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600 - Münster’s Monster Mash
One of cartography’s most persistent myths: mapmakers of yore, frustrated by the world beyond their ken, marked the blank spaces on their maps with the legend Here be monsters.
It’s a pleasing hypothesis. For to label a cartographic vacuum with the stuff of nightmares solves two problems at once. It explains why the fringes of contemporary knowledge didn’t match the outer limits of the entire world - monsters were keeping us out! And, by being equal parts fantastic and horrific, those monsters symbolise our fascination with the known unknowns  just out of our reach. What keeps us out is also what draws us in.
Unfortunately, the theory suffers from an all too common trifecta: it’s neat, plausible and wrong. No map dating from the Age of Discovery (or before) is emblazoned with the slogan Here be monsters, nor with its variant: Here be dragons . At least not in English, or any other vernacular  language. But there is one (if only just one) example in Latin: h[i]c sunt dracones, placed over the eastern shore of what is barely recognisable as Asia, on the so-called Lenox Globe .
Dated to circa 1510, this globe was only first described in the Magazine of American History in 1879. Curiously, the article linked the legend on the map to the Dagroians, a people mentioned in Marco Polo’s Travels. Others have explained the reference as an echo of the Komodo dragons , stories of which may have spread far beyond their habitat. This globe, therefore, may not be the original source of the Here be dragons myth.
The likeliest source are the dragons themselves - images of dragons, that is. Since ancient times, maps have warned of terrifying creatures in faraway lands - not all of them imaginary. The Tabula Peutingeriana lists elephants, scorpions and cenocephali (dog-headed creatures) as hazards of a Roman-era road trip.
In Christian imagery, the dragon symbolises sin, evil, paganism, or the devil himself . This explains why dragons appear on medieval maps, like the Psalter map (ca. 1250), where it is counterweighted by Christ and his angels on the recto side, and trampled by Jesus on the verso side. Other examples include an Asian dragon on the Borgia map (ca. 1430), and a whole menagerie of monsters in the northern Atlantic on the Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus (1539).
Interesting about the Carta Marina is that the map monsters have migrated away from the land. As the Age of Discovery unfolds, mainly via seafaring exploration, the horrors of the unknown are transposed to the high seas.
A few years after Olaus Magnus’s map, another catalogue of cartographic monsters hit the presses: an image in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia (1545) of ‘Wonders of the sea and rare animals, as they are found in the midnight lands in the sea and on the land’ .
Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a Franciscan friar with a talent for Hebrew and geography, who became an influential linguist and cosmographer . He converted to Protestantism before he published his magnum opus, the Cosmographia, in Basel in 1544.
That work, aimed to be a 'description of the whole world, and everything in it', eventually  entailed over 1,800 pages divided into six books, and more than 60 maps plus in excess of 70 vedute . It was a combination of what we would now call an atlas, an encyclopaedia and a syllabus on math, language, history and ethnography. The Cosmographia took 20 years and 120 collaborators to compile. The contributions of those collaborators were not without consequences: Sigismondo Arquer died at the stake for his sharp criticism of the Catholic church in his piece on Sardinia .
Other, but perhaps less lethal, criticism can be levelled at the sources, which often confound truth with fables. Among the strange creatures of variable veracity described in the Cosmographia are the aforementioned dog-faced creatures, so-called Blemmyes , and the sea monsters on this map.
The creatures are labelled alphabetically, with their description elsewhere in the Cosmographia reading as follows:
A - Whale fish as big as mountains are seen around Iceland. If they are not scared away with trumpet calls or jettisoned barrels, with which they gambol, they turn your ships over. It also happens that seamen assume to approach an island, in fact a whale, cast anchor, and are in a pretty pickle then. Such whales they call troll whales, i.e. devil whales. In Iceland people build their houses with the bones and fishbones of such big whales.
B - This is a rude ilk of great monster called Pristis or Physeter, mentioned by Solinus and Pliny. It rears up its head, spouts water into the ships and thus sinks and drowns them.
C - In the ocean one finds sea snakes, 200 and 300 feet long. They twist around the ship, harm the sailors, and attempt to sink it, especially when it is calm.
D - These are two gruesome beasts and monsters, one with cruel teeth, the other with cruel horns and a frighteningly fiery face. Its eyes are sixteen or twenty feet in circumference. Its head is square and has a big beard. But the hind part of is body is small.
