It’s a Fool’s Fools World

See if you can discover the origins and meaning of this image of the world in a fool’s cap. Google World in a Fools Cap… and take it from there.


“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool.”

The above image is referred to as The Fool’s Cap Map of the World.  It is considered a mystery just what the image stands for and what it symbolizes.  What can be certainly assessed, however, is the time of its creation which dates ca. 1580-1590 (Jacob, Franks).

The Fool’s Cap contains a variety of imagery.  Overall, it is a jester’s cap with the typical belled ends along with a jester’s staff, but instead of a face, we have a map of the world.  It is not certain whether the map itself is the face, or the face of the jester is hidden behind it.

Another aspect of the image that is noteworthy are the inscriptions.  They are all written in Latin.  A panel at the jester’s right consists of the following phrases:

Who created the map? It's still a mystery. One of the names on this cartouche may be the illustrator's.

“‘Democritus Abderites deridebat,
Heraclites Ephesius deflebat,
Epichthonnis Cosmopolites deformabat’

Translation (“Fool’s Cap World Map”):
‘Democritus of Abdera laughed at it’ [the world],
Heraclitus of Ephesus wept over it’,
Epichtonius Cosmopolites portrayed it’;

Democritus of Abdera was an Ancient Greek philosopher who is remembered for his formulation of the atomic theory of the universe.  Democritus’ atomic theory decrees that the universe is made of two elements: atoms and the void in which they exist and move.  Additionally, atoms cannot be destroyed, differed in size, shape, and temperature, constantly moved, were invisible, and there was an infinite number of them.  For the statement “Democritus of Abdera laughed at it’ [the world]’ could be taken as him laughing at how people find themselves so self-important when in reality, they wouldn’t exist had it not been for something so small (the atom).

Heraclitus of Ephesus was another Ancient Greek philosopher, except his theory related to change and flow.   In Heraclitus’ theory, the universe is in constant change with an underlying order or reason called Logos (Mastin, Luke).  Interestingly, he was also known as the “Weeping Philosopher” and supposedly had moments of melancholia and depression that prevented him from finishing his works.  He was also considered misanthropic and a loner who scoffed at the masses along with being unafraid to criticize others like Hesiod and Pythagoras, and only respected a few wise men.  For him to “weep over it’ [the world]” could refer to the bitter disdain of how it has developed.  We took a look at the Fool while looking at King Lear as well, and Lear’s realization of the world in his madness as sounds similar to Heraclitus’ misanthropy.Finally, we have the phrase Epichtonius Cosmopolites.

Finally, we have the phrase Epichtonius Cosmopolites.  It actually just means along the lines of “everyman” (Jacobs, Frank).  So for the phrase of everyman ” portraying it’ [the world”, can refer back to Shakespeare’s phrase of how all the world’s a stage where everyone is an actor.  Basically, everyone simply plays roles throughout their life.  It can also mean that people are entrusted the world but considering how Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept, the everymen aren’t doing a good job preserving it.

What the image stands for is another question altogether.  We spoke about the image and the importance of the role of the Fool in both King Lear and Twelfth Night.  Both concluded that the Fool was actually very aware of the world’s problematic aspects such as how people who were mad were actually saner than the ones who were considered “sane” along with how words are cheap and can be twisted around.  It could also be considered how people are foolish if they refuse to look closer at people’s interior qualities rather than take things at face value.


(Works Cited)

“Fool’s Cap World Map”. Collections.Rmg.Co.Uk, http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/206385.html.

Jacobs, Frank. “480 – The Fool’S Cap Map Of The World”. Big Think, 2016, http://bigthink.com/strange-maps/480-the-fools-cap-map-of-the-world.

Mastin, Luke. “Heraclitus”. Philosophybasics.Com, 2008, http://www.philosophybasics.com/philosophers_heraclitus.html.

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2 thoughts on “It’s a Fool’s Fools World

  1. Pingback: Peer Review #6 – Byzantine Adventures

  2. A very valuable and useful entry Victoria. Thank you!
    MG
    *Please attend to editing your work carefully. Here is what I have picked up:
    *It is considered a mystery just what the image stands for and what it symbolizes= Just what the image stands for and what it symbolizes is considered a mystery [your word order is the wrong way round]
    * the world in his madness as sounds similar to= the world in his madness sounds similar to
    * the everymen aren’t doing = everymen aren’t doing a [the= singular]

    Like

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