Mercator’s famous 1595 Atlas names a new genre and identifies the image of the world with a muscular man on its famous title page. But why does a human body become the symbol for a cartographic portrait of the world? What does this conjunction tell us about the literary history of the world atlas as a textual form? This talk explores the broader intellectual and cultural matrix in which the modern world atlas was born, revealing the intersections between medicine, geography, cosmology and metaphysics in the sixteenth century. At the same time, it explores how new digital technologies for comparing images such as maps might help sketch new histories of textual emergence and evolution across time.