Where the author and chronicler of this Natural and General History of the Indies discusses his opinion as to whether the location of these Indies had already been known and written about by the ancients, and how and with what sources he proves it.

Translated by Charlotte Rhoads ‘22

In the preceding chapter I discussed the opinion common people hold about the discovery of these Indies. Now I want to tell what my own beliefs on this matter are, and how in my opinion Christopher Columbus was motivated, as a wise, learned, and daring man, to undertake an enterprise such as this one, now so firmly fixed in the memories of those present and to come—for he knew, and it is true, that these lands had been forgotten. But he found them described in writing, and as far as I’m concerned, I have no doubt that they had once been known and in the possession of the Spanish Monarchs. And I want to recall what Aristotle wrote about this matter: he tells of how after having sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar towards the Atlantic ocean, Carthaginian merchants found a large island that had never been discovered nor inhabited by anyone, save for wild animals and other beasts; which is why it was fully wild and full of great trees and marvelous navigable rivers, very fertile and abundant in everything that can be planted and grown and once born is able to grow in complete freedom; but this land was very remote and required many days of navigation from the mainland of Africa. Encouraged by the fertility of the land and the clemency of the air, some Carthaginian merchants came and began to populate the land and settle their seats or towns. This moved the Carthaginians and their Senate to command, under penalty of death, that thenceforth no one should dare navigate to that land; they also ordered that those who had been there be killed, for such was the fame of that island and land, that if it were to fall into the hands of other nations or greater empires, the Carthaginians were wary that it would cause much trouble and inconvenience to themselves and their freedom.

All this I have related is inserted in the report by Brother Theophilus de Ferrariis of Cremona, in his Vitæ regularis sacri ordinis predicatorum, following Aristotle’s De admirandis in natura auditis. This is fine-enough authority to suspect that this island Aristotle mentions could be one of these that are in our Indies, perhaps Hispaniola or Cuba, or by chance part of the Mainland. However, this is not as ancient a source as which I will now claim, because according to Eusebius’s history, De Los Tiempos,[1] Alexander and Aristotle lived 351 years before the advent of Christ, our Redeemer. But in truth, these stories alert us, leading us to suspect an even greater original narrative for these parts; I take these Indies to be those famous islands known as the Hesperides (so named after the twelfth king of Spain, Hesperus). And so that this is understood and proven through sound authorities, it should be known that the custom of the titles or names that the ancients gave to their kingdoms and provinces proceeded after the division of the languages and the foundation of the tower of Babel; for at that time all people lived together, and from there were divided and separated, with different leaders and speaking different languages—we have it as true that all of the people dispersed and spread about the land as the Sacred Scripture reminds us in its rightful place. Isidore says in his Etymologies (Book IX, Chapter II) that the Assyrians were named after Assur; the Lydians after Lido or Broteas; the Hebrews after Heber; the Ismailis after Ismael; the Moabites descended from Moab; from Amon the Ammonites; from Canaan the Canaanites; from Saba the Sabeans; from Sidon the Sidonians; from Jebus the Jebusites; from Gomer the Galatians and the Gauls; from Thrace the Thracians; from King Perseus the Persians; the Chaldeans from Caseth, son of Nahor, brother of Abraham; the Phoenicians from Phoenix, brother of Cadmus; the Egyptians from Egypt, their king; the Armenians from Arminius, their king, who was one of the companions of Jason; the Trojans from Tros, their king; the Sicyonians from Sicyon, their king; the Arcadians from Arcas, their king, son of Jupiter; the Argives from Argos; the Macedonians from Emacion, their king; those of Epirus from Pyrrhus, their king, son of Achilles; the Lacedemonians from Lacedaemon, son of Jupiter; the Alexandrians from Alexander the Great, their king, who built the city of Alexandria; the Romans from Romulus their king, who built the city of Rome, and so to this purpose one could say many others that the same Isidore brings up in the work discussed above.

This custom remained from the first captains or warlords who, as said above, spread out in diverse languages from Shinar, where that Babylonian tower was built. Because according to what we know from Beroso[2], Hibero, second king of Spain, son of Tubal, gave his name to the Ebro River, which is why the people of that riverside are called Iberian. According to the same Beroso, Brigo was the fourth king of Spain, after whom they were called the Bryges; it is believed that through a corruption of the word, and using ph for the b, the people from the kingdom of Phrygia were called Phrygians, and later were named Trojans for Tros, their king, from which we gather that the first Trojans had their origins in the Spanish Bryges. Pliny also says (Book V, Chapter XXXIII) that some authors write that the Bryges were from Europe, from whom were named the Phrygians; well, it is said above that those of Phrygia and the Trojans had their foundation and beginning in Spain.

