Tag Archives: nautical maps

Mapping New Worlds on Eggshells: Adventures in the Artifice of Renaissance Map-Making

We have learned to expect to pause as Google Maps draw boundary lines, extending to new tiles which soon take forms bounded by in clearcut lines across uniformly flatly colored quite static blocks, as data streams materialize forms from blurs that delineate highways, city blocks, state boundaries, and mountains in gray, green, tan, or light blue–a poor surrogate reality that strongly contrasts to the vivid ways we experience space in early modern maps and globes.  The convincing nature of the watery globe was far more pronounced in an era when the ocean provided the only medium for global travel, to be sure, and the immediacy of rendering oceanic space far more of a concern of global mapmaking.  (Indeed, for a more extensive consideration of map authorship and the concerns of its representation of oceans, see my post on its mapping of ocean waters.)  The  medium of the woodcut presented unique challenges of mapping the circumambient oceans, not defined by clear routes or itineraries, but as a unique medium of travel, whose curving lines that lapped the shores of inhabited lands–




or individual lines that vaguely echo, in wave-like form, shorelines of European nations in this map from the late fifteenth-century Nuremberg Liber Chronicarum: Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten, just predating the discovery of the New World.


Ocean curves.png



Unlike the on-screen conjuring of a demarcated space, the design of early modern maps invites detailed examination.   This undated miniature globe, engraved with considerable care on a two conjoined halves of two ostrich eggs, the size of a grapefruit, invites viewers to sail on the seas that swirl around a record global totality as something like a surrogate for actual world travel, its carefully worked details leave a clear trace of the hand, if not a phenomenological experience of keenly recorded sensory properties.


Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The engraving of a newly imagined expanse reported in marine charts created quite distinct operations of visualizing a newly materialized space–it displays one of the first maps to be printed that showed the New World’s form and recalls  the earliest printed images of North America.  The islands of “Spagnola [Hispaniola]” and “Isabella”, barely balanced with the huge area that it assigns to the Land of Brazil, or “Terra Sanctae Crucis” in something like an antipodal balancing act of continents around the equator, opposed in counterpoint to the Eurasian expanse.

New World in Ostrich_egg_globe

If the opposition of these continents in the ostrich-egg globe betrays significant cosmographical learning, the map itself reflects curiosity in the first mapped images of the New World, and a particular care to the definition of the coastlines of the newly found land masses we now call continents.  The exquisite care and delicate relief of the globe’s surface in this delicate construction made from two ostrich eggs has been recently dated to 1504 by its shell-density, based on a CT-Scan.  If the date can be ever established conclusively, the globe is one of the first images of the New World to have migrated from Portuguese marine charts to a particularly skilled level of craftsmanship, predating some of the known bronze globes of terrestrial expanse it resembles;  the image of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Land of Brazil could be scanned in analogously crisp detail to known early sixteenth-century globes and printed map-gores.  Indeed, the range of graphic tools engravers developed for embellishing the surface of maps set something of a standard for scanning land and sea, as their exquisite tones of shading increased the persuasive range of graphic forms that the anonymous artisan who made this eggshell map exploited to delineate the inhabited world.

The artifice of employing eggshells as a surface of cartographical rendering–indeed, the noble curiosity of ostrich egg shells, an animal recently kept in aristocratic zoos in northern Italy–suggests the precious status that was invested in this curious map as a communication of geographic learning.  The anonymous artist of the recently discovered egg-shell globe converted the braided lines of oceanic expanse and peaked mountains from engraved maps into material form.  But to preserve the sphericity of the globe, the artisans who fashioned the globe joined bisected lower ends of two ostrich egg shells to engrave–unlike the stylized wax-resist used in the Ukrainian art of pysanky, or the common painting of images on ostrich eggs–the surface of the egg that exploited its curved surface and ability to hold fine detail–as in the contemporary artisan Patric Allaert, who specializes in their manual engraving.

The ends of the ostrich egg’s shell provided the curved surface of a record of terrestrial unity:  if the recent claims to date the eggshell to 1504 are correct, based on the dating of density, the artifact would the first image of the New World is to believed, it suggests the huge investment of artifice in picturing this new-found world.  The accuracy of determining the age of the shell by a CT scan of bone-density may well be questioned, given that the loss of 10% per century seems more of an approximation than a device for exact dating.  But the egg of an ostrich was of course often valued for its size as a decorative object in elite settings, although the medium seems innovatively used by the creator of the globe in order to create a spherical surface by using only its rounded half to image the spherical earth.

Together with the roughly contemporary discovery of a new image of the terraqueous world that derived from the globes of Martin Waldseemüller, the media buzz around the eggshell globe may elide the explosion of material cultures of picturing global expanse that emerged at the start of the 16th century:  indeed if Waldsemüller’s twelve-sheet 1507 world map is known in only one example, the newly discovered gores offer the first evidence of their reprinting.  Their difference from four sets of printed gores, in all of which its segments are surrounded by a thickly-inked black boundary-line, and unlike them describe the equatorial line, the place of the Malibar coast revised in the gore segments, as the shape of the island of Madagascar, which, together with changes in the shading of oceans and some of lettering, suggest that their engraver made intentional alterations on a new woodblock to attract new readers, as well as to better approximate its cartographical rendering.  Chet van Duzer has argued the gores reflect continued experimentation in the format of mapping a legible record of the newly discovered world–and his shifting conception of how the map works to process a spatial information from different sources in a coherent whole–comprehending nautical discoveries in a framework for processing expanse.

map4n-3-webULM Cim. 1072. Courtesy University Library of Münich

This set of gores, only discovered bound between two other volumes in the holdings of the University of Munich, suggests that it met a growing demand for the assembly of globes that included the most recent information of nautical charts.  The gores were made to be readily affixed to spheres of similar diameter to the eggshell globe–the line distinguishing the “Diameter Globi” reminds us of the material use that this flysheet met, and the flexibility of the medium of a globe in displaying spatial information, and is unlike the four other sheets of gores Waldseemüller designed which are known to have survived.  The creation of gores to map the world suggested the popularity and currency of creating a comprehensive global map, however, even in an age of terrestrial projections:  if we valorize the Ptolemaic precepts that the ancient astronomer set forth for transferring the curvature of the earth’s inhabited surface to a plane, whose indices guarantee the preservation of uniform scale, distance, and spatial orientation, the embodiment of that space as a globe was as much of a concern for early modern map-users:  the “gores” designed by Martin Waldseemüller provide clear evidence, if they rarely survive, of the demand for making such “self-made globes” in the early modern period to visualize terrestrial expanse.

Gores Of Waldseemuller, 1507

Indeed, the Munich gores testify to the popularity of assembling the globe, even in an age associated with the multiplication of alternate versions of terrestrial projections.

Munich GOres

The eggshell globe responds to similar problems of rendering expanse.  Although terrestrial globe were classical forms, the gores present and substantiate a sense of terrestrial globe as a shift in the transmission of mapped information, as revolutionary as that from scroll to codex, that changed not only the experience of ordering a map’s surface but the reading of maps as registers of space–and tactile experience of a map.  The ordering of the surface of the globe provided a way to communicated the dimensio orbis in relation to both the misura and the pictura represented in maps.

Beyond the suggestion of measuring terrestrial expanse in  printed map-gores, the estheticized image of global virtuosically demonstrates its own artifice to its viewers as a record of global continuity on a spherical surface, ingeniously created by joining halves of eggshells at the equatorial line.  As much as it reflects a humanist culture, the globe is embedded in habits of collecting curiosities like ivory, ostriches or feathers at Renaissance courts that reference the exotic provenance of information mapped on nautical charts that distill an unknown expanse, even as they converted them to a new formal language of scrutiny and examination.

Arabia and Africa EGGSHELL GLOBE

The globe is a miniature, but the size or ostrich eggs were valued as sites of wonder in ecclesiastic settings–ostrich eggs were described as hung in church as mirabilia by Girolamo Cardano, the naturalist Conrad Gesner, and Sebastian Münster, as in this detail from the altarpiece by Piero della Francesca known as the Brera Palla–and were treasured as items gilded in silver, as both natural wonders and curiosities.

piero's eggPiero della Francesca, detail from Brera Palla

The engraving of the surface of the eggshell appears invested with an expressive quality absent in many contemporary maps.  Especially intriguing is the adoption of early techniques that engravers had begun to use to indicate oceanic waves–similar in their delineation of individually cresting waves to the earliest of Ptolemaic world maps– engraved with painstaking care into the shell of the egg, rather than the stippled seas in later engravings, which took an intense patience even greater than the etching of defined coastlines, mountain ranges, and riverine mouths in the elegantly carved eggshells.

We do not know who created these lines, but the exquisite care to these bodies of water in the globe invested it with a strikingly concrete presence.  Indeed, the engraving of the sea is distinct from other engraved images, and creates an oceanic surface unlike either nautical charts or terrestrial maps–these cresting rows of dense waves create a remarkable sense of palpability, even if the globe did not distinguish the oceanic expanse by name.


