JF Ptak Science Books Post 1458 [With thanks to Rich Lewis, Dickinson College, who found and suggested some remarkable cartographical curiosities!]
I was thinking about the history of atlases of imaginary places [in Western culture] composed before, say, 1900, and I had a hard time coming away with any. Lowering the sites to a series of maps relating to the same idea didn't help--its only when you get down to the single-map level that I found some results. But even there, at the basic representational level of an imaginary place, there aren't really that many examples, at least compared to the rich narrative life of created space.
I wonder why that is?
If you widened the scope a bit you might look at the night sky as being a sort-of map locating ancient deities, but the sky is really just a picture book with dislocated images without very much to do with one another.
Books of the Dead1 kind of fit the bill, but how come there aren't any surviving ancient maps of Olympus, or
Heaven for that matter? The Heaven, and Hell, and Purgatory part does get mapped and mapped pretty heavily after Dante reaches the scene--there are at the very least dozens of cartographic/pictographic representations of the worlds that he surveyed in the Divine Comedy. For example, there is this spectacular effort by Sandro Botticelli (being a drawing on parchment executed ca. 1480-1495):
The Botticelli is a scary accomplishment, frightening and heavy--you can almost feel the very burden of Hell coming down upon you. (Here's a good link for a zoomifying version of this map so that you can see its elements in detail.)
Then there are allegorical maps that show the stages and stations of life, the progress of the arts and sciences. A fine example here is a work by B. Johnson, who in 1805 published this fantastic map of the possible paths for living one's life:
Another fantastic example of mapping the imagination is found in Matthaus Seutter's Accurata Utopiae Tabula. Das ist Der Neu entdeckten Schalck Welt, oder des so oft benannten und doch nie erkannten Schlarraffenlandes, published in 1730. It depicts a Utopia of sorts, though not the world of Thomas More--this is like a pyrite of utopias, a fool's gold, a fools' paradise:
This land is much like the land of Cockaigne, a mythical Medieval/Renaissance place of plenty, which is pictured below in an image made by Niccolop Nelli in 1564:
(It is interesting to picture these places of plenty and sloth in conjunction with some 20th century songs of the Great Depression and earlier, where the land of plenty is far, far simpler--as in the land of the Big Rock Candy Mountain--but that is a different story.)
As long as we're mentioning Utopia, here's a 1516 representation of More's hopefullness, from the first edition of his work:
And another represntation, two years later:
There are more recent examples, but not that many, not so far, anyway. There are editions of Pilgrims Progress (1678) that contain maps of the travels; there are also a number of charts showing the progress of Mr. Gulliver from the Swift book (1726); Robinson Crusoe also contains a small sketch map opposite the title-page, and, more recently, R.L. Stevenson's Treaure Island (1882) contains a map of that place.
But given the extraordinarily rich tapestries of mythical/mystical places that have been created since the beginning of people telling stories, why weren't there, well, tapestries (or something) illustrating what the whole of these places looked like? Why for sample when we meet up with a map of the very pronounced extra-terrestrial wanderings of Cyrano de Bergerac (in his ancient-advanced science fiction work on traveling to other inhabited worlds)? Taking the antiquarian thought on extra-terrestrials as a case study, why don't we see more of that sort of thinking illustrated in some way? The idea of extraterrestrial life is very old, stretching far back into Hindu cosmology, and even deep into the (eighteen worlds) of the Talmud. Thales, Anaximander, Democritus, Aristole, Ptolemy all thought about and agreed on the possibilities of life being lived on places other than the Earth--infintely more life, in the case of Epicurus. Bruno, Copernicus, Fontenelle, Henry More--were all there, but without visual aids, and certainly without maps. Except for Fontenelle--Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle--who almost but not quite gets there in his 1682 book Entretriens sur la pluralite des mondes.
It seems to me that as a representative of extraterrestrial imagination not being illustrated its hard to beat the case of the beautiful and polymathic Christian Huygens. Huygens (1629-1685) worked across many fields, including astronomy, biology, math and physics, and was extraordinarily productive, making numerous contributions in the physical and theoretical areas, as well as being a prolific author and correspondant. But towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 56) Huygens embarked down the science fiction road in pre-science fiction days, writing a wonderful and provocative book entitled Cosmotheoros, The Celestial World Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets3, where he establishes the possibilities of life being lived on worlds other than that of Earth. He developes a detailed fabric for these new heavens,m so much so that he can also establish samenesses for the ETs and humans, stating here his belief in the eternal/cosmoloigcal abilities of mathematics and music:
“It's the same with Musick as with Geometry, it's every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure and proportion. So that in all Nations the difference and distance of Notes is the same, whether they be in a continued gradual progression, or the voice makes skips over one to the next. Nay very credible Authors report, that there's a sort of Bird in America, that can plainly sing in order six musical Notes: whence it follows that the Laws of Musick are unchangeably fix'd by Nature, and therefore the same Reason holds valid for their Musick, as we even now proposed for their Geometry"pg 86
Huygens holds close to the immutable nature and close association of music and mathematics,m which would be the same here and everywhere (everywhere else, the ET communities, being referred to here as "other Nations").
