Saturday, April 27, 2013

Draw me a map

The theme for Bardic Madness XXIII was "Directions" so I thought I'd teach a course on cartography. That I knew next to nothing about cartography in the middle ages didn't bother me. I had more fun researching this class than any of the others, since every turn of the page brought some fascinating new insight. I started fairly early, about 6000 BCE (lest early period folk think I'm neglecting them). I ended with a crazy map from c.1590, in which a map of the world replaces the face in a jester's hood. Sayings including "Nosce te ipsum" (Know thyself) and "Stultorum infinitus est numerus" (The number of fools is numerous). A cartouche on the map ascribes it to "Epichthionius Cosmopolites", which is essentially, "Anonymous".
Other interesting maps include one on a coin, a circular one that was about twelve feet in diameter, one that features Paul Bunyan holding runestones. (at least he looks like Paul Bunyan.), and a heart-shaped world map. Maps that hung in churches featured Eden at the top (in the far East); Jerusalem in the center, griffins, elephants and bears in the north; monsters in the far south; and the Minotaur in his maze on Crete. As India and Africa were explored by Europeans, the Pygmies who battled with cranes (reported by Aristotle, Homer, and Pliny) had to be moved from there to Canada, where they lived with unicorns.
There were many revolutions in thought hinted at in this class, not the least of which was the shift from 12 directions to eight (or 16 or 32). And how maps changed in character from geographical, to theological, to nautical, to geographical.
I hope I find another opportunity to teach this class, because it was so much work and so much fun.

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