Astonishing 1507 map reveals ‘America’ is a pun by German cartographers


From the BBC:
Waldseemuller’s 1507 map shows earliest known usage of the name America. The name is not just a (probable) tip of the hat to Amerigo Vespucci but also a multilingual pun that can mean both ‘born new’ and ‘no-place-land’ – a playful coinage that seems to have inspired Sir Thomas More to invent his new world across the ocean, one meaning of which was also ‘no-place’: Utopia.

The Waldseemuller map was – and still is – an astonishing sight to behold. Drawn 15 years after Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic, and measuring a remarkable 8ft wide by 4½ft high, it introduced Europeans to a fundamentally new understanding of the make-up of the earth.

The map represented a remarkable number of historical firsts. In addition to giving America its name, it was also the first map to portray the New World as a separate continent – even though Columbus, Vespucci, and other early explorers would all insist until their dying day that they had reached the far-eastern limits of Asia.

The map was the first to suggest the existence of what explorer Ferdinand Magellan would later call the Pacific Ocean, a mysterious decision, in that Europeans, according to the standard history of New World discovery, aren’t supposed to have learned about the Pacific until several years later.

The map was one of the first documents to reveal the full extent of Africa’s coastline, which had only very recently been circumnavigated by the Portuguese. Perhaps most significant, it was also one of the first maps to lay out a vision of the world using a full 360 degrees of longitude. In short, it was the the mother of all modern maps: the first document to depict the world roughly as we know it today.

The map turns out to be an enormously revealing patchwork of several different kinds of maps: the world as depicted by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as diagrammed by Europe’s Christian theologians, and as charted by the sailors who plied the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Nicholas Copernicus began his landmark On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by describing America as he saw it depicted on the map, and then went on to argue that the existence of a fourth part of the world meant that the traditional model not only of the earth but also the cosmos would have to be rethought.

For the only surviving copy of the map that not only gave America its name and introduced the New World to Europe but also helped Copernicus rethink the cosmos, $10m seems a very reasonable price to pay.

I want one.

Related Link: Tory Atlas of the World


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