Early

Utopia and the 'Pacific Rim': The Cartographical Evidence
Romuald I. Lakowski
University of British Columbia
romualdi@interchange.ubc.ca

Lakowski, Romuald I. "Utopia and the 'Pacific Rim': The Cartographical Evidence." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.2 (September, 1999):5.1-19 <URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-2/lakocart.htm>.

  1. The question of More's knowledge of Geography and of what travel literature he read is one of the most neglected areas of Utopian scholarship, and and yet it is crucial for a proper understanding of More's libellus. [1] Although Utopia is a fictional island, it does not exist in a vacuum, and it is clearly a response among other things to the European voyages of discovery and exploration. It is all too often forgotten in relation to Utopia that there were in fact at least two "New Worlds" in the 16th Century -- not only the Americas but also sub-Saharan Africa and most of Asia, which were equally new to Europeans at this time as well. The common assumption that Utopia is a response to the discovery of the Americas is only marginally true. Although by the time Utopia was written in 1516 Europeans were aware that South America was a distinct body of land (not necessarily "a continent") separate from Asia, nobody prior to the Voyage of Magellan (1519-1522) had any idea how vast the Pacific Ocean really was. The evidence of contemporary maps such as the 1507 and 1516 Great Maps produced by Martin Waldseemüller, as well as Waldseemüller's small globe in the 1507 Cosmographiae introductio, and the World Map in the 1513 Strasbourg Ptolemy (almost certainly by Waldseemüller) is clear. The Americas (sometimes only consisting of South America and the Caribbean islands) are shown as being very close to "India" (Asia) and as completing the semi-circle of the Mare Indicum (a combined Indian Ocean and "Pacific Rim").


  2.  
  3. Besides considering the cartographical evidence I will summarize what can be reasonably established about More's knowledge of Classical and Medieval Geography. I will draw my evidence from More's Collected Works and from the evidence of friends and contemporaries such as More's brother-in-law John Rastell, who wrote a play about geography entitled The Interlude of the Four Elements in 1517-1520, shortly after More wrote his Utopia. [2]


  4.  

    Classical and Medieval Geographical Theory
     

  5. Although More never refers to the Classical Geographers Ptolemy and Strabo by name, we can assume at least general familiarity with Ptolemy's theories. Several editions of Ptolemy's Cosmographiae were published in the early 16th century, and Erasmus was to publish the editio princeps of the Greek in 1533. Though More may never have seen any detailed Ptolemaic maps, such as the one found in the Ulm 1482 edition of Ptolemy (Figure 1), he certainly was familiar with cruder Ptolemaic maps such as that found in the 1493 Nuremburg World Chronicle (Figure 2)-- a work we know he owned. [3]


  6.  
  7. One geographical work that More almost certainly did own was Sacrobosco's Tractatus de Sphaera. [4]

