandson and who sought for the golden apples.

According to Plato, the first king of Atlantis was also named Atlas, but that he was a son of Poseidon and the mortal woman Cleito. A euhemerist origin for Atlas was as a legendary Atlas, king of Mauretania, an expert astronomer.

Encounter with Heracles

One of the Twelve Labors of the hero Heracles was to fetch some of the golden apples which grow in Hera’s garden, tended by Atlas’ daughters, the Hesperides, and guarded by the dragon Ladon.

Heracles went to him and offered to hold up the heavens while Atlas got the apples from his daughters.

Upon his return with the apples, however, Atlas attempted to trick Heracles into carrying the sky permanently by offering to deliver the apples himself, as anyone who purposely took the burden must carry it forever, or until someone else took it away.

Heracles, suspecting Atlas did not intend to return, pretended to agree to Atlas’ offer, asking only that Atlas take the sky again for a few minutes so Heracles could rearrange his cloak as padding on his shoulders.

When Atlas set down the apples and took the heavens upon his shoulders again, Heracles took the apples and ran away.

In some versions, Heracles instead built the two great Pillars of Hercules to hold the sky away from the earth, liberating him much as he liberated Prometheus.

Etruscan Aril

The identifying name Aril is inscribed on two 5th-century BCE Etruscan bronze items, a mirror from Vulci and a ring from an unknown site.

Both objects depict the encounter with Atlas of Hercle, the Etruscan Heracles, identified by the inscription; they represent rare instances where a figure from Greek mythology is imported into Etruscan mythology, but the name is not. The Etruscan name Aril is etymologically independent.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.