‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Holbein's Africa



That, of course, is the globe from Holbein's The Ambassadors (1533). It's based, it seems, on an actual globe:
Holbein copied a globe from 1526. The original was a printed globe, made possible by the revolution in print technology that had transformed Europe since the middle of the 15th century. The globe was likely printed in Nuremberg, and was popular in the 1520s and 30s.
More:
Several red lines also run through parts of the globe in Holbein’s portrait. One, which runs through Brazil and divides the Atlantic, was the line agreed to with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. This treaty resulted in much of the Americas being granted to Spain, while Brazil was granted to the Portuguese. Another line, one that resulted from the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529 (once again between Spain and Portugal), divided the map in the other direction, giving the Portuguese the Moluccas, or Spice Islands. The inclusion of these lines reveals the importance of the competition between colonial powers for land, resources, and people, and the far-reaching implications that European maritime voyages and colonial expeditions would have across the globe.
Politics, politics. But I'm interested for the moment in what this globe says, specifically, about Africa.



Click to embiggen. ‘Ethiopia’, for much of European history, was a general term more or less interchangeable with ‘Africa’ as such (it's from Homer), and sometimes used to distinguish Black Africa from Arab or Berber Africa. You can see that the map identifies both Ethiopa and, further east, a sub-Egyptian Ethiopia. Algeria is ‘Barbaria’, the land of the Berbers, but otherwise this is mostly recognisable: there's Senegal, ‘Melli Regnu[m]’ means ‘the kingdom of Mali’, ‘Nubii Regnu[m]’ is Nubia, and so on. Comparison between Holbien's version and a contemporary (1550) printed-book map brings out the two biggest differences between this notional Africa and actual Africa: the lack of any Saharan desert wastes, and the extreme north-south foreshortening of the whole continent.


Isn't the representation of the Nile interesting, though? Centuries before the source of that river was actually explored by Europeans, here it is shown as deriving from a network of large rivers all rising in the far south, and converging on a huge inland island. You can just about make out this isle in Holbein's painting. It's clearer in the woodcut:



Since this geographical feature is purely speculative, and has no basis either in travellers' tales or in reality, its inclusion must serve some other purpose. I can't find out what, though. Was this where Prester John was supposed to reign, perhaps? Some Utopian topography? We should probably ask the skull.


6 comments:

  1. My first reaction was the Nile isle was Elephantine, but in checking Wikipedia it could also be Tuti, where the Blue and White Niles come together at Khartoum. Elephantine seems better known but Tuti is at a conflux of rivers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's possible; but the question, it seems to me, is whether a mapmaker at the very beginning of the 16th-C would know about that, either directly or even indirectly.

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  2. I googled a little and while I can't cite a definitive source, I got the impression that Elephantine, being at Aswan and thus part of the Ottoman Empire in 1550, could've been known by a German cartographer. It has been occupied continuously since antiquity. Tuti seems unlikely at that time.

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