Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here are dragons

In the New York Public Library, there's a copper globe of the world, made in France around 1510. One might have chosen between countless possible names—equally marvelous and authentic—for this precious object, but it remains known sadly as the Hunt-Lenox globe, in honor of the two New Yorkers who had succeeded in grabbing this Old World treasure. (The stupidity of this name is rivaled only by that of the so-called Elgin Marbles.)

A cultivated French friend (Jean-Claude Pagès, a former professor of medicine at the Sorbonne), familiar with the Latin expressions found on this medieval globe, once suggested that some of the map-maker's terms surely described my native land: Terra incognita — Hic sunt dracones. [Unknown land — Here are dragons.]

I've always been particularly fond of the "Here are dragons" thing. If only the Aussie tourist authorities had been smart enough to hitch a ride on this medieval bandwagon, they might have used this as a slogan designating the chunk of archaic Gondwana that would later be known as Australia.

The above image is designated by its creators as a global paleo-geographic reconstruction of the Earth in the late Triassic period, 220 million years ago. In simpler terms, I prefer to think of it as "I still call Gondwana home". I'm amused by the idea of a medieval cartographer, having completed the graphic work on all his fabulous coastlines, who resorted to the formula "Here are dragons" as a way of saying politely: "In fact, concerning this territory, we know fuck all."


  1. Amazing how the map makers knew about goannas, I mean dragons, before they'd even seen them. They may not breathe fire but their size, speed and climbing ability certainly make them fearsome!

    BTW, the globe is certainly a beautiful piece - so much more elegant than anything made recently.

  2. The Wikipedia entry hints that it might not refer to dragons at all, but Dagroians, a race of people. Something about Marco Polo in there too. Discussion on it here: