Americus Vespucius, 1451-1512Navigator; born in Florence, March 9, 1451. When Columbus was in Seville preparing for his second voyage, Vespucius was there as a commercial agent of the Medici family of Florence, and he became personally acquainted with the discoverer. That acquaintance
His first voyage.He started from Cadiz on May 10, 1497, and returned to that city on Oct. 15, 1498. His letter to Pier Soderini, gonfalonier of the republic of Florence, is as follows:
Magnificent Lord. After humble reverence and due commendations, etc. It may be that your Magnificence will be surprised by (this conjunction of) my rashness and your customary wisdom, in that I should so absurdly bestir myself to write to your Magnificence, the present so-prolix letter; knowing (as I do) that your Magnificence is continually employed in high councils and affairs concerning the good government of this sublime Republic. And will hold me not only presumptuous, but also idly-meddlesome in setting myself to write things, neither suitable to your station, nor entertaining, and written in barbarous style, and outside of every canon of polite literature; but my confidence which I have in your virtues and in the truth of my writing, which are things (that) are not found written neither by the ancients nor by modern writers, as your Magnificence will in the sequel perceive, make me bold. The chief cause which moved (me) to write to you, was at the request of the present bearer, who is named Benvenuto Benvenuti our Florentine (fellow-citizen), very much, as it is proven, your Magnificence's servant, and my very good friend; who happening to be here in this city of Lisbon, begged that I should make communication to your Magnificence of the things seen by me in divers regions of the world, by virtue of four voyages which I have made in discovery of new lands; two by order of the king of Castile, King Don Ferrando VI., across the great gulf of the Ocean-sea, towards the west; and the other two by command of the puissant King Don Manuel King of Portugal, towards the south; Telling me that your Magnificence would take pleasure thereof, and that herein he hoped to do you service; wherefore I set me to do it; because I am assured that your Magnificence holds me in the number of your servants, remembering that in the time of our youth I was your friend, and now (am your) servant; and (remembering our) going to hear the rudiments of grammar under the fair example and instruction of the venerable monk friar of Saint Mark Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci; whose counsels and teaching would to God that I had followed; for as saith Petrarch, I should be another man than what I am. Howbeit soever. I grieve not: because I have ever taken delight in worthy matters; and although these trifles of mine may not be suitable to your virtues, I will say to you as said Pliny to Maecenas, you were sometime wont to take pleasure in my prattlings; even though your Magnificence be continuously busied in public affairs, you will take some hour of relaxation to consume a little time in frivolous or amusing things; and as fennel is enstomarily given atop of delicious viands to fit them for better digestion, so may you, for a relief from your so heavy occupations, order this letter of mine to be read; so that they may withdraw you somewhat from the continual anxiety and assiduous reflection upon public affairs; and if I shall be prolix. I crave pardon, my Magnificent Lord. Your Magnificence shall know that the motive of my coming into this realm of Spain was to traffic in merchandise; and that I pursued this intent about four years; during which I saw and knew the inconstant shiftings of Fortune; and how she kept changing those frail and transitory benefits; and how at one time she holds man on the summit of the wheel, and at another time drives him back from her, and despoils him of what may be called his borrowed riches; so that, knowing the continuous toil which man undergoes to win them, submitting himself to so many anxieties and risks. I resolved to abandon trade, and to fix my aim upon something more praiseworthy and stable; whence it was that I made preparation for going to see part of the world and its wonders; and herefor the time and place presented themselves most opportunely to me; which was that the King Don Ferrando of Castile being about to despatch four ships to discover new lands towards the west. I was chosen by his Highness to go in that fleet to aid in making discovery; and we set out from the port of Cadiz on the 10 day of May 1497, and took our route through the great gulph of the Ocean-sea; in which voyage we were eighteen months (engaged); and discovered  much continental land and innumerable islands, and great part of them inhabited; whereas there is no mention made by the ancient writers of them; I believe, because they had no knowledge thereof; for, if I remember well, I have read in some one (of those writers) that he considered that this Ocean-sea was an un-peopled sea; and of this opinion was Dante our poet in the XXVI. chapter of the Inferno, where he feigns the death of Ulysses; in which voyage I beheld things of great wondrousness as your Magnificence shall understand. As I said above, we left the port of Cadiz four consort ships; and began our voyage in direct course to the Fortunate Isles, which are called to-day la gran Canaria, which are situated in the Ocean-sea at the extremity of the inhabited west, (and) set in the third climate; over which the North Pole has an elevation of 27 and a half degrees beyond their horizon; and they are 280 leagues distant from this city of Lisbon, by the wind between mezzo di and libeccio: where we remained eight days, taking in provision of water, and wood and other necessary things; and from here, having said our prayers, we weighed anchor, and gave the sails to the wind, beginning our course to westward, taking one quarter by south-west; and so we sailed on till at the end of 37 days we reached a land which we deemed to be a continent; which is distant westwardly from the isles of Canary about a thousand leagues beyond the inhabited region within the torrid zone; for we found the North Pole at an elevation of 16 degrees above its horizon, and (it was) westward, according to the shewing of our instruments, 75 degrees from the isles of Canary; whereat we anchored with our ships a league and a half from land; and we put out our boats freighted with men and arms; we made towards the land, and before we reached it, had sight of a great number of people who were going along the shore; by which we were much rejoiced; and we observed that they were a naked race; they shewed themselves to stand in fear of us; I believe (it was) because they saw us clothed and of other appearance (than their own): they all withdrew to a hill, and for whatsoever signals we made to them of peace and of friendliness, they would not come to parley with us; so that, as the night was now coming on, and as the ships were anchored in a dangerous place, being on a rough and shelterless coast, we decided to remove from there the next day, and to go in search of some harbour or bay, where we might place our ships in safety; and we sailed with the maestrale wind, thus running along the coast with the land ever in sight, continually in our course observing people along the shore; till after having navigated for two days, we found a place sufficiently secure for the ships, and anchored half a league from land, on which we saw