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Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

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“When I was asked to choose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written. Rewritten. The recurring language motif of Weight is ‘I want to tell the story again.’ My work is full of cover versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the retelling comes a new emphasis or bias, and the new arrangement of the key elements demands that fresh material be injected into the existing text. Weight moves far away from the simple story of Atlas’s punishment and his temporary relief when Heracles takes the world off his shoulders. I wanted to explore loneliness, isolation, responsibility, burden, and freedom, too, because my version has a very particular end not found elsewhere.” -- from Jeanette Winterson’s Foreword to Weight

151 pages, Hardcover

First published October 5, 2005

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About the author

Jeanette Winterson

123 books6,509 followers
Novelist Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine's College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assistant editor at Pandora Press.

One of the most original voices in British fiction to emerge during the 1980s, Winterson was named as one of the 20 "Best of Young British Writers" in a promotion run jointly between the literary magazine Granta and the Book Marketing Council.

She adapted Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for BBC television in 1990 and also wrote "Great Moments in Aviation," a television screenplay directed by Beeban Kidron for BBC2 in 1994. She is editor of a series of new editions of novels by Virginia Woolf published in the UK by Vintage. She is a regular contributor of reviews and articles to many newspapers and journals and has a regular column published in The Guardian. Her radio drama includes the play Text Message, broadcast by BBC Radio in November 2001.

Winterson lives in Gloucestershire and London. Her work is published in 28 countries.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 790 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,841 followers
September 5, 2023
Who is strong enough to escape their fate? Who can avoid what they must become?

Opening a Jeannette Winterson book is a lot like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they open the ark: angelic prose comes pouring out and it melts your face clean off. For real though, Winterson can spin words the way Rumplestiltskin spun straw into gold. In Weight, Winterson puts this poetic magic to the task of spinning the tales of Atlas and Heracles into something beyond a mere myth retelling as it becomes a metafictional examination on the purpose of art and the implications of freedom and fate. While those familiar with Greek mythology won’t find much of a surprise plotwise, Winterson never fails to surprise through philosophical interjections that expand the tales into a larger context of purpose, existential inner struggles of the characters, or simply by managing to bring Russian space dog Laika into the narrative, and this retelling will be just as satisfying regardless of prior knowledge of the myths. ‘These are the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves come true,’ Winterson writes and through this poetically gorgeous retelling we find an authentically human purpose we can all take to heart.

Like my brother Prometheus, I have been punished for overstepping the mark. He stole fire. I fought for freedom.

Retellings of Greek myths have been a darling of the publishing industry lately, with Madeline Miller leading the charge to popular success, but retellings have always had deep roots in the history of literature. The oral tradition of storytelling told and retold stories for generations, keeping them alive and often adapting them to fit the needs of the times. As Winterson says in the introduction ‘my work is full of Cover Versions,’ and indeed Winterson’s deep love of fairy tales and their literary theories permeate their works so it feels only natural for them to approach Greek mythology head on. I enjoy that Winterson does not bend the myths into something they weren’t—there is a clear, loving and respectful approach to them—but instead retells them to launch our minds into larger conversations.

Weight’, Winterson tells us, ‘has a personal story broken against the bigger story of the myth we know and the myth I have re-told,’ and much of the authorial asides that are threaded through the narrative read like a gearing up for the full self-investigation that would occur a few years later in the jaw-droppingly moving memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. I love when Winterson shows up in their own books, that moment you can spot and say “that’s your life!” though, as always, Winterson insists it isn’t autobiography but a narrative that examines the self:
Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.

Much of Weight becomes a larger message on the purpose of stories and retelling them, though this comes through an investigation of the characters first. Throughout the plot of Weight we grapple with the emotional states of Atlas as well as Heracles when he briefly shoulders the Kosmos during his 12 Labours and through them come to grapple with questions of fate, freedom and purpose. For Heracles we see the question ‘why?’ begin to crack his proud veneer. Witnessing Atlas accept his punishment ‘with such grace and ease, with such gentleness, love almost,’ becomes something that will shake him even further.

I find I am become a part of what I must bear. There is no longer Atlas and the world, there is only the World Atlas. Travel me and I am continents. I am the journey you must make.

This is the familiar Atlas of myth, a titan born between Earth and Poseidon, but one that becomes much more a story of what occurs internally than externally. ‘She loved him because he showed her to herself. He was her moving mirror,’ we are told of Earth’s love for Poseidon, who in turn knows ‘that while he could not cover the whole of her, she underpinned the whole of him.’ The writing is immediately lovely and love is examined in the signature Wintersonian ways that made books like The Passion so breathtaking. But this idea of understanding one’s self in relation to others is a major theme to be explored here. With Heracles, while holding the Kosmos he realizes his strength is contingent on motion or battle with others, and therefore so was his entire being dependent on being in relation to others. With ‘no one to listen to his stories, or to get drunk with, or to praise him,’ his sense of self deteriorates. This is then juxtaposed with Atlas. ‘He had only the punishment of forever,’ Winterson tells us of Atlas, ‘forever to be the same person. Forever to perform the same task,’ Instead of losing himself without others, his solitude becomes one that pulls him so far inward that he hears all of the world and begins to find himself meld with all space and time.
I realise I am carrying not only this world, but all possible worlds. I am carrying the world in time as well as in space. I am carrying the world’s mistakes and its glories. I am carrying its potential as well as what has so far been realised.

With Winterson, time is always a construct and a narrative (‘Tell me the time’ you say. And what you really say is ‘Tell me a story.’), and we see here a melding of all things that feels akin to the understanding of Time in Sexing the Cherry, such as the quote ‘The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body,’ from that novel.

His dreams were always the same; boundaries, desire.

The gods punishment for Atlas was to trap him under the weight of the world, thus nullifying his strength. ‘They had captured his body, but not this thoughts,’ and in his solitude Atlas begins to consider the meaning of boundaries and freedom. Freedom, he observes, is something that can be best understood in relation to others as well.
Why did the gods insist on limits and boundaries when any fool could see that these things were only rules and taboos – customs made to keep people in their place? Rebellion was always punished like this – by taking away what little freedom there was, by encasing the spirit.

