Jessie Marasco ’22: Book VI, Chapter XLIX (Which Discusses Diverse and Wondrous Stories and Matters That Have Occurred in Very Remote Parts)

Book VI, Chapter XLIX

Which discusses diverse and wondrous stories and matters that have occurred in very remote parts and show similarities and uniformities with those of very far away provinces; and because some of them are very ancient they are forgotten by those who do not read, and those that we see now seem new, without being so at all. We will touch upon beautiful and delightful lessons in this chapter, such as will give much satisfaction to the readers.

 Translated by Jessica (Jessie) Marasco ’22

In this repository some things will be said that seem new but I narrate them as old and forgotten. These correspond in part to our stories about the Indies; and although in truth some will show resemblances or imitations of others that have occurred outside of Spain and our Indies, it should not surprise us given the great amount of time that has passed between the first and when the second versions were heard. Like what is told of the loyalty and Catholic restraint shown by the Infante Don Fernando (who won Antequera), with the child King Don Juan (the second of such name in Castile), his nephew: that when King Enrique III, brother of the said Infante, died in Toledo, his twenty-month-old son Prince Juan remained, and if the Infante, his uncle, had wanted to, he could have made himself king of Castile; and in that he would have encountered no opposition, as he had always been much loved for the valor and greatness of his person. But his loyalty outweighed his greed: and he went through to Toledo, when the king was dead, with the royal standard, saying: “Castile, Castile for King Juan, my lord.”[1] The boy was in Segovia with the Queen Doña Catalina, his mother, as the chronicles of King Enrique and Don Juan tell at more length. The case was singular and worthy of a Christian prince; but very similar to the loyalty displayed by Lycurgus, prince of the Lacedaemons, who, after the death of his brother, King Polidetes, the Lacedaemons believed that he would make himself king; but as the queen was with child, though they had counseled him to become lord, and the queen, his sister-in-law, had demanded that he take her as his wife and that she would manage for the pregnancy not to come to light, his resolution never changed. Rather as soon as Lycurgus heard what the queen said, as a prudent man he hid his feelings and told her that he would gladly marry her; but that he did not want her to put her life in danger, urging her to have patience until she gave birth, and that he had a way for the child to be killed secretly after its birth, and they could do as they wished without danger. With this hope he tempered the exalted madness and infamous and crude request of the queen, and he placed guards and secret observers around her, so that when she gave birth the creature would be taken away, so that the cruel and dishonest mother could do no evil upon it. And when the time came, she bore a son, and he was brought before Lycurgus, who was eating with some of the principal lords of the kingdom, and as soon as he saw him, he took the child in his arms and said: “Lacedaemons, our king is born.” And stepping down from the royal throne, he bowed to the child with much respect, put him in it, and named him Charilaus, and all the bystanders were joyful, praising the greatness and justice of Lycurgus’ spirit. If as a God-fearing and Catholic prince the Infante Don Fernando had greater justification for such a virtuous and memorable act of such immortal memory, I will not cease to believe that he must have read what his gracious predecessor had done in order to imitate him. But that lesson would not have sufficed if his loyalty had not been instilled to his core, for the lack of it would have found many at that time (and no fewer in our times), ready to put their honor and soul at total risk, as has been done by others, both ancient and modern, to find themselves lords of lesser states, let alone to find themselves kings of Castile, which encompasses so many kingdoms and lordships.

Now let us take a look at the work of the Macedonians, of whom a very remarkable case is written;[2] which is that with the Lyrians and Thracians fighting against them, they were brought to such extremes that they were constrained to flee, their king being killed: and in the greatest peril their spirits were lifted and they took the son of the king who was in his bed, lifted him against their enemies, and fought so hard that though they lacked the favor and real aid of their dead king, they still slew and cast out all of their adversaries from the land for the glory of the Macedonian name.

