By: Abraham Ortelius
Date: 1609 (published) Antwerp
Dimensions: 14 x 18 inches (35.6 x 45.7 cm)
This intriguing Ortelius map is arguably one of the most interesting and revealing of all his maps. It illustrates at once his artistry, his interest in ancient works of cartographic import, his ability to create remarkably accurate maps based on his interpretations of literary and historical works, his insatiable curiosity and the width and depth of his knowledge. The map depicts classical antiquity as visualized by a master of Renaissance map making, along with contemporary-to-his-time details of topography and geography.
Ortelius used multiple ancient sources for this work but focused primarily on an ancient treatise entitled The Periplus Maris Erythraei (or ‘Voyage around the Erythraean Sea’), an anonymous work from around the middle of the first century CE believed to have been written by a Greek-speaking Egyptian merchant. The work existed in a 10th century Byzantine manuscript to which Ortelius must have had access, which is now at the University of Heidelberg.
The Periplus consists of sixty-six chapters, each of which describes maritime trade routes. Following the north-south axis they stretch from Egypt south to modern day Tanzania, and on the east-west axis from Egypt around the Arabian Peninsula, past the Persian Gulf and on to the west coast of India. Each region is so vividly described by the author that it is probable he himself travelled to the lands described therein.
The final chapters describe the East Coast of India as far north as the mouth of the Ganges and include reports the author had heard of the uncharted lands beyond. The descriptions include lengths and conditions of the sea routes, the key emporiums, ports and anchorage points, the character and customs of the locals, and imports and exports of each region are described in detail. Cities and rulers of southern India and even the legacy of Alexander the Great in the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms of Central Asia are noted. As the monsoon season and its winds were of major import to mounting and embarking on a voyage to India, the author noted the month most auspicious for setting sail from Egypt. Myriad of the foregoing details from the Periplus are represented in the map itself.
The large title cartouche which embellishes the map is flanked by inset maps, one of the Arctic to the right, and of the northwest coast of Africa to the left. An inset in the lower centre of the map depicts the voyage of Ulysses from Troy, with some ships going asunder in the Aegean between Anatolia and Greece. The iconic landmarks and place names from Homer’s Odyssey, including Ithaca, Scylla and Charybdis, and the island of the Cyclopes are depicted, to mention only a few.
Latin text found in the subcontinent of South Asia describes Ortelius’ opinion regarding the authorship of the Periplus.
“Arrianus, the author of this Periplus [coastal sea journey] is someone who is different from the person who has written about the expedition of Alexander the Great, as it seems to Baptist Ramusio, in his comments on him published in the Italian language because their style of writing is different and dissimilar. He also thinks that he must have lived in the time of Ptolemæus. With which I somehow agree, for he seems to address himself in his Periplus on the Euxine sea to Traianus the emperor. But the other [source] truly seems to be much older, because among others, he cites authors who are hardly more recent than Herodotus and Euripides. Whatever the case may be, the reader will easily gather from the various sources that one of these two from Nearchus at the river Indus navigated to the mouth of the river Tigris, and from that mouth back to the river Indus just mentioned, in fact called the river Sinthum, as you can read on the map, so that everyone understands why the places are named as they are.”
Condition: This superb hand colored map is in A condition with full margins and no tears or holes.
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