The considerable illusionistic detail reflects the unique provenance of this globe, whose historical details are so far unknown.  Ostrich eggs were often collected in late fifteenth-century courts, known either from courtly menageries as much as curiosities of nature, and the precious notion of the surface of this map is reflected in the detailed craft of its engraving.   Indeed, the virtuosic removal of calcium carbonate from the shell seems to mediate an early account of the “Mundus Novus” and other regions to a courtly audience; so does the legend, also familiar from other bronze globes, or, near the equator, the legend “H[i]c sunt dracones“–rendered “Here be dragons” by most–in ways that underscored the evocative or linguistically performative nature of the map, as if conjuring newly discovered space for its viewer:  the braided nature of the ocean waves lead the viewer’s eyes across the braided waves engraved on its curved surface as if on a voyage across an open nautical expanse with a sense of wonder, and admiration for its artifice.

It is difficult to know the degree to which this globe was intended to be consulted as a geographic record.  The apparent smudge marks over central Europe and over Brittany in this careful transference of the world map to  conjoined halves of two conjoined ostrich eggs’ shells may suggest its display in either city.  But the provenance of this unsigned and most unusual of cartographical media is unclear, although its design reflects the popularity of the line-drawn engraved map.  The globe elegantly combines landscape with the format of mapped space to lend material solidity to mapped space very rare for the early sixteenth century, destined for an especially sophisticated audience.

But the engraved egg suggests both an awareness of recent engravings–the prime format for the reproduction of early maps–and is dated by its owner, based on a CT scan, to c. 1500, and for him exactly to the year 1504.  Despite a clear absence of parallels or meridians on the globe, whoever owned or designed it must have tacitly understood the accuracy of its illustration of terrestrial proportions.  Although the appearance of the globe–and that of several printed gores–has been tied to the Florentine mapmaker Henricus Martellus, who worked in Florence, its graphic syntax and conventions reveal close study of engravings, and the recreation of a legible record of the inhabited world based on clear interest in nautical charts around the years 1504-5, when news of the “Mundus Novus” first noted in letters Amerigo Vespucci wrote to Medicean patrons about his voyages with Columbus in a pamphlet of 1503.  If the ‘argument’ of the spherical globe is in part to communicate the continuity of terraqueous expanse–


–and orient viewers by conjoining naturalistic detail and  a toponymy written in block lettering echoing humanist type.

The record is strikingly different from the sort of symbolic emblem of a world map that Martellus designed in miniature, c. 1490, where Eurasia is surrounded by waters and an almost fanciful ring in which proliferate multi-colored oceanic isles.


There is something is far more tactile about the elaborate etching of a world map on the material of ostrich egg shells that foregrounds oceans which link the world’s surface as a surface of travel, which no doubt reflects the impact of engraved images to understand the surface of mapped space:  in this delicate curious artifact, painstakingly performed lest the shells (no doubt in limited supply) should crack, would, if the shell’s announced dating to 1504, also make its mapping New World islands of Hispaniola and the Land of Brazil prior to the date traditionally assigned to the first synthesis of Columbus’ discoveries on a printed world-map.

While we wait further investigation about its composition and construction, the globe’s intensive preparation from nautical charts might cause one to rethink the role of the map as a legible surface and a decorative form, and the audiences who read maps of the New World in the first age of printing.


The clear coastal definition of New World islands and Brazil’s contours and riverine mouths in this most material of maps–about the size of a grapefruit with a diameter of just 4.33 inches (or about 11 cm.)–reveals the transfer of forms of Portuguese nautical charts to the decorative arts, and to a new context of both reading and cartographical artifice.  This is evident in the intensive attention to transferring mapping forms to different surfaces attentive to their three-dimensionality in the small globe:  if it did not note terrestrial expanse on a Ptolemaic graticule of meridians and parallels, it met clear expectations for a modern form of mapping expanse on tacit rather than explicit indices, noting with considerable craft the continent South America–“Land of Brazil”–from the coasts to its rivers’ paths, after contemporary manuscript nautical charts.  But the globemaker converted nautical charts through the labored etching of a landscape map of considerable precision, suggestive of the heightened expectations for exact terrestrial maps.  So much is evident from the engraver’s artifice at rendering coastal shorelines and suggestive landscape iconography.

Ostrich Egg Mapped Expanse

The utter absence in the globe of clear parallels or meridians–and the absence of what might be called a culture of instrumental reading of calibrated measurement–raises questions about the circulation of mapped information for reading publics, and the acceptance of tacit indices for reading their content.  For the globe clearly addressed an audience knowledgeable of the proportional and uniform arrangement of terrestrial space on a map’s surface, despite their absence.  The ostrich-egg globe was placed on the world stage by the Belgian independent scholar Stefaan Missinne, who announced in August 2013 it had been purchased at the 2012 London Map Fair by an undisclosed owner, and vouched for its authenticity as an early cartographical record that predated the humanist geographic project of Waldseemüller and his learned patron Ringmann, which led to the first naming of America in a printed map.  (Missinne’s report to the Washington Map Society seems tantamount to a tease, given the payment in 2003 by the Library of Congress of some 2 million dollars for what was believed the earliest map to differentiate clearly “America” from Asia in 1507 as separate landmasses, whose 2007 delivery occasioned its delivery by Chancellor Angela Merkel in an occasion of state.)

The prominent designation “Mundus Novus” on the eggshell globe suggests a slightly earlier date, the very title of the 1503 treatise that Amerigo Vespucci dedicated to Lorenzo Piero de’ Medici, describing “the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered . . . in this new world,” based on his 1501 voyage with Columbus–a letter later Waldseemüller subsequently converted to mapped form.  Should Stefaan Missine correctly date the globe, it would be constructed soon after the printing of the treatise describing the voyage to a new continent “more populous  . . . than our Europe or Asia or Africa, and even more temperate.”  The globe named the region the “Terra Santa Crucis,” to promise the conversion of its inhabitants, in the manner of a Florentine planisphere bearing the date 1507 of Francesco Rosselli–to which I will return.

The discovery of the globe raises fascinating questions about its ties to Renaissance cultures of engraving and mapping, as well as to contemporary practices of accurately transferring the surface of the map to a perfectly spherical globe.  It also raises questions about its relation to the material cultures of map making.  Missinne ventured to tie the globe to the workshop of that Renaissance engineer Leonardo da Vinci, based on suggestive visual evidence as well as the similarities of its detailed rendering of oceans to Leonardo’s drawings of water; despite the lack of interest in details of New World geography in Leonardo’s work, the practice of engraving raises fascinating questions of the migrations of maps to other plastic media.  Leonardo was not skilled himself in engraved images, and far preferred manuscript design, he did ask his assistant and heir Melzi reproduce the images for a planned treatise of anatomy with images in copperplate–rather than wood–that reveal some technical familiarity with engraved images, even if he was not known to use these techniques:  the cryptic referencing of one comment in his Notebooks reveal an appreciation of its value in a book of artistic anatomy.  He ventured in making some nature prints, scholars as Karen Reeds have argued, in ways that evidence deep interest in print as a medium by which to register local detail that could be readily reproduced.

The capital lettering of the toponyms in the eggshell globe clearly echoed a humanist typeface, and more credibly matches the skill of the virtuosic Florentine map engraver, Francesco Rosselli, known for expansive views of cities such as Florence from the 1480s, as well as his delineation of the very first oval projection of the New World–a map which is striking because, as the eggshell globe, it included many of the discoveries of Columbus’ third voyage, and cast the islands of the same shape as Hispaniola and Isabella as the “HISPAN[A]E INSUL[A]E.”  The veduta of Florence exemplifies Rosselli’s dedication to cartographical detail as well as to prepare an icon of the city, whose popularity was evident in this later reproduction of the Roselli view, now situated in a nicely shaded topographic landscape:

Rosselli designed the oval projection that first situated the New World and southern continent for readers in copperplate.  The unique oval projection clearly imitated the form of a spherical earth, expanding upon the three formats of projection Ptolemy had described to offer a geometric projection that he accommodated to depict the entire surface of the globe in one bounded image.  The projection exploited both the straight parallels of longitude to exploit the legibility of print to prepare New World toponomy and emphasize the continuity of ocean travel to the New World:  viewers find  the “Terra S. Crucis sive Mundus Novus,” identical to the eggshell globe and Lenox Globe, below the “isole hispane,” in a visualization of the New World closely analogous to that which Vespucci had described.


Rosselli’s oval world map resonates with the eggshell map not only in its impressive representation of spherical unity, reflecting in its toponomy and the distribution of islands the content of the eggshell globe; in much the same manner, the globe mirrors attention to the detail of single-line engraving and clearly delineated humanistic capital letters.  Rosselli’s application to engraved maps, now believed both substantial and sustained, the elegance of Rosselli’s carefully engraved elegant woodcut lines and experimentation with copperplate engraving make him a more likely candidate than Leonardo to have experimented with the spherical eggshell globe, and indeed in imagining the representation of terrestrial continuity as a surface that viewers could scan with equal attention to its details, much as he seems to have constructed multi-sheet images of cities, much as the detailed image of Florence above allowed viewers to linger over its best-known buildings–if this “Chain View” was constructed after Rosselli’s multi-sheet map, it preserves its conceit of comprehending the city in its totality.  The global view, as if of an “exploded” globe, uses an oval projection of his own devise to show the word’s surface as it lay upon a globe, to illustrate the relation of the New World islands that Vespucci had described across the Atlantic ocean and did so in ways that inexplicably magnified the possibility of Portuguese territory in the New World that had been earlier adjudicated at the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which granted Portugal sovereignty of lands within a meridian that was effectively drawn 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, already within Portuguese sovereignty.

