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Ptolemy's World

Ptolemy's Texts

Translations and Editions of the Geographia

Translations of the Geographia

Emanuel Chrysoloras (c. 1350-1415), a teacher of Greek living in Constantinople, traveled to Venice in 1395. There he met Jacopo d’Angelo (Jacopus Angelus) da Scarperia, who became his student and went back to Constantinople with him. Two years later they returned to Italy, where in 1406 Jacobus Angelus finished his Latin translation of the Geographia from a Greek manuscript that has not survived. This translation, dedicated to Pope Gregory XII, was widely circulated in manuscript. Jacopus Angelus was not a mathematician, and his translation of the Geographia was, in his own time and later, criticized on that account. Translation always can be a treacherous undertaking: the English translation of 1932 by Edward Luther Stevenson of a Greek manuscript of the Geographia in the New York Public Library has been criticized for the same reason, i.e., that the translator did not understand the mathematics of the work. The latter translation has been rejected by some scholars (Dilke 1987, 77). Yet it was the only English translation that was available until recently.

Donnus (Dominus) Nicolaus Germanus (a man of the church from Germany) was probably a Benedictine. In the period of the 1460s and 1470s he produced at least twelve different manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Geographia, signing all but two of them. Nicolaus Germanus was a manuscript illuminator who prepared maps to accompany his manuscripts. The world map was made on Ptolemy’s first projection (the easy one). All of the rest of the maps were made using the "trapezoidal" projection, the discovery of which has been credited to this same Nicolaus Germanus (Karrow 1993, 257). The manuscripts circulated widely. Following the invention of printing by moveable type in the mid-fifteenth century, it was only a matter of time until the first printed edition would appear. Once the Geographia was available in print, Ptolemy attained a dominance in cartography that was difficult to overcome.

Even the famous Gerard Mercator prepared an edition of the Geographia in 1578, as part of his plan to give a complete description of both ancient and modern maps. In the first edition, published, in 1578, no text appears on the verso of the maps. The woodcut engravings are some of the most beautiful that have ever been made.

The most recent translation of the Geographia was published in 2000. [see the Bibliography and the Tour of Maps]*

*This information is accurate as of 2000.