Control is the name of the game here, such as Prometheus punished for giving fire to mortals (Heracles later frees Prometheus after understanding the unbearable weight of an endless punishment). Atlas considers how often we put up walls or restrict freedoms under the guise of ‘safety’—such as his own walled garden where the Golden Apples are kept—or engage in a creation of boundaries to curb desire. ‘Demarcation, check-points, border controls. And all in the name of freedom. Freedom for me means curbing you,’ he thinks, a passage that seemingly folds time to be a direct criticism of modern day politics. When Atlas asks Hera why the gods cannot grant his gift of knowledge of past, present and future to the mortals, she replies ‘Humankind continues in ignorance because knowledge destroys them. Everything that man invents he soon turns to his own destruction.’ For her, freedom is dangerous, something that must be controlled. ‘If I seem like fate to you,’ Hera says to Heracles, ‘it is because you have no power of your own,’ and we begin to observe Fate as the gods curbing our freedom.

‘How can I escape my fate?’
‘You must choose your destiny.’

In contrast to ‘the manner of infinite gentleness with which Atlas had resumed the impossible burden of the world,’ Heracles exists trying to dodge fate. His arc is one that is bent towards that fate, and no matter how hard he tries to escape it he finds himself redirecting himself straight for it.
The ancients believed in Fate because they recognised how hard it is for anyone to change anything. The pull of past and future is so strong that the present is crushed by it. We lie helpless in the force of patterns inherited and patterns re-enacted by our own behaviour. The burden is intolerable.

As David Foster Wallace said, ‘although of course you end up becoming yourself.’ In this, can we find a sense of freedom under the constraints of fate by instead choosing to see it as destiny? Do we find a fresh perspective on the hinge of connotations?

No hero can be destroyed by the world. His reward is to destroy himself. Not what you meet on the way, but what you are, will destroy you, Heracles.

Honestly, I love Winterson’s depiction of Heracles as this sad, lonesome road warrior joylessly completing his tasks. ‘Is he a joke or a god?’ Atlas wonders, ‘his doubleness is his strength and his downfall. He is a joke and a god.’ Heracles is not depicted very flatteringly, prone of violence and sexual assault, and it is a delight to see him put in his place by Hera (Zeus being protective giving shrugs ‘as if to say, Women, what can you do with them?’ is comedic gold as well). The toxic aspects of him are writ large, though it doesn’t feel as pointedly critical like in Madeline Miller and instead assumes you’ll draw the conclusions on your own. Which is something I love about Winterson because Winterson believes in you, the reader, to connect dots that come across as heavy handed when other authors do it for you. But anyways, the portrait of him is one that observes how ‘Heracles’s strength was a cover for his weakness,’ and that even with all the strength in the world he cannot escape his fate. I adore the Heracles story as one of existential crisis, which is honestly more engaging than the Atlas story here if only because of how laced it is with a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy.

Fate reads like the polar opposite of decision, and so much of life reads like fate.

What the gods they didn’t expect with Atlas was, while strict boundaries were enforced on his body, his mind would take flight towards freedom. This becomes a metaphor for the creative spirit and endurance of the artist and is also where Winterson does what I love best about Winterson novels: launch into philosophical discussions that launch us into the stratosphere of prose and thought. And in this we discover why the retelling is not just chronicling the journey of heroes, but the actual act of retelling becomes our own journey. ‘I thought that if I could only keep on telling the story,’ Winterson writes, ‘if the story would not end, I could invent my way out of the world.: This is a clear reference to the autobiographical details threaded through their novels, most notably the incredible Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit but they also crop up in almost every novel. The more you read the more you’ll recognize them.
That’s why I write fiction – so that I can keep telling the story. I return to problems I can’t solve, not because I’m an idiot, but because the real problems can’t be solved. The universe is expanding. The more we see, the more we discover there is to see.
Always a new beginning, a different end.

With each retelling a different stone can be turned over and examined, something new can be gleaned, and we hope that with each re-examination we are moving closer to some kind of truth that could set us free. Knowing we won’t reach it but believing anyways. This is one one of the most enduring beauties of literature. It’s why some of us read more and more, enjoying the release when an author hits a high note that reverberates through us so strongly we think we can feel our bones humming to the tune of the universe. It is how we try to escape fate and fumble to form a narrative that—we hope—is the pathway through the forest of life on a quest towards our destiny. Winterson discusses how when we are young we are rereading the narrative of our parents, but must inevitably set out on our own to write the stories of ourselves. It’s why the old myths matter: they are the lessons we use as a compass but we must write our own north star into the heavens of the Self to pursue our own sense of meaning. ‘Having no one to carry me, I learned to carry myself. My girlfriend says I have an Atlas complex,’ Winterson writes, and suddenly the reason for this specific retelling becomes clear.

The phrase ‘I want to tell the story again’ repeats like a mantra across the novella Weight, a book that is short in length but deceptively so as it is deep in emotional resonance and meaning. While retellings are a popular topic, Winterson manages to do the original myths justice while still making them their own in a way that feels so unique and personal, I can’t help but gush enthusiasm for it. It traverses to a fitting end that becomes a modern myth all of its own. Sure, this is the first 4 star I’ve given Winterson, which isn’t a slight against it as I did enjoy this thoroughly but it doesn’t connect with the same power as the bigger titles. Still, Weight is a gorgeous achievement of prose and philosophical musings that examine fate, freedom, and the freeing power of storytelling.

Now he was carrying something he wanted to keep, and that changed everything.
Profile Image for İntellecta.
199 reviews1,558 followers
February 10, 2021
I think the history of Atlas is already known to those who are interested in mythology. I also thought that the comment section of the story was pretty weak.
May 4, 2022
I'll begin with stating that I am a die-hard Winterson fan, so I suppose I'm a little biased in my reviews, but to be honest, I have good reason to be this way as personally, I think Winterson is eloquent in the way she writes. She is unique, and she has definitely left her mark upon my soul.