Returning to our argument, according to the same Beroso, Hispalo was the ninth king of Spain, and this gave name to the river Hispalis (now known as Guadalquivir), or to Seville, which is the same Hispalis, and the inhabitants of its riverside were called Hispalos, the people of Scythia who were brought by Hercules, as told by the Archbishop Don Rodrigo. This Hispalo is believed to be the son of the aforementioned Libyan Hercules (not the strong or Theban Hercules who was born almost 700 years later). This Hispalo was succeeded by Hispan, after whom Spain was named. And this Hispan was the grandson of this Libyan Hercules, who lived, according to Beroso, 223 years before Troy was built, and 1,710 years before the Savior of the world was born. And just as Spain was named after him, it is believed that the people were also named after the other first nine kings. So, this was the tenth king of Spain. The Archbishop Don Rodrigo tells that this Hercules brought Athlante with him, which was close to the times of Moysen. This Athlante, said Beroso, was not Mauritanian, but Italian; Athlante had a brother named Hesperus, according to what Higinio writes, to whom this Hercules left as successor and heir of Spain. Hesperus reigned, according to Beroso, for ten years, because the Italian Athlante kicked him out of the kingdom and made him go to Italy, as told by Higinio. In this way he proves that Italy and Spain are called Hesperia from this king Hesperus, and not after the star, like the Greeks claim.

This king Hesperus, claims Beroso, came to reign in Spain, succeeding the Egyptian Hercules 171 years before Troy was built and 603 years before Rome was founded, which would be 1,658 years before our Redeemer was dressed in our human flesh. So, from what I have said it is proven that the ancient provinces and kingdoms took the names of the princes and lords that founded, conquered, populated, or inherited them. And just as Spain was named after Hispan, and then Hesperus named it Hesperia, so too can we infer that all the other lands took the names of those kings that possessed them. Having accepted this presupposition, let us return to our case—I say that Hesperia was named after Hesperus, twelfth king of Spain. Abulensis (Alonso Tostado) says (Book III, Chapter LXXIX),  about Eusebio’s De los tiempos,[3] that there were three Athlantes: one from Arcadia and the other from Mauritania, which we commonly call Morocco; Hesperus was the brother of the second, and both passed through Africa to the westernmost part in the land of Morocco, one of them took the cape of Africa into the West and the other took the neighboring islands, which are called the Fortunate Islands, called Hesperides by the poets after Hesperus. But I think that El Tostado deceived himself in thinking that the poets or the records called the Hesperides the Fortunate or Canary Islands, because Solinus says (De mirabilibus mundi, Chapter LXVIII): Ultra Gorgades Hesperidum insulæ sunt, sicut Sebosus afirmat, dierum quadraginta navigatione in intimos maris sinus receserunt.[4] These Gorgades, according to Ptolemy and all the true cosmographers, are the ones generally called Cape Verde, and in particular are called today the islands of Maio, Boa Vista, Sal, Fogo, and Brava etc. Because if the Hesperides are forty days sailing from the Gorgades, they could not be any in the world but our Indies, which are to the west of Cape Verde and directly to the west of the Gorgades, and will necessarily be found in forty days or less of sailing, as Seboso says; so we can say that Columbus found them on the second journey he made to these parts, when he encountered the islands of  La Désiderade, Marie Galante, and the others that are in that region (as will be mentioned particularly in its place). And, as Seboso says of the forty days of sailing, the journey is well measured and considered, and if now the journey can sometimes be made in less time it could be because we have better ships and more expert and skillful navigators than in the time when he wrote about it.

