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Decorative Ortelius Map of Ancient Southern Italy as part of Greater Greece, Referencing Myths and Ancient Writings. Separately published example.

Detailed map of southern Italy as part of Greater Greece, from Ortelius’ Parergon, the first historical atlas. With its multiple cartouches and decorative ships, this map is one of the more ornate of the Parergon maps.

Oriented with east at the top, this map displays the various ancient regions of the southern tip of Italy. It extends from the region of Apulia in the north to Locri in the south, at the tip of the “boot” of Italy. Part of Sicily (Trinacriae sive Siciliae pars) is also depicted on the lower righthand side of the map, and Mount Etna (Aetna mons) is just visible at the edge of the map, complete with a fiery eruption.

Throughout the map mountain ranges and carefully-rendered forests give the land texture. In particular, the Apennine Mountains (Apenninus mons) cutting through the center of the landform are prominent. Cities are represented with precise drawings of buildings, which is characteristic of Ortelius maps. The seas surrounding the land, including the Adriatic (Maris Hadriatici) and Tyrrhenian (Maris Tyrrheni) are filled in with simple stippling but decorated with a number of ships, large and small.

Four strapwork cartouches adorn this map. The cartouche in the bottom left of the map identifies the cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, as well as the year the map was originally drawn, 1595.

The title cartouche identifies the land as Italy, once part of Greater Greece. Also known as Magna Graecia, these are the Hellenic colonies and settlements that were located in the southern parts of the Italian peninsula. Archimedes, one of the brightest minds of the ancient world, was born and spent his entire life in Magna Graecia, (in Syracuse, Sicily), where he also made all of his groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

The two other cartouches are more elaborate, containing fruits, leaves, and figures along with the strapwork. The cartouche in the upper right corner dedicates the map to one of Ortelius’ close friends, the physician Ioachim Camerarius of Nuremberg. Also known as Joachim Camerarius the Elder (1500-1574), he had been a well-known German humanist and classical scholar.

The final cartouche, located in the upper left corner of the map, is a beautiful inset map of the Tremiti Islands (Diomedeae insulae). These islands are not visible on the main map, and they would be placed just out of the neatline on the north (left) side of the map near Mount Gargano (Garganus mons).

This map contains locations from many ancient myths as well as classical sources like Pliny, Strabo, and Ptolemy. Particular attention is given to places in Homer’s Odyssey, such as the magical island of Ogygia in the Ionian Sea (Maris Siculi), where the nymph Calypso lived. Calypso enchants Odysseus and keeps him on Ogygia as her husband for seven years, until she is forced by the gods to let him go.

Other locations and figures from the Odyssey include the monsters Scylla and Charybdis (who takes the form of a giant whirlpool) guarding either side of the Strait of Sicily (Fretum Mamertium), and Odysseus’ home island of Ithaca (Ithacesiae insule). There are also more general locations related to myth, such as Athena’s temple at the very top of the map and Hephaestus’ island at the very bottom.


Although best known for his world atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the Parergon was a project of personal interest and the work that Ortelius himself considered his greatest achievement. He had a deep curiosity about classical antiquity which spurred him to create the Parergon maps, and the amount of time and detail he put into each map is clearly evident. Ortelius hand drew each map of the Parergon, which required considerable skill and knowledge of the area’s history and geography. It is considered the first historical atlas.

Parergon means supplementary and, accordingly, the first three Parergon maps were published as supplements to the 1579 edition of the Theatrum, which had already been in print for nine years. Over time, successive editions of the Theatrum were supplemented with more Parergon maps, and there are 55 known plates overall. The Parergon was also published as its own atlas separate from the Theatrum on two occasions, once in 1595 and again in 1624.

The Parergon was highly successful both as a supplement to the Theatrum and on its own. It was variously translated into French, German, Italian, and English and regularly printed until 1612. Further editions were more sporadic but still popular, such as the 1624 edition which was published twenty-six years after Ortelius’ death in 1598.

This beautiful map and indeed the entire Parergon blends geography, history, and myth, and the level of detail present speaks to Ortelius’ skill as a mapmaker and interest in the ancient world. This would be a valuable addition to a collection of Mediterranean maps, Ortelius maps, or maps of classical antiquity.

Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Topographical Names for Ortelius Map No. 210," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 6, 2019, JE
Abraham Ortelius Biography

Abraham Ortelius is perhaps the best known and most frequently collected of all sixteenth-century mapmakers. Ortelius started his career as a map colorist. In 1547 he entered the Antwerp guild of St Luke as afsetter van Karten. His early career was as a business man, and most of his journeys before 1560, were for commercial purposes. In 1560, while traveling with Gerard Mercator to Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers, he seems to have been attracted, largely by Mercator’s influence, towards a career as a scientific geographer. From that point forward, he devoted himself to the compilation of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), which would become the first modern atlas.

In 1564 he completed his “mappemonde", an eight-sheet map of the world. The only extant copy of this great map is in the library of the University of Basel. Ortelius also published a map of Egypt in 1565, a plan of Brittenburg Castle on the coast of the Netherlands, and a map of Asia, prior to 1570.

On May 20, 1570, Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum first appeared in an edition of 70 maps. By the time of his death in 1598, a total of 25 editions were published including editions in Latin, Italian, German, French, and Dutch. Later editions would also be issued in Spanish and English by Ortelius’ successors, Vrients and Plantin, the former adding a number of maps to the atlas, the final edition of which was issued in 1612. Most of the maps in Ortelius' Theatrum were drawn from the works of a number of other mapmakers from around the world; a list of 87 authors is given by Ortelius himself

In 1573, Ortelius published seventeen supplementary maps under the title of Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum. In 1575 he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain, Philip II, on the recommendation of Arias Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy (his family, as early as 1535, had fallen under suspicion of Protestantism). In 1578 he laid the basis of a critical treatment of ancient geography with his Synonymia geographica (issued by the Plantin press at Antwerp and republished as Thesaurus geographicus in 1596). In 1584 he issued his Nomenclator Ptolemaicus, a Parergon (a series of maps illustrating ancient history, sacred and secular). Late in life, he also aided Welser in his edition of the Peutinger Table (1598).