Nicholas Weiner ’22: Book XXI, Prologue

Book XXI, Prologue

Second book of this second part and volume; and it is the twenty-first book of the General and Natural History of the Indies, Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea of the scepter and crown of Castile and León: in which the geography and settlement of the mainland is addressed.

Translated by Nicholas Weiner ’22

Geography is an imitation and representation of all the parts of the land, so said Claudius Ptolomy at the beginning of his writings, where the author amassed a treatise from the work of many authors. Pliny, speaking in his Natural History of the arrangement of the earth and its geometry, said the following: “These things are secret and inextricable; but we give them to you as we have received them.” In this way I want to offer readers what I have learned from various and many witnesses of this description or picture of the Mainland of these Indies; and if I were to say anything that requires amendment, believe, reader, that I was deceived by the cosmographers whose navigational charts paint pictures of the features of these parts, since I have not been able to see everything for myself, and they may also have been deceived by those who told them about what they had sailed and seen it, if they were unable to describe it clearly. I have traveled some, and I have also communicated about these things with men who affirm that they have seen them: about those places I testify to have seen, I write as I knew how to understand them; so that my intention will be preserved as will my willingness to accept any fair amendment from whoever knows more particularly how to decide and enlighten us about these matters, for they are worthy of the benefit to them and to my wishes that can come from being brought to perfection by those with clarity and experience. Because I cannot go beyond what I am doing already, nor can I strive to do the impossible, and also because in order to polish and leave sufficiently perfected the materials that are addressed here two things will be necessary: the first, as much skill as the history itself demands; and the second, a life as full and long as the world’s own. But since a man cannot live so long and my treatises would be more extensive if God would give me Datidon’s long life to complete them, as he lived five hundred years without aging, as Valerio wrote; but I, who will turn 70 years old this year of 1548 from the Nativity of Christ our Redeemer, have occupied myself for thirty-six years in these parts and in the Indies, where the best part of my life and time has been spent, trying, in return for my labor, to dissect and understand and note what this General and Natural History of the Indies contains. And putting into effect what I proposed in the general prologue of this volume, here in the prologue of this book I will say that it addresses the description and geography of the mainland and its coasts, ports, and ports, and rivers, and main hills, beginning at the eastern mouth of the famous Strait of Captain Ferdinand Magellan, from the cape they call Cape Virgenes; and from there to the equinoctial circle, and past that, I will continue along the same coast in this rich hemisphere and arctic pole, and will reach the land of Labrador, and will reach the land that is sixty degrees from the equinoctial line, and will give at the end a summary report of the most frigid parts of the rich pole, with which this book XXI will end. This new geography of the northern region, as a learned and serious modern author attests as a very certain thing about this land, has not until now been known or written about by any Greek or Latin author. It has been brought to my attention by Miçer Juan Baptista Ramusio, secretary of the Most Illustrious Lordship of Venice, who, not without placing me in an everlasting obligation, has willed that here in this New World I may know and see painted and written the account of those northern lands, by testimony of the writings of the learned gentleman Miçer Olao Gotho, their author, his knowledge and person supported by the authority of the Most Revered Archbishop of Uppsala, a native of those parts: what he says he understands from many navigators of those seas and other people. And in that illustrious city of Venice, where this prelate and the abovementioned author met a short time ago with the permission of the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Paul III, and of that Lordship, this northern treatise has been printed and is deservedly credited. And that which Olao says I will place as his work, as authored by him, in a brief book at the end of this second part, and I will say no more than what is contained in the first of his nine tablets or parts about that northern land: which seems to me to serve the purposes of my history, in order to prove that the ancients who said that the earth below the poles was not inhabited, were deceived in saying so, since the contrary is seen.

Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University