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Stock# 89846

The Only Full Latin Text on Geography to Have Survived From Antiquity, Illustrated by the Most Famous 16th-Century Mapmaker.

Rare 1582 edition of Pomponius Mela's De Situ Orbis, published in Antwerp by the important Plantin publishing house.

This edition of Mela's work is notable for including a world map executed and (unusually) signed by Abraham Ortelius. The map purports to show the world as described by Mela, but Ortelius couldn't quite bring himself to make a map so inaccurate. He shows the southern tip of Africa but includes an apology to the reader stating that the region was, of course, unknown to the ancients. Elsewhere, the regions are roughly correct to 16th-century geography, but the toponyms used are predominantly classical.

Shirley (145) says of the map:

This is one of the few maps signed by Ortelius. It reflects his classical interests and shows the ancient world supposedly according to the writings of Pomponius Mela. As well as Europe and Asia, Ortelius has included the whole of Africa with a note of apology for the anachronistic addition of the southern part.

Pomponius Mela

Pomponius Mela was a distinguished Roman geographer who lived around the time of Emperor Claudius. While very little is known about his personal life, his work, De Situ Orbis, also known as the Chorographia, was one of the most important texts in Latin ever published. The title translates to "On the Situation of the World" and is considered the earliest surviving geographical work from ancient Rome.

De Situ Orbis is a compact but comprehensive geographical description of the world as it was known to the Romans at the time of its composition. The work is divided into three books, which describe the world from the perspective of its different regions. Mela's account goes beyond the mere cataloging of places and populations; it includes references to historical, mythological, and cultural aspects. Despite the limitations of ancient geographical understanding, Mela's work was notably accurate for its time. It contributed significantly to contemporary knowledge of the earth's size and shape, offering a unique blend of real geography and ancient mythology. While certain aspects of the text are rooted in the misunderstandings and misconceptions of ancient geography, others are quite precise and reflect the sophistication of Roman exploratory and trading activities. Even so, it is important to note that the geographer's primary source of information were sailors' accounts, which could be prone to exaggeration or misunderstanding.


[1]-64; [16]; 1-80; [Engraved folding map]; 1-70; [Blank]; 1-28.

Condition Description
Quarto. Later stiff velum with morocco pastedown to spine reading "POMPONII | MELAI | DE SITU | ORBIS." Complete with engraved folding map signed by Ortelius. (Minor worming to title, partially restored with tissue. Minor internal toning. Small fold split to base of map. Small chip in right margin, repaired with tissue.)
Shilrey 145
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).