From Atlas to Atlanticists
Intrigued by a reference to the political term Atlanticism, heretofore unbeknownst to me, I researched the history of the name of the ocean that separates the western and eastern hemispheres. This post defines and discusses these and related terms.
Atlanticism, a term coined in 1950, refers to the concept of cooperation between the United States (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) and the countries of Europe, an idea that developed during World War II and was codified in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949. An advocate of the belief that this relationship is fundamental to geopolitical stability is an Atlanticist.
The term, of course, is based on the name of the Atlantic Ocean, the body of water that separates North America and Europe. But where does Atlantic come from?
That word, in reference to the seas beyond the Pillars of Hercules (a poetic name for the portal of the Mediterranean Ocean), dates to the classical Greek era and derives from the name of Atlas, a Titan who is said to have been condemned by the Olympic gods to hold up the heavens in perpetuity. (Titan is often depicted bearing Earth on his shoulders, but this image is based on confusion of the sky as a celestial sphere with a planetary globe.)
This myth is associated with the Atlas Mountains, located in northwest Africa and flanking the southern side of the Pillars of Hercules, which metaphorically brace the sky. Because illustrations of Atlas were often prominently featured on illustrated maps during the Age of Exploration (starting in the fifteenth century), bound collections of maps came to be called atlases. (The origin of Atlas’s name is disputed; it is said to be either from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “uphold” or a Berber word for mountain.)
Another name derived from Atlas, by way of Atlantic, is Atlantis. This was the name Plato gave to an imaginary island employed allegorically in one of his philosophical commentaries. Unfortunately, later readers misinterpreted this fictional location as a real one, and pseudoscientific speculation has run rampant ever since, to the point that Atlantis is held up as a psychically and spiritually fueled utopia that tragically met its end by divinely caused inundation. (The name for an inhabitant of Atlantis is Atlantean.)
Transatlantic (compare transpacific) describes something pertaining to a connection between the western and eastern hemispheres. Atlanta, the name of the capital of Georgia, resulted from the originally suggested designation Atlantica-Pacifica, inspired by the names of the oceans bordering the United States. (The name of the Pacific Ocean is from the adjective pacific, meaning “peaceful,” ultimately from the Latin word pax, meaning “peace.”)
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