The Dark Edge of the North
December 3, 2007 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Carta Marina - From 1518 to 1519, Olaus Magnus made a journey across Sweden. On his journey, he encountered fish the size of elephants, sea serpents, demons and a tribe of pygmies.
posted by tellurian (12 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
MetaFilter: they ride she-goats
posted by wfrgms at 6:31 PM on December 3, 2007

this is why they will never discover yeti in the himalayas - with the mountains so high, they are too close to the firmament and only dwarves on she-goats would be capable of moving without bending over
posted by pyramid termite at 6:38 PM on December 3, 2007

The map (large) is well worth checking out. It was created in the mid 16th century but went missing until a copy was discovered in 1880s and another one in 1961. It's a beautiful map, looks like fantasy RPG game art, but better.
posted by stbalbach at 7:49 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think I encountered some of these wonders myself during my journey through the Swedish university system a few years back. The description of the pygmies' lifestyle can probably be taken as an allegory of the suffering administrative personnel, she-goat riding and all.
posted by Iosephus at 8:00 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

When did the term White Russian come into being? I thought it referred to non communist Russians.

- Or a cocktail.
posted by mattoxic at 8:16 PM on December 3, 2007

Hmm! That's what I would have said too mattoxic but it seems that it's been used for quite some time.
posted by tellurian at 8:37 PM on December 3, 2007

"looks like fantasy RPG game art"

I've been trying to think of a simile that would mock the innocent obliviousness of this statement adequately.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:09 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

There have been some wonderful posts on Metafilter today and this is one of them. Thanks!
posted by LarryC at 11:44 PM on December 3, 2007

That's a very nice thing to say LarryC. I'm glad you liked it.
posted by tellurian at 2:31 PM on December 4, 2007

Something about the image with the pygmy that gave me a chuckle.

The map is amazing too. Another site about the map.

The map of Olaus Magnus is a peculiar and not totally successful blend of Ptolemy’s maps with mariners’ charts. The Scandinavian lands and seas on the map are much better portrayed than they are on earlier maps, but the map is still far from accurate. What the Carta Marina may lack in geography is more than compensated for by its folklore and illustration. The map is filled with images that cry out for explanation and enjoyment. How fortunate it is that two of the original printings of this fascinating map have survived!

It's so humbling to see what knowledge was like back then. What will the folks five hundred years hence will think of us? Will our belief systems seem as childlike? Your post made me think about how some of the folk fantasies of yore can never be believed again. And there's a pang of sadness in that, which is strange. Maybe it feels like a loss of innocence. But when I think about it, it was less innocence and more lostness in a sea of ignorance and curiosity without tools to figure things out.

All the corners (in a round globe how could there be corners?) of the world are now Googlable. No more mythical beasts (although there is still some clinging to the yeti myth! lol). The mysteries now, and there are plenty, still inspire wonder but not folk wonder, that ancient part of the psyche inclined to believe in magic or to want to make up stories.
posted by nickyskye at 5:40 PM on December 4, 2007

Will our belief systems seem as childlike?

Maybe some of them, but the major findings of modern science will not.

These early unscientific treatises on natural philosophy are like the crank explanations of the universe that're a dime a dozen on the Internet today; their authors were just Making Shit Up, for whatever reason.

Extreme relativists may insist that truth and our perception of truth are literally the same thing - so, before we discovered that the earth orbits the sun, the reverse was actually literally the case - but this point of view can only hold if everybody who has a different opinion about something gets his own special little universe in which that opinion can be true without clashing with other peoples' opinions.

Back in the boring old world of verifiable external physical reality, if someone else had decided to try to verify Magnus' claims about the demons that allegedly teemed in the north of Sweden, they could have gone there and looked... and found no frickin' demons.

Likewise, anybody who wanted to could have checked many of Aristotle's ridiculous claims, like the allegation that flies had four legs, just by looking.

And I'm sure some people actually did. It's not as if rudimentary science is some bizarre abstract concept that you can only come up with after long cogitation; it actually follows quite simply from the normal checking of facts that we all do every day in order to keep a handle on what we're doing and where our stuff is.

But despite any individual disprovings of things like Aristotle's clearly counterfactual claims, this pre-scientific nonsense was very popular for a very long time. Aristotle's claim about flies was repeated over and over in other scholarly treatises for more than a thousand years before it was finally stamped out.

Then, people started getting serious about not just documenting what could really be observed (not what they fancied might be happening out there in the wild and windy dark...), and actively trying to avoid fooling themselves, and creating institutions to allow like-minded people to work together. The result of that were "our belief systems", including things like Newton's laws of motion, as refined (I wouldn't say superseded) by Einstein.

Ten thousand years from now, perhaps Isaac-'n'-Albert's findings will seem laughably obvious to the cybernetic superbrains inhabiting the solar system. So OK, they may seem "childlike" in that sense. But they certainly will not have been swept away by a whole new radically different conception, as the fanciful pre-scientific ideas about the nature of the world were when we started actually systematically looking at that world.
posted by dansdata at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2007

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