This particular book is her retelling of the myth of Atlas. Atlas is portrayed as being calm and patient, and our other main character, Heracles, is the complete opposite. He always wants to be in the action, and can essentially never sit still. Winterson masterfully shows us how both men are both driven by the same thing; fate.

I like that Winterson includes herself as a character in this book. She compares the troubles that Atlas is suffering, to her own life events, and I think this is meaningful, not to mention powerful. I have always felt like I could relate to Winterson because she was adopted, as I am too, and as an adoptee, bearing in mind Winterson actually met her birth mother, I will never have that chance, and all I will ever have is a 34 year old letter from my birth mother, about why she gave me up. The pain of the unknown never really goes away, it very quietly exists.

"I do not know the time of my birth. I am not entirely sure of the date. Having brought no world with me, I made one."
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,977 reviews1,988 followers
February 1, 2020
Real Rating: 3.75* of five

Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.

No one can ever say Jeannette Winterson lacks authorial chops. Self-aware aphoristic ones. That is a beautiful distillation of the purpose of becoming an author.

Atlas, he of the weight of the world on his shoulders, had a mother. She was Earth, Gaia, THE Mother. His Titanic self was born of her union with Poseidon, the Sea, her complement in this Universe of Elements called Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. (Not for the Greeks the effete Orientalism of including Wood or Metal! They spring from Earth, are held within her potentialities.)
Earth was always strange and new to herself. She never anticipated what she would do next. She never guessed the coming wonder. She loved the risk, the randomness, the lottery probability of a winner. We forget, but she never did, that what we take for granted is the success story. The failures have disappeared. This planet that seems so obvious and inevitable is the jackpot.

As we're learning better and better every day. Over 4000 "exoplanets" (humans and their deep-seated need to discriminate!) later, we still have found no other planet truly capable of bringing forth Life as we know it. Permaybehaps because those other Mothers don't have mates:
She loved {the Waters} because he showed her to herself.

Or the *right* mates, anyway. She's unique, our Gaia, and we...
...no, not now.

Atlas the Titan rebels against his younger, prettier siblings the Olympians because he didn't want them telling him what to do. His Garden of Eden was Atlantis, the eternally shining and perfect past that every generation of humanity is certain was without problems or cares, everyone always got along, love and respect were common as pig tracks, and Gaia filled our bellies with all her bounty unstintingly.


So Atlas pursued his war against the Olympians on the flimsiest of pretexts for both sides:
My daughters {the Hesperides} had been secretly eating the sacred fruit. Who could blame them, the tree, sweet-scented and heavy, and the grass underneath it wet with evening dew? Their feet were bare and their mouths were eager. They are girls after all.
I did not see the harm myself, but the gods are jealous of their belongings.

Zeus and Company prevail in the ensuing war over trivialities, this "we don't like you so we're taking away your stuff because we like doing AND having that." (It's hard for me to read this myth without thinking the Greeks were busy explaining slavery to themselves.) In his "guilt" and its ensuing punishment, Atlas is condemned forever and always to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as Olympian punishment for the egregious individualistic desire for freedom he went to war to secure:
I bent my back and braced my right leg, kneeling with my left. I bowed my head and held my hands, palms up, almost like surrender. I suppose it was surrender. Who is strong enough to escape their fate? Who can avoid what they must become?

And that's the crux of the matter. Atlas accepts his punishment and assumes his burden Because.

That's it. Really. Just...because. You can blow all the smoke and angle the mirrors however you like: The only thing you'll ever see is "Because" shaped in smoke and reflected at as many angles as there are. Fate is a deeply convenient double-bind technique, like sin and guilt. "You're bad! BAD! Yes, YOU ARE BAD!!" and the punishments needn't even ever be external...they're hefted onto shoulders by the bearers themselves, never to be put down because they are obviously just and fair and right. Why?


So here into the narrative comes Enkidu...oh dear, please pardon me!, I meant to type "Heracles" honest I did!...the unbridled, unreflective Master of the Universe, the id-on-legs that Zeus the seducer tricked his wife into suckling (a story I don't know, but feel I should look into) so as to offer his half-human bonny wee laddie immortality. He's godlike in his strength, beauty, and sense of entitlement. He's a rapist, a murderer, and a hero to those it suits him to assist.

I think...it's just a suspicion, mind...but I think it's just possible that Author Winterson (a known Lesbian) might have a few smallish issues with cishet toxic masculinity. Enkidu...there I go again, silly old faggot...HERACLES, of course, rapes women, masturbates in front of his cock-tease stepmother:
Hera was beautiful. She was so beautiful that even a thug like Heracles wished he had shaved. Without a mirror she showed him to himself, muscle-swollen and scarred. He feared her and desired her. His prick kept filling and deflating like a pair of fire bellows. He wanted to rape her but he didn’t dare. Her eyes were all contempt and mild disgust.

...as well as his dupe of a cousin Atlas, and offers half-heartedly to wank the latter when he says, "I don't have a free hand," when Heracles asks him to put on the show. Doesn't happen...Atlas says, "I'm too tired," eliciting from Heracles a derisive snort of "you sound like a girl."

You know the myth: Heracles (literally "the Greatness of Hera") needs Atlas to pilfer the Golden Apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, in return taking the weight of the world onto his own shoulders. It does not go well for Heracles:
Hera says, "No hero can be destroyed by the world. His reward is to destroy himself. Not what you meet on the way, but what you are, will destroy you, Heracles."
His body was as strong as Atlas’s, but his nature was not. Hera was right about him there. Heracles’s strength was a cover for his weakness.

Heracles is waking up! At the precise moment he can not run, hide, fight, or fuck his way out of self-reflection, here it is: He's a weakling. He can't do diddly-squat that isn't a feat of his body and using only the basest, most cunning of ruses. Strategy? What's that? But need a tactician and you found your dreamboat.

