Due to the need to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Library building has been closed to visitors until further notice – this includes our reading rooms, exhibition galleries, Bookshop and cafes. Read more...

Dreams Of A Great Southern Land

Dreams Of A Great Southern Land
The Southern Ring Continent
Talks / Lecture

Recording date: 
5 March 2020

Join Chet Van Duzer, Cartographic Historian and Board member of the Lazarus Project at the University of Rochester, as he explores the early modern belief that there had to be a substantial landmass in the south to counterbalance the continents in the north.

This hypothetical landmass was depicted on many maps beginning from c.1508, when such a continent appeared on a world map by Francesco Rosselli. Rosselli’s map showed a very large island at the South Pole, yet many maps from the sixteenth century illustrate a remarkable variant of this geographical myth: a continent-sized landmass that forms a ring of land around the South Pole, with open water at the pole itself.

Chet will discuss the sources of this unusual view of the Southern Polar Regions found in classical, medieval, and Renaissance hydrographical theories and geographical texts.

Transcript

Dreams of a Great Southern Land - The Southern Ring Continent 05032020

 

*Speakers: Martin Woods (M), Chet Van Duzer (C)

*Audience: (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 5/3/2020

 

 

M:       Good evening, everyone and welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name’s Martin Woods, I’m the Curator of Maps and Research Programs here at the National Library. Whether you are here with us in the theatre or online, welcome.

As we begin I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet tonight, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples and whose culture we celebrate as one of the oldest continuing cultures in the world. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging for caring for this land on which we work and live and I’d also like to extend my respects to any first nation’s peoples here who are joining us this evening.

It is my great pleasure to welcome cartographic historian and author, Chet Van Duzer, back to the Library tonight. Chet is an independent historian and has published extensively on medieval and renaissance maps. His recent books include Henricus Martellus' World Map at Yale published by Springer in 2018 and Martin Waldseemüller's 'Carta marina' of 1516. Transcription of the Long Legends, also published by Springer in 2019. His current project is a book about cartographic cartouches, those puzzling and decorative emblems on maps which often reveal more about the map and mapmaker than the cartography itself.

Chet is a board member of The Lazarus Project at the University of Rochester. That’s still true, Chet? Yes. The project employs a cutting edge, fully transportable multispectral imaging laboratory and imaging techniques to recover texts lost for centuries due to damage or deliberate erasure on maps. Its goal is to provide cost-effective access for researchers and institutions to this emerging technology.

I was first introduced to Chet in 2015, not long after the close of the Library’s wonderful Mapping Our World exhibition which featured many of the world’s great medieval, renaissance and later cartography. We were in the process of developing a conservation strategy for the Library’s Blaeu map of New Holland and I was pleased to talk about our prized wall map with him then.

In 2016 we invited Chet here to discuss his new work on an even older map, a world map by Henricus Martellus in about 1491 which is held by the Beinecke Library at Yale. This large map has long been thought to be one of the most important of the 15th century but the many texts on the map were illegible due to fading and damage and thus its exact place in renaissance cartography was impossible to determine.

Chet’s fascinating presentation took us on a microscopic journey, multispectral images revealing previously illegible texts about Asia and Africa derived from even earlier sources. Tonight however Chet will share his insights into the early modern belief that a massive and as yet unchartered southern land existed to provide a counterbalance to the continents of the northern hemisphere.

This is a journey that many have taken. It is at times a perilous one with almost as many hazards posed to those who’ve studied it as to those who explored its supposed existence. On that rather enigmatic note please join me in welcoming Chet Van Duzer to the podium as he explores dreams of a great southern land.

Applause

C:        Well thank you, Martin, for that generous introduction and thank you all for coming. Yes, I will in fact be talking about dreams of a great southern land and I think Australians in particular are cognisant that in early modern Europe people believed that there had to be a southern continent. We’re familiar with that idea but I’ll be discussing a very peculiar form of that myth which is that this southern continent was in the shape of a ring of land so rather than being a large island at the South Pole, it was a ring of land around the South Pole with open water at the pole.

So I’ll begin by looking at the early cartographic history of the southern continent and I’ll begin with this text by the Roman writer, Cicero, in his Dream of Scipio. Moreover you see that this earth is girdled and surrounded by certain belts as it were of which two, the most remote from each other and which rest upon the poles of the heaven at either end, have become rigid with frost while that one in the middle which is also the largest is scorched by the burning heat of the sun. Two are habitable. Of these, that one in the south, men standing in which have their feet planted right opposite to yours, has no connection with your race.

