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Ringmann, Matthias

(1482 - 1511)

Matthias Ringmann was a German cartographer and humanist poet. He is credited with naming America.

Born in Vogesia in 1482 (although this date is questioned), he also used the name Philesius Vogesiana. He became a schoolmaster and is often described as a poet.

Some time around 1503 Ringmann visited Italy, where he first learned about explorations of the recently discovered western lands later known as the New World and later named the Americas. He mistakenly came to believe that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered the New World.

Upon his return to Germany Ringmann moved to Saint-Die in Lorraine with his friend Martin Waldseemüller, a cartographer with whom he was working on a new Latin edition of Ptolemy's treatise on geography. Waldseemüller drew the maps while Ringmann edited the translation and wrote a preface. Ringmann is also the best candidate for the author of the introduction to Waldseemüller's great map and globe of the world although many historians attribute the work to Waldseemüller himself. It seems probable that Walter Ludd, the head of the Gymnasium Vosagense paid Ringmann and Waldseemüller to do this work for publication at the Gymnasium's printing press at St. Dié.

Ringmann may have read the French edition of Vespucci's letters (Quatre Navigations d' Americ Vespuce). Whether this book or conversations in Italy were the source of Ringmann's misunderstanding of the accepted discoverer of the New World, he wrote in his introduction: "There is a fourth quarter of the world which Amerigo Vespucci has discovered and which for this reason we can call 'America' or the land of Americo. […] We do not see why the name of the man of genius, Amerigo, who has discovered them, should not be given to these lands, as Europe and Asia have adopted the names of women."

When the book was published as Cosmographiae Introductio on April 25, 1507 it was the first time that the word 'AMERICA' appeared in print. Waldseemüller corrected the error in a later edition and named South America "Terra Nova" but the name was already established.

Ringmann corrected the texts of the Latin editions of Ptolemy's geography published previously at Rome and Ulm, using a Greek manuscript borrowed from Italy (Codex Vaticanum Graecorum 191) while Waldseemüller edited the Ptolemaic maps and added twenty new ones. The result has been described as "the first modern atlas of the world".

In 1508 Ringmann made the first translation of Julius Caesar's Commentaries into German with supplemental lives by Suetonius, Plutarch, and others. One year later he published a card game Grammatica Figurata to make the grammatical rules of Donatus' Ars Minor more appealing to children.

He died in 1511 in Schlettstadt.
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