To this I think we can compare (and even give preference) to the loyalty and glory of the knights, hidalgos, and memorable republic of the city of Avila, in our Spain, and it was like this. At the time of King Alonso VII of Castile (king of Aragon, as well), son-in-law of King Alonso VI, conqueror of Toledo, because he was married to his daughter Doña Urraca, queen of Castile, who had first been the wife of Count Remon de Tolouse, with whom she had had a son named Alonso VIII,[3] who was very young and lived in Avila; and his stepfather, wanting to take possession of him and of the city, moved against Avila, asking that it should obey him as king. The people of the city answered that they had a king: the Aragonese, and many of the Castilians who followed his lead, claimed that the infant king was dead, and laid siege upon the city with much rigor; and the besieged offered terms for a sight of the child in return for their lifting the siege around the city, and if within two months they were not shown the child king, the city would be delivered to them and they would swear loyalty to him. And the king of Aragon promised to fulfill his part of the bargain, and the city gave up as hostages sixty of Avila’s best and finest young knights. And then the besieged, with this agreement in hand, secretly sent for their king to La Nava, where he was being raised; and once he had been brought back to the city they told the king of Aragon that if he returned them their hostages they would show him the child king, so long as there was no force or fraud, but that the field would be secured, with knights matching up whether three by three or even three hundred by three hundred. And the king of Aragon, seeing that he could not exert his will and that his ruse was understood, had the hostages put to death, and commanded that some of them be thrown alive in boiling cauldrons, at a place so marked by cruelty to this present time that it has been known since then as Hervencias (the boilers); a place from which those within the city could watch their suffering and the besieged could feel the greater horror. And some of the hostages were reserved to be bound at the head of the charging soldiers, believing that they could thus take the city; but the besieged did not refrain from killing them. Once he saw this, the king of Aragon lifted the siege, determined to take other towns in the region and destroy the land. Then those of Avila sent Blasco Ximeno, a knight well-known for his valor, to challenge the king of Aragon as a cruel man not true to his word, for he had killed his hostages. With this knight went his nephew of the same name, and they found the king in a place called Diaciego (now called Saint Juan de la Torre), and Blasco Ximeno said this to him: “If any king should be challenged for the ugliness he commits, the city of Avila, and I in its name, challenge you, King of Aragon, Don Alfonso, for what you have done and committed against your word and the assurances you offered but did not honor; and you are obliged to make amends to the city of Avila, and you must give up a knight, or two, or more, as many as you like, up to three hundred, and as many as the city of Avila will send, that with equal weapons will make good what I say: and they will slay them, or drive them off the field, or cause them to confess with their mouths, surrendering, your flagrant guilt; and of this I make witnesses of those before you, the king of Aragon, who hear me.” And the king hearkened unto all that Blasco Ximeno said to him: but he was so angry at hearing it, that, though he had given leave to let that gentleman complete his embassy, he instead commanded with great fury that they be killed. And the young man reached for his sword and thought to kill the king, seeing that his knights were moving to do as they had been commanded, and so many of them charged at him at once that they cut him to pieces where he stood. And as they were engaged in this, the uncle had a chance to escape and he mounted his horse, thinking to save himself; but they caught up to him, because a brother of the king of Aragon and other knights left Cantiveros and rode across to intercept and apprehend him. And as Blasco Ximeno knew that he could not get away, he turned to face off against the king’s brother and killed him, and there they killed Blasco Ximeno himself. And in memory of this day, there was a stone marker left at the site, known as el hito or the landmark, which for a long time marked the spot where that gentleman was killed: and every year the knights of Avila went there and played reeds and gave food to all the poor people who gathered there, and gave gifts in memory of the good knight, their compatriot. Later, at the time when Bernaldo de Mata, whom I knew, was the chief magistrate of Avila, a shrine in the shape of a cross was placed there, between Cantiveros and Hontiveros. This Blasco Ximeno left behind other knights, his descendants, and from them descended Vasco Ximenez, the one to whom the Council of Avila awarded Navalmorcuende and this privilege was confirmed by the king don Alonso XI who conquered Algecira. So, it is to be gleaned from what has been said, as can be read at length in the Chrónica del rey don Alonso VIII, who had himself called Emperor, that he was raised by the people of Avila, and to keep him safe while he was a child they put him in that large and sumptuous tower known as the cimorro of the cathedral. And he commanded the city to give him three bushels of wheat for his expenses out of every yoke that tilled the ground; and this custom remained, and it was carried on by the other kings who succeeded to the throne in Castile, until it came time for this rent to be passed on to the nuns of Saint Clemente of Avila, and after that the privilege was given to Saint Anna, and today they collect that same rent and it’s called the quartels. After this, King Alonso VIII confirmed Avila’s privileges, mayoralties, and institutions, and in token of the excellence of its loyalty, he commanded that it be known as Avila of the King and be given for their coat of arms the figure or tower of the aforementioned cimorro on a field of blood-red gules, with a king wearing his crown with his scepter at hand, standing at a window of the cimorro where he had been kept and reared, from which they showed him publicly that they might see that he was alive, contrary to that which was published by his stepfather, the king of Aragon. He also gave them the privilege that the city might award vassaldoms and jurisdictions to be presented to the king or kings and their successors for confirmation. It turned out that seeing those of Avila so honored, many gave up their surnames (although they were noble and ancient) and they claimed the name of Avila, as the knights of the two principal houses of that city are called at present, as confirmed by King Sancho the Desired. Many things in general and particularly can be said with truth in praise of the knights and noblemen of Avila; but it seems to me that what has been said here should suffice as a comparison to that which the Macedonians did with their infant king, as was told above. Let us move on to other things that will be a praiseworthy recreation for those who want to engage in this sharing of knowledge and will listen carefully.

