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The third part of Father Fischer's book answers the questions: Had the scientific men before Columbus any knowledge of the discoveries of the Northmen? What did they conceive to be the nature and position of the lands found by these daring mariners?
We may begin by eliminating Helluland, Markland, and Vinland from this problem; except in the Icelandic documents they have left no trace. The case of Greenland is far different. Mediæval geographical science in western Europe may be said to have begun with the translation of the great work of Ptolemy the Alexandrian,* consisting of an atlas of twenty-seven maps and explanatory text from Greek into Latin. This translation, first undertaken by Emmanuel Chrysoloras, a Byzantine scholar, and completed and published by his pupil, Jacobus Angelus, was published with a dedication to Pope Alexander V., who reigned from 1409 to 1410. The latter year may, consequently, be set down as the year of the renascence of geographical science in Italy and, therefore, in western Europe. At first the successors of Angelus contented themselves with repeating Ptolemy's twenty-seven maps; soon, however, in Italy new maps were added, extra Ptolemæum, as they were called. It is a remarkable fact that in the city library of Nancy there exists a copy of Ptolemy prepared for Cardinal Filiastrus only seventeen years after the publication of Angelus' first edition, i.e. in 1427 A.D., which contains, besides the usual twenty-seven maps, a map of the Northern Countries, including not only Scandinavia, but also Iceland and Greenland.
The question now arises, who was the first geographer that added to Ptolemy's world-map this picture of the discoveries of the Northmen? Cardinal Filiastrus himself tells us that the countries pictured in his eighth map had been unknown to Ptolemy, and that they had therefore been described by a certain Claudius Cimbricus, who had also made a map thereof. The later geographers, Schoener (1523) and Franciscus Irenicus (Friedlieb, 1513) confirm this statement. This Claudius Cimbricus in the description of the “Northland” map contained in the Nancy codex calls himself Claudius Clavus Swartho (cf. schwarz - black), and seems to have been identical with the Danish mathematician Claudius Niger, and fixes his birthplace at Salinga in the island of Pheonia, or Ottonia, east of Jutland in the Baltic Sea. Father Fischer follows Storm in assigning Claudius Clavus to the early part of the fifteenth century. Storm in fact shows that in 1423-4 Claudius Clavus was in Italy, which was the only place where copies of Ptolemy existed at the time and where artists capable of drawing maps could be found. Irenicus tells us Claudius Clavus designed the map of Denmark at the request of the Danish king, and Storm shows that just at this time (1424) King Eric of Denmark passed through Italy on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Nordenskiöld held that the map pointed back to the eleventh century as the time of its origin, but Fischer agrees with Storm in rejecting this view. An interesting proof of the Danish origin of the “ Northland” maps, the original of which is the map of Claudius Clavus, is the singular fact that in many of these maps, whose text is Latin, the rivers are set down as fursta f., avenas f., trediena f., etc., the words quoted being the Danish numerals in a form scarcely earlier than the fifteenth century.
* He lived about 150 A.D.
The Nancy codex, therefore, contains the oldest cartographic representation of Greenland. It there appears as a peninsula of Europe, connected with northwestern Russia by a long strip of land running westward north of Scandinavia. Greenland itself runs in a southerly direction at the end of this strip of land, and lies at some distance west of Iceland. This relatively correct position of Greenland west of Norway and Iceland is found in all maps of the so-called Zamoisky type,* including, besides the Zamoisky map, two maps found by Prof. von Wieser—one in the Biblioteca Nazionale, the other in the Biblioteca Laurenziana at Florence, and afterwards published by Nordenskiöld in Bidrag, tab. I, II, III, and two Vatican manuscripts found by Father Ehrle, and now first published by Father Fischer. Our author regards the maps of this Zamoisky type as the true descendants of the map of Claudius Clavus. A second type of the map is the so-called Donis type. Here Greenland is still a peninsula of Europe, but it lies to the north or east of Iceland and Scandinavia. The chief representatives of the Donis type heretofore were the editions of Ptolemy printed at Ulm, 1482 and 1486. No manuscript representative of this type was known until Fathers Hafner and Fischer recently discovered in the library of the Prince Waldburg of Wolfegg the great Ptolemy codex of Donnus Nicolaus Germanus. At the same time, it will be remembered, the celebrated. Waldseemüller map of 1507, the first map bearing the name America, was discovered as well as the same cartographer's Carta Marina of 1516. The representations of Greenland found in these maps are also of the Donis type. Father Fischer for the first time published the Vatican maps, the Wolfsegg Ptolemy map, and the two Waldseemüller maps in so far as they represent the North Countries.
