Astronomical Images : Cosmography

William Cuningham

Astronomical Images

<p style='text-align: justify;'>William Cuningham (1531 ' post 1586) was a Norwich-born physician, educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His <i>magnum opus</i>, <i>The Cosmographical Glasse</i>, was published in 1559 by John Day (1522-1584). In it, Cuningham discussed many aspects of practical mathematics and surveying in particular. He promoted the use of instruments including the quadrant and Ptolemy's rulers. The text and images combined elements derived from the works of Peter Apian and Oronce Fine, as well as those of the English mathematician, Robert Recorde. The author gratefully recognised Day's skill and expense in producing the many images in the work. Cuningham also produced a series of almanacs and prognostications during his career, for which he was heavily criticised in William Fulke's <i>Antiprognosticon</i> (London, 1560). This illustration is the first in a set of three images in which Cuningham explores the Ptolemaic distinction between the disciplines of cosmography, geography and chorography. The image is introduced during the course of a fictional dialogue between a tutor (Philonicus) and his student (Spoudaeus) as an aid to understanding the differences between the disciplines (for, as Spoudaeus asserts, 'things seen leave a longer impression than those that are only heard'). The figure representing cosmography shows a terrestrial globe with Europe, Africa, Asia and America clearly marked. It is an ornate version of one depicted in Peter Apian's <i>Cosmographia</i> (Antwerp, 1550). The names of the five principal parts of the Earth, corresponding to the five heavenly circles referred to in the text, have been added by hand in ink. In the course of their discussion, Philonicus and Spoudaeus agree that cosmography is superior to geography, 'both for its manifold use, and that it contains and comprehends the other in itself'. The ability to map the Earth and its regions is contingent on first having a description of the whole 'universal World', which is the aim of cosmography. The relevant responsibilities of cosmographers and geographers are described as follows: 'First if they describe parallel circles in the map, answering to the like circles in the heavens, and by the right or crooked horizon, the equinoctial, polary circles, and altitude of the pole, to limit out the zones, climates, and parallels of longitude and latitude; which being once prepared, you shall place there in the countries, hills, floods, seas, fortresses, islands, cities, deserts, and such like (according to the precepts of the art) as are placed on the platform of the Earth' (Preface, <i>The Cosmographical Glasse</i>). The text accompanying the figure indicates the kind of readership Cuningham was anticipating for his lavishly illustrated book. His interlocutors first discuss the difficulty of reading works by the ancient astronomers, as well as those on the subjects of geography, hydrography and navigation (which not only include errors but also 'observe no order or method in their teaching'). They go on to outline the basic reading that is essential for an aspiring student of cosmography and of mathematics generally, namely, Recorde's <i>Ground of Arts</i>, <i>The Whetstone of Wit</i>, and <i>Path Way</i>, as well as Orontius's (Oronce Fine) <i>Arithmetic</i>, Scheubelius's (Johann Scheubel) <i>Algebra</i>, Euclid's <i>Elements</i>, and Theodosius's <i>Of Spherike Demonstrations</i>. Thus, Cuningham's text was intended to be accessible to readers familiar with geometrical and mathematical primers, but without more detailed or technical knowledge. The woodcut is signed IB.</p>

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