E - This beast may not be filled. In Swedish it is called Jerf, and in German Vielfraß, in Latin Gulo [wolverine]. When its belly is very full, so that no more goes in, it looks for two trees standing close to each other, pulls its belly through between them, so that it has to defecate, thus emptying its belly, and then can eat more. If hunters catch one, they shoot it on account of its spotted fur, which is nicely patterned like a damascene cloth. The nature of people wearing this fur is often changed into this beast’s nature.
F - [reindeer]
G - [sable, martens, bears & other animals in the woods]
H - This beast is called Ziphius and is a scary sea monster. It devours the black seals.
I - Duckbirds, commonly called tree birds, grow on trees, as described 400 years ago.
K - This sea monster looks like a pig and was observed in 1537.
L - This is a whale fish, too, and is called Orca by many, but the Norwegian call it springhval on account of its swift movements.
M - [Monstrous lobsters]
N - A gruesome beast, partly resembling a rhinoceros. Pointed at the nose and the back, eats large crabs called lobsters, is twelve feet long.
O - Swedish hyena. Hunts in easy to assemble packs.
P - Santa Claus driving school.
Q - Snake farmer poking the merchandise to check whether they're ripe.
R - Only known representation of the fabled Nordic Emu, reputedly extinct because its large blue tongue made it difficult to swallow its prey.
S - Early channel swimmer, bereft of choice: back then, there were only three channels.
T - Famously self-conscious, the red-faced sea buffalo rarely breaks the surface of the waters.
V - Two examples of the microchip fish. Not clear whether they're extinct, or by now too small to see.
One could contend that Olaus Magnus’ representation of strange animals of the north is as visually arresting as this chart, and more ‘mappy’. But Münster is a favourite of this blog, not in the least because of his uncanny affinity with strange maps - examples previously discussed in #141, #209  and #404. Hence, in honour of Mr. Münster, and as an indulgence for the 600th map on this blog, we present Münster's Monster Mash.
 This quote might prove to be former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld only contribution to popular culture: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”. ↩
 The difference between a monster and a dragon? A monster is any type of horrific creature that inspires fear and threatens harm. A dragon is a more specific monster: a giant, winged lizard, often keen on fire-breathing and gold-hoarding. ↩
 I.e. domestic, national languages, as opposed to the lingua franca of the day, Latin. ↩
 A.k.a. the Hunt-Lenox Globe, a hollow copper sphere that is one of the oldest surviving terrestrial globes. It only entered modern annals in 1855, when the American architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895; designer of the Metropolitan Museum in New York) acquired it in Paris. Morris then gifted it to the bibliophile and collector James Lenox, who in turn bequeathed it to the New York Public Library. The globe now resides in the NYPL’s Rare Book Division. ↩
 The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard, reaching over 3 metres in length and up to 150 kilos in weight. Its current habitat is limited to a handful of small islands, including Komodo, and small parts of the larger Flores island, all in the Indonesian archipelago. Its main prey is the Java deer. The animal only first came to the attention of Western scientists in 1910, and new aspects of its biology are still being discovered. Only recently has it become clear that the dragon produces a poison, and that it can reproduce parthenogenetically (via ‘virgin birth’). The relatively recent discovery of this giant lizard was an inspiration for the 1933 movie King Kong. ↩
 Hence St. George, slaying the dragon. ↩
 Meerwunder vnd seltzame Thier, wie die in den Mitnächtigen Ländern, im Meer vnd auff dem Landt gefunden werden. The chart was largely based on the Olaus Magnus map. Both images served as sources for the sea animals on Ortelius’ 1587 map of Islandia (Iceland). ↩
 On his tomb in Basel Minster, Münster is called the 'German Strabo', after the Greek geographer. The German word for minster, incidentally, is Münster. Germany honoured Münster by portraying him on the 100-Deutschmark note, which was in circulation between 1962 and 1991. ↩
 At its first edition, the Cosmographia counted 660 pages. Over subsequent editions, many in other languages than German, more information was added. At its last printing, in 1628, it had almost tripled in size, to 1,800 pages. ↩
 A veduta (from the Italian for ‘view’, plural: vedute) is a panoramic painting of a cityscape. ↩
 As described in the 2006 historical novel Le fiamme di Toledo by the Italian novelist Giulio Angioni. ↩
 Headless humanoids with eyes and mouths in their chest.↩
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.