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Legendary islands of the Atlantic; a study in medieval geography

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Author Topic: Legendary islands of the Atlantic; a study in medieval geography  (Read 8088 times)
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« Reply #75 on: July 19, 2009, 03:31:47 am »


Now, in all the Atlantic Ocean and its shores there is one region,
and one only, which thus incloses a sheet of water having islands
in its expanse, and this region lies in the very direction indicated
on the old maps for Brazil. I allude to the projecting elbow of
northeastern North America, which most nearly approaches
Europe and has Cape Race for its apex. Its front is made up of
Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island. The remainder of the
circuit is made up of what we now call southern Labrador, a
portion of eastern Quebec province, New Brunswick, and Nova
Scotia. This irregular ring of territory incloses the great Gulf
of St. Lawrence, which has within it the Magdalens, Brion's
Island, and some smaller islets, not to include the relatively
large Anticosti and Prince Edward. It has two rather narrow
channels of communication with the ocean, which might readily
fail to impress greatly an observer whose chief mental picture
would be the great land-surrounded, island-dotted expanse of
water. The surrounding land would itself almost certainly be
regarded as insular, for there was a strong tendency to picture
everything west of Europe in that way, even long after the time
when most of these maps were made. Even when Cartier 33 in 1535
ascended the St. Lawrence River it was in the hope of coming out
again on the open sea a hope that implies the very conception of
an insular mass inclosing the gulf, not differing essentially from
the showing of the Catalan map of 1375. The number of the
islands is immaterial. We may picture the Catalan map-maker
dotting them in from vague report as impartially as the far better
known Lake Corrib is besprinkled with islands in most of the old
maps far more plentifully than the facts give warrant.

33 Justin Winsor: Cartier to Frontenac, Geographical Discovery in the Inteiior
of North America in Its Historical Relations, 1534-1700, With Full Cartographical
Illustrations from Contemporary Sources, Boston and New York, 1894; reference
on p. 28.

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« Reply #76 on: July 19, 2009, 03:32:03 am »


But it would seem that other observers were more impressed
by the separation of Newfoundland, due to the Straits of Belle
Isle and Cabot and the waterway (of the gulf) connecting them
behind the great island. As a rule the maps presenting Brazil
in this divided way adhere to the accepted latitude, which does
not differ appreciably from that of the St. Lawrence Gulf
region. The dividing passage, mainly from north to south but
slightly curved at the ends which join the ocean, corresponds
fairly well with the facts. The maps of Prunes, I553 34 (Fig. 12),
and Olives, I568, 35 may be cited as instances of this divided form
of Brazil. No explanation seems yet to have been offered except
Nansen's, 36 that the dividing channel represents "the river of
death (Styx)," and Westropp's, 37 that it may be owing to mistaken
copying of a name space or label on some older map. But the
former lacks any better basis than conjectured fancy and the
latter is refuted by the position of the channel on most maps
and by the general aspect of the delineation. As a matter of
fact, the showing of most of the maps differs in little more than
proportions from that of Gastaldi illustrating Ramusio in I55O, 38
when the Gulf of St. Lawrence was fairly well known to many,
but appears as a rather narrow channel behind a broken-up
Newfoundland, extending from the Strait of Belle Isle to the
Strait of Cabot. As in the much older map referred to, the
delineation of Gastaldi is perhaps to be explained by concen-
tration of attention on the waterway and the ignoring of the
wider parts of the expanse. Absolute demonstration of the
causes of the divided Brazil of some maps and the ring of land
inclosing an island-dotted body of water in others is, of course,
impossible; but we can show that in the designated direction
there is a region presenting both of these unusual features, so
that one of the visitors might well be especially taken up with

Kretschmer, atlas, PI. 4, map 5.

A. E. Nordenskiold, Periplus, PI. 29.

38 Nansen, In Northern Mists, Vol. 2, p. 228.

37 T. J. Westropp: Brasil and the Legendary Islands of the North Atlantic:
Their History and Fable, Proc. Royal Irish Acad., Vol. 30, Section C, 1912-13, pp.

88 Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac, p. 60.
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« Reply #77 on: July 19, 2009, 03:32:14 am »


one set of characteristics, another with the other set, and might
depict the region accordingly. This is the more probable because
the region was peculiarly exposed to accidental or intentional
discovery from the west of the British islands and is known, in
fact, to have been the first to be reached therefrom of all North
America in times of historic record.