The myth runs its well-told course along precisely the lines the Greeks told it for so many millennia. The insights Author Winterson are, for all they're sparkling like bubbles in prosecco, not particularly new. She does a fine job of unpacking meaning from myth. One would expect no less from the author of Sexing the Cherry. And, to be fair, she wasn't tasked with Revealing New Levels of Meaning in the myth itself, she was asked to retell it in a modern vein. At this she succeeded admirably. But my reading pleasure, my very real Gollumy glomming onto sentences that I want to have made into Jasperware plaques and sculpted into entire palaces of Chihuly glass, is ultimately...okay. Not superb, just okay.

She didn't do it wrong. But I've seen it done before, sometimes with the names changed and sometimes not. That is what gave the read a rating under five stars...that and the (not unreasonable, not unjustified) misandry. It wasn't very subtle, nor was it intended to be (or so it seems to me), but it also wasn't particularly insightful. That I *do* expect from Author Winterson.

Here, as my last salvo, is why I expect the unexpected and the glorious from her:
If only I understood that the globe itself, complete, perfect, unique, is a story. Science is a story. History is a story. These are the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves come true.

What am I? Atoms.
What are atoms? Empty space and points of light.

She speaks to us, the reader, directly and she gives herself the best lines. It's her story, she is entitled to do that. But I wanted more of this from the myth-retelling, and while I got beautiful words, I felt I wasn't given quite as much insightful wordsmithing of this last sort.
Profile Image for Ashleigh (a frolic through fiction).
461 reviews7,378 followers
June 21, 2020
This book was read as part of a themed vlog - to see more thoughts, check it out here!

Rated 4.5/5 stars!

I adored this book. I'm a huge fan of greek myth retellings, so there was a good chance it would go well anyway. But Jeanette Winterson managed to make the myth of Atlas and Heracles more human, infuse it with emotion but also keep the sense of wayward arrogance that comes with most mythological characters. I didn't initially know how well the book would work, with there not being much to go at. But this lil book manages to create a brilliant intertwined story, connecting the mythologies and presenting them as complicated life stories without being too confusing.

When I started reading, I was worried this book wouldn't hit the mark for me. The first chapter speaks of physics and general science, bandying around a lot of terminology that initially threw me. But then came the second chapter, which won my heart and soul entirely - the rest soon to follow. We start this book with Atlas' parents, gods of sea and earth, and Jeanette Winterson creates this stunning personification of all the ways water and earth interact with each other. Water lapping up a beach became a love story. It was fascinating to envision such simple things this way, and I adored it. The rest of the book follows the Atlas and Heracles stories as we might know them, but the added insight into these characters thoughts and feelings as the grand events we hear of take place really just makes brings the mythological stories back down to a human level, if such a thing is possible.

I really loved this book. It did so much in so few words, and it is genuinely one of the best greek myth retellings I've read so far. Trying to imagine - let alone describe - the feeling of holding up the entire cosmos is a mammoth task in itself, but Jeanette Winterson manages it wonderfully. I wish she has written more myth retellings.

TW: sexual abuse
Profile Image for Vartika.
400 reviews634 followers
July 26, 2020
Jeanette Winterson is a marvellous writer. There is a delicate, intricate lyricism in her words; a force strong enough to carve out trains of favouritism in the most objective of readers. Her prose is deeply meditative and effortlessly fluid — often and infinitely more poetic than most poets can manage. One can not approach Winterson's works with pre-conceived ideas and still manage to successfully penetrate the field of her works; which, all in their own significant ways, subvert the very concept of pre-conceptions. This is probably why many readers are unable to enjoy her writing.

Weight is, once again, a product of Winterson at her best — as rhythmic, monumental and thought-provoking as Sexing The Cherry and as evocative as Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.
Not just a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Atlas and Heracles; Weight confronts the various mythologies that command weight in our very existence: those of choice and fate; of boundaries and freedom; as well as of time past, present and future. That these mythologies surround these timeless Greek figures just as much as they do us foregrounds the short autobiographical reflections that add to its simple genius.

Here, Heracles is a true representative of (toxic) masculinity, his strength and sexuality a cover for inner weakness while the man holding up the world thinks to keep himself from feeling. But in the end, Atlas meets Laika the dog, both united by their loneliness; and one sees through the weave of stories told and told again that even though we are bound by the paradox of freedom, much of our burdens are self-imposed, the weight of nothing.

Indeed, the mythology this book is centered around is not unknown to most, but the key the tale is in the telling. Weight is a book of unusual momentum, one that focuses our attention towards the relative size of things in the world. Beautifully written and brilliantly executed, it is a must read, a totem of what the author's perceptive imagination and observation of our world is capable of.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books817 followers
July 31, 2019
I felt that this book started off slow and that perhaps it was just Winterson's style that wasn't engaging me. But the story picked up when Heracles came into the picture; and I liked the meditations on fate versus choice, that perhaps we pick our own burdens and 'punishments', that they are not fated, that we can walk away from them when we feel we are 'home.' She even brings her own story into the book, which I liked, though as she'd already used first-person for Atlas' voice, it was a bit confusing at first when she talked as herself. Some may think the ending (as she brings Atlas into our modern age) is too cutesy.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,123 reviews364 followers
September 29, 2020
Atlas is perhaps the forgotten Titan, the afterthough. He's not as well known as his brother Prometheus but his punishment for rising up against the Gods is no less severe. To carry the weight of the world upon his shoulders forever. A lonely and unforgiving job.

This starts with the concept of Atlas between the earth and the sea, and the visual imagery is a wonder to read. To combine nature with lust and love, exploring sexuality in this extremely sensual and carnal way is cleverly done and sets a very specific tone for the rest of the book. From this point we move into Atlas' early life in his garden, surrounded by his daughters before seeing his ultimate punishment being delivered by Zeus.

