The Fool’s Cap Map – Solving a 450 Year Old Mystery

The Fool’s Cap Map

The Fool’s Cap Map:

The Fool’s Cap Map (left) is by far my favorite map ever made. Enhanced, no doubt, by the fact that it’s one of the “biggest mysteries in the history of western cartography.” I’ve been fascinated with maps ever since I was a kid, I still hang them on my wall, I even bought the National Geographic World Atlas. But I cannot hold a candle to the map enthusiast, Frank Jacobs, who hosts the blog – Strange Maps. I remember getting hooked on Jacobs’ blog back when it was on WordPress. Whenever possible, Jacobs would find a new map to feature and bring tons of insight along with the interesting map. A lot of people recognized Jacobs dedication to the topic including Big Think, which now hosts him. Jacobs has also written a book on maps and you can find an interview with him on Freakonomics here.

And so it was while continually returning to Jacobs’ blog for more cartographical delights when I initially met the Fool’s Cap Map. It instantly strikes you because the picture of the jester’s outline is so detailed, you almost demand to see a face in the middle of it. The fact that it is replaced by the world gives it an eerie inhuman look. The couple of comments on it at the bottom suggest images of the astronauts on the moon with their shields on or of scuba gear in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Frank Jacobs describes it as “sinister.” He claims its mystery lies in the fact that it is “unknown why, when, where, and by whom it was made.”

So, somebody made this totally sweet map wearing a jester suit and we not only don’t know who made it – but we don’t know anything about it? That seems to pretty much be the case. And certainly without some hard evidence the Fool’s Cap Map will always remain open to speculation. Today, I want to offer some of my own personal interpretations (for whatever they’re worth) but mostly I want to admire this mysterious, beautiful, and hilarious map!

Democritus laughing at the world

Where to begin?! Well first, even though there isn’t an exact date for when this map was created, it can allegedly be pinned down between the years 1580 – 1590. But don’t get Jacobs started on even that certainty because there are even disagreements there. Also, thankfully Jacobs has done all the heavy lifting and has found interpretations of all the Latin writings that are found all over this picture. In case there was any doubt as to what this picture was portraying, the words Nosce te ipsum at the very top above the cap clarifies:

Know Thyself

This alone would’ve been a sufficient insult to the human race, but whoever created this image had more to say than that. Adorned across the entire image are quotes and references of the earliest known philosophers. On the ears of the Jester that hang with bells it says Auriculas asini quis non habet or:

Who doesn’t have donkey’s ears?

Or in other words – who isn’t an ass? This witty rejoinder can be credited all the way back to the Stoic Lucius Annaeus Cornutus in the Roman Empire under Nero. There is a legend in the left panel which says Democritus Abderites deridebat, Heraclites Ephesius deflebat, Epichthonius Cosmopolitus deformabat. Epichtonius Cosmopolites:

Democritus of Abdera laughed at [the world], Heraclitus of Ephesus wept over it, Epichtonius Cosmopolites portrayed it

Democritus was a a Greek philosopher known as “The Laughing Philosopher” for laughing at human follies. Heraclitus was known as “The Weeping Philosopher” for weeping over the fallacies of mankind. So who portrays the world? The name translates into “Everyman.” The Fool’s Cap Map just cannot insult the human race enough. They continue across the head of the fool with O caput elleboro dignum. Hellebore:

O head, worthy of a dose of hellebore

Hellebore, of course being a certain type of poisonous plant that produces madness (if it doesn’t kill you first). The tone of map has become abundantly clear by now. And though it is directed back at ourselves, you cannot help but notice the comedic wit in them all. For instance, perhaps even the most sobering quote by Pliny the Elder directly above the map on the brow of the fool reads 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.:

For in the whole universe the earth is nothing else and this is the substance of our glory, this is its habitation, here it is that we fill positions of power and covet wealth, and throw mankind into an uproar, and launch wars, even civil ones.

