In Greek mythology, Zeus punished the Titans for waging war against him. This 10-year battle is known as the Titanomachy. Some versions of the story make Atlas the leader of the Titans. His punishment was harsh. Zeus forced Atlas to hold up an extraordinarily heavy weight. There is disagreement among the sources as to what this weight was.
Usually, Atlas is said to hold up the Heavens, but the proverbial version has him holding the world on his shoulders. To hold the weight of the world on one's shoulders is to be burdened with too much responsibility for a single person.
Not all versions of the story of Atlas have him carrying the Heavens or the world on his shoulders. In some, he is supporting the pillars that separate the Heavens and the Earth. Atlas may be partially submerged.
Image: © Corinne Gill