  8. Sacrobosco's Tractatus was the most popular elementary textbook of Astronomy in use from the 13th to 17th centuries, and survives in numerous manuscripts and printed editions (25 before 1500, and another 46 between 1500 and 1640). Since Sacrobosco was required reading for the A.B. at Oxford in the 15th Century (Sacrobosco 43), More may have read it as early as 1492-1494 when he was a student at Oxford. Sacrobosco together with the late Classical authors Martianus Capella and Macrobius were among the most important geographical sources that kept alive belief in the Middle Ages in the Earth's sphericity, the existence of the Antipodes, and the theory of climatic zones (Macrobius 20). According to this theory (Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II.v-ix, pp.200-216; Sacrobosco 129-138) the World was divided into five zones: The North and South Frigid Zones and the Torrid zone at the Equator which were considered uninhabitable or barely habitable, and the habitable North and South Temperate Zones (Figure 3), which in some refinements of the theory, found in Sacrobosco (138-140), and the Cosmographiae introductio (60-63), were further subdivided into seven climates (Figure 4). There is a clear reference to this geographical theory in Book I of Utopia (Seeber, 79-86):
    [Torrid Zone] To be sure, under the equator and on both sides of the line nearly as far as the suns' orbit extends [i.e. Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn] there lie waste deserts scorched [torridas] with continual heat. A gloomy and dismal region looms in all directions without cultivation or attractiveness, inhabited by wild beasts and snakes or, indeed, men no less savage and harmful than are the beasts. [South Temperate Zone] But when you have gone a little further, the country gradually assumes a milder aspect, the climate is less fierce, the ground is covered with a pleasant green herbage, and the nature of living creatures becomes less wild. At length you reach peoples, cities, and towns which maintain a continual traffic by sea and land not only with each other and their neighbours but also with far off countries. (CW 4: 53/2-5, 8-9, 11-13)
  9. Though More doesn't mention Macrobius anywhere by name, it is highly likely he was familiar with Macrobius' Commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio (See Appendix: More and Macrobius), which he could also have read as early as his Oxford days and which appeared in ten printed editions before Utopia was published (Macrobius 61). Prior to the discovery of the Vatican Palimpsest in 1822 and apart from brief summaries made by the Church Fathers Lactantius and Augustine, the Dream of Scipio was all that was known of Cicero's De republica. Almost half of Macrobius' Commentary deals with questions of an Astronomical or Geographical nature (Stahl 1942, 232-258). Macrobius's Commentary is perhaps best known for popularizing the idea of the Antipodes (See Figure 5). In Chapter 6 of Cicero's text, to which Macrobius devotes five chapters in his commentary (Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II.v-ix, pp.200-216), the theory of the five zones is summarized as follows:
  10. You see, Scipio, that the inhabited portions on earth are widely separated and narrow, and that vast wastes lie between these inhabited spots, as we might call them; the earth's inhabitants are so cut off that there can be no communication between different groups; moreover, some nations stand obliquely, some transversely to you and some even diametrically opposite you; from these of course you can expect no fame. You can also make out certain belts, so to speak, which encircle the Earth; you observe that the two which are farthest apart and lie under the poles of the heavens are stiff with cold, whereas the belt in the middle, the greatest one, is scorched by the heat of the sun. The two remaining belts are habitable: one, the southern, is inhabited by men who plant their feet in the opposite direction to yours and have nothing to do with your people; the other, the northern, is inhabited by you Romans. (Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II:5.1-3, p.200)
  11. We know in any case that More was clearly familiar with the classical geographical theories about the Antipodes, because he makes an explicit reference to these theories in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies in 1528 in relation to Magellan's Circumnavigation of the World in 1522:
  12. Or who would not ween it impossible but if experience had proved it that the whole Earth hangeth in the air, and men walk foot against foot, and ships sail bottom against bottom, a thing so strange and seeming so far against nature and reason, that Lactantius a man right wise and well learned in his work which he writeth De diuinis institutionibus [III:24] reckeneth it for impossible, and letteth not [doesn't hesitate] to laugh at philosophers for affirming of that point, which is now found true of them that have in less than two years sailed the world round about [Magellan and Del Cano]. (CW 6: 66/12-22) [5]
    Lactantius is almost certainly alluding to Cicero here. More's "men [that] walk foot against foot, and ships [that] sail bottom against bottom" translates Cicero's reference in the Dream of Scipio to "men who plant their feet in the opposite direction to yours" with the important alteration that whereas for Cicero and Macrobius there could be no contact between the North and South Temperate Zones, More now stresses the possibility of mutual commerce between these two zones. One of More's biographers, Nicholas Harpsfield, writing circa 1557, even explicitly connected this passage in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies with the Utopia, indicating that at least some of More's early readers viewed Utopia in Antipodean terms:
    But the Book that beareth the prick and price of all his other Latin books of witty invention, for prophane matters, is his Utopia . . . . full prettily and probably devising the said commonwealth to be in the countries of the newfoundlands declared unto him at Antwerp by Hithlodius, a Portingal, and one of the Sea companions of Americus Vespusius, that first sought out and found these lands . . . . And surely this said jolly invention of Sir Thomas More seemed to bear a good countenance of truth, not only for the credit Master More was in the world, but even for that about that time many strange and unknown nations and many conclusions were discovered, such as our forefathers did neither know nor believe; it was by most certain experience found, especially by the wonderful navigation of nauis called Victoria [Del Cano's ship] that sailed the world round about, that ships sail bottom to bottom, and that there be Antipodes, that is to say, that walk foot against foot; which thing Lactantius and others do flatly deny, laughing them to scorn that did so write. Again, it is certainly found that there is under the Zodiac (where Aristotle and others say that for the immoderate and excessive heat is no habitation) most pleasant and temperate dwelling and the most fruitfull countries in the world. (Harpsfield Life of More 102/18-20, 102/25-103/4, 103/17-104/7)
  13. While the term "Antipodes" was often used loosely for the Southern Hemisphere as a whole, it was also used in a more restricted sense to describe those peoples who are diametrically opposite us, who "walk foot against foot" with us. This gave rise to the division of the World into Four Quarters, the four "spots" or regions of the Dream of Scipio, derived from the 2nd Century B.C. Stoic philosopher Crates (Figure 6), the Antoeci, the Antipodes and the Perioeci, which Macrobius comments on at length in Book II.5:
  14. Then referring to our quarter, indeed, and speaking about those who are separated from us and from each other, he [Cicero] says, Some nations stand obliquely, some transversely, and some even stand diametrically opposite us; hence not only the barriers that separate us from another people but also the barriers that separate all of them from each other are intended. They must be divided as follows: those who are separated from us by the torrid zone, whom the Greeks named antoikoi, the Antoeci; next, those who live on the underside of the southern hemisphere, the Antipodes, separated from the Antoeci by the south frigid zone; next, those ['Perioeci'] who are separated from their Antoeci, that is, the inhabitants of the underside of zone, by their torrid zone; they are in turn separated from us by the north frigid zone. (Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II:5.32-33, p.206)
    More clearly refers to the theory of the Four Quarters in a late reference in the Dialogue of Comfort (1534), written in the Tower of London, where in developing the topos of the "Prison of the Earth", he argues paradoxically that even the Great Turk is in prison: "for he may not go where he will, for and [if] he might, he would into Portingal, Italy, Spain, France, Almaigne [Germany] and England, and as far on another quarter to, both Prester John's land and the Grand Cam's too" (CW 12: 259/23-29).
     