Heraclitus weeping over the world

I think a lot of people today have difficulty understanding the language of 2,000 year old interpretations. This is what I think it means. Pliny, upon contemplating the Universe, surmises what we couldn’t completely prove until only recently – the Earth is nothing in the grand scheme of the Universe. Lost and forgotten to space and time, the Earth then is for nothing but to display our glory. But what is “the substance” (or the meaning of) “our glory” which lives only here on Earth. We could be any glorious species out there, but instead we choose to “fill positions of power and covet wealth” (or become selfish, greedy, and rich). If that wasn’t enough of a terrible testament to our glory, he continues that we aim to keep each other miserable and start wars against one another finally ending with a coy “even civil ones.” It is underneath this perspective of mankind that lies the mysterious map. Below it, is a quote from Ecclesiastes in the Bible, Stultorum infinitus est numerus:

The number of fools is infinite.

But my personal favorite human race insult on the Fool’s Cap Map, also from Ecclesiastes, is on the ball of the staff to the right of the map which reads Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas:

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity

Particularly living in the 21st century, how apt of a phrase is that to describe a lot of what we do on this planet? The vanity of humanity is calamity. That’s not on the Fool’s Cap Map – that’s one I just made up myself, but it’s true!

King Midas and Roman Stoicism:

The self-deprecating insults continue on the badges adorning the Fool’s shoulder:

O curas hominum, O quantum est in rebus inane:Oh, the worries of the world; oh, how much triviality is there in the world

Stultus factus est omnis homo: Everyone is without sense

Universa vanitas omnis homo: All things are vanity: every man living

The last two were from the Bible, but the first one is from the manuscripts of the Stoic satirist Persius. He muses over the trivial things we think about in the world. What is interesting though, is that when Persius died Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, his teacher, came and took some of these manuscripts. Allegedly, one of them had the phrase “King Midas has Ass’s Ears.” Now, I am not familiar with Persius’ satire although I do admire the Stoics from what I understand of them. But certainly Persius was referencing the famed Greek mythological tale of King Midas.

King Midas learning the cruel lesson of a fool.

Now most people know the story about how King Midas was granted a wish in which he foolishly uses so that everything he touches turns to gold. The archetypal “Be careful what you wish for” story. But few people know the rest of the story. Begging to be delivered from the curse of everything he touched – including his food and daughter – turning to gold, he was told to wash his hands in a specific river and it would be reversed. King Midas, learning his lesson, turned away from wealth and enjoyed the natural things in life – satyrs chief among them.

And of course the most famous satyr of them all was the god of shepherds, flocks, and pastoral music – Pan. His favorite instrument was the pan flute – named after himself of course. The satyrs were a crude and salty bunch, typically hunting for some nymphs to fuck. Arrogance and pride consumed Pan, as with all satyrs, and one day he found himself challenging Apollo – the Olympian god of light and music. Now anybody knows not to challenge an Olympian god because even if you do win, you still probably lose in some regard (just ask Arachne). But Pan wasn’t afraid and taking up his pan flute he was prepared to battle the mighty Apollo who was equipped with his famed lyre. King Midas was chosen by Pan to be one of the judges as Midas was always kind to the satyrs.

Apollo won the contest, either by skill or by trickery, but this did not sway King Midas’ decision who questioned the outcome and remained firm that Pan was the better musician. Apollo, disgusted with King Midas, decided if his ears were so debased then he deserved the ears of a stubbornly foolish creature- a donkey (or an ass). Shocked and ashamed by his new ears King Midas took to wearing a very tall hat which covered his ears at all times so nobody knew what lay under Midas’ hat. Nobody but one – his barber – who was sworn to secrecy by Midas. The barber could not keep such a tantalizing secret to himself and rushed out into an empty field, dug a hole, and whispered into the hole, “King Midas has ass’s ears.” In the spot of the hole grew reeds which whispered to the rest of nature, “King Midas has ass’s ears!” and before long the entire kingdom knew the truth.

And so when the Roman Stoic satirist Persius mentioned these very famous words in his manuscripts it seemed quite normal. But when his teacher, Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, got ahold of them he was afraid the Roman emperor Nero might be insulted by the phrase “King Midas has ass’s ears!” and banish Cornutus. So Cornutus edited the phrase – to what? “Who doesn’t have ass’s ears?” – the phrase written on the Fool’s Cap Map’s ears. Could it be that one of the “trivial worries” of the world in which Persius laments over was done to his very own work by his very own teacher? Perhaps this little anecdote was known at the time of the creation of the Fool’s Cap Map?









