Here be Dragons

The Borgia map (c. 1430), in the Vatican Library, states, over a dragon-like figure in Asia (in the upper left quadrant of the map)

Despite its popularity, there are only two references to the phrase, both from the XVI Century. An inscription reading “hic sunt draconesfloats above Asia in the Hunt-Lenox Globe (c. 1510), the oldest one known to show the New World. It‘s thought however that the Hunt-Lenox globe is a cast of a globe engraved on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs that date back to around 1504. The ostrich globe, not bigger than a grapefruit and of unknown origins, is labeled in Latin and includes what were considered exotic territories at the time, such as Japan, Brazil and Arabia. Stefaan Missinne, the Austrian collector who last bought it, speculates that the egg could have loose connections to the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (but most experts dissent).

There is a similar expression observed in many medieval maps and used for depicting dangerous or unexplored areas. It reads “Here are lions“. Could the dragons just be an early typo? Why did the artist choose this word and not another? Some argue the phrase is simply a reference to Komodo dragons and monitor lizards, not uncommon in Asia. I dissent.

Back when the world seemed so much smaller, mystery filled the darkest corners of the oceans, yes, but also those of existence.

The Ostrich Egg Globe (view of Asia)

- This article was written for Visual Squirrels: http://www.visualsquirrels.net/science/history/here-be-dragons/

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Anthropologist & User Experience Designer. I write about science and technology. Robot whisperer. VR enthusiast. Gamer. @yisela_at www.yisela.com

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Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Anthropologist & User Experience Designer. I write about science and technology. Robot whisperer. VR enthusiast. Gamer. @yisela_at www.yisela.com

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