Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.
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Hic sunt dracones
Here be dragons
This phrase used to be part of early maps, often accompanied by illustrations of said dragons. From wiki:
Although several early maps, such as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, have illustrations of mythological creatures for decoration, the phrase itself is an anachronism. Until the Ostrich Egg Globe was offered for sale in 2012 at the London Map Fair held at the Royal Geographical Society, the only known historical use of this phrase in the Latin form “HC SVNT DRACONES” (i.e., hic sunt dracones, ‘here are dragons’) was the Hunt-Lenox Globe dating from 1504. Earlier maps contain a variety of references to mythical and real creatures, but the Ostrich Egg Globe and its twin the Lenox Globe are the only known surviving globes to bear this phrase. The term appears on both globes at the peripheral, extreme end of the Asian continent.
The classical phrase used by medieval cartographers was HIC SVNT LEONES (literally, “here are lions“) when denoting unknown territories on maps.
Dragons appear on a few other historical maps:
- The T-O Psalter world map (c. 1250 AD) has dragons, as symbols of sin, in a lower “frame” below the world, balancing Jesus and angels on the top, but the dragons do not appear on the map proper.
- The Borgia map (c. 1430), in the Vatican Library, states, over a dragon-like figure in Asia (in the upper left quadrant of the map), “Hic etiam homines magna cornua habentes longitudine quatuor pedum, et sunt etiam serpentes tante magnitudinis, ut unum bovem comedant integrum“. (“Here there are even men who have large four-foot horns, and there are even serpents so large that they could eat an ox whole.”)
- The Fra Mauro Map (c. 1450) shows the “Island of Dragons” (Italian: Isola de’ dragoni), an imaginary island in the Atlantic Ocean. In an inscription near Herat in modern-day Afghanistan, Fra Mauro says that in the mountains nearby “there are a number of dragons, in whose forehead is a stone that cures many infirmities”, and describes the locals’ way of hunting those dragons to get the stones. This is thought to be based on Albertus Magnus‘s treatise De mineralibus. In an inscription elsewhere on the map, the cartographer expresses his scepticism regarding “serpents, dragons and basilisks” mentioned by “some historiographers”.
- A 19th-century Japanese map, the Jishin-no-ben, in the shape of ouroboros, depicts a dragon associated with causing earthquakes.