Microcosmographia – Μικροκοσμογραφία

Three years ago this day, I was in London feeling a personal spring in the fall’s onset!

Three years ahead I enjoy simple breakfasts (coffee, toast with marmelade) sitting on our new home’s terrace in Mexico City, playing with the thoughts of the new day, while watching for that magical moment when the sky appears to light up suddenly, out-of-phase with the gradual arrival of the day and bringing a poetic experience to beings with eyes.

These breakfasts precede the first daily visit to the modern “newspaper” and “arrival of the post”. Ah! one needs to be lucky these days to rejoice in the smelly paper or to carefully open an envelope, looking at the handwriting of a dear fellow soul or an unknown new contact.

And so, this morning, I came across the word “microcosmographia”.

Thomas Harrison, Rathbone professor of ancient history and classical archaeology at the University of Liverpool, asked ‘Why are university managers so obsessed with change?‘ and found that Francis Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica no longer functions as a satire in the contemporary “academic” environment.

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The publisher of Harrison’s article generated a hashtag #microcosmographia in twitter, predicting it would not become a frequent reference for the many users of the social medium. And so I found myself holding a minority viewpoint, an all too familiar sentiment I must admit. I knew quickly that I would spend sometime playing with #microcosmographia; initially I tried to reply via twitter, but I found it impossible to fit my thoughts within the 141 character limit of the “tweet”. (neither did I succeed with 282)

I would instictively translate Cosmos (κόσμος) as “world“; however wikipedia suggests “universe” is more appropriate. Σύμπαν is the Greek word that strikes me bearing the meaning of universe, but I ignore the use of cosmos in Pythagoras‘ teaching (570 – 495 BC).

Cosmographia (Κοσμογραφία) then brings to mind another Samian, Aristarchos (310-230 BC), who first described the world with the Sun in the centre and the Earth revolving around it, also acknowledging (as had done before Anaxagoras) that other suns further away were the stars seen at night in the sky.

Just as the word choreography literally means “dance-writing” from the Greek words “χορεία” (circular dance, see choreia) and “γραφή” (writing), likewise cosmographia is about representing the world (universe) in writing. I read that the Cosmographia by Sebastian Münster from 1544 is the earliest German description of the world. (also that his famous publication included woodcuts, which apparently contributed to its success)

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So then, what would microcosmographia be about? (μικρός is small). Please bear with my phantasies for a minute, for, despite my Greek education, I am also a biologist, and a microcosm doesn’t take me directly to the philosophical use of the term but could refer to microbiology instead. (Why not?) I often advise that many of the secrets of life remain unknown to us because of our poor understanding of the microbial world.

Can you see then, that microcosmographia could be, if the word had remained available, the title for a grand missing oeuvre of the human library containing the description (understanding) of the living world of microbes?

But microcosm is defined as “a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.” Something? At least let’s accept this something is the world (which, of course, has more than one meanings). Then, if one questions their own life and the world they live in, doesn’t every such life become a microcosmographia the minute you try to communicate it?

Either way, microcosmographia was a new word I heard and liked, despite its length! I return to my reading Francis Cornfold, in the hope that I am immature enough to enjoy it… (almost nine years too old according to him, I am afraid. But has human maturity remained unaltered a century later? and clearly not everyone I know considers me mature…)

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I dedicate this post to Myrsini.

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