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“The world has been mapped, after a fashion…”

The Story of MapsThe Story of Maps by Lloyd A. Brown

Brown really does make an actual story out of the evolution of map-making. The chapter on the Middle Ages is especially fun because he’s just so indignant that faith supplanted reason following the collapse of the Roman Empire

Since the year 27 B.C., when Octavianus became Augustus Caesar, the Empire of the Romans had flourished…the Mediterranean had become a Roman lake ringed by Roman provinces and territories…cleared of pirates, and coasting trade was brisk. In fact travel, either for business or pleasure, was safer in that region than it ever was again until the introduction of steam navigation.

But the empire did collapse, and into the vacuum stepped the Catholic Church, which abhorred science since it conflicted with What Was Written and known to Be The Truth. The church didn’t approve of cartography because the Bible told them what the world looked like (a rectangular flat twice as long as it was wide) and they didn’t approve of travel much, either (Why go see for yourself when you could stay at home and just believe what we say?). From about 300 A.D. until Bartolomeo Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, Brown writes

The lamp of scientific knowledge, a tremulous flame at best, was obscured for a time by the blinding light of religious ecstasy.

Nice, eh? Wish I’d written that.

Some of the maps he describes are pretty much made right up and would have been screamingly funny, if they hadn’t helped shroud mankind in an impenetrable darkness for so many centuries.

Well worth reading, and a pretty easy read, too.

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