It must not be supposed that Brazil was always thought of as
relatively near Europe. Nicolay in I56O 39 (Fig. 6) and Zaltieri in
I566 40 prepared maps which show a Brazil Island in distinctly
American waters, practically forming part of the archipelago into
which Newfoundland was supposed to be divided, or at least lying
between it and the Grand Banks. These presentations no doubt
may have been suggested by American discoveries and later
theories, especially as no navigator had been able to find Brazil
at any point nearer Europe; but again they may be at least
partly due to surviving early traditions of the great distance
westward at which this island lay. The Brazil of Nicolay and
Zaltieri is, to be sure, a very small affair; but their maps were
made about two and a half centuries after the earliest one which
shows this island ample time for many misconceptions to creep
in. Their only value is in their illustration of locality.


More important in every way is a Catalan map (Fig. 7) pre-
served in Milan and reproduced by Nordenskiold in I892, 41
but since copied partly by Nansen, by Westropp, and by others.
It belongs to the fifteenth century perhaps about 1480 and
deserves clearly to rank as the only map before Columbus, thus
far reported, which shows a part of North America other than
Greenland. The latter had long before appeared in the well-
known map of Claudius Clavus, I427 43 (Fig. 16), no doubt on

" A. E. Nordenskiold, Periplus, PI. 27.

40 Kretschmer, atlas, PI. 19, map 3.

41 A. E. Nordenskiold: Bidrag till Nordens aldsta Kartografi, Stockholm, 1892,
PI. 5. Also (reduced) in Nansen's "In Northern Mists," Vol. 2, p. 280, and in
T. J. Westropp's "Brasil," PI. 20, facing p. 260.

A. E. Nordenskiold, Periplus, p. 90; also discussed by Joseph Fischer: The
Discoveries of the Norsemen in America, With Special Relation to Their Early
Cartographical Representation, transl. by B. H. Soulsby, and London, 1903.



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« Reply #78 on: July 19, 2009, 03:32:30 am »


the faith of the early Norse narratives and subsequent commer-
cial intercourse, for the Norse Greenland colony is known to
have existed in 1410 and probably did not die out entirely until
much later. The Catalan map of about 1480 shows Greenland
also as a great northwestern land mass beyond Iceland, identi-
fying it by name as Ilia Verde (Green Island). But just south, or
west of south, of this Greenland at a slight interval and south-
west of Iceland is drawn and named a large Brazil of the con-
ventional circular disc form. Its position is that of Labrador, or
perhaps Newfoundland, as it would naturally have been under-
stood and reported by the Norse explorers. It can be nothing
but one or both of these regions of America with perhaps neigh-
boring lands.

It is true that this map shows also another Brazil of the divided
kind (in this instance with a channel crossing it from east to
west) located in mid-Atlantic about where Prunes and others
show their bisected Brazil. But this seems only an instance of
conservation and deference for authority, such as has often
been manifested in cartography. Of such deference for authority
perhaps there is no more striking instance than Bianco's map
of 1448, which places the rediscovered Azores where they should
be but also preserves them, on the faith of older maps, where
they should not be making a double series. The lesser bisected
mid-Atlantic Brazil of the Catalan map may well be set aside as
a survival without significance.

But the duplication by Bianco in 1448 raises a question of
distance, which must be considered, for his Azores retained from
the maps antedating the Portuguese rediscoveries are far nearer
the coast of Europe than the truth at all warrants; and, so far
as we can judge, the same cautious underestimating was applied
to all oceanic islands as reported. Corvo, for example, is actually
nearly half-way across the Atlantic, yet on all the maps for a long
time is brought eastward to a position much nearer Portugal.
We must suppose that the region about the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
if visited, would be similarly treated, and we cannot tell how

6 4

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« Reply #79 on: July 19, 2009, 03:32:47 am »


far the minimization of distance might be carried by some


The fact is, this matter does not rest in supposition only, for the
thing has undoubtedly happened. The map of Sylvanus, 43 1511,
brings the Gulf of St. Lawrence and surroundings as an insular
body almost as near Ireland as are many of the presentations of
Brazil Island on older maps. He shows in front a single large
island; a square gulf behind it; a bent shore line forming the
border on the north, west, and south; and two gaps well repre-
senting the Straits of Belle Isle and Cabot. The names given
are Terra Laboratorum and Regalis Domus. Nobody doubts
that it illustrates the St. Lawrence Gulf region, though there
has been much speculation as to what unknown explorer has had
his discoveries commemorated here, thjrje.n years before the
first voyage of Carrier. Why should not a like episode of dis-
covery and imperfect record have happened at a still earlier