So this rather complicated text is really saying something very simple which is that its cold at the poles, it’s very hot at the equator and in between there are temperate zones which are habitable. The important thing is that he’s saying that this obtains in both hemisphere that there’s a habitable zone in the southern hemisphere as well as the northern hemisphere.

So this idea of this zonal configuration of the earth was elaborated by the philosopher, Macrobius, in his commentary on the Dream of Scipio, that is to say his commentary on Cicero’s work which he wrote in the early 5th century. A number of the manuscripts of Macrobius’ commentary on the Dream of Scipio are illustrated with maps such as this one which is an 11th century manuscript in the French National Library. So just to orientate yourselves a little bit we can see the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and the three classical continents, Europe, Africa and Asia are present on the map although in a very distorted form. So Africa is compressed very much north to south but there they are.

Then we have an equatorial ocean which occupies the large part of the so-called torrid zone and then in the south a southern continent which is symmetric with the continent in the northern hemisphere which is to say it has a torrid zone close to the equator, a frigid zone near the pole and in between a temperate habitable zone. I can show many different maps from manuscripts of Macrobius’ commentary on the Dream of Scipio. Here we have another one where perhaps the Mediterranean is depicted a little bit more realistically while the location of the Red Sea is we can say interesting.

But again we have in some way the three traditional continents represented and this huge southern land mass so this symmetry between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere both in terms of climatic conditions and in terms of land masses.

This idea had a very long trajectory and as we see here made it into print so this is a map, the world map in the 1483 edition of Macrobius’ commentary on the Dream of Scipio. So this was not an idea that was put forward and then immediately forgotten, it had a very long tradition.

When we move into the 16th century we find maps such as this one, Francesco Rosselli's Oval Planisphere made in about 1508 where we have a southern continent but of a very different form so there’s no longer the same attempt at symmetry between the northern and southern land masses but nonetheless this idea that there was a substantial land mass far to the south continued.

With that background I’ll move into discussing what I call the southern ring continent and I’ll begin by looking at its earliest appearance or at least the earliest appearance that I’ve found which is on Johann Schöner's globe of 1515. So here’s a portrait of Schöner. He was a polymath, astronomer, mathematician, geographer, cartographer and teacher and was quite productive as a cartographer. His 1515 globe is a printed globe but only survives in two-and-a-half exemplars. This is the one in Weimar. Unfortunately it’s been restored quite heavily and thus is no longer the best representation of Schöner’s cartographic ideas.

Here is the Frankfurt exemplar of his globe which is in much better condition, has not suffered restoration and thus is a good representative of his cartographic ideas. I said there were two-and-a-half exemplars of his globe, there are also fragments of his globe gores in the Library of Congress.

So rotating the Frankfurt exemplar of his globe, here we see the new world, a very early depiction of it and to the south we see part of his southern continent and we zoom in. We see a little bit more of it. I want to point out that much of Schöner's globe is based on Martin Waldseemüller's famous world map of 1507. This was the source of most of his geography but looking at Waldseemüller's world map we see that there is no southern continent on it and we might say well the world map doesn’t show all the way to the South Pole so maybe Waldseemüller thought there was a southern continent but just didn’t have space to depict it on this map. But he also made globe gores in the same year, 1507, which do extend all the way to the South Pole and we do not see a southern continent on those globe gores.

So although Schöner was made very heavy use of Waldseemüller's 1507 map in making his 1515 globe the southern ring continent was not something he took from Waldseemüller so this is something that he brought to the globe and we can imagine that he was quite excited about making this addition to Waldseemüller's cartography.

Just to look at the South Pole and a few other cartographic objects of the late 15th and early 16th century here’s the South Pole on Martin Behaim's globe of 1492 which is the earliest terrestrial globe that survives. We have very good textual evidence that there were terrestrial globes earlier than Behaim's but globes are fragile and difficult to store and do not survive well so this happens to be the earliest one that survives. We see there is no depiction of a southern continent.

This is the Jagiellonian globe of circa 1507 which is at the Jagiellonian University Museum in Krakow. It is a very small globe, about the size of an orange and as we can see it’s metal. The hole in it was so that part of the mechanism for a clock could pass through the surface of the globe and this is an object we’ll be returning to later but for the moment the important thing is that we don’t see any depiction of a southern continent.

