On the differing opinions as to whom Pliny dedicated his Natural History and including a summary of the topics addressed in this Book II.
Translated by Charlotte Rhoads ’22
Pliny wrote thirty-seven books in his Natural History; I have written twenty in the first part of this work of mine, and in these books I intend to imitate him in everything I can. The first of his was the Preface, dedicating what he wrote to Titus, the Emperor—though others maintain that he was writing to Domitian, and there is no shortage of those who say that it was to Vespasian. I do not need to follow him in this, since I do not write following the authority of some historian or poet but as an eyewitness to most of what I tell here; as to what I have not seen myself, I will rely on narratives from trustworthy people, not giving credit to one sole witness, but to many, on any matters I have not experienced myself. And I will tell them in the manner in which I understood them, indicating from whom I learned of them, for I have decrees and directives from His Imperial Majesty that command all of his governors, judges, and officials throughout the Indies to give me reliable notice and accounts of all that will be worthy of being written about as history from authentic testimonies, signed with their names and sealed by the public scribe to guarantee their accuracy. Because as zealous princes of the truth and such friends of it, they want this Natural and General History of the Indies to be written quite accurately. For as Pliny says (Book V, Chapter II), although the path to understanding the truth may seem clear, it is hard, because diligent men tire or grow weary of investigating the truth and are not ashamed of lying so as not to seem ignorant. It is especially dangerous to give much credit when the author of a falsehood is a serious man of authority. Indeed I see things written from Spain about these Indies and I am amazed as to what the authors dare to say of them, clinging to their elegant styles, being so distant from the truth as the heavens are from earth, and they excuse themselves by simply saying, thus I heard it, and though I did not see it, I understood it from the people who saw it and recount it as such—to such an extent that they dared write to the Pope and to the monarchs and foreign princes.
But what I will say here I do not want to tell to those who do not know me nor to those who live outside of Spain. Hence, dico ego opera mea regi, and as one who writes for his own King and before His High Majesty. Since Pliny counted his Preface as his first book, let my preceding introduction mark the beginning of mine, and let’s call this one Book II.
I said that Pliny dedicated his Natural History to Titus, the emperor, and it may seem to some that I contradict myself, because in that brief relation I wrote in Toledo in 1525 about matters related to the Indies, I said that what Pliny wrote of similar matters he dedicated to Domitian, the emperor (and I am still of such an opinion). And to satisfy those wishing to blame me for such inconsistency, even though to me it is not, I say that I heard about the matter from Pontano in Naples in 1500, who at that time was considered one of the most lettered and erudite men of Italy, and he maintained that Pliny had written to Domitian and not to his brother Titus, and for that he gave sufficient reasons. But regardless of what some historians claim, Antonio of Florence is of a different opinion, since he alleges that Vinc., in Specu. hist. (Book. XI, Chapter. LXVII), when speaking of Pliny and his General and Natural History, says thus: Hic scripsit de historia naturali libros XXXVII, quos Vespasiano cum epistola proemissa direxit. So, this is a third opinion according to which Pliny addressed his books to the Emperor Vespasian, and not to any of his children. Let us leave this aside, and we will return to our principal intent and purpose.
I say that Pliny’s second book is about the elements and the stars; the planets and eclipses; day and night; the geometry of the world and its measurements; the winds, thunder and lightning; the four seasons of the year; of wonders and portents; of where and how snow and hail freeze, and the nature of the Earth, its form, and which part of it is inhabited. (Although in what he says of how the torrid zone or equinoctial line is uninhabitable he was also deceived like those who wrote the same—for it is much inhabited, as today we see in the Mainland of these Indies; even Avicenna believed it thus and gave reasons for it, and he did not believe anything to the contrary as a natural and true philosopher, but what others had said and written about it.) Pliny also mentioned earthquakes, in what land it does not rain, where the earth continually shakes, how the sea rises and falls, and even recounted some miracles about fire.
Of these things and many others that he writes about, anything similar to them in this history of the Indies will be told when I write of the provinces and lands where there is something to note of such matters, and therefore I will not express them in this second book. Instead, I will tell of the person and character of Don Christopher Columbus, first inventor, discoverer, and Admiral of these Indies. I will tell of his origins and of the first, second, third, and fourth voyages that he made to these parts; enterprises for which the Catholic Monarchs, Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabella, who won the kingdom of Granada and Naples etc., granted him the Status and title of perpetual Admiral of their Indies, and after him to his successors, and granted him the royal coat of arms of Castile and Leon and others along with them which he had in his lineage (in the manner I will tell later). And he was ennobled and granted the title of Don for him and his descendants. I will also tell of how he discovered the Mainland, which I think is not smaller than all three—Asia, Africa, Europe—from what modern cosmography teaches us. Since what is known to exist as continuous land from the strait that Captain Ferdinand Magellan discovered, which is on the southern or Antarctic side of the equinoctial line, to the end of the known land, which is called Labrador and is on the northern or Artic pole, going from coast to coast, there are more than five thousand leagues. This may seem an impossible thing to the reader when taking into account the measurements or the circumference of the entire orb.
But it is no wonder, seeing the shape of the Mainland, because it is arched like a hunter’s hook or a horseshoe—so considering the part or shape in which this other half of the world is placed, any mediocre cosmographer will understand very well that it is very possible for the Mainland to be as big as I have said. About some things that I discuss in this first part I will not write long, for they are well-known things. I will also mention some opinions of men that still live close to this discovery, and from whom the first discoverer heard news of these lands, being so unknown and separate from all that Ptolemy and other cosmographers had written. But in this matter I will not give more (or as much) credit to what some people have tried to assert, insisting that someone else had been the first discoverer of this land and seas, than to those who credit him with his works and impact. Because in truth, although others could claim different tales or fables to deprive Don Christopher Columbus of his honors, they should not be believed. His is this glory, and the past, present, and future Catholics monarchs of Spain are indebted solely to Columbus, and only to him after God. And not only the entire nation under Their Majesties’ domain, but even foreign kingdoms, for the great benefit that has ensued throughout the entire world from the discovery of these Indies, with the innumerable treasures that have been taken from them and are every day taken, and will be taken as long as there are men.
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