Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Atlas Sticky Wiki

"Atlas would never have carried the world had he placed his mind on the thought of it."

I forget where I first read that phrase.  It has been in my life a long time.  At different times it has meant different things to me.  Primarily it seems to have acted as a bit of wisdom rather different then what, upon reflection, I would have expected.  Though it is, in all probability, mere pablum, it reminds me of deeper things.  I suppose it always has.

I was reading some notes I had written two years ago, taken while reading Dava Sobel's wonderful book, Longitude.   Within the book Sobel recounted how she had ridden as a little girl on her fathers shoulders whilst walking past the statue of Atlas in New York City.  I wrote in my notebook, 

"I wonder if it will ever stop crushing me to see young girls and boys so well loved, now that I know so many who have never been. "  

It's funny.  Today I don't wonder about that anymore.  I just know I can barely take reality for a lot of kids as it comes.  Much less delve into a great deal more than that.  It will never stop crushing me.  My plastic consciousness has been reconfigured.

I also wrote,

"An Atlas is a thing I have my entire life regarded with the same awe that most people do.  It's the world in your hands:  a metaphorical, mystical, and scientific/practical lodestone.  A matrix of promise and desire.  Maybe even responsibility.  Yet, "Atlas" was something else.  An entity not framed by the purposes and perspective of human yearning.  He was burdened by the physical totem of the universe we call our homes.  And he was burdened by so much more than we would ever aknowledge, and risk burdening ourselves with the timeless purposes of Gods.  We will take their fire, but will it ever be our own?"

I am trying to put on this blog the world as I see it.  This means, I think in spirit, that I should make my suppositions and once having published, if I desire, then fact check.  So I have been trying this, and once again, I find a wrinkle about Atlas.  So here is what Wikipedia says about the etymology of "Atlas":

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 OdysseyHomer 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.

It is pretty amusing, if you ask me, that some people continue to regard the use of Wikipedia as some sort of scourge.  I probably would have looked up Atlas in an encyclopedia under these circumstances  because I am pretty interested, but I never would have had the time to transfer the information I had received (and all the links to supporting information.....) for you to see what I had seen.  Though Wikipedia is an enormously flawed enterprise, it's flaws only underscore the timeless challenge of answering the utterly reasonable question, "Why should I care to look into that?"  Once something is this easy, in general we all care that much more. Most of us see things not better with the truth, but a ladder.  Call it the fallacy of evidence.  And despite being six degrees in separation from the primary texts, and even worse, in the eyes of some, completely separated from accredited scholars, sometimes, even in our heads, we go easy on our knees. 

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