The Tao is called the Great Mother;
Empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.
Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching.
Views of the Earth
Jaina World View
Jainism, an Indian religion distinct from Hinduism and Buddhism, was founded by Vardhamana Mahavira, called "the Jina" (conqueror), who lived in the sixth century B.C. Among other variations from Hindu culture, Jainism has its own version of geography and cosmology. This chart from the nineteenth century shows the world of human habitation as a central continent with mountain ranges and rivers, surrounded by a series of concentric oceans (with swimmers and fish) and ring-shaped continents.
This poster represents the figure of the cow as containing all the Hindu gods and quotes Sanskrit texts: O noble folk, protect the cow, who protects your stomach, for . . . "Brahma is in her back, Vishnu in her throat, Rudra (i.e. Shiva) is established on her face . . . Sun and Moon are in her eyes . . ." This poster was published by an organization dedicated to the protection of cattle and to convincing all people that cattle should not be slaughtered or eaten.
The world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time. There was no time before the world.
St. Augustine, Confessions, 397.
Medieval Islamic Map of the World
At the center of the map are the two holiest cities of Islam: Mecca and Medina. The map shows China and India in the north and the "Christian sects and the states of Byzantium" in the south. The outer circles represent the seas. The manuscript is a cosmology, not meant to be accurate geographically, but only to present the reader with a systematic overview of the existing knowledge about the world at the time.
Islamic World Map
This geographical treatise and collection of wondrous tales was exceedingly popular in mediaeval and early modern Islamic society. The map shown here is unusual in its portrayal of several creatures supporting the world in the firmament. While it uses a traditional Islamic projection of the world as a flat disk surrounded by the sundering seas which are restrained by the encircling mountains of Qaf, the map also shows the Ottomans' early use of geographic information based upon European cartographic methodologies and explorations.
T-O Map of the World
This is the first printing of the earliest example of a map of the world, called a "T-O Map" because of its symbolic design. Originally drawn in the seventh century as an illustration of Isidore of Seville's (d. 636) Etymologiarum, an early encyclopedia of world knowledge. The design had great religious signifcance, with the "T" representing a mystical Christian symbol of the cross that placed Jerusalem at the center of the world. The "T" also separated the continents of the known world—Asia, Europe, and Africa—and the "O" that enclosed the entire image, represented the medieval idea of the world surrounded by water.
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Isidore, Bishop of Seville. Etymologiae (Etymologies). Venice: 1483. Hain Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (105.2)
Rescuing the Earth
The Hindu view of the world is cyclic. The universe is destroyed and re-emitted again in endless cycles. Periodically, Vishnu, the great god whose function is to maintain the world, comes into it temporarily in bodily form to rescue it from one disaster or another. Once a great flood swallowed up the entire earth, and Vishnu, taking the form of a gigantic wild boar, plunged to its bottom and brought the earth back up on his tusks. In this illustration, the boar incarnation is flanked by two images of Vishnu in his normal four-armed human shape.
Rescuing the Earth
In the second illustration, Vishnu in triumph tramples the demon who had abducted the earth to the ocean bottom. Scroll books are exceedingly rare in India, and this handwritten scroll with its ultra-minuscule script was probably meant as a tour de force and work of piety rather than a reading copy.
Wheel of Life
In the Tibetan Buddhist world view, the six realms of existence (Gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings) are all held in the grasp of the Lord of Death. In the center of the wheel are the three root poisons of desire, hatred, and ignorance symbolized by the cock, snake, and pig, and on the outer rim are the twelve links of dependent origination by which all causes and effects are determined. The ultimate goal, shown by the monks in the left inner circle and the Buddha in the upper right, is to follow a path that frees one from these cycles.
The Burmese Buddhist World
In Buddhist cosmology, deriving from Indian origins, the world is viewed as a system of continents and oceans, either in rings (as in the center here) or floating detached in the ocean. This nineteenth-century Burmese manuscript shows in one image both sorts of continents, and a cosmic ocean symbolized by fish, crabs, and snails. Other sections of the book show and describe the various heavens and hells. Folding accordion-style manuscripts on thick paper are common in Southeast Asia, along with loose-leaf manuscripts made from palm leaves.
Celestial View of Earth
Polish born Wladyslaw T. Benda (1873-1948) created eye-catching cover art and illustrations for short stories and essays in leading magazines during America's golden age of illustration (1870-1930). Benda depicts two timeless figures that frame and contemplate his imagined vista of the earth and moon suspended on the edge of the Milky Way. Light from the lower right throws land masses of North America, Europe, and Africa into bold relief, accentuates the earth's majestic beauty, and illuminates a visn of earth within its galactic context.
For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
Andreas Osiander, 1543.
Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World
A cartographic revolution occurred in the Mediterranean world in the thirteenth century with the emergence of a new genre of navigational chart --the portolan chart. Usually drawn on animal skin, portolan charts depicted the coasts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the Atlantic of southwestern Europe with a high degree of accuracy. Displayed is one of the Library's most colorful portolan charts, which was drawn in 1559 by Mateus Prunes (1532–1594), a leading member of a family of Majorcan cartographers.
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Mateus Prunes. Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World. Majorca: 1559. Manuscript on vellum. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (112)
[Placido Oliva. Chart of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, with the west coast of Spain and Portugal. Messina?: sixteenth century.] Manuscript on vellum. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (112.1)
Buddhist World Map
Compiled during Japan's age of national isolation (1636-1854), this world map is representative of Buddhist cosmology. Drawn in 1710 by Htan (1654-1738), a Buddhist monk, it is characteristic of a type of early East Asian map that were not based on objective geographic knowledge, but on the more or less legendary statements in Buddhist literature. The map is centered on India and shows the mythical Anukodatchi-pond, which represents the center of the universe and from which four rivers flow in the four cardinal directions.
Early View of the World
Although published in 1482, this map is based on the writings of Claudius Ptolemy (87-150 A.D.) and presents a composite geographical image of the world as known to classic Greek and Roman scholars. Ptolemy's geographical writings, known as Geographia or Cosmographia, survived through the Middle Ages in various manuscript copies and was one of the first geographical texts to be put into print. This edition was the first edition to be printed outside Italy and the first to include maps printed from woodcuts.
The fascination of maps as humanly created documents is found not merely in the extent to which they are objective or accurate. It also lies in their inherent ambivalence and in our ability to tease out new meanings, hidden agendas, and contrasting world views from between the lines on the image.
J. B. Harley
First National Atlas
Christopher Saxton's (ca. 1542-1606) atlas of England and Wales is the earliest atlas of a country. Based on a monumental survey conducted 1574-1578 under the authority of Queen Elizabeth I, the atlas consists of thirty-four maps depicting fifty-two counties and a general overview of the entire country. The work is graced by a striking illuminated frontispiece that shows the enthroned queen holding a scepter and a globe, reflecting her ambitions of creating a global empire, as well as her role as a patron of astronomy and geography.
Low Country Portrayed as a Lion
With the rise of European nationalism, map making became a tool for fostering emerging national identities. Besides the compilation of detailed national maps and atlases, which established boundaries for individual states, cartographers also developed easily recognized iconography. In the case of the seventeen provinces known variously as "Germania Inferior," "Les Pays Bas," "the Netherlands" or "The Low Country" encompassing today's Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and part of northern France, were often represented as a lion, referred to as Leo Belgicus.
Measuring the Yellow River
This pictorial map of the Yellow River is both an artistic masterpiece and scientific source of information. The work was completed by ten famous painters representing China's northern and southern schools. Ordered by T'ai-tsu, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the work, executed in true proportions, was an invaluable tool to assess the impact of the frequently flooded Yellow River. The houses in the map indicate the population of the cities, each house representing one hundred families.
Route from Edo to Nagasaki
This scroll map depicts an aerial view of one of the most famous roads in old Japan--the Tokaido--as it looked from 1660 to 1736. This highway was the main land route from Edo to Osaka, which is depicted in the lower portion. The map also shows the land-sea routes from Edo to Nagasaki and includes inns and historic sites. The view is rendered pictorially in watercolor, and there are places where inscriptions are pasted on. The Tokaido became the route of super-express highways and high-speed railroad lines in twentieth-century Japan.
Let us look at the map, for maps, like faces, are the signature of history.
Evoking Spiritual Powers
Book of Incantations and Magical Formulae
Often reprinted, this popular book of practical kabbalah includes incantations and magical formulae. The opening shows an amulet to protect women in childbirth and newborn infants from harmful spirits, in this case, the spirit of Lilith. According to legend, Lilith was Adam's first wife (before Eve), but left him when he refused to share power equally.
African Fertility Symbol
In Ghana, a pregnant woman carries an Akuaba doll, the symbol of fertility, productiveness, and fruitfulness, in hopes that her expected child will attain the qualities of the doll. The flat, oval head of the Akuaba doll, with stylized eyes and nose, symbolizes holiness, innocence, and beauty. A barren woman may also carry an Akuaba doll in hope that she may become fertile.
Wheel of Fortune
The concept of the "wheel of fortune" was a common idea in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance period. For many people, good fortune and chance were as reliable indicators of personal fate as faith and good works. The spin of the wheel or the toss of the dice were "tried and true" methods of explaining how the unknown worked and gave meaning to what transpired in everyday life. Lorenzo Spirito's (d. 1496) Book of Fortune, first published in 1482, went through over a dozen editions by 1525, and was especially popular in Catholic countries like Italy.