The Florentine master-engraver dedicated himself to mapmaking after Ptolemaic criteria so heavily to make his relation to the eggshell globe more plausible:  Rosselli’s mastery of single-line engraving, the close resemblance of mountains engraved on the globe and Rosselli’s inclusion of mountainous topography, and his use of dedication to elevating the status of engraving through sustained involvement in the design of maps–evident in both the oval projection and an illuminated version that derived from an imprint of the very same engraving block.  Indeed, his experimentation with the dramatic coloration of the map reveal a blending of naturalism and cartography that is analogous to the eggshell globe.


The detailed rendering of the eggshell-globe reflects the increased interest of preparing maps as forms of graphic evidence and persuasion in a surface readily scanned.  The globe is a far less fulsome statement of cartographical expertise than the wall-map of Martin Waldseemüller, whose twelve sheets printed on rag cloth paper survive in few examples save the one discovered in recalls the intensively detailed workmanship early globes that must be examined in relation to the spherical representation of spatial continuity on the eggshell globe, and the extent to which the eggshell globe may have served as a model for other early globes–all, curiously, made for globes of about a three-inch diameter, or one and a half palmi.   The close attention to naturalistic design of the ocean’s face and use of block capitals of Bembo lettering to note toponyms links Rosselli’s oval projection and the eggshell globe and its apparent cast, the Lenox Globe.

The hollow copper Lenox Globe of a diameter of 4.4 inches (11.2 cm.), identical to the eggshell globe, foregrounded the novelty of importing information from nautical charts in ways that parallel the novelty of the eggshell globe:  the oddity in that globe of naming most of Asia as “India”–and locating “Mundus Novus” as South America–suggest a cartographical confusion of transmission as much as laxity, and a confusion in naming:  it similarly noted “Libya Interoir [sic].”   The surface of this curiosity, discovered in a Parisian antique shop in the mid-nineteenth century and kept as a toy for several years, also uses a humanistic script to note places and regions and a landscape iconography–similar to the most elegant Ptolemaic codices.  The apparently identical showcasing of the newly discovered islands on the Lenox and eggshell globe clearly link them to the design of an identical cartographer, eager to press a striking argument of terraqueous continuity to an interested audience.


psnypl_map_242u_254b352a6aLenox Globe; courtesy New York Public Library

In sharp contrast, the far less topically detailed, smaller gilded “Jagiellonian” globe, which served as an ornament to a clock, offered a more schematic rendering of a globe and did not offer such possibilities of close reading; if derived from the stars, is distinctly scored with apparent parallels and meridians that highlight the transposition of the earth to a gridded surface and Ptolemaic artifice of crafting a terrestrial projection, but lack enumeration:

JagellonianJagiellonian Globe

Such globes are both of impressive craftsmanship, ordered on clear parallels and meridians.  The so-called Jagiellonian Globe engraved in metal is of smaller diameter than the Lenox Globe, its diameter just 7.35 cm.  Its exacting craftsmanship mirrors and seems informed by the rendering of the New World on twelve engraved sectioned “gores” that have been credited to the French geometrician Louis Boulengier of Alby, circa 1516–the gores, which some argued were only placed in Waldseemüller’s treatise of cosmography, and came to be regarded as part of his treatise, processed cartographical knowledge of a New World, which offered the ability to comprehend a similar offered a slimmer image of South America for ready consultation, with a considerably clearer toponymy than the Lenox Globe or the ostrich egg-globe that may well be the model from which it seems to have been cast–as is certainly suggested by their identical features.

The five surviving sheets of gores that survive as independent flysheets–below first in a modern reconstruction and then a recently discovered individual sheet of twelve sections–are rare, but suggest an early market for globes as symbolic forms to organize and process space–if not models for crafting miniatures like the Lenox and Jagiellonian globes.

1506 Boulangier Gores NYPL


The decorative globes suggests broad familiarity with forms of publishing maps, and an interest in creating a material image of measured expanse.  Their similarities also suggest the potential role of the eggshell globe–or a lost prototype which might be its model–in the transmission of information about the New World.  Although the eggshell globe is claimed by Dr. Missinne to have been produced near Florence, and dated with somewhat astounding accuracy to c. 1505, when a number of world maps based on nautical charts circulated in the city, the eggshell globe may indeed suggest that a far broader circulation of geographic images occurred than what has survived–and indeed that the globes displayed a comparable claims to accuracy to the famous Lenox Globe, previously dated only with a quite approximate estimate.

The striking similarities in the Lenox globe and the eggshell model reveal them to be from the same model if not copies–the strong similarities make a compelling case that the eggshell globe constituted a model for casting such globes–although written evidence of their existence has not been encountered, and no comparable evidence of a globe cast from the “eggshell” prototype, which has itself only been recently made known, is known to exist.  Both of these curious near-identical globes identify but one ocean between Europe and Asia, noting South America (the Land of Brazil), and place, the “Lenox” globe in the New York Public Library notes, north of Rio De La Plata, modern-day Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico from nautical charts, rendered in the Renaissance toponymy–Isabel; Spagnola; Terra Sancta Crucis; Terra de Brazil–at angles identical to their position on the eggshell globe that confirm suspicion that one is indeed a cast of the other, and the eggshell globe the original from which the below image was cast in two halves, later assembled:


Particularly striking is that neither globe makes note of the equatorial line–a crucial concept in cosmographical learning–although the form of the globe clearly gestures to it–and neither map notes the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Each of these globes attest to deep curiosity in scanning the surface of the map as a power over space, and a transferring of maps on a globe, predating Waldseemüller’s placement of “America” as a separate and distinct continent in his majestic twelve-sheet wall map of 1507, whose measured indices set a new standard for the functions of a map’s face and design as well as its cosmographical argument for terrestrial continuity.


The coastline of this rendering of a thin “America,” firmly located in one hemisphere, details a hydrographic record more closely than can be detected in the above, and a prominent naming of the “new” continent in large capital letters of humanistic script:

Detail of MW's World Map, courtesy Library of Congress

The first two copper globes have been tied to a tradition of world-mapping that is more ornamental than humanistic, but responded to a similar elevation of the artifice of mapping as a basis for transcribing terrestrial unity.  The engraved toponymy of the spherical conjoined shells in fat suggests a complex translation of nautical charts and cartographical forms into ‘new media’ of powerful symbolic roles as dense compilations of geographic information, probably for an audience distinct from the detail of the larger wall-map.

Waldseemüller is often credited for synthesizing a Ptolemaic model to measure the global distances and Columbus’ practice of mapping Portugal’s relation to the New World, fashioning a solution between the calculation of terrestrial expanse.  If these two miniature globes accommodate the form of Brazil, the ostrich-egg globe suggests that the interest in such maps had migrated to courtly audience with a detail far beyond the twelve-sheet projection of the sort included in Waldseemüller’s treatise.


But more than responding to the sort of cartographical expertise that Waldsemüller communicated, the eggshell map seemed to orient viewers not only by its sphericity, but the clear legibility of its toponomy–whose clear legibility provide viewer with the most prominent orientating signs.

Although the cartographical location of “America” is occupied by two isolated islands of “Spagnola” on the ostrich-egg globe, but the discovery most delicate of globes was created at the same time as the first engraved maps of the New World’s novelty and predating most other known printed wall-maps, long studied as offering the first images of America.  The set of twelve gores, if unsigned, are regularly read as part of the learned geographer’s “Universalis cosmographie descriptio” of 1507–whose one note of plain celebration was printed on the reverse of the fold-out gores read as part of the book where he described a new world, “surrounded on all sides by ocean;” on the verso of the fold-out gores that were included in the booklet, he told readers modestly that “the purpose of this little books is to write a sort of introduction to the whole world which we have depicted on a globe and on a flat surface.  The Globe I have limited in size, but the map is larger.”  But the eggshell globe seems to show an interest both in the artifice of creating a record of nature–witnessed in the detail dedicated to the rendering of oceanic expanse–and the legibility of expanse.  How did the eggshell globe relate to a broader material culture of globe-making, or the gores themselves?  Further examination of the globe may reveal whether the meridian drawn at the Treaty of Tordesillas to divide Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the New World and separates the “Terra di Brazil” was an intended construction.  But the viewer is primarily oriented by the globe-maker’s adoption of Vespucci’s exact toponyms.

Though not following a self-consciously Ptolemaic form, the Lenox globe vaunts its own modernity, noting “Spagnolla” and “Mundus novus” (Land of Brazil) in places identical to the eggshell globe offer some testimony of the novelty modern tools provided craftsmen as a means to process relations of terrestrial expanse among informed viewers that were invested with recognized epistemological claims–if not a common ancestor map.  Even while not measuring global expanse on a grid of parallels or meridians, the eggshell globe showcased the novelty of recent Columban discoveries.


The rare number of such maps that have been found have an iconic status and laconic texts makes any discovery of a new cartographical rendering of the New World an occasion for comment–in large part because they can only make us wonder what sort of meaning they had for their readers, and how much they confronted problems of noting the circumference or size of the terrestrial globe or of reconciling ancient authorities with the Columban discoveries.

To be sure, the medium of engraving this newly mapped space seems in its very presence communicates the value that early geographical maps had for their readers and audiences as subjects of discussion.  For the prominent place that they give to an image of exotic lands that were known as they were described in travel accounts as that of Marco Polo or the Franciscan William of Rubruck, from Arabia to Japan to Africa, suggest little concern for drawing boundary lines or positions of cities so much as vague regions of provenance–as the appearance on this globe of the inscription in its perhaps earliest form in Eastern Inda, Hc svnt dracones, “Here lie dragons”–the legend cast in the copper Lenox Globe, previously dated c. 1510, and the slightly smaller gilded so-called Jagiellonian Globe thought to be of the same era–a phrase now retained as motto of Wired’s MapLab.

