North Africa’s Role in Classic Mythology

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 3, 2018 19:38

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North Africa’s Role in Classic Mythology

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 30th 2018)

Atlas was an African

Ever wondered why Morocco’s national team are known as the Atlas Lions? Simple – the Atlas Mountains, right? Well kind of, but how many Moroccans actually know who Atlas was? The Mountains are named after him. Atlas was a Titan, a giant who sided with his race in the Titanomachy – a losing battle where Zeus overthrew the old Greek Gods, and became the most powerful Greek God. As punishment for opposing him, Atlas’ brother, Menoetius, who was killed by Zeus, was confined to Tartarus – the ancient Greek equivalent of Hell – to endure brutal punishment.

Another brother Prometheus, a benefactor of mankind, sided with Zeus, but his generosity to humans cost him dear. Having tricked Zeus once Zeus retaliated by taking fire away from mankind. Prometheus stole it and gave it back to humans. His punishment was that he was chained to rocks where an eagle would eat his liver by day. Being immortal it would grow back at night so he endured this torture every day. This continued until Heracles intervened to help Prometheus.

Atlas’ Punishment

Atlas was punished for choosing the losing side too. He had to bear the weight of the skies on his shoulders for eternity unless he could get somebody else to take the burden. As time passed, he grew bitter awaiting a Greek ‘hero’. The first was Perseus. One legend was, armed with the Gorgon Medusa’s head, Perseus showed it to the irate Atlas, by now enraged at his fate and in no mood to hear Perseus’ wishes, and that turned Atlas to stone – the ‘origin’ of the Atlas Mountains.

But there is a huge flaw in that mythology. The timing is all wrong, as Perseus predates Heracles, and Greek Mythology has encounters between Heracles and Atlas, although those are conflicting too.

As part of his legendary labours Heracles required the Golden Apples (which conferred immortality on whoever ate them) from the Goddess Hera’s Garden. They were guarded by the hundred-headed dragon Ladon and tended by Atlas’ daughters the Hesperides. Obviously Atlas was best placed to obtain them for him, so Heracles asked him to get them for him.

Briefly Heracles held the skies up for Atlas. When Atlas returned, he offered to take the apples to Eurystheus, but Heracles suspected that Atlas would not return, so he asked Atlas to take the skies again briefly while he set his cloak for the task. Once Atlas had the skies on his shoulders, Heracles took the apples and ran away.

But there’s another version. Heracles had helped Titans before. Atlas’ brother Prometheus had given man fire, by stealing it from the Gods. As a punishment he was chained to rocks on mount Caucusus. By day his organs were attacked and devoured by an eagle. By night they grew back so Prometheus could endure this torture every day. Even some Gods – Heracles for example balked at Prometheus’ fate. Heracles set him free by killing the eagle. Some sources say he helped Atlas too.

Other African Influences

One of Heracles’ numerous fights during his famous labours for his weakling cousin Eurystheus was his bout with Antaeus. The son of the Sea-God Poseidon and the Earth Goddess, Gaia, Antaeus, wanted to build a temple to his father from the skulls of vanquished opponents. He had an advantage that made him almost invincible. As long as he was in contact with earth (his mother) he could not be beaten. Conventional wrestling moves such as pinning or throwing was therefore useless, as many found to their cost.

Heracles worked out the source of Antaeus’ strength and defeated him by lifting him off the ground and crushing him to death in a bear hug in which his ribs penetrated his liver. Antaeus was a Libyan. According to legend, Heracles had a child Sophax with Antaeus’ widow, Tinge. Sophax founded a city, which he named Tingis – this is now Tangier. The Caves of Heracles are on the outskirts of Tangier. Both the coast of Spain and Gibraltar can be seen from Tangier.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 3, 2018 19:38