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Mapping the Land of Utopia

A portrait of Sir Thomas More.

Thomas More, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right by J.F. Gleeson. 1910. Prints and Photographs Division.

The word utopia is used to describe a perfect place. The British statesman and writer Sir Thomas More coined the word from the ancient Greek words ou-topos meaning “no place” and eu-topos meaning a “good place.” In this post I am featuring maps of the mythical land named Utopia.

In 1516 Thomas More wrote a book about an imaginary island named Utopia. There was no unemployment on the island or unequal distribution of wealth. The Utopians worked six hour days with two hour lunch breaks! Most Utopians spent their free time furthering their education by attending public lectures. Utopians did not own private property. They wore plain clothes and gold and jewels were not considered valuable. The Utopians despised war and only engaged in it to defend themselves.

There were fifty-four towns in Utopia, all built on the same plan. Shopping centers were located in the center of each town. Utopians took free food from warehouses that were located in the shopping centers.

The map of Utopia below is from Thomas More’s book. The city of Amaurot served as the capital. Amaurot was located on the bank of the Anyder River.

A map of the island of Utopia

Utopia by Thomas More, 1518. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The two maps below are titled Accurata Utopiae Tabula… (An Accurate Map of Utopia). The maps show a different version of Utopia from that of Thomas More. The maps show a place named Schlaraffenland, also known as the Land of Cockaigne. Schlaraffenland was described in European folklore as an imaginary place where the residents lived a life of leisure and had an abundance of food. Nineteen provinces are shown on the maps. The provinces are named after human vices; Insel Tobaco (Island of Smokers), Lusoria (Land of Gambling), Lurconia (Land of Gluttony) and Bibonia (Land of Drinking) are examples of some of the provinces in Schlaraffenland.

The words durch Authorem Anonymum (by an anonymous author)  are printed on the title cartouches. The maps were later attributed to the cartographer Johann Baptist Homann. The publisher and engraver, Matthias Seutter, published the maps at his firm in Augsburg, Germany during the 18th century.

An image of Johann Baptist Homann's map of Utopia.

Accurata Utopiae Tabula Das Ist … Schlaraffenlandes by Johann Baptist Homann. 17–. Geography and Map Division.

An image of the other map of Utopia by Homann.

Accurata Utopiae Tabula Das Ist … Schlaraffenlandes by Johann Baptist Homann, 17–. Geography and Map Division.

The provinces are the same on both maps; note the differences in the pictorials.

An image of the title cartouche.

Detail from Accurata Utopiae Tabula…

A detail from the title Cartouce

Detail from Accurata Utopiae Tabula…

Throughout history people have looked for ways to have a better life. Thomas More wrote about a land where the residents lived a structured life. They were employed in trades such as farming, carpentry and masonry and they furthered their education by attending scholarly lectures. Two hundred years later Johann Baptist Homann mapped a different type of Utopia where people indulged in guilty pleasures. Homann’s map was based on medieval literature about the Land of Cockaigne where food was plentiful and people enjoyed themselves. The stories about the Land of Cockaigne  (Schlaraffenland) served as an escape from the real world where people were overworked and hungry. No matter how it was visualized, the concept of Utopia had endured for centuries.

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