Terra Australis

So I did some more research, and this idea of “Terra Australis” goes as far back as Aristotle, who posited that there should be a southern landmass to counterbalance the weight of the northern continents.  Ptolemy even thought there was a zone occupied by “monstrosities” (http://www.geographicus.com/blog/rare-and-antique-maps/terra-australia-terra-de-quir-and-the-great-southern-continent/)

I don’t think we gave the early-modern Europeans enough credit in class today, saying that the Indians ‘should not exist’.  The concept of an foreign, undiscovered continent was pondered by the early Greeks and others.

Maybe the real distinction lies between an other-worldly continent and an other-worldly people, with the latter being far more incomprehensible.  Or maybe the concept is just so mind-blowing that we can’t ever really understand how Columbus felt when he discovered the ‘new’ people.

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2 Responses to Terra Australis

  1. Kelly Krohn says:

    I think this is a good point, though I still have to wonder how Columbus could insist he was in the far east when there was nothing about Cuba that looked, smelled, tasted, sounded like or otherwise indicated he was in China. If the early Greeks and other early scientists had made predictions on the circumference of the Earth, what made Columbus ignore these predictions and believe he could find his shortcut?

  2. Dan Nexon says:

    Keep in mind, though, that late medieval thought was heavily inflected by Biblical revelation, and that Greek theories of a “counterbalancing continent” place that continent in the wrong location for the Americas. But you are right that the theological debates connected to the” antipodes” provided some a precursor for the shock of the discovery of the Americas and the problem of Christianization. Note that the southern location, particularly if understood as a landmass encircling the Indian Ocean, does not require a second creation.

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