This is the Lenox globe in the New York Public Library made in about 1510 and in many respects a sister globe to the Jagiellonian globe and this is another one we’ll return to later. Again for the moment the important thing is that it does not include a depiction of a southern continent.

So here is the southern continent on Schöner's globe so having looked at those other examples, and particularly at Waldseemüller's world map which was his most important cartographic source, this southern continent is surprising, particularly for its shape as a ring of land around the South Pole. We can see the place name, Brazili região or the region of Brazil in the southern continent which is surprising. You can zoom in a little bit to see that name more clearly. So there was certainly some confusion here on Schöner's part and Schöner published a pamphlet to accompany his globe, the Luculentissima quaedam terrae totius descriptio. In thinking about where this southern ring continent on his globe might have come from it makes sense to consult this pamphlet to see what he might say about it.

He has a passage about Brazili região here but unfortunately it doesn’t really reveal anything about why he gives the southern continent this very strange form. What he says is that the land was discovered by the Portuguese, that it is not distant from the Cape of Good Hope and that it runs from east to west. He says that the inhabitants of the land wear untreated animal skins, use bows and arrows, have cassia and unusual birds and abundant gold and silver. Clearly he’s describing what we know as Brazil so the location again of the place name of Brazil in this southern continent reflects some considerable confusion on his part and it bears mentioning that there’s no other passage in the pamphlet that explains why he gives the southern continent this curious ring shape.

So what is the source of Schöner's confusion about the location of Brazil? Why is it that he would place this name in the southern continent and it comes from another pamphlet published in 1514, the New Tidings out of Brazil Land and this passage contains a very confusing passage about Brazil and something about a strait connected with Brazil in the far south. So I’ll read that passage which again is quite confusing and the confusing passage is itself the source of Schöner's confusion.

So talking about this Portuguese voyage, and when they had arrived in such climate or region, namely around 40 degrees of latitude, that is, 40 degrees south, they found Brazil with a cape, which is a point or place extending into the ocean, and they sailed around or passed this very cape and found that the same gulf lies as Europe does with a sideline west to east, that is, situated between sunrise or east and sunset or west.

This confusing passage continues. Then they saw land on the other side as well when they had sailed a distance of 60 miles along the cape in the same manner as when one travels towards the east and passes the Strait of Gibraltar and sees the land of the Berbers, which is to say northern Africa. When they had come around the cape, as stated, and sailed or travelled north-westward towards us there arose so great a storm and also such a wind that they were unable to sail or travel further.

So again a confusing passage. There’s something about a strait and a land running to the east and west. When we look at Schöner's globe we can see how this passage might have inspired this depiction of a strait at the southern tip of South America with a land running to the east and west which is to say the southern continent.

But that certainly doesn’t explain the whole continent, it doesn’t explain why it has this ring shape and it doesn’t explain one of the most remarkable features of this continent which is its hydrography, that is to say its depiction of lakes and rivers.

So we have this enormous lake surrounded by mountains joined by means of a tremendously long river to another lake surrounded by mountains. So I think it’s reasonable to think that the pamphlet about this Portuguese voyage was what suggested to Schöner that there was a strait at the southern tip of South America but where did the rest of this come from? Granted that one thinks there is a southern continent, granted even that one thinks it has the shape of a ring where did this idea of these two huge lakes and river come from?

It seems a rather dramatic jump but I’ll say a few words on it but the problem of the flooding of the Nile. So one of the great geographical mysteries of classic antiquity was why is it that the Nile River floods in the summer which is precisely when there are no rains? Why is it that the river doesn’t flood in the winter? The flooding of the Nile was a tremendously important event. Herodotus had said that Egypt is the gift of the Nile or the fertility or the agriculture in Egypt was the product of the flooding of the Nile so this very important event had this great mystery about it. Why is it that it happens in exactly the opposite of the season when it seems that it should happen?

I’ll show a couple of images of the flooding of the Nile. Unfortunately we don’t have any ancient images but I have one from the ‘30s and another from 1964 so it really is a very dramatic event. Various theories were put forward even in classical antiquity to try and explain why it is that the Nile floods in the opposite of the season when it seems that it should. One of those theories is from the Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela. Mela says but if there is another world, meaning a southern continent, and there are antikthones, which is like antipodeans, opposite us across the equator then even this would not be far removed from the truth that the river has its source in those lands, that is to say in the southern continent, once it penetrates beneath the seas in a hidden channel then emerges again in our lands, which is to say in the northern hemisphere, and it is for this reason that it swells at the summer solstice because it is then winter at its source. So he’s suggesting that the Nile floods in the summer when there are no rains in the northern hemisphere because its source is in the southern hemisphere and it is winter there.

