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The Foolscap Map

The Foolscap Map of circa 1590

O caput elleboro dignum. The world in the head of a fool.

The Foolscap Map of circa 1590 O caput elleboro dignum. The world in the head of a fool.

The map-maker has depicted the folly of globalization. I compiled the following description of the image from various sources.

The Fool was a court figure allowed to mock majesty and to speak truth to power. The message imparted by this map is that the world, now including the New World, is seen as foolish; globalization remains a controversial topic to this day.

The legend in the left panel reads "Democritus of Abdera laughed at [the world], Heraclitus of Ephesus wept over it, Epichtonius Cosmopolites portrayed it". Over the cap is the Latin version of the Greek dictum, "Know thyself". Across the cap’s brow, the inscription translates as "O head, worthy of a dose of hellebore".

The Latin quote just above the map is from Pliny the Elder and reads "For in the whole universe the earth is nothing else and this is the substance of our glory, this is its habitation, here it is that we fill positions of power and covet wealth, and throw mankind into an uproar, and launch wars, even civil ones".

The quote below the map is from Ecclesiastes: "The number of fools is infinite", as is the quote on the jester’s staff to the right: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". Inscribed on the badges adorning the shoulder belt are: "Oh, the worries of the world; oh, how much triviality is there in the world, Everyone is without sense, and All things are vanity: every man living".

For some researchers, the sum of these messages, as well as their presentation in a cartographic setting, point to a Christian sect called the Family of Love. This group is said to have included the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, whose world map resembles this representation. The name written in its top left corner, Orontius Fineus, is the Latinised version of the French name Oronce Finé who was associated with a map dated 1531, purportedly showing an ice-free, river-rich Antarctica, and another showing the world in a heart-shaped projection dated 1534. Finé died in1555. Inscribing the name of this cartographer on a map made decades later is an unsolved mystery.

The Heart Map is a wonderful projection., but the Foolscap Map is my favorite. I wonder just how aware the artist was about all the ramifications of globalization. We can look back and see that the operations of the silver mines in South America exacerbated slavery and that the huge exporting of silver ruined economies in Europe; that the export of corn profoundly altered the agriculture of Asian societies, and that the European colonization of the Americas destroyed indigenous civilizations. What did this artist realize? Was he a visionary? I'm impressed.

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