Initially known as Mons Mensae, Mensa was created by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille out of dim Southern Hemisphere stars in honor of Table Mountain, a South African mountain overlooking Cape Town, near the location of Lacaille's observatory. He recalled that the Magellanic Clouds were sometimes known as Cape clouds, and that Table Mountain was often covered in clouds when a southeasterly stormy wind blew. Hence he made a "table" in the sky under the clouds. Lacaille had observed and catalogued 10,000 southern stars during a two-year stay at the Cape of Good Hope. He devised 14 new constellations in uncharted regions of the Southern Celestial Hemisphere not visible from Europe. Mensa was the only constellation that did not honor an instrument that symbolised the Age of Enlightenment. Sir John Herschel proposed shrinking the name to one word in 1844, noting that Lacaille himself had abbreviated some of his constellations thus.
Although the stars of Mensa do not feature in any ancient mythology, the mountain it is named after has a rich mythology. Called "Tafelberg" in Dutch and German, it has two neighboring mountains called "Devil's Peak" and "Lion's Head". Table Mountain features in the mythology of the Cape of Good Hope, notorious for its storms. Explorer Bartolomeu Dias saw the mountain as a mythical anvil for storms. Another myth relating to its dangers comes from Sinbad the Sailor, an Arabic folk hero who saw it as a magnet pulling his ships to the bottom of the sea.
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