The atlas is the first, or top, vertebra of our bony spinal column supporting the “globe” of the head. In Greek mythology, Atlas was one of the early gods, called the Titans. Atlas warred against Zeus, King of the Olympian gods, and lost. For his punishment, Atlas was condemned to bear the weight of the world and heavens upon his shoulders for eternity.
Book collections of maps frequently used the icon of Atlas bearing a globe upon his shoulders. Over time, atlas came to refer to the book itself. Eventually, atlas has come to refer to any collection of plates or figures devoted to a single topic such as a street atlas or an atlas of human anatomy.