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In Greek mythology, Atlas (Eng. /'æt ləs/ Gk. Ἄτλας) was the primordial Titan who supported the heavens from the ranges now called the Atlas Mountains. Atlas was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Asia or Klyménē (Κλυμένη):

"Now Iapetus took to wife the neat-ankled maid Clymene, daughter of Ocean, and went up with her into one bed. And she bare him a stout-hearted son, Atlas: also she bare very glorious Menoetius and clever Prometheus, full of various wiles, and scatter-brained Epimetheus."

Hyginus emphasises the primordial nature of Atlas by making him the son of Aether and Gaia. In contexts where a Titan and a Titaness are assigned each of the seven planetary powers, Atlas is paired with Phoebe and governs the moon. He had three brothers — Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius.


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.
* the Hesperides
*the Hyades
*a son, Hyas
*the Pleiades
  • By one or more unspecified goddesses:


Atlas, with his brother Menoetius, sided with the Titans in their war against the Olympians, the Titanomachy. His brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus weighed the odds and betrayed the other Titans by forming an alliance with the Olympians. When the Titans were defeated, many of them (including Menoetius) were confined to Tartarus, but Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of Gaia, the Earth and hold up Ouranos, the Sky on his shoulders, to prevent the two from resuming their primordial embrace. Thus, he was Atlas Telamon, "enduring Atlas," and became a doublet of Koios, the embodiment of the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve.A common contemporary interpretation is that Atlas 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 (see "Culural influence" below).


In a late story, a giant named Atlas tried to drive a wandering Perseus from the place where the Atlas mountains now stand. Later, out of pity, Athena revealed Medusa's head, turning Atlas to stone (those very mountains). As is not uncommon in myth, this account cannot be reconciled with the far more common stories of Atlas' dealings with Heracles, who was Perseus' great-grandson.

According to Plato, the first king of Atlantis was also named Atlas, but that Atlas was a mortal son of Poseidon. 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 Atlas 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. 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 Herculesmarker to hold the sky away from the earth, liberating Atlas much as he liberated Prometheus.

Etruscan Aril

The identifying name Aril is inscribed on two 5th-century Etruscan bronze items, a mirror from Vulcimarker 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.


The etymology of the name Atlas is uncertain and still debated. Virgil took pleasure in translating etymologies of Greek names by combining them with adjectives that explained them: for Atlas his adjective is durus, "hard, enduring", which suggested to George Doig that Virgil was aware of the Greek τλήναι "to endure"; Doig offers the further possibility that Virgil was aware of Strabo's remark that the native North African name for this mountain was Douris.

Some modern linguists derive it and its Greek root from the Proto-Indo-European root *tel, 'to uphold, support'; others suggest that it is a pre-Indo-European name.

Cultural influence

Atlas' best-known cultural association is in cartography. The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was Antonio Lafreri, on the title-page to Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori; however, he did not use the word "atlas" in the title of his work, an innovation of Gerardus Mercator, who dedicated his "atlas" specifically "to honour the Titan, Atlas, King of Mauretania, a learned philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer;" he actually depicted the astronomer king.

Atlas continues to be a commonly used icon in western culture, as a symbol of strength or stoic endurance. He is often shown kneeling on one knee while supporting an enormous round globe on his back and shoulders. The globe originally represented the celestial sphere of ancient astronomy, rather than the earth. The use of the term atlas as a name for collections of terrestrial maps and the modern understanding of the earth as a sphere have combined to inspire the many depictions of Atlas' burden as the earth.

Atlas is seen on the cover of Van Halen's album "5150."

The song "Achilles Last Stand" by Led Zeppelin contains images of greek mythology and Atlas in particular.

Atlas was used as a symbol in Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. Atlas is used as a metaphor for the people who produced the most in society, and therefore "hold up the world" in a metaphorical sense.

Atlas Copco is a Swedish company, the word copco is an acronym of the Belgian equivalent of Compagnie Pneumatique Commerciale.

