Myth Man's Greek Mythology



Atlas is the unlucky Titan who was condemned to hold up the heavens or sky for eternity following the unsuccessful revolt of the Titans versus the Olympian gods, called the Titanomachy (Battle of the Titans).

Atlas fought with and led most of the other Titans for ten terrible years, and when the Titans were finally defeated by the gods of Mount Olympus, most of the Titans were confined to Tartarus, deep in the depths of the Underworld.

Zeus rendered a special punishment upon their leader Atlas, forcing him to stand at the end of the earth, at the extreme west, holding up the sky and heavens. Thus he became Atlas Telamon, the Enduring Atlas, holding up the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve.

It's a common misconception that Atlas was forced to hold the Earth on his shoulders. Not so.

Atlas was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene or Asia. His two famous brothers were the Titans Prometheus and Epimetheus, who were astute enough to fight on the side of the Olympians, and were richly rewarded following their victory.

He had many children, mostly daughters, which included the Pleiades, the Hyades, the nymph Calypso and the Hesperides.

Among his many skills, Atlas was said to excel in mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. Some ancient writers even credit him with the invention of astronomy itself.

The term 'atlas' has been used to describe a collection of maps since the 16th century, and the 'Atlantic Ocean' is derived from 'Sea of Atlas".


One myth has Atlas, then a shepherd, encountering Perseus, who turned him to stone with the head of Medusa. Ovid later fleshes out the tale, where Atlas is not a shepherd but a King. Ovid tells us that Perseus arrived in the kingdom of Atlas and asks for shelter, declaring that he's a son of Zeus.

Atlas had been warned that a son of Zeus would steal the golden apples and flatly refused hospitality to Perseus. To punish him, Perseus turned Atlas not just into stone, but an entire mountain range.

Ironically, the prophecy did not relate to Perseus stealing the golden apples but rather to Heracles (Hercules), another son of Zeus and Perseus' great-grandson.


The Hesperides (also known as Atlantides) were the daughters of Atlas who were charged with tending the golden apples that grew in Hera's garden. The apples were also guarded by the ferocious dragon called Ladon.

Heracles, as one of his twelve labours, was to procure some of the golden apples. He went to Atlas and offered to hold up the heavens while Atlas got the apples from his daughters.

Atlas had other plans. When he returned with the apples, he attempted to trick Heracles into permanently holding up the sky. He offered to personally deliver the apples himself, knowing that anyone who purposely took the burden must carry it forever, or until someone else took it away.

Heracles was no fool, and suspected that Atlas had no intention of returning to his burden. He pretended to agree to Atlas' offer, but asked Atlas to briefly assume the load while he re-arranged his cloak to pad his shoulders.

Atlas set down the apples and took the heavens upon his shoulders again, whereupon Heracles grabbed the golden apples and made a hasty escape. Smart move.



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