It is not to be supposed that Brazil Island was generally con-
ceived of by intelligent persons as no farther at sea than it
appears on the map of Dalorto, 1325, and divers later ones.
Peasantry and fisher folk might, indeed, confuse it with the
mythical Isle of the Undying accessible only to a few chosen
ones but vanishing from ordinary mortal gaze and thus account
for Brazil's elusiveness, though so near at hand ; but the sturdy
explorers of Bristol 44 who kept sailing westward in search of the
island, before and after Columbus, sometimes at least being
away on this quest for many months together, must often have
passed over the very site given by Dalorto and far beyond.
They were looking for solid earth and rock and must have been
convinced that the real Brazil was to be found in remoter seas.
Also, during a great part of the period in which Brazil appeared

Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac, p. n.

44 See Ayala's letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, copied in many Cabot narratives;
e. g. in the work cited above in footnote 10, p. 430, and at the beginning of the next


on the maps off the Blaskets and Limerick and unduly close
to Ireland, Italian traders were habitually following the Irish
western coast and trafficking in that port and others and must
often have been blown out, or sailed out by choice, far enough for
a landing on the island if it had actually been where Dalorto
and others pictured it. The total lack of any such happening
must have been convincing to all except devotees of the occult
and those given over blindly to seashore tradition. No doubt the
far westward showing of the fifteenth-century Catalan and the
much later Nicolay and Zaltieri maps accorded with the general
expectation of thoughtful and well-informed navigators.
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« Reply #80 on: July 19, 2009, 03:32:59 am »


It may seem strange that the Norse sagas do not mention
Brazil by that name, though its relation to the Scandinavian
colony of Greenland is made so conspicuous on the Catalan
fifteenth -century map above referred to; also that there is no
distinct Irish record of any voyage to Brazil as such, though the
western ports of Ireland were natural points of departure and
return for western voyages and though voyages to a far western
Great Ireland are reported by the Norse from Irish sources.
Perhaps there is no quite satisfactory answer to this. All narra-
tives of the kind are fragmentary and more or less mythical, and
the name Brazil may often have been used in the reports of
Irish explorers, as it certainly was later the especial goal of the
English, without having left any other trace than the name on
the map and such hints as we have mentioned. The Norse seem
to have adhered to their own names Markland and Vinland, only
mentioning Great Ireland incidentally in the same neighborhood
and Brazil not at all unless the delineation of the Catalan map
be of their suggestion ; but no really strong adverse argument can
be founded on these matters of nomenclature and omission where
all references and records are so meager.

There can be no certainty; but from the evidence at hand
it seems likely that the part of America indicated, i. e. New-
foundland and neighboring shores, was visited very early by


Irish-speaking people, who gave it the commendatory name
Brazil. Naturally one inclines to ascribe such an unremitting
westward push to the powerful religious impulsion which,
according to Dicuil, carried Irishmen to Iceland in the latter
part of the eighth century and even bore them on, it is reported,
some two hundred miles beyond it. The date, however, may have
been much later. Yet it must have preceded Dalorto's map of
1325, whereon Brazil first appears by name.

Of evidence on the ground there is nothing; but what have we
now to show even for the perfectly attested visits to the same
region of Cabot and Cortereal? Their case rests on maps,
governmental entries, and contemporary correspondence, luckily
preserved. Earlier visits to Brazil have no epistles, no entries,
to show but must rely on the maps and the general tradition in
the British islands of such a western region across at least a
part of the great sea.

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« Reply #81 on: July 19, 2009, 03:33:11 am »


The mythical islands of the Atlantic (les Ues fantastiques) on
the old maps have had divers origins, instructive to study.
Perhaps only one of them derives its name and being directly
from a real human episode of a twilight period in history.

When the Moors descended on Spain in 711, routed King
Roderick's army beside the Guadalete, and rapidly overran the
Iberian Peninsula, it was most natural, indeed nearly inevitable,
that some Christian fugitives should continue their flight from
the seaboard to accessible islands already known or rumored,
or even desperately commit themselves in blindness to the
remoter mysteries of the ocean. Such an event would afford
a fabric for the embroidery of later fancy. A part of this has
been preserved by record; and it is curious to watch the develop-
ment of the story, which takes several forms, not differing widely,
however, one from another.


