In the 6th century before the Era of Christianity, Ancient Greece was flourishing and the Roman Republic, which would turn into the Roman Empire, was in its beginnings. In the meantime, at the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, where Morocco is now situated, there lived the Berber Tribes. Mauretania, at the time, was one of those tribes.
Atlas was a member of the Mauretania tribe. Legend says he became a great King, expert in philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, and inventor of the celestial sphere. Although there are no official records of his existence, his importance and impact were so significant that his deeds became larger than himself. For example, the Atlas Mountains, a set of mountain ranges in that region, the Atlantic Ocean, and even the lost city of Atlantis were all named after him.
Years went by, his legend grew stronger, and “Atlas” became a member of the Greek mythology, which turned him into a member of the Titan family, a family of gods who went to war with the Olympians (gods), and lost. As Titans were defeated, they were punished. Atlas’ punishment was to hold the celestial spheres on his shoulders for all eternity. Maybe he still is.
Fast forward to the 16th century, during the Age of Discoveries. Several countries were busy in exploring the world in different directions and with different purposes. Such an activity needed new tools for navigation and expeditions, which were developed by geographers, like Gerardus Mercator. For example, the world map that we all know and love was created by him, hence the “Mercator projection”. Nowadays there are other projections, which are deemed more accurate, but the design of Mercator remains the most popular.
Another Mercator’s work was the “Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura” (“Atlas or cosmographical meditations upon the creation of the universe and the universe as created”). This was the first Atlas, that is, a collection of maps (although, in truth, an Atlas can be much more comprehensive). Some people think that the name “Atlas” came from the Titan God, but it wasn’t. In truth, it was named after the Mauritanian King, who Mercator considered the first geographer. Therefore, Atlas, the collection of maps, was a tribute from a geographical pioneer to another.