My favourite sections were those with Heracles. Winterson manages to make him utterly abhorrent, yet still strangely charismatic. He's a serial rapist, unable to control his urges, calls everyone 'mate' and has a vicious temper. Yet he leaps from the pages as one of my favourites. His weirdly lustful exchanges with Hera are particularly interesting, if deeply disturbing at the same time.

This does loose it's way slightly in the last third as we struggle to find a true conclusion to the story. Winterson, it seems, just didn't know where to go when the Gods leave and only Atlas remains. I'm normally all for a dog in a story, but by that point I was starting to wonder...why?

Beautiful prose, beautiful imagery but this gets a little lost towards the end.
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,180 reviews213 followers
August 22, 2023
Very different types Atlas and Heracles.

Heracles is more the type to go out and lop of heads and then think about it later, if at all. Atlas on the other hand is the thinking type, for him actions and consequences are a thing. Both had burdens, Heracles seemed to shrug his off quite easily whilst still paying a price for rushing heedlessly into things. But Atlas oh, he carried his burdens with care.

But where there is nothing and everything is a story, do burdens really exist? We must admit that we all see things differently so nothing really exists on it's own, everything is then a story of how we see it. So burdens are like that as well. What starts out as heavy and in need of carrying might not remain so if we change our perspective. Worth reflecting about, I think, hmm Atlas thought so as well.

Loved Winterson's take on this myth. Great one with a wanking hero and Laika and quiet companionship.
Profile Image for Donna.
8 reviews1 follower
July 25, 2007
Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Hercules, Jeanette Winterson. New York: Cannongate, 2005. Hardcover, $18.00 ISBN 1-84195-718-6

Have you ever read someone you're a fan of and thought; there's no way to do it better than this? For me it's Jeanette Winterson, her lyricism, her wide flung knowledge of mythology and science, and humanness and above all else, her risk taking. At the end of each of her books I walk away feeling like she’s left everything on the page the way an athlete leaves everything on the field. I imagine her office, piles of books and papers everywhere, and her at an old wooden desk, sweat dripping from her skin, the pen in her hand written dry. I imagine her wrung out, leaving every part of her in the text. Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Hercules is no exception.

In stunning filmic prose, Winterson tells the story again, the boundless energy and mindless savagery of Hercules in stark relief to Atlas, the rock, duty bound, contemplative, and the Gods and Goddesses erotic, playful, fierce. As the story unfolds, boundaries, and burdens, action and stasis, are the concerns. And then, there’s Fate. Hercules sidelines his testosterone packed rampage to fulfill his punishment handed down by Hera. To do so Hercules enlists the aid of Atlas, taking the universe off his shoulders so that Atlas can retrieve three golden apples. During his time away from his burden Atlas considers another life, desires his garden, his daughters. Hercules suffers under the weight, though ever boastful, he won’t admit that it’s too much for him. When Atlas asks for more time to see his daughters, the trickster Hercules once again places the weight of the universe on Atlas. Hercules gets his in the end, as Fate has proscribed and Atlas gets a surprise visit.

Never content with leaving the past in the past, Winterson brings the myth forward. Atlas befriends Laika, the dog from the first Russian space capsule, Sputnik. It is the physical connection between Atlas and Laika that entice him to think seriously about that life he longs for out from under the weight of the world.

Never in any of her other works, has the author been so present and never has she written more directly about writing. From the science of ix and x, and the opening line of the introduction, “Choice of subject, like choice of lover, is an intimate decision.” we are provided us clues for the reading. But, in Leaning on the Limits of Myself where Winterson and Atlas become one, “My girlfriend says I have an Atlas complex.” each carrying burdens, she is vulnerable and working out what it means to survive, to live, to be free.
In the end, we are left certain of Winterson the writer like Atlas the gardener. And we are left hopeful.

From the Mythos series, retelling myths in a contemporary way by renown authors, Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, A.S. Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Victor Pelevin, Donna Tartt, and Su Tong.
Profile Image for Burak.
196 reviews113 followers
February 26, 2022
Okurluğuna güvendiğim isimlerin yüksek puanlar verdiğini görünce beklentim yükselmişti ama ya anlamadım ya da yazarın yapmaya çalıştığı şey bana dokunmadı.

Öncelikle kitabın çevirisi iyi olsa da adı yanlış çevrilmiş, çünkü orijinal isim "Weight", yani "Yük". Kitabın merkezinde Atlas var tamam ama anlatıda Herakles'e de epey yer ayrılmış. Bir de Winterson iki farklı Atlas mitini alıp birleştirmiş. Poseidon ile Cleito'nun oğlu olup Atlantis'e adını veren Atlas ayrı, Olimpos tanrılarına karşı savaşta Titanlarla saf tuttuğu için Zeus tarafından cezalandırılan Atlas ayrı. İkincisinin babası Iapetos, annesi Asia. Bu iki mitin birleştirilmesi sorun değil tabi ki, ancak orijinal mitte Atlas dünyayı değil gökyüzünü taşımakla cezalandırılır ve bu değişiklik Winterson'un anlatısı için önemli. Ziya dünyayı sırtında yük etmek yazarın kullandığı metaforun temeli sayılır.

Herakles-Atlas karşılaşması da mitteki gibi. Aslında yazarın bu yeniden anlatımda araya kendi hayat hikayesinden parçalar serpiştirmek -ve hikayenin sonunu değiştirmek- dışında ne yaptığını anlayamadım. Mevcut mitin yeniden anlatımı değil de arkada bir anlatıcının yorumları eşliğinde tekrarlanması gibiydi daha çok. Hatta müsaadenizle biraz abartayım, Atlas mitine paralel kurulmuş bir kişisel gelişim kitabını andırıyordu bence.

"Geleceğim böyle ağır olmak zorunda mı?" diye sordu Atlas.
Hera yanıtladı: "Bu senin bugünün Atlas. Geleceğin günden güne olgunlaşıyor, ama henüz ham."
"Alınyazımdan nasıl kaçabilirim?"
"Kendi yazgını kendin seçmen gerek."