La Désiderade, as already mentioned, is directly to the west of Cape Verde and the Gorgades Islands, which Solinus attests to by way of Seboso; from the island of Santiago, which is one of the westernmost of Cape Verde (or Gorgades), to La Désiderade there are approximately 600 leagues. Solinus holds this to be true and Pliny states almost the same (Book VI, Chapter XXXI), confirming this opinion and authority. Solinus says that Estacio Seboso puts the navigation from the Gorgades to the Hesperides at forty days, which would mean that El Tostado mistakenly said that the poets named the Fortunate islands Hesperides (and if the poets said so, they deceived themselves as in many other things); because from the Gorgades to the Fortunate Islands there are but 200 leagues or less, which would not be forty days of navigation, as the cited authors say. So the poets did not consider the Hesperides to be any other than these our Indies, as confirmed by Isidore in his Etymologies (Book XIV, Chapter VI): Hesperidum insulæ vocatæ á civitate Hesperide, quæ fiunt in finibus Mauritamæ, sunt enim ultra Gorgades sitæ sub Athlanteum littus in intimis maris finibus,[5] etc. This statement does not disagree with what Beroso said, citing Higinio, that Athlante and Hesperus were brothers, and not from Mauritania but from Italy; so that Hesperia, now Spain, was named after this Hesperus, and not after the star, and Italy and Spain were named Hesperias after this king.

I say it is clear that the city called Hesperia, which Isidore says gave name to the Hesperides Islands and was located at the end of Mauritania, would be founded and named after the same king Hesperus, and that he would also give his name to said islands; for he says himself that the Hesperides Islands are ultra Gorgades, at the end of the intimate seas, and in this agrees with the aforementioned authors and with Seboso. Therefore, the Hesperides Islands are these islands of the Spanish Indies.

Item: In his treatise of Latin and Greek dictions, Ambrogio Calepino says thus: Hesperides apellatæ sunt Hesperi, fratris Athlantis. So that it is understood from such true and authentic authorities that the Hesperides are forty days of navigation from the point of the Gorgades or islands of Cape Verde, which are the same, as the cited authors claim. Hence, just as Spain, Italy, and that city in Mauritania were named Hesperidas and Hesperidia after Hesperus, twelfth king of Spain, so too were the Hesperides Islands, which according to Seboso, Solinus, Pliny, and Isidore should indubitably be held to be these Indies, and to have been under the dominion of Spain since the time of Hesperus, which was, as Beroso writes, 1,658 years before the Savior of the world was born. And because 1,535 years have elapsed from his glorious Nativity to the present, it follows that it is now 3,193 years from the time Spain and its king Hesperus controlled these islands or Hesperides Indies. And so with such very ancient right, and according to what is said, or what will be said hereafter of the travels of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, God returned this dominion to Spain after so many centuries. And it seems that, like something that was once hers, divine justice wants it returned and kept in perpetuity in the fortune of the blessed and Catholic Monarchs, Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabella, who captured Granada and Naples, etc., in whose time and under whose command the Admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, discovered this New World or such a large part of it, once forgotten in the universe—a land that in the time of the Emperor’s Imperial Majesty, our Lord, has been more widely known and discovered, for the greater expansion of his realm. So, establishing my contention through the authors I have cited, all of them point to these our Indies. I therefore believe that according to these authorities (or others that Columbus might have known), he ventured to look for what he came to find, as a spirited adventurer embracing certain dangers and the longest journey. Be this or any other his true motive—regardless of the consideration that might have moved him, he undertook in these seas what no other had before him, if the cited authorities were wrong.

[1] See earlier query about the identification of this text. [EE]

[2] When Oviedo refers in this chapter to matters of Spanish history during such remote times, it should be taken as fable, especially what he cites and supports with the authority of Beroso, whose book [Juan de] Mariana (The General History of Spain [1592], Book I, Chapter VII) says caused many to “stumble and flounder: a book [he adds] composed of fables and lies… without being able to sufficiently conceal the lie.” For its [lack of] credibility Ferdinand Columbus censured this passage with much acrimony, asserting that Oviedo misinterpreted Aristotle’s text (Vida del Almirante, chapter IX). In his Discursos (XV, p. 264), the chronicler Antonio de Herrera contested the system or opinion adopted by Oviedo, and says that the latter wrote from Hispaniola to the Consejo de las Indias, offering to send proof that said island had been possessed in the past by the kings of Spain; the Consejo answered that they’d be glad to see the proof; but none ever appeared, and Oviedo then discussed it in his General History, referring not only to Hispaniola but to all the Western Indies. Herrera always had this opinion as “vain, harmful, and self-flattering,” as he made sure to prove in the cited Discursos. [AR]

[3] See earlier query about this title. [EE]

[4] Insert English translation here. [EE]

[5] Insert English translation here. [EE]