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New Medieval Books: Here Begins the Dark Sea

Here Begins the Dark Sea: Venice, a Medieval Monk, and the Creation of the Most Accurate Map of the World

By Meredith F. Small

Pegasus Books
ISBN: 978-1-63936-419-0

The story of the Venetian monk Fra Mauro and the map of the world he created in 1459. While the beginning of the book details mapmaking in the Middle Ages, most of the book focuses on Fra Mauro’s creation, offering an in-depth look into how he made it and the influence of the map of the history of geography.


At its core, this map has two captivating levels: the geography, and the inscriptions. The geography is spectacular for its time and underscores various decisions that Fra Mauro made during its construction. For example, the fact that he eschewed much of Ptolemy, which broke away from the standard map of the Middle Ages, made him a cartographic revolutionary. And then there are the inscriptions. Since I had English translations by Piero Falchetta to rely on, it was fascinating to understand what was important, or not, to Fra Mauro as he made this map because he explained every decision in the texts. And it was during my reading of those texts that I came across the perfect title for this book – Qui comenza el mar scuro – which translated from Venziano is “Here begins the dark sea.”


Who is this book for?

This wonderful book will be a must-have for those interested in the history of mapmaking and medieval geography. It also offers a window into the world from the point of view of a learned Italian man in the 15th century, so is a good case study of the Global Middle Ages.

The author:

Meredith F. Small is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Cornell University, but is even more well-known as a non-fiction author. Her works are very diverse, ranging from primates to mental illness, and she previously wrote on the history of Venice. You can learn more about Meredith on her website.


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