a very great number of people; and this same day we put to land with the boats, and sprang on shore full 40 men in good trim; and still the land's people appeared shy of converse with us, and we were unable to encourage them so much as to make them come to speak with us; and this day we laboured so greatly in giving them of our wares, such as rattles and mirrors, beads, spallinc, and other trifles, that some of them took confidence and came to discourse with us; and after having made good friends with them, the night coming on, we took our leave of them and returned to the ships; and the next day when the dawn appeared we saw that there were infinite numbers of people upon the beach, and they had their women and children with them; we went ashore, and found that they were all laden with their worldly goods which are suchlike as, in its (proper) place, shall be related; and before we reached the land, many of them jumped into the sea and came swimming to receive us at a bowshot's length (from the shore), for they are very great swimmers, with as much confidence as if they had for a long time been acquainted with us; and we were pleased with this their confidence. For so much as we learned of their manner of life and customs, it was that they go entirely naked, as well the men as the women. . . . They are of medium stature, very well proportioned; their flesh is of a colour that verges into red like a lion's mane; and I believe that if they were clothed, they would be as white as we; they have not any hair upon the body, except the hair of the head which is long and black, and especially in the women, whom it renders handsome; in  aspect they are not very good-looking, because they have broad faces, so that they seem Tartar-like; they let no hair grow on their eyebrows, nor on their eyelids, nor elsewhere except the hair of the head; for they hold hairness to be a filthy thing: they are very light-footed in walking and in running, as well the men as the women: so that a woman recks nothing of running a league or two, as many times we saw them do: and herein they have a very great advantage over us Christians: they swim (with an expertness) beyond all belief, and the women better than the men: for we have many times found and seen them swimming two leagues out at sea without anything to rest upon. Their arms are bows and arrows very well made, save that (the arrows) are not (tipped) with iron or any other kind of hard metal: and instead of iron they put animals' or fishes' teeth, or a spike of tough wood, with the point hardened by fire: they are sure marksmen for they hit whatever they aim at: and in some places the women use these bows: they have other weapons, such as fire-hardened spears, and also clubs with knobs, beautifully carved. Warfare is used amongst them, which they carry on against people not of their own language, very cruelly, without granting life to any one, except (to reserve him) for greater suffering. When they go to war, they take their women with them, not that these may fight, but because they carry behind them their worldly goods, for a woman carries on her back for thirty or forty leagues a load which no man could bear: as we have many times seen them do. They are not accustomed to have any Captain, nor do they go in any ordered array, for everyone is lord of himself: and the cause of their wars is not for lust of dominion, nor of extending their frontiers, nor for inordinate covetousness, but for some ancient enmity which in by-gone times arose amongst them: and when asked why they made war, they knew not any other reason to give than that they did so to avenge the death of their ancestors, or of their parents: these people have neither King, nor Lord, nor do they yield obedience to any one, for they live in their own liberty: and how they be stirred up to go to war is (this) that when the enemies have slain or captured any of them, his oldest kinsman rises up and goes about the highways haranguing them to go with him and avenge the death of such his kinsman; and so are they stirred up by fellow-feeling: they have no judicial system, nor do they punish the ill-doer: nor does the father, nor the mother chastise the children: and marvellously (seldom) or never did we see any dispute among them: in their conversation they appear simple, and they are very cunning and acute in that which concerns them: they speak little and in a low tone: they use the same articulations as we, since they form their utterances either with the palate, or with the teeth, or on the lips: except that they give different names to things. Many are the varieties of tongues: for in every 100 leagues we found a change of language, so that they are not understandable each to the other. The manner of their living is very barbarous, for they do not eat at certain hours, and as oftentimes as they will: and it is not much of a boon to them that the will may come more at midnight than by day, for they eat at all hours; and they eat upon the ground without a table-cloth or any other cover, for they have their meats either in earthen basins which they make themselves, or in the halves of pumpkins: they sleep in certain very large nettings made of cotton, suspended in the air: and although this their (fashion of) sleeping may seem uncomfortable, I say that it is sweet to sleep in these (nettings): and we slept better in them than in the counterpanes. They are a people smooth and clean of body, because of so continually washing themselves as they do. . . . Amongst those people we did not learn that they had any law, nor can they be called Moors nor Jews, and (they are) worse than pagans; because we did not observe that they offered any sacrifice; nor even had they a house of prayer; their manner of living I judge to be Epicurean: their dwellings are in common: and their houses (are) made in the style of huts, but strongly made, and constructed with very large trees, and covered over with palm-leaves, secure against storms and winds: and in some places (they are) of so great breadth and length, that in one single house we found there were 600  souls: and we saw a village of only thirteen houses, where there were four thousand souls: every eight or ten days they change their habitations: and when asked why they did so: (they said it was) because of the soil which, from its filthiness, was already unhealthy and corrupted, and that it bred aches in their bodies, which seemed to us a good reason; their riches consist of birds' plumes of many colours, or of rosaries which they make from fishbones, or of white or green stones which they put in their cheeks and in their lips and ears, and of many other things which we in no wise value: they use no trade, they neither buy nor sell. In fine, they live and are contented with that which nature gives them. The wealth that we enjoy in this our Europe and elsewhere, such as gold, jewels, pearls, and other riches, they hold as nothing: and although they have them in their own lands, they do not labour to obtain them, nor do they value them. They are liberal in giving, for it is rarely they deny you anything: and on the other hand, liberal in asking, when they shew themselves your friends. . . . When they die, they use divers manners of obsequies, and some they bury with water and victuals at their heads: thinking that they shall have (whereof) to eat: they have not nor do they use ceremonies of torches nor of lamentation. In some other places, they use the most barbarous and inhuman burial which