The phrase has been taken to evoke the persuasive powers of maps to define a region, and indeed to serve as a surface to mark the boundaries of one’s work.  The phrase was long taken as tacit acknowledgement of unexplored or particularly dangerous territories,  and as an evocative inscription seems to derive from the 1879 “discovery” of the Lenox globe.  Even if ancient authorities from Pliny the Elder and Solinus note “snakes” in the southern regions of Africa, and the Roman “Peutinger Map” notes the sites of the birth of scorpions, elephants, and dog-headed peoples (cenocephalous beings), these regions were noted with rarity on the surface of maps.  Even as these maps expressed considerable curiosity about the borders of the inhabited known world, reminding viewers “in his locis elephanti nascuntur“, “in his locis scorpiones nascuntur” and “in his locis cenocephali nascuntur“–the c. 1300 Erbsdorf map even noted a “dragon [draco]” in south-east Africa–the “Here be Dragons” formulation suggests a far more fanciful description of space than the Lenox or eggshell globe must have carried when they were made.  Indeed, the “dracones” have been linked in other globes to the cannibals in the Kingdom of Dagroians that Marco Polo described.

To be sure, the foreign was often measured by monstrosity: Olaus Magnus’ 1516 Carta Marina places sea monsters in the North Sea.  But the location of the warning on the face of this map is strikingly identical in its location to the Lenox globe.  The legend’s placement may suggest the descriptive ends that the globe served for ordering space, even if it lacked clear metric indices to situate the detailed contours of continents in the manner of printed maps.  Indeed, the Lenox globe, found in the late nineteenth century, was only placed in an armillary sphere in the 1930s; its situation of oceans bears considerable distortion of longitude, despite considerable latitudinal accuracy.  Revealing animating interest in modern cartographical forms, the globe noted both “Mundus Novus” [New World] and “Terrae Sanctae Crucis” [Land of the Holy Cross]–as the French-made gilded copper Jagiellonian Globe–to communicate its considerable sense of orienting readers to the novelty of rendering a global geographic expanse:


It has long been noted that the spherical hollow globe whose diameter is 11.2 cm. (4.4 inches) reveals little influence of Walseemüller’s 1507 world map that first named America as a separate region, but prominently noted islands discovered in Columbus’ second voyage–described by Vespucci–and a “Terra di Brazil.”  (The armature in which it appears was used to display it within the New York Public Library, but the globe was not earlier associated with it.)  Dr. Missinne dated the conjoined shells of ostrich eggs to 1504 based on their relative integrity; although the precision of dating the integrity of an eggshell raises eyebrows, the proposed date would make the globe the earliest to situated New World islands on a map, if not a model for the multiple globes–and gores–of similar dimensions.  If not a sister-globe to the copper Lenox globe, which may well have been cast from it, the eggshell globe may constitute an original version of a Globe long believed the first ever made:  if so, its historical significance demands investigation, with special attention to the inventive properties it assumed as a quite plastic communication of detailed geographical knowledge.

Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

The ostrich-egg-globe provided a material rendering of the inhabited world that gave considerable concreteness to its more exotic regions, lending each region a solidity detailed with landscape views.  Notwithstanding limited accuracy of measurement in the carefully etched shorelines, it has a wonderful solidity and materiality about the engraved surface of the egg-shell globe in such compelling detail, which suggest a deep investment in the legibility of the globe’s expanse.  The humanistic capital letters engraved with exactitude upon the surface of two halves of ostrich egg shells, cut and rejoined along the equatorial line:  much as the copper halves of the Lenox globe are two conjoined hemispheres, tied together by a string from each pole, the spherical globe emphasized the equatorial line as a basis to assemble its etched surface, but showed a wonderfully detached “Hispaniola,” lightly floating northwards of a bulky Brazil.  (It’s interesting that Missinne attempted to tie the globe to Leonardo da Vinci’s school–if not to his person–although from what we know of his life, Leonardo never engraved, though he requested his assistant prepare engraved images of the human body’s anatomy in copperplate, rather than wood, revealing his familiarity with the medium.)  The globe fits within a known cartographical tradition that was perhaps accessible to Leonardo–indeed, the majority cartographical models available in early sixteenth century Europe were diffused by engravings, either in wood or, more rarely at this point, copperplate.

Although the image of the Americas is but a set of islands above the vast expanse of the ‘other continent’ to the south, the detailed shoreline and vaguely mountainous interior of the modern South American emphasize a clear sense of materiality as much as foreignness–much as the possession of the globe seems intentionally designed to communicate.  Unlike the large wall maps that distill similar cartographical sources, the sense of expanse is not abstracted, but has a solidity, even on the airy eggshell surface, as a commodity and an object of treasure that would be at home in a cabinet of curiosity; the globe included Japan, Latin America. Brazil and Arabia, as if to note the provenance of other wonders, as much as to communicate the accurate measurement of a global expanse.  The assemblage of global space is unlike the stippled ocean of the 1507 Ptolemaic world map or the indication of shorelines in the 1511 Venetian world map of Sylvanus, both of which suggested the curvature of the world in engravings that clearly referenced the rendering of expanse on a spherical globe’s surface, as well as a Ptolemaic format of map-projection.

Sylvanus Clima

The Venetian edition of Sylvanus magnified Brazil’s coastline disproportionate to the islands of Hispaniola, exaggerating its dependence on nautical charts, to suggests a material entirety and completeness, an influential attempt to expand the place of the Americas in the surface of the inhabited world, using Portuguese charts that noted Africa’s circumnavigation; the world map of the cartographer and illuminator Johannes Ruysch, may draw from voyages on English ships, and map Newfoundland in relation to the New World.

Ruysch world map

In each of these individual instances, the Ptolemaic format of projection emphasizes its rendering of nautical expanse in this hand-colored copy of a two-page terrestrial projection, and gave far more accuracy to the coastlines of Africa and South America, which its publisher praised as “painstaking . . . in delineating the globe[‘s surface]” and skilled for its artifice, suggesting not only the mechanical construction of the planisphere but its knowledge of the proportional relations among its regions and parts, and relations between its meridianal zones, or tropics, and Ptolemaic indices of terrestrial projection, that situated the image within a strongly lettered tradition.


Or the 1511 map of Ptolemy’s Geography, also incorporating Portuguese sea charts, Sylvanus adapted Ptolemaic artifice by using bending the graticule to distribute nautical discoveries on the measured curvature of earth’s surface in a compelling distribution of spatial relations, made extra legible by its use of two colors of ink–but closely tied the manufacturing of the global map to a written tradition of Ptolemaic geography:


The ostrich-egg globe especially contrasts to the triumphalism of his wall-map of four by eight feet, or the reduction of the expanse of the inhabited world in the gores Waldsemüller first designed in 1507, just after the proposed date of the ostrich-globe, as graphic forms to assemble rudimentary globes of meridians and parallels, and which were reprinted in a second edition, viewable below.

The ostrich-egg globe is distinct from these theoretical tools, or the more expansive and triumphal mapping of the world that included the image of Amerigo Vespucci, assigning the name “America” to that continent, and naming it, above “Spagnolla insula,” as a fourth continent, in ways no doubt tied to the eggshell globe.

Spagnolla Insula

The artists or engravers who designed  the ‘gores’ to assemble such globes are unknown; so are those responsible for the expansive twelve-sheet wall map Waldseemüller helped draft for his humanist patron Matthias Ringmann.  But their craft reveal an intellectual scope to picture the new continent for viewers whose relations could be readily judged by informed viewers.

The visual arrangment of the contours of continents more earthy and less abstract view of space etched in the ostrich-egg globe.  While without indices to determine spatial relations, it derives from a flurry of experimentation to capture in different media the curiosity of the New World for socially elevated audiences outside those who might speculate on the relations between the expanse of the globe Ptolemy had described from a description of global expanse–and who demanded expertise in a Ptolemaic ‘art’ to render expanse.

The ostrich egg-globe creates as sense of the materiality of geographic evidence of an era before the expansion of cartographical detail in the wall maps themselves.  Rather than suggesting the intensive investment and work of one man, such as Waldseemüller, who labored to reconcile the Ptolemaic and Columban concepts of global extent, and frame Europe, Asia, and Africa by two insular strips of Cipangu and Hispaniola, as if to create harmony within the new configuration of the sublunary terrestrial continents that reflect the expanding map on a globe, and to provide the clearest reconciliation of Ptolemaic projections and nautical charts:


Waldseemüller’s multi-sheet wall-map of four by six feet assigns a heroic role of the cosmographer as a robed and world-weary scholar, with his head is situated among those of the winds, who creates the map with compass in hand, here identified as the academically robed mapmaker Vespucci–whose findings provided the basis for the new world map–

Vespucci as world-weary robed cosmographer

–or map an archipelago-like expanse of islands of proportions and situation determined by a meridians and parallels.  The naming of space is less dependent on their calculation in relation to tropics and precise degrees of meridians–

Spagnolla Insula

The placement of its landmasses on an etched suggests a far less prominent or conspicuous announcement of a new continent, to be sure, than a surface removed by sea, and a translation of geographic language into a register of wonders.