Orontius Finaeus’ interesting Antarctic map








Aliens and Antarctica:

But look at me digress when I have not even finished telling you everything that is on the Fool’s Cap Map. I told you it was my favorite map! I can’t even finish describing it without meandering off. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire map is the name in the upper left-hand corner! It is the name of an actual 16th century cartographer (map maker)- Orontius Finaeus. Could this be the actual creator of the Fool’s Cap Map? This is not likely as Orontius died in 1555, about 30 years before the map is dated. Could the map be dated wrong? No idea, but the entire theme of Fool’s Cap Map suggests everything is in riddles and digs. The actual cartographer probably would not put his own name on something so provocative.

So why the name- Orontius Finaeus? Well this could be anybody’s guess. But let’s see what he’s famous for – perhaps it will shed some light. Only a brief search of this legendary cartographer reveals his own mysteries. Apparently in the early 1500s Antarctica was not yet formally mapped by the Europeans, yet this map of Finaeus in 1531 seems remarkably accurate. Maud Land, Wilkes Land and Marie Byrd Land all are seemingly mapped before their alleged discovery leaving us to marvelously speculate.

But it is here that I feel compelled to say a word on marvelous speculation and the topic of pre-discovery Antarctic maps (of all things). When I first learned about this interesting Antarctic map by Finaeus, I was struck with wonder. Perhaps there was knowledge about Antarctica before 1531 that has been lost to the depths of time. Because there was a second map – this one by cartographer Turkish Piri Reis in 1513 – which also seems to have quite detailed mapping of Antarctica and most of the America’s.

Now did Finaeus and Ries have access to the cartography of an unexplored area? Or might there be a different explanation? Could it have been explored at some point and it was not documented and lost to history? Or were they merely fanciful educated guesses by a couple of cartographers – a cross between art and science? The answer is that there isn’t enough evidence to point to any particular explanation for these Cartographic pre-Antarctic mystery maps. If I had to speculate (having no real understanding of the history of cartography at all, so I’m clearly the best one to ask) I suspect some Eastern country, like China, had perhaps explored or mapped Antarctica to some degree and some maps found their way out West. But I have no firm evidence to believe this, but what is the fun in mysteries if you can’t speculate on them?

But then sometimes you can take speculation a little too far – meet the Ancient Astronaut Theorists. One day I went and visited my parents who are both intelligent people. My father says, “Hey you got to check out this new show on the History Channel about aliens that came to Earth in the past, there is a lot of really interesting things on there.” I just looked at him steadily because when someone all of a sudden starts going off about things like ghosts or aliens that visit Earth, my “What the fuck is going on in this person’s mind?” meter flies off the charts. And this is coming from a man who as a boy laid out under the stars for hours upon hours in the summer to look to see if UFO’s were real and has found the scariest places to explore without supernatural contact. I’ve been here before, there’s as much solid evidence for aliens visiting Earth and ghosts as there is for a Santa Claus or Easter bunny (I apologize to my 10 and under audience).

My father continued “There are pieces of mountaintops missing in Chile that were thought to be used as runways, there’s giant figures carved in the ground facing space, and they have a map of Antarctica before it was even discovered!” Naturally then, we can conclude that all of these are clear signs of space aliens having visited Earth. The people who have collected this “evidence” call this “Ancient Astronaut Theory.” And to top it all off these “theorists” got their own tv show on the History Channel?! The History Channel has been a channel which built its reputation on a scientific view of history with facts and evidence bringing to life events in our past. A lot of people watch the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and the National Geographic Channel for science-based television. And they still do this and they have a right to be proud of a lot of what they make.

