atlas (geography)

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Alternate Names


Appears In

Hesiod's Theogony, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hyginus's Fabulae


Son of Iapetus and Clymene

Character Overview

In Greek mythology, Atlas (pronounced AT-luhs) was a Titan, a son of Titans Iapetus (pronounced eye-AP-uh-tus) and Clymene (pronounced KLEM-eh-nee), also known as Asia. After the Titans lost a war against the upstart younger god Zeus (pronounced ZOOS), Adas was condemned to stand forever holding up the heavens.

Atlas belonged to an illustrious, or widely known, family. One of his brothers was Prometheus (pronounced pruh-MEE-thee-uhs), god of fire and creator of humankind. Atlas's daughters included the Pleiades (pronounced PLEE-uh-deez), a group of seven stars that announce good spring weather; the Hyades (pronounced HIGH-uh-deez), the stars that announce the rainy season; and the nymph Calypso (pronounced kuh-LIP-soh). Atlas was also either the father or the grandfather of the Hesperides (pronounced hee-SPER-uh-deez), nymphs who, according to Greek legend, guarded a tree bearing golden apples.

Major Myths

Many different stories are told about Atlas. One story features Heracles (pronounced HAIR-uh-kleez; also known as Hercules), the great-grandson of Perseus (pronounced PUR-see-uhs). One of the labors of Heracles was to obtain some of the golden apples that were guarded by the Hesperides. Heracles asked Adas to help him get the apples. Seeing an opportunity to escape from the burden of holding up the heavens, Atlas asked Heracles to take over while he obtained the apples. Heracles agreed. When Atlas returned with the apples, he told Heracles that he would deliver them for him. His intention was to leave Heracles to support the heavens; however, Heracles asked Adas to take back the heavens for just a moment so that he could adjust his burden. When Atlas did this, Heracles walked away with the apples.

Another story concerns Perseus, son of Zeus and slayer of the Gorgon Medusa (pronounced meh-DOO-suh). Because of a prophecy, or prediction, that a son of Zeus would one day steal the golden apples of the Hesperides, Atlas refused to offer Perseus hospitality when he came to visit. Insulted, Perseus showed him the severed head of Medusa, which had the power to turn all who looked at it into stone. Atlas was therefore turned into stone. The stone became the Atlas Mountains in what is now the country of Morocco.

Atlas in Context

A collection of maps has been called an atlas since the sixteenth century when cartographer, or mapmaker, Gerardus Mercator (pronounced muhr-KAY-tuhr) put a picture of Adas holding up the earth, not the heavens, on the tide page of his book. Because the place where Atlas stood to perform his task was the westernmost end of the world known to the ancient Greeks, the ocean near him was named the Atlantic in his honor.

For the ancient Greeks, Adas was an attempt to explain how certain things existed the way they did. It was obvious that something thrown into the sky would eventually fall back down, so how did the heavens remain above the Earth? The answer was Atlas, a Titan who held the heavens in place with his enormous strength.

Key Themes and Symbols

Because of the task he performs of holding up the heavens, Atlas has become a symbol of strength, power, and, most importantly, endurance. Atlas also symbolizes the unseen forces at work in the world that allow humans to exist. In the story of Atlas and Heracles, Atlas represents a cunning trickster who attempts to deceive Heracles into performing his thankless task.

Atlas in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Atlas has become a popular icon in art, and is usually depicted holding a celestial sphere or the earth upon his shoulders. Sculptures of Atlas have appeared in front of many prestigious buildings, including Rockefeller Center in New York City and the World Trade Center in Amsterdam. The comic book publishing company known as Marvel Comics was previously called Atlas Comics, and the Marvel Comics universe features a super-villain named Adas.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Readers can find new sympathy for the difficulty of Atlas's job after reading Rick Riordan's 2007 novel The Titan's Curse, the third in his Percy Jackson series.

SEE ALSO Heracles; Medusa; Prometheus; Titans

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ATLAS , mountain range in Morocco and Algeria.