The ostrich-egg globe, lastly, suggests the need to identify the variety of compelling contexts to read maps as curiosities as well as indexed documents, ordering geographic space for new audiences by practices transmitted across networks of collaboration–rather than as idealized geometric forms. It is interesting to examine why Ptolemaic artifice is less on display in either of the globes, also made from marine charts.  Identical in most aspects to the Hunt-Lennox globe in the New York Public Library, which was made of conjoined halves of copper connected by a thread at its poles, the eggshell globe poses questions about the artifice by which it mediated the coherence of terrestrial expanse to different audiences of readers–oriented them to a totality of terrestrial expanse they could never hope to know at first hand, clearly privileging its ordered nature but not reducing it to indices.  The tacit ordering of its surface suggests the elite audience that its anonymous designer addressed.

Lenox Globe NYPL

The smaller globes discussed above experimented with forms of representing expanse on maps to find solutions for translating expanse to communities of viewers tacitly familiar with forms of ordering space within a map, but with little interest in registering or designating location on coordinates.
Waldseemüller participated in a broader learned culture that converted maps of nautical derivation, such as the world-map of Henricus Martellus, to forms that had status within a humanist tradition of classical learning.  His engraving let authority to the spaciousness of world maps as containers able to hold a copious range of information that they were able to condense, conveying a record of the immensity of global expanse in a single, continuous, synthetic form.  The elegant engraving of the shell of an ostrich egg reveals a huge investment in crafting a surface whose contents could be readily scanned, echoing the unique planispheres that Rosselli elegantly produced, and perhaps revealing the major role that Rosselli’s work played in its production.

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Filed under Mapping America, mapping discoveries, Mapping the New World, New World, Renaissance Discoveries

Cartographic Craftsmanship, or the Social Life of Maps

When he left Lisbon in 1502, the secret agent Alberto Cantino found a way of smuggling an elegant planisphere when he left Portugal for Ferrara, probably rolled up in his suitcase, that evaded the censors of that day’s TSA. Perhaps he rolled it up his sleeve. For the planisphere–a representation of the entire surface of the world–contained relatively classified information about the discoveries in the New World of import to the Portuguese that Cantino seems to have gleaned from mapmakers in Lisbon while he was visiting, and is the first chart to show the coast of Brazil and islands known as Fortunate, and the clear path around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean:  he hoped that it was “in such high quality . . . and drawn in a manner that pleases your Excellency [è di tal sorte, e spero che tal manera piacerà a V. Exa],” suggesting the care with which the Este spy had procured the nautical chart.  I’ve discussed the aura of maps and charts in an earlier post; the delicate greens and red, and delineated shores, conjure the removed oceans with an aura of announcement, fitting new knowledge into a basic schema defined by lines of latitudes, not present in charts, as well as rhumb lines for nautical guidelines, whose points of reference were defined by a compass rose from which they radiated:

Cantino Map

The astounding accuracy of many of the coasts of this chart profited from a long tradition and protocol of nautical charting, with a peculiar manner of noting nautical expanse.  The chart reveals the discoveries of Pedro Álvares Cabral, a nautical explorer, who Cantino probably did not know.   Cabral had recently returned to Lisbon, and when Cantino arrived there, with the pretense of seeking to trade horses for the Este court, he must have sought him out on his secret mission to procure maps of the discoveries for the Este family.  The map might have copied the secret master-map the Portuguese maintained, or Padrão Real, of Portuguese discoveries; they were magnified unintentionally beautiful “Carta de navigar per le Isole novam trovate in le parte di India” which misidentified its subject, but provided the first geographic knowledge of Brazil.  But it clearly either superimposed or referenced the directional wind-roses of nautical charting, ostensibly for reading orientating directions at sea, although perhaps as befits a planisphere of the entire earth, is constructed about two “focal circles” of thirty-two points each:


The planisphere arrived in Italy as a sort of wonder of mapping multiple forms of knowledge, as well as a synthesis of expanse.  The recent 1494 Treaty noted as bisecting the Brazilian coast, had given part of the landmass known now as South America to the Portuguese monarchy which the map shows as the most exotic area it depicted–the map seems to trumpet the luxury of an area that the Portugese sovereign Jaoa II had concealed from Ferdinand I.

Isole Fortunate

How did it speak to its new audience?  The craftsmanship of an unknown Portuguese painter or cartographer may be surprising given the high stakes of its procurement from a government particularly secretive about recent discoveries in the New World.  The geographer and historian of maps George Kish described an early fifteenth-century contract for the depiction of a portolan chart, a genre of coastal mapping that developed in Europe in the early fourteenth century, that specified the involvement of both painters and mappers; the partnership seemed natural in so valuable a creation as a map or portolan chart: the hide on which it was drawn was itself grounds for the further investment in pigments and decorative motifs, as in the illustration of inhabitants of Sierra Leone.  Part of this was also because of the riches that these maps suggest in far-off lands, and part because the tradition of nautical charts was only to mention the names of ports that dot the regions’ shores, rather than their interiors–which remain blank:  other terrestrial place are limited to Jerusalem and the ports of departure and arrival, and space expanded over the seas rather than the terrestrial expanse they enclosed.



The protocols of charting are unclear, as is their orienting function.  The use of these protocols in drafting the Cantino chart may have shifted as charts gained a display value of their own and adressed audiences distinct from the commercial trading houses who earlier seem to have kept them.  Although  associated with nautical routes, charts gained a distinct display value as audiences sought to process discoveries for audiences less familiar with nautical travel, or with commercial exchanges over oceans.  In the sixteenth century, as Angelo Frabeto has shown, nautical charts gained a popularity and interest in Italian courts of central Italian courts in the mostly landlocked Romagna, near Ferrara.  The already fanciful components of nautical charting expanded in these charts, which were less dense and stark than predecessors, and suggest an early tradition of combining artifice and cartography that predate printed maps.  The map Cantino brought contained a specific treasure-chest of disjointed bits of information and lore, discontinuous but joined by being enclosed in the velvet case constituted by the map itself, from the mountains of northern Africa to the birds of Sierra Leone, and the image of the city of Jerusalem, all shown without particular care for scale.


Affrica and castles in Guinea

The genre suggests not a limited ability to consider other expanses, so much as a disinterest in picturing them.  The manuscript reproduction of these charts reflected an interest in the most recent ‘news,’ and the colored vellum  charted voyages that were not made, much as, ahistorically recalling the later uncanny adoption  the motif of the ‘wind-rose’ that defined orientations of travel or the winds, Joseph Cornell’s “Object (Roses des vents)” (1942-53); Cornell placed fragments of a map of the remote Great Australian Bight amidst shrunken coastlines that Cornell had never seen, planets that were as far away, and emblems of imaginary voyages, and the compasses that might take him there:

Rose des Vents


As Cornell’s box, the fragments of green shoreline in Brazil in Cantino’s map assemble the scattered expanse over which the Portuguese had travelled in a semblance of unity–the unity of an expanding expanse.  Whereas the fragility of all worldly phenomena–as of the crafted miniature of the universe’s expanse–a subject that was thematized in Cornell’s perverse if beautiful boxes, the fragmentary pieces of lunar or terrestrial maps serve as pivots of perspectives of viewers, as well as a nostalgia for the aspirations toward total visual knowledge that echo Cornell’s childhood and adult consumption of engravings in nineteenth century books of science.

The Cantino map expanded the protocols of nautical charting, which it combined with other forms of mapping to offer a range of curiosities couched in the surface of the map, together with convention from nautical charting of coloring the Red Sea red, or painting an exotic bestiary of parrots on Brazil’s verdant shore, and locating, crisply,  the islands’ shores themselves– although the eager cartographer magnified their own coastlines out of scale and proportions, despite his inclusion of a line of longitude and bar of scale.


Cantino selection

The expansion of a tradition of nautical charting to a hybrid form distinguishes the Cantino map, which faced a very different audience of readers once this ostensible copy of a secret map reached Italian shores.  The Este family  interest in this chart lay in how it revealed far-off lands that associated with ocean travel by the Portuguese, who had mapped islands in the Pacific beyond Cape Verde and the Azores in the early fifteenth century. When Cantino smuggled the chart to Ferrara in 1502, he saw it as completing the mission on which Ercole had sent him to procure secret information about “the new islands” discovered by the Portuguese, and the result of his discussions with several Portuguese explorers who had traveled to search for a Northwest Passage to Asia.  It was copied into new engraved maps of the Americas, and provided a protoype for the printed 1516 Carta Nautica.

The map centrally communicated, from the Portuguese perspective, the legitimacy of possessions in the New World, demaracted at the boundary line adjudicated and confirmed at Tordesillas, which leads one to imagine it derived from a seat of central authority.  Two disembodied bars of scale on the map’s surface suggest the measurement of terrestrial inter-relations, and its preparation for careful scrutiny of a studied eye.

Isole Fortunate

The Cantino map hence played with the protocols of charting.  Rather than insist on uniform coloration of the ocean, to prevent obscuring rhumb lines, but to maintain its elegance, as the cartographer colored certain regions a light green, by confining the blue paint to the Mediterranean, Baltic, and unbounded Caspian sea, the map combined a pictorial artifice with the practice of charting or representing oceanic space–the Mediterranean had its own portolan chart, and perhaps didn’t demand that its expanse be represented in a similar style.  The combination of artifice and nautical protocols exemplifies the huge expansion of the purview, as well as containing the first news of the Brazil in Italy, which was soon diffused in other charts and maps.