is that when a suffering or infirm (person) is as it were at the last pass of death, his kinsmen carry him into a large forest, and attach one of those nets of theirs, in which they sleep, to two trees, and then put him in it, and dance around him for a whole day: and when the night comes on they place at his bolster, water with other victuals, so that he may be able to subsist for four or six days: and then they leave him alone and return to the village: and if the sick man helps himself, and eats, and drinks, and survives, he returns to the village, and (friends) receive him with ceremony: but few are they who escape: without receiving any further visit they die, and that is their sepulture: and they have many other customs which for prolixity are not related. They use in their sicknesses various forms of medicines, so different from ours that we marvelled how any one escaped: for many times I saw that with a man sick of fever, when it heightened upon him, they battled him from head to foot with a large quantity of cold water: then they lit a great fire around him, making him turn and turn again every two hours, until they tired him and left him to sleep, and many were (thus) cured: with this they make use of dieting, for they remain three days without eating, and also of blood-letting, but not from the arm, only from the thighs and the loins and the calf of the leg: also they provoke vomiting with their herbs which are put into the mouth: and they use many other remedies which it would be long to relate: they are much vitiated in the phlegm and in the blood because of their food which consists chiefly of roots of herbs, and fruits and fish: they lave no seed of wheat nor other grain: and for their ordinary use and feeding, they have a root of a tree, from which they make flour, tolerably good, and they call it Iuca, and another which they call Cazabi, and another Ignami: they eat little flesh except human flesh: for your Magnificence must know that herein they are so inhuman that they outdo every custom (even) of beasts; for they eat all their enemies whom they kill or capture, as well females as males with so much savagery, that (merely) to relate it appears a horrible thing: how much more so to see it, as, infinite times and in many places, it was my hap to see it: and they wondered to lear us say that we did not eat our enemies: and this your Magnificence may take for certain, that their other barbarous customs are such that expression is too weak for the reality: and as in these four voyages I have seen so many things diverse from our customs, I prepared to write a common-place-book which I name Le Quattro Giornate: in which I have set down the greater part of the things which I saw, sufficiently in detail, so far as my feeble wit has allowed me: which I have not yet published, because I have so ill a taste for my own things that I do not relish those which I have written, notwithstanding that many encourage me to publish it: therein everything will be seen in detail: so that I shall not enlarge further in this chapter:  as in the course of the letter we shall come to many other things which are particular: let this suffice for the general. At this beginning, we saw nothing in the land of much profit, except some show of gold: I believe the cause of it was that we did not know the language; but in so far as concerns the situation and condition of the land, it could not be better: we decided to leave that place, and to go further on, continuously coasting the shore; upon which we made frequent descents, and held converse with a great number of people: and at the end of some days we went into a harbour where we underwent very great danger; and it pleased the Holy Ghost to save us; and it was in this wise. We landed in a harbour, where we found a village built like Venice upon the water: there were about 44 large dwellings in the form of huts erected upon very thick piles, and they had their doors or entrances in the style of drawbridges: and from each house one could pass through all, by means of the drawbridges which stretched from house to house; and when the people thereof had seen us, they appeared to be afraid of us, and immediately drew up all the bridges; and while we were looking at this strange action, we saw coming across the sea about 22 canoes, which are a kind of boat of theirs, constructed from a single tree; which came towards our boats, as they had been surprised by our appearance and clothes, and kept wide of us; and thus remaining, we made signals to them that they should approach us, encouraging them with every token of friendliness; and seeing that they did not come we went to them, and they did not stay for us, but made to the land, and, by signs, told us to wait. and they should soon return; and they went to a hill in the background, and did not delay long: when they returned they led with them 16 of their girls, and entered with these into their canoes, and came to the boats; and in each boat they put 4 of the girls. That we marvelled at this behaviour your Magnificence can imagine how much, and they placed themselves with their canoes among our boats, coming to speak with us; insomuch that we deemed it a mark of friendliness; and while thus engaged, we beheld a great number of people advance swimming towards us across the sea, who came from the houses; and as they were drawing near to us without any apprehension; just then there appeared at the doors of the houses certain old women uttering very loud cries and tearing their hair to exhibit grief; whereby they made us suspicious, and we each betook ourselves to arms; and instantly the girls whom we had in the boats, threw themselves into the sea, and the men of the canoes drew away from us, and began with their bows to shoot arrows at us; and those who were swimming each carried a lance held, as covertly as they could, beneath the water; so that, recognizing the treachery, we engaged with them, not merely to defend ourselves, but not attack them vigorously, and we overturned with our boats many of their almadie or canoes, for so they call them, we made a slaughter (of them), and they all flung themselves into the water to swim, leaving their canoes abandoned, with considerable loss on their side, they went swimming away to the shore; there died of them about 15 or 20, and many were left wounded; and of ours 5 were wounded, and all, by the grace of God, escaped (death): we captured two of the girls and two men; and we proceeded to their houses, and entered therein, and in them all we found nothing else than two old women and a sick man; we took away from them many things, but of small value; and we would not burn their houses, because it seemed to us (as though that would be) a burden upon our conscience; and we returned to our boats with five prisoners; and betook ourselves to the ships, and put a pair of irons on the feet of each of the captives, except the little girls; and when the night came on, the two girls and one of the men fled away in the most subtle manner possible; and the next day we decided to quit that harbour and go further onwards; we proceeded continuously skirting the coast, (until) we had sight of another tribe distant perhaps some 80 leagues from the former tribe; and we found them very different in speech and customs; we resolved to cast anchor, and went ashore with the boats, and we saw on the beach a great number of people amounting probably to 4,000 souls; and when we had reached the shore, they did not stay for