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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Terra Australis Incognita explored

The mythical continent of Terra Australis Incognita

It was the Greek philospher, Aristotle, who first conceived the idea that a huge land mass, Terra Australis Incognita -- the unknown Great South Land -- must bulk somewhere below the Equator, to give symmetry to the globe, and counter-balance the great weight of Russia, Europe, and China in the north.

This mythical "balancing mass,' which was supposed to be temperate, rich in both produce and ores, and inhabited by mysterious people, lured hundreds of European mariners in the Pacific, until James Cook finally proved that this paradise did not exist -- and in the process of proving it, missed a golden opportunity to "discover" Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, with the great Polynesian navigator and diplomat, Tupaia, by his side.

Now there is a book about those old, strange perceptions of Terra Australis Incognita.

Called European Perceptions of Terra Australis, it is a collection of essays edited by Anne M. Scott, Alfred Hiatt, Claire McIlroy and Christopher Wortham, and published by Ashgate.

The essays essentially present the intellectual background to European voyages of discovery, going from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century (one essay does go back to Roman times), looking at the notion of a land mass in the southern seas as recorded in such things as European literature.

Read about it on the publisher's website.

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