When it comes to tattoos, Greek mythology has long been a popular option. Around the world people have heard famous tales about Greek gods and their favorite (often punished) heroes. Atlas, a Titan, is one of the most well-known of these tales and the subject of our article today.
In the sections below, we’ll tell you a little more about who he is, what he represents symbolically, and even go into subjects like tattoo interpretations, placements, and styles.
Let’s talk about an Atlas tattoo and it’s symbolism, meanings, and more!
Who is Atlas?
The Titanomachy was a 10-year war where the Greek gods fought the race of the Titans over control over the heavens and the Earth. Atlas was one of these Titans and when the gods won the war, Zeus ordered that he be punished by being forced to hold the weight of the heavens upon his shoulders.
Year after year he would do so, the stories say, until the time when he met the Greek hero Perseus. Legend tells us that Atlas would not allow the hero into his lands, because he had heard a prophecy that his end would come at the hands of a son of Zeus.
Perseus, infuriated at his treatment by Atlas’s people, confronted the Titan with the head of a Gorgon – Medusa! Turned to stone, Atlas became the Atlas Mountains and continues to hold up the heavens to this very day!
What is the History of Atlas Tattoos?
The myth of Atlas goes back as far as the 5th century B.C., making it quite the old tale indeed. As such, it has inspired people to ink the tragic Titan in their skin for a very long time.
It’s an image that you’ve probably already seen numerous times – that of a muscular man holding up the Earth in the form of a globe. Many companies have used the Titan as their logo, while for individuals he has long been a good tattoo choice for more personal reasons.
When it comes to tattoo choices, there really aren’t that many symbols that have the kind of world-recognition that Atlas does. His tragic story started in Greece, but you would be hard-put to find another place in the world where it hasn’t spread!
What Do Atlas Tattoos Symbolize?
Atlas is an almost universal symbol of endurance, as well as suffering. The muscled man, often depicted as being on one knee and almost broken by the weight of the Earth, nonetheless endures it all resolutely.
This is a good tattoo for those who always seem to bear more than their own share of responsibility and pain, but can and will endure for as long as it takes. There is even a nobility to this suffering and the figure of Atlas also serves as a symbol of the greatest strength ever known.
You might think that in Greek myth that this was reserved for Hercules, but in the tale where he takes the weight of the heavens from Atlas to get his help, many versions say that Athen had to help him in shouldering the ‘world’s weight’ – making Atlas stronger than even the mighty Hercules.
What Do Atlas Tattoos Mean?
An Atlas tattoo can mean a lot of things, depending on the design and the location where it is placed. For instance, it is important to notice how high Atlas is holding the Earth in a depiction.
If he is holding it high, then the tattoo may signify strength, while Atlas on one knee would be representative of suffering and the wearer’s familiarity with the pain of the weight that they must carry. In either case, there is endurance in the symbolism as well, but when the world is lower then it is magnified.
The meaning may also change depending on what is around Atlas. A Greek nymph tickling his armpit with a feather, for instance, might represent that the owner has a tendency to be distracted by physical or emotional love.
The original Atlas may even be modified to hold something with less weight, such as the Moon, and this might indicate that the wearer has different priorities about the kinds of weight that they will accede to holding. As with any tattoo, it’s all about creativity and self-expression, and the symbol of Atlas is ripe with many interpretations.
Where Do Atlas Tattoos Usually Go?
When the tattoo is about strength, then most often it will be placed somewhere visible, such as the forearm or the upper shoulder if the owner likes to wear sleeveless tops. For suffering, however, it is often placed somewhere out of view, reflecting the mindset of many sufferers that ‘one must endure alone’.
For detail pieces, especially if other elements will be added, the back is a good choice for the sheer volume of skin to work for making some truly amazing works, though Atlas is recognized well-enough worldwide that you could even tattoo a stick figure holding the planet on your ankle and everyone would know who it was.
While Atlas could thus be tattooed just about anywhere, most commonly he is placed somewhere with a good amount of space, such as the back or hip. This gives the artist enough space to really create something memorable for the lucky owner of the new tattoo.
Characteristics and Styles of Atlas Tattoos
Atlas is most commonly depicted in color and in traditional Renaissance style. Greek myth was important in this period and a popular subject, making lots of source material which continues to inspire modern artists to this very day.
The contrasts of a blue sky with the flesh tones of the man holding the heavens up makes for a truly awe-inspiring piece, though Atlas isn’t limited to Renaissance depictions. Often, he is shown in stark black and white, adding gravity to the familiar tragedy, and he can also make for an interesting symbol to hide in a tribal piece.
Bold color choices such as ‘watercolor’ can also make for amazing work and some may choice portraiture tattooing to give Atlas their own face or even the face of their father!
Styles such as ‘New School’ also offer color and image exaggeration that is certainly appealing to the eye and ‘Biomechanical’ tattoo styles could depict Atlas bearing his massive weight with the aid of implanted machinery – or the machinery could be the weight. Just like with Atlas’s situation, for tattoo options it appears that ‘the sky is the limit’!
Some final words on Atlas tattoos
The punishment of Atlas is appealing to people all over the world because it is something that we all recognize. Endurance, suffering, and of course – the strength to bear it. This makes the Titan quite a wonderful choice for tattoo art and your options are almost endless.
Whether you go with a renaissance classical-style depiction or spice things up with a little New School and some vibrant watercolors, or even a humorous stick-figure straining under a little globe, there’s no denying that you’d be hard-put to find a symbol as rich and as recognized as the tragic figure of Atlas!