us,  but betook themselves to flight through the forests, abandoning their things: we jumped on land, and took a pathway that led to the forest: and at the distance of a bow-shot we found their tents, where they had made very large fires, and two (of item) were cooking their victuals, and roasting several animals and fish of many kinds: where we saw that they were roasting a certain animal which seemed to be a serpent, save that it had no wings, and was in its appearance so loathsome that we marvelled much at its savageness: Thus went we on through their houses, or rather tents, and found many of those serpents alive, and they were tied by the feet and had a cord around their snouts, so that they could not open their mouths, as is done (in Europe) with mastiff-dogs so that they may not bite: they were of such savage aspect that none of us dared to take one away, thinking that they were poisonous: they are of the bigness of a kid, and in length an ell and a half: their feet are long and thick, and armed with big claws: they have a hard skin, and are of various colours: they have the muzzle and face of a serpent: and from their snouts there rises a crest like a saw which extends along the middle of the back as far as the tip of the tail: in fine we deemed them to be serpents and venomous, and (nevertheless, those people) ate them: we found that they made bread out of little fishes which they took from the sea, first boiling them (then) pounding them, and making thereof a paste, or bread, and they baked them on the embers: thus did they eat them: we tried it and found that it was good: they had so many other kinds of eatables, and especially of fruits and roots, that it would be a large matter to describe them in detail: and seeing that the people did not return, we decided not to touch nor take away anything of their, so as better to reassure them: and we left in the tents for them many of our things, placed where they should see them, and returned by night to our ships: and the next day, when it was light we saw on the beach an infinite number of people: and we landed: and although they appeared timorous towards us, they took courage nevertheless to hold converse with us, giving us whatever we asked of them; and shewing themselves very friendly towards us, they told us that those were their dwellings, and that they had come hither for the purpose of fishing: and they begged that we would visit their dwellings and villages, because they desired to receive us as friends: and they engaged in such friendship because of the two captured men whom we had with us, as these were their enemies: insomuch that,, in view of such importunity on their part, holding a council, we determined that 28 of us Christians in good array should go with them, and in the firm resolve to die if it should be necessary; and after we had been here some three days, we went with them inland: and at three leagues from the coast we came to a village of many people and few houses, for there were no more than nine (of these): where we were received with such and so many barbarous ceremonies that the pen suffices not to write them down: for there were dances, and songs, and lamentations mingled with rejoicing, and great quantities of food: and here we remained the night: . . . and after having been here that night and half the next day. so great was the number of people who came wondering to behold us that they were beyond counting: and the most aged begged us to go with then to other villages which were further inland, making display of doing us the greatest honour: wherefore we decided to go: and it would be impossible to tell you how much honour they did us; and we went to several villages, so that we were nine days journeying, so that our Christians who had remained with the ships were already apprehensive concerning us; and when we were about 18 leagues in the interior of the land, we resolved to return to the ships; and on our way back, such was the number of people, as well men as women, that came with us as far as the sea, that it was a wondrous thing; and if any of us became weary of the march, they carried us in their nets very refreshingly; and in crossing the rivers, which are many and very large, they passed us over by skilful means so securely that we ran no danger whatever, and many of them came laden with the things which they had given us, which consisted in their sleeping-nets, and very rich feathers, many bows and arrows, innumerable  popin-jays of divers clours; and others brought with them loads of their household goods, and of animals; but a greater marvel which I tell you, that, when we had to cross a river, he deemed himself lucky who was able to carry us on his back; and when we reached the sea, our boats having arrived, we entered into them; and so great was the struggle which they made to get into our boats, and to come to see our ships, that we marvelled (thereat); and in our boats we took as many of them as we could, and made our way to the ships, and so many (others) came swimming that we found ourselves embarrassed in seeing so many people in the ships, for there were over a thousand persons all naked and unarmed; they were amazed by our (nautical) gear and contrivances, and the size of the ships; and with them there occurred to us a very laughable affair, which was that we decided to fire off some of our great guns, and when the explosion took place, most of them through fear cast themselves (into the sea) to swim, not otherwise than frogs on the margins of a pond, when they see something that frightens them, will jump into the water, just so did those people; and those who remained in the ships were so terrified that we regretted our action; however we reassured them by telling them that with those arms we slew our enemies; and when they had amused themselves in the ships the whole day, we told them to go away because we desired to depart that night, and so separating from us with much friendship and love, they went away to land. Amongst that people and in their land, I knew and beheld so many of their customs and ways of living, that I do not care to enlarge upon them; for Your Magnificence must know that in each of my voyages I have noted the most wonderful things, and I have indited it all in a volume after the manner of a geography; and I entitle it “Le quattro Giornate” ; in which work the things are comprised in detail, and as yet there is no copy of it given out, as it is necessary for me to revise it. This land is very populous, and full of inhabitants, and of numberless rivers, (and) animals; few (of which) resemble ours, excepting lions, panthers, stags, pigs, goats, and deer; and even these have some dissimilarities of form; they have no horses nor mules, nor, saving your reverence, asses nor dogs, nor any kind of sheep or oxen; but so numerous are the other animals which they have, and all are savage, and of none do they make use for their service, that they could not be counted. What shall we say of others (such as) birds? which are so numerous, and of so many kinds, and of such various-coloured plumages, that it is a marvel to behold them. The soil is very pleasant and fruitful, full of immense woods and forests; and it is always green, for the foliage never drops off. The fruits are so many that they are numberless and entirely different from ours. This land is within the torrid zone, close to or just under the parallel described by the Tropic of Cancer; where the pole of the horizon has an elevation of 