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Corners of the World

Logistically, how does the world have corners? How many corners does it have?

I could see it being a map reference originally but the first useful-looking web search gives me its first two instances from Shakespeare - who is inconsistent on the matter. In The Merchant of Venice, it's the "four corners of the earth", while in King John, it's the "three corners of the world". I suppose maps can be triangular as easily as square; but they aren't commonly so as far as my knowledge of that period goes.

Equally, I understand how the world contains corners; it's a common feature in buildings. But does that make them the corners of the world, or just corners in the world?

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
steepholm
Jul. 26th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Uber-modern Donne has: "At the round earth's imagined corners/ Blow your trumpets, Angels". Somehow this makes me imagine the earth like a spread out picnic cloth, with the angels standing at each corner ready to shake the crumbs off just prior to the last judgement.

Not very helpful, I know...
owlfish
Jul. 26th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
I like how this line leaves literally ambiguous how many corners the earth may have. Perhaps it's an octagon.
gillo
Jul. 26th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
How many elephants would it take to carry an octagon on the back of a turtle?
library_keeper
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
Donne's poem always makes me imagine a map like this one, but he's referring to Rev. 7:1, 'And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth'.
angevin2
Jul. 26th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
The line in King John is often glossed as assuming that "the three corners of the world" means the three other ones, England being the fourth. At least, it is in the two editions of the play I have that haven't been packed up yet.

I always assumed that the reference was either to maps or to a hypothetical flat earth -- John Donne famously refers to "the round earth's imagined corners," and, in a vaguely related way, he is also fond of map imagery and especially to references that direction in maps is somewhat arbitrary ("as east and west / In all flat maps, and I am one, are none").
owlfish
Jul. 26th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you for checking! Much as I liked the idea of the number of corners being indeterminate, that does make a great deal of sense.

Even when the earth is thought flat, however, it's not usually thought to be *square* and flat to the best of my knowledge.

Clearly, I need to read more Donne.

Edited at 2009-07-26 08:59 pm (UTC)
gillo
Jul. 26th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
I was about to quote Donne at you, but I see I've been beaten to the draw.

I'm assuming it's something to do with the four cardinal points of the compass. However, I am guessing wildly in this respect.
tisiphone
Jul. 26th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
The world isn't really round, it's a planed fractal spread over a sphere. Thus, the world has infinite numbers of corners, they're just all flat ones. I know this because of my learnings.
desperance
Jul. 27th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, well done...
sollersuk
Jul. 26th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
The "four corners of the world" go back to the Old Testament description of the surface of the earth as being rectangular.
cliosfolly
Jul. 26th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
Wouldn't the layout of a t-o map enhance thinking of the world as a space with corners? It would give three corners, if you think of each landmass as a corner.
owlfish
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
Or perhaps nine corners, if you think of each landmass as having three corners apiece.

Actually, that doesn't work for Asia, so make it eight corners.

Edited at 2009-07-27 08:46 am (UTC)
darktouch
Jul. 26th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
My bruises tell me that the world has far too many corners.
tsutanai
Jul. 26th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
Isn't the traditional "Jerusalem in the middle" map circular, but with 3 divisions? Europe, Asia, Africa?

(Vague recollection of non-Asianist things.)
owlfish
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
Yes, like this:



Or, more realistically, like this.
4ll4n0
Jul. 27th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)
Well I found references to biblical origins here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/142625.html . This sight suggests that, at least in Revelations, the reference is to the four compass directions North, South, East and West.

Isaiah Book 11 verse 12 and Revelation Book 7 verse 1.

Note that the word in Greek translated as "corner" is "γωνιας" (gen. of γωνια), which would literally be a corner or angle used in words for things like corner stone. So no help there. I don't know Hebrew so I can't give any insight on the philological implications, if any, of the Isaiah quote.

There was a series of G.I. Joe episodes whereby Cobra managed to black out electrical power across the Earth (well the Northern Hemisphere) by placing machines at "the four corners" of the Earth (four specific, exotic and remote locations, including the Himalayas and the bottom of the sea) and aided by a space station above the North pole creating a giant pyramid of darkness (a square based pyramid, five sided). This had been my source for what the four corners of the Earth are. On reflection there appear to be some holes with the concept, but I stand by it as the best presentation. :)

On the plus side in clarifying the issue of where the four corners of the Earth are I discovered http://www.joost.com has episodes of lots of neat TV shows available for viewing.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 27th, 2009 10:07 am (UTC)
Maps
Shana are you familiar with the Bucky Fuller map?

http://www.bfi.org/our_programs/who_is_buckminster_fuller/design_science/dymaxion_map

Lee Ferber
geesepalace
Jul. 29th, 2009 05:28 am (UTC)
Cosmas Indicopleustes doesn't mention corners as such, but they are implied in his most Christian and scientific explanation of the structure of the universe: "The Deity accordingly having founded the earth, which is oblong, upon its own stability, bound together the extremities of the heaven with the extremities of the earth, making the nether extremities of the heaven rest upon the four extremities of the earth, while on high he formed it into a most lofty vault overspanning the length of the earth."
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