Monday, December 28, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
When the map was created Britain would have featured on the first section, which has not survived. All that remains is this tantalizing corner of the south coast of England. From top to bottom the six 'twin towers' represent the present-day towns of Thetford (or Norwich), Richborough, Dover, Canterbury, Lympne and Exeter. A Channel crossing was then necessary to continue the journey to Rome. It is perhaps surprising that 'Camuloduno' (Colchester), which was one of the most important Roman towns in the area, is not accorded 'twin tower' status. Its name is simply written in alongside the road. This may provide a clue to this map's intended purpose. As with today's maps, the features that are chosen for inclusion and those that are omitted are determined by its function. For this reason the lack of significance given to a number of major legionary centres has led to the conclusion that this was not, primarily, a military map.
The tentative state of what was known about this part of North America in the 1600s is clearly illustrated in this extract. Sanson's map is one of the first to name and locate 'Erie Lac' and to show it joined to Lake Ontario, as Lac de St Louis has become known. However, the large lake shown in the mountain range to the south and marked as 'Apalache' has never existed, although the name Appalachian in relation to mountain range has survived. The north-south range shown here is quite accurate but the main range running off to the west and across the centre of the map does not exist. Slowly over the next 200 years an accurate picture of the physical geography of this region would be compiled.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Legends of goatmen have circulated since the time of the ancient Greeks, who told of goat-legged satyrs lurking in their wooded areas. (Troy Therrien)
The mythic image of the goatman has butted heads with reality since the ancient Greeks told of horned, goat-legged satyrs that terrorized their forests. Satyrs were known as enthusiastic party animals that loved to carouse until dawn.
The son of the Greek god Hermes, Pan, looked much like the satyrs and although famous for playing beautiful music on his reed pipes, could pitch a frightening fit when angered. The Roman god of rural land, Faunus, was a sort of a cousin to Pan. His goatman offspring, the fauns or fauni, also resembled satyrs but enjoyed a more wholesome reputation. Their one negative trait was the ability to trigger nightmares by sneaking into a human’s bedroom.
The idea of combining man and beast into a single being does not stop with goats. Ancient legends overfl ow with a bizarre zoo of manimals, or half-and-half creatures. One of the oldest ideas is that of the dog-headed man, or cynocephali. Dating this strain of hybrids back to the jackal-headed death god of the Egyptians, Anubis, author Patricia Dale-Green refers to the culture of humanized canines as “dogmanity.”
As early as the fifth century bce, the Greek doctor Ctésias wrote a book about India in which he described a race of dog-headed people that cooked their prey by sun-baking it. Explorer Marco Polo also claimed around 1300 ce that a region near India’s Bay of Bengal was home to a nation of cynocephali that worshipped oxen.
Old Irish legends include a tribe of dog-headed Celts called the Concheannaich, and as late as the Middle Ages, Greek Orthodox churches portrayed the martyr St. Christopher (circa 300 ce) as a dog-headed man. According to legend, the saint had prayed that God would make him ugly to keep himself from the sin of vanity. Christopher received his wish in the form of a hound’s head. Although he was considered the patron saint of travelers for many years, in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed Christopher’s feast day from its calendar due to lack of historical evidence of his existence.
One Bible-related legend contends that the unicorn was too high-spirited to ride on Noah’s ark with the other animals and that is how it became extinct. “The Unicorn,” a popular 1967 song by the Irish Rovers with lyrics by Shel Silverstein, insisted the unicorns were too busy playing to make it onto the ark. Some scholars think that the word unicorn in verses such as Psalm 92:10: (“But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of the unicorn; I shall be anointed with fresh oil”), was a mistranslation. The original Hebrew word re’em actually meant some type of unknown animal, but was mistakenly read as “one-horned.” Inspired by no fewer than seven verses about unicorns in the Old Testament, medieval Christians began to portray it in their tapestries and paintings. The unicorn came to signify Jesus Christ. Artists usually showed it as a pure white horse or goat with a long, straight spiraling horn projecting straight out from the forehead, similar to today’s standard version. But there is a reason that the unicorn’s horn, once always shown as thick and curved like a rhino’s, became long, straight, and spiraled.