     
  15. There are a number of references in Utopia that suggest that More himself viewed Utopia in Antipodean terms: at the end of Book I, Hythloday tells us that that the Utopians call Europeans "Ultraequinoctials" (CW 4: 108/1-2), that is those who live on the other side of the equinoctial or Equatorial belt. And in Book II we are told that Utopia is in the South Temperate Zone: "But in that new world, which is almost as far removed from ours by the equator as their life and character are different from ours, there is no trust in treaties" (CW 4: 196/29-31). Further evidence for Antipodean thinking can be found in More's references to the "New World." In the Latin More always refers to "Novus ille orbis" using the demonstrative ille "that," usually in an oblique case: "in illo novo orbe [in that new world]," sometimes abbreviated to "in illo" or "in illo novo." More's usage here exactly parallels Vespucci's "in illo emisperio" in the Mundus novus (twice in the Latin, once in the Italian ("in quello emispero"), where Vespucci is clearly referring to the Southern Hemisphere not to the Americas as a hemisphere (Vespucci, 124-127). The clearest evidence that More's "New World" was not restricted to or synonymous with South America, can be found in the "Prefatory Letter to Giles," where More professes to be completely ignorant of Utopia's location: "We forgot to ask, and he forgot to say, in what part of [that] new world Utopia lies (qua in parte noui illius orbis) . . . I am rather ashamed to be ignorant in what sea lies the island (quo in mari sit insula) of which I am saying so much" (CW 4: 43/1-5). The Cambridge Edition translates "quo in mari sit insula" as "the ocean where this island lies" (Thomas More, Utopia 1995, 35). Such ignorance hardly makes any sense if the "New World" is equated with "South America."

  16.  

