O caput elleboro dignum
Fool’s World Map, based on Ortelius’s third ‘Typus Orbis Terrarum,’ which suggests a publication date after 1587. Published by an unknown maker, it shows a fool’s or jester’s cap with a world map where the face would be. In this conceit, it is based on an earlier woodcut map by Jean de Gourmant. The text is in Latin : (panel on the left) ‘Democritus Abderites deridebat, Heraclites Ephesius deflebat, Epichthonnis Cosmopolites deformabat’ / ‘Democritus of Abdera laughed at it’ [the world], ‘Heraclitus of Ephesus wept over it’, ‘Epichtonius Cosmopolites portrayed it’; (above the cap) ‘Nosce te ipsum’ / ‘Know thyself’ (from the Greek dictum ‘gnothi seauton’ reputedly inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi); (across the cap’s brow) ‘O caput ellebore dignum’ / ‘O head, worthy of a dose of hellebore’ (a poisonous plant). On the cap’s ears: ‘Auriculas asini quis non habet’ / ‘Who does not have donkey’s ears?’, a phrase ascribed to Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, a Roman stoic philosopher from the 1st century AD. The Latin quote immediately above the map is from Pliny the Elder’s ‘Natural History’ (bk. 2 ch. 72) ‘Hic est mundi punctus et materia gloriae nostrae, hic sedes, hic honores gerimus, hic exercemus imperia, hic opes cupimus, hic tumultuatur humanum genus, hic instauramus bella, etiam civica.’ / ‘This is world, and this is the substance of our glory, this is its seat, here it is that we fill positions of power and covet wealth, and throw mankind into an uproar, and launch wars, even civil ones.’ Below the map is the reason for this, taken from Ecclesiastes, 1.15: Stultorum infinitus est et numerus’ / ‘The number of fools is infinite’ (7). Another quote from Ecclesiastes (1.2) is shown as engraved in the cup at the top of the jester’s staff on the right: ‘Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas’ / ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. The badges on the decorative belt crossing the figure’s shoulder on the left read: ‘O curas hominum, O quantum est in rebus inane’ / ‘Oh, the worries of the world; oh, how much triviality is there in the world’, which is the opening of the ‘Satires’ of Aulus Persius Flaccus’ Satires; ‘Stultus factus est omnis homo’ / ‘All men are without sense’ (Jer. 10.14) and ‘Universa vanitas omnis homo’ / ‘All things are vanity, by every man living’ (Psalm 39.6). There is an allusive reference to this map in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621).
Text: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London