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The view from a land-bridge

The view from a land-bridge

Third Anniversary

This August finds us delighted to be celebrating the third anniversary of ‘Picture this…’. As in previous years, we have something special to mark the occasion. For our first anniversary we celebrated with a conference and exhibition and for our second we expanded the materials from the Cathedral library collections to include the holdings in Canterbury cCthedral archives. For our third we are expanding further still in order to use the medieval and early modern materials in Special Collections at the Templeman Library, University of Kent. To this end, Jane Gallagher of the Special Collections team has written the first article to start us off on this interesting new phase. Once again, many thanks to you our readers for your continued support.

Jayne Wackett and Karen Brayshaw


The view from a land-bridge

George Sandys, Sandys travels : containing an history of the original and present state of the Turkish Empire … also, of Greece … of Aegypt … [etc.], 7th edition (London : Printed for John Williams junior, 1673).

The advent of printing, it has been argued, led cartographers to ‘de-humanise’ the landscape; by reducing settlements, features and land to symbols and dots or deciding to omit them altogether. This made the world at once more intelligible and less meaningful. And yet, maps have always been more than geographical details put onto paper or parchment. The maps of the Early Modern period, though aesthetically pleasing, often strove for scientific rigour, rather than continuing with the stylised and overtly symbolic mapping of the medieval period. But even when they appear to conform to the measurements, symbols and expectations of our modern gaze, maps can be subversive. Layers of the familiar and unfamiliar are to be found in this map from the 1673 edition of George Sandys’ Travels, which focusses on the land which, at the time of his journey, bridged not only the East and West, but also the link between the past and the present.

George Sandys was born in 1578, a younger son of Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York. Setting off in 1610, Sandys’ journey led him from France, Venice and Constantinople to Alexandria, Cairo and Jerusalem. After his return to England in 1612, Sandys’ A Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom. 1610… sealed his literary reputation, which would later include classical translations and religious works. A Relation has been described as the most popular non-religious literature of the 17th century: it saw seven editions, the last being published more than sixty years after the travels, and twenty-nine years after the author’s death, in 1673.

As a piece of ‘genteel’ literature Sandys’ work was considered to be accurate and authoritative, particularly in terms of the politics of the area. Part of the reason for this high regard was the belief that the influence of Catholic ‘legends’ had obscured the veracity of later reports of foreign travel. Sandys’ Protestant sensibilities apparently provided a way for him to make sense of these foreign lands and to explain them to his compatriots. Arguably, Sandys’ skills as a translator of languages enabled him to ‘translate’ the land, cultures and reality of the near east through a lens which his educated Protestant readers could understand.

Sandys’ map offers a familiar image to the modern viewer, although traditional maps do usually view the Mediterranean from the European perspective and include France and Spain. Here, the focus shifts to take in sections of North Africa, and a wider sweep of Asia. At the time of publication, Europe was not, of course, the cultural and political bloc which it is today, but Sandys’ view of the Mediterranean does conveniently place the Holy Land near the centre of the image. Also, a number of New Testament locations are neatly marked out, emphasising the biblical narrative. This religion is made central to this map as a key tenet in Sandys’ translation of his travels.

Close-up of the Holy Land

The apparent emptiness of the lands around the edges of the map enables the viewer to focus on the important central zone. Blank spaces upon maps were (and are) often more informative than they might seem at first glance; Sandys and his contemporaries knew more of Africa and Asia than is here displayed, but this knowledge was evidently unimportant to the message the author wanted to convey. The emphasis upon this ‘bridging’ land, from Greece to the Holy Land, is unmistakeable and demonstrates how even a simple map shows its bias, reflecting the maker’s social, political and religious sensibilities.

If the ‘recreated’ world which Sandys here presents emphasises religion, the decision to shift the focus of the map also centralises the antique Hellenic world: the cultural heart of the classical learning in which Sandys and his contemporaries were steeped. Indeed, the author peppers his observations of the terrain and climate with classical myths (presented as fact) and translations of classical authors. Sandys’ descriptions of the ruins of the ancient world were used as a metaphor to reinforce the degeneration of the local culture from the pinnacle of its ancient civilisation. The Greeks, Sandys implies, have forgotten the high-minded origins of classical antiquity: the Turks, who now rule the land, pillage the ruins to set up their own buildings. Sandys’ courtly contemporaries would have been familiar with both the Turks’ growing political importance in Europe, and the reported despotism of their rulers. If the Greeks had lost their way, forgotten their past and left their civilisation in ruins to be plundered by ‘barbarians’, what were Sandys’ readers to make of this once great landscape?

The repositioning of Greece and the geographical bridge of Constantinople to the centre of this map enables another ancient site to gain centre stage. Sandys visited the ruins of the fabled city of Troy, spending several pages sketching its terrain and relating myths and quasi-historical legends which relate to its rise, life and fall. Educated English readers would have been aware of the mythical founder of Britain, Brutus, whose descent was traced from Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped the sack of the city. The end of this great classical city, with its associated classical virtues, Sandys suggests, leads straight to the (albeit mythical) past of Britain. Classical Hellenic culture may have been forgotten in its birthplace, but Sandys demonstrated how classical learning and culture suffused the learning of Englishmen, with his translations and relation of myths. Further, if the ancient Greek democracy had now been replaced with the barbarism of Turkish government, democratic rule was still alive and well in England, where the king ruled within the boundaries of his Parliament.

Close-up of Troy

Sandys’ work shows that the apparent clarity of maps can be misleading; well beyond the Early Modern period, images of the world offer a window onto the views, beliefs and motives of their creators. Sandys’ Journey has been described as travelling through both space and time, with his emphasis upon translating the present in terms of the past for his educated audience. Through this map, Sandys effectively places Protestant England at the centre of that imagined geography, even though that country itself is absent.


Jane Gallagher, Special Collections, University of Kent

Editor: Jayne Wackett

Further Reading:

Ingram, Anders, ‘Readers and responses to George Sandys’ A Relation of a Iourney begun An: Dom: 1610 (1615): Early English Books Online (EEBO) and the history of reading’, European Review of History: Revue europeenne d’histoire (2010) Vol.17(2), p.287-301.

Mitsi, Efterpi, ‘A Translator’s Voyage: The Greek Landscape in George Sandys’s Relation of a Journey (1615)’, Studies in Travel Writing (2008) Vol.12(1), pp.49-65.

Harley, J. B., ‘Silences and secrecy: The hidden agenda of cartography in early modern Europe’, Imago Mundi (1988) Vol.40(1), p.57-76.


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