Our Public and Private Atlas

In Greek mythology, Atlas was tasked by Zeus to carry the sky and celestial bodies for eternity as punishment for siding with the Titans (who lost to the Olymplans).

(Lee Lawrie’s sculpture of Atlas at the Rockefeller Center, NY)

This public image of Atlas “carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders” seems heroic and even admirable.

Since no one is immune from personal burdens, sometimes this image is translated to one’s personal circumstances, the ability to persist and carry the load.

“I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.” Atlas was said to have begged Zeus.

(A sculpture at The Breakers, Newport, RI)

But sometimes this can go too far. Oftentimes nobody is punishing us except ourselves.

“Drop the idea that you are Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders. The world would go on even without you. Don’t take yourself so seriously.”
– Norman Vincent Peale

These are words of wisdom worth bearing.


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