The Cantino chart might be measured against the sort of artifice in earlier fifteenth century charts, popular chartings of the Portuguese voyages to the African coast.  The chart that arrived in Ferrara from Seville dramatically expanded the purview,  toponomy, and perspective of nautical charts the Este  knew, to be sure, such as Grazioso Benincasa’s detailed 1494 mapping of the African shore:



Benincasa’s 1482 nautical chart densely collated costal ports but adopted the similar carefree style of decoration–probably the work of a painter–to the mythical monarchs that inhabit an imagined uncharted terrestrial expanse.  The image seems more fanciful, and designed with the desire to appeal to audiences by its  and was the culmination of a series of portolan charts and nautical atlases of the prolific Anconitan mapmaker, following his study of Mediterranean cities that from the 1460s to included western African ports, as well as mythical islands, and dense textual legends of geographic information.  Inland areas are blankly traversed by the same rhumb lines, which echo compass lines, and the truth-claims were much more limited, and land-masses probably entrusted to painters with limited first-hand knowledge of the region.  Benincasa’s chart colors the Red Sea red , too, following a tradition of charts, and Jerusalem and several biblical cities in iconic miniature.

The Cantino map offered a new way of reading the map–one which mimimized these curiosities.  For one, the thick and prominent line of longitude in the “Cantino” map has received significant attention, together with its depiction of the Fortunate Islands, Antilles, and Azores, for this defines and demarcated the new region of sovereign possession.


Line from Tordesillas and parrots



The changed social life of these maps suggests new uses of the map as a field for understanding space–perhaps less ready to note fanciful riverine paths and foreign sovereigns or kingdoms, and more to conform to criteria of inclusion.  If one considers the new circumstances of reading the portolan that arrived in Ferrara, and its use to imagine and consider space, we might offer a reading revealing more than the differences in place-names it includes, or the conventions of mapping.  Although the format of mapping seems the same, the “manner” and “quality” of the map addressed a different sort of audience, despite the common origins of its prototypes.

The aura of the map was not limited to its conventions.  The material objects of wonder from the New World that populated the Cantino map are most striking, however, in how they illustrate an early interest in items of exchange.  The unity of the portolan chart is very different, of course, because it includes the Fortunate Islands of the sovereign of Castille, as well as the Brazilian shore, and a chunk of its richly green interior, cut off from the unknown mainland and in Portuguese possession, as if to show off the charmed jewel of the new lands that the chart encompassed.  The chart’s inclusion of a disconnected shoreline of Brazil assembles a makeshift sense of unity by noting the broken fragment of the New World to the lower left, foregrounding it as both a sort of promises of new riches, and a means to stake possession of a territory by no means yet entirely concrete, the feathers of whose birds might be better known than any other aspect of the chart.

Parrots in Brazil

The chart was kept in the Este library in Modena, but stolen when anti-Austrian Modenese looted the palace in 1859.  The map remained temporarily lost, before being found later that year in curious circumstances of re-use as the folding screen or door in a sausage store or butcher shop.  (Some portolan charts became book-covers; others were cut into strips as bookmarks or otherwise recycled.)  The Cantino planisphere, reused as a screen, was temporarily stripped of its attraction as a promise of new possessions.

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Filed under cartographic accuracy, Joseph Cornell, Mapping the New World, Nautical Charts

Map-Inspired Madness: Reading Maps in the Solitude of Ahab’s Cabin

‘It is not down in any map; true places never are,’ wrote Herman Melville famously about the origins of the wild native Queequeg in Moby Dick.  The search for “true places”–the encounter with the whale or the site of whale spawning in the South Seas–is a theme in Melville’s novel about a ship at sea, and the trust that some of its characters place in maps and charts is predictably misleading.  Captain Ahab’s obsessive consultation of nautical charts and maps feed his compulsion for tracking sperm whales in Moby Dick.  His famous obsession mirrors the cartographical project of Matthew Fontaine Maury, the nineteenth-century Virginian polymath and early hero of “open data”, who ambitiously sought to map migratory routes of Sperm and Right whales in 1851 for the benefit of the whaling economy. 

Ahab’s obsessive hope to track the course of the great white whale Moby Dick in the ship the Pequod may mirror the scope and ambition of M.F. Maury’s project–a project that led to one of the odder maps of marine population and migration that appears below, but which is one of the monuments of open data.   For Melville, however, Ahab’s mania seems driven by the hope the map carried for being  able to track  the course of the great white whale that his prey, and to arrive at the moment of confrontation that will in fact, as readers know, never be on the map.  For unlike the observations Maury collated, the specificity of Ahab’s tie to Moby Dick is not on the map at all.


Whale Chart 1851Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

The compulsively obsessive Ahab’s self-imposed sequestering on the voyage of the Pequod in his cabin, surrounded by a variety of charts, seems emblematic of his single-minded obsession to track the elusive Moby Dick.  It is emblematic of a uniquely obsessive sort of map-reading emblematic of his particular sort of hubris:  as he will never know the true path of the majestic whale, his study of the map symbolizes a contest between the mapping abilities of man and whale.  The consultation of the map reveals the sharp contrast between the whale as an innate cartographer who migrated across seas and the knowledge of routes inscribed in lifeless nautical charts, and the inability to plot or plan the intense longing for his confrontation with Moby Dick within the range of observations of all whales by traveling whale ships.  But it is also an amazing fantasia of the reading of nautical maps as if they were guides to habitation, and a reflection on the nature of map-reading and the comprehensive claims of encompassing known space within engraved maps, and specifically of the colored charts of sea routes, whaling and sighted whales that Matthew Fontaine Maury produced in the 1850s from the compilation of nautical logs.

We have little sense of the amassing of data in Ahab’s cabin, so much as the intense relation that the captain develops to his charts.  Melville describes how Ahab retires to his cabin to open “large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table,” ready to set himself to “intently study the various lines and shadings which there met his eye,” and escape into the paths that they trace.  The memorable episode in Ahab’s own cabin focusses attention on how the captain’s obsessive consultation of the maps, as a sort of emblem of his search to capture the whale in them.   Ahab processed information in the map as best he could, and “with slow but steady pencil trace additional courses over spaces that before were blank,” while consulting log-books of previous voyages and noted sightings of sperm whales in a desperate attempt to locate the migratory path of the white sperm whale Moby Dick–whose own route he so obsessively seeks to understand and on which he fixates so obstinately. The reading activity is isolated and isolation, because the map is essentially mute, a second order of spatial knowledge with which he has no literal traffic or exchange, but becomes a way to wrap himself in further isolation from the mammal that communes with the productive fecund waters of the sea.  “While he himself was marking outlines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead,” as every night, “in the solitude of his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts, . . . threading a maze of currents and eddys, with a view to the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.”

Such a collective map of the sightings of whales is both the focus and talisman of Ahab’s monomaniacal will:  both as the transcription of the paths of hidden submarine itineraries, “with the charts of all four oceans before him,” and the hubris of understanding the concealed migratory course of that noble whale with which he is so obsessed and that has long evaded his search.  For Melville confides that “it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of this planet” to many; “But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the set of all tides and currents; thereby calculating the driftings of the sperm whale’s food, which whales were imagined to follow; and, also, calling to mind the regular, ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes; could arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching to certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground in search of his prey.”

The map serves not as a nautical chart, to plan one’s voyage to a geographical destination or actual port, but rather puported  to locate the individual location of the whale on predict its migration.  In Moby Dick, the maps seem to chart the food supplies that Moby Dick will follow, holding value not deriving from its own cartographical accuracy or precision, but the functions of probability that will allow him to track the whale:  “So assured, indeed, is the fact concerning the periodic migration of sperm whales to specific mating grounds, that many hunters believe that, could he be closely observed and studied throughout the world; were the logs for one voyage of the entire whale fleet carefully collated, then the migrations of the sperm whale would be found to correspond in invariability to those of the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows.  On this hint, attempts have been made to construct elaborate migratory charts of the sperm whale.”  Such a scheme of mapping the paths of the leviathans fit with the larger plans of Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury, the Superintendent of the Naval Observatory and founder of modern oceanographical mapping both of famous wind and current charts in the 1840s and a comprehensive map of the ocean floor in 1855, who had sorted data from sailors’ “actual observations” into isothermal charts of ocean temperatures and currents, into a comprehensive map of its floor that tracked the physical geography of the sea “as the main spring of a watch; its waters, and its currents, and its salts, and its inhabitants, with their adaptations, as balance-wheels, and cogs, and pinions and tools” (Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), 54).  Maury’s bridging of natural history and physical geography in his pioneering treatise comes close to treating the ocean’s depths as its own living form–that would facilitate the very sort of human interactions with oceans to which Melville also returned.