"For why, supposing other Nations and Creatures, endued with Reason and Sense as well as we, should not they reap the Pleasures arising from these Senses as well as we too? I don't know what effect this Argument, from the immutable nature of these Arts, may have upon the Minds of others; I think it no inconsiderable or contemptible one, but of as great Strength as that which I made use of above to prove that the Planetarians had the sense of Seeing." pg 86/7
Huygens is so sure of this that he is willing to tak a bet with long odds that not only do ETs enjoy the possibilities of muic but that they have also created instruments:
"But if they take delight in Harmony, 'tis twenty to one but that they have invented musical Instruments. For, if nothing else, they could scarce help lighting upon some or other by chance; the sound of a tight String, the noise of the Winds, or the whistling of Reeds, might have given them the hint. From these small beginnings they perhaps, as well as we, have advanced by degrees to the use of the Lute, Harp, Flute, and many string'd Instruments. But altho the Tones are certain and determinate, yet we find among different Nations a quite different manner and rule for Singing; as formerly among the Dorians, Phrygians, and Lydians, and in our time among the French, Italians, and Persians" pg 87
Huygens then continues to make a beautiful distinction between the musics of Earthling and ETs, in that it may not sound anything like any music we have on Earth, but--since the laws that govern math and music are the same, everywhere--it still might be "very good". And not only that, the alien music might be better than our's:
In like manner it may so happen, that the Musick of the Inhabitants of the Planets may widely differ from all these, and yet be very good. But why we should look upon their Musick to be worse than ours, there's no reason can be given; neither can we well presume that they want the use of half-notes and quarter-notes, seeing the invention of half-notes is so obvious, and the use of 'em so agreeable to nature. Nay, to go a step farther, what if they should excel us in the Theory and practick part of Musick, and outdo us in Consorts of vocal and instrumental Musick, so artificially compos'd, that they shew their Skill by the mixtures of Discords and Concords? pg 88
And so on. But why I wonder with all of the great images painted for us in his text is there no venturing into a visual artform? There's enough information in the Huygens work to allow for a map, but then there are none, not even something along the images of de Bergerac, who was perhaps among the greatest visionary of techno-anthropormorphic human flight. Before he was the object of Edmund Rostand’s 1897 play, de Bergerac was a massively creative author, producing, among other things, the book Histoire des Etats et Empires de la Lune (History of the States and Empires of the Moon, published posthumously in 1657), followed by Histoire des Etats et Empires du Soleil (History of the States and Empires of the Sun, again, published further and deeper into his life’s surrender, 1662), both eventually collected as L'Autre Monde (Other Worlds). Bergerac introduces us, the humble reader, to one of the most important concepts in the history of literature--namely that we humans were not only not alone in the universe, but that we were not even the dominant culture, and indeed we were actually hated by some of the other more advanced species.
The foundations for structuring a visual habitat for the ideas of Huygens are abundant, as you can see easily in the table of contents (which is like an annotated table of contetns for a modern book) as seen in footnote #4--the signs for a road map are there, mostly--there's just no road, but there are plenty of suggestions for one.
So I bring this part of this open discussion to a close--I do ask forgiveness here in the likely case that I've left out some obvious examples, this is a Thinking-Out-Loud piece which takes place in the cultures west of the Urals--thinking about where the maps and images weren't. Finding almost nothing when you think there's nothing there is easy to do, especially when you can hold yourself to a porous definition of "nothing"--the next step is harder, finding out how close people came to making these maps, or diagrams, or images.
And having said this about finding nothing I cannot let this piece go without mentioning The World's Most Beautiful Map: Lewis Carroll’s map from The Hunting of the Snark, an Agony in Eight Fits, and occurs in the Bellman’s tale, starting the second fit. It begins:
The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies-
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one look in his face!
He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when the found it to be
A map they could all understand.
"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply,
"They are merely conventional signs!
"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best-
A perfect and absolute blank!"
Sometimes there is nothing so fine as something that beautifully illustrates the nothing that isn’t there, and this lovely map, unencumbered of all of the elements and details that define the mapness of something, perfectly explains the origin of its need.
1. They're not really the Book of the Dead, but collections of papyrus that each contain a unique set of instructions and magic spells and such to assist its dead reader of getting fromthe dead place into the light, into the afterlife. This image is a rather famous one, pictured and described in the following Wiki bit: "The mystical Spell 17, from the Papyrus of Ani. The vignette at the top illustrates, from left to right, the god Heh as a representation of the Sea; a gateway to the realm of Osiris; the Eye of Horus; the celestial cow Mehet-weret; and a human head rising from a coffin, guarded by the four Sons of Horus."
2. Here's another version of the Dante structures placed in context to the Earth, this image by A. Ritter.