A 16th Century Map of the World
In James Cowan s A Mapmaker s Dream, a 16th century roman monk vicariously travels the world without actually leaving the confines of his monastery. The monk, named Fra Mauro, learns of the world through stories told by a variety of travelers. With his newly acquired perception of the world, Fra sets out to chart the lands that were, at that time, still being discovered. From these stories, Fra s perfect map, or mappi mundi as he called it, would be constructed. In this process, the boundaries of Fra s world would be pushed to the limit.
Being celibate from exposure to the world around him, Fra spread word that he would be building a map of the new world. Quick response from seasoned explorers from all corners of the world would soon become available to him as many travelers would readily unburden themselves of the new and strange things they saw. These stories of the uncharted lands were told by a variety of people. With vivid descriptions of the people visiting him, Fra helps to put an excellent image of his visitors into the reader s head. He describes one sailor as still having sea salt hanging in his beard, while describing a merchant as bone-weary and dusty from his merchant s trail. The stories he learns from these men also paint a great mental image as to what Fra is thinking and feeling.
From these rendezvous with travelers, the beginning of a geographical map is built, but unlike the conventional mapmakers of the time, Fra was not only interested in the shape of lands and waters, but also in the feeling these places created in the storyteller. Other than mountains, canals, and valleys, Fra Mauro learns about the culture, peculiarities, and feelings of the locations that the travelers visited. Though his sources are not of highest reliability, they are reflective of the perception of a typical 16th century person. Two of his most interesting stories are the story of the essence of the mummy princess that he discusses with the scholar and the tale of the one-eyed, one-armed Cyclopedes that he learns from the Franciscan monk. Fra also delves into the renaissance occurring between these same European countries and what is today the Americas. This is how Fra Mauro s perception of the world was built through second hand stories told to him.
Fra Mauro s perception of the world is somewhat sketchy. We as intelligent human beings know there is no Cyclopedes or any tomb yielding endless amounts of honey, but to Fra these things must be true. He sees the world as a motley collection of people, places, and amazing religious and cultural phenomena. Despite all doubt about his thoughts on the existent world, Fra did not fail to capture the spirit of the locations he was to draw onto his mappi mundi.