Skip to main content

Here Be Dragons - Except Not Really

For the uninitiated, the phrase 'Here be dragons' (immortalised by classical era fanboys as Hic Sunt Dracones in Latin) was believed to be widely used on maps by cartographers to describe dangerous and otherwise unexplored lands. This phrase would typically lie on the outline of ancient sepia maps, warning would-be travelers of the mysterious great blue yonder.

Of course, aside from a rather trivial exception, this seems to be quite inaccurate. Whilst animals have been used in the past to denote dangers of the unknown (an Anglo-Saxon map warns of lions in Africa, Ptolmey's Geographia atlas warned of elephants, hippos and even cannibals!), the only instance where dragons were mentioned by name comes from the Hunt-Lenox Globe (which is actually on display at the New York Public Library).

The Hunt-Lenox Globe (squint eyes to see Latin)
Made in 1506, this copper sphere was one of the first to be made after Columbus' expedition to the New World. Stamped on Southeast Asia , the Latin words 'Hic Sunt Dracones' lie ominously on the model. Recent commentators have downplayed the warning-aspect of the sentence, stating that the words referred to the intimidating Komodo dragons that were known to inhabit islands off the coast. [1] No doubt that stories of their ferociousness were probably the main reason as to why they were included on this map and not for the sake of medieval folklore and mythology.

Scholar Dennis McCarthy summarises the entire misconception well:
"The phrase was not, as so many believe, a general warning to sailors about alien realms. It was, instead, one of the first recorded post-Columbian biographical remarks and has now become, perhaps, the most famous distributional comment ever, likely marking the general region where tales of the Komodo dragon originated"[1]
References:
  1. Dennis McCarthy (2009). Here be Dragons – How the study of animal and plant distributions revolutionized our views of life and Earth. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-954246-5.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Vintage Maps of the Arabian Peninsula

Some rather old maps of the Arabian peninsula, details under each respective map.

Embedded text: This map of the Arabian Peninsula, published in 1720, shows Arabia Felix, Arabia Deserta, and Arabia Petraea. Other regions included are Palestine, Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Persia, Aegyptus, and Aethiopia. A large number of towns are shown. The title cartouche includes nine vignette coins. The tribal and town names on the map are those used by Ptolemy. Some are used more than once, with variations. Thus “Indicara,” “Iacara,” “Ichara,” and “Aphana” all could indicate the same place: the spot where Alexander the Great intended to build a capital on an island in the Arabian Gulf, enabling him to control the trade of the region and extend his empire (a scheme that he was unable to accomplish before he died).

 Archeological research suggests that this place was Failakah Island in present-day Kuwait, although some historians place it at Abu Ali Island. The map shows a peninsula near pres…

Bahrain - Old Photographs (Part I)

Below is a collection of stunning old photographs of Bahrain taken in the 20th century. I'll try to input as many captions as I can. Enjoy!

(The vast majority of these photographs were taken prior to the 1960s, by which time their copyright expired and is now in the public domain, as stated in Legislative Decree No. 10 of June 7, 1993 in respect of Copyright Law)





Why was King John the most unpopular monarch in English History ?

The title of this post is self-explanatory. And here's why John (reigned from 1199-1216) was so unpopular:

Under his reign, the English lost the land of Normandy to the French (Normandy had been under English control since the time of William the Conqueror). In fact, he was nicknamed "Lackland" because of this.
He was excommunicated from the Church by the Pope in 1209 (this made him even more unpopular)
His fiscal policies: He made people pay very high taxes 
John was a very bad fighter (he was nicknamed "Softsword" too!), and in those times, a bad warrior made a bad king.
John murdered his own nephew for fear of him leading a rebellion against John.
The barons (who were Normans) revolted against him because of the above reasons, and after deciding that he was a bad king (especially after realizing how he spent tax money).
Perhaps the most significant of all his failures (and the most humourous), he lost the original Crown Jewels in a swamp, in Eastern England. But, i…