23 degrees, at the extremity of the second climate. Many tribes came to see us, and wondered at our faces and our whiteness; and they asked us whence we came; and we gave them to understand that we had come from heaven, and that we were going to see the world, and they believed it. In this land we placed baptismal fonts, and an infinite (number of) people were baptised, and they called us in their language Carabi, which means men of great wisdom. We took our departure from that port; and the province is called Lariab; and we navigated along the coast, always in sight of land, until we had run 870 leagues of it, still going in the direction of the maestrale (north-west) making in our course many halts, and holding intercourse with many peoples; and in several places we obtained gold by barter but not much in quantity, for we had done enough in discovering the land and learning that they had gold. We had now been thirteen months on the voyage; and the vessels and the tackling were already much damaged, and the men worn out by fatigue; we decided by general council to haul our ships on land and examine them for the purpose of stanching leaks, as they made much water, and of caulking and tarring them afresh, and (then) returning towards Spain; and when we came to this determination, we were close to a harbour the best in the world; into which we entered with our vessels; where we found an immense number  of people; who received us with much friendliness; and on the shore we made a bastion with our boats and with barrels and casks, and our artillery, which commanded every point: and our ships having been unloaded and lightened, we drew then upon land, and repaired them in everything that was needful: and the land's people gave us very great assistance: and continually furnished us with their victuals: so that in this port we tasted little of our own, which suited our game well: for the stock of provisions which we had for our return-passage was little and of sorry kind: where (i.e., there) we remained 37 days: and went many times to their villages where they paid us the greatest honour: and (now) desiring to depart upon our voyage, they made complaint to us how at certain times of the year there came from over the sea to this their land, a race of people very cruel, and enemies of theirs: and (who) by means of treachery or of violence slew many of them, and ate them: and some they made captives, and carried them away to their houses, or country: and how they could scarcely contrive to defend themselves from them, making signs to us that (those) were an island-people and lived out in the sea about a hundred leagues away: and so piteously did they tell us this that we believed them: and we promised to avenge them of so much wrong: and they remained overjoyed herewith: and many of them offered to come along with us, but we did not wish to take them for many reasons, save that we took seven of them, on condition that they should come (i. e., return home) afterwards in (their own) canoes because we did not desire to be obliged to take them back to their country: and they were contented: and so we departed from those people, leaving them very friendly towards us: and having repaired our ships, and sailing for seven days out to sea between north-east and east: and at the end of the seven days we came upon the islands, which were many. some (of them) inhabited, and others deserted: and we anchored at one of them: where we saw a numerous people who called it Iti: and having manned our boats with strong crews, and (taken ammunition for) three cannon-shots in each, we made for land: where we found (assembled) about 400 men, and many women, and all naked like the former (peoples). They were of good bodily presence, and seemed right warlike men: for they were armed with their weapons, which are bows. arrows, and lances: and most of them had square wooden targets and bore them in such wise that they did not impede the drawing of the bow: and when we had come with our boats to about a bowshot of the land, they all sprang into the water to shoot their arrows at us and to prevent us from leaping upon shore: and they had all their bodies painted of various colours, and (were) plumed with feathers: and the interpreters who were with us told us that when (those) displayed themselves so painted and plumed, it was to betoken that they wanted to fight: and so much did they persist in preventing us from landing, that we were compelled to play with our artillery: and when they heard the explosion, and saw one of them fall dead, they all drew back to the land: wherefore, forming our council, we resolved that 42 of our men should spring on shore, and, if they waited for us, fight them: thus having leaped to land, with our weapons, they advanced towards us, and we fought for about an hour, for we had but little advantage of them, except that our arbalasters and gunners killed some of them, and they wounded certain of our men: and this was because they did not stand to receive us within reach of lance-thrust for sword-blow: and so much vigour did we put forth at last, that we came to sword-play, and when they tasted our weapons, they betook themselves to flight through the mountains and the forests, and left us conquerors of the field with many of them dead and a good number wounded: and for that day we took no other pains to pursue them, because we were very weary, and we returned to our ships, with so much gladness on the part of the seven men who had come with us that they could not contain themselves (for joy): and when the next day arrived, we beheld coming across the land a great number of people, with signals of battle, continually sounding horns, and various other instruments which they use in their wars: and all (of them) painted and feathered, so that it was a very strange sight to behold  them: wherefore all the ships held council, and it was resolved that since this people desired hostility with us, we should proceed to encounter them and try by every means to make them friends: in case they would not have our friendship, that we should treat them as foes, and so many of them as we might be able to capture should all be our slaves; and having armed ourselves as best we could, we advanced towards the shore, and they sought not to hinder us from landing, I believe from fear of the cannons; and we jumped on land, 57 men in four squadrons, each one (consisting of) a captain and his company; and we came to blows with them; and after a long battle (in which) many of them (were) slain, we put them to flight, and pursued them to a village, having made about 250 of them captives, and we burnt the village, and returned to our ships with victory and 250 prisoners, leaving many of them dead and wounded, and of ours there were no more than one killed, and 22 wounded, who all escaped (i. e., recovered), God be thanked. We arranged our departure, and seven men, of whom five were wounded, took an island-canoe, and with seven prisoners that we gave them, four women and three men, returned to their (own) country full of gladness, wondering at our strength; and we thereon made sail for Spain with 222 captive slaves; and reached the port of Calis (Cadiz) on the 15th day of October, 1498, where we were well received and sold our slaves. Such is what befell me, most noteworthy, in this my first voyage.
His third voyage.The following is his account of his third voyage, as detailed in letters to (1) Pier Soderini, and (2) Lorenzo Pietro Francesco de‘ Medici.