    The Cartographical Evidence
     

  17. A more contemporary account of geographical theory that More probably had access to was the Cosmographiae introductio, first published in 1507. It was formerly attributed to Martin Waldseemüller, who was responsible for the World Map that accompanied the 1507 edition, the first map to bear the name of "America" on it (Figure 7). The text is now believed to be the work of Matthias Ringmann (Laubenberger 91-113). More never mentions the Cosmographiae introductio by name. The strongest evidence that he knew the work is that a Latin translation of Vespucci's Quattuor navigationes was included with it as an appendix. The Cosmographiae introductio also included Waldseemüller's gores for a small globe (Figure 8). Since the 1507 World Map, which only survives in one copy, was not included in later editions, we can't be certain that More ever owned it. Waldseemüller also published other world maps later on including the 1513 Strasbourg Ptolemy (Figure 9), and the 1516 Carta marina, published in the same year as Utopia, (Figure 10), which More may have owned. The only evidence is indirect, however. More's brother-in-law John Rastell had a strong interest in maps and globes. It has been argued by Richard Axton, the editor of Rastell's Interlude of the Four Elements, that Rastell used Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta marina as the basis for his geography lesson in verse (Rastell 131). Rastell also printed and sold maps himself and after his death 110 unsold maps of Europe were listed in the inventory of his books and papers (Roberts 35).


  18.  
  19. One obvious feature of the Waldseemüller maps, together with most other maps of the period is that South America when it appears on the right side of world maps is represented as being much closer to Asia than in modern maps. For one thing the estimated value for the circumference of the Earth in the early 16th Century was generally about 20%-30% too small. It is instructive to point out the range of different estimates. Eratosthenes' estimate of 252,000 stades for the size of the Earth's circumference was known through both Macrobius and Sacrobosco (Macrobius, Somn. Scip. I:xx.21, p.172; Sacrobosco 122-123). However, according to the Classical scholar K. J. Dover, the Greek stade was "a somewhat subjective term . . . (rather like 'block' in America)" (Thucydides, Commentary, 2). Most modern Classical scholars give it a ballpark value of about 150 to 175 metres, [6] so that Eratosthenes' estimate works out to between about 23,500 to 27,000 miles (Macrobius 251-252). Ptolemy assigned only 500 stades to a degree at the Equator as opposed to Eratosthenes' 700 (Sacrobosco 16), so that Ptolomy's estimate works out to between about 17,000 and 19,500 miles for the Earth's circumference. This was more or less the value that Columbus accepted. [7] There were also various intermediary values. The Arab Alfraganus estimated the Earth's circumference at about 20,400 miles (Sacrobosco 16-17). Caxton puts it at 20,427 miles (Rastell 126). Rastell in the introduction to the Interlude of the Four Elements gives the value as above 21,000 miles (Rastell, FE xix, p.30). The Cosmographiae introductio (77-78) assigns 60 miles to a degree at the Equator for a total of 21,600 miles. However, these are Italian or Roman miles, which works out to be equivalent to about 20,000 English statute miles.


  20.  
  21. Another feature of early 16th Century maps is the exaggerated size of Asia. On modern maps Asia extends to about 120° East of Greenwich. On Ptolemaic maps however it extends to at least 180° East. The 1507 Waldseemüller Map puts the Eastern tip of the Asian mainland at about 220°, and Cipangu or Japan as far as 250° East. Some of the early 16th Century World maps, such as the 1506 Contarini (Figure 11), the 1508 Rosselli (Figure 12), and the 1507 Ruysch, included in some copies of the the 1508 edition of Ptolemy (Figure 13), even extend the tip of Asia to include Newfoundland, and show an ocean instead land in the location of North America. It seems to be to a map of this kind, probably the Ruysch Ptolemy map, that Rastell is referring to when he describes Newfoundland as being a "Lytell paste a thousande myle" from China (Rastell, FE 860-861, p.52). And his imaginary world traveller seems to sail right through North America on his return voyage to England. Vespucci also obviously thought the same way, since in his "Letter from Seville" (1500), describing his 1499 Voyage for the King of Spain, he states that his destination was: "the headland that Ptolemy calls the Cape of Catigara, which connects with the Sinus Magnus. In my opinion we were not a great distance from it" (Pohl, 77). Catigara was the furthermost eastern city in Asia marked on Ptolemaic maps. Some of the maps, such as the 1516 Waldseemüller Carta marina, which print South America on the left even indicate following Columbus, that Cuba is a part of Asia. The 1516 Waldseemüller map reads, "Terra de Cuba: Asiae partis [The Land of Cuba: A Part of Asia]." Others, such as the 1508 Rosselli map, portray a fictional continent in the Southern Hemisphere, labelled "Antarcticus" on the Rosselli map, looking back at once both to the Macrobian maps of the Antipodes and forward to the later Terra Australis Incognita of Ortelius and Mercator (Figure 14).

