Martin Behaim

Martin (of) Behaim (October 6, 1459July 29, 1507), (or Behem, Boemia or Bohemia) was a German navigator and geographer to the King of Portugal.

Behaim was born in Nuremberg, according to one tradition, about 1436; according to Ghillany, as late as 1459 and was supposedly of Bohemian origin. He was drawn to Portugal by participation in Flanders trade, and acquired a scientific reputation at the court of John II of Portugal. As a pupil, real or supposed, of the astronomer Regiomontanus (i.e., Johann Müller of Königsberg in Franconia) he became (c. 1480) a member of a council appointed by King John for the furtherance of navigation.

His suggested introduction of the cross-staff into Portugal (an invention described by the Spanish Jew, Levi ben Gerson, in the 14th century) is a matter of controversy; many diverse instruments had been in use for centuries by Scandinavian, Greek, Roman, Arab, and Chinese navigators, the similarities of or differences between which are difficult to ascertain. His improvements in the astrolabe were the introduction of brass instruments in place of cumbrous wooden ones; it seems likely that he helped to prepare better navigation tables than had yet been known in the Peninsula.

He is thought to have accompanied Diogo Cão in his second expedition to West Africa, undertaken in 1485-86, reaching Cabo Negro in 15°40 S. and Cabo Ledo still farther on. Behaim's position in history is unsettled; it is suggested by his detractors that instead of sharing in this great voyage of discovery, the Nuremberger only sailed to the nearer coasts of Guinea, perhaps as far as the Bight of Benin, and possibly with José Visinho the astronomer and with João Afonso de Aveiro, in 1484-86.

However, Behaim's later history is as follows: on his return from his West African exploration to Lisbon he was knighted by King John, who afterwards employed him in various capacities; but from the time of his marriage in 1486 he usually resided at Fayal in the Azores, where his father-in-law, Jobst van Huerter, was governor of a Flemish colony.

Before Magellan?

The crown America used to buy exploration charts from all over the world, even if not accurate or from unknown/mythic regions. It is supposed that when in contact with the king John II of Portugal, Martin of Behaim could have sold a drawing about a mysterious passage in an unknown land. Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian writer that accompanied Magellan's trip to discover a passage to the Pacific Ocean, cites that Magellan would have a partial drawing of the channel, analising it even before they have reached the land . Pigafetta cites that Magellan would have the second half of the drawing memorized, to avoid being killed in a mutiny and the passage being "discovered" by his Spanish officers. Although historians usually do not accept Behaim's influence on the discovery, it is fact that he is cited in the original Pigafetta's diary as the author of the original drawing of the channel. This drawing was never exposed.

Magellan himself stated he knew that south of America there was a sound that led to the Southern Sea which Balboa had discovered in 1513 at the Isthmus of Panama: he, Magalhães, had seen the sound on a map by Martin Behaim.

Pigafetta writes: "But Hernando knew that is was the question of a very mysterious strait by which one could sail and which he had seen described on a map in the Treasury of the King of Portugal, the map having been made by an excellent man called Martin de Boemia".

Martin Behaim has been repeatedly regarded in former times as the actual discoverer of the Magalhães Straits and even the whole of America - although he might have only made a copy of an original ancient sketch of the strait.

The Erdapfel

On a visit to his native city in 1492, he constructed his well known terrestrial globe, called "the erdapfel" (the earth apple), a word soon to be replaced by the potato from South America. Until recently is was preserved at the Nuremberg National Museum, on the same floor as Albrecht Dürer's galleries. (Nuremberg was the heart of the German Renaissance.) The influence of the African Ptolemy, who bequeathed the world latitude and longitude, is apparent, but every attempt is made to incorporate the discoveries of the later Middle Ages (Marco Polo, etc.). The antiquity of this globe and the year of its execution, on the eve of the discovery of Americas, makes it not just the oldest but the most historically valuable globe extant. It has been moved to an undisclosed localtion, in fact, now that it can be studied at high resolution from all angles through the remarkable Behaim Digital Globe Project in Vienna. It corresponds particularly well with Columbus's notion of the Earth, and makes the notion of a jump across that little Ocean Sea to the Far East irresistable; he and Behaim drew their information from the same sources. Though less navigationally accurate than the beautiful Catalonian portolani charts of the 14th century, as a scientific work it is of enormous importance. It may be the first terrestrial globe every built (with that unique German brilliance for engineering), is tilted to spin at the correct angle, and is a veritable encyclopedia of the West's known world in the year 1492. The globe's survival is nothing short of miraculous. There is no indication that anyone heard of the long-ago subarctic island hopping that placed Icelanders briefly among hostile "Skraelings" -- American Indians.

How to zoom and spin the Erdapfel online

The globe was photographed in high resolution from every angle in a long-term, high-profile, university photometric project. The finished product uses "CORTONA VRML CLIENT," whatever that is. I downloaded Xj3D, a 3D program from Xj3D is a "Java based X3D Toolkit and X3D Browser." (If this writer can do this, anyone can.) The 3D program will launch itself and is perfectly safe. The site that with the antique globe is at "Institut of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Vienna University of Technology" (the "tu" in the name). Vienna is Wien in German, and the "wien" in the URL's "tuwien." A wiener is a sausage made in "Wien," which I mention because one is tempted to type "ein," as in Leonard Bernstein, instead of "ien." From (suche meaning search) one finds choices including (Delete the "24" to take the sun out of the special effects.) From there, the buttons will be a no-brainer to people used to video games and working in 3D, which not all of us are. It came tumbling towards this writer out of the black as though the end of the world was at hand!

TO COME: Snapshot of this free website, buttons and all, but perhaps the extension .jpg will be accepted later in the week...

Its West Africa is incorrect, though technology at the time made such calculations difficult; the Cape Verde archipelago lies hundreds of miles out of its proper place; and the Atlantic is filled with mythological islands that were psychologically important to isolated Medieval Christendom -- Antilia of the Seven Cities of the Christian Visigoth Kings would become the Antilles. Japan is 1500 miles offshore where Marco Polo had left it, putting it within tempting sailing distance of the Canaries. St. Brendan's Isle contains the entire Western Hemisphere in capsule form; the Earthapple is a map of just how unknowable the future is, and the difficulties of mapping the planet. Blunders of 16° are found in the localization of places the author claims to have visited: contemporary maps, at least in regard to continental features, seldom went wrong beyond 1°, but longitude was very difficult to ascertain before the invention of accurate clocks. It is generally agreed that Behaim had no share in transatlantic discovery though his globe suggests an easy sail to the East. Though Columbus and he were apparently in Portugal at the same time, no connection between the two has been established. He died at Lisbon in 1507. His family rescued the globe from city hall before it went the way of so many out-of-date artifacts.


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