Who Is Atlas, the Greco-Roman Titan?

The Atlas Statue At Rockefeller Center
Marc Jackson / Design Pics / Getty Images

In Rockefeller Center, in New York City, there is a giant 2-ton statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, made in 1936, by Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan. This art deco bronze shows him as he is known from Greek mythology. Atlas is known as the Titan giant whose job is to hold up the world (or heavens). He is not known for his brains, although he almost tricked Hercules into taking over the chore.

There is a nearby statue of the Titan Prometheus.



Family of Atlas

Atlas is the son of the Titans Iapetus and Clymene, two of the twelve Titans. In Roman mythology, he had a wife, the nymph Pleione, who bore the 7 Pleiades, Alkyone, Merope, Kelaino, Elektra, Sterope, Taygete, and Maia, and the Hyades, sisters of Hyas, named Phaesyla, Ambrosia, Coronis, Eudora, and Polyxo. Atlas also was sometimes named the father of the Hesperides (Hespere, Erytheis, and Aigle), whose mother was Hesperis. Nyx is another listed parent of the Hesperides.

Atlas is a brother of Epimetheus, Prometheus, and Menetius.

Atlas as King

The career of Atlas included ruling as king of Arcadia. His successor was Deimas, the son of Dardanus of Troy.

Atlas and Perseus

Perseus asked Atlas for a place to stay, but he refused. In response, Perseus showed the titan the head of Medusa, which turned him to the stone that is now known as Mount Atlas.


Since the Titan Cronus was too old, Atlas led the other Titans in their 10-year battle against Zeus, which is called the Titanomachy.

After the gods won, Zeus singled Atlas out for punishment, by making him carry the heavens on his shoulders. Most of the Titans were confined to Tartarus.

Atlas and Hercules

Hercules was sent to get the apple of the Hesperides. Atlas agreed to get the apples if Hercules would hold the heavens for him. Atlas wanted to stick Hercules with the job, but Hercules tricked him into taking back the burden of carrying the heavens on his shoulders.

Atlas Shrugged

Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. The title refers to a gesture the Titan Atlas might make were he to try to rid himself of the burden of holding up the heavens.

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Gill, N.S. "Who Is Atlas, the Greco-Roman Titan?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/atlas-the-greco-roman-titan-117216. Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Who Is Atlas, the Greco-Roman Titan? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/atlas-the-greco-roman-titan-117216 Gill, N.S. "Who Is Atlas, the Greco-Roman Titan?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/atlas-the-greco-roman-titan-117216 (accessed June 3, 2023).