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What does Atlas carry on his shoulders?


I know he's shown holding a globe, but I didn't think the Greeks knew it was round.

4604 day(s) ago

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NotEinstein
You are correct. Modern drawings and sculptures show Atlas carrying a spherical representation of the Earth, but according to Greek mythology his job is to separate the heavens and the Earth.

Why was he separating the two in the first place? There are three generations of Greek gods: First there was Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the heavens. They had children known as the Titans. Atlas was one of these children. The Titans' children were the Olympians. These are the gods we're familiar with, like Zeus and Aphrodite.

There was a great war between the Titans and the Olympians to see who would control the universe. The Titans lost, and all of them except Atlas were sent to Tartarus, a place beyond Hades that was the Greek equivalent of hell. Zeus, not wanting any new Titans to deal with, sent Atlas to a mountain range in northern Africa, now called the Atlas Mountains. Here he held up the heavens, keeping Uranus and Gaia separate so they wouldn't have any more kids.

So, how did he end up holding the globe? It wasn't long before early astronomers noticed that the stars moved in a circular pattern. Sometime around 600 B.C.E. these astronomers theorized that that the stars were attached to the inside of a hollow sphere that surrounded the Earth. This sphere move around the planet throughout the year, creating the movement of the stars. Statues of this time depict Atlas holding this "celestial" sphere.

During the Renaissance there was a big classical revival with lots of copying of ancient Greek works. However, when the artists saw sculptures of Atlas they mistook the celestial sphere for a depiction of the Earth. When they made copies of the statues, they used a globe. This is why Atlas is now shown holding the planet instead of the stars.

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