|Westrem, Scott D. The Hereford Map. A Transcription and Translation of the Legends with
Commentary. (Terrarum Orbis. History of the Representations of Space in Text and Image. General Director of the series: Patrick Gautier Dalché.) Turnhout: Brepols, 2001. 1vii+476 pp., illus., bibl., indexes. ISBN 2503510566.
The Hereford Map, probably the most famous example of medieval cartography, is the only large medieval map to survive in its entirety (it measures approximately 1.59 meters by 1.32 meters). It includes more than a thousand inscriptions and as many pictorial representations of geographical points, animals, and peoples found on the earth. It has become a subject of detailed studies, and its reproductions appeared several times. And yet, no reliable and comprehensive transcription or translation of the Map has existed until now.
Scott Westrem has undertaken a truly Herculean labor of making the Map accessible to the wide audience. The beautifully produced volume that contains his transcription and translation of the Map’s legends, accompanied by a comprehensive commentary and illustrated by the detailed photographs of the Map, will now form a solid and decisive foundation for the future studies of this important source.
In his introduction Westrem gives a detailed account of the cartographic context of the Hereford Map, of its production and history, and of the sources and analogues of the Map, and concludes by offering an interpretation of the Map’s picture of the world. The introduction fully demonstrates what I consider among the chief strengths of this book: it is detailed, sophisticated, and learned in its treatment, and at the same time clearly and engagingly written, which will undoubtedly attract the attention of people with various interests, not necessarily focusing on medieval cartography or Latin paleography. The introduction summarizes the current state of our knowledge about the Map, from its physical characteristics to the broader cultural context. It also introduces information not readily accessible to the reader, such as the report of the recent investigation of the Map, performed by the conservator Christopher Clarkson on 11-12 January 1999.
In the extent of its information, the Map can be called a veritable encyclopedia of cosmological, geographical, ethnographical, theological, and zoological knowledge about the earth. It also contains anachronisms and lacunae, and in general is not geographically accurate. People accustomed to modern geography with its standards of exact and realistic representation find this feature puzzling, to say the least. Thus W. Bevan and H.W. Phillott, who studied the Map very seriously and published their book in 1873, claimed that the Map gives an impression “of inaccuracy, carelessness and ignorance” (quoted by Westrem, p. xli). This severe judgment, reinforced by C.R. Beazley, who in his book on the history of medieval geography called the Map “monstrous,” reflected the methodology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, directed largely at finding the predecessors of modern geography in the past. The research that historians of cartography have done in the last several decades has considerably changed the picture. Scholars now study medieval maps in their historical context, which increases our awareness of the role the maps played in medieval society and culture. Westrem’s book contributes to this tradition of analyzing medieval cartography in its cultural context. As his introduction makes immediately clear, the Hereford Map, being a mappamundi (a world map), was not expected to be a precise representation of geographical reality (p. xvii), quite unlike medieval navigational charts or early modern maps, which aimed at an accurate representation of the earth
If the Map was not meant to present a geographically accurate image, what was its purpose? This complicated question, like other questions about medieval cartography and culture in general, must be addressed by first studying the Map as a physical object. Westrem’s introduction emphasizes that, like other monuments of medieval textual and pictorial culture, the Map is its own best witness. The introduction presents technical information about the production of the Map and makes the reader appreciate the enormous labor put into its making. It was an expensive enterprise, judging from the cost of the fine parchment and labor; it was also a lengthy and careful one, judging from the number and extent of inscriptions and decorations. The Map was most likely assembled in England, because of the remarkably accurate and detailed depictions of British topography and the inclusion of towns reflecting the political ambitions of English kings during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries (p. xxi). In presenting all these details, Westrem particularly emphasizes that all information offered by the Map as a material object, as well as that offered by its legends and pictures about its origins and purpose, needs to be very carefully evaluated (p. xxi). It is very sobering but important to see that, even though many ingenious hypotheses have been suggested, little can be safely assumed about the origins or purposes of the Map, and only continuing detailed research in the field will contribute to our understanding of the problem.
Like other medieval texts and maps presenting knowledge about the world, the Hereford Map was a mosaic of information drawn from various sources. In addition to the sources previously established by the Map’s scholarship (such as the Bible, Roman geographers Pliny the Elder and Orosius, and others), Westrem introduces the text whose importance cannot be overestimated. Patrick Gautier Dalché, the leading historian of medieval geography today, has discovered a text, Expositio Mappe Mundi (“Exposition of a World Map”), which describes the content of a mappamundi and in doing this presents a close analogue for the Hereford Map (p. xxxiv). Westrem’s account of this ground-breaking discovery and his own careful and painstaking comparison of its information with the Hereford Map not only makes the research of a French scholar accessible to the English-reading audience – it may mark a turning point in our understanding of how medieval cartography developed in general.
In a brief but very important section of his introduction, “Reading the Map’s Picture of the World,” Westrem once again reminds us that all maps should be understood as symbol systems, as texts whose language of communication is shaped by the norms and goals of contemporary culture. Thus the design of the Hereford Map serves to represent the earth and its regions according to the aims and the state of knowledge of the time. The Map represents the world and the earth as spherical, Jerusalem occupies the center of the inhabited landmass, and in general the representation is schematic rather than realistic. Nevertheless, the Map is generally accurate in its representation of the sequence of places (p. xxxix). Thus Westrem clearly demonstrates how the Map, far from being inaccurate or ignorant, represented the best that the knowledge of the time had to offer. This, in combination with what we know about the care taken to produce the Map, as well as about its care in trying to harmonize different sources (p. xl), inspires great respect for the medieval mapmakers.
Westrem states his primary goal as making the textual and pictorial contents of the Map more generally and reliably accessible, and the book fulfils this goal admirably. A large color photographic reproduction of the Map, inserted in the book, gives a very good general impression of the Map, and the quality of the image is such that one can fairly easily read the inscriptions and see the details of the pictures. Two charts precede the color photographic plates and make the spatial organization of the Map and the order of transcriptions and translations easy to follow. The reproductions of various sections of the Map are printed twice on facing pages, one in its original form, the other with the appropriate numbers attached to the legends.
The legends are presented on facing pages, with the right-facing pages occupied by the Latin text of the legends, given in two versions (an edited version and an exact transcription), and accompanied by translations, whereas commentaries occupy left-facing pages. Place names in all medieval sources present a particular problem, because their spelling varies from one manuscript copy and from one text to another, and some names are impossible to identify. This difficult problem is successfully solved in the book: wherever possible, it gives us English toponyms, as well as the classical and medieval versions of the names, with gaps in our own knowledge clearly indicated, so that the reader might see the changes in the geographical tradition as well as the state of our information about them. The uncertainties in the text are also clearly marked, which does justice to the paleographic and textual complications and enables interested persons to pursue their investigation further. The translations are both accurate and elegant, a very impressive achievement considering the rather convoluted nature of the Latin text, even if many inscriptions only consist of several words. The book contains a useful bibliography and comprehensive indices. There are an index of proper names, an index which specifically addresses the correspondences between the Hereford Map and the text discovered by Gautier Dalché, and an index of key words on the Map, which makes the task of finding the names on the Map very easy.
All these things make the book an invaluable tool on many levels. For people primarily interested in maps and geography in general, it presents a clear and reliable introduction to a complicated monument of cartography. For students of medieval geography and culture, it presents a cultural artifact in all its complexity and provides an excellent guide to its understanding. For those working on paleography or textual criticism, this book presents a model edition of a complex combination of text and image. The labor and care invested in the preparation and making of this book give full justice to the labor and care the medieval mapmakers put in the production of the Hereford Map itself.
The University of Colorado at Boulder