The Book That Invented the World

Abraham Ortelius, with his comprehensive atlas, gave us not disenchantment, but a differing enchantment—a sense of the sheer magnitude of the planet.Wikicommons

ow that we’re corralled into our homes and apartments, something seems pre-modern in how our worlds have shrunk. Unlike past quarantines, we’re also connected by digital technology to the rest of the globe, calling to mind poet John Donne’s line from a 1633 poem about making “one little room an everywhere.” Donne came of age able to envision a mental map of the globe based on new and detailed evidence about a dizzying array of locations. His poetry is replete with globes, maps, and atlases. What’s considered to be the first atlas was first available in an Antwerp printshop 450 years ago, on May 20, only two years before Donne was, or in . Donne was undoubtedly familiar with it. Produced by the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, it was one of the most popular books of the era. Ortelius had invented the world. 

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