When Pedro de Ayala, Spanish Ambassador to Great Britain,
found occasion in 1498 to report English exploring activities to
Ferdinand and Isabella, he wrote:

The people of Bristol have, for the last seven years, sent out every
year two, three, or four light ships (caravels) in search of the island of
Brasil and the seven cities. 1

There is indeed one well-attested voyage of 1480 conducted
by well-known navigators, seeking this insular Brazil, and it
was not the earliest.

1 G. E. Weare: Cabot's Discovery of North America, London. 1897, p. -9.


The first appearance of that island thus far reported, as we
have seen in the preceding chapter, is on the map of Dalorto 8
(dated 1325; Fig. 4) as a disc of land well at sea, westward from
Hibernian Munster; but the Catalan map of I375 3 (Fig. 5) and
at least one other 4 turn the disc into a ring surrounding a body
of water which is studded with small islands apparently nine
in the Catalan map photographically reproduced by Norden-
skiold, though Dr. Kretschmer draws seven on the other. These
miniature islands have sometimes been thought 6 to represent the
seven cities of the old legend; but islets are not cities, and there
seems no reason why each city should require an islet. However,
the coincidence of number, exact or approximate, is suggestive.
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« Reply #82 on: July 19, 2009, 03:33:26 am »


Antillia (variously spelled) was a home for the elusive cities
more favored than Brazil by cartography and tradition. In
1474 Toscanelli, a cosmographer of Florence, being consulted
by Christopher Columbus as to the prospects of a westward
voyage, sent him a copy of a letter which he had written to a
friend in the service of the King of Portugal. Its authenticity
has been questioned, but it is still believed in by the majority of
inquirers and may be accepted provisionally. In it occurs this

From the island Antilia, which you call the seven cities, and whereof
you have some knowledge, to the most noble island of Cipango [Japan],
are ten spaces, which make 2,500 miles. 6

* Alberto Magnaghi: La carta nautica costruita nel 1325 da Angelino Dalorto,
with facsimile, Florence, 1898 (published on the occasion of the Third Italian Geo-
graphical Congress). Cf. also: idem: II mappamondo del genovese Angellinus de
Dalorto (1325): Contributo alia storia della cartografia mediovale, Atti del Terzo
Congr. Geogr. Italiano, tenuto in Firenze dal 12 al 17 Aprile, i8g8, Florence, 1899,
Vol. 2, pp. 506-543; and idem: Angellinus de Dalorco (sic), cartografo italiano della
primametadelsecoloXIV, Riv.Geogr. ltaliana,Vo\.4, 1897, pp. 282-294 and 36 1-369.

3 A. E. Nordenskiold : Periplus: An Essay on the Early History of Charts and
Sailing-Directions, transl. by F. A. Bather, Stockholm, 1897, PL 2.

4 Konrad Kretschmer: Die Entdeckung Amerika's in ihrer Bedeutung fiir die
Geschichte des Weltbildes, 2 vols. (text and atlas), Berlin, 1892; reference in atlas,
PI. 4, map 8.

E. g. by Nordenskiold, op. cit., p. 164.

Ferdinand Columbus: The History of the Life and Actions of Adm. Christopher
Columbus, and of His Discovery of the West-Indies, Call'd the New World, Now
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« Reply #83 on: July 19, 2009, 03:33:41 am »


The name Antillia had appeared on the maps much earlier.
As Atilae, or Atulae, it is doubtfully found in an inscription on
that of the Pizigani (1367 ; 7 Fig. 2), identifying a "shore," not
drawn, on which a colossal statue of warning had been erected.
The location seems to be somewhere in the region where Corvo
of the Azores should appear.

