AskDefine | Define atlas

Dictionary Definition



1 (Greek mythology) a Titan who was forced by Zeus to bear the sky on his shoulders
2 a collection of maps in book form [syn: book of maps, map collection]
3 the 1st cervical vertebra [syn: atlas vertebra]
4 a figure of a man used as a supporting column [syn: telamon]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Atlas



From the Greek Mythological figure Άτλας (Atlas), meaning "The Bearer (of the Heavens)", from τλῆναι (tlenai), (to suffer, endure, bear).


  • [ˈæt̚ləs]


  1. A bound collection of maps often including tables, illustrations, or other text.
  2. A bound collection of tables, illustrations, etc. on any subject.
  3. A collection of top-dimensional subspaces, called charts, each homeomorphic to Euclidean space, which comprise the entirety of a manifold, such that intersecting charts' respective homeomorphisms are compatible in a certain way.
  4. The uppermost vertebra of the neck.
  5. one who supports a heavy burden; mainstay.
  6. a figure of a man used as a column; telamon.
  7. In the context of "paper": A sheet of paper 26" x 34"


bound collection of maps
bound collection of tables, illustrations, etc., on any subject
(anatomy) The uppermost vertebra of the neck
one who supports a heavy burden; mainstay
(architecture) a figure of a man used as a column; telamon



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  1. atlas





  1. atlas



  1. [#English|atlas]]

Extensive Definition

An atlas is a collection of maps, traditionally bound into book form, but also found in multimedia formats. As well as geographic features and political boundaries, many often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics.


The earliest atlases were not called by that name at the time of their publication, as it was introduced in 1595 by Gerardus Mercator.
The first book that in hindsight could be called an atlas was constructed from the calculations of Claudius Ptolemy, a geographer working in Alexandria circa A.D. 150. The first edition was published in Bologna in 1477 and was illustrated with a set of 27 maps, though scholars say that it is not known whether the printed maps were engraved versions of original maps made by Ptolemy, or whether they were constructed by medieval Greek scholars from Ptolemy's text.
From about 1544, many maps were produced, especially in the important trading centers of Rome and Venice. Each publisher worked independently, producing maps based upon their own needs. The maps often varied dramatically in size. Over time, it became common to bind the maps together into composite works. Although the term atlas was not in use in 1544, these works are now called "IATO" atlases - (Italian, Assembled to Order) or more frequently "Lafreri atlases" after one of the leading publishers of the period.
Abraham Ortelius is credited with issuing the first modern atlas on May 20, 1570. His Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, contained 53 map-sheets covering the countries of the World. This work was the first book of its kind to reduce the best available maps to a uniform size. It was an immediate critical and commercial success.
However, use of the word "atlas" for a bound collection of maps was not to come into use until the 1595 publication of Gerardus Mercator's "Atlas, Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes De Fabrica Mundi ..." (Atlas, or Description of the Universe) (Duisburg, 1585-1595).

"Atlas" etymology

The origin of the term atlas is a common source of misconception, perhaps because two different mythical figures named 'Atlas' are associated with mapmaking.
  • King Atlas, a mythical King of Mauretania, was, according to legend, a wise philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who supposedly made the first celestial globe. It was this Atlas that Mercator was referring to when he first used the name 'Atlas', and he included a depiction of the King on the title-page.
  • However, the more widely known Atlas is a figure from Greek mythology. He is the son of the Titan Iapetus and Clymene (or Asia), and brother of Prometheus. Atlas was punished by Zeus and made to bear the weight of the heavens (the idea of Atlas carrying the Earth isn't correct according to the original myth) on his back. One of Heracles's labours was to collect the apples of the Hesperides. Heracles went to Atlas and reasoned with him. Eventually, Atlas agreed to collect the apples, and Heracles was left to carry the weight. Atlas tried to leave Heracles there, but Heracles tricked him and Atlas was left to carry the heavens forever. In his epic Odyssey, Homer refers to this Atlas as "one who knows the depths of the whole sea, and keeps the tall pillars who hold heaven and earth asunder".
In works of art, this Atlas is represented as carrying the heavens or the Celestial Sphere, on his shoulders. The earliest such depiction is the Farnese Atlas, now housed at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli in Naples, Italy. This figure is frequently found on the cover or title-pages of atlases. This is particularly true of atlases published by Dutch publishers during the second half of the seventeenth century. The image became associated with Dutch merchants, and a statue of this figure adorns the front of the World Trade Center in Amsterdam.
The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was Lafreri, on the title-page to "Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori ...". However, he did not use the word "atlas" in the title of his work.

