"I want to tell the story again",
This review is from: Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles (Myths) (Hardcover)
"[Atlas] turned his head &, just for a moment he didn't see the universe balanced there on his back. It was himself he was carrying, colossal & weighty, little Atlas desperately holding up the Atlas of the world."
We all know the gist of the story - after failing in his struggle to attain freedom from the Gods, the Atlas is condemned to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. But what exactly was he struggling for in the first place? Even he is no longer sure - merely that "what began as just cause became just excuse". Then one day, Heracles arrives. He needs the (literally) world-weary Atlas' help to complete one of his legendary tasks, so offers to shoulder his burden for one day. This could be an opportunity for escape - but how can we run away from burdens we place on ourselves; which only exist in our own minds?
Winterson masterfully retells the ancient myth with canny psychological insight into the iconic Gods & legendary characters; the impulsive solipsism of Heracles & Atlas' desire for freedom clashing with his vanity & sense of responsibility. These are combined with Winterson's personal reflections on her own mental burdens & how this story has been `retold' in her own life ("my girlfriend says I have an Atlas complex", we are told). Thus she breathes fresh life & relevance into a tale often repeated in a manner drier than ancient parchment. She also shows great insight into the purpose of myths - using the incredible to teach us humanly mundane truths about our personal mental landscapes & our species as a whole.
The book drifts in places but is fabulously written with much to ponder in such a short volume. Winterson admits that she "chose this story above all others because it's a story I'm struggling to end"; she means in her own life but part of me wonders if she struggled to end the story in a way which she herself found satisfactory. She certainly didn't have any concrete solutions to putting down burdens, other than to simply let go of them.
Never has this story been told with such poignancy & relevance. I guess each generation must tell it again & again, in their own way.