Atlas (mythology)

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Atlas carries the vault of heaven on his shoulders. (Statue in the Plaza del Toral in Santiago de Compostela , 18th century)

Atlas ( ancient Greek Ἄτλας Átlas , from the root word τλα as in τλῆναι tlḗnai , German ' to carry, to endure' ) is a titan in Greek mythology who supported the vault of heaven at the westernmost point of the world known at the time. He is thus also the personification of the Atlas Mountains .



Atlas was the son of the titan Iapetos and the Oceanid (sea nymph) Asia , also called Klymene. Hyginus Mythographus , who wanted to emphasize the primeval world of the figure, made Atlas the son of Aether and Gaia . He had three brothers, namely Menoitius , Prometheus and Epimetheus .


Atlas and the Hesperides. (Painting by John Singer Sargent , 1925, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston )

Depending on the sources, which sometimes overlap or contradict each other, Atlas had several wives and with them fathered numerous children, mostly daughters:


Atlas and his brother Menoitios found themselves on the side of the losers after the titan fight against the Olympians and were punished by Zeus for their loyalty to Kronos . Unlike most of the other titans, Atlas was not banished to the Tartaros , but was given the arduous task of standing on Gaias (personification of the earth) western edge and lifting the Uranos (personification of the sky) there in order to prevent that those two take up their primeval embrace again. (Because in ancient times Gaia had grown tired of being raped by Uranus all the time). So Atlas became Atlas Telamon (= anchored Atlas) and received a counterpart with Koios , who personifies the world axis around which the sky rotates.

Meeting with Perseus

Atlas turns to stone. On the right, Perseus escapes on his wing shoes. (Painting by Edward Coley Burne-Jones , 1882, Southampton City Art Gallery)

In a late saga, Zeus' retribution on Atlas is indirect in nature; Ovid relates: After Perseus had beheaded the gorgon Medusa in the land of the Hyperboreans , the terrible sight of which instantly turned everyone to stone, he reached the Palace of Atlas on his onward journey. But the Titan refused to welcome him because the oracle had once prophesied that a son of Zeus would appear and steal his daughter's apples (→ Hesperides ). The angry Perseus then held out the captured head of Medusa towards him, whereupon the Titan petrified into a gigantic rock, the Atlas Mountains.

Meeting with Heracles

In his eleventh work for Eurystheus , Heracles was supposed to get the golden apples of the Hesperides. These thrived on a tree that was a wedding gift from the earth goddess Gaia to Hera . The latter entrusted the apple tree to the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas. It grew up on a slope of the Atlas Mountains and was guarded by the hundred-headed dragon Ladon . When Herakles met Atlas on his excursion and explained himself, Atlas offered to pick the apples for Heracles so that he would be spared the fight against the suspicious dragon. Meanwhile, Heracles was supposed to take over from Atlas while carrying the firmament. The hero thanked him and put the celestial sphere on his shoulders while the titan got the golden apples. Intoxicated by his new freedom, Atlas wanted to bring it to Eurystheus himself. Herakles also apparently agreed to this, but asked Atlas to take over the burden again for a short time so that he could rearrange his cloak to create a cushion of fabric between the shoulder and the burden. Atlas performed this service for him; Heracles, on the other hand, set off with the booty and off.


Farnese Atlas (Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture, 2nd century, Museo Archeologico Nazionale , Naples)

Originally, Atlas was mostly depicted as a carrier in the visual arts and, as Atlant , it assumed both a supporting and decorative function in architecture. In later illustrations it then carries the celestial sphere or, not infrequently, the globe .

See also


Web links

Commons : Atlas (Mythology)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Libraries of Apollodorus 1.2.3
  2. Hesiod , Theogony 359; Homer , Odyssey 1.51-54
  3. Hyginus, Fabulae (preface)
  4. Hesiod, Theogony 507ff; Homer, Odyssey 1.51-54
  5. ^ Diodor , The Library of History 4.26.2
  6. ^ Hyginus, astronomica 2.21; Ovid, Fasti 5.164
  7. a b Hyginus, fabulae 192
  8. Hesiod, Werke und Tage 383; Libraries of Apollodorus 3,110; Ovid, Fasti 5.79
  9. Homer, Odyssey 1.52; Pseudo-Apollodor, Libraries Epitome 7.23
  10. Hyginus, fabulae 82, 83
  11. Pausanias , Description of Greece December 8th, 7th, 8th, 48th
  12. ^ PR Hardie, "Atlas and Axis" The Classical Quarterly NS 33.1 (1983: 220-228)
  13. Ovid, Metamorphoses IV.617ff