Thursday, 25 January 2018

Thule (Tile) in the Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus

One of the most valuable treasures kept in Carolina Rediviva, the magnificent Uppsala Library, is the first large map of Northern Europe, a remarkable work by Olaus Magnus in 1539:

Carta marina et descriptio septentrionalium terrarum.

When the chart was made, a persisting belief in the existence of griffins, unicorns, dragons, and a host of other unnatural creatures still remained. Modern science was in its infancy, and the medieval imaginary prevailed.

A giant lobster, a mast-high serpent, a four-legged and two-spout reptile Balena, a ray ("Rockas") which is finally a friendly animal, protecting swimmers and seamen from other predators... Other images show Icelandic people drying fish, folks skiing on the frozen Gulf of Finland, sleds being pulled by reindeer across the Gulf of Bothnia.

But what brings me to post this here is that island on section D, between the Orkneys and the Faröe Islands and south of Iceland, called Tile. Oh ! Isn't that our dear Thule, really ?

The belief in the existence of Thule, the Ultima Thule, was still quite strong in the 16th century. An island beyond all fronteers of the world, beyond the world as they knew it, that's how Olaus refers to Tile.

On the map you can read:  
Hec insula habet XXX millia populus et amplius
(the island has 30 000 inhabitants or more)
Hic habitat dominus insularaum
(here lives the Lord of the Islands) !

Tile (Thule) threatened by the four-legged, curved-fangs, double spouter 'Balena'.

Olaus Magnus studied in Germany, was B.A. graduate by Rostock University in 1513; the classic studies by then must have informed him about Pytheas and his journey to the 'extreme' North, he must have red the texts of Pliny the Elder; so he felt the need to place Thule on the map, and in the lack of a better judgement he placed it in the only 'empty' area on his fantastic Ocean. But I notice his Thule was not to be misidentified as Norway's coast, nor the Faröe, not even Iceland; Thule was more towards the West. That was some progress indeed !

It's also amazing that Olau Magnus maps the whirlpools, the Maëlstrom by the Lofoten Islands (noted 'horrenda Caribdis') and others where the Gulf stream meets the cold Arctic waters; unable to see all those from above - no satellite or air view - how could he identify and locate them with such a precision ?

Deadly whirlpools south of Iceland.

Olaus Magnus was a Catholic priest in Lutheran Sweden; a man of Renaissance, an attentive observer of the Nature and life around him. Exiled in Germany, he started drawing a large map of the Northern countries on nine woodcut blocks. It was completed in Venice, between 1537 and 1539, after 12 years of work. When it was finally printed and published, it was the largest, most detailed and most precise map of Europe.

Presently there are only two copies, one in Munich and another ( the best preserved) in Uppsala.

Fascinating is several ways, more than a map, it's a work of Art.

The Physeter (also a double-spouter !)

The fantasies and monsters are quite similar to what we can find in the Nordic sagas from the 13th century. This above could be Jörmungandr or the Midgard Serpent, thrown by Odin into the Ocean and then grown to a giant snake that could embrace the whole world.

Well, Thule is there by its own right: a mythological Utopia where we all long to travel.