Sea Monsters!

I like maps; no secret there. In fact, on the wall of my bedroom, facing me as I type, is a copy of Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina, a birthday gift from an old friend. Some years later, my wife had it framed as another birthday gift. I occasionally get hung up going in and out of the room because I’m just looking at its details — the strange creatures, the weird people, the bizarre idea that England is way the hell up in the northern part of Britain, opposite Norway. 


Today, pal of the blog Chris Chapman pointed out this amazing interactive version of the map, where you can click on each sea monster and read Olaus’s explanatory notes. 

Olaus, or Olof Månsson if you’re feeling prosaic, had the dubious distinction of being the Catholic archbishop of Uppsala. I say dubious because this was actually shortly after the Reformation, and poor Olof never actually got to, you know, be there in his archiepiscopal capacity. 

Olaus Magnus is known partly for his awesome map but mainly for his book, Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, which is all on Google Books in its fantastic original edition. Even if you (like me) aren’t going to slog through a bunch of 16th-century Latin, it’s got some badass woodcuts. 

Researchers at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the US have suggested that some of the elements of the map might not be so fanciful, and that the whirlpools up there off the Norwegian coast are in fact based on real currents. I’m not so convinced, personally — even if the map resembles reality, that would be one of the only ways in which it does. 

I have no overarching philosophical point about this one. I just like maps. 

Sea Monsters!