WorldNavels2014Winther - 89 Summer/Autumn2014 t/automne...

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89 Summer/Autumn2014 été/automne 2014 15 World Navels FEATURE ARTICLE Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther University of California, Santa Cruz P owerful empires often believe themselves to be liter- ally the center of the universe. Space and time, power and meaning are taken to flow from their single world navel. The following are three notable examples. First, Rome was held to be the center of the world, from which distance itself was measured in radial lines. Rome contains the Umbilicus Urbis Romae, or “navel of the city of Rome” (Figure 1), as well as, within a few meters, a Mil - liarium Aureum, or “golden milestone,” which was erected by Emperor Augustus ca. 20 BC (Murphy 2007, 44). While distances were supposed to be measured from the golden milestone, “in accordance with long-established tradition, actual distances were calculated… from the gates in the Re - publican wall” (Favro 1992, 77). Such measurement prac - tices reflected the Romans’ beliefs about their natural role as “masters of the oikumene ” (Murphy 2007, 47). Oikumene is Greek for “inhabited world,” and is also the word the geog - rapher, mathematician, and astronomer Ptol- emy of Alexandria of the second century CE used to denote the entire ter- ritory he was measuring and mapping. The architect Vitruvius and the Peutinger Map (Figure 3) provide two examples of how the Romans held themselves to be both masters and center of the oikumene . In his well-known De Architectura , Vitruvius wrote, “it was the divine intelligence that set the city of the Roman people in a peerless and temperate coun- try, in order that it might acquire the right to command the whole world” (ca. 15 BC, Book VI, Ch. I, §XI). Vitruvius, in his passages “on symmetry: in temples and in the human body” (Book III, Ch. I, §§2-3), took the “central point” of the body to be “naturally the navel” (§3). Leonardo Da Vinci used this work to draw his Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio (ca. 1490), or “Vitruvian man” (Figure 2). Interestingly, Da Vinci’s embedding of an ideal human body in a square, itself lined up with a circle according to Golden Ratio proportions, indicates the genitals rather than the navel as the body’s (the universe’s?) center. Rome’s centrality is also represented by the Peutinger Map (Figure 3), an “itinerarium” or road map of the Roman Em - pire’s cursus publicus that is dated to the 12th or early 13th century CE and which “derives ultimately from a fourth-cen- tury archetype.” Unsurprisingly, Rome is located roughly at Figure 1. Plaque attached to the structure of Rome’s navel, as it stands today. Figure 2. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
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89 Summer/Autumn2014 été/automne 2014 16 Figure 3. Inset of the Peutinger Map.
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89 Summer/Autumn2014 été/automne 2014 17 the map’s center. This required twisting and transforming the Italian peninsula and—given the hint of China on the right-most edge of the map—the entire oikumene . While the literality of the empire as the center of the world was not
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