Veronica L. Garrett
Of Maps and Monsters: Meaning in cartographic Ornamentation.
(Under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Tise) Department of History, August 2008.
The sea monsters that ornament the oceans on early modern maps are usually dismissed as mere artistic camouflage for lack of geographical information. Those figures can also convey information about the world-views of those at the intellectual frontiers of exploration during a time of enormous change. The work of Abraham Ortelius, first published in 1520, is investigated as a typical example, and the meanings of his monsters are analyzed in terms of their meanings within literature, mythology, and natural histories current at the time. Placed within the context of history and the trajectory of cartography's gradual development, an understanding of these ornamental sea monsters begins to take shape. As cartographers struggled to make sense of the changing world during the Age of Discovery, their maps became a record of their interpretations. The sea monsters that merged in the margins of their work appear to be subconscious expressions of their sense of cosmographic shock at the catastrophic changes wrought by exploration.