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The Mapping of North America

Mr. Philip D. Burden​
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AN UNRECORDED EARLY REFERENCE TO AMERICA. Very little is known about Pomponius Mela (fl. A.D. 37-42) beyond the fact that he was born in Spain not far from Gibraltar and wrote a geographical treatise in 43 A.D. at the time of the Emperor Claudius. There is no evidence that it ever contained maps and his world was divided into two hemispheres; Asia in the eastern and Europe and Africa in the western. As in the contemporary writings of Eratoshenes in ‘Hermes’ and Virgil in ‘Georgics’ the world is split into five zones, two cold, two temperate and one hot.

The first printed edition was published in Milan 1471 under the title of ‘Cosmographia’ by Pamfilo Castaldi. There were further editions in Venice 1478, 1482 and 1502 under the titles ‘De Situ Orbis’ and ‘Cosmographia Geographica’ or similar. An edition by Nunez de la Yerva in Salamanca in 1498 is the first to bear any reference to America which is found at the beginning of the preface found on the verso of the title leaf. A further edition in Paris 1507 edited by Godfroy Torinus divided the text into smaller sections and is entitled ‘De Totius Orbis Descriptione’, it bears no reference to America. The next edition to cite America is actually a combined work with that of Joachim van Watte or Vadianus published in 1518. It is in fact in the Vadianus portion that it is mentioned.

This edition of Mela’s work published in Nuremberg 1512, edited by Johannes Cochläus (1479-1552) and printed by Johann Weissenburger contains an earlier REFERENCE TO AMERICA THAT IS UNRECORDED IN THE MAJOR BIBLIOGRAPHIES. It is not mentioned in Harrisse’s ‘Bibliotheca Americana Vetustissima’ or its ‘Addenda’, or in the multi-volume ‘Narrative and Critical History of America’, or in Church. Not even in ‘European Americana’ or Sabin. Even those that mention the edition do not cite any reference to America. Cochläus draws on the Paris edition of 1507 with numerous sections and adds two further geographical texts all produced for the scholars of Lorenz in Nuremburg.

The first addition is the ‘Compendium’ on ‘De quinque zonis terrae’ a further description of the five zones described by Mela. At the beginning of this section is the reference to the discovery of America by Vespucci (F1v) “De reliqua autem zona (Antipodum inquam) ad nostra usque tempora nihil compertum est ab antiquis. Verum Americus Vesputius iam nostro secul, nouum illum mundum … [About the last of these zones (the Antipodes), nothing has been discovered from the days of antiquity to our times. It is true that Amerigo Vespucci, in our century, is said to have found that New World, in ships of the kings of Spain and Portugal, and to have gone not only beyond the torrid zone, but even a long way beyond the tropic of Capricorn, and to have asserted that Africa extends as far as that, and that this New World is quite distinct from it, and larger than our Europe. Whether this be true or not is of little or no concern to Cosmography or the knowledge of History. For the peoples and places of that land are so far unknown and unnamed to us, nor are sailings made thither, except under many dangers, therefore they are of no interest to geographers.]”

The second text is also of particular note. The ‘Brevis Germaniae descriptio’ is the first description of the German people by a German and the first German geography book. In the section describing Nuremberg (H4v-I1r) is a reference to the invention of the pocket watch as described by Peter Henlein. He goes on to praise the woodcut series of twelve prints of the ‘Large Passion’ by Albrecht Dürer published the previous year, 1511. Examples have been located at: Houghton Library, Harvard University; NYPL; BL 1295.e.6; Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich; Universitätsbibliothek Gottingen; Staatsbibliothek Berlin.

Provenance: public auction. References: refer Borba de Moraes (1985) II p. 159; Not in the JCB’s ‘European Americana’; not in Brunet; Graesse p. 401; refer Harrisse (1866) Additions nos. 8; Harrisse ‘Narrative’ II pp. 180-2; Dilke, O. A. W., ‘Itineraries and geographical Maps in the Early and Late Roman Empire’, in ‘History of Cartography’ vol. I, p. 242.

MELA, Pomponius

Cosmographia tribus libris digesta: parvo quodam compendio Joannis Coclei adaucta quo geographie principia generaliter comprehenduntur, brevis quoque Germanie descriptio ad profectum iuventutis Laurentiane Norinbergensis imprimis

J. Weissenburger, Nuremberg, 1512
AN UNRECORDED EARLY REFERENCE TO AMERICA. Quarto (220 x 160 mm.) Bound in late 19th vellum made from an old manuscript. pp. (54), 64. Signatures: A-B6; C4; D-F6; G4; H6; I4; K6; L4. With a full page woodcut of an armillary sphere. Mela’s work occupies 56 pages, the remaining 59 containing Cochläus’ ‘Compendium’ and his ‘Brevis Germaniae descriptio’. Some spotting and thumbing.
Stock number: 5846


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