Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia
Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia is an encyclopaedia of the world as Europeans knew it in 1544. Its descriptions of far off places are illustrated with pictures and maps.
Münster was the first map-maker to make separate maps of each continent. He was also the first to list the sources he used. These included other maps, books and explorers’ reports.
Münster’s map of Africa (right) is titled ‘A map and complete description of all Africa, extending even beyond the limits of Ptolemy’. Münster included the discoveries made by Portuguese explorers. This made his map more accurate than those drawn using only ancient sources like Ptolemy.
This map is full of myths. The African coast had been explored but the rest was still a mystery. Münster had no facts to fill his map of Africa. Instead, he used ancient Roman sources. These spoke of dog-headed men, one-eyed people, and one-legged beings who shaded themselves with their huge, single foot. The same creatures appeared on the Hereford Mappa Mundi about 250 years before Münster.
The lack of knowledge about what actually lay in the interior of Africa was satirised by the writer Jonathan Swift in 1733:
So geographers, in Afric maps
With savage pictures fill their gaps
And o'er uninhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns
Münster’s map of the Americas (right) is the first to show the Western Hemisphere apart from the rest of the world. It is also the first to show North and South America connected by land.
Little was known about the interior of the Americas. One of the few labels on South America marks cannibals (below).
(Above) A map of Africa from Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia, published in Basel, Switzerland in 1559.
(Left) Mythical inhabitants of Africa from Münster's Cosmographia.
(Below) A map of the Americas from Cosmographia.
Click on the pictures to see larger images.