In the 17th century a map was made that illustrates this theory of Pomponius Mela. Again this is not at all a map contemporary with Pomponius Mela, much later, 17th century but it’s still useful to consult. So just to orientate ourselves we have Europe, Africa, Asia and then the southern continent. Here is the Nile. So we see the Nile in Africa as we would more or less expect it, flowing north to the delta on the Mediterranean and then we have what he says is the source of the Nile in the other world. He goes so far as to locate the Mountains of the Moon in the southern continent. So the Mountains of the Moon are the traditional source of the Nile in Africa, this idea that the Nile flows from the Mountains of the Moon. It goes back to the Greek geographer, Claudius Ptolemy. On many renaissance maps the Mountains of the Moon are depicted in Africa. Here they’ve been moved to the southern continent so the source of the Nile’s been transferred to the southern continent.

If we go back to Schöner's globe we see the mountains of the moon depicted in Africa where we would expect them and it’s worth pointing out that one of the lakes surrounded by mountains is exactly to the south of the mountains of the moon which suggests the possibility of a connection between that lake and the Mountains of the Moon and it’s worth reiterating that Pomponius Mela suggested the Nile has its source in the southern hemisphere and flows through an undersea channel to reach the northern hemisphere.

But where does this idea of two lakes surrounded by mountains connected by a river come from? I suggest that it comes from medieval depictions of the Nile. So here we have the famous Hereford Mappa Mundi made in 1300, one of the largest medieval maps to survive. I’ve rotated the map to put north at the top and I’ve indicated the Mediterranean and the Red Sea which is helpfully indicated in red just to orientate ourselves a little bit. So Africa is to the south.

Here we see the Nile flowing northward to the Mediterranean more or less as we might expect but then we also have this additional branch of the Nile far to the south in Africa near the southern limit of geographical knowledge at this time that’s running between two lakes. We can see similar depictions of this basically mythical branch of the Nile on other medieval maps so here is the Soli Mappa Mundi of circa 1100 and just to orientate ourselves I’ve put north at the top and I’ve indicated three traditional continents. If we look at southern Africa we see again this mythical branch of the Nile at the southern limit of geographical knowledge, it is two lakes joined by an enormously long river.

We can see similar depictions in other medieval maps. This is a map of Mundi and a manuscript of Ranulf Higden's work from the 14th century and we see this very similar depiction of this branch of the Nile running east and west in southern Arica. This is the detail of the Peutinger Map made in about 1200 and the map is unusual, it’s very, very long and compresses information in a north and south and as a result the course of the Nile seems a bit strange but we see clearly the Nile delta and the Nile and then the source of the Nile is a lake surrounded by mountains. I’ll zoom in on that a little bit and we see it. Looking at another Mappa Mundi, this is in the Saint-Sever manuscript of Bian commentary on the apocalypse made in the 11th century. Again I’ve rotated the map to put north at the top. So here we have the Nile in Africa and zooming in again, the source of the Nile is a lake surrounded by mountains.

Just to look at one more case in which there’s a lake surrounded by mountains associated with the Nile, this is an anonymous chart of 1506 or thereabouts and the original map was destroyed, we don’t have it any longer but we have this very good facsimile made by Otto Prodo. So here we have the Nile running north to the Mediterranean as we would expect and this again mythical western branch of the Nile and zooming in we can see that we have a lake surrounded by mountains associated with the Nile.

So going back to Schöner's globe what seems to have happened, and again in his pamphlet, Schöner does not explain this so this is reasoning from the cartography of the map but what seems to have happened is that Schöner accepted Pomponius Mela’s theory that the Nile floods in the summer because it has a source in the southern hemisphere. If the Nile has its source in the southern hemisphere there has to be land there and then for some reason he took this mythical western branch of the Nile from medieval maps and plunked that down in this southern land mass which he had basically invented. So when we talk about dreams of the great southern land there’s a lot of dreaming going on here, a very long string of reasoning in order to come up with this depiction. Then also Schöner was bold enough to paint this hypothesis, to carve this hypothesis on wood blocks for his globe.

