[at-luh s]
See more synonyms for atlas on
noun, plural at·las·es for 1–3, at·lan·tes [at-lan-teez] /ætˈlæn tiz/ for 5.
  1. a bound collection of maps.
  2. a bound volume of charts, plates, or tables illustrating any subject.
  3. Anatomy. the first cervical vertebra, which supports the head.
  4. a size of drawing or writing paper, 26 × 34 or 33 inches.
  5. Also called telamon. Architecture. a sculptural figure of a man used as a column.
Compare caryatid.

Origin of atlas

1580–90 in sense “prop, support”; as name for a collection of maps, said to be from illustrations of Atlas supporting the globe in early books of this kind


[at-luh s]
noun, plural At·las·es for 2, 4.
  1. Classical Mythology. a Titan, son of Iapetus and brother of Prometheus and Epimetheus, condemned to support the sky on his shoulders: identified by the ancients with the Atlas Mountains.
  2. a person who supports a heavy burden; a mainstay.
  3. CharlesAngelo Siciliano, 1894–1972, U.S. body-building advocate, born in Italy.
  4. a liquid-propellant booster rocket, originally developed as the first U.S. ICBM, used with Agena or Centaur upper stages to launch satellites into orbit around the earth and send probes to the moon and planets; also used to launch the Mercury spacecraft into orbit around the earth. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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Historical Examples of atlas

British Dictionary definitions for atlas


  1. a collection of maps, usually in book form
  2. a book of charts, graphs, etc, illustrating aspects of a subjectan anatomical atlas
  3. anatomy the first cervical vertebra, attached to and supporting the skull in manCompare axis 1
  4. plural atlantes architect another name for telamon
  5. a standard size of drawing paper, 26 × 17 inches

Word Origin for atlas

C16: via Latin from Greek; first applied to maps, from depictions of Atlas supporting the heavens in 16th-century collections of maps


  1. Greek myth a Titan compelled to support the sky on his shoulders as punishment for rebelling against Zeus
  2. a US intercontinental ballistic missile, also used in launching spacecraft
  3. astronomy a small satellite of Saturn, discovered in 1980
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for atlas


1580s, Titan, son of Iapetus and Clymene, supposed to uphold the pillars of heaven, which was his punishment for being the war leader of the Titans in the struggle with the Olympian gods. The name in Greek perhaps means "The Bearer (of the Heavens)," from a-, copulative prefix, + stem of tlenai "to bear," from PIE root *tele- "to lift, support, weigh." Mount Atlas, in Mauritania, was important in Greek cosmology as a support of the heavens.


"collection of maps in a volume," 1636, first in reference to the English translation of "Atlas, sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi" (1585) by Flemish geographer Gerhardus Mercator (1512-1594), who might have been the first to use this word in this way. A picture of the Titan Atlas holding up the world appeared on the frontispiece of this and other early map collections.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

atlas in Medicine


  1. The top or first cervical vertebra of the neck, supporting the skull and articulating with the occipital bone and rotating around the dens of the axis.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

atlas in Culture


In classical mythology, a Titan famous for his strength. After the defeat of the Titans by Zeus, Atlas was condemned to support the Earth and sky on his shoulders for eternity.


Since the sixteenth century, pictures of Atlas and his burden have been used as decorations on maps. Accordingly, the word atlas is used for a book of maps.


An “Atlas” or “atlas” is an incredibly strong person or one who carries an enormous burden.


A bound collection of maps. Atlases are named after the Greek god Atlas.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.