In his treatise De mundi creatione ac fabrica Liber, Mercator strove to prove the existence of a fifth continent that he called Quinta. For him and other scholars of the time, this landmass was necessary to counterbalance the weight of Europe, Africa and Asia, mainly situated in the northern hemisphere. For the world to be in kilter, Quinta had to be as large as all its antagonists put together. Mercator thus represented the fifth continent as stretching around the entire globe with a very uneven coastline.
With no maritime discoveries to guide him, we can see that Mercator committed the same error as other geographers of his period by believing in the existence of a wondrous southern land as vast as the Old World. This was represented with a host of variations by 16th-century cartographers, in all shapes and sizes depending on their beliefs and on interpretations of the voyages of Magellan, Marco Polo and others.
We can hardly criticise Mercator for depicting in 1541 imaginary lands which, according to Jocodus Hondius, were still totally unknown in 1617.
Find out more
- Collection of maps dating from 1599 to 1630 : by Jocodus Hondius, digitised documents, University of Amsterdam Library