Modern atlases

With the coming of the global market, publishers in different countries can reprint maps from plates made elsewhere. This means that the place names on the maps often use the designations or abbreviations of the language of the country in which the feature is located, to serve the widest market. For example, islands near Russia have the abbreviation "O." for "ostrov", not "I." for "island". This practise differs from what is standard for any given language, and it reaches its extremity concerning transliterations from other languages. Particularly, German mapmakers use the transliterations from Cyrillic developed by the Czechs which are hardly used in English-speaking countries.

Selected general atlases

Some cartographically or commercially important atlases include the following:
See External links below for online modern atlases and digitized historical atlases. The collection of digitized world atlases at lists many significant atlases of the 18th-20th centuries.

External links

Online atlases
History of atlases
Historical atlases online
Other links
atlas in Bulgarian: Атлас (картография)
atlas in Danish: Atlas (kartografi)
atlas in German: Atlas (Kartografie)
atlas in Estonian: Atlas (kartograafia)
atlas in Spanish: Atlas (cartografía)
atlas in French: Atlas géographique
atlas in Scottish Gaelic: Atlas
atlas in Hindi: मानचित्रावली
atlas in Indonesian: Atlas
atlas in Italian: Atlante (libro)
atlas in Hebrew: אטלס (ספר מפות)
atlas in Georgian: ატლასი (კარტოგრაფია)
atlas in Lithuanian: Atlasas
atlas in Dutch: Atlas (naslagwerk)
atlas in Japanese: 地図帳
atlas in Malay (macrolanguage): Atlas
atlas in Norwegian: Atlas (oppslagsverk)
atlas in Norwegian Nynorsk: Atlas
atlas in Occitan (post 1500): Atlàs (geografia)
atlas in Polish: Atlas geograficzny
atlas in Portuguese: Atlas (cartografia)
atlas in Albanian: Atlasi
atlas in Simple English: Atlas
atlas in Slovenian: Atlas (kartografija)
atlas in Turkish: Atlas (harita)
atlas in Ukrainian: Атлас (книга)
atlas in Urdu: اٹلس

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Lambert conformal projection, Mercator projection, Miller projection, aeronautical chart, arcade, astronomical chart, azimuthal equidistant projection, azimuthal projection, calendar, cartographer, cartography, caryatid, casebook, catalog, catalogue raisonne, celestial chart, celestial globe, chart, chorographer, chorography, city directory, classified catalog, climatic chart, colonnade, colonnette, column, concordance, conic projection, contour line, contour map, cyclopedia, cylindrical projection, diatesseron, dictionary catalog, directory, encyclopedia, gazetteer, general reference map, globe, gnomonic projection, graphic scale, grid line, hachure, harmony, heliographic chart, hydrographic chart, index, isoline, latitude, layer tint, legend, longitude, map, map maker, map projection, mapper, meridian, parallel, peristyle, phone book, photogrammetrist, photogrammetry, photomap, phototopography, physical map, pier, pilaster, pillar, political map, polyconic projection, polyglot, portico, post, projection, record book, reference book, relief map, representative fraction, road map, scale, sinusoidal projection, source book, special map, studbook, telamon, telephone book, telephone directory, terrain map, terrestrial globe, thematic map, topographer, topographic chart, topography, transportation map, weather chart, weather map, work of referenceAntaeus, Asp, Asroc, Atlas-Agena, Atlas-Centaur, Briareus, Brobdingnagian, Bullpup, Cajun, Charles Atlas, Corporal, Corvus, Crossbow, Cyclops, Dart, Deacon, Delta, Diamant, Dove, Falcon, Firebee, Gargantua, Genie, Goliath, Hawk, Hercules, Holy Moses, Hound Dog, Jupiter, Lacrosse, Lark, Loki, Loon, Mace, Matador, Navaho, Nike, Nike Ajax, Orion, Pershing, Petrel, Polaris, Polyphemus, Poseidon, Quail, Ram, Rascal, Redeye, Redstone, Regulus I, SLAM, Samson, Saturn, Scout, Sentinel, Sergeant, Shillelagh, Sidewinder, Skybolt, Snark, Spaerobee, Sparrow, Subroc, Super Talos, Superman, Talos, Tartar, Tarzan, Telamon, Terrier, Thor, Thor Able Star, Thor-Agena, Thor-Delta, Tiny Tim, Titan, V-2, Viking, WAC-Corporal, Wagtail, Zuni, bully, bullyboy, colossus, giant, gorilla, muscle man, powerhouse, stalwart, strong man, strong-arm man, the mighty, the strong, tough, tough guy, tower of strength
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