Paola Basso

Mare magnum

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Keywords: Mare magnum, Ocean, Universal knowledge, Order/disorder, Libraries, General inventories, Renaissance, Marucelli, Leibniz

First coined to describe the ocean ring that enclosed the earth in ancient times, the term mare magnum today has a strictly negative metaphorical meaning referring to a vast mass that converts into chaos. How did we get here? This article highlights how a particular positive meaning of mare magnum, halfway between the previous two, became widespread in the Renaissance as a metaphor referring to the character of the ocean to collect all the waters scattered around the globe. The dialectic of order and disorder that characterizes human history takes over to mark two very distant ‘maria magna’, one reasoned and the other intrinsically chaotic.

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