Piri Reis’ world map also showing interesting details

But as time has slipped by these television stations have lowered the bar of quality on their programming allowing entertainment-first, science-second based shows start appearing. I’m not going to go into all of this here, because this is supposed to be about the Fool’s Cap Map, but a point must be made! Science in all forms largely depends on parsimony. Parsimony is a good way of determining whether someone is using good science or pseudo-science. Call it what you will – Occam’s Razor, the principle of economy, whatever – they all mean the same thing – the fewer assumptions an explanation of a phenomenon depends on, the better it is.

Understand this: Parsimony is the speed of science. Let me explain. When my father told me to check out the show I wanted to watch it simply to see what had tricked him into thinking there were ancient aliens coming to Earth and leaving “evidence” all over the world. Science fiction writer Erich von Däniken and supernatural radio host George Norry were two prominently cited people in the program. These are two successful men in what they do. Who doesn’t enjoy a good science-fiction story from time to time? Who in America over the age of 25 hasn’t heard Norry’s radio program where he attempts to gather supernatural anecdotes? This is a natural part of human nature, we must foster the imagination and push the limits of reality. But it must never be called science. This is a very dangerous and common human fallacy. It is when we do this that we truly become the fools in which the Fool’s Cap Map portrays!

If you are someone who believes in Ancient Astronaut Theory, you will dismiss my claims as arrogant, but they are not and I will prove why. Parsimony does not deny any theory – not even ones that claim there was such a thing as ancient alien astronauts that visited Earth and made Antarctic maps. But parsimony reminds that the fewer assumptions an explanation of a phenomenon depends on, the better it is. For example, von Däniken claims that the Nazca lines were made with the help of extra-terrestrials. Parsimony says, “It could be possible, but it also could be possible that these lines were made by humans for a religious or existential purpose. Perhaps the Nazca lines were made as a signal of existence to the incredibly impressive depths of space. But the addition of aliens as necessary to the equation of the creation of these lines is not parsimonious.” Or, more eloquently:

Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora: It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.

Of course, that’s only one small piece to the “theory.” Another is the alleged Andes runway in Nazca in which the dirt that was sheered from the mountain was simply missing. Were humans incapable of creating this runway, building Stonehenge, or the Pyramids without the help of aliens? Simply because we do not know the answers to some of the details surrounding these ancient structures, does this mean wild speculation and science are on equal footing? It is parsimony that says they are not. Human ingenuity has proven quite shockingly resilient and we cannot discount ourselves for the mere whims of fantasy. It is insulting to me on a human level because these “theorists” are saying my ancestors and our ancestors are incapable of brilliance despite all hard evidence pointing directly to humans as the sole ingenious species on the planet Earth since its inception. We did it completely on our own and without any external help – to our knowledge. When hard evidence points away from this, the scientists will embrace this. This is why parsimony is the speed of science. It doesn’t deny, it demands. Science supplies. Pseudo-science, such as Ancient Astronaut Theory, will supply but only if your willing to to foolishly prostitute your faith to any wild and imaginative theory.

Erich von Daniken – propagator of pseudo-science speculation

As a human it is natural to have faith and we all put it in something (unless you’re a nihilist). We can put it in ourselves and depend on each other to overcome our faults and difficulties – or we can put it in ancient astronauts that have swooped down from the sky and supplied us with all our knowledge. If you choose the latter, then the Fool’s Cap Map was made for you! Science fiction writers such as Erich von Däniken (or for that matter, L. Ron Hubbard) attempt to prey upon our natural irrational tendencies which are crucial to and beautifies our human nature – but if we put our faith into something that has no evidence, rather than in ourselves, then we are discounting the only thing that has allowed us to evolve this far and we endanger our self-worth and collective knowledge.

And to see the History Channel create a show (at least a season with multiple episodes) dedicated to the pseudo-science of Ancient Astronaut Theory – not debunking it but instead embellishing it – is a sign that we need more credible scientific outlets. It disallows the scientists to focus on empirically-based parsimonious evidence and forces scientists on their heals having to constantly refute the irrational claims of non-scientists. Brilliant men like Carl Sagan even had to waste fractional brainpower combating pseudo-science like this by simply and eloquently restating parsimony: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” When we allow non-science to be on equal footing with science, everything becomes too noisy and we are stymied with warrantless opinions. Does this mean that aliens did not come to Earth at some point in the past? No. It simply means that it is not something to foolishly put your faith in. Now more than ever we need you to put your faith in humanity – the only species we know of in this Universe that actually can overcome and persevere.

