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An Important Medieval World Map

Fine example of the earliest edition of Macrobius' important Medieval world map, first published in Brescia in 1483. The present example is from a 1524 printing of Macrobius' In Somnium Scipionis exposito, with the cartographic content reversed (Britain is at the top right).

The works of the late Roman philosopher and grammarian Macrobius (c.395-436) were very popular during the Middle Ages. "His neoplatonic commentary on Cicero [the `Dream of Scipio' from Book VI of De Republica], includes among many references to the pseudo-sciences, a geographic concept which is different from that of Ptolemy. The inhabited World north of the Equator is balanced by a southern continent and divided by water'' (Shirley).

As noted by Shirley:

The inhabited world north of the Equator is balanced by a southern continent and divided from it by water. Among the roughly 150 manuscripts recorded by Destombes dating from 1200 to 1500 AD nearly 100 contain a simple map illustrating Macrobius's theories.

The first printed edition of Macrobius appeared in 1483, published in Brescia. Four different woodblock early examples of the map are known, as follows:

  • Block 1: Brescia (1483, 1485 and 1501)
  • Block 2: Venice 1489
  • Block 3: Venice 1492
  • Block 4: Venice 1500

Later printings in 1521, 1528, 1568 and 1574 appear more frequently on the market. A 1535 Basel edition exists with a more modern outline of Africa shown.

The present example is accompanied by a copy of the book in a decorative leather binding.

Condition Description
18th-century green calf. Spine in seven compartments divided by gilt tool, gild-lettered red morocco title piece in the second.

Collation: Aviii, [aviii-rviiii], [svi]; [Aavi], [Aviii-Oviii]; [Aax]
Shirley 13