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[53] The account of Atlas is thus given in

Ἄτλας δ᾽ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχει κρατερῆς ὑπ̓ ἀνάγκης
πείρασιν ἐν γαίης, πρόπαρ Ἑσπερίδων λιγυφώνων,
ἑστηὼς, κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ἀκαμάτῃσι χέρεσσι.
ταύτην γάρ οἱ μοῖραν ἐδάσσατο μητίετα Ζεύς:

and again,

Τῶν πρόσθ̓ Ἰαπετοῖο πάϊς ἔχετ̓ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν
ἑστηὼς, κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ἀκαμάτῃσι χέρεσσιν
ἀστεμφέως, ὅθι Νύξ τε καὶ Ἡμέρη ἆσσον ἰοῦσαι
ἀλλήλας προσέειπον


The locality here intended seems to be the far West, where the sun sinks and whence the darkness proceeds; cp. Od.10. 82.Aeschylus P.V. 348 follows the same account, describing Atlas as “ὃς πρὸς ἑσπέρους τόπους

ἕστηκε, κίον̓” (dual?) “οὐρανοῦ τε καὶ χθονὸς
ὤμοιν ἐρείδων”. Cp. also P. V.430οὐράνιόν τε πόλον νώτοις ὑποστεγάζει”. Humboldt (quoted by Paley in his note on Hesiod ) thinks that the Atlas of the early poets was the Peak of Teneriffe, of which vague accounts had been brought by Phoenician mariners. The word αὐτός is emphatic = ‘all by himself.’ The interpretation of ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι is uncertain. It may be rendered ‘which support at either side,’ sc. at East and West; as if the gigantic Atlas, by the enormous breadth of his shoulders, or with the vast span of his outstretched hands, supported pillars wide enough apart to sustain either extremity of the vault of heaven. This accords best with two passages in Pausanias (5. 18. 1) “ἐπὶ τῶν ὤμων κατὰ τὰ λεγόμενα οὐρανόν τε ἀνέχει καὶ γῆν”, and (5. 11. 12) “οὐρανὸν καὶ γῆν ἀνέχων παρέστηκε”. In this case “ἔχουσι” can only refer properly to “οὐρανὸν, γῆν” must be added by a Zeugma, the general idea of stability running through the two expressions; but the “οὐρανός” has its stability from the “κίονες”, that of the earth is in itself. A simpler way is to render “ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι” of vertical not of horizontal distance, ‘which keep asunder;’ the earth lies below, the heaven extends above, and between the two stands Atlas with his pillars keeping them apart.
The myth of Atlas is rationalised in two ways: (1) geographically, to which interpretation we owe the bestowal of the name of Atlas (“ἄ-τλας”, ‘the upholder’) on the cloud-capped range of Garamantian or Nasamonian mountains; and (2) physically, where Atlas represents the power which holds all the universe in its place ( Arist. de Caelo 2. 1; Arist. Metaph.4. 23), or the axis on which the heavens turn (Arist. de Anim. Motu, 3). Cp. Welcker, Götterlehre, 1. 752.

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hide References (5 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (5):
    • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 430
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 4
    • Hesiod, Theogony, 517
    • Hesiod, Theogony, 746
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.82
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