And so when Ancient Astronaut Theorists claim that aliens divinely provided these Antarctic and American cartographic wonders they added a new problem to the puzzle – how come they were not incredibly accurate then? Modern scientists point to all the discrepancies in the maps – discrepancies typical of that which you would find by a human rather than a very precise alien race that traveled through space-time to reach us. So while the cartographer’s name that adorns the Fool’s Cap Map is Orontius Finaeus, we can rest assure that regardless of where he got his inspiration for the Antarctic map of his that the Fool’s Cap Map has nothing to do with aliens. It’s just simply not a parsimonious answer. Why the name of the renowned cartographer, Orontius Finaeus, appears on the Fool’s Cap Map seems to remain a mystery.

Abraham Ortelius – A Devout Catholic or A Heretical Scientist?

If we want to track down the true culprit of the Fool’s Cap Map riddle Jacobs offers one suggestion:

…some researchers… point to a little-known Christian sect called the Family of Love. This clandestine group is said to have numbered the Flemish cartographer Ortelius in its ranks. If this map is anything to go by, the Family of Love must have espoused a rather harsh and pessimistic view of the world, and of humanity’s place in it.

It seems fair for Jacobs to say that this little known Christian sect, the “Family of Love,” had a harsh and pessimistic view of the world if they are indeed the creators. But I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint of this group if it is true. And to do this, first let me address this underground Christian group – the Family of Love.

Secret organizations are a bit of a headache for a guy like me. How much of what you hear about them correct and how much of it is hearsay? What is propaganda and what is genuine? What is truth and what is fiction? But sometimes even though the details are often missing, a bigger picture can emerge. The Family of Love was a protestant group that allegedly believed that a bit of God is in every person. I assume back in the 1500s this idea held a very powerful sway over the followers.

Abraham Ortelius – suspected creator of the Fool’s Cap Map

But of course, this was not a very safe time for anybody to be a protestant, let alone part of such a small group. Why? This was the century of Martin Luther where the European people began to demand more autonomy in their religious practices. The Family of Love knew the dangers of heretical talk and instead chose to act in complete accordance to Catholic tradition publicly while secretly they believed in a much more direct relationship with God and their purpose on the planet.

Keeping this in mind, there seems to be no doubt that famed Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, was a member of this secret organization. Now Abraham Ortelius seems to be the most likely creator of the Fool’s Cap Map because unlike Finaeus he was alive in the decade the map is dated. Furthermore, some of Ortelius’ maps are strikingly similar (but not identical) to the Fool’s Cap Map.

Due to their similarities it would seem very likely that Ortelius is the man behind the Fool’s Cap Map. But there is still room for doubt. One thing that set Ortelius apart was his use of readily available resources from other cartographers. This means others had access to the same information as he did leaving us to doubt if Ortelius is truly the Fool’s Cap’s creator. But in fact, it was this use of readily available cartographic material that propelled Ortelius into perhaps the most famous cartographer in the history of the world! For it was Abraham Ortelius – the alleged creator of the Fool’s Cap Map – that was the inventor of the first Atlas of the World!

Historians would kiss Ortelius if they could. Abraham Ortelius compiled a wildly popular book of maps entitled Theatre of the World (1570) which holds the record for the first true modern Atlas. Ortelius was the first cartographer who named the sources of his maps by citing the cartographers of the maps he used. Essentially, Ortelius was the first to come up with the brilliant idea of making a reference page and credit those who originated the work. New Advent, the Catholic Encyclopedia, says 99 cartographers were listed in his catalog of maps that would otherwise be lost to history had it not been for Ortelius. Each of these 99 cartographers all lived before 1570 (the year of the Atlas) and would never have been known had Ortelius not saved them from complete obscurity.I can certainly appreciate this as I try to source all of my references as well – it is a sign of quality and respect.