Two remarkable and ancient stories come to mind, and as has been told in the stories narrated above, those stories that I will now tell are related. Livius[4] says that Tarquinius Superbus, king of the Romans, being at war against the people of the city of Gabina and not able to subjugate them, agreed to fraudulently practice a stealthy trick to conquer them. And for this purpose, he came to an agreement with one of his three sons, named Sextus, who went to go to Gabina under the pretense that he was fleeing from the cruelty of his father, and was seeking the help and succor of the city. And he spoke such words against the king, his father, and they felt such compassion for him, that in addition to giving him credit, they made him their captain general; and he made war against his father, and showed himself to be valiant in combat and prudent and of good sense in the actions he undertook. And he divided the spoils and the gains made in clashes and skirmishes against the Romans very liberally; so that in a short time he was much loved and accepted by the Gabinites: and when it seemed to him like it was time, he sent a messenger to Rome to the king, his father, telling him how Gabina would bend to his will and that he should see what he wanted done. So Tarquinius answered not a word to the messenger, because he did not trust him, but went into a den or corral within his chamber, pretending to think about his response: and the messenger went in after him, and the king with a rod in his hand smote down to the ground the tallest flowers on the roosts, and strode up and down calmly, not saying anything. And the messenger did not ask for an answer, and he returned to Gabina, and told Sextus what he had said to his father, and what he had seen, and said that it seemed to him that the king would not answer, either because he was angry, full of enmity, or proud. Sextus understood this silence well, and began to seek unjust complaints against the Gabin princes, falsely accusing them of slandering and antagonizing the lower-classes, and he condemned many to death, and others, whom he could not find cause to kill, he had murdered secretly, and many fled and he had their flight proclaimed: and the accumulated wealth was distributed among those of the lower-class, the common people who followed along with his scheme, not realizing his deceit, nor the perdition of their city, which stripped of counsel and men of authority was handed over by Sextus to his father, King Tarquinius, without opposition.

