Werner’s Edition of Ptolemy’s Geography
In hoc Opere haec continentur Nova translatio primi libri Geographiae Cl. Ptolomaei: quae quidem translatio verbum: habet e verbo fideliter expressum: Joanne Vernero Nurembergen. interprete [and other texts, see below].
Numerous fine woodcut diagrams & tables in the text. 68 unnumbered leaves. Small folio, attractive antique calf (title a little dusty), panelled in gilt & blind. [Nuremberg: J. Stuchs, 1514].
First edition of a very scarce and little-known book (because of its rarity, I think), which is of great importance in the history of cartography, navigation, and astronomy. It contains, amongst much else, the first published direct translation of any part of Ptolemy’s Geography from the original Greek. It also includes the first publication of Johannes Werner’s map projection, a development and correction of the two projections used by Ptolemy which had “reigned” for 1400 years; it was very influential in cartography and used for two centuries, most notably by Apianus, Finé, Ortelius, and Mercator.
The texts include:
I & II. Werner’s translation of and commentary on the first and seventh books of Ptolemy’s Geography and his Libellus quatuor terrarum orbis. Werner (1468-1522), astronomer, mathematician, and cartographer, knew Greek well and in the dedication of the present volume criticizes previous translators of Euclid and Ptolemy who were not skilled in mathematics. The first book of the Geography is concerned with the accurate drawing of a map of the inhabited world and describes proposals for two projections, one simple and one complex. “In the commentary on the first book of Ptolemy’s Geography, Werner explains the basic concepts of spherical geography and then turns to the measurement of degrees on the sphere. When determining the declination of the sun, he refers to the tables compiled by Georg von Peurbach and Domenico Maria. Werner’s method is interesting in that it determines simultaneously the longitude and the latitude of a place (ch. 3, annotation 8): For the first time it was possible for two sites the locations of which are being sought to be found by a combined series of observations. Since for the determination of latitude it is necessary merely to observe the upper and lower culmination of a circumpolar star, but not the position of the sun, quite a few sources of errors were removed. The fourth chapter deals with the determination of the difference in longitude of two places, which can be obtained by simultaneous observation of a lunar eclipse. Another method is based on the determination of the distance of a zodiac star from the moon as seen from two places (ch. 4, annotation 8). This method of calculating the distances to the moon requires only the determination of the angular distances, which can be carried out by means of the Jacob’s staff, and the precise knowledge of the true and mean motions of the moon. This method soon replaced the older ones and was then used as the principal method for determining longitude in nautical astronomy…
“The methods used by Werner enabled him to improve or to explain certain details of the ancient geographers, especially those of Marinus. Werner’s remarks in chapters 7-10 refer to Marinus’ determination of places, which he proves to be often incorrect, or to the sea voyages mentioned and explained by Marinus. Werner demonstrated a knowledge of the existence and direction of the trade winds and explained their origin. In addition, he tried to present a theoretical proof of approximate formulas for the determination of distances that were used in navigation…
“Werner’s contributions to cartography are based on his criticism of Marinus: they can be found at the end of the commentary on Ptolemy and in the ‘Libellus quatuor terrarum orbis.’ The remarks on chapter 24 of the Geography lead us to believe that Werner understood the two projections used by Ptolemy (simple conic projection and modified spherical projection) and developed them. The treatise on four other projections of the terrestrial globe, which is dedicated to Pirckheimer, contains more new ideas. In it Werner outlines the principles of stereographic projection and emphasizes that any point on the surface of the sphere can be chosen as the center of projection. In addition, Werner develops three cordiform map projections that resemble one another; the second gives an equal-area projection of the sphere. The idea of an equivalent projection occurred earlier in the works of Bernard Sylvanus, but Werner and Johannes Stabius were the first to work it out mathematically. Later, Oronce Fine, Peter Apian, and Gerardus Mercator adopted the cordiform projection…
“Werner’s work in geography gained widespread recognition. Peter Apian, in particular, was a student of Werner’s in theoretical cartography.”–D.S.B., XIV, pp. 274-75.
III. The first printing of the essay on Ptolemy’s Geography by the Greek scholar Georgios Amiroutzes (ca. 1400-70), who was in the retinue of Mohammed II and was commissioned by the sultan to translate the text of the Geography into Arabic. Following this, we have the valuable commentaries by Werner on Amiroutzes’ writings.
IV. Regiomontanus’ description of the meteoroscope, written in 1462 in the form of a letter to Cardianal Bessarion and published here for the first time. The meteoroscope was a complex instrument used to observe the stars and planets; it aided in the solution of different tasks of spherical astronomy. The instrument was developed from the Arabic safea. It is very well illustrated in the text.
A fine and crisp copy with deep impressions of the woodcuts.
❧ Bagrow, History of Cartography, pp. 34-35 & 209-10. Sabin 66479. Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science during the First Century of Printing, 212n & 252. Zinner, Astronomische Instrumente des 11. bis 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 479-83 & pl. 63. Zinner, Geschichte und Bibliographie…, 1019.
Item ID: 3459