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The Man Who Mapped The World
By MARY YOUNG

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This article is very important and especially beneficial to students of art history. This is because today in Uniben, Fine Arts department for example, a course titled “Geography and problems of the World” is being offered by the specializing students of Art History at 300 level of their academic sourjoun. It is therefore important to them because the course basically deals on maps of different countries and regions of the World and how their climate affects their art works. It also helps the students to travel to all parts of the world without having to pay for flight ticket or leaving their place of residence. It is good they read about this man who mapped the world so that they can acquaint themselves a little, so to speak, about a man who made it possible for us to be looking at and studying the map as “geography” The man in question is known as Geradus Mercator. He was born in 1572 in Rupelomonde, a small port near Antwerp, Belgium. He received his education at the University of Louvain.


After graduating, he studied the teachings of Aristotley, and before long, he was troubled by his inability to reconcile the views of Aristotle with the teachings of the Bible. Mercator wrote, when I saw that Moses’ version of the Genesis of the world did not fit sufficiently in many ways with Aristotle and the rest the philosophers, I began to have doubts about the truth of all philosophers and started to investigate the secrets of nature”.


Since he did not want to become a philosopher, he gave up further studies in the in the university.

However, his quest to find evidence to uphold the Biblical creation account occupied his mind to abandon university study to turn geography. So in 1534, mercator began to study mathematics, astronomy, and geography under the mathematician Gemm Frisius. Furthermore, he learned the art of engraving from Gasper van der Heyden, an engraver and globemaker. At the beginning of the 16th century, cartographers used heavy Gothier, or block-letter, type, which limited the space available for written information on maps. However, mercator adopted a new style of cursive writing from Italy called Italic, which proved to be beneficial in globe making.


In 1536, Mercator worked as an engraver with Frisius and van der Heyden in the production of a terrestrial globe. Mercator’s beautiful cursive writing contributed to the success of the project.

Nicholas Crane, a modern biographer of Mercator, writes that while another cartographer “had managed to fit fifty American locations onto a wall-mao as wide as a was man was tall, Mercator reduced sixty onto a sphere whose diameter was two handspans”! mercator’s success story onfolds below.


Mercator in 1537, made his first “solo production”-a map of the Holy Land, which he made to contribute to a “better understanding of both testaments”. In the 16th century, maps of the Holy Land were hopelessly inaccurate, some with fewer than 30 place-names-and many of them in the wrong location. Mercator’s map, however, identify more than 400 places! Further, it showed the route followed by the Israelites on their journey through the desert after Exodus. Because of the accuracy of mercator’s map, his contemporaries had much admiration for it.


Encouraged by his success, Mercator published a world map in 1538. before that time, mapmakers knew little about North America, calling it the unknown Distant Land. Although, the geographical name”America” already existed, mercator was the first to apply that name to both North and South American.


Mercator lived at a time when the world’s oceans were being explored and many new lands were being discovered. Sailors passed on contradictory information, making the task of mapmaking almost impossible, as cartographers had to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, in 1541, mercator achieved his goal of making “a more complete globe than had been done so far”. But despite this success, mercator was accused of heresy. How?


In Louvain, where mercator lived, there were many Lutherans. By 1536, Mercator sympathized with Lutheranism, and it appears that his wife later became a Lutheran. In February 1544, mercator was arrested together with 42 other citizens of Louvain on the accusation of writing “suspicious letters”. However, it must also have been because the publication of his map on the Holy Land had aroused the suspicion of Tapper and Latomus, two theologians from the university of Louvain. Both men had presided over the trial of Bible translator William Tyndale, who had been executed in Antwerp in 1536. perhaps Tapper and Latomus were concerned that Mercator’s map of the Holy land, like Tyndale’s translation of Bible encouraged Bible reading. In any case, mercator in the castle of Rupelmonde, his hometown. Mercator was released after seven months of imprisonment, but all his belongings were confiscated. In 1552, mercator moved to Duisburg, Germany, where he found a more tolerant religious climate.


While there, Mercator continued to defend the Biblical account of creation. He devoted most of his life to making a synthesis, or overview, of the entire creation “of heaven and earth, from the beginning of times to the present”, as he put it. This work contained that chronological and geographical information.


In 1569, Mercator published a list of the most important historical events from the creation onward-the first part of his synthesis, entitled Chronologia. His aim was to help his readers understand their place in time and history. However, because mercator had included in his booth Luther’s protest against indulgences in 1517, Chronologia was put on the Catholic Church’s index of prohibited books.


In the years that followed, Mercator devoted much time to drawing and engraving the plates for the maps of his new geography. In 1590, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak and praralyzed his left side, making it extremely difficult for him to continue his work. He was, however, determined not to leave his life’s work unfinished, and he continued with it until he died in 1594 at the age of 82. At is death, his son Rumold completed five unfinished maps. The complete collection of mercator’s maps was published in 1595. it was the very first collection of maps to bear the name atlas.


Mercator’s Atlas contained a study of the first chapter of Genesis, in which the authenticity of God’s Word was defended in the face of opposition from philosophers. Mercator called this study “the goal of all my labour”, the enlarged edition of the Atlas, published by Jodocus Hondius in 1606, was printed in many languages and became a best seller. Abraham Ortelius, a 16th Century Cartographer, praised Mercator as the “greatest geographer of our day”. More recently, writer Nicholas Crane described Mercator as “the man who mapped the planet”.


Mercator’s legacy is still part of our daily lives. For example, whenever we consult an atlas or switch on a Global Positioning System, we are benefiting from the labours of mercator, a remarkable man who all his life sought to know the time and place of God;s creation.


To appreciate Mercator’s efforts, we should all try to fatten the skin of an orange. You can see that, that it is impossible to do so without distorting it. That example illustrates the problem faced by mapmakers-how to project a globe (the earth) on a flat map. Mercator solved the problem. In this method the lines that form the degrees of latitude from the equator to the poles are spaced proportionally. Although, this approach distorts distances and sizes (especially to the North and South), it was a major breakthrough in cartography. Mercator’s wall map of the world of 1569 was a masterpiece that greatly contributed to his fame as a cartographer. Actually, his projection is still used in ocean maps and by the modern Global positioning system. What a great achievement. He is indeed “the man who mapped the world”.

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