Map of the Eastern hemisphere surrounded by twelve flying winds.Full description »
Map of the Eastern hemisphere surrounded by twelve flying winds.
Before acceptance of the compass became universal, mariners had relied on the sun and stars to navigate and on the direction from which winds blew to describe sailing routes. At first the winds had local names, often referring to the weather they brought, and it was some time before generally accepted names were used. Biblical texts refer to only ‘four winds from the four quarters of heaven’, and Homer also considered four winds (Boreas, Eurus, Notus and Zephyrus) enough. By Roman times a twelve-point wind rose had been developed; it continued in use until the sixteenth century, to be replaced by the sixteen/thirty-two points of direction used today. The winds were renamed several times: Boreas became Septentrio, named for the seven stars of the constellation of the Bear in the northern part of the sky; Notus became Meridies, the direction of the midday sun; and Oriens and Occidens became Levante and Ponente, after the rising and setting sun. It was the Emperor Charlemagne (c.742–814 CE) who adopted the names Nord, Est, Sund and Oëst, with their intermediate points, which are the origin of those we now use.
Given the chance, map-makers and engravers took the opportunity to indulge their creativity and sense of humour when embellishing their maps with wind heads.