There is something else to be said to this purpose about what happened in Spain to King Ramiro of Aragon, the monk, who was a member of the Order of Saint Benito, a sacred order, and for lack of successors to the throne of that kingdom, as a person to whom the royal scepter belonged by right, was compelled by the Pope, and in obedience accepted the governorship and royal crown, in the year 1119 of Christ our Redeemer. But since from a very young age he had entered the above-mentioned religious order, he was a very Christian Catholic in all things and renounced the luxuries and profanities which the laymen and people of the palace prized; and for this he was regarded as boorish and he was held in little esteem by his chief gentlemen and subjects. And it came to pass, that, desiring to engage the Moors in battle, and the banners already up and everything set for the encounter, they placed a dagger in his left hand and a spear in his right hand, and he asked how he was supposed to hold the reins of his horse with both of his hands full: and a knight, mockingly, told him he should hold them with his mouth; and so he took the reins with his teeth and kicked his legs and rode on, entering into battle with incredible boldness, a battle in which he was victorious against the infidels, his enemies. Therefore, as in other things, as he knew little of the military arts, his own men mocked him, as though he were inept. Then he, seeing himself being greatly mocked, sent a letter by messenger to the abbot of Saint Ponce, who had raised him and was a man of good mind and exceeding wisdom, asking for his advice and counsel. The abbot, having read the letter, went into an orchard with the messenger, and with a knife began to cut the best and highest herbs at the root (others say that it was the largest cabbages), and after he had done this for a good length time, he said: “Return to the king, your lord, and tell him to trust to God and always serve him: that I and the other monks always pray for him.” The messenger returned to the king and told him that he had delivered his letter to the abbot and brought no response and told him what the abbot had done in the garden. And the king understood that this was a very wise answer, and then he called for all of the chief lords and knights of the kingdom of Aragon to the city of Huesca, letting them know that he wanted to make a bell, with their counsel, that could be heard all throughout Aragon. And his letters were much mocked; but they gathered and came to the king, and he entered with them into a secret chamber where he had armed men, saying that he would take their vows one by one; and he who entered did not leave; for he was immediately beheaded. And he slew fifteen great men of the kingdom; and he placed them around in a circle, and called the sons and heirs of the dead men, and said unto them: “See there the bell I said I would make, that it should ring all across Aragon, and also outside of my kingdom: I have kept my word; and the same will happen too you unless you are very loyal and obedient.” And henceforth this prince was greatly respected and served by all, young and old, in his kingdom, by the counsel of that bold one mentioned before: I believe that he had read Titus Livius, and that he understood well how to cure the contempt that King Ramiro had been shown there.

This king was the son of King Sancho of Aragon and Queen Sol, daughter of Cid Ruy Diaz, and brother of King Alonso and King Pedro, kings of Aragon, whose rightful successor was this monk. And it is not surprising that, despite his being a monk, he retained part of the spirit of such a valiant and undefeated captain as his saintly grandfather, Cid Ruy Diaz. You see here, my noble reader, the similarities between the tall herbs that the Abbot of Saint Ponce cut and the amapolas that the King Tarquin knocked down in the corral, in front of the messenger sent by his son Sextus Tarquinius.

Something else of note, which I have read many times in Valladolid and does not seem to me a very Catholic epitaph, concerns Pero Niago, whose epitaph recalls one placed in the tomb of Sardanapalus, last king of the Assyrians, and is like this. In the church of Santistevan, on the wall outside of the church, is the sculpture of a knight, whose identity I don’t know, and it is noted for its epigram or sign, which says:

I am Don Pedro Niago

And I lie beneath:

what I ate and drank I enjoyed;

the good that I did, I found:

what I left here, I do not know.

There are many possible interpretations of what this means, and I do not want to concern myself with repeating them, so I leave them to the prudent reader; and I will only say to my purpose that many centuries and even thousands of years before, as it was written of Sardanapalus,[5] king of the Assyrians (a corrupter of all women), Harbaces, his captain and lieutenant general, found him with many dishonest women, dressed in brocade, a gold chain around his neck, spinning in a woman’s dress: this his captain despised and conjured a conspiracy against his lord, and it coming to be determined through battle, King Sardanapalus was defeated and fled as soon as the battle started; and he entered a great forest and there he burned himself of his own accord with great riches, and he commanded that certain verses be written upon his ashes and upon his grave, whose words, according to Tullius, read as follows: “I have had that which I have eaten, and of lust attained abundance: the other things may remain.”[6] I have certainly often looked at Don Pero Miyago or Miago, and his memorial seems to me more like that of a gentile than that of a loyal Catholic (subject to amendment from whoever understands it better).