1.Being afterwards in Seville, resting from so many labors that I had endured during these two voyages, and intending to return to the land of pearls, Fortune showed that she was not content with these my labors. I know not how there came into the thoughts of the Most Serene King Don Manuel of Portugal the wish to have my services. But being at Seville, without any thought of going to Portugal, a messenger came to me with a letter from the Royal Crown, in which I was asked to come to Lisbon, to confer with his Highness, who promised to show me favor. I was not inclined to go, and I despatched the messenger with a reply that I was not well, but that, when I had recovered, if his Highness still wished for my services, I would come as soon as he might send for me. Seeing that he could not have me, he arranged to send Giuliano di Bartholomeo di Giocondo for me, he being in Lisbon, with instructions that, come what might, he should bring me. The said Giuliano came to Seville, and prayed so hard that I was forced to go. My departure was taken ill by many who knew me, for I left Castile where honor was done me, and where the King held me in good esteem. It was worse that I went without bidding farewell to my host. When I was presented to that King, he showed his satisfaction that I had come, and asked me to go in company with three of his ships that were ready to depart for the discovery of new lands. As the request of a king is a command, I had to consent to whatever he asked; and we sailed from this port of Lisbon with three ships on the 10th of March, 1501, shaping our course direct for the island of Grand Canary. We passed without sighting it, and continued along the west coast of Africa. On this coast we made our fishery of a sort of fish called parchi. We remained three days, and then came to a port on the coast of Ethiopia called Biseghier, which is within the Torrid Zone, the North Pole rising above it 14° 30′, situated in the first climate. Here we remained two days, taking in wood and water; for my intention was to shape a course towards the south in the Atlantic Gulf. We departed from this port of Ethiopia, and steered to the south-west, taking a quarter point to the south until, after sixty-seven days, we came in sight of land, which was 700 leagues from the said port to the south-west. In those sixty-seven days we had the worst time that man ever endured who navigated the seas, owing to the rains, perturbations, and storms that we encountered. The season was very contrary to us, by reason of the course of our navigation being continually in contact with the equinoctial line, where, in the month of June,  it is winter. We found that the day and the night were equal, and that the shadow was always towards the south. It pleased God to show us a new land on the 17th of August, and we anchored at a distance of half a league, and got our boats out. We then went to see the land, whether it was inhabited, and what it was like. We found that it was inhabited by people who were worse than animals. But your Magnificence must understand that we did not see them at first, though we were convinced that the country was inhabited, by many signs observed by us. We took possession for that Most Serene King, and found the land to be very pleasant and fertile, and of good appearance. It was 5° to the south of the equinoctial line. We went back to the ships; and, as we were in great want of wood and water, we determined, next day, to return to the shore, with the object of obtaining what we wanted. Being on shore, we saw some people at the top of a hill, who were looking at us, but without showing any intention of coming down. They were naked, and of the same color and form as the others we had seen. We tried to induce them to come and speak with us, but did not succeed, as they would not trust us. Seeing their obstinacy, and it being late, we returned on board, leaving many bells and mirrors on shore, and other things in their sight. As soon as we were at some distance on the sea, they came down from the hill, and showed themselves to be much astonished at the things. On that day we were only able to obtain water. Next morning we saw from the ship that the people on shore had made a great smoke; and, thinking it was the signal to us, we went on shore, where we found that many people had come, but they still kept at a distance from us. They made signs to us that we should come inland with them. Two of our Christians were, therefore, sent to ask their captain for leave to go with them a short distance inland, to see what kind of people they were, and if they had any riches, spices, or drugs. The captain was contented, so they got together many things for barter, and parted from us, with instructions that they should not be more than five days absent as we would wait that time for them. So they set out on their road inland, and we returned to the ships to wait for them. Nearly every day people came to the beach, but they would not speak with us. On the seventh day we went on shore, and found that they had arranged with their women; for, as we jumped on shore, the men of the land sent many of their women to speak with us. Seeing that they were not reassured, we arranged to send to them one of our people, who was a very agile and valiant youth. To give them more confidence, the rest of us went back into the boats. He went among the women, and they all began to touch and feel him, wondering at him exceedingly. Things being so, we saw a woman come from the hill, carrying a great stick in her hand. When she came to where our Christian stood, she raised it, and gave him such a blow that he was felled to the ground. The other women immediately took him by the feet, and dragged him towards the hill. The men rushed down to the beach, and shot at us with their bows and arrows. Our people, in great fear, hauled the boats towards their anchors, which were on shore; but, owing to the quantities of arrows that came into the boats, no one thought of taking up their arms. At last four rounds from the bombard were fired at them; and they no sooner heard the report than they all ran away towards the hill, where the women were still tearing the Christian to pieces. At a great fire they had made they roasted him before our eyes, showing us many pieces, and then eating them. The men made signs how they had killed the other two Christians and eaten them. What shocked us much was seeing with our eyes the cruelty with which they treated the dead, which was an intolerable insult to all of us. Having arranged that more than forty of us should land and avenge such cruel murder and so bestial and inhuman an act, the principal captain would not give his consent. We departed from them unwillingly, and with munch shame caused by the decision of our captain. We left this place, and commenced our navigation by shaping a course between east and south. Thus we sailed along the land, making many landings, seeing natives, but having no intercourse with them. We sailed on until we found that the coast made a turn to the west  when we had doubled a cape, to which we gave the name of the Cape of St. Augustine. We then began to shape a course to the south-west. The cape is distant from the place where the Christians were murdered 150 leagues towards the east, and this cape is 8° from the equinoctial line to the south. In navigating, we saw one day a great multitude of people on the beach, gazing at the wonderful sight of our ships. As we sailed, we turned the ship towards them, anchored in a good place, and went on shore with the boats. We found the people to be better conditioned than those we had met with before; and, responding to our overtures, they soon made friends, and treated with us. We were five days in this place, and found canna fistola very thick and green, and dry on the tops of the trees. We determined to take a pair of men from this place, that they might teach us their language, and three of them came voluntarily to go to Portugal. Lest your Magnificence should be tired of so much writing, you must know that, on leaving this port, we sailed along on a westerly course, always in sight of land, continually making many landings, and speaking with an infinite number of people. We were so far south that we were outside the Tropic of Capricorn, where the South Pole rises above the horizon 32°. We had lost sight altogether of Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, which were far below and scarcely seen on the horizon. We guided ourselves by the stars of the South Pole, which are numerous and much larger and brighter than those of our Pole. I traced the figure of the greater part of those of the first magnitude, with a declaration of their