12 Comments

  1. Also not quite synchronicity because these are different mythical references. In this strip, Atlas has met a different, unnamed man who also holds a world on his shoulders – possibly the moon, or it could be Mars or Mercury, or one of the asteroids. It’s not hilarious, but there’s something at least a bit funny about the absurdity of Atlas and similar figures traveling on modern jets and checking as luggage the worlds that they hold up. The earlier strips had only to do with Sisyphus, who is condemned to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down each time before it reaches the top. His boulder presumably was not very world-like.

    The mythological Atlas held up the celestial heavens, not the earth, but modern portrayals often (mistakenly) show him as holding up the earth (notwithstanding that he was standing on earth – somehow that detail gets overlooked).

  2. Usual John. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be meeting Sisyphus and his boulder and I’m pretty sure we are supposed to recognize it as such.

    The fact that a boulder and the planet earth (didn’t Atlas actually hold the heavens) are rather magnitudes of scale apart weaken this somewhat, but I think I’m being a bit too fussy.

  3. Well, of course I don’t know for sure what the cartoonist meant, but here are some considerations arguing that it probably is not Sisyphus:

    1. There is nothing to indicate that it is Sisyphus, beyond that it is a stereotypical ancient Greek with a round object. Nobody is pushing the object anywhere, much less pushing it uphill.

    2. The object does not have much resemblance to Sisyphus’s boulder, which was round enough to roll, but presumably not spherical. It’s hard to see how anyone could confuse a boulder with a world.

    3. While your mileage may vary, I don’t think it’s very funny if this is Sisyphus. On the other hand, if these are godlike figures getting their worlds mixed up, that at least has a level of absurdity that has some appeal. While the cartoonist obviously needed more signifiers in this cartoon, I’d rather assume that he failed to fully indicate the relatively funny meaning than the relatively less funny meaning.

  4. Wait, where’s the airport? Somewhere on Earth? But Earth is over there in the airport.

    One of the labors of Hercules was to fetch something no human being could possibly get to in a reasonable amount of time, so he traded jobs with Atlas. Hercules held up the sky for a while while Atlas went and fetched the whatever. Golden apples or something. So Atlas stands on the Earth and holds up the sky. But I have also seen statues of him holding up the Earth. But what does Atlas stand on and why doesn’t he just put the Earth down on that? I can understand people thinking some god pulls the sun around but did anyone ever seriously believe some Titan holds up the Earth?

  5. “But I have also seen statues of him holding up the Earth. But what does Atlas stand on[…?]

    Turtles. Turtles all the way down.

  6. There aren’t any other Titans holding up other planets in Greek mythology. There aren’t even other planets similar to Earth. Of course, Atlas wasn’t holding up the Earth either. When he is depicted as holding a sphere, that’s the Celestial sphere. It’s difficult to make a statue holding up the sky, I suppose.

  7. A statue holding the sky is just a statue with his arms up, his hands flat as if something’s sitting on them. It should be really tall; the tallest thing around.

    I agree that it’s the guy who had to push the rock up the hill. But what’s Clark Kent doing in an airport, unless he’s going somewhere with Jimmy or Perry, or Lois before 1990?

    I suppose that could be Lois with the smartphone on the other side of the luggage claim. What year is this? All the women are in skirts. When’s the last time you went somewhere (other than worship) and all the women were wearing skirts? But the one woman has a smartphone.

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