  22.  
  23. In Utopia, More is extremely vague about Hythloday's Travels. At the beginning of Book I, when Peter Giles introduces Hythloday to Morus, he states that Hythloday, eager to see the world,
  24. joined Amerigo Vespucci and was his constant companion in the last three of those four voyages (Quattuor Navigationes) which are now universally read of, but on the final voyage he did not return with him. He importuned and even wrested from Amerigo permission to be one of the twenty-four who at the farthest point of the voyage were left behind in the fort (Castellum) . . . . However, when after Vespucci's departure he had traveled through many countries . . . by strange chance he was carried to Ceylon (Taprabone), whence he reached Calicut. There he conveniently found some Portuguese ships, and at length arrived home again, beyond all expectation. (CW 4: 50/4-9,15-19)
    In addition, at the end of Book I, Hythloday tells us that he spent "more than five years" in Utopia (CW 4: 106/15). Also in Book I, Hythloday tells us that he spent time travelling in Persia, where the Polylerites, the first of the imaginary peoples described in Book I, are clearly located (CW 4: 74/17-26). All we can say for certain about the location of Utopia is that it is somewhere between Vespucci's Castellum and Tabrabone. Castellum is as close as More gets to making a geographical reference to South America, since he refers to neither America nor Brazil by name. In the 16th century, Ptolemy's Tabrabone was sometimes identified with Ceylon, and sometimes with Java or Sumatra. Calicut, on the Malabar cost of India, was in turn at the time when the Portuguese first arrived in India the major centre of the Indian spice trade where Arabs traders bought Indian pepper, cinnamon from Ceylon, and nutmeg and cloves from the Moluccas, the spice islands of Indonesia. In the Quattuor Navigationes Vespucci gives Melacca and Calicut as his ultimate destinations, so that Hythloday can be said to have completed Vespucci's abortive "Fourth Voyage."
     
     
  25. When we turn to the maps of the period, we find that they are for the most part still based on Ptolemaic models. This is especially clear on the 1507 Waldseemüller Map which contains two inset maps above the main map: one accompanied by the figure of Vespucci, the other that of Ptolemy. However, by the end of the 15th Century "Ptolemiac" maps, such as the 1489 Martell Map (Figure 15) and the 1492 Behaim Globe (Figure 16), had already been modified to include various features which had been unknown to Ptolemy, including sub-Saharan Africa, the coastline of China complete with names from Marco Polo, and the islands of Cipangu (Japan), Madagascar and the some of the islands of the Indonesian Archipelago, especially Java and Sumatra and sometimes Borneo. There are many major discrepancies between these maps and our modern ones involving especially the positions of India, Ceylon, Malaysia and the Indonesian islands, all of which are North of the Equator or in the Equatorial region. The size, shape, positions and geographical coordinates of these regions on early 16th maps are wildly inaccurate. The Malaysian Peninsula, Ptolemy's "Golden Chersonese," which was sometimes confused with India, is shown as extending to almost 30° South of the Equator on the 1507 Waldseemüller Map (though Singapore is actually 1° North) and Indonesia as extending to 40° South (in reality it only extends to 10° South) roughly the positions of modern day Australia and New Zealand. Clearly, the early 16th Century cartographers had no reliable coordinates for these features and used their imaginations rather freely. While the names of these geographical features are real, just about everything else about them is fictional. In particular, depending on the maps consulted, there are many islands in the Indo-Pacific Region, the "Pacific Rim," that could have provided models for Utopia.