Arabic literary sources tell of some *Berber tribes in the Atlas Mountains which observed the tenets of Judaism: e.g., the Jarawa in the Aurès Mountains of eastern Algeria (see *Kahina), the Nafusa, the Fandalawa, and Madyuna (west Algerian tribes), and the Bahlula, the Ghayata, and the Fazaz in the Moroccan Atlas. The Islamization of these tribes is ascribed to Idris the Great (ninth century). It is significant that in Jewish sources there is no mention of these tribes. The *Almohads did not succeed in conquering the Atlas tribes and, apparently, many Jews found shelter among them during the persecutions. Until 1956, many Jewish mellahs existed in the Atlas Mountains and on their slopes. Situated on the main communication routes in their quarters near the Berber villages, these small isolated communities remained closely attached to their faith and traditions. Their primary occupations included small business, peddling, metal crafts (silversmiths and blacksmiths), and wine production. According to legends, these tribes had once been strong enough to sustain themselves and to aid the Berbers in their internecine struggles. Many Jews in the Middle Atlas and in Sous Valley either converted voluntarily to Islam or were forced to convert during the marabout movement in the 16th century. During the 19th century the Atlas communities were finally subjugated and sometimes reduced to semi-slavery. The Jewish communities of the Atlantic Atlas disappeared. Throughout the Atlas region old Jewish cemeteries and sanctuaries served as shrines for both Jews and Muslim Berbers.

[David Corcos]

In Recent Times

In 1948 there were about 10,000 Jews living in the Atlas Mountains area of Morocco. About half were peddlers and artisans, while some engaged in agriculture. They were scattered in many settlements, in which there were often no more than a few dozen families. These Jews were observant, although the majority were illiterate. They lacked teachers in their villages, and frequently they had no contact even with Jewish communities in the area. Some of the villages were so isolated that their very existence was unknown, until they were discovered in the 1950s when the exodus to Israel began. Between 1952 and 1955 dozens of villages in the area were abandoned. In the largest of these, Tamzert, there were 68 families consisting of 340 persons. During this period a total of 532 families (2,914 persons) went to Israel from the Atlas Mountains, the rest, some 5,000 persons, migrating there later. The fact that they possessed no property facilitated their migration, for even the farmers among them did not own land but were tenants in exchange for a quarter of the crops. On the other hand, they were in need of basic medical attention, since many suffered from skin diseases, and from partial or total blindness resulting from trachoma. Almost all immigrants from the Atlas Mountains settled in cooperative villages in Israel and engaged in agriculture.

[Haim J. Cohen]


N. Slouschz, Travels in North Africa (1927), 295 ff., 306 ff.; R. Montagne, Berbères et le Makhzen (1930), 45–46, 66–68, 76–77; L. Poinot, Pélerinages judéomusulmans du Maroc (1948), passim; A.N. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), passim; P. Flamand, Diaspora en terre d'Islam (1956), 67–105; Hirschberg, in: Journal of African History, 4 (1963), 313–39; Hirschberg, Afrikah, passim; Corcos, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 77, 80 ff., 93 ff.; Minkovitz, in: jjso, 9 (1967), 191–208; Kohls, in: Megamot, 7 (1956), 345–76 (Eng. summ.).

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atlasCallas, callous, callus, Dallas, Pallas, phallus •Nablus • manless •hapless, mapless •atlas, fatless, hatless •braless, parlous •armless • artless •jealous, zealous •endless • legless • sexless • airless •talus • bacillus • windlass • Nicklaus •obelus • strobilus •acidophilus, Theophilus •angelus • Aeschylus • perilous •scurrilous • Wenceslas • nautilus •Silas, stylus •jobless •godless, rodless •Patroclus • topless • coxless •lawless, oarless •Aeolus, alveolus, bolas, bolus, gladiolus, holus-bolus, solus, toeless •Troilus • Douglas • useless • Tibullus •garrulous • querulous • fabulous •miraculous • calculus • famulus •crapulous • patulous • nebulous •credulous, sedulous •pendulous • regulus •emulous, tremulous •bibulous • acidulous •meticulous, ridiculous •mimulus, stimulus •scrofulous • flocculus • Romulus •populace, populous •convolvulus •altocumulus, cirrocumulus, cumulus, stratocumulus, tumulus •scrupulous •furunculous, homunculus, ranunculus •Catullus • troublous •gunless, sunless •cutlass, gutless •earless • Heliogabalus •libellous (US libelous) • discobolus •scandalous • Daedalus • astragalus •Nicholas • anomalous • Sardanapalus •tantalus •marvellous (US marvelous) •frivolous • furless • surplus