orbits round the South Pole, and of their diameters and semi-diameters, as may be seen in my four voyages. We sailed along that coast for 750 leagues, 150 from the cape called St. Augustine to the west, and 600 to the south. Desiring to recount the things I saw on that coast, and what happened to us, as many more leaves would not suffice me. On the coast we saw an infinite number of trees, brazil wood and cassia, and those trees which yield myrrh, as well as other marvels of nature which I am unable to recount. Having now been ten months on the voyage, and having seen that there was no mining wealth whatever in that land, we decided upon taking leave of it, and upon sailing across the sea for some other part. Having held a consultation, it was decided that the course should be taken which seemed good to me; and the command of the fleet was intrusted to me. I gave orders that the fleet should be supplied with wood and water for six months, such being the decision of the officers of the ships. Having made our departure from this land, we began our navigation with a southerly course on the 15th of February, when already the sun moved towards the equinoctial, and turned towards our Hemisphere of the North. We sailed so far on this course that we found ourselves where the South Pole had a height above our horizon of 52°, and we could no longer see the stars of Ursa Minor or of Ursa Major. We were then 500 leagues to the south of the port whence we had departed, and this was on the 3rd of April. On this day such a tempest arose on the sea that all our sails were blown away, and we ran under bare poles, with a heavy southerly gale and a tremendous sea, the air being very tempestuous. The gale was such that all the people in the fleet were much alarmed. The nights were very long, for the night we had on the 7th of April lasted fifteen hours, the sun being at the end of Aries, and in that region it was winter, as your Magnificence will be well aware. Sailing in this storm, on the 7th of April we came in sight of new land, along which we ran for nearly 20 leagues, and found it all a rocky coast, without any port or inhabitants. I believe this was because the cold was so great that no one in the fleet could endure it. Finding ourselves in such peril, and in such a storm that we could scarcely see one ship from another, owing to the greatness of the waves and the blinding mist, it was agreed with the principal captain that a signal should he made to the ships that they should make for land, and then shape a course for Portugal. This was very good counsel, for it is certain that, if we had delayed another night, all would have been lost; for, as we wore round on the next day, we were met by such a storm that we expected to be swamped. We had to undertake pilgrimages  and perform other ceremonies, as is the custom of sailors at such times. We ran for five days, always coming towards the equinoctial line, where the air and sea became more temperate. It pleased God to deliver us from such peril. Our course was now between the north and north-east, for our intention was to reach the coast of Ethiopia, our distance from it being 300 leagues, in the Gulf of the Atlantic Sea. By the grace of God, on the 10th day of May, we came in sight of land, where we were able to refresh ourselves, the land being called La Serra Liona. We were there fifteen days, and thence shaped a course to the islands of the Azores, which are distant nearly 750 leagues from that Serra. We reached the islands in the end of July, where we remained fifteen days, taking some recreation. Thence we departed for Lisbon, distant 300 leagues to the west, and arrived at that port of Lisbon on the 7th of September, 1502, may God be thanked for our salvation, with only two ships. We burnt the other at Serra Liona, because she was no longer seaworthy. We were employed on this voyage nearly fifteen months; and for eleven days we navigated without seeing the North Star, nor the Great or Little Bears, which they call el corno, and we were guided by the stars of the other Pole. This is what I saw on this voyage.
2. March (or April), 1503.Alberico Vesputio to Lorenzo Pietro de‘ Medici, salutation. In past days I wrote very fully to you of my return from the new countries, which have been found and explored with the ships, at the cost, and by the command, of this Most Serene King of Portugal; and it is lawful to call it a new world, because none of these countries were known to our ancestors, and to all who hear about them they will be entirely new. For the opinion of the ancients was that the greater part of the world beyond the equinoctial line to the south was not land, but only sea, which they have called the Atlantic; and, if they have affirmed that any continent is there, they have given many reasons for denying that it is inhabited. But this their opinion is false, and entirely opposed to the truth. My last voyage has proved it, for I have found a continent in that southern part, more populous and more full of animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa, and even more temperate and pleasant than any other region known to us, as will be explained further on. I shall write succinctly of the principal things only, and the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered, which I either saw or heard of in this new world, as presently will become manifest. We set out, on a prosperous voyage, on the 14th of May, 1501, sailing from Lisbon, by order of the aforesaid King, with three ships, to discover new countries towards the west; and we sailed towards the south continuously for twenty months. Of this navigation the order is as follows: Our course was for the Fortunate Islands, so called formerly, but now we called them the Grand Canary Islands, which are in the third climate, and on the confines of the inhabited west. Thence we sailed rapidly over the ocean along the coast of Africa and part of Ethiopia to the Ethiopic Promontory, so called by Ptolemy, which is now called Cape Verde, and by the Ethiopians Biseghier, and that country Mandraga, 13° within the Torrid Zone, on the north side of the equinoctial line. The country is inhabited by a black race. Having taken on board what we required, we weighed our anchors and made sail, taking our way across the vast ocean towards the Antarctic Pole, with some westing. From the day when we left the before-mentioned promontory, we sailed for the space of two months and three days. Hitherto no land had appeared to us in that vast sea. In truth, how much we had suffered, what dangers of shipwreck, I leave to the judgment of those to whom the experience of such things is very well known. What a thing it is to seek unknown lands, and how difficult, being ignorant, to narrate briefly what happened! It should be known that, of the sixty-seven days of our voyage, we were navigating continuously forty-four. We had copious thunderstorms and perturbations, and it was so dark that we never could see either the sun in the day or the moon at night. This caused us great fear, so that we lost all hope of life. In these most terrible dangers of the sea it pleased the Most High to show us the continent  and the new countries, being another unknown world. These things being in sight, we were as much rejoiced as any one may imagine who, after calamity and ill-fortune, has obtained safety. It was on the 7th of August, 1501, that we reached those countries, thanking our Lord God with solemn prayers, and celebration a choral Mass. We knew that land to be a continent, and not an island, from its long beaches extending without trending round, the infinite number of inhabitants, the numerous tribes and peoples, the numerous kinds of wild animals unknown in our country, and many others never seen before by us, touching which it would take long to make reference. The clemency of God was shown forth to us by being brought to these regions: for the ships were in a leaking state, and in a few days our lives might have been lost in the sea. To Him be the honor and glory, and the grace of the action. We took counsel, and resolved to navigate along the coast of this continent towards the east, and never to lose sight of the land. We sailed along until we came to a point where the coast turned to the south. The distance from the landfall to this point was nearly 300 leagues. In this stretch of coast we often landed, and had friendly relations with the natives, as I shall presently relate. I had forgotten to tell you that from Cape Verde to the first land of this continent the distance is nearly 700 leagues; although I estimate that we went over more than 1,800, partly owning to ignorance of the route, and partly owing to the tempests and