  26.  
  27. And there is in fact one further clue in the parerga to Utopia that suggests this very possibility. It occurs in Peter Giles' "Letter to Jerome Busleiden": "As for the difficulty that the name of this island is to be found nowhere in the cosmographers, that was well explained by Hythlodaeus himself. It was possible, he said, either that the name used by the ancients had afterward been changed or that this island had even escaped their notice, just as nowadays we find very many lands cropping up which were unknown to the ancient geographers" (CW 4: 24/4-8). If we consider the possibility of a name change and consult the Cosmographiae introductio, we will find a list of islands whose names have changed or which were unknown in ancient times:
  28. The sea, as we have said before, is full of islands, of which the largest and the most important, according to Ptolemy, are the following: Taprabone (modern Ceylon), in the Indian Ocean under the Equator; Albion, also called Britain and England . . .Cyprus. Unknown to Ptolemy: Madagascar, in the Prasodes Sea; Zanzibar; Java, in the East Indian Ocean; Angama; Peuta, in the Indian Ocean; Seula; and Zipangri (Japan), in the Western Ocean. (Cosmographiae introductio 75-76)
    Among the islands known to Ptolemy but whose names had changed were "Taprabone," usually identified with Ceylon in the 16th Century, and "Albion" or Great Britain. Among those "unknown to the ancient geographers" were Madagascar, Java, Sumatra and Japan. While it would be naive to identify Utopia with any one of these geographical features, it is important to note there are plenty of islands in the Indo-Pacific Region that could have served as prototypes for Utopia.
     
     
  29. Ceylon and Java are two of the best candidates. I have already dealt with the case of Ceylon elsewhere. [8] I will conclude by considering the case of Java here. On modern-day maps Java, of course, is located just south of the Equator, but on certain 16th Century maps, including both the Waldseemüller 1507 and 1516 Carta marina world maps, Java is located almost 40° South of the Equator. In addition, the Cosmographiae introductio clearly locates Java in the same region:
  30. In the sixth climate toward the antarctic [40° to 48° South?] there are situated the farthest part of Africa recently discovered, the islands Zanzibar, the lesser Java, and Seula (Sumatra?), and the fourth part of the earth, which, because Amerigo discovered it, we may call Amerige, the land of Amerigo, so to speak, or America. It was of these southern climates that these words of Pomponius Mela, the geographer, must be understood, when he says: "The habitable zones have the same seasons, but at different times of the year. The Antichthones inhabit the one, and we the other. The situation of the former zone being unknown to us on account of the heat of the intervening zone, I can speak only of the situation of the latter."[9] (Cosmographiae introductio 62-63)
    Pomponius Mela was another Classical Geographer who postulated the existence of southern continents (See Figure 17), -- the Antichthones being similar to Cicero's and Macrobius' Antipodes. Java is here clearly linked with South America, which is in turn portrayed strikingly in Antipodean terms. If we then turn from the Cosmographiae introductio (and the 1507 Waldseemüller World Map) to Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta marina (See Figure 10), which is made up of 12 plates (the total map being about 4 by 8 feet), it will be found that the 12th plate, which is in the bottom right hand corner of the composite map in Figure 10, consists of a map of Java minor and a large table listing all the spices sold in Calicut and their prices -- providing at least a symbolic link between Java and the final destination of Hythloday's voyage.
     
     

    Appendix: More and Macrobius
     

  31. The following direct and indirect evidence can be presented in favour of More's knowledge of Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, at the time of writing Utopia. Firstly, More's friend Erasmus was certainly familiar with Macrobius, and mentions him in a number of early letters in 1497-1500.[10] Secondly, according to R. Monsuez (1967, 54-55), there are a number of rare late classical words in Utopia, that occur only in Macrobius and a handful of other late authors.[11] Thirdly, More was very probably familiar with Macrobius' Saturnalia, to which the Yale editors have found a couple of allusions in More's Collected Works.[12] Fourthly, there are some striking parallels, overlooked by the Yale Editors, between the cosmological world view of Macrobius' Commentary and one of More's early Latin epigrams. This remarkable Latin epigram, composed in 1509 to celebrate Henry VIII's Coronation and included in a presentation manuscript given to the king,[13] almost certainly contains an echo of Macrobius:

