“In a corridor of the Royal Geographical Society’s building, I noticed on the wall a gigantic seventeenth-century map of the globe. On the margins were sea monsters and dragons. For ages, cartographers had no means of knowing what existed on most of the earth. And more often than not these gaps were filled in with fantastical kingdoms and beasts, as if the make-believe, no matter how terrifying, were less frightening, than the truly unknown.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, maps depicted fowl in Asia that tore humans apart, a bird in Germany that glowed in the dark, people in India with everything from sixteen toes to dog heads, hyenas in Africa whose shadows rendered dogs mute, and a beast called a ‘cockatrice’ that could kill with a mere puff of its breath. The most dreaded place on the map was the land of Gog and Magog, whose armies, the book of Ezekial had warned, would one day descend from the north to wipe out the people of Israel, ‘like a cloud to cover the land.’
At the same time, maps expressed the eternal longing for something more alluring: a terrestrial paradise. Cartographers included as central landmarks the Fountain of Youth, for which Ponce de Leon scoured Florida in the sixteenth century, and the Garden of Eden, which the seventh-century encyclopedist Isidore of Seville reported was filled “with every kind of wood and fruit-bearing tree, having also the tree of life.”
-David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.