Submitted by JanelFrances
Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior, 1686
In the Age of Empire, maps of the New World were often decorated with pictures of women, which helped reinforce the idea that these were virgin territories ready to be, well, penetrated. Here the word Brazil surrounds a drawing of an unclothed native woman sleeping peacefully in a hammock with her monkey and a parrot beside her: The Amazon symbolized by a scene of idyllic simplicity. In fact, one reason that the Americas are named for Amerigo Vespucci rather than their discoverer is that Vespucci wrote in loving detail of his crew’s libidinous exploits with the sexually liberated women of the Caribbean. As a result, his memoirs outsold Columbus’ three-to-one.
Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570
The sea monsters on old maps appear in almost every variety imaginable: Some are armored in scales, others maned like lions or finned like giant fish. Legends of ships sunk by mighty serpents date at least back to Aristotle, who wrote, “In Libya, according to all accounts, the length of the serpents is something appalling; sailors spin a yarn to the effect that … just as they were putting out to sea, serpents came chasing their galleys at full speed and overturned one galley and set upon the crew.”
The great diversity in the sea serpents’ appearance may reflect the fact that monster stories brought home from the sea were probably exaggerated from a number of sources: whale carcasses, perhaps, or giant squid, or the rare oarfish, which can grow up to 50 feet in length.