For Your Information

This section of the web site offers readings, images, and maps that can help students to further understand course assignments, but which are not required reading. In other words, the readings on this page are for your Information (FYI). Links from the five sections of the course come here, and are marked thus: Optional (FYI) Reading.

From Wednesday February 28

An Introduction to Marco Polo's Travels

The most popular geographical work to be printed from movable type in the fifteenth century was Ptolemy's Geography or Cosmography. Originally compiled by the Alexandrian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy in the second century A.D., it was translated from Greek into Latin in Florence, Italy about 1410. The map of the world here reproduced, beautifully illuminated with twelve wind heads, is one of thirty-two maps illustrating the edition of the Cosmographia issued from the press of Lienhart Holle of Ulm, Germany, on July 6, 1482. Holle's edition was the first to be printed north of the Alps and the first to include maps printed from woodcuts. To produce his printed editin, Holle used a manuscript copy prepared under the direction of the Benedictine Monk known as Donnus Nicolaus Germanus.

This world map shows the state of European cartographic knowledge of the world prior to Columbus' 1492 voyage. It reflects the Ptolemaic world view. The old (or known) inhabited world oikoumene is depicted as extending 180 degrees east and west, but in reality it covers only 105 degrees of longitude. This elongation, greatly shortening the unknown portion of the earth,  was to influence navigators such as Christopher Columbus for many years. Also depicted is Ptolemy's mistaken notion that the Indian Ocean was an enclosed body of water, an idea that was  to be disproved only five years later by the successful rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomeu Dias of Portugal.

New information began to find its way into the classical representations then in circulation in Western Europe, and the 1482 world map was no exception. Nicolaus Germanus, for example, extended the map northward to show Iceland (correctly positioned north of the British Isles) and Greenland (incorrectly shown as a peninsula of Europe). Raleigh Skelton in the introduction to the facsimile edition of Claudius Ptolemaeus Cosmographis, Ulm, 1482 (Amsterdam, 1963) noted that this is the "earliest printed delineation of Greenland, Iceland and the North Atlantic [on a world map]; and this was to exercise a potent influence in the cartography of the early 16th century."