MauryM.F. Maury, “Bathymetric Map of the Atlantic,” Physical Geography of the Ocean (1855)


As a sailor and writer, Melville must have reacted in part to the huge collation of shipping routes and the observations of whaling ships, one of the largest and most ambitious open data projects of the late nineteenth century.  When in April of 1851 Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-73) announced his fabrication of a chart designed for charting migrating whales he served as the Superintendent of the United States Navy’s Department of Charts and Instruments, and was one of the best-known oceanographers and cartographers in the nation. Maury issued the map when he worked at the Naval Observatory, and his cartographical productivity and activity has led him to be championed as hero of open data on the order of Charles Babbage.  Maury’s monumental charting of safe routes of navigation had focussed on winds and currents, allowing sailors to chart the most convenient shipping routes, in an attempt to lend a cartographical legibility to the seas in works such as his Wind and Current Charts, to make legible opportune paths of oceanic transit, as in this map of voyages to the coast of Africa from 1847.  Maury collated the available records stored in thousands of ships’ logs and charts to plot winds and currents issued form the US Hydrographic Office so as to determine the most advantageous routes of sea travel, and also to derive the general “laws” that he believed governed transit across oceans, by preparing a map whose surface would create “the field for observing the operations of the general laws which govern the movements of the great aerial ocean,” effectively embodying meteorological data from notations kept on trade-winds, pilot charts, and thermal charts in readily constable form for commercial use, to record of “a system of oceanic circulation” for pilots to consult.

Maury would subsequently come to construct the map of whale migration that Herman Melville attributed him from nautical logs, synoptic oceanographic data, and charts, collated by retired whaling captains.  He announced plans to publish a whaling just six months before the publication of Moby Dick, which appeared the following year, and Melville acknowledged its appearance in a relatively small “Author’s Note.”  But Maury’s earlier maps from the 1840s already stood as monuments of the description of oceanic travel and sea-going, mediating collective accounts of winds–if not sightings of whales–that served to condense data from nautical logs in ways that not only captured the tacit knowledge of seamen but synthesized their collective observations in thick descriptions of nautical experience in collections of “open data” that he took as a summation of the expansion of shipping routes.

Maury took advantage of the medium of color charts to trace a record of the observations of individual ships, by their respective ports of call.  His accumulation of a collective content stands at a considerable remove the experience of navigating the choppy seas, which he collated through the start of the Civil War, was animated by a deep desire to map what he believed was the “uniform character” of the surface of the Great Ocean, treating its natural observations as revealing a set of absolute rules of the circulation of the force of trade-winds and currents, seasonal variations, horse latitudes and equatorial calms, as if a coherent picture of their variations could appear from the synthesis of collective observations of almost mathematical harmony:


Maury maps trade windsMaury, “The Winds” (1858)


The mapping of “wind and current” charts were based on the mapping of collective observations along shipping routes, through the synthesis of data observed along shipping routes from 1785 to 1860, the courses of each of which he recorded in multicolored lines corresponding to their ports of leave, in ways that served to distill something like a residue of tacit knowledge in graphical form of collective itineraries:


US Hydrographic Office


The amassing of individual logs of specific ships was placed in clear evidence for consultation in color charts, which amassed individually dated voyages, color-coding each dated and identified voyage in correspondence with individual ships’ ports of call, in a manner he would continue to use to transpose individual findings of mariners to give his subsequent maps of whale-sightings a readable form:


dated voyages1847 map; courtesy Barry Lawrence Ruderman, Rare Maps


The project for mapping the seas was analogous to a monument of modern description design for principally economic ends.  Maury’s ambitious announcement, Favorite Haunts, included a preliminary chart that was later expanded to a Whale Chart of the World, provided an unprecedented mapping of the open seas.  The map was a sort of extension of his belief in the benefits of publishing open data in print.  Herman Melville praised how Maury’s map divided the world’s oceans by five degrees of latitude and five degrees of longitude, and charting the number of days that whales spend in each region in each of the twelve months, and to note the number of days that sperm or right whales seen in the course of the year.  (The incident occurred the same year Melville published Moby Dick).  But the motivation for charting the courses of ships and the paths of whales constituted two halves of a deep concern–or obsession–that motivated Maury’s work, provoked in part by the evocation in scriptures, in Psalm 8, of “the paths of the seas,” which inspired the deeply religious Maury’s hope to delineate currents, track winds, and indeed track ocean-living mammals in their paths across the ocean’s expanse to ken the pathways he attributed to divine design.  His hopes to transcribe such a record provoked the intensive tracking of ocean voyages in the South Seas, off Western Australia, by 1852, immediately before his 1857 monumental Physical Geography of the Seas (Washington), amassing individual measurements of American and non-American ships, an area of intense whale hunting and spice routes:


1852 Western AustraliaBarry Lawrence Ruderman, Rare Maps


The notion of being able to preserve a legible geography of oceanic pathways, currents, winds, and indeed tracks of whale-migration suggested a trust in statistics to provide an almost alchemical attribution of a “physical geography” to ocean waters, which he believed to be–as the currents–a creation of God rather than Nature, and for that very reason supremely legible.

The project of data collection was monumentally ambitious in its own right.  The striking enjambment of the Maury’s ambitious act of data-collation and the perverse reading that Ahab makes of it to trace not one breed of whale, but to find one specific whale in it, is a sort of mania of map-reading, rooted in a magnificent imaginative leap of the sort that maps provoke, in which one looks for a single voter in a data distribution, or find one’s building in a city view, as if searching for a needle in a haystack but compelled almost by the map’s comprehensive claims to continue in the belief that it can be found:  the White Whale has assumed so great centrality in Ahab’s imagination that he is convinced it will appear, and that he can find it, in Maury’s map, which positioned sightings for observers, designated below by icons of individual whales, on a rectilinear grid, to guide the whaling ships on the cusp of a significant depletion of whales from the ocean waters.




The map of whale sightings corresponded, no doubt to the huge expansion of whaling routes from the eastern seaboard (and from Nantucket) in the 1850s, which had allowed Maury to compile one of the first repositories of open data, drawing from the largest historical collections of shipping records ever assembled.

The tables were later digitized, apparently in Tianjin, China, between 1993 and 1996, in a set of digitized records Ben Schmidt mapped, preserving the coloration of routes that Maury used to distinguish different ships’  ports of call.  The visualizations captures and maps growing knowledge of the open seas, as both American shipping routes spread in the Atlantic and whaling and other routes in the previously unexplored Pacific and South Seas in ways that put places like Salem, New Bedford, and Nantucket on the global map.




Feb 1845


Dec 1845

May 1841

Feb 1843

March 1844


jan 1846

July 1852



Sept 1851


These visualizations created from Maury’s dataset tell a story of the expanse of American shipping–before they ceased about the time of the Civil War, in part because of his Confederate loyalty, and lack of access to the full dataset he had at his disposal previously, hiring not only old captains but old whaling masters to transpose and copy the results of old log books and observations, not only to map the seas but to determine the best paths for navigational routes and speeds, noting as they did, both current, wind, cloud cover, and directions in a single standardized format and made them readable in printed form as data in ways.  (Schmidt writes that the printed books were so persuasive to encourage European national shipping agencies in London to send log books to him to abstract records of their data by similar distinctions.)

The result is to create an abstracted but legible record of shipping patterns, if one that we are able to visualize digitally in ways that are more successful that Maury’s very useful maps of the directionality of ocean winds could prove to modern eyes, mapping ships by their ports of destination by different colors to display the shifting proportions of shipping boats that set sail from different Atlantic ports in the United States:


may 1852


March 1854

August 1852

Jul 1853

March 1854


Sept 1858

Oct 1861


The charts that Maury prepared of ocean charts were able to reduce times of ocean transit by up to several weeks, or so he boasted:  they provided keys to plan sea travel whose collation of data was intensely popular among trained readers for their ability to imagine advantageous meteorological conditions on the open seas–for which there existed no collections of data, and on which sailors had to rely on individual or collective experience to determine advantageous routes of travel, “reading” the winds from a fixed position, and lacking any communication of weather changes.




Perhaps pressed by commercial reasons, as much as his ambitions to provide a clearer map that would better facilitate sea-commerce, but perhaps captured by hopes for a new sort of nautical omniscience that he believed transposed the concepts of a benevolent Creator, Maury acted as the medium to translate sailor’s first-hand observations to legible form by amassing or “opening” data on whale sightings in the 1850s, in order to refine existing maps of ocean currents.  The preparation of legible records offered an unprecedented conversion of trade secrets to a repository of “open” data on the sightings of whales in the hopes of mapping commerce on seas–if not a dream of the transformation of individual logs to a comprehensive ocean chart.

The publication of Maury’s maps of whales spotted at sea did not in themselves in fact provoke the depletion of whales in the world’s oceans from the 1850s–nor could they have, as they responded to a problem that was already afflicting whalers, and was probably not caused only by over-fishing.  But, as Ben Schmidt noted, Maury’s logs revealed the extent to which whaling provided a seasonal driver that contrasted with fixed routes of commerce:  the distinct rhythm and narrative flow unlike that of shipping routes or the global commerce across the Atlantic.  Indeed, whaling tells a specific tempo of nautical travels Melville whose distinct rhythm Melville sought to narrativize across what he called the “watery prairies,” as if they were a modern extension of westward exploration, based not on fixed commercial routes of travel or trade, but the pursuit of moving targets on large ships destined for expeditions in search of whales–hunts such as those Melville experienced on the Acushnet and Essex, which was the model for the Pequot’s sinking in Moby Dick.  The networks of whaling and shipping can be surveyed at Schmidt’s visualization of US Shipping routes:

Schmidt plotted the courses of two ships on which Melville sailed based on Maury’s mountain of data:


Melville's Voyages on the Acushnet in context


But the charting of whales–and conditions of fine whaling–provided Maury with the far more elusive subject of mapping by transposing log books of Nantucket whalers into a form of open data that would enjoy considerable popularity.  Can one imagine Ahab’s consultation of maps in his cabin as a sort of initial, albeit manic and single-minded, individual confrontation with open data that he believes allows him access to the whale of which he is not able to let go?  Did the comprehensive ambition of mapping two halves of a story–that of whales’ migrations, and the travels of its sailors–open an effective absence of narration that Melville moved to fill, by telling a story not of the currents created by God, but of the ship commanded by human desires?  Is the reading of such currents, collated observations, and open data for Melville a form of something approaching the hubris of over-confidence?

