Mapping the World

The following text appears on banner no. 3 in the exhibition space.

The first studies of the Earth, by the Greek philosophers and cosmologists known as physiologoi, began around the sixth century bce. Their interest resided primarily in the identification of phenomena regulating the external world. Consequently, physiologoi developed a geography that disregarded the empirical approaches of the periploi and instead privileged cosmological studies based on mathematical and geometrical theories.

The work of the physiologoi provided the basis for the research of Eratosthenes, a Greek scholar from Cyrene (modern Libya), who was active in the third century bce in Alexandria, and is commonly considered the father of geography as we know it. Drawing from Euclid’s study of geometry, Eratosthenes achieved accurate measuring through observations of the stars and the altitude of the sun during the solstices. During this period it was commonly accepted that the Earth was a globe, and Eratosthenes developed a system of longitude and lati- tude lines to calculate distances of places based on the geometry of the sphere.

The fourth-century Greek philosopher Aristotle most probably made the first attempt to divide the world according to climate zones. The theory was further developed in the succeeding centuries and envisioned the Earth’s surface as divided into five zones that extended around the planet in broad bands. From north to south, ancient Greeks and Romans identified: the frigid Arctic Circle, the northern temperate hemisphere, the torrid Tropic of Cancer, the southern temperate hemisphere, and the frigid South Pole. It was believed that the two temperate zones contained two inhabited regions separated by natural borders that prevented contacts among civilizations. The northern temperate zone comprised both the Oikoumene, the inhabited world as the Greeks knew it, and at the same latitude but on the opposite side the Perioikoi (‘neighbors’). In the southern temperate zone, the Antoikoi (‘opposite dwellers’) lived on the same meridian as the Greeks, while the Antipodes (‘those with the feet opposite’) were located diametrically across from the Oikoumene.