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Reviewed by:
  • European Perceptions of ‘ Terra Australis’ by Anne M. Scott, Alfred Hiatt, Claire McIlroy, and Christopher Wortham
  • Victoria Bladen
Scott, Anne M., Alfred Hiatt, Claire McIlroy, and Christopher Wortham, European Perceptions of ‘ Terra Australis’, Farnham, Ashgate, 2011; hardback; pp. 320; 52 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £65.00; ISBN 9781409426059.

This volume explores perceptions of the concept of Terra Australis, the mythical southern land, which was quite distinct from the idea of the Antipodes, and the continent of Australia as it was eventually mapped. The contributing authors respond to the theme through a variety of perspectives and disciplines, including cartography, hydrography, geography, history, literature, drama, and art history, which has resulted in an insightful work sure to stimulate interest in a wide range of readers. Anne M. Scott’s prefatory article provides the parameters of the volume. The concept of ‘perception’, she observes, as a theme for the volume, has enabled ‘a truly interdisciplinary approach to the topic, for perceptions can be expressed through works of imaginative art and literature, works of scientific observation, personal records and even through national policy-making’ (p. 2).

The intersections between empirical knowledge and the imagination that are necessarily invoked in mapping perceptions are apparent from the first illustrations of the volume which accompany Alfred Hiatt’s article. These are maps published with Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (London, 1726) where ‘Diemen’s Land’ and ‘Sumatra’ share geographical space with ‘Lilliput’ and ‘Houyhnhnms’ Land’, marked with dates of alleged discovery to enhance the appearance of authenticity. These provide a fitting analogue for the history of Terra Australis that the volume explores. As Alfred Hiatt observes, ‘Precisely because of their partially mapped status, the South Seas and the gaping canvas of Terra Australis could, in turn, become fiction’s archipelago, a multitude of possible islands, with their possible encounters’ (p. 13).

Hiatt, author of Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes before 1600 (University of Chicago Press, 2008), here provides an invaluable history of late medieval and early modern perceptions of Terra Australis, distinguishing between the various conceptions of what lay in the southern hemisphere. Bill Leadbetter analyses Roman ideas of the south, looking at the application of [End Page 272] ‘zonal theory’, according to which the world was divided into various zones of different temperatures. Work of geographers like Ptolemy and Marinus challenged the assertions of Cicero and Virgil that the Antipodes were unreachable because of the central zone of extreme heat.

Christopher Wortham explores medieval mappamundi and their implications for plays such as The Castle of Perseverance and Shakespeare’s Othello. The T–O maps located various ‘monstrous’ races around the periphery of the known world, particularly concentrated in the south, and ‘came to be identified with imposing a Christian meaning on geographical terrain’ (p. 65). This sacralizing of the centre had implications for those located on the ‘periphery’: ‘in short, farthest south is farthest from God’ (p. 67). While the explorations of Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama resulted in the conceptual distinction between Africa and Terra Australis, the negative associations of the ‘south’ persisted, imbued with a ‘dangerous otherness’ (p. 77).

Space prevents this review from doing justice to all of the essays in the volume. Bill Richardson canvases scholarly debates over another southern concept Java la Grande and how this relates to Terra Australis, emphasizing the importance of place-name evidence in historical map analysis. Margaret Sankey explores French mapping in the seventeenth century and the writing of Abbé Jean Paulmier, who proposed to the Pope that the Terra australes be evangelized, which impacted on French exploration and utopian literature. In the seventeenth century, the mythical Terra Australis began to disappear from maps and began to be replaced with the contours of New Holland. A 1648 map by Joan Blaeu (fig. 6.8) is the first in which Hollandia nova is identified as a country and Abel Tasman’s discoveries of 1642–44 are incorporated. Nevertheless, the concept of New Holland did not initially rule out the possibilities of Terre australe (p. 127), such was the pervasive appeal of the myth and cultural memory.

Mercedes Maroto Camino provides some Spanish perspectives on the creation of the idea of the...


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