First Issued: 21 March 2006
Reissued: 22 August 2012
Revised (substantive): n/a
Part I: Editor’s Introduction to Chambers’ Cyclopædia article on the antipodes
HIS HTML version of Ephraim Chambers’ early 18th-century Cyclopaedia article on the antipodes is intended to supplement She-philosopher.com’s IN BRIEF topic on this same subject. Early modern Europeans continued to be intrigued by the concept, which had been part of popular culture for centuries.
Chambers’ article on the antipodes documents his culture’s evolving interpretation of the term, and of north-south global polarities in general. In his article, the north-south relationship is presented in seemingly familiar terms of diametrical opposition, but in Chambers’ day, the geographic conceit implied a complementarity of north and south that is often missing from our more modern view of the globe.
Chambers’ conception of the antipodes is not, then, simply another example of what’s been called “the Euro-American system of dualistic reasoning and its age-old divide-and-conquer tactics” (see, e.g., Minh-ha T. Trinh’s difficult, but thoughtful and thought-provoking Woman, Native, Other). Rather, Chambers’ explanation aligns with a more universal understanding of the unity of opposites — a way of thinking akin to what we find symbolically represented in the Korean Tae Geuk graphic image, where yin and yang intertwine to produce an all-encompassing third term: circular balance.
I would argue that Chambers’ explanation of the antipodes should be read in light of the still reigning neoplatonic doctrine of the coincidence of opposites in the supreme One. Such philosophical metaphors were then commonplace, and were used to describe reciprocal human relations such as patronage, friendship, and even monarchy, in nuanced terms. For example, when addressing Charles II in the epistle dedicatory to his A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern (1664), John Evelyn remarks on the king’s skill at
... Naval Architecture, both as to its proper tearms, and more solid use, in which Your Majesty is Master of one of the most noble, and profitable Arts that can be wished in a Prince, to whom God has design’d the Dominion of the Ocean, which renders Your Majesties Empire Universal; when by exercising Your royal talent, and knowledg that way, You can bring even the Antipodes to meet, and the Poles to kiss each other; for so likewise (not in a Metaphorical, but natural sence) Your equal and prudent Government of this Nation has made it good, whilest Your Majesty has so prosperously guided this giddy Bark through such a Storm, as no hand save Your Majesties could touch the Helm, but at the price of their temerity.
(Evelyn, A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern, A3v)
It is this sort of metaphysical understanding of the globe as a multiplicity-in-unity — rather than some 20th-century logic of hierarchical opposition — that similarly underpins Chambers’ article on the Antipodes.
In the first sentence of his article, Chambers notes that antipodes has always been “a relative Term.” Indeed, within early modern scientific circles, there was little sense of a privileged northern self who disdained his southern opposite; we find instead a fairly sophisticated understanding of the culturally-constructed and -negotiated identities of different geographies. William Cuningham had earlier explained this in his book of mathematical practice, The Cosmographical Glasse, written for a popular audience, including “the mariners of England,” and published at London in 1559. Using the dialogue format (as would Galileo and other early-modern scientists such as Robert Boyle) to reach an audience of practitioners beyond the university, Cuningham’s discussion of the antipodes is voiced by the two speakers, Philonicus (the embodiment of human “sapie[n]ce and science”) and Spoudaeus (the self-motivated and eager-to-learn pupil). Having discussed the “Ascii, or people withoute shadow” (so named by Pliny) who “dwell in the burning Zone, which ... is betwixt the two Tropikes,” Philonicus moves on to “these inhabitauntes ... called Amphiscii” because they are “double or two folde shadowed.”
Spou. I understand your meaning. Philon. The second be those, which have the shadow continuallye, toward one coste, ether North or South. Spou. Then we be in the numbre of those, for we have oure shadow directly North.
Phi[l]. And such be those that dwel in th’opposite place of th’earth against us (& therfore called Antipodes[)]. For the sonne never comminge over their zenit, they have the shadow into the South coste perpetually declining, as we have into the Northe. Spou. This must nedes be certainly true, but yet I do much mervaile therat. Phil. What so ever is rare, and not commonly sene and hard, is ever mervelous. And the Arabians commynge into Europe, mervailed as muche to see the shadowe Northwarde, as you do to here it is declined (with the aforesaid inhabitants) toward the South cost, & therfore Lucanus speaketh of them in this sort.
Ignorum vobis (Arabes) venistis in orbem,
Umbras mirati nemorum non iri sinistras.
A Region unknowne (Arabians) you finde:
Musing that the shadow, is still North declinde.
(Cosmographical Glasse, 70)
Cuningham, who praised Arab scientists (e.g., the Arabian physician, Avicenna) several times in this book as well as in his printed almanacs, included a later lesson on the antipodes, wherein Philonocus teaches:
The opposite parallele, to that goeth over the Rhodes, is described by th’Ilands Seilan, & Augama. & they are Antipodes unto Italy, which dwell in Java the lesser. The antipodes to the Lucitanians, are those in the Isle of Seila. There be also divers other places towarde the south coast, of which neither I have heard of any credible person, nor yet read: & therfore can not affirme any certeine trueth: & will omit it untill an other ceason.
(Cosmographical Glasse, 80–1)
Of note, the merchant-adventurer, Martin Frobisher, included Cuningham’s Cosmographical Glasse in the small library (five books total) he took with him on the first English voyage in search of the Northwest Passage in 1576. The new knowledge brought back by Frobisher and his unlettered companions would soon outdate Cuningham’s book-learned geography (as he himself had anticipated), and the mariners of England would add new stories of their own to the growing body of scientific lore about the antipodes.
The final point of interest in Chambers’ article on the antipodes is its discussion of the growing controversy around Virgil of Salzburg and his “atheistical, heretical, and damnable” theories of the antipodes, as Robert Hooke had put it. Chambers describes early Christian arguments for and against the antipodes, plus cites new arguments from a 1708 French publication wherein the authors claimed that the Church “had done nothing contrary to Truth and Equity” in the matter. Their proof: Virgil “was even canonized by the same Pope,” Zachary, who was reputed to have directed that Virgil be expelled from the church for teaching “that there is another World, and other Men under the Earth.”
It’s hard to tell where Chambers himself stood in the controversy over Virgil of Salzburg. Regardless, he presents the Christian record on the antipodes as more mixed than popular myth-making around the 8th-century antipodist bishop allowed.
NOTE: The digital edition of Chambers’ text (in Part II) has not yet been updated. It retains the original format and styling of an earlier reissue of the HTML transcript in September 2009. To learn more about 2012 changes to e-publication formats, visit She-philosopher.com’s “A Note on Site Design” page.
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