I have brought this up to remind us of the purpose stated earlier, that some things seem new, because they are very old and have been forgotten. Therefore, let us leave off the comparisons or repositories that do not touch upon our Indies, and let me introduce some that do belong to these parts; for they will seem new to those who have been here, and in Spain and other kingdoms they will also be counted as such, and I will give each and every one of them their counterpart, in this manner.

Hieu, king of Israel, slew seventy of the sons of Ahab,[7] whose heads, with those of other kinsmen, were set upon staves thrust into the ground. The sight of these heads, placed there like trophies, are used in many parts by the Indians of the Mainland, where I have seen countless ones displayed on trees and sticks around the houses of the chieftains and chief lords: and when I ask them whose heads they are, they say that they are enemies and men they have killed, as will be told in greater detail in this histories, and especially in the second and third parts of this General History.

The Chronicle Supplement[8] says that the men of Cyprus had the custom of sending their virgins to the seacoast, so that the sailors who worked there would use them carnally; and thus offer Venus their vow of a life of chastity, as Giovanni Boccaccio wrote at length in his treatise on Illustrious Women; where he particularly writes of Venus, and says that it was in this way that the women gained their dowries for marriage. This custom is used by women in some provinces of the Mainland, and especially where I was, in the province of Nicaragua, and I learned this from the Indian men and women themselves, and I saw that the most horrible and lustful of the women won their dowry and were considered by their parents and other Indians to have the most admired abilities, which I will write about later in Book XLII, chapter VII, so as to shorten the lesson here and move on to other subjects.

The ancients ascribe the invention of winemaking to Bacchus,[9] and they say likewise that he taught the Germans how to make beer; but whoever wanted to read more extensively about wine and its properties and differences and diverse types should read Pliny, since in truth, as the Sacred Scripture says,[10] Noah was the inventor and the planter of the vineyard after the flood. But in my opinion the Indians, when it comes to the invention of their wines, neither heard of Pliny or Columella, nor Crescentinus or any others, nor have they seen the authority of Genesis I mentioned above: neither do these people make wine from grapes, though they have many wild grapes; but they make it from maize and yucca, from which they make the bread they eat in some provinces, and in others from honey and water, and in parts from certain plums and pineapples, and they make other wines or drinks in other ways, as the reader will learn in greater detail later in this General History. And this wine is called chicha in some parts, and in others it is known by other names, because there are many different languages. This is brought to bear since there are in these parts many things which in some ways imitate those to which Christians and people from Europe are accustomed.

They attribute the invention of mirrors to Aesculapius, son of Apoline.[11] The Indians did not have need of this invention, nor did they learn from other people how to make mirrors; for they make excellent ones from mother-of-pearl in New Spain and in other parts of the Mainland; and in Peru the principal Indians used to make a plate or sheet of very fine and tempered silver of the size they wanted the mirror to be and look at themselves in them; and I still think they are among the best of all, because I saw some of these that I have described.

For the invention of removing stone and making walls, Pliny credits Trason;[12] but the making of walls, whether of earth, stone, or brick, is very common and is an ancient practice around the world. But that which our Spanish soldiers have seen in some parts and towns of the Mainland is a very strange and remarkable thing, as shown in my stories, where some towns are walled behind one or two rows or fences of very large trees, planted and laid by hand, separated from each other by four, five, or six feet, more or less. And as they grow they trim them so that they may rise and grow upright; and over time and years they thicken and grow mighty and so to purpose that they leave no room between one tree and another, and so together around the town’s circumference, they create a wall that, in my view, is the strongest that I can think of if one had a mediocre company of defenders.

Pliny[13] says that the processing of wood was invented by Daedalus, and so was the first saw for sawing trees. But another way of sawing iron has been found in these parts, even if it were a thick anchor (a wonderful thing to say); for the Indian with thread made of cotton or henequen or pita fiber cuts any iron, and this has been taught to them by the necessity to cut the fetters or chains in which some Christians have cast them into prison. And it has come to pass, that, having given them time, they take a thread of the kind I have mentioned, and move it upon that which they wish to cut, casting some fine sand upon it, little by little, where the cord touches: and as the threads begins to cut and get hot, they snap it, as they would a turnip; and as the thread is brushed against the iron they repair it continuously, making it whole. This has been experienced and seen many times on the Mainland.