The same depiction of the southern ring continent with the same system of lakes and rivers in it appears on the so-called anonymously, so-called green globe of about 1515 which is anonymous. Here’s the southern polar regions on that globe so here’s Africa and again one of the lakes surrounded by mountains is immediately south of Africa, again suggesting a connection between that lake and the Nile River system and the same system of lakes and rivers on that southern continent.

So that’s one instance of this southern ring continent and I’ll move on now to another which is from about 15 years after Schöner's globe on this anonymous world map in the Vatican so it’s in manuscript of Ptolemy’s Geography from the 15th century. Originally there was Ptolemy’s map of the world, blank folios and then his first map of Europe and this map was painted on those blank folios in about 1530 and we can see that it has another instance of a southern ring continent. So on this case it’s a complete ring and it’s rather more elaborate than Schöner's so I’ll look at it a little bit more closely in four parts beginning in the west.

So we can see that it’s dense with place names which is particularly surprising as the continent itself is labelled by the cartographer, terra incognita. In part of that there are actually six named cities which seems even further from the idea of terra incognita. Moving further to the east we have this large peninsula jutting northward that I’ll return to shortly. Then the eastern-most part of the continent which again is dense with text, and those are place names and there’s a short text about some people who live there, all of this despite the fact that it’s not once but twice labelled terra incognita.

So this was actually the map that first got me interested in the history of cartography. It happened to be on display when I was visiting the Vatican museums as a tourist and I was immediately fascinated. I was familiar with the idea that in the 16th century people thought that there had to be a southern continent but I had never seen it with this ring shape before so I wanted to know where that came from and I also wanted to know where all these place names came from. So I studied all the place names and the vast majority of them are either invented as far as I could tell or borrowed in a rather cynical way from other parts of the world.

But that’s not the case with this peninsula that juts to the north. The place names there are actually very interesting. You can see that they are very dense and surprisingly they come from Columbus’ fourth voyage which is not something we would expect in the southern Indian Ocean. So here is the root of Columbus’ fourth voyage which took place in 1502 to 1504. We can see that when he was sailing along the mainland he was in Central America. Of course he thought he was in Asia so the fact that place names from this fourth voyage might be located by a cartographer in Asia is not all that surprising. Someone followed Columbus in his belief but again the fact that they would be so far to the south is surprising.

So if we have a look again at that peninsula and go through the place names so we have Porto Seguro, the secure port. That in and of itself is not strong evidence of anything, that’s a place name that appears in many places. [Real Bellem] 32:41. Both of these place names are from Columbus’ fourth voyage but neither is really all that distinctive however the name Corobaro is not one that one encounters often and it is from Columbus’ fourth voyage so that’s quite strong evidence, I would say.

The Mountain of St Christopher, again back to a name that’s not all that distinctive but does appear in Columbus’ account of the fourth voyage. Then this descriptive text that says in this gulf, Corobaro, worms are born which bore through ships so these are ship worms and Columbus did indeed have severe problems with ship worms on his fourth voyage, he actually had to abandon one of his ships because of damage from ship worms.

Then finally the River of the Pine in the north and again not a very distinctive name but it does appear in Columbus’ fourth voyage and - all these names do come from Columbus’ fourth voyage – I think taken together are very strong evidence that someone thought that this is the area that Columbus was exploring in his fourth voyage. So again just to show the location of that peninsula, very far to the south in the Indian Ocean, actually south of the tropic.

So as I said before it’s not terribly surprising that someone would place toponyms from Columbus’ fourth voyage in Asia and in fact Rosselli does so on his world map of 1508. On the eastern coast of Asia that I’ve circled there, there are place names from Columbus’ fourth voyage. Again the problem is how did they end up being so very far to the south in this anonymous Vatican map?

I’ll return now to the Jagiellonian globe that I mentioned earlier. Again it’s made of metal, very small in the Jagiellonian University Museum. We see here a fairly standard depiction of South America in the early 16th century. If we rotate the globe to the Indian Ocean. Again the contrast here is not great but these are the best images of the globe that there are but we have this very large island in the southern Indian Ocean which is in the same position and has essentially the same orientation as that peninsula on the Vatican map and it has text on it and the text says America novita repareta, America newly discovered.

So bizarrely this globe has America twice, it has South America and then the island of America in the southern Indian Ocean. But the important thing for us here is that this island that is labelled America is in the same location with the same orientation as this peninsula on the Vatican map, in the southern Indian Ocean. Just a detail to show the inscription, America novita repareta along the northern coast of the island.

