Chapter 3: Cosmography or description ...

Sebastian Münster: Cosmographei oder beschreibung aller länder, herrschafften, fürnemsten stetten, geschichten, gebreüchen, hantierungen etc. [...]. (Basel 1553).

published December 2015

The favorite book of Anna Nyman

The third book in this series is contributed by Anna Nyman, who was responsible for administration at the Iron Library. Her favorite book is a best-seller from 1553: the famous Cosmographei or Cosmographia of the Basel humanist scholar Sebastian Münster, who takes us on a journey through known the world of his era, in 1,200 pages with hundreds of woodcuts.

The reader

Anna Nyman

… worked from February 2013 to 2016 as the administrative assistant in the Iron Library. Previously she had worked in a museum for ten years. She has always been deeply interested in books and history.

I would like to play a role in this book:
John le Carré: The Little Drummer Girl

I would love to read a sequel to this book:
Marguerite Abouet/Clément Oubrerie: Aya

The book on my nightstand right now:
Leif G. W. Persson: Den döende detektiven: en roman om ett brott

The book

Sebastian Münster: Cosmographei oder beschreibung aller länder, herrschafften, fürnemsten stetten, geschichten, gebreüchen, hantierungen etc. [...]. (Basel 1553).

This book, a "description of the entire world", is beautiful even when it's closed. Its leather binding has a beautiful patina from all the readers who have picked it up and browsed in it.

I'm fascinated by all the pictures and by the way they're presented. And the stories! Every time I open the book I find something new. The closer Sebastian Münster was to home, the more realistic his descriptions and illustrations; and the further away from home, the more imaginative or even fanciful were his illustrations and statements.

He was writing in an age when the world was being discovered and yet almost no one could travel – the perfect book for such a time. With Münster's Cosmographei or Cosmographia, you could travel the world and make discoveries even while sitting in the comfort of your home. Sebastian Münster wrote his Cosmographia in German at a time when everyone still wrote in Latin. That increased the book's popularity so that it was the most widely read book after the Bible.

Günther Wessel wrote a book about Münster's Cosmographia, which he entitled "The Man Who Stayed at Home to Discover the World". Wessel's book, which we also have in the Iron Library's collection, tells us a lot about the way people saw the world five hundred years ago. And it definitely helps you understand Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia even better. It's a good idea to read the two books together.

Have a look at some illustrations!

Earthquake in Asia

Even back then, people liked to read about catastrophes.

The Norwegian cod

In Norway at that time, these dangerous cod existed. The further away from Basel, where Sebastian Münster sat in his office, the more unrealistic the animals and people.

The moose or Eurasian elk

According to Sebastian Münster, the moose also existed in Germany at that time.

The marmot

Not all the animals in the Cosmographei were dangerous. There were also small animals, like this marmot, described and depicted.

The Rhine Falls

The Rhine Falls and the town of Schaffhausen.
This illustration is probably the first printed picture of the Rhine Falls.

A thermal spa in the Black Forest

Bathing pleasures in the Black Forest

The elephant as a draft animal

An elephant as Sebastian Münster's correspondent saw it, or as the woodcutter imagined it.

The Queen riding on a donkey

The King has the person who insulted the Queen punished.