Wheel of Fortune
This illustration from a popular sixteenth-century book is a "wheel of fortune," which provides the reader an opportunity to ask questions about the future and receive predictions and advice about things to come. The text is entirely in verse and contains witty and sometimes ribald anecdotes, mostly having to do with the choice of a good wife, the quality of this year's harvest, health, and family relations. The woodcut artists were Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder and Hans Beham, both noted for their broad line design and and strong impressions. In the sixteenth-century books on fortune telling were heavily used, and only a few survive.
Mesopotamian Incantation Bowl
Usually buried in a building's foundation, magic bowls were designed to protect a house and its inhabitants from demons and evildoers. Opinion differs as to the actual ritual or rite associated with these incantation bowls, but it is generally believed that they were thought to entrap and reject evil powers. The inside inscriptions, in concentric circles, are in Aramaic.
Early Chinese Handwriting
The cryptic inscriptions engraved on bones such as these are the earliest known forms of Chinese handwriting. The inscriptions are questions relating to the ancient Chinese practice of divination, an attempt to foretell the future or discover hidden knowledge by the interpretation of omens. Since the "oracle bones" were first discovered in China at the end of the nineteenth century, more than a hundred thousand pieces have come to light. These pieces came into the Library's collection before 1928 through a gift to the Library.
When Science from Creation's face
Enchantment's veil withdraws
What lovely visions yield their place
To cold material laws.
Medieval medicine was linked closely to mysticism and astrology as depicted by this vellum manuscript page showing a naked man and astrological symbols (e.g., Pisces, the fish, governs the feet). Since prevailing medical theory stated that each specific part of the body was related to one of the twelve signs of the zodiac, it was commonplace for a physician to first consult the stars in order to cure the sick.
Anatomical Illustration with Movable Parts
In this book, Venetian physician Daniel Ricco illustrated the anatomy of the body. When a flap is lifted, the body's organs become visible, showing their relation to other organs and to the circulatory system. Though by the end of the sixteenth century the study of anatomy was common throughout Europe, in Italy, dominated by the Catholic Church, study of the human body was severely restricted. Ricco's mechanical plate, although unsophisticated by comparison to anatomical illustrations printed elsewhere in Europe, was a useful tool for Italian students of anatomy.
The chess-board is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature.
T. H. Huxley
Chinese Herbal Medicine
In 1869, the Emperor of China Tung-ji presented the United States Government with 933 volumes of materials on the subjects of Chinese herbal medicine and ancient Chinese agricultural techniques, thus marking the beginning of the Orientalia Collection of the Library of Congress. This illustrated volume from the Complete Survey of Medical Knowledge demonstrates the proper usage of pertinent Chinese herbal medicine for illnesses.
"The eyes are the windows. . ."
This popular book on science by the much traveled physician Tobias Cohen (1652-1729) contains sections on astronomy, geography, physiology, pharmacology, and medicine. Of the many fine illustrations that fill the volume, none is more striking than this full-page engraving of the human body compared to a house in the function of its parts and organs: "The eyes are the windows, the nose the aperture to the attic. . . ."
Illustrated Medical Text
In this first printed medical text to contain illustrations, the author pays homage to the Arab influence on Western medicine by showing the seated teacher surrounded by Arabic as well as classic Greek texts. In addition to the works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen on the top shelf, are those of Avicenna, Haly Abbas, Rhazes, and Mesue, while Isaac Judaeus and Avenzoar are pictured below. The three patients in the foreground wait to have their urine examined.
Influence of Islamic Astronomy On Europe
This image shows "Alfraganus," the Latinized name by which Abu´l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farghani (d. ca. 861), one of the most distinguished Islamic astronomers, was known in Europe. This book is his most important work. Written between 833 and 857, it is a thorough, readable, and non-mathematical summary of Ptolemaic astronomy. This book was largely responsible for the transmission of the Greek astronomical system of Ptolemy to the West. It circulated in several Latin editions and was widely studied in Europe between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries.
Abu´l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farghani. Breuis ac perutilis co[m]pilatio Alfragani . . . totu[m] id continens quod ad rudimenta astronomica est opportunum. Translated by Johannes Hispalensis. Ferrara: Andreas Belfortis, Gallus, 1493, frontispiece. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (131.1)
Newton's Laws of Motion
One of the key works of what was called the "Age of Reason" is also considered one of the greatest scientific works ever written. In Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) presented his three laws of motion, which laid the groundwork for his law of universal gravitation. By stating that gravity is a universal property of all bodies, Newton is said to have "democratized" the universe and shown that the entire cosmos is subject to knowable laws.
