The Atlantic Ocean is the world's second largest ocean, after the Pacific. The formation of the Atlantic Ocean occurred approximately 180 million years ago. Theories of continental drift and plate tectonics, which caused the break up of the Pangaea supercontinent, help explain the formation of the Atlantic. The Atlantic covers approximately one-fifth of the Earth’s total area, which is approximately 106,460,000 square kilometers.
Naming of the Atlantic Ocean
The name Atlantic was first used during the era of Herodotus in Ancient Greece around 450 BC, and derives its meaning from Greek mythology. In the Greek language, "Atlantic" is loosely translated to mean “the island of Atlas” or “sea of Atlas.” The earliest writings that mention the Atlantic Ocean are attributed to Greek philosopher Plato.
The Atlantic Ocean means “sea of Atlas.” Atlas was the Greek God of navigation and astronomy, and it is from his name that "Atlantis," and finally "Atlantic" developed. After the Titanomachy, Atlas was believed to hold up the sky for eternity. It is believed that Zeus, another titan in Greek mythology, gave Atlas the responsibility to bear the weight of the Earth.
The Atlas Mountains in North Africa were also named in honor of Atlas. His name is also associated with a number of other geographical features.
The parents of Atlas were Titan Lapetus and Oceanid Asia, who is also referred to as Clymene. Atlas had many children, the majority of whom were girls. His most prominent daughters include Pleiades, Hesperides, Calypso, and Hyades. Atlas' siblings were Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Prometheus.
Why Was the Atlantic Ocean Named After Atlas?
Atlas was considered strong enough to support the whole world on his shoulders. In fact, sculptures and images of Atlas show him bending and supporting the Earth on his shoulders. The Atlas Mountain Ranges in North Africa were also named in his honor, as well as the mass of water off the Strait of Gilbratar. Once the boundaries of the world's oceans were clearly established, the entire ocean came to be referred to as the Atlantic.
What Were the Previous Names of the Atlantic Ocean?
The Arab people had several names for the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Ages, the most prominent being Bahr-al-Zulumat. The name loosely translates to “Sea of Darkness.” During this time, Europeans referred to the sea as "Mare Tenebrosum," which also means "Sea of Darkness." It was also referred to as "Nun," the "Outer Sea" or simply the "Ocean Sea," which was used until the arrival of Columbus. The name “Sea of Darkness” was used to imply how the sea frightened many people, as it was believed that the Atlantic caused fatal accidents.