As Plutarch argues in his life of Theseus, he was the first to divide the knights and noblemen from the other folk and craftsmen in Athens, and taught them good habits suitable for political life and of much use to his republic. But to these Indians, so seemingly separated from all that has been written, who shall we say taught them all these differences in their republics, kept with so much humility before their superiors and so keenly preserved? I suspect that nature is the guide of the arts, and as the Florentines often say, though not without cause, in their popular proverb: “All the world is like our home.” And so it seems to me that, in truth, of the many things we find surprising when we see them practiced by these people and wild Indians, what we see in them is the same or almost the same that we have seen or read in other well-schooled parts of the world. In consequence of which it is written that in Dirachio or Diraco, also known as Epidaurus (the city of the Venetians,) which has the same name as another city in Achaia, where there was or still is a most beautiful temple in honor of Aesculapius, the Romans, wearied with pestilence for three years, having read the books of the Sybils, found that there was no other remedy for healing other than, as their last hope, bringing Aesculapius, whose statue was in the form of a serpent, to Rome; and this has brought to my memory (following the great sweep of idolatry in these Indians,) the monument found in the house of the great prince Atabaliba in the town of Cajamarca, inside which there is a very large stone serpent that must be in honor of Aesculapius, as will be told more extensively in the third part of these stories, in Book XLVI, Chapter VII, which deals with the imprisonment of this prince. And to whoever doubts my suspicion, let it be remembered that the same devil that taught the ancients idolatry is the very same who has sown this damned idolatry among these Indians; and the oldest simulacrum or image of the devil is this of the serpent, in the shape of which it deceived our first parents, as the Sacred Scriptures has shown at great length. And this is enough to prove the intent or purpose of the introduction to this chapter XLIX.

Let us move on to other subjects, since much could be added to what I have written here that I am leaving out to avoid long-windedness; for grazing among lessons, as one would at a prince’s table, where the diversity of delicacies is both adornment and authority, as well as a great opportunity to awaken the palate’s appetite to sweetness, bitterness, and mixed flavors, just as reading increases the perseverance of the different discourses and novelties that history brings with it. And this is one of the reasons that brings sin to the ears and understandings of those accustomed to hearing or reading fabulous vanities, from which wrongs those who are exercised in true and honest stories are protected.

[1] Chrónica del rey don Enrique III: Chrónica dddel rey don Johan II. [GFO]

[2] Supplementum Chronicarum, Book IV. [GFO]

[3] The author departs here from the chronology most generally followed by our historians, admitting Alfonso VI within the number of the monarchs of León and Castile, whose marriage to Doña Urraca was the cause of scandals and upheavals. It should be noted, for our understanding of the events narrated by Oviedo in this chapter, that the grandson of Alfonso VI, crowned Emperor in the cities of León and Toledo (from which the latter gained the title of Imperial), has been commonly known by the number VII and not VIII, which was borne by Alfonso, he of Navas de Tolosa. The respect owed to Oviedo’s opinion keeps us from introducing a correction here, but we must note, nonetheless, that having designated the Emperor with the number VII, he then changed it, judging undoubtedly, that this was the most exacts way of counting the kings of León and Castile known by the name of Alfonso. [AR]

[4] Titus Livius, Ist Decade, Book I, Chapters 41 and 42. [GFO]

[5] Suplementum Chronicarum, Book IV. [GFO]

[6] Tullius Cicero, Quistiones lusculanas. [GFO]

[7] Book IV of the Kings, Chapter 10. [GFO]

[8] Suplementum Chronicarum, Book II. [GFO]

[9] Suplementum Chronicarum, Book III. [GFO]

[10] Pliny, Book XXIII. [GFO]

[11] Coepitque Noe, vir Agricola, exerccere terram, et plantavit vineam. Bibensque vinum, inebriatus est. Genesis, Chapter IX, Verses 20 andd 21. [GFO]

[12] Pliny, Book VII, Chapter 56. [GFO]

[13] Pliny, ut supra. [GFO]