Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Map You Can't Fold (Una Mappa Che Non Può Chiuso)

Not too long ago I was driving around in my black sedan with dark tinted windows and observed another car to my right while waiting at a light. A lady was getting frustrated trying to fold up a map, which I'd think would label her from out of town. I don't usually have trouble folding maps, unless it has already been misfolded. Under those circumstances, I guess I understand the impatience and stress compounded when someone doesn't know where they are, have no GPS or prototype sextant, and are having trouble with basic eye to hand coordination.

If the lady had been around in late antiquity, she most likely would not have been having trouble folding her map in her car while waiting at a light. Back in those days, they had fancy mosaic maps like in Madaba, Jordan in the images below. It's just another reason that I find ancient frescos and mosaics interesting because maps written on skins and papyrus have long since been destroyed. Imagine folding one of these marble beauties up...

Concerning the Madaba map specifically, I've just read an interesting book from a fellow named Bowersock from Harvard who saw the map as a guide for religious pilgrims about 1450 years ago. Even in the relatively small space it had available to depict cities, it showed characteristic elements of the cities that are known to have existed (towers, walls, buildings within). It's rumored to have sourced some of the information from an earlier Roman map by a guy named Eusebius.

In the book, Bowersock goes on to point out personfication images of a few particular cities. It was kind of weird, but back in the day towns made images of how they would imagine (hmm, image and imagine are eerily similar words) that their city would look if it were a person. And, if that person was a female, seated, usually with a crown, holding a scepter, orb of victory, a television remote, or other item that more or less identified the place. These images are sometimes referred to as Tyche. The seated lady below is from the Tabula Peutingeriana drawn in the 12th century or so copied from ancient map sources that had not yet been destroyed.

In the city of Madaba, a mosaic of personified Rome (left), Madaba (right), and a city of which there isn't a definite record of existence called 'Gregoria' (center) were personified. Is there another 'Pompeii' buried out there? Under a landslide / earthquake? Maybe sunken deeply in a marsh? Notice that the Constantinople from the Tabula Peutingeriana above looks nothing like the 'Gregoria' mosaic below.

Bowersock supposes through tenuous evidence it might be referring to Constantinople, but no one knows. The supposition is that since Gregoria was the wife of Constantine III around 630 AD and Constantinople was her 'hood'. But, the Madaba map creation was about 60 years before the wedding because of buildings known to be created in Jerulsalem in 570AD were not present in the Madaba map, so it doesn't make much sense that the personification would be named that way. So it's time for a treasure hunt?

Ok, enough boring history stuff. I was tagged by Heather at Welsh Happenings to do a meme. I'm too busy to tag people, so if you feel like it, you know the drill (by that, um, I don't mean power tools).

Let's see... 10 things that make me happy.
1) Working with natural stone in various colors
2) Lavazza Blu lattes
3) Spending time in the spa / pool
4) Running while listening to rocking music
5) Traveling to distant lands
6) Speaking Italian and having native people get the gist of what I'm saying.
7) Buying tromp l'oeil paintings
8) Talking with artists I admire like like Andjelka


  1. I tell you what. If it we were still back in the day, I'd never offer to carry the map.

    Lavazza blue lattes...I had to google it. Schmancy.

  2. If you're carrying around that map on the subway, peeps TOTALLY know you're a tourist!

  3. You missed number 11: being a wise ass. :)

  4. You, my friend, are hilarious.

    I can't imagine having trouble with basic eye to hand coordination WHILE TRYING TO READ OR FOLD A MAP but I imagine that it would be very stressful.

    Lavazza blue? Blue? What the?

  5. Well, you learn something new every day: I had no idea cities were personified on maps. I'm a history major, but I suppose I never had cause to study them. And to be fair, it's people who generally fascinate me. However, it's nice to find a tidbit of new information on a blog.

    Memes are something I gave up years ago, but since injecting a bit of positivity in my blog is probably something it needs, I'll do it.

  6. Intriguing as usual, sir.

    And down with...power tools.

  7. Never boring to me! I love and adore old maps of any kind. The mosaic ones are gorgeous (I had no idea that there were mosaic maps, so have learned requisite Thing for the day).

    I can fold maps pretty well, and I read them better than I used to. I have had a lot of trouble with maps of Greater London, en route to someplace or other, in the pouring rain - much to my sorrow and detriment...

  8. Totally loved it, not boring at all. Very interesting, I had know idea they personified.

    Thanks for playing, nice happy list.

  9. Running and Rocking. I like it!

    Have I told you that I always walk away from your blog feeling a little bit smarter than when i arrived? It's true.

    I am that idiot who can't fold up a map...on our last trip, i just bought a map that was bound into a spiral notebook so I didn't have to fold it. No Lie.

  10. Seated lady? Oh, I thought it was a man. Apparantly I'm a bit sexist at times.

    Lavazza blue lattes, eh? Never had one. Is it really that good?

  11. Nikki,
    Try that coffee, it is the bomb-diggety...

    If someone was carrying a map around that was that heavy, don't mess with them!

    Vegetable Assassin,
    I reserve #11 mostly for your site. :)

    Thanks, hey do I detect a finely honed sarcasm in your ALL CAPS COMMENT, haha?
    The coffee isn't blue, just the can, I think... Maybe it starts blue but through the roasting process obtains it's rich brown color.

    It is a personality flaw of mine to interject history lessons in with the regular bloggage.
    Thanks for doing the meme, it raised your positivity quite a bit.

    Sir??!?! Well, thanks for calling it intriguing.
    Now girls who know their way around a power tool, that's intriguing...

    Aren't maps cool? Sadly the old technology might be going away with all the GPS-y things of the present day.

    I thought the personification thing was kind of cool, a bit like a mascot for a whole city.

    You are the runningist rockingest blogger I know.

    Dutch Donut Girl,
    Wait, are you saying that guys are always sitting around? :)
    Yes, Blu is good, try it!!!

  12. Consider it a pet name.

    I'm great with an electric screwdriver.

  13. You are probably the classiest person I (e-)know.

    Stick THAT in your hat.

  14. Glad to see that listening to AND composing music made your happy list.

  15. Otherworldyone,
    I'll bet you have some messed up pets around your place...
    Philips or flathead?

    That is high praise from you because I was about to make the same comment on your blog. :)

    Sometimes, it *is* all about the music...

  16. Of course I do.

    Both, dawling. I'm very versatile.