When Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968, the first human flight to leave the earth's low orbit gave its astronauts an unprecedented vision: the entire planet. It's strange to think that it's only been 50 years since humans have been able to see the entire globe, especially considering how long they've drawn maps.
In his splendid book "Theater of the World", Thomas Reinertsen Berg provides dozens of color maps and fascinating details about the history of attempts to represent the geographical space. The first maps – including one carved into a mammoth tusk nearly 38,000 years ago – focused on the skies, the only area where the early cartographers had a long-range vision.
But humans eventually turned their attention to the earth beneath their feet. The ancient Greeks, including Ptolemy, a renowned cartographer and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, created images that reflected a greater understanding of distant lands. During the Middle Ages, clerics and cartographers tried to locate biblical sites such as the Tower of Babel and the Garden of Eden. "The question of where to place paradise has become more problematic for cartographers as the Far East has become more known – not least Marco Polo's travels it was published around the year 1300, "Berg writes." Some began to design Eden in southern Africa, which was still largely unknown. "
The first map to represent America as a separate continent – and the first to call it "America" - was created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. In 2001, the Library of Congress reached an agreement to acquire 39, the only known copy of the map, considered "birth certificate of America", for $ 10 million.
At the advent of the age of exploration, cartographers used information collected from long journeys to integrate the knowledge inherited from their ancestors to create more ambitious maps.
Berg has a fascinating chapter on the creation of the first atlas, assembled by Abraham Ortelius and published in Antwerp (in what is now Belgium) in 1570. Ortelius drew the work of 89 cartographers to create 69 colorless maps.
The result Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the world) has a frontispiece that depicts the continents known as allegorical female figures.
"On top, Europe sits on a throne, wears a crown," and holds a globe with a cross, "as she is responsible," says Berg "for bringing Christianity into the world. she is "dressed in noble clothes", she says, "but she wears a tiara rather than a crown and is subordinate to the European queen." Africa, also a subordinate to Europe, is "dressed in a poorly dressed and wearing a sun inspired halo to emphasize the warmth. "
After all, America, only recently discovered and named, is depicted, says Berg, "as primitive, cannibal … holding a head of a European man." Next to America there is a bust representing "Terra australis nondum cognita" – a "southern land not yet known".
The inclusion of a quote by Cicero – "For what human events can it seem important to a man who holds all of eternity before his eyes and knows the vastness of the universe?" – provides "a cross-section of the deeper meaning that Ortelius saw in the cartography" Berg says.
Berg strongly argues that the maps served many purposes as well as representing the geographical space.
Readers can expect to spend happy hours with this book, tracing routes and reading reports from adventurous surfers.
Lorraine Berryhe wrote books for the Guardian and Salon, among other stores.
THE WORLD THEATER
The maps that made history
By Thomas Reinertsen Berg
384 pp. $ 35.