We meet the island name, for the first time unmistakably,
on the map of Beccario (Becharius) of 1435* (Fig. 20). It is ap-
plied to the chief of a group of four large islands, comparable to
nothing actually in the western Atlantic except the Greater An-
tilles, or three of them with Florida (Bimini). They are collec-
tively designated "Insulle a Novo Repte" the "Newly Reported
Islands." Antillia itself is shown as an elongated quadrilateral
having its sides indented by seven two-lobed bays of identical
form, beside another and larger bay in the southern end. Several
subsequent maps repeat the delineation with little change, and
the map of Benincasa (1482; Fig. 22) supplies local names for
the bays or the regions adjoining excepting only the lowest but
one on the eastern side, which bay is opposite the middle of the
island name Antillia. The other names as read by Dr. Kretsch-
mer are Aira, Ansalli, Ansodi, Con, Anhuib, Ansesseli, and An-
solli. It will be observed that five of them borrow the first sylla-
ble of Antillia. Nobody has explained these names, and they seem
mere products of linguistic fancy. But again the coincidence in
number is impressive, although somewhat offset by the fact that
the next largest island in the group, Saluaga, has a similar ar-

in Possession of His Catholic Majesty. Written by His Own Son, transl. from
the Italian and contained in "A Collection of Voyages and Travels, Some Now First
Printed from Original Manuscripts, Others Now First Published in English," by
Awnsham Churchill and John Churchill (6 vols., London, 1732), Vol. 2, pp. 501-
628; reference on p. 512.

7 [E. F.] Jomard: Les monuments de la geographic, ou recueil d'anciennes cartes
europeennes et orientales Paris, [1842-62], PI. X, i.

8 Gustavo Uzielli: Mappamondi, carte nautiche e portolani del medioevo e dei
secoli delle grandi scoperte marittime construiti da italiani o trovati nelle biblio-
teche d'ltalia. Part II (pp. 280-390) of "Studi Bibliografici e Biografici sulla Storia
della Geografia in Italia," published on the occasion of the Second International
Geographical Congress, Paris, i8? the Societa Geografica Italiana, Rome, 1875;
reference on PI. 8 (the second edition, Rome, 1882, does not contain the plates).

Kretschmer, atlas, PI. 4, map i.
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« Reply #84 on: July 19, 2009, 03:34:35 am »


rangement of five bays of like form and carries the names, simi-
larly applied, of Arahas, Duchal, Imada, Nom, and Consilla.
They can hardly be extra bishops' towns. At least we are in the
dark about them. The anonymous map sometimes attributed to
1424 and preserved at Weimar 10 shows in photographic copy
traces of names, or at least letters, on the part of Antillia which
it represents. Its true date is believed to be about that of
Benincasa's map above cited. But the markings do not seem
to be identical and are very meager.


However, there can be no doubt of Toscanelli's meaning at
an earlier date in the passage quoted. The same is true of
Behaim's globe (1492), though he discards the accepted form
of Antillia. He appends a long inscription, translated by Raven-
stein as follows:

In the year 734 of Christ, when the whole of Spain had been won
by the heathen (Moors) of Africa, the above island Antilia, called Septe
citade (Seven cities), was inhabited by an archbishop from the Porto
in Portugal, with six other bishops, and other Christians, men and
women, who had fled thither from Spain, by ship, together with their
cattle, belongings, and goods. 1414 a ship from Spain got nighest it
without being endangered. 11

Again, in Ruysch's map of 1508 there is "a large island in
the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Lat. N. 37 and 40.
It is called Antilia Insula, and a long legend asserts that it had
been discovered long ago by the Spaniards, whose last Gothic
king, Roderik, had taken refuge there from the invasion of the
Barbarians." 12

Ferdinand Columbus, living between 1488 and 1539, says that
some Portuguese cartographers had located

10 W. H. Babcock: Indications of Visits of White Men to America before Colum-
bus, Proc. igth Internatl. Congr. of Americanists, Held at Washington, Dec. 27-31,
IQIS, [Smithsonian Institution], Washington, D. C., 1917. PP- 460-478; map on p.

11 E. G. Ravenstein: Martin Behaim: His Life and His Globe, London, 1908,
P. 77-

"A. E. Nordenskiold: Facsimile-Atlas to the Early History of Cartography,
transl. by J. A. Ekelof and C. R. Markham. Stockholm, 1889, p. 65 and PI. 32.
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« Reply #85 on: July 19, 2009, 03:34:50 am »


Antilla . . . not . . . above 200 leagues due west from the
Canaries and Azores, which they conclude to be certainly the island of the
seven cities, peopled by the Portuguese at the time that Spain was con-
quered by the Moors in the year 714. At which time they say, seven
bishops with their people embark'd and sailed to this island, where each of
them built a city; and to the end none of their people might think of
returning to Spain, they burnt the ships, tackle and all things necessary
for sailing. Some Portuguese discoursing about this island, there were
those that affirmed several Portuguese had gone to it, who could not
find the way to it again. 13

He relates particularly how "in the time of Henry infant of
Portugal [perhaps about 1430], a Portuguese ship was drove by
stress of weather to this island Antilla." The crew went to church
with the islanders but were afraid of being detained and hurried
back to Portugal. The Prince heard their story and ordered
them to return to the island, but they escaped from him and
were not found again. It is said that of the sand gathered on
Antillia for the cook room a third part was pure gold.

