Magellan's Voyage around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts

Magellan's Voyage around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts

Magellan's Voyage around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts

Magellan's Voyage around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts

Excerpt

In the early 1500's, almost four and a half centuries before men first orbited the earth, an expedition planned and led by Ferdinand Magellan performed a feat of comparable significance for that age. Magellan, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, sailed westward with a fleet of five ships from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in September, 1519. Nearly three years later one ship returned, having circumnavigated the globe and traversed its largest ocean. The importance of this achievement was sufficiently appreciated so that several contemporary accounts of the expedition were soon written and published, including reports by Magellan's own men as well as accounts based on interviews with them. The three most interesting of these sixteenth- century narratives are here offered to modern readers.

The longest and by far the most important of the narratives is the one by Antonio Pigafetta. This author, though not a professional seafarer, sailed with the expedition and was one of the fortunate eighteen who returned to Spain in Juan Sebastián del Cano's "Victoria" following Magellan's death in battle in the Philippines. He took copious notes during the voyage and, as soon as he was back in Spain, wrote them up under the title Primo viaggio intorno al Mondo. The manuscript of Primo viaggio considered most authentic is the one belonging to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and the translation now offered was made by the American scholar James Alexander Robertson and published in 1906.1* Robertson's translation appeared as a limited edition of only 350 copies, and these are today mostly out of reach of the general reading public. A reasonably good edition of the Ambrosiana manuscript had been published in 1894 by Andrea da Mosto in the Raccolta Colombiana2 collection in honor of the fourth centenary of the discovery of America, but this too is rare. Robertson, instead of translating Da Mosto's printed version, went back to the original manuscript and found that the Italian scholar had committed several errors of transcription. We may therefore assume that the present text, although a translation, is the best available. Robertson provided 650 footnotes, many of them long, and while they are most valuable, the present editor and publisher have considered them too elaborate an apparatus of scholarship for the necessary limits of this edition. Accordingly, the original Robertson notes have been deleted and replaced by a lesser number designed to clarify only those passages by Pigafetta most in need of explanation.

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