The Map At The Bottom Of The World (cont.)
By Doug Fisher
One of the more noticeable aspects of this reconstruction is its orientation, which borrows from the Medieval practice of aligning east towards the top of the map, a cartographic practice for which the word ‘orient’ acquired the definition ‘to align’. The feature we will want to focus on, however, is the small laterally arcing waterway positioned in the middle of Africa. It is not nearly as imposing as Schöner's lengthy waterway and exhibits a tighter smoother undulation, but like Schöner’s version not only does it set itself apart as the only waterway that is completely landlocked, but it is also the only waterway terminated at both ends with large lakes. All other depicted rivers empty into seas or the outer ocean. And like Schöner's map this unusual waterway effectively divides the continent of Africa into two regions, north and south. As we shall see, if there were any doubts regarding the map’s authenticity this feature should fully dispel those doubts.
This water feature actually maintains ancient Rome’s basic misconception that the source of the Nile originated in a West African mountain lake and flowed eastward across the continent. Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian writes the following with regards to the Nile in the historical work, Natural History:
“It rises... in a mountain of Lower Mauritania, not far from the ocean; immediately after which it forms a lake of standing water, which bears the name of Nilides… Pouring forth from this lake, the river disdains to flow through arid and sandy deserts, and for a distance of several days' journey conceals itself; after which it bursts forth at another lake of greater magnitude in the country of the Massaesyli, a people of Mauritania Caesariensis.
It then buries itself once again in the sands of the desert, and remains concealed for a distance of twenty days' journey, till it has reached the confines of Aethiopia. Here... it again emerges... forming the boundary-line between Africa and Aethiopia.” - NH, Book V, chapter 10.
Pliny’s account varies a bit from the river’s layout on the reconstruction, but essentially shares the concept of a source lake in Mauritania, located in western Africa, that feeds an eastward flowing Nile River. This waterway extends across the continent to form a boundary between Africa to the north and Ethiopia to the south. In eastern Africa this misconceived Upper Nile ceases its aboveground progress and supposedly empties into an underground river where it continues to flow until it rises one last time as the Lower Nile River, flowing unabated above ground and eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.
Compared to Schöner's depiction of the waterway, the reconstruction above opts for a more conservative portrayal, perhaps in an attempt to credit the Romans with a little higher cartographic aptitude, but in referencing maps that are direct derivatives of Agrippa’s map it seems that Schöner’s map may indeed be the more accurate depiction. One such map is the Hereford Mappa Mundi (Fig. 14).
Figure 14 - The Hereford Mappa Mundi (left), perhaps the most renowned of the mappae mundi, alongside a stripped down reproduction. Like the reconstruction of Agrippa’s map it incorporates the mysterious landlocked waterway spanning the width of Africa (highlighted in red on the right-side image). Also of note is the lateral mountain range paralleling the waterway to the north. Signature features distinguishing the map from Roman and Greek maps are the city of Jerusalem positioned at the map’s center and the Garden of Eden rendered as a circular island in the east.
The Hereford map is preserved in England’s Hereford Cathedral and is a medieval map whose origin dates back to circa 1290 A.D. Like Agrippa’s map it is a rather large map intended for public display, measuring approximately 62” tall by 52” wide with the inclusion of its decorative pentagonal border. The map itself is a circular rendering similar to ancient Greek design, but employs the cartographic practice of orienting east toward its top. European cartography does add its own unique stamp on the circular map design with elements reflecting a Medieval Europe that had transitioned into a Christian society. Taking its cue from Greek map design and its concept of cartographic centricity, the Hereford and other mappae mundi adopted a Christocentric design, locating the holy city of Jerusalem at the map’s center. This radical design decision countered the practice of Greco-centricity with the preferred adherence to a literal translation of Ezekiel 5:5, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.”
Along with the requisite place names, the map is littered with inscriptions of varying lengths providing detailed information particular to the regions in which they are inscribed and while the majority of these inscriptions appear sourced from pagan authors exposing the map’s Roman influence, at least twenty inscriptions are included on the map that further reflect Europe’s Christian influence. This influence extends to the map’s inclusion of a representation of the Garden of Eden at the top of the map as well as an image of Jesus being attended to by angels that adorns the upper portion of the map’s pentagonal border. The map also exaggerates the size of Palestine allowing space for further Christian detailing such as an image of the walled city of Jerusalem with Christ’s crucifixion drawn just above it.
The faded and discolored appearance of the map belies its original beauty. The original detailing was certainly very stunning with the surrounding ocean and seas colored green, red coloring applied to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and the numerous inland lakes and waterways scattered about the map are differentiated with a deep blue coloring. And most importantly we find one of these blue colored waterways cutting a wide arc across the continent of Africa, which, like Schöner's map, is terminated at both ends by large lakes. Like the reconstruction of Agrippa’s map, this rendering of an Upper Nile is conspicuous in that it is the only body of water configured in this manner, yet the Hereford map's rendering is much more imposing, mirroring the same grand presence as depicted on Schöner's map. Also mirroring Schöner’s map is a mountain range paralleling the waterway on its northern side with the slight difference of Schöner's mountain range rendered as one continuous length that extends well beyond the water feature in the east while the Hereford mountain range is composed of two lengths with its eastern extremity terminating near the eastern end of the waterway.
Providing a link between the Hereford and Schöner maps is another globe constructed around the same time as Schöner's 1515 globe: the Green Globe. The Green Globe (Fig. 15), also known as the Quirini globe, bases its rendering of the southern continent on the same conceptual design as Schöner's. Of note is that its rendering of the lateral waterway maintains a tighter undulation and is a near arc that matches more closely the Hereford version.