Aklımdaki bir soru da Atlas'tan ayrıldıktan sonraki Herakles kısmının anlatıya ne kattığı. Miti tamamına erdirmek için anlatılmış olabilir ancak Winterson'un yapmak istediği şeye fayda sağlamıyor bence, sadece Atlas'ın hikayesine bir es verilmiş oluyor. Zaten o sayfalarda yorum yapmaya dahi gerek görmemiş yazar.

Kitabın sonu, mitin bitiriliş şekli güzeldi. Kişisel gelişim eserlerine benzediği düşüncem devam etse de sınırlarla ilgili söylenenler de fena değildi. Yine de yazarın kendi hikayesini Atlas mitine iliştirmek için biraz fazla zorladığını düşünüyorum. 2,5'tan kanaat notuyla 3.

Winterson merak ettiğim bir yazardı ancak iyi bir başlangıç yaptığımız söylenemez. Bir başka eseriyle tekrar şans vermek istiyorum.
Profile Image for Anwen Hayward.
Author 2 books315 followers
August 26, 2014
What a disappointing book. Almost masturbatory in some areas, and I don't just mean the extended bits where Heracles strums his own trumpet - you can actually imagine Winterson writing this and thinking to herself 'oh yeah, that's for the academics, that's the stuff'. Winterson clearly fancies herself up there with the greatest philosophers of all eras, and the texts she produces just don't merit that belief. This book pertains to discuss Atlas' burden as being not a physical burden, but more a psychological one - the twin burdens of choice and fate. Ostensibly an interesting premise, and one that made me eager to read this book - I've always enjoyed the myth of Atlas, and the numerous retellings that muse upon what his true burden really was. I expected to love this book. By Zeus, how wrong I was.

The problem is that this book doesn't answer - or indeed ask - any questions that haven't been asked - and indeed answered - a million times before. An actual exchange from the book between Heracles and Hera reads as follows (slightly paraphrased due to my having blocked this featherlight, tedious tome from my memory):
"How can I change my fate?"
"You have to make your own destiny."

Well, thanks for that insight, Jeanette. I'd never heard that on an episode of Power Rangers before, or in literally every Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever. Honestly, parts of this book read more like a Judy Bloom novel than a serious academic retelling of Atlas - which, OK, this book is not a textbook, but if it attempts to deal with heavy issues (no pun intended) then it should do a better job of it.

Another technique that Winterson often uses is the good old self insert. Sandwiched between the tales of Heracles and Atlas like a piece of forgotten ham is Jeanette Winterson's own life story. I almost skipped these pages. I just didn't want to read yet another groaning, moping account of her own life. We get it, Winterson. We've all read Oranges. It's all very sad, but can you write one book without an aside? Can you construct just one narrative without saying 'oh, by the way, in case you didn't know this about me, this book actually relates very well to my OWN life, and here's why...'? Not all fiction needs to hold a mirror up to the author, and if it does, it doesn't need to shine its reflection right in the reader's eyes like a laser pointer. I'm all for autobiographical authorial intent. Write a book as catharsis. That's fine. Just don't be so damn blatant about it. Subtlety is a fine art, and the brushstrokes here are childish.

Add that to the fact that the version I read was groaning with typing errors and grammatical mistakes (I spotted three on one page at one point, and nearly threw the book out the window) and this book made for one of the most unpleasant hours of my life. I've given it 2 stars for two reasons: firstly, Jeanette Winterson can turn a phrase like no other; and secondly, it was blissfully short. Had it been an extra hundred pages, I doubt I'd have finished it. To be honest, I almost wish I hadn't. I've rarely read a book that's made me feel quite so empty, disappointed and borderline angry as this one. I've felt more fulfilled after reading leaflets on gum disease at the dentist, and at least those didn't pretend to be great works of literature.

This is the third Winterson novel that I've read, after Oranges and Stone Gods, and I can honestly say that I'm going to have to implement a Three Strikes system here. I just can't put myself through it again. Like Heracles himself, I am ~choosing my own destiny~ and relieving myself of the burden of Winterson. God knows, I can't bear another burden like this. It's just too heavy, and yet nowhere near heavy enough.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
June 14, 2011
As always, with Jeannette Winterson's work, there are parts of this that caught at me -- phrases, quotable bites, a scene here and there -- but for the most part I was underwhelmed. More underwhelmed than usual, perhaps. It had a very light, dismissive tone that just didn't work for me, and the characterisation of Heracles as a big idiot just... isn't anything new. That exact character has been given so many names.

Also, weird sex-stuff between Heracles and Hera. Just, what? And weird interludes with another narrator, possibly-maybe intended to be Winterson herself...?

Yeah, colour me underwhelmed.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
876 reviews1,106 followers
February 9, 2016
3.5 stars.

Book 2 of my 2016 Booktube Recommends project - thanks to Jean at BookishThoughts for recommending me this one (and gifting it for my birthday ;D)!

I wasn't very aware of the figure of Atlas in mythology, or in general - I had an image of a man holding up a globe on his back, but that was literally it. And Heracles? Well, I'd seen the 90s Disney film! (psst, it's one of my favourites) So this was definitely one of the Canongate Myths series that I knew I wanted to get to.

After reading Weight however, I'm still not quite sure how to respond it. Because of my lack of knowledge of the original myth, I'm not entirely sure how close the events of the book match the original myth, and what (if any) of these events were Jeanette Winterson's own creation. What I did really enjoy was the prose style - Winterson writes some incredibly beautiful prose at times, and I liked that the tone of the book went from lyrical to brash and crude moving from paragraph to paragraph. The opening of the book in particular, discussing Atlas's parents who were essentially the earth and the sea, were fascinating and beautiful, and I loved the way the elements and nature were tied together to reflect a human relationship - inspired stuff.

Heracles was definitley nothing like his Disney equivalent - brash, crude, misogynistic, but incredibly entertaining to read about - as I had originally assumed the majority of the story would be about Atlas, I loved hearing more from his perspective.