"Atlas and the Oyster" is the title of a 2009 concept album by indie rock band A Love Like Pi.

Mickey à travers les siècles (Mickey Through the Centuries) was a French comic strip series published in the early 1970s featuring Mickey Mouse as a time traveller. In one such adventure, he assisted Heracles in his twelve tasks. The story gave an euhemerist spin on the legend of Atlas, depicted as an ordinary king with a passion for geography. He builds a large globe representing the Earth and Heracles helps him carry it to a suitable location. The Hesperides are his daughters and the golden apples are orange.

In the Belgian comics series Scrameustache, the titular hero often meets god-like figures such as Cupid and Atlas. In Le Réveil du Mirmidon (French for "The Mirmidon Awakes"), published in 2001, Atlas exiles seven dwarf-like gardeners and their wives for neglecting the tree with the Hesperides' golden apples. Atlas is depicted as a bearded giant in an astronaut's suit and with his own spaceship, though he also appears to have magical powers.

In the World's Strongest Man competitions, competitors have to lift huge spherical stone boulders onto pedestals. These stones are known as the Atlas Stones.

The first cervical vertebra, one of only two specifically named vertebrae, takes its name from the eponymous Atlas, since it supports the head as Atlas supported the celestial globe.

See also


  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke i.2.3.
  2. Hesiod (Theogony 359 [as a daughter of Tethys], 507) gives her name as Clymene but Apollodorus (1.8) gives instead the name Asia, as does Lycophron (1411). It is possible that the name Asia became preferred over Hesiod's Clymene to avoid confusion with what must be a different Oceanid named Clymene, who was mother of Phaethon by Helios in some accounts.
  3. Hesiod, Theogony 507ff.
  4. Hyginus, Preface to Fabulae.
  5. Classical sources: Homer, Iliad v.898; Apollonius Rhodius ii. 1232; Bibliotheke i.1.3; Hesiod, Theogony 113; Stephanus of Byzantium, under "Adana"; Aristophanes Birds 692ff; Clement of Rome Homilies vi.4.72.
  6. Hesiod, Theogony 371
  7. Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History 4.26.2
  8. Hyginus, Astronomica 2.21; Ovid, Fasti 5.164
  9. Hyginus, Fabulae 192
  10. Hesiod, Works and Days 383; Apollodorus, 3.110; Ovid, Fasti 5.79
  11. Homer, Odyssey 1.52; Apollodorus, E7.23
  12. Hyginus, Fabulae 82, 83
  13. Pausanias, Guide to Greece 8.12.7, 8.48.6
  14. The usage in Virgil's maximum Atlas axem umero torquet stellis ardentibus aptum (Aeneid]], iv.481f , cf vi.796f), combining poetic and parascientific images, is discussed in P. R. Hardie, "Atlas and Axis" The Classical Quarterly N.S. '33.1 (1983:220-228).
  15. Polyeidos, Fragment 837; Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.627
  16. Plato, Critias
  17. Paolo Martini, Il nome etrusco di Atlante, (Rome:Università di Roma) 1987 investigates the etymology of aril, rejecting a link to the verbal morpheme ar- ("support") in favor of a Phoenician etymon in an unattested possible form *'arrab(a), signifying "guarantor in a commercial transaction" with the connotation of "mediator", related to the Latin borrowing arillator, "middleman". This section and note depend on Rex Wallace's review of Martini in Language 65.1 (March 1989:187-188).
  18. Aeneid iv.247: "Atlantis duri" and other instances; see Robert W. Cruttwell, "Virgil, Aeneid, iv. 247: 'Atlantis Duri'" The Classical Review 59.1 (May 1945), p. 11.
  19. George Doig, "Vergil's Art and the Greek Language" The Classical Journal 64.1 (October 1968, pp. 1-6) p. 2.
  20. Strabo, 17.3; since the Atlas mountains rise in the region inhabited by Berbers, it has been suggested that the name might be taken from one of the Berber languages, specifically adrar "mountain".


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