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Isaac Newton. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). London, Jussu Societatis Regiae ac Typis J. Streater, 1687. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (123)
Isaac Newton. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical principles of Natural Philosophy) 3rd ed. London: Royal Society, 1726. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (123.1)
A Fly Under the Microscope
Beyond his own great accomplishments as experimenter, discoverer, and ponderer of science, Robert Hooke (1635-1702) was a pivotal intellectual figure of his day. He served as curator of experiments (and later, secretary) of the Royal Society and collaborated, or jousted, with such luminaries as Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and Christopher Wren. Hooke's Micrographia is the first great harvesting in book form of the structures and contours of things as seen through the microscope.
Origin of Species
The theory of evolution is to biology what Newton's theory of gravitation is to physics. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) gave biology a unifying and encompassing idea of great expositional power. Based on the mechanism of "natural selection," which favors the transmission of beneficial genes and discourages those less favorable, his theory stated that change is the natural order of things and that the present is the product of the past.
Science and Alchemy
Al-Tughra'i (1061-1121 or 1122) was an Arab poet, politician, soldier and scientist. He served during the reign of the Saldjuk Sultans and rose to become a grand vizier, but was eventually executed. Despite a very full and active life he wrote numerous poetic and scientific works. This is a page from one of only four copies known to be in existence today. It describes various instruments that weigh, measure, and mix metals and chemical compounds. Shown here are scales for weighing the four known elements at the time -- air, water, fire and earth.
Persian Herbal Medicine Text
This illustrated, handwritten book is a later copy of a fifteenth-century work. It is based on a famous eleventh-century Persian textbook of herbal medicine by the noted Persian botanist Muhammad Ayyudin Tahari. The book is dedicated to those who are faithful in taking care of their bodies, considered a gift from God. In this illustration, a man takes his wife to a physician, sitting on a platform with his medicine jars in the background. According to the caption, the woman asks what she should eat, and the doctor replies "Eat enough to carry you. If you eat more, you have to carry it."
Revolutionizing European Medicine
Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) published the Epitome as a severe abridgement (for students and others) of his great work of anatomy. Both works have the woodcut frontispiece that portrays Vesalius himself at work in a crowded dissection theater. Vesalius had revolutionized European medicine by building on past tradition and by radically modifying it through learning from hands-on dissection of human cadavers. The frontispiece makes the point that Vesalius had actually worked a revolution: his doings had attracted notice, crowds, and disciples.
Portraits of the Human Skeletal System
This rare first edition based on the work of Andreas Vesalius ( 1514-1564) is illustrated with original copper engravings by Thomas Gemini (ca. 1510-1562), a Flemish surgeon, printer, and manufacturer of scientific instruments. The study of human anatomy was in its infancy in the middle of the sixteenth century, and the Catholic Church opposed human autopsies, creating a demand for accurate and detailed anatomical illustrations. These images demonstrate how the then-new medium of copperplate engraving could transmit detailed and intricate information on a complicated subject, in this case the human skeletal system.
Renaissance Physician's Handbook
This hand-colored woodcut shows a wheel and chart that classify urine samples in order to aid physicians in diagnosing diseases. In the middle of the wheel, a doctor follows the medical practice of uroscopy--the meticulous inspection of a patient's urine by sight, smell, and taste. The color and consistency of the urine was particularly important, as indicated by the vials on the wheel and the chart. Ulrich Pinder (d. ca. 1510 or 1519), a Nuremberg physician, wrote this richly annotated practical medical handbook that contains sections on uroscopy, the heart and pulse, and classification of fevers.
The Great Chain of Being
In this engraving, English physician and mystical philosopher Robert Fludd (1574-1637) portrays his idea of creation's plan. God reaches out from a radiant cloud to hold the chain that binds Nature, the soul of the world. Nature holds a chain attached to the physical world, represented by a monkey. Humans, plants, animals, the arts, the four elements, and the planets all have their assigned place in what was known in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as "the Great Chain of Being." The outermost rings represent Paradise. Fludd was a prolific writer, and many of his works on alchemy, occult medicine, philosophy, and various scientific theories, such as this two-volume encyclopedic work, survive.
When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, 1904.
Anansi the Spider
Anansi the spider is a popular figure in Ghanaian folk literature. This animal trickster is featured in creation tales, myths, legends, and fables that teach and moralize and, have been passed down orally and, more recently, through written texts to generations of West Africans, West Indians, and African Americans. In Anansi Company, this colorful poem and its corresponding wire puppet capture the flavor of Anansi in Caribbean folk literature and theatre.
Pride Comes Before a Fall
A hermit in the forest saves the life of a mouse by magically turning him into a giant tiger. The tiger begins to lord it over all the other animals. After belittling the hermit who reminds him of his lowly beginnings, he is turned back into a mouse and is never seen in the forest again.