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Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Ptolemy’s map of the world. Sort of.

I used to wonder why books lightly touching on the history of cartography often resort to using the above image as “Ptolemy’s map of the world.” Claudius Ptolemy lived during the second century AD; the map that demonstrates his work obviously comes from the Renaissance (1482, to be exact). Surely reproductions existed from manuscripts closer to Ptolemy’s time? Most reference works I came across, like encyclopaedias and high school textbooks, don’t explain the stylistic mismatch or even credit the source of the image at all.

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My last post about young writing projects turned my mind towards thinking about another small obsession of mine: maps. Historical maps, speculative maps, fantasy maps. There’s something about maps that fired my imagination as a child and still does today.

Maps are fascinating artefacts. For all their claims to representing the real world, they’re just as surely artistic endeavours that result from a series of choices made on the part of the cartographer; choices like naming and colour and notation. Like writing, maps embed narratives, can suggest stories. A medieval mappa mundi marries geography and chronology in a weird symbolic system that takes whole scholarly monographs to sort out. The map on an overleaf in a fantasy novel is an enticement and a promise and a one-glance summary. Maps can do all sorts of things.

I doubt my early efforts exploited all of them.

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