It was this little knack of Ortelius’ to source his work that arguably makes him more important than being the creator of the first Atlas. His massive contributions to history doesn’t end there – he also would write the ancient names of places next to the more modern ones for historical context. He even created a Geographic Thesaurus – an idea as revolutionary as the Atlas but which never caught on as much. In addition, he was an archeologist and many credit him as being the first person on Earth to come up with the idea of Continental Drift – well over 100 years before any other prominent person noticed the similarities of the continents. Some have gone as far as to call Abraham Ortelius the “Ptolemy of his century.

Clearly a remarkable and prescient man, it only becomes more enticing to consider him as the creator of the Fool’s Cap Map and his connection to the clandestine Family of Love. Between his praise in the Catholic Encyclopedia and in this short biographical sketch (clearly written by a Catholic) it appears that the Catholics didn’t get the message that Abraham Ortelius was seditious. In fact, everything you read about the guy – and you can check any of the sources – it is Ortelius’ character that was most outstanding about his person. Listen to what the aforementioned short biographical sketch has to say about Ortelius:

In company, he behaved modestly, courteously, and had a pleasant and merry posture…. He so much hated vice, also in those close to him, that he preferred to appreciate the virtue even in his enemies and strangers. Vain questions and empty disputations about divinity or religious disputes he detested and abhorred as being dangerous and pernicious. He preferred deep insight and sound judgement above flattering eloquence or quaint terminology…. During his entire life, he was as unselfish as any man can be. He never set his mind on the riches of this world, or any of those matters, always keeping in mind the saying Contemno et Orno, Mente, Manu, I scorn and adorn, with mind and hand.

Ortelius’ behavior was nearly one of a saint’s – and to finger him as the creator of the “harsh and pessimistic” Fool’s Cap Map might sound like we have the wrong man. But Ortelius was imprisoned for a short time for heresy. What was possibly so dangerous about such a sincere fellow? The answer may lie in the sincerity itself. All of the above words that describe Ortelius also describe an unwaveringly dedicated man to the search for truth. The description of Ortelius suggests that he would stand by the truth regardless of what anybody said – a man of honor – a gentleman. And if this is true about Ortelius, then perhaps he would take this to the extreme and even question the unquestionable – the Catholic Church.

Ortelius’ Theatre of the World

It certainly makes sense. If Ortelius was truly one of the ranking members of the Family of Love, then it is also true that Ortelius hoodwinked the Catholic church into believing he was a loyal Catholic. He’s praised by the Catholics, yet completely subversive to the cause at the time. In line with the expected behavior of the Family of Love, Ortelius conformed to the standards of the Catholic Church around him only practicing his true beliefs in secret with others who understood as he did. But since the Family of Love is so secret, we’ll never know what his true beliefs were, or is there another way to find out?

If we cannot look within the Family of Love for the answer to benign Ortelius’ heretical nature then perhaps we can look at one of his well-known friends, another cartographer – Gerard Mercator. It was allegedly Mercator himself who interested Ortelius in mapmaking in the first place. While it was Ortelius who is famed for making the first modern Atlas, he named it the Theatre of the World. So where did the term “Atlas” come from anyway? It just so happens to be from Mercator – who came out with Atlas, or Cosmographic Meditations on the Fabric of the World and the Figure of the Fabrick’d only a mere 15 years after Ortelius’ Theatre…. Surprisingly, only the former portion of the title stuck and it is thanks to Mercator why we call atlases atlases today.

It becomes clear in Mercator’s biography that he also was frustrated with the Catholic church this time. While studying like a good Catholic at Louvain University he began to feel “stifled” because at Louvain “doubt was akin to heresy.” He scandalously left Louvain on occasion for further studying with some Franciscan preachers in Antwerp, Ortelius’ hometown. Ultimately though, like Ortelius, Mercator “emerged with strong Christian convictions, which remained with him.” Or in other words, the Catholic Church believed that both Mercator and Ortelius were loyal to the Catholic leadership despite both men seeking truth beyond the controversy of the day.

