The Greek God Atlas: Information and Temple Sites

You'll recognize the Greek God Atlas as he's the bearded middle-aged man, very muscular, crouched beneath a globe which he balances on his shoulders. Atlas is almost always depicted, at least in modern times, with the globe of the world on his shoulders—which, incidentally, makes it seem that the ancients did not think that the world was flat. But the earliest references mention him as just holding up a "pillar" believed to keep the sky from crushing the earth below.

The Story of Atlas

Atlas was born of the Titans and vigorously fought against Zeus, earning Zeus's enduring wrath and the punishment of holding apart the heavens and the earth. Eventually, Zeus's wrath cooled and Atlas was freed when the centaur Chyron offered to go to the underworld in his place, for reasons that are unclear in the surviving myths.

Hercules briefly took on the burden of the Heavens so Atlas could go gather golden apples for him; Atlas nearly escaped his fate, but Hercules tricked him into resuming the burden by claiming he had to adjust his sandal strap before taking the burden permanently.

The Greek hero Perseus eventually turned the suffering Atlas into stone by showing him the head of Medusa.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Atlas

Atlas is very strong but a little gullible; he was easily tricked into taking back the weight of the world by Hercules. He is unfortunately stuck holding up the world. In this, he shares some characteristics with Sisyphus, who must constantly seek to roll a rock back uphill.


The Parents of Atlas are Lapetus, a Titan, and Clymene. The Titans were the previous generation of deities before the Olympians arose. His siblings are Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus was famous for bringing fire to humankind. His wife was Pleione, who was also pursued by Orion.

The children of Atlas included the Pleiades (the 7 Star Maidens), of whom Maia, the mother of Hermes, is probably the best known. Atlas is usually considered to be the father of the Hyade and of the Hesperides as well. The Hesperides watched over the orchard where the Golden Apples grew.

Major Temple Sites

Atlas had no known temples of his own. In Italy, at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, a row of Atlas-like figures held up the temple roof. (When "an atlas" is depicted, rather than Atlas specifically, it is usually written in lower case.) In modern times, he is widely depicted in monumental statuary throughout the world, usually with the globe rather than the original pillar.

Interesting Facts

Because of the association of strength, protection, and endurance, many companies have used "Atlas" in their names though this has fallen out of favor in recent years. And of course, according to one etymology, this Greek god gave his name to one of the most common books in the world—the Atlas, showing maps of that same globe balanced on his shoulders. But the original "Atlas" for the book of maps seems to be King Atlas of Mauretania, who was depicted in an early book of maps.

Atlas also figures in the title of the book "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand—shrugging would, of course, set the world to roll off of his back and free him of that responsibility. 

Common misspellings include Atlis and Atlos.


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