* So called after a map found by Nordenskiöld in a Ptolemy codex in the Zamoisky Library at Warsaw.
The Vatican maps, as well as the Wolfegg Ptolemy, are by Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, and the Waldseemüller representations of Greenland follow the Donis type. Naturally, therefore, Father Fischer investigates the history of this geographer. He fully deserves this honor, for Donnus Nicolaus is the inventor of the trapezoid projection in cartography; that is to say, instead of dividing up his maps into squares as Marinus, Ptolemy, and their successors did, he drew his latitude lines parallel, while the meridians converge toward the pole. Father Fischer's researches, therefore, show that Donnus Nicolaus was a Benedictine monk, as the Abbot Trithemius also states; but he disproves the latter's statement that the geographer was an inmate of the monastery at Reichenbach in Bavaria. Donnus Nicolaus came from Florence to the court of Duke Borso of Este at Quartisana on March 15, 1466, and presented him with a work entitled Cosmographia. Duke Borso had the work examined by Giovanni Branchini and Pietro Bono dell' Avogaro, who approved of it. The cartographer then received several money presents from Duke Borso, who had paid for his maintenance at Ferrara while the Italian experts examined the Cosmographia. Donnus Nicolaus also constructed for the Duke of Este a calendar running for many years. Of the map of Italy said to have been dedicated by him to Duke Borso no copy has been found so far. We may, therefore, briefly sum up Fischer's results by concluding that Donnus Nicolaus Germanus was a priest, born in Germany but tarrying in Italy. He was a humanist, connected with the Ferrarese scholars of his day, who devoted himself to the improvement of the maps and text of Ptolemy. Whether Donnus Nicolaus Germanus is identical with the Maestro Nicolo todescho cartolaro mentioned by the famous miniature-painter Taddeo Crivelli, in his diary recently discovered by Father Manganotti in the archives of Modena, as giving him orders for the illumination of breviaries and missals with initials between 1452-56, is not certain. Crivelli's Maestro Nicolò todescho is probably identical with the Maestro Nicolò todescho who was a printer of books at Florence between 1470 and 1490.
Donnus Nicolaus Germanus prepared three editions of Ptolemy's geography: 1. The edition of 1466, containing only the usual twenty-seven Ptolemæan maps; two copies of this edition are known to exist: (a) the codex dedicated to Borso d'Este, now in the Este Library at Modena; (6) 'Codex No. 4805 of the Bibliothèque royale at Paris. 2. The edition of (probably) 1470, represented by (a) the Zamoisky Ptolemy; (6) the two Vatican codices (Cod. Urbin. lat. 274 and 275), and two codices now in the Biblioteca Laurenziana at Florence and designated Plut. XXX., n. 3 and 4. The first three of these are dedicated to Pope Paul II., the last two to Duke Borso. The maps of the“Northern Countries” belonging to this edition are found also in the fifteenth century Ptolemy manuscript 4 in the Biblioteca Nazionale and in the Buondelmonte codex of the Laurentian Library at Florence. 3. The edition of 1482. To this must be referred (a) the Wolfegg Ptolemy manuscript; (6) the editions printed at Ulm in the years 1482 and 1486.
It should be remarked that in the second edition Donnus Nicolaus represents Greenland in its correct position, west of
Scandinavia and Iceland, while the third edition shows it north of Scandinavia and east of Iceland. How is this strange fact to be explained? Nordenskiöld's and Storm's solution appearing unsatisfactory, Father Fischer has found a new and, it appears to us, a true one. He shows that the text and the map of Cardinal Filiastrus are contradictory, the text having been written before he received the map of Claudius Clavus. The text represents Greenland as north of Scandinavia and east of Iceland, the map as lying west both of Scandinavia and Iceland. Donnus Nicolaus Germanus in his third edition of Ptolemy appears to have cartographically translated the text of the Cardinal, and to have been the first to do so. The mistake was afterwards repeated.
We see that in this part of his work Father Fischer has called attention to the importance, especially for the preColumbian history of America, of two geographers, Claudius Clavus and Donnus Nicolaus Germanus. The remarkably correct delineation of Greenland in some maps of Donnus Nicolaus must strengthen our confidence in our Norse historic sources, of which the maps are only the pictorial result. Father Fischer, moreover, has advanced our knowledge of these geographical pioneers, and will surely incite others to further researches.
Modest as Father Fischer's work is both in size and in tone, it is deserving of attention, not only because of his complete knowledge of the questions treated, not only because of the healthy critical methods applied, not only because of the sound judgment and unbounded industry everywhere displayed, but also because of the new facts it spreads before us. It marks a distinct progress in our understanding of the Norse discovery of America.