However, I did feel that this book was a little lacking because, well, I wanted more. It was incredibly short with very large margins and lots of chapter/page breaks, so I went through it quite quickly, and I felt like maybe the myth of Atlas and Heracles wasn't quite substantial enough to be the inspiration for a properly satisfying novel. Nothing against Winterson's writing or interpretation though, because I really enjoyed the prose and what story was told.

Profile Image for Gülşen Ç.Ç..
172 reviews133 followers
November 1, 2018
Beşten çok yıldız olsa onu verirdim. Sıradan bir Yunan mitoloji re-make'i zannederken (ki bayılırım öylesine de) hikayenin gittiği yer aklımı aldı. Bir bölüm var ki hele göz yaşlarını silmek için mi yoksa daha çok aksın diye mi yazılmış bilmiyorum. Çok memnun oldum Jeanette hanım iyi ki tanıştık!
Profile Image for Leah Craig.
119 reviews62 followers
July 11, 2018
This was very beautifully written. I’m a sucker for any story about Hercules, and he was a bit of a frat boy in this version, but.... accurately, I must admit. Definitely one of my favorites from the Myth series so far!
Profile Image for Ebba.
237 reviews22 followers
May 16, 2015
*5000/5 stars

This book is the definition of perfection. I went into this book, basically only knowing that my favourite author Jeanette Winterson wrote it, and that it had something to do with greek mythology. Since it's Jeanette Winterson, I should probably have been prepared for this mind-blowing "my-life-will-never-be-the-same-again" feeling that I now have in my body, but still I'm amazed and shocked. Where shall I even begin? Okay, let's start with saying that this is a retelling of the greek myth of Atlas that gets the punish of holding up the world. I know some things about ancient greek myths but very little so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't understand anything, but that wasn't the case at all. Sure, you should probably know some of the major greek gods, like Zeus and Hera, but apart from that, it's not necessary at all. I found myself understanding everything and I was never confused.

The plot is rather simple, since it's a myth, but Jeanette Winterson does so much with all the emotions surrounding it. Her writing speaks to the deepest parts of me, and every single sentence is filled with so much feeling. It's like going on a roller coaster for your brain. Winterson asks many of the most basic but also complex questions about humanity, and she partly answers them, but still leaves the reader with an universe full of thoughts left. Her writing almost makes me religous. As someone who has now read quite a few of Winterson's other works, I really admire how she connects her novels in terms of themes and little hints. I especially felt the connection to The Passion, and Lighthousekeeping, but also of course Written on the body, which she even has a line from in this book. I'm probably biased, but she is an absolutely brilliant author. Jeannette Winterson's books have formed me during my teenage years, and this was no exception. Every single line spoke to me and I felt a personal connection to the whole novel. She is probably the only author that can make my cry just because of the writing. It's so hard to explain, but it's like reading a mirror.

What more can I say? It's one of the best novels that I have ever read, and one that I'll probably will reread many times. It also got me a bit more interested in greek mythology, so I'll might read something else like that. This seriously changed me. I don't even know what to say. This is the kind of book that I don't really want to recommend to everyone because I feel such a personal connection to it. I loved it so much. I loved it so much it almost hurts my heart to think about it. I loved it.
Profile Image for Renée Paule.
Author 9 books264 followers
August 26, 2017
One third of the way through this book and I'm discarding it. This is not the intelligent read I thought it would be and that's all I'm prepared to say about it.
Profile Image for Vicky "phenkos".
146 reviews101 followers
February 7, 2017
I very much enjoyed the re-working of the myth of Atlas (and a dumb Heracles was a refreshing change) but did Winterson really have to include the auto-biographical bit? It does nothing to enhance the tale, and anyway if the reader wants to know more about her life, I'm sure there are better places to look...
Profile Image for И~N.
254 reviews243 followers
April 20, 2019
Много спимпатичен опит за препрочитане на класическия мит за Атлас и Херкулес от Джанет Уинтърсън, "Тежестта" се занимава с много тежести, които човек взема върху себе си, за деформациите и срастванията, които те причиняват, и за освобождението от тях. Трябва да я има по библиотеките.

Още – тук .
Profile Image for Banu Yıldıran Genç.
Author 1 book784 followers
November 4, 2020
winterson ne yazsa güzel yazıyor. atlas mitini kendince tekrar ele aldığı bu kitapta da zeus’u, hera’yı, herakles’i ve atlas’ı en belirgin özellikleriyle biraz da komik bir biçimde ve işte mutlaka o winterson dokunuşuyla anlatıyor.
sonu farklı.
e tabii ki öyle :)
ama atlas’ın sınırlar ve sahiplenme duygusu üzerine düşündükleri çok kıymetli.
Profile Image for Orbi Alter .
224 reviews49 followers
February 21, 2017
Predivna obrada mita o Atlasu i Heraklu. I o teretu kojeg svi, bas kao i on, nosimo na svojim plecima.
Winterson pamtim po knjizi Narance nisu jedino voce u kojem nisam dohvatila njezin predivan stil, koji ovdje izbija iz svake recenice. Dapace, zgrozena sam tom knjigom pa mi je svakako drago da sam dozivjela i nesto potpuno suprotno i neocekivano, poeticno, lijepo i dirljivo.

Uvijek sam mit o Atlasu dozivljavala kao uzasnu kaznu, cinila mi se i gorom od one na koju je bio osuden Prometej, ali mi se strasno svidjela ova ideja o kaznama koje si sami biramo i za promjenu je bilo zanimljivo gledati iz njegove perspektive... Osluskivati Zemlju, a nositi je kao teret, ne odbaciti je zbog tastine, a u isto vrijeme biti naviknut/a na taj teret, usamljen/a i imati svo vrijeme svijeta za razmisljanje. Prikaz Herakla je... Pa mozes ga i tako prikazati. Zabavlja, da se najblaze izrazim. Ocekivala sam vecu intervenciju u mit i to zahvaljujuci anotacijama, a zapravo je ona vrlo mala, ali potpuno jezgrovita i mocna. Bas odlicno napisano!
Profile Image for Melissa  Jeanette.
137 reviews17 followers
December 19, 2015
Now one of my favorite books of all time. If I could somehow shrink this down into a miniature size, I would wear it as a necklace and keep it near me always. I'm not ready to leave it's universe.