Maury’s chart boasted the ability to collate from the courses of whaling routes the ability of tracking sites of whale populations for ready consultation as if it had acquired the status of fact.  The masterpiece of publishing open data cannot be blamed in itself for the fearful depletion of actual whales by the 1850s in ocean waters,–which led Melville himself to worry “if the Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase” after being pursued so systematically by whalers in the novel Moby Dick.  The map that Maury had crafted, if perhaps slightly more visually legible to modern eyes than his maps of winds at sea, as much as providing a basis for the oceans’  depletion of whales, may have well provided Melville with a model for that of Ahab’s obsessive use of maps to track the whale of which he was in such hot pursuit, and his consultation of maps to guide the Pequod so single-mindedly obsessed.  The map may have even provided a model for the intensity–and map-inspired madness–that drove Ahab’s manic search for Moby Dick, lending credence to Ahab’s perverse hope for tracking a whale across open seas.


hale chart, with quadrantsSmithsonian Institution


What sort of space of possible routes for whaling did the Maury map provide, if not for the near-obsessive observation of whales?  Did its totality evoke the dream not only of the ongoing search for whales in ocean waters, but the prospect of finding and mapping one particularly identifiable whale, based on a similar collation of previous reports of whaling masters, now undertaking by a somewhat crazed captain?

But the relation between the novel and the map, which might have provided Melville with a sort of guide or template to write his novel, have relations that are considerably more complex.  Maury’s subsequent map, of far greater scope, was intended to allow sailors to better locate whales with facility in the course of their migrations, to intersect with them in their own maritime pathways.  He situated the routes and itineraries of whale migration an even more refined grid, as well as color-coded approximate ranges of travel, as if the path of the whale were both predictable and well-known, in ways that would lend some credence to what would otherwise be the somewhat preposterous project of setting out to track one sperm whale across the sea:


Whale Chart 1851Leventhal Map Center in Boston Public Library    

Did the predictive element of Maury’s plans for maps seem a deranged hope for

Maury had hoped to increase the commerce of whaling by tracking the migration of whales across the seas for whalers.  By using extant logs to chart their population of the oceans, his was a rudimentary economic statistical chart of sorts, save that it did not chart commerce or products, save the routes of migration that Melville both mythologizes and ponders as natural mysteries.  Did the 1851 map also give some credence, in an odd way, to the obsession that Ahab is able to develop?  The paths, Melville was quick to point out, were indeed far more precise in their collation of routes, that wind-propelled ships which were brought to different places by oceanic currents, could hope to profit from, and represent the paths of marine mammals that human ships could never hope to replicate.

The paths or “ocean-lines along which whales travelled” were, Melville tells us in his text, of “such undeviating exactitude, that no ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvellous precision,” but Ahab trusts, hubristically, in the charts he has gathered, even though “the direction taken by any one whale be straight as a surveyor’s parallel,” as a guide to “place and time himself on his way” that allowed him to hatch “his delirious but still methodical scheme.”  As the projection of the desire to track whales, this maps itself combines something similar to Ahab’s method and madness, by which “crossing the widest expanses of water between [separate feeding] grounds, could Ahab hope to encounter his prey.” The map becomes something of a topos for a contest between nature and culture, or the limits of human comprehension of the magnificence of the wild. On the map, Ahab had noted with his customary obsessive care all sightings of the whale, and, most meaningfully of all, perhaps, because in it lay the root of all his madness of mapping Moby Dick:   his own intersection with Moby Dick’s path at “that tragic spot where the monomaniac old man had found the awful motive to his vengeance,” and lost one of his legs to the cunning Leviathan and with is the place from which the narrative of Melville’s novel essentially takes its spin and motive energy, and which unlocks the secrets that Ishmael only comes to perceive.  (Grim Ahab was particularly effected after “he found himself hard by the very latitude and longitude where his tormenting wound had been inflicted” in Chapter CXXX.)  This absent center, which will be matched at the end of the book by the drowning of the ship Pequod, and of Ahab’s death, remains a mystery to us, but was the site of the creation of Ahab’s crazed drive, which the expansive narrative of the novel weaves itself around.

Such maps are the imaginary fields in which Ahab isolated himself and maddeningly withdrew from his crew.  They created the very space and field “with which Ahab threw his brooding soul into this unfaltering hunt” from which he would not permit himself to rest, giving a semblance of meaning to the pursuit of “the scheming, unappeasedly steadfast hunter of the white whale” in a crazed act of willfulness that perpetuates itself with unhinged obsessiveness.  Having charted the waters, he grew obsessed with his hope track the great whale in its course, as if the charts allowed him to materialize the elusive whale itself.  This cartographical fantasy of omniscient knowledge may lie at the root of Ahab’s madness, Melville suggests, if it is not analogous to it:  “God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”  Starbuck later finds Ahab, in his cabin, as the Pequod approached Japan, “with a general chart of the oriental archipelagoes spread before him; and another separate one representing the long eastern coasts of the Japanese islands–Niphon, Mastmai, and Sikoke,” studying them obsessively “with his snow-white new ivory leg braced against the screwed leg of his table, . . . wrinkling his brown, and tracing his old courses again” (Chapter CIX).  This is the very moment when he obsessively refuses to turn back from his chase of the whale, even on hearing dangerous indications of a leakage among the oil in the ship’s hold, and the first mate counsels returning to Nantucket–who is not say that he is not possessed of the fantasy of a map?

Maury Title Page Cartouche


That demonic searching of Moby Dick seems partly born of the map.  The polymath Maury, like Melville, was a southerner who had circumnavigated the globe, and in his work as an astronomer, educator, geologist, cartographer, author, and astronomer was in odd ways far more a public citizen than Melville in the mid-nineteenth century.  Maury’s career (and perhaps ambitions) came to an odd end as he joined the Confederacy to serve his native Virginia in the Civil War, as Chief of Sea Coast, River, and Harbor Defense–and ended up traveling Europe in search of naval materials for the Southern states, and hoping that European intervention could resolve the Civil War’s devastation. This odd projected voyage to secure international help for the Confederate fleet was in its own way Ahab-like in its obsession and pursuit:   Virginia benefitted little from secession, although his introduction of naval mines wrecked detestation for the Union and commercial shipping routes, and Maury, after waging unsuccessful campaigns in the newspapers and public speeches, retired after the war to Lexington, Virginia, a steadfast friend of Robert E Lee and professor at the Virginia Military Institute.  He served both as Lee’s pall-bearer and he set for himself a future burial plot in Lexington directly across from that of his former comrade in arms Stonewall Jackson.

The marine maps that offered such comprehensive coverage of oceanic expanse provided little road map to his own career, and he remained based in Lexington until his death, sort of–though Melville could not have predicted–Ahab consulting maps in his cabin in the Pequod.  Maury had dedicated himself to writing a monumental physical geography of his native Virginia in the hopes to revive a local economy war had so devastated by means of a map for regional geological prospecting.




Herman Melville had of course detailed with grimmer precision how Ahab descended into madness in the hopes of chasing and finding the white whale that he had long pursued.  In a particularly desperate moment, Ahab seems to throw a final gauntlet at  the very project of mapping the locations of whales that Maury had optimistically sketched in the proposal that Melville well knew:  just after Ahab “calculated at what latitude he might be at this precise instant,” he fell into a “reverie” he looked up to the sun and in what might be better described as a moment of rage was murmuring to himself, just before the chase for Moby Dick–addressing the sun in the sky as he held the quadrant in hand. “Thou tellest me truly where I am–but canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be?  Or canst thou tell me where some other thing besides me is this moment living?  Where is Moby Dick?  This instant thou must be eyeing him.”

It is not a coincidence that for his first mate Starbuck, Ahab’s madness is most revealed by his haughty dismissal of nautical instruments “in his fatal pride”:  “gazing at his quadrant,” Melville wrote, “and handling, one after the other, its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered:  “Foolish toy!  babies’ plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of they cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee:  no! not one jot more!  Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with they impotence thou insultest the sun!  Science!  . . . Curse thee,thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man’s eyes aloft to that heaven . . . .  Curse thee, thou quadrant!’ dashing it to the deck, “no longer will I guide my earthly ways by thee; the level ship’s compass, and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me and show me my place on the sea.'”  Melville later described how “For a space the old man walked the deck in rolling reveries,” and when “he saw the crushed copper sight-tubes of the quadrant he had only the day before dashed to the deck” would crow that ‘Ahab is lord over the level loadstone yet.’ (CXVIII)     Starbuck worried:  “‘Has he not dashed his heavenly quadrant?  and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not, his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log?'” (CXXIII) Maury’s own chart mapped the courses of whales similarly derived from logs and sightings, and provided something of a model for Ahab’s own obsessions of predicting the White Whale’s course.  Maury’s own particular obsessiveness with charting the paths of whales was something of the mad genius of the south–from where Melville of course saw himself as hailing–and a model of militaristic advocacy of secession so unlike Melville’s own path.


Filed under Marine mapping, Moby Dick, nautical mapping, US Navy, whaling routes