Thursday, June 9, 2011

Heart map, head map

This beautiful heart-shaped map of the world was created in 1536 by a Frenchman with a funny name: Oronce Fine. I hasten to point out that, in Latin, the gentleman's name has a much more distinguished look and feel: Oronteus Finæus.

Master Oronteus was, not only a cartographer (who produced the first-ever printed map of France), but also a mathematician of sorts, author of an opus entitled Protomathesis. Incidentally, most people would agree with me that this title sounds marvelous for a treatise on mathematics… but there's a slight hitch in that nobody seems to know with certainty what the scholarly term "Protomathesis" could possibly mean!

At the bottom of Oronce Fine's heart-shaped globe, admire the vast imaginary continent of Terra Australis… which must not be confused with the island of Australia. Medieval Terra Australis—whose existence was first envisaged by Aristotle—was more like our Antarctica.

As recently as 1981, Oronce Fine came into the spotlight once again when an American academic named Charles Hapgood [1904-1982] published a book in which he hinted that the medieval mapmaker's presentation of the Antarctic coastline was so close to reality (?) that surely the region had been mapped earlier on by mysterious expert cartographers belonging to an advanced society. What can we conclude? Maybe Martian map-makers in Antarctica?

Let's move geographically, indeed cartographically, from the heart to the head. Here's another celebrated masterpiece created by our friend Oronce Fine:

He gave it a lovely lilting title: O caput elleboro dignum, which might be translated roughly as The world in the head of a fool. Scattered throughout this intriguing mixture of art and cartographical technology, there are many little words of wisdom in Latin. For example, on the jester's scepter, we find the famous inscription Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity), inspired by the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes.

I'm convinced that Oronce Fine, in spite of some light-hearted airiness in his creations, was certainly no fool. And I'm sure he had lots of fun doing what he did.

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