foul winds which drove us off our course, and sent us in various directions. If my companions had not trusted in me, to whom cosmography was known, no one, not the leader of our navigation, would have known where we were after running 500 leagues. We were wandering and full of errors, and only the instruments for taking the altitudes of heavenly bodies showed us our position. These were the quadrant and astrolabe, as known to all. These have been much used by me with much honor; for I showed them that a knowledge of the marine chart, and the rules taught by it, are more worth than all the pilots in the world. For these pilots have no knowledge beyond those places to which they have often sailed. Where the said point of land showed us the trend of the coast to the south, we agreed to continue our voyage, and to ascertain what there might be in those regions. We sailed along the coast for nearly 500 leagues, often going on shore and having intercourse with the natives, who received us in a brotherly manner. We sometimes stayed with them for fifteen or twenty days continuously, as friends and guests, as I shall relate presently. Part of this continent is in the Torrid Zone, beyond the equinoctial line towards the South Pole. But it begins at 8° beyond the equinoctial. We sailed along the coast so far that we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and found ourselves where the Antarctic Pole was 50° above our horizon. We went towards the Antarctic Circle until we were 17° 30′ from it, all of which I have seen, and I have known the nature of those people, their customs, the resources and fertility of the land, the salubrity of the air, the positions of the celestial bodies in the heavens, and, above all, the fixed stars, over an eighth of the sphere, never seen by our ancestors, as I shall explain below. As regards the people: we have found such a multitude in those countries that no one could enumerate them, as we read in the Apocalypse. They are people gentle and tractable, and all of both sexes go naked, not covering any part of their bodies, . . . and so they go until their deaths. They have large, square-built bodies, and well proportioned. Their color reddish, which, I think, is caused by their going naked and exposed to the sun. Their hair is plentiful and black. They are agile in walking, and of quick sight. They are of a free and good-looking expression of countenance, which they themselves destroy by boring the nostrils and lips, the nose and ears: nor must you believe that the borings are small, nor that they only have one, for I have seen those who had no less than seven borings in the face, each one the size of a plum. They stop up these perforations with blue stones, bits of marble, of crystal, or very fine alabaster, also with very white bones and other things artificially prepared according to their customs, which, if you could see, it would appear a strange and monstrous thing. One had in the nostrils  and lips alone seven stones, of which some were half a palm in length. It will astonish you to hear that I considered that the weight of seven such stones was as much as sixteen ounces. In each ear they had three perforations bored, whence they had other stones and rings suspended. This custom is only for the men, as the women do not perforate their faces, but only their ears. . . . They have no cloth, either of wool, flax, or cotton, because they have no need of it; nor have they any private property, everything being in common. They live amongst themselves without a king or ruler, each man being his own master, and having as many wives as they please. . . . They have no temples and no laws, nor are they idolaters. What more can I say? They live according to nature, and are more inclined to be Epicurean than Stoic. They have no commerce among each other, and they wage war without art or order. The old men make the youths do what they please, and incite them to fights, in which they mutually kill with great cruelty. They slaughter those who are captured, and the victors eat the vanquished; for human flesh is an ordinary article of food among them. You may be the more certain of this, because I have seen a man eat his children and wife; and I knew a man who was popularly credited to have eaten 300 human bodies. I was once in a certain city for twenty-seven days, where human flesh was hung up near the houses, in the same way as we expose butcher's meat. I say further that they were surprised that we did not eat our enemies, and use their flesh as food; for they say it is excellent. Their arms are bows and arrows; and, when they go to war, they cover no part of their bodies, being in this like beasts. We did all we could to persuade them to desist from their evil habits, and they promised us to leave off. . . . They live for 150 years, and are rarely sick. If they are attacked by a disease, they cure themselves with the roots of some herbs. These are the most note-worthy things I know about them. The air in this country is temperate and good, as we were able to learn from their accounts that there are never any pestilences or epidemics caused by bad air. Unless they meet with violent deaths, their lives are long. I believe this is because a southerly wind is always blowing, a south wind to them being what a north wind is to us. They are expert fishermen, and the sea is full of all kinds of fish. They are not hunters. I think because here there are many kinds of wild animals, principally lions and bears, innumerable serpents, and other horrible creatures and deformed beasts, also because there are vast forests and trees of immense size. They have not the courage to face such dangers naked and without any defence. The land is very fertile, abounding in many hills and valleys and in large rivers, a nd is irrigated by very refreshing springs. It is covered with extensive and dense forests, which are almost impenetrable, and full of every kind of wild beast. Great trees grow without cultivation, of which many yield fruits pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the human body; and a great many have an opposite effect. The fruits are unlike those in our country; and there are innumerable different kinds of fruits and herbs, of which they make bread and excellent food. They also have many seeds unlike ours. No kind of metal has been found except gold, in which the country abounds, though we have brought none back in this our first navigation. The natives, however assured us that there was an immense quantity of gold underground, and nothing was to be had from them for a price. Pearls abound, as I wrote to you. If I was to attempt to write of all the species of animals, it would be a long and tedious task. I believe certainly that our Pliny did not touch upon a thousandth part of the animals and birds that exist in this region; nor could an artist such as Policletus succeed in painting them. All the trees are odoriferous, and some of them emit gums, oils, or other liquors. If they were our property. I do not doubt but that they would be useful to man. If the terrestrial paradise is in some part of this land, it cannot be very far from the coast we visited. It is, as I have told you, in a climate where the air is temperate at noon, being neither cold in winter nor hot in summer. The sky and air are serene during a great part of the year. Thick vapors,  with fine rain falling, last for three or four hours, and then disappear like smoke. The sky is adorned with most beautiful signs and figures, in which I have noted as many as twenty stars as bright as we sometimes see Venus and Jupiter. I have considered the orbits and motions of these stars; and I have measured the circumference and diameters of the stars by a geometrical method, ascertaining which were the largest. I saw in the heaven three Canopi, two certainly bright and the other obscure. The Antarctic Pole is not figured with a Great Bear and a Little Bear, like our Arctic Pole, nor is any bright star seen near it, and of those which go round in the shortest circuit there are three which have the figure of the orthogonous triangle, of which the smallest has a diameter of 9 half-degrees. To the east of these is seen a Canopus of great size, and white, which, when in mid-heaven, has this figure:--
|Sketch of a constellation.|
|Sketch of a constellation.|
This letter was translated from the Italian into the Latin language by Jocundus, interpreter, as every one understands Latin who desires to learn about these voyages, and to search into the things of heaven, and to know all that is proper to be known; for, from the time the world began, so much has not been discovered touching the greatness of the earth and what is contained in it.