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The Cartographic Satyricon: Digital Pedagogy For The Mapping of Literary Geographies

Sarah E. Bond

University of Iowa

This paper examines the ways in which students and researchers can begin to engage with texts more deeply through digital tools that allow better geographic visualization of both historical and literary topographies. This pedagogical approach is exemplified through the text of the Satyricon. At the beginning of Petronius’ Satyricon, Encolpius bemoans the worthlessness of gaining an education from a umbraticus doctor, a “cloistered instructor” who teaches students nothing of use in daily life by using inapplicable rhetorical exercises (2.4). As the Neronian-era satirist illustrates, the denunciation of an ivory tower lifestyle has a long history. What follows within Petronius' work is an odyssey of the everyday with a movement and geography that switches back and forth between “real” and “imagined.” The audience is vaguely aware of following the narrator around the topography of southern Italy and the area around the Bay of Naples (D’Arms 1970). There are also citations of other Mediterranean cities such as Croton, Carthage, or Rome, for which we can provide an accurate geo-location. However, the reader must also navigate a number of spaces that cannot be pinpointed with longitude and latitude; they are conjured solely within the minds of the author and the reader alone. How then should we engage with and visualize these topographies? Moreover, can we use GIS technologies to do so?

This paper focuses on the use of traditional GIS mapping technologies as well as maptile creation tools to provide geographic layers that represent more “student-driven cartography.” This methodology asks students to create multiple layers for maps wherein real spaces are paired with “imaginary” spaces via digital means. This encourages humanities students to close the gap between what they’re reading, what they’re living, and what can be visualized through spatial tools. This type of quotidian reading has the potential to refigure many types of textual spaces—from the Aeneid’s description of the underworld to Dante’s description of it over a millennium later—by inviting students to annotate spatially and augment these dynamics with textual references—and vice versa. In this paper, there is a set of best practices, digital methods, and core approaches set out for allowing students to layer “imagined spaces” over the lived space of their students’ lives, and then add the “real” spaces of the ancient Mediterranean visualized through digital humanities projects such as the Pleiades Project and Pelagios Commons. These approaches are offered as a means of creating referenced “base maps” for various literary texts commonly taught in both primary and secondary classrooms.

Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, there emerged a “spatial turn” in literature, history, and art. The movement was characterized by a focus on the “microcosms of everyday life and the macrocosms of global flows” (Guldi 2011). While cartography provides the ability to relate points spatially as they exist on the Earth’s surface, both fiction and non-fiction often deviate from the physical spatial geometries dependent on longitude, latitude, and elevations. Yet the spatial structure and topographical features found within novels such as Petronius’ Satyricon are pivotal to organizing, accessing, and navigating literary texts and should not be excluded from mapping simply due to lack of physical verity. Moreover, the frequent tensions between the “real” and the “imaginary” geographies of a text can serve to unveil emotions (e.g. the “limitlessness” of the woodland), perceptions, and motives to the student reader (Bachelard 1994). As such, this paper begins to offer up digital platforms as a way of breaking down the barrier between the “real” and “imagined” by using a familiar and even ancient tool for modelling and visualization: the map.

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Digital Pedagogy

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