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at·las / ˈatləs/ • n. 1. (pl. at·las·es ) a book of maps or charts: I looked in the atlas to find a map of Italy. ∎  a book of illustrations or diagrams on any subject. 2. (pl. at·las·es ) (also atlas vertebra) Anat. the topmost vertebra of the backbone, articulating with the occipital bone of the skull. 3. (pl. at·lan·tes / atˈlantēz/ ) Archit. a stone carving of a male figure, used as a column to support the entablature of a Greek or Greek-style building.

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atlas, atlantis (pl. atlantes, atlantides). Well-developed, Sculptured, male figure, rather than a column, used as a support for an entablature, or other architectural element, e.g. balcony. In form, the figure seems to sustain a great burden, and the arms and shoulders are used to hold up the superstructure, unlike a canephora, caryatid, or telamon, which supports the entablature on its head. Some sources state that atlantes (or gigantes) were Greek equivalents of Roman telamones, and that they were also called Persians, but male standing figures dressed in oriental fashion, telamones (often with Egyptianizing attributes), canephorae, and caryatides are always straight and unbowed, and are wholly unlike atlantes, which often occur in Baroque architecture, especially in Central Europe. The Greek temple of Zeus Olympius, Agraces (or Agrigentum), had atlantes standing on screen-walls between the engaged Doric columns to help to support the entablature with heads and arms (c.480 BC).


J. Curl (2001);
Dinsmoor (1950)

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Atlas in Greek mythology, a Titan who was punished for his part in the revolt against Zeus by being made to support the heavens (a popular explanation of why the sky does not fall). He became identified with the Atlas Mountains. According to a later story Perseus, with the aid of Medusa's head, turned Atlas into a mountain.

The word atlas to designate a collection of maps in a volume, is said to be derived from a representation of Atlas supporting the heavens placed as a frontispiece to early works of this kind, and to have been first used by the Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator in the 16th century.

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Atlas The first computer to incorporate many features now considered standard, including: a virtual (logical) address space larger than the actual (physical) address space; a one-level memory using core backed by drum; an architecture based on the assumption of a software operating system, with hardware features to assist the software. The design commenced in 1956 under Tom Kilburn at the University of Manchester, UK, and the project was supported from 1958 by Ferranti Ltd. The prototype was operating in 1961 and production models appeared in 1963. See also virtual machine.

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At·las / ˈatləs/ Greek Mythol. one of the Titans, who was punished for his part in their revolt against Zeus by being made to support the heavens. DERIVATIVES: At·lan·te·an / ˌatlanˈtēən; atˈlantēən/ adj.

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Atlas ★ 1960

The mighty Atlas takes on massive armies, one of which includes director Corman, in a bid to win the hand of a princess. About as cheap as they come, although it is one of the few Sword & Sandal epics that isn't dubbed. 84m/C VHS, DVD . Michael Forest, Frank Wolff, Barboura Morris, Walter Maslow, Christos Exarchos, Miranda Kounelaki, Theodore Dimitriou, Charles B. Griffith, Roger Corman, Dick Miller; D: Roger Corman; W: Charles B. Griffith; C: Basil Maros; M: Ronald Stein.

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Atlas In Greek mythology, one of the Titans, brother of Prometheus. Having fought against Zeus, he was condemned to hold up the heavens.