Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My geographical location

Readers of Antipodes must wonder at times where I actually live. So, here's a helpful map, which provides you with clear indications concerning my whereabouts.


As you can see, I live in a land that is covered in castles of all kinds. In fact, my humble house at Gamone is one of the rare edifices in France that cannot rightly by designated as a castle... but that doesn't bother me; I've never been a snob.

Down in the middle of the lower section of the map, you can see a double-spired castle representing Marseille (Marceille), just below a sign indicating Provence (Provincia). To the west, you can see clearly the delta of the river Rhône (Rodannis), which moves in a northerly direction to Avignon and then Valence. Between these two cities, an unidentified river (maybe the Drôme) flows down from the Alps. Besides, the map identifies this region as the Dauphiné. Just to the north of Valence, a big reddish blob on the right bank of the Rhône indicates the position of an unnamed city: Romans. At this point, a major tributary of the Rhône flows down in an oblique direction from the Alps. This, of course, is the Isère. And, beneath this river, the mapmaker has drawn a series of four mountains. The one on the left designates the Vercors mountain range. And, once you've reached that area, you'll be able to find me easily by asking directions from any of the neighboring castle-owners, since they all know me. Simply mention "the Australian with two dogs and two donkeys".

This map is part of a collection whose title is Universal Cosmography, created in the middle of the 16th century by a cultivated French navigator and part-time pirate (friend of Francis Drake) named Guillaume Le Testu [1509-1572]. Click here to access this fabulous publication on the Gallica website (emanation of the Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Here's another Le Testu map, in which he evokes the existence of a great southern continent, referred to as Terra Australis:


Let us listen to Le Testu himself on the subject of this mysterious southern land, the future Australia (which would be discovered officially, two and a half centuries after Le Testu, by James Cook):
This Land is part of the so-called Terra Australis, to us Unknown, so that which is marked herein is only from Imagination and uncertain opinion; for some say that La Grant Jave [Java Major] which is the eastern Coast of it is the same land of which the western Coast forms the Strait of Magellan, and that all of this land is joined together... This Part is the same Land of the south called Austral, which has never yet been discovered, for there is no account of anyone having yet found it, and therefore nothing has been remarked of it but from Imagination. I have not been able to describe any of its resources, and for this reason I leave speaking further of it until more ample discovery has been made, and as much as I have written and annoted names to several of its capes this has only been to align the pieces depicted herein to the views of others and also so that those who navigate there be on their guard when they are of opinion that they are approaching the said Land...
Is there a case for considering Guillaume Le Testu as the authentic discoverer of Australia? I like to think, at times, that the Frenchman deserves this honor. It seems clear to me that he must have been in close contact with the northern coastline of Australia at one time or another, maybe through hearsay, otherwise he would not have referred so explicitly to the southern continent in his maps and the texts attached to his maps. Admiring Le Testu's attention to details in his map of France, I refuse to believe that the same navigator would have simply got carried away by pure fantasy in the case of the Terra Australis hypothesis. On the other hand, Le Testu insists upon the fact (in the above excerpt) that Terra Australis remained "unknown", and he certainly hasn't left us the least map fragment that clearly evokes any part of the Australian coastline. So, we can be sure of nothing.

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