So we have this large island labelled America and this peninsula jutting down from Southeast Asia towards it which is something very similar to what we have on the Vatican map. Then we’ll look at one other globe, the Hunt-Lenox globe I mentioned before at the New York Public Library. Again we have a fairly standard depiction of South America for the early 16th century if there is such a thing and rotating to the Indian Ocean we again have this large island in the southern Indian Ocean, in this case not labelled America but in the same position and with the same large peninsula jutting southward to meet it. This mythical island appears on other maps such as Pietro Coppo’s map of 1524 so just to orientate ourselves here, South America, Africa and this large island in the same location not labelled America.

But going back to the Jagiellonian globe and comparing with what we have on the Vatican map on the globe on the bottom we have this island labelled America and at the top on the Vatican map we have this peninsula with place names from Columbus’ fourth voyage which is to say place names that belong in Central America. So the presence of these place names from Columbus’ fourth voyage on this peninsula on the Vatican map, as surprising as it seems as first, well there were other people who thought something similar, who were locating America in the same spot. In both cases both the island and the peninsula jut northward just about to the tropics. There again they’re in the same location.

So how did this island representing the new world end up in the southern Indian Ocean south of the tropic? The answer is to be found in another pamphlet which is that printed to accompany Martin Waldseemüller's world map of 1507, the Cosmographiae Introductio or Introduction to Cosmography. In the very passage of this - again the map is famous for being the first to apply the name, America, to the new world and in the very passage where he introduces us to the name, America, there’s text that gives us the answer to this question of how this land ended up being represented so far to the south.

He says, in the sixth climate toward the Antarctic are located the farthest part of Africa, recently discovered, the islands of Zanzibar, Lesser Java and Sula and the fourth part of the earth which, because Amerigo discovered it, we may call it Ameriga, the land of Amerigo so to speak or America. So when he gives us the name, America, he tell us it’s very far to the south in this sixth climate toward the Antarctic. So this is why this island and peninsula which are associated with the new world are located so far to the south. Again there is that peninsula.

So moving on to another instance of this southern ring continent on Michel Tramazino’s map of 1554 so more dreams of the south land. So this is a world map in two hemispheres and here we have the hemisphere showing us Africa, Europe and much of Asia so the eastern hemisphere and we can see there is a ring of land around the South Pole. Here is the other hemisphere of Tramazino’s 1554 map and again we have this ring of land. In this case we’re back to something more similar to what we had with Schöner which is just an incomplete ring. The question is why is this ring incomplete? I want to suggest that the configuration of the world on Tramazino’s map has to do with an idea about the flow of water.

Macrobius talks about a flow of water between the poles and we can see that there is open water at the poles on his map, not on all Macrobian maps, not all the maps follow the text as closely as they might but on a large number of them there’s open water at the poles which is what we have when there’s a southern ring continent. Macrobius talks about this flow of water between the poles.

Another author who talks about a flow of water between the poles is Roger Bacon in the 13th century, the English philosopher in his Opus Majus and Bacon went so far as to make this diagram, this very curious diagram and so he labels South Pole and the North Pole and the beginning of India and the beginning of Spain. I’ll reorientate this diagram to make it a little bit easier to understand. So what he’s talking about is a flow of water between the poles that takes place between India, which is to say Asia, and Europe and this of course was before the discovery of the new world so there was no knowledge of a continent that might interfere with that flow. So both Macrobius and Roger Bacon talk about this flow of water between poles.

If we look at Tramazino’s map, it seems remarkably well designed to facilitate just such a flow. In fact the absence of a significantly sized Japan is particularly telling, it leaves this strait between Asia and North America and then just to the south of that strait we have this opening into the ocean at the South Pole. So it seems that this map is reflecting those same ideas, Roger Bacon’s ideas about this flow of water between the North and South Poles. Unfortunately we don’t have any writings associated with this map that would confirm that but it’s actually confirmed by the cartography of the globe itself. The projection of the map is precisely the projection recommended by Roger Bacon, it was straight and equidistant lines, parallels.

So again accumulating evidence to try and draw a conclusion. If it weren’t the case that the projection was precisely that recommended by Roger Bacon we might doubt whether there was a connection between this interesting strait between the two poles and Roger Bacon’s ideas. But given that Tramazino is using precisely the projection recommended by Bacon it seems possible to conclude with some certainty that that is what’s being depicted here, that the cartographer’s imagining that the world was configured so as to facilitate this flow of water between the poles.

