- The term Atlas is used chiefly for a book of map a size of paper, and the first vertebra of the neck. The name Atlas is attributed to a mythological character, one of the Titans who tried to overthrow Zeus but failed. The punishment meted out to him for his part in the conspiracy was to hold up the pillars of heaven for the rest of his days. Because he was an immortal god, his days went on forever.Hercules graciously offered to support the heavens for a while if Atlas would obtain for him the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides. Atlas agreed and felt renewed without the heavens on his shoulders. He then stole the apples from the garden where they grew, returned to Hercules, and offered to take them back home for him. Hercules thought he detected a trick, and so he told Atlas to hold up the heavens while he found a pad for his shoulders. When Atlas took over, Hercules departed with the apples, never to return, leaving a raging Titan with his burden. The story of Atlas and his mythic burden has many versions. One is that Atlas, after holding up the world for centuries, became faint from weakness. One day Perseus, carrying the head of Medusa, flew by. Atlas, knowing that anyone who looked at Medusa would be turned to stone, begged Perseus to let him look at her. Perseus agreed, Atlas looked, was petrified, and became the Atlas Mountains, which extend for 1,500 miles along the coast of North Africa.In the sixteenth century, the Flemish cartographer Gerhardus Mercator put a figure of Atlas supporting the world on his shpulders on the title page of his first collection of maps. The idea appealed to other publishers of geography books, who then adopted a similar picture for the title page of their books.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.