The Map At The Bottom Of The World (cont.)
By Doug Fisher
In fact it is widely believed that Agrippa had provided some form of commentary with his map. This is based in part on several passages in Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ referring to statements by Agrippa that pertained to his survey. These statements relate to geographical information normally not conveyed through a map alone. For example, according to Pliny, Agrippa wrote regarding the inhabitants of one region, “M. Agrippa supposed that all this coast was peopled by colonists of Punic origin,” (NH 3.3) and also described some geographical regions as being inaccessible, “Agrippa states that the whole of this coast, inaccessible from rocks of an immense height, is four hundred and twenty-five miles in length, beginning from the river Casius.” -NH 6.15
Some historians have gone so far as to suggest that there never was a map, but only a commentary, while most believe the map did exist, but the commentary existed apart from it. Schöner's design offers a third option: that all or part of Agrippa’s commentary had been incorporated into the map, specifically, within the map’s circular interior.
The mappae mundi borrowed their pagan commentary from a Roman source and it is highly likely that source was Agrippa’s map. The migration from a centrally located commentary suggested by Schöner’s circular interior to the mappa mundi’s inland distributive commentary would be a very logical progression when placed in the context of the period. Again it relates directly to Christocentricity and the desire by medieval cartographers to place the Christian holy city of Jerusalem at the map’s center. In order to effect this change, it required cartographers to expand Asia inward toward the map’s center. If we consider a design similar to Schöner's as being the source map with a centrally located commentary, the enlargement of Asia would have displaced roughly half of the inner circle along with half the map’s commentary. To retain the commentary and maintain Jerusalem at the map’s center the medieval cartographers had little option but to transfer the displaced commentary onto the enlarged Asian continent. In turn, maintaining consistency of design throughout the map would have further dictated the expansion of the European and African continents into the remaining half of the inner circle and similar redistribution of commentary over these enlarged continents.
Interestingly the Psalter Mappa Mundi (Fig. 20), a late 13th century map, demonstrates the feasibility of Schöner's design and at least one way to benefit from a consolidated commentary. The Psalter map measures a mere 3 1/4 inches in diameter allowing it to fit in a small book of Psalms from which it derives its name. It is similar to other mappae mundi in design, but because of its small size is limited to a small fraction of the place names and completely devoid of the commentary normally distributed about larger mappae mundi. As a work around, a separate reduced commentary is located on the reverse side of the page, where it is inscribed within a circular frame, providing a rough glimpse at the way in which Agrippa's inner circle of text may have once appeared while also demonstrating the logical separation of standard cartographic elements from supplemental commentary. The commentary’s circular frame is actually a tripartite map, a medieval concoction that is also termed a T-O map because of the way it represents the world as a simple circle divided into three parts by a 'T'. The three resultant divisions represent the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. The Psalter map fills these three continental frames with commentary apportioned accordingly. Hence, on the fore map we find the now familiar Upper Nile spanning the African continent with depictions of odd mutated humanoids lining its southern shore, while within the African section of the tripartite map we find associated commentary referencing these ‘Ethiopian monsters’.
Figure 20 - The Psalter Map incorporated into a small book of Psalm with the map on the fore page (left) and commentary consolidated on the back (right), splitting the standard mappa mundi design into two logical and practical components.
The Psalter dual part map not only proves a very logical and efficient means to preserve both the design of the complex mappa mundi along with the commentary in a small form factor, but it also provides an intuitive device for referencing commentary without the need to scour about the main map. Such a device becomes magnitudes more practical when applied to a very large map. Assuming that Agrippa’s map as it was originally displayed on the Roman portico was much larger than the Hereford Mappa Mundi, it would have proven an extreme convenience to the viewer to access the map’s extensive commentary consolidated within the confines of the map’s circular rendering of the Mediterranean Sea.
At this point there is now no doubt that we have indeed discovered an ancient Roman world map at the bottom of Schöner's 1515 world globe. All that remains is a reconstruction of the map to its original appearance. We will begin by attempting to establish the map’s original orientation. The map’s orientation has long been disputed among scholars with north, south and east all considered viable possibilities, but Schöner's map appears to confirm a northern orientation much like the Roman Peutinger and Ptolemy maps. This can be deduced from the internal symmetrical geometric framework around which the map was built.
Artistic paintings often have the general detailing and layout sketched onto the canvas as guides before the paint is applied, so too was the case with ancient maps. While Ptolemaic maps benefited from a grid composed of latitude and longitude, we know that latitude and longitude were not implemented in ancient Roman maps like the Peutinger and Agrippa maps. Yet it appears that Agrippa’s map does incorporate a structural guide. The map uses simple geometry to divide the Mediterranean Sea into three significant zones around which the three continents are wrapped.