For the rest of you not yet sucked into it's orbit, here are a couple points that may draw you in. It's a quick read, but it is in no way diminished by its easy readability. And when I say it's a quick read, I mean really quick. I'm about the slowest reader on the planet and I read it in 3 1/2 hrs. It's well worth a read if you're interested in feminism, constructions of gender, or you just like mythology and well-told tales.
Profile Image for Elisa.
332 reviews35 followers
April 6, 2023
Jeanette Winterson retells myth like no other. Weight tells the story of Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

There were just so many great lines in this little book.

Interestingly, there are not many retellings in which Hera comes off as even a little more than just a jealous woman, but I really liked her in this retelling and I laughed my socks off when Heracles came into the story because he was such a goof.

I would definitely recommend this if you're interested in the Greek myths and Jeanette Winterson!
Profile Image for Dergrossest.
424 reviews20 followers
April 6, 2012
I read this book with some trepidation since most remakes of the classics are forgettable, if not insufferable. This is the exception.

Atlas and Heracles are two of the most compelling figures in classic Greek Mythology and this modern re-telling of their stories only makes them more so, although you really need to know their stories before reading this to appreciate what the author has accomplished. She cleverly weaves a scientific thread into their stories to help make them both more modern and timeless, while also making them more accessible and human. She simultaneously trails the story with a touchingly sad autobiographical profile to illustrate her point.

And what is the Author’s point? Both Atlas and Heracles are powerful men, seemingly crippled by fate and the weight of their burdens. But much of the weight which they and we carry, which sets their fate and ours, is really a self-imposed burden which they and we often despise, but are terrified to get out from under. I suppose that this is an obvious point, but as with much in life, the trick is in the telling.

This is a must read.
Profile Image for Negar Ghadimi.
303 reviews
October 8, 2019
وقتی کائنات مثلِ بمبی ترکید، مثلِ بمبی هم شروع به تیک تاک کردن کرد، می‌دانیم که خورشید می‌میرد. چند صد میلیون سال بعد یا در همین حدود و بعد نورها خاموش می‌شوند و دیگر هیچ نوری برای کتاب خواندن نمی‌ماند.
استادِ ترک کردنم. ترک شدن می‌آموزد چگونه ترک کنی ... حالا می‌فهمم که گذشته مثلِ سراب محو نمی‌شود. می‌فهمم که آینده با این که نادیدنی است، بار دارد. ما در گیر و دارِ کششِ گرانشیِ گذشته و آینده‌ایم ... چند تایمان از مدارِ خود رها می‌شویم؟
مادرم می‌گفت ما همه صلیب‌هایی برای بر دوش کشیدن داریم. او صلیبِ خودش را مثلِ شهیدی قرونِ وسطایی به نمایش می‌گذاشت؛ آش‌و‌لاش، خونین و مالین ... به نظر می‌رسید فراموش کرده مسیح صلیب را بر دوش کشیده تا ما مجبور نباشیم چنین کنیم. زندگی هدیه‌ای است یا باری؟
Profile Image for Robert.
2,047 reviews213 followers
July 27, 2016

I never really liked Jeanette Winterson but after her re-telling of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, I was curious to read her re-telling of Hercules and Atlas' encounter.

It is excellent - Hercules is portrayed as a sex crazed yob, Atlas as a misunderstood Titan. There's a lot of laughs, something rare in Winterson's novels and the ending took me by surprise. It is tender and delicate and puts our universe, and in a way the whole concept of Atlas, in perspective: It's nothing. (you'll get what I mean when you read the book)

Profile Image for Стефани Kalcheva.
87 reviews47 followers
March 5, 2023
В някакви си скромни стотина странички Джанет Уинтърсън успява да изследва мита за Атлас, отношенията му с Херкулес, самотата и отчуждеността на титаните, бунтът им срещу боговете, както и да вплете автобиографични лични нишки, от които разбираме как и защо цял живот е вървяла към написването на точно тази история. И защо тази история няма край, а винаги започва отначало.

"Какво точно има в теб? Мъртвите. Времето. Светлинни фигури на хилядолетия, които се отварят във вътрешностт�� ти, във всяка една минута, във всяка частица от теб няколко милиона калиеви атоми се поддават на радиоактивен разпад.[...] Първият ти родител е бил звезда."

Книгата неслучайно се казва "Тежестта". Целият текст е почит към вечното човешко бреме, което всеки от нас носи на плещите си, подобно на Атлас, който подпира космоса абсолютно сам. Той чува как хората се обръщат в леглата си, надушва праха от сблъсъка на звездите, знае кога ще има земетресение, смее се на опитите на простосмъртните да обяснят съдбите си. Колкото е могъщ Атлас, толкова е и лишен от свобода.

Джанет Уинтърсън признава, че обича да разказва истории, които всички знаем, но по нов начин, поставяйки ударението на неочаквани места. Ето защо не трябва да очаквате само историята на Атлас, който временно получава облекчение от Херкулес, когато поема товара му. Пак казвам - чудна смесица между лично, митологично и физично. Дори ще срещнете и едно популярно куче, но...няма да издавам, и без това са само 114 страници.
Жалко, че от поредицата "Митове" не видяха бял свят всички запланувани книги. Също - чудесно оформление на Яна Левиева.
Profile Image for Mohammad.
351 reviews307 followers
June 24, 2022
گوش کن؛ مردی دارد قصه‌ای درباره‌ی مردی می‌گوید که جهان را بر دوش گرفته. همه می‌خندند. فقط مست‌ها و بچه‌ها باورش می‌کنند. اطلس یعنی آنکس که تحمل می‌کند. او را به این نام خواندند، نه برای قدرتش که برای سکوتش

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