Galvano tells of a still later visit; or possibly it is only an-
other version of the same:

In this yeere also, 1447, it happened that there came a Portugall
ship through the streight of Gibraltar; and being taken with a great
tempest, was forced to runne westwards more then willingly the men
would, and at last they fell upon an Island which had seven cities, and
the people spake the Portugall toong, and they demanded if the Moors
did yet trouble Spaine, whence they had fled for the losse which they
received by the death of the king of Spaine, Don Roderigo.

The boateswaine of the ship brought home a little of the sand, and
sold it unto a goldsmith of Lisbon, out of the which he had a good
quantitie of gold.

Don Pedro understanding this, being then governour of the realme,
caused all the things thus brought home, and made knowne, to be
recorded in the house of justice.

There be some that thinke, that those Islands whereunto the Portugals
were thus driven, were the Antiles, or Newe Spaine. 14

13 Ferdinand Columbus, p. 514.

Antonio Galvano: The Discoveries of the World from Their First Original unto
the Year of Our Lord 1555, Hakluyt Soc. Publs., ist Series, Vol. 30, London, 1862,
p. 72.

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« Reply #86 on: July 19, 2009, 03:35:04 am »



The Portuguese historian Faria y Sousa has yet another
version. According to Stevens' translation:

After Roderick's defeat the Moors spread themselves over all the
province, committing inhuman barbarities. * * * The chief re-
sistance was at Merida. The defendants, many of whom were Portu-
guese, that being the Supreme Tribunal of Lusitania, were commanded
by Sacaru, a noble Goth. Many brave actions passed at the siege, but
at length there being no hopes of relief and provisions failing, the town
was surrendered upon articles. The commander of the Lusitanians,
traversing Portugal, came to a seaport town, where,' collecting a good
number of ships, he put to sea, but to which part of the world they
were carried does not appear. There is an ancient fable of an island called
Antilla in the western ocean, inhabited by Portuguese, but it could
never yet be found, and therefore we will leave it until such time as
it is discovered, but to this place our author supposes these Portugals
to have been driven. 16

It is plain that Captain Stevens paraphrases with comments
rather than translates. The original 16 avers that the fugitives
made sail for the Fortunate Islands (the Canaries), in order
that they might preserve some remnants of the Spanish race,
but were carried elsewhere. It also specifies that the legendary
island which they are supposed to have reached is inhabited
by Portuguese and contains seven cities tiene siete cividades.

This last account lacks positive mention of the emigrating
bishops and for the first time names a definite though rather
remote goal as aimed at by their effort. But the movement
from Merida is well accounted for, and a trusted military com-
mander would seem a natural leader for such an enterprise of
wholesale escape. The bishops, implied by the seven cities,
might well gather to him at Oporto or be picked up on the way.
On the whole it seems the most easily believable version of the
story; though of course it does not necessarily 'follow that they
really chose any land so remote as Teneriffe and its neighbors

" Manuel de Faria y Sousa: The History of Portugal, transl. by Capt. John
Stevens, London, 1698; reference in Bk. 2, Ch. 6, p. 112.

16 Manuel de Faria y Sousa: Epitome de las Historias Portuguesas, 2 vols., Ma-
drid, 1628; reference in Part II, Ch. 7, p. 257.
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« Reply #87 on: July 19, 2009, 03:35:16 am »


if they knew of them for a new abiding place. Of course the
continuance of Portuguese language and civilization and the
persistence of seven isolated towns through so many centuries
must be ranked with the auriferous sands of Antillia as late
products of the dreaming Iberian brain.