  32. Plato predicted that all things that any period may produce
    Often existed in the past, and would again at some future time.
    "As spring flees away, and returns with the year's swift turning,
    As midwinter comes back in a constant space as it was before,
    So," he said, "after long revolutions of the whirling heavens
    All things through innumerable alternations will recur again."
    The Golden Age was brought forth first, after that the Silver;
    Next came the Bronze, and recently there was the Age of Iron.
    The Golden Age, O Prince, has returned with you as our sovereign.
    May Plato as far as this is concerned be proved a true prophet.

    In Bradner and Lynch's 1953 Edition (Thomas More, Latin Epigrams #3, p.23), there is a note to the English translation as follows: "It is hardly possible that Plato ever made such a statement. More's thought here is a compound made in ancient times of three parts: (1) the poetical four ages of man; (2) the astronomical concept of the perfect or great, or cyclic, or cosmic (in later times 'golden') year (Plato Timaeus 39D); and (3) the Pythagorean and Stoic doctrine of Palingenesia" (Ibid p.144). In the Yale Edition (CW 3/2: #21, pp.112-115), which is essentially a revision of Bradner and Lynch combined with a massive commentary, Clarence Miller, whose commentary sounds rather strained here, points to parallels with the Stoic philosophers (being attributed to Plato with a certain poetic licence) and with Vergil's Fourth Eclogue, and suggests Ficino's Commentary on Book VIII of Plato's Republic and Servius' Commentary on Vergil's Eclogues as possible sources (CW 3/2: 335-336).
     
     
  33. However, all the key elements of More's epigram, mentioned in Bradner and Lynch's note, can be found strikingly combined in Book II of Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. The poetical four ages of man, found in many sources, including Vergil's Fourth Eclogue and in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I (line 8 of More's epigram is a quote from Met. I.89), are dealt with in Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II.x.6,15 (pp.217,219). The Stoic/Pythagorean doctine of palingenesia is the subject of Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II.x.7-16 (pp.217-219), while the concept of the "great year" or world-year, first mentioned in Plato's Timaeus (39D), is the theme of Macrobius, Somn. Scip. II.xi.1-16 (pp.220-222). These two chapters follow immediately upon Macrobius' discussion of classical geographical theory (Somn. Scip. II.iv-ix, pp.200-216), and the parallels adduced here provide almost conclusive evidence that More had read Macrobius' Commentary (or at least Book II) by 1509, well before he started composing Utopia.

  34. In this regard it is perhaps significant to point out that the last Platonic reference that occurs in More's Collected Works (CW 12: 207/26-208/2) is to the doctrine of the World Soul in the Timaeus (34A-37C),[14] which occurs in the section of the Timaeus immediately preceding the treatment of the concept of the "great year". It seems likely that the Timaeus was also the first Platonic work that More ever read. He could have read it as early as his Oxford days (c1492-1494), even before he started studying Greek,[15] in the partial Latin translation and commentary of Macrobius' contemporary Chalcidius, who together with Macrobius and Martianus Capella, provided "the sources from which such knowledge of Greek science as they had was derived by medieval students in the West" (Macrobius 51).

  35.  
     
