You’ve likely heard of him, even use his name in everyday life when you look at a map. He is the ultimate symbol of strength and endurance, the Ancient Greek Titan Atlas, bears the cosmos and turns the sky on his shoulders for eternity. Whether you consider him a hero or not, depends on how you interpret his myths, regardless he is an enduring figure literally and figuratively as his image and name are still widely used to this day.
A marble depiction of Atlas hunched over as he bears the weight of the world. Here you can see some subtle nods to his affiliation with navigation and astronomy with the inclusion of the sextants.
You might be wondering what is a Titan? In the Greek mythos, the Titans were an older generation of gods ruled by Cronus from Mount Othrys, they fought against Zeus and the other Olympians in the Titanomachy. This war lasted for 10 long years with the Titans, Atlas gradually working his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming their leader. However, they were defeated in a final clash by Zeus and his siblings releasing all the prisoners of Tartarus upon the Titans and killing King Cronus in the process. In the aftermath, Zeus claimed dominion over the sky, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld, the three agreeing the earth was a neutral zone. As punishment for their involvement, the Titians were imprisoned in Tartarus, an ancient, dark and eternal place of nothingness, similar to purgatory. All except Atlas, he was condemned to bear the weight of the cosmos on his shoulders for eternity at the world’s edge as punishment for leading the Titans against Zeus and the Olympians in the war.
While Atlas tried to escape his punishment, he was only briefly able to once in his encounter with Heracles as one of the hero’s Twelve Labours. Heracles was sent to fetch some magical golden apples from Hera’s garden that was tended by Atlas’s daughters, however, the apple tree was guarded by the vicious dragon, Ladon. Heracles went to find Atlas and offered to hold up the sky while Atlas retrieved the apples for him from his daughters. On his return, Atlas realised that he was finally free and attempted to trick Heracles into permanently carrying the heavens whilst he completed the hero’s quests promising that he would come back for the hero. Heracles caught on to Atlas’s ploy, suspecting that he would not return. Heracles played along with the plan, agreeing to hold the sky while Atlas finished his quest for him. Heracles only asked that Atlas to take back the sky for a moment while he readjusts himself into a more comfortable position. Unfortunately for Atlas, as soon as Heracles was free he snatched his apples and bolted, leaving Atlas once again forever condemned to carry the heavens.
Lee Lawrie’s bronze statue of Atlas outside Rockefeller Centre, NYC
Have you heard the phrase “to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders”? This expression is directly inspired by the Atlas and his eternal punishment. Something about the way he proudly bears his punishment with fortitude and perseverance has resonated with audiences through the ages. Even standing proudly outside Rockefeller Centre in a colossal bronze sculpture. Atlas was also heavily associated with navigation and mathematics for thousands of years. Sailors and farmers would rely on his rotation of the sky to track the stars and to know when to plant and when to harvest. In Ancient Greece, he was even credited with inventing the first celestial sphere. It is likely for these reasons his name became synonymous with maps and globes.
Lladró’s Atlas Sculpture in matt white porcelain and gold metallic lustre.
Atlas is one of those figures that has been reinterpreted again and again, it can be exhausting looking at this poor, hunched over man struggling to hold up the globe. Lladró’s new Atlas sculpture offers a refreshing and commanding presence, appropriately so given his role as a commander, soldier and warrior. He stands upright in pristine matt white porcelain that allows the viewer to appreciate his strength in the definition of his flexed muscles. Read more about the history of Greek sculpture.
The radiant gold lustre with a metallic finish catches the eye and provides accents through the piece that allow us to notice the fine details like the drapery of the fabric and the expression on his face. Of course one cannot ignore the celestial sphere that he carries with a steadfast and almost stubborn expression. The sphere is engraved with astronomical markings, finished with a glittering metallic gold lustre. Read more about Lladró’s signature gold lustre.