Sunday, April 09, 2006

Atlas and the weight of the world...

Atlas, the Titan god, is frequently depicted bearing the earth on his shoulders. This is completely wrong... Mostly the error of overworked advertising creatives rushing by Rockefeller Center in the 1930s, who saw a statue bearing a large hollow orb and assumed that it was our planet. Unfortunately, they were only projecting their own worldweariness and geocentric ideas of endurance. (The hubris of suggesting that the earth is more of a load than the heavens is probably the ultimate form of intergalactic bigotry and narcissism.)

Back to Atlas. Before the Olympian gods came to power, they were engaged in a brutal war with the Titans. In the kerfuffle, many of Atlas' brothers and ladyfriends defected to the Olympian side, leaving him and the few remaining Titans powerless. After the defeat, the Olympian king, Zeus, sought to punish Atlas (who was a very strong guy) by banishing him to the mountains of the western most corner of Earth and making him carry the vault of the heavens (believed to be spherical in shape) on his shoulders for the rest of time. (At the time, the western most point known to man would have been what we now call Morocco, home of... The Atlas Mountains).

Later Greek Mythology also casts Atlas as an ace astronomer who knew the map of the stars by heart, and who could also explain the zodiacal mysteries of the constellations to other earthbound souls. Because of this talent, we call a collection of maps an atlas.

For the ultimate blog on maps please visit The Map Room.

("Atlas" by Maxfield Parrish)


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