Monsters and Horizons

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We tend to imbue that which we do not know, whether objects of desire or objects of dread, with vague and magnified outlines. Unexplored territory is a potential treasure trove; unexplored territory is rife with monsters far beyond what we have ever known.

Whales attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition.  Credit: Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Whales attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition.
Credit: Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Whether the frontier is space, oceans, new continents or climate change, the space between known and the yet-to-be known is populated with mystery. We have the stories of extraterrestrial beings that want to instruct or destroy us, we have the current discussion of dangerous unknown viruses and bacteria that might be released during glacier melt-back combined with dreams of untold sub-glacial mineral wealth.

Olaus Magnus, Carta marina of 1539 Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Olaus Magnus, Carta marina of 1539
Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

A new book out by historian cartographer Chet Van Duzer, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, discusses the sea monster illustrations on early mappa mundi, the maps of the world created during the golden age of exploration from the 10th to the 17th centuries.

Some creatures, like the Kraken, were loosely based on real creatures like the giant squid. Animals we now think of as endangered planetary co-travelers worthy of our protection and study, such as whales and walruses, were once considered monsters – they and far more fearsome monsters of fantasy populated the areas of unknown on early atlases and in human imagination.

Clear illustrations of our fear and fascination with uncharted worlds.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Abyssal Giant | champagnewhisky

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