The citations thus far given identify the Island of the Seven
Cities with some legendary, but generally believed-in patch of
land afar out in the ocean sometimes with the Island of Brazil,
more often with Antillia. But the earliest of them dates six
or seven centuries after the supposed fact, and it may well be
that a distinction was made at first, which became lost after-
ward by blending. In a still later stage of development the name
of the Seven Cities becomes separate and strangely migratory,
not avoiding even the mainland. We know, for instance, what
power the Seven Cities of Cibola had to draw Coronado and his
followers northward through the mountains and deserts of our
still arid Southwest until all that was real of them stood revealed
as the even then antiquated and rather uncleanly terraced
villages of sun-dried brick which are picturesquely familiar on
railway folders and in the pages of illustrated magazines.

But this was not the only part of North America on which
the romantic myth alighted. The British Museum contains in
MS. 2803 of the Egerton collection an anonymous world map, 17
(Fig. Cool, forming part of a portolan atlas attributed by conjecture
to 1508, which shows, somewhat as in La Cosa's map of 1500, the
Atlantic coast distorted to a nearly westward trend, with the
Seven Cities (Septem Civitates), represented by conventional in-
dications of miters, scattered along a seaboard tract from a point
considerably west of "terra de los bacalos" and the Bay of Fundy
to a point nearly opposite the western end of Cuba. The car-
tographer's ideas of geography were exceedingly vague, but appar-

17 E. L. Stevenson: Atlas of Portolan Charts: Facsimile of Manuscript in British
Museum, Publs. Hispanic Soc. of Amer. No. 81, New York, 1911, folio ib.


ently he conceived of Portuguese episcopal domination for the
coastal country between lower New England and Florida as we
know them now. Perhaps, however, he merely meant to set down
his cities somewhere on the eastern shore of temperate North
America and has strewn them along at convenience.

Incidentally, this map is also interesting as one of a few which
inscribe Antillia, with slight changes of orthography, on some
part of the mainland of South America. In this instance "Antiglia"
occupies a tract of the northwestern coastal country apparently
corresponding to contiguous portions of Colombia, Ecuador,
and Peru.
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« Reply #88 on: July 19, 2009, 03:35:30 am »


But the Island of the Seven Cities appeared as such on other
maps and by this name only. Perhaps its most salient showing
is on Desceliers' fine map of I546 18 (Fig. 9), that entertaining re-
pository of isles which are more than dubious and names which
are fantastic. He presents it off the American coast about
a third as far as the Bermudas and midway from Cape Breton
to the Bay of Fundy. The size is considerable, the outline
being deeply embayed on several sides and hence very irregular,
almost as much so as Celebes. Two islets lie near two of its
projecting peninsulas. It bears a brief inscription giving the
name Sete Cidades and indicating that it belongs to Portugal.

This choice of location would have been more venturesome a
century later. In 1546 there had been some exploring and much
fishing in these waters but no determined settlement near them,
and they were hardly yet familiar. However, the Ortelius map of
I570 19 (Fig. 10), and the Mercator map of isSy 20 find it more
prudent to move this island farther south and farther out to
sea, reducing its area, but retaining its traditional name. Not
long after this, except for a local name on St. Michaels of the
Azores, the Seven Cities disappear from geography.

> Kretschmer. atlas, PI. 17.

18 A. E. Nordenskiold, Facsimile-Atlas, PI. 46.

2 Ibid., PI. 47.



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« Reply #89 on: July 19, 2009, 03:35:45 am »


The exception noted is well worth considering. Just as Ter-
ceira retains her medieval name of Brazil to designate one head-
land, St. Michaels has still its valley of the Seven Cities. Brown's
guidebook presents the fact very casually: "St. Michaels. Ponta
Delgada. Brown's Hotel. About ten people. Among the chief
sights are the lava beds coming from Sete Cidades. ... At
Sete Cidades, which is worth a visit, there is a great crater
with two lakes at the bottom, one of which appears to be green,
the other blue." 21

This naive incuriousness in the presence of something so
significant of course has not been shared by a different order
of observers. Buache 23 found here as he thought the genuine
and only Seven Cities of the legend. Humboldt 23 opposed this
view with a reminder of the Seven Cities of Cibola. But it is
fair to remember that New Mexico was quite impossible for
the Portuguese of 711 or thereabout, whereas St. Michaels
Island offered an accessible and tempting place of refuge. The
name could not have been derived from settlement in the
former; but it might really be derived from settlement in the
latter. Granting that the fugitives might not be able to main-
tain themselves there in safety for many years after the Arabs
had begun their tentative and always uneasy incursions into
the western Sea of Darkness, it still may be that the town or
towns of this hidden