  36. Although More often quoted from memory and was sometimes careless, that can hardly be the case in this epigram. While the young Henry VIII was probably educated enough to know who "Macrobius" was, the name hardly had the same cachet as that of Plato's. More is almost certainly employing poetic licence in using the name of "Plato" loosely to stand for the whole Platonic and neo-Platonic tradition down to and including Macrobius.
Notes
1. An earlier version of this paper was given at the Renaissance Society of America Meeting in Los Angeles, on 26th March 1999. All the significant published articles on Utopian Geography prior to 1993 are listed in my online Utopia Bibliography in EMLS 1.2 (Aug. 1995). All the maps referred to in this article are to be found on the Cartographic Images Home Page, courtesy of Jim Seibold, who compiled them, and of the Henry-Davis Consulting Company <http://www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/>.
2. For Rastell's Interlude of the Four Elements, see my "Geography and the More Circle: John Rastell, Thomas More and the 'New World,'" forthcoming in Renaissance Forum <http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/>.
3. More cites Hartmann von Schedel's Liber Cronicarum twice in his Collected Works: CW 7: 255/25 (n. on p. 390); and CW 10: 114/21 (n. on p.283). See also R. J. Schoeck, "The Chronica Cronicarum" (371), and "The Price of 'A Goodly Auncyent Prynted Boke'" (84-86).
4. In the Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (1533), More tells a merry tale, often intepreted autobiographically, about a certain husband who tried to give his wife a lesson in physical geography based on the "treatise of the spere" (CW 8: 604/18, gloss to 604/19, and n. on pp.1618-1619), involving a "thought experiment" in which a millstone is dropped through the centre of the Earth. The Yale editors suggest that either Sacrobosco or Proclus' Sphaera is meant here, though the actual source seems to be Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum Naturale Book VI.vi-vii, going back ultimately to Aristotle's De Caelo (308a-311a). Since The Commentary of Robertus Anglicus (Sacrobosco 210), also mentioned a demonstration of the force of gravity using a millstone, it is likely that More, who often seems to have quoted from memory, conflated the two texts.
5. For a possible echo of this passage, see More's Confutation of Tyndale's Answer: "For so he [Tyndale] may translate the world into a football if he join therewith certain circumstances, and say this round rolling football that men walk upon and ships sail upon, in the people whereof there is no rest nor stability, and so forth a great long tale . . ." (CW 8 166/1-5).
6. I am indebted to Professor Phillip Harding of the Classics Department, UBC, for this figure. Dover (ibid.) gives an even wider range of "130 to 170 metres" for the length of the stade in Thucydides.
7. In fact, in Columbus' account of his "Fourth Voyage", he accepts the figure of 56 and 2/3 miles derived from Marinus of Tyre for the length of a degree at the Equator (Columbus 220, 288-289), the same figure accepted by Alfraganus (Sacrobosco 16), for a total circumference of 20,400 Italian or Roman miles, or approximately 19,000 English statute miles.
8. The case for India and Ceylon as models for Utopia has been argued in my "Geography and the More Circle" (see note 2).
9. See Pomponius Mela 1.1.4, p.34.
10. In Erasmi Epistolae #61 (CWE 1: 128/146-150), #121 (248/4-9) and #126 (260/119, 265/252-253).
11. They are: Interstitium (CW 4: 110/18), found in Macrobius (Somn. Scip. 1.6) and Martianus Capella (6.600 and 601; 8.837); Famulitium (CW 4: 130/4, 156/29), found in Apulius and Macrobius (Sat. 1.7); Putredo (CW 4: 138/19), found in Apulius (Met. 9.13) and Macrobius (Sat. 1.17); and the verb Astruo (CW 4: 220/4), found in Macrobius (Sat. 1.18.7) and Capella (2.113). According to the Perseus Project (<www.perseus.tufts.edu>) Interstitium and Astruo are also found in Servius' Commentaries on Vergil.
12. In the Four Last Things (1522) and the Historia Richardi Tertii (probably before 1518): CW 1: 159/12-17 (n. on p.267); and CW 15: 458/23-24 (n. on p.628).
13. It was also published in the first editions of More's Epigrammata (Basle, 1518 and 1520). In the manuscript the title reads: "de aureo seclo per eum redeunte epigramma [An Epigram on the Return of the Golden Age]". The translation of the epigram given here is my own.
14. In the Dialogue of Comfort (1534), written while More was in the Tower of London (CW 12: 207/26-208/2, n. on pp. 414-415). The Yale editors point out that: "Despite the reference to Plato, More uses the idea in a popular sense." However, this fits in perfectly with the tone of More's dialogue and in all likelihood More didn't have a copy of Plato with him in the Tower to check.
15. More started studying Greek some time in the 1490's. By the time Erasmus came to England in 1499 for the first time, More seems to have been already proficient in the language, see Erasmi Epistolae #118 (CWE 1: 235/18--236/32).
Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.


1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).