The topic of heretical cartographers in the 16th century might sound like an incredibly obscure topic right now and if you have read this far, you must surely believe that I have lost all purpose to this entry. But it is now that I can finally reveal to you my humble speculation because all the pieces are in place. The 16th century was a time where the protestants were often held captive underneath the Catholic institution across Europe but it was also a time where scientists were held equally as captive – particularly those as famed as Copernicus (1473 – 1543) and Galileo (1564 – 1642) who are world famous for being the two proponents of a “heliocentric” Universe rather than a “geocentric” one. In short – Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted by the Catholic church for simply saying that the Earth revolves around the Sun – which it did. And it was with Galileo’s efforts for truth, which did not go unpunished by the Catholic church, which freed science from the grips of religion. As the story goes (whether it is true or not) Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy and was forced to say that the Earth does not go around the Sun. Galileo agreed to it, certainly for fear of the philistine punishment he would receive had he not, and recanted that the Earth does not revolve around the sun but when he was finished, under his breath, he said “but it does.” It was with Galileo’s unwavering support for heliocentrism which earned him the titanic title, “The Father of Modern Science.”

Gerard Mercator – famous cartographer

Meanwhile, the two fathers of the modern Atlas, Ortelius and Mercator, were more scientists than anything else and they watched as the continent of Europe argued over heliocentrism and geocentrism for the entire century with no sign of abating by the time of their death. Can you imagine being a 16th century scientist and having the evidence that the Sun is at the center of the solar system for over 100 years and yet having to bend to the vain arrogance of the church? The discovery that the Earth revolved around the Sun is an incredibly scientific achievement that must be hurdled before the understanding of modern astronomy, physics, and cosmology – and yet this precious knowledge had to wait patiently until someone came along with enough gall to stand up to the Catholic Church.

In the eyes of Ortelius and Mercator, had they known about the proof of a heliocentric system, they would be keenly aware that the progress of humanity’s knowledge hinged on defying the blind, unwarranted convictions of the Catholic Church. Those who simply accepted the geocentric view as law, simply to please the Catholic hierarchy, were certainly no less than fools. Yet in the age of Ortelius and Mercator they watched heliocentric proponents become imprisoned and persecuted for stating the truth. These cartographers were perhaps some of the most likely to know the truth because they understood the math behind the science.

In fact, Mercator’s maps of the world challenged the views of the Catholic Church just as much as Copernicus’ heliocentric view. They were both heretical, yet they were both the truth. Certainly, a man as dedicated to the truth as Ortelius was would see this foolishness conquering the truth of science. His frustrations over the frivolous persecutions, which were the bane of his existence, must have driven him to become quite bitter. Could a man frustrated with the persecution of the Catholic church have created a secret map declaring the world fools for creating such an inept power structure? After all, it is men who denied the heliocentric view – not God – for God created it.

But the Fool’s Cap Map could theoretically be about any reason, right? Well I thought so too, but to be sure I decided to check what the viewpoint of Orontius Finaeus (the actual name that does appear on the Fool’s Cap Map and creator of the Antarctica map) was on the heliocentric/geocentric controversy:

In astronomy, he believed that the earth was at the centre of the universe (in common with most of his European contemporaries) and he built an astronomical clock based on this belief in 1553.

Or in other words, Finaeus was a fool. And so could I have just solved a 450 year old mystery? We’ll probably never know – after all – it was all only speculation. But at least I’ll never be foolish enough to confuse speculation with scientific fact and truth. Abraham Ortelius, my hat goes off to you as a man who truly understood the foundations of a sustainable and diverse world. We need legions of Ortelius’ today. In this modern world we must ask ourselves, what fictions are attempting to overrule and persecute scientific facts? And can we escape the cryptic fate of the Fool’s Cap Map?


One Response to The Fool’s Cap Map – Solving a 450 Year Old Mystery

  1. Sharon Nichols says:

    This is an extremely entertaining and enlightening article. Caput Elle is also my favorite map. It is a witty, pointed, and artistically pleasing map. That the map in the ‘face’ so closely follows Artelius’ map of the world is undeniably compelling. The explanations for all the writings on the map help the cartography affionado better appreciate this fantastic (in all its meanings!) map. If I were to have an avatar which I thought best revealed my take on much about humanity, this map would be it! Thanks for your diligent research & presentation of this material! Very interesting!

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