Cartographical thinking in late antiquity

Judging by the publisher’s description, Scott Johnson focuses on the Christian Roman Empire and its literary languages/sources in his latest book, Literary Territories. The volume will also be of interest to scholars of Iranian Studies taking a comparative approach to literary production in late antiquity. It sounds very promising: “The authors and texts discussed in the chapters that follow took advantage of the discourse of geography at the same time that the image of the book, the codex, became a discourse of its own for debates over knowledge and authority”. The book has been published despite the publisher’s 2016 schedule.

Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald. 2016. Literary territories: Cartographical thinking in late antiquity. Oxford University Press

Literary Territories introduces readers to a wide range of literature from 200-900 CE in which geography is a defining principle of literary art. From accounts of Holy Land pilgrimage, to Roman mapmaking, to the systematization of Ptolemy’s scientific works, Literary Territories argues that forms of literature that were conceived and produced in very different environments and for different purposes in Late Antiquity nevertheless shared an aesthetic sensibility which treated the classical “inhabited world,” the oikoumene, as a literary metaphor for the collection and organization of knowledge. This type of “cartographical thinking” stresses the world of knowledge that is encapsulated in the literary archive. The archival aesthetic coincided with an explosion of late antique travel and Christian pilgrimage which in itself suggests important unifying themes between visual and textual conceptions of space. Indeed, by the end of Late Antiquity the geographical mode appears in nearly every type of writing in multiple Christian languages (Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and others). The diffusion of cartographical thinking throughout the real-world oikoumene, now the Christian Roman Empire, was a fundamental intellectual trajectory of Late Antiquity.

About the author:
Scott Fitzgerald Johnson is a Dumbarton Oaks Teaching Fellow in Byzantine Greek at Georgetown University.