Mapping the waters: sea charts, navigation, and Camões's Os Lusíadas

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bernhard klein, Mapping the waters: sea charts, navigation, and Camões's Os Lusíadas

This essay considers the links between the modern sea chart and sixteenth-century voyage writing in the context of western navigational discourse. Charts need to be distinguished from maps: as mapping styles honed on land were confronted with the needs and urgencies of the maritime world, cartographic techniques were gradually redefined in terms of both referentiality and representational logic. The new sense of global space that is conceptually central to these charts is shared not only by navigation manuals and other documents pertaining most immediately to oceanic travel but also by certain literary investments in the culture of overseas voyaging. The case is made with specific reference to Luís de Camões's maritime epic Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), first published in 1572, in which global space is both a prominent theme and an important aspect of textual construction. The Lusiads responds to emerging patterns of scientific thought by absorbing novel forms of spatial knowledge into the logic of its own poetic discourse: the most striking link between literature and science in The Lusiads is the proximity of the textual rendering of the deep-sea sailing voyage to the epistemology of the sea chart, as the latter transformed itself under the impact of western voyages of transoceanic exploration.

Keywords: Luís de Camões; literature and science; maps and mapping; sea charts; travel writing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Kent

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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