We'll look at one final example of this southern ring continent on Urbano Monte’s manuscript world map of 1587 which we see here. So Urbano Monte was a nobleman in Milan and this map was recently acquired by Stanford University The format in which they acquired it was an atlas so the map consists of 60 separate sheets that were designed to be assembled into a wall map and Stanford has done that digitally, they scanned the 60 sheets, cropped them digitally and brought them together to form this world map which is a really remarkable object. It’s about 3m in diameter and thus one of the largest non-mural world maps to survive from the renaissance.

So just to orientate ourselves here’s North America, South America, Africa, Asia and the map is centred on the North Pole so it’s a north polar projection and in fact the map was designed to rotate about the North Pole. So if you think about a map 3m in diameter, if it were on the wall you wouldn’t be able to see the upper parts. Monte realised that and so designed the map to be able to rotate, to be able to bring the parts that were at the top down within view. We have the Arctic Circle, the equator and then this remarkable southern continent, again a ring of land around the South Pole, its size wildly exaggerated by the north polar projection as we’re familiar with happening to the northern land masses in the Mercator projection.

Just to indicate a few other characteristics of the map as it were in the Southern Ocean, the southern edge of the map we have portraits of kings and each of those triangles are descriptive texts applying to various parts of the world. In the north somewhat annoyingly none of them describes the southern continent and Monte authored a geographical treatise that accompanies this map and one manuscript. It’s a very long treatise but he does not explain why he thought that the southern continent had this configuration so again we're left to try and deduce what we can about the sources of this idea. So again here is the southern continent and its eight islands. So where might he have gotten the idea that this ring of land consists of eight islands?

I would suggest that it comes from an idea of symmetry and we’ve seen this idea of symmetry before in Macrobian maps so if there is a northern land mass there must be a southern land mass and the climatic conditions are symmetric in them. So at the North Pole Urbano Monte has four islands forming a ring of land around the North Pole with these straits separating the islands. This depiction of the North Pole is not something that Monte invented at all, it actually has a long tradition. We see the same depiction of the north Polar Regions on Gerard Mercator's inset map of the north Polar Regions on his famous world map of 1569 where he says that the mountain at the centre is a huge mountain of magnetic stone and that’s why compasses point to the north, because there’s that huge mass of magnetic stone there. That the world’s oceans flow inward towards the pole in these four straits between these four islands.

The important thing is that this idea that there were four islands forming a ring of land around the North Pole had a long history and it goes back much further than Mercator, it also appears on Martin Behaim's globe of 1492 and it goes back to a lost book called Aventio Fortunada which was written in the 14th century but no longer survives.

So again what seems to have happened on Urbano Monte’s map is that he was familiar with this theory that there were four islands forming a ring of land around the North Pole and inspired by ideas of symmetry he deduced that there were islands forming a ring of land around the South Pole.

So to conclude I think it’s remarkable that these four cases of this very similar idea, that there was a ring of land around the South Pole, seem to have so little connection between them. In each case the explanation seems to be different so on Schöner's globe of 1515 it had to do with the question of why is it that the Nile floods in the summer. On the Vatican map we really don’t know where the idea of the whole ring came from but part of it came from this idea that land Columbus discovered on his fourth voyage were in the far south of the Indian Ocean we saw here and also on the Jagiellonian globe. On the map by Tramazino from 1554 the southern ring continent is I think pretty clearly motivated by Roger Bacon’s idea of open water at the poles and the flow of water between the poles so I mean the southern ring continent allows there to be open water at the South Pole and also with its break, facilitates as it were the flow of water between the poles as you see here. Then finally with Urbano Monte we have an entirely different source for this ring of land around the South Pole which is one of symmetry between the northern and southern Polar Regions.

Thank you very much.

Applause

M:       Thanks, Chet, for that very illuminating exposition on the ring continent and the ideas that lie behind it. I find it amazing that even after the erasure of Columbus place names that the threads were still competing around this idea when in fact the whole basis for one of them, or for all of them perhaps, was gotten rid of. But nonetheless it’s a tribute to the tenacity of those ideas that it continued into the middle of the 16th century. What would you say is the longest lived of those ideas?

C:        With regard to Columbus?

M:       No, with regard to the four threads, which one persisted the longest would you say?

C:        The idea that there were these four islands around the North Pole persisted for quite a while. The others all went by the wayside very quickly.

End of recording

Download transcript 154.45 KB

Recent audio All recent audio