The animated Google Doodle for May 20 celebrates the publication of the first ‘modern day atlas’ which was put together by Abraham Ortelius on this day in 1570 under the title Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World). Ortelius collected information from scientists, geographers, and cartographers and used maps provided by them to logically arrange them by continent, region and state.
This atlas was significant for a couple of reasons: we see the use of the theory of continental drift — the belief that continents were joined together before drifting apart to their present-day positions — and the mention of mythical creatures like sea monsters in some pages along with the ever-changing landscape. It points to the fascination of the people of Ortelius’ generation with sea monsters.
Despite many errors in its details and general conception, Ortelius’ atlas became a precursor and was considered as a prototype for other publications that followed. Ortelius is also said to be one of the first cartographers who added his fellow scientists’ names as sources for the information he used for the maps. In the following years, more editions of the atlas appeared.
Ortelius was born in the city of Antwerp in Netherlands, modern-day Belgium. He travelled extensively in Europe and supplemented his income by trading books, prints and maps. In 1956, Ortelius was honoured by the Antwerp city with a presentation. He died at Antwerp in 1598 and was buried in the church of St. Michael’s Abbey in the city. His tombstone inscription read — Quietis cultor sine lite, uxore, prole — which translates to “served quietly, without accusation, wife, and offspring”.