Twelve large sheets, assembled together in a 4′ X 7.5′ spread, form the 1507 map that has been called “America’s birth certificate.”
Last night, I listened to Chet Van Duzer discuss his latest book, Seeing the World Anew (Library of Congress/ Levenger Press). He spoke about both the 1507 and 1516 maps by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller – but it was the earlier, dreamier map that caught my attention imagination. Especially since it’s the first map to mention “America” by that name. Or rather, by the name of the man who was the first explorer to decide that the Americas were not the eastern tip of Asia, but a whole different continent – or, put another way, he saw the Pacific as a separate body of water.
America was named for him, but who was he named for? That story falls outside the world of cartography and takes us back to saints. It seems this Florentine was named for an obscure 11th-century Hungarian, St. Emeric – which is to say, “Henry,” or in Hungarian, “Imre.” He was the crown prince of Hungary; his father was the legendary founding king of Hungary, St. Stephen. The lad was killed by a boar at age 24, and buried church of Székesfehérvár. (Is it just me, or does it seem like lots of folks in those days were killed by boars?)
When Waldseemüller made the 1516 map, Vespucci suffered a huge demotion, and had been supplanted by Christopher Columbus. He disappeared from the maps and from popular imagination. Still, it’s nice to know my homeland has been named for a Hungarian.
I didn’t hear the whole talk – I had to tiptoe off to the Humanities Center for Tobias Wolff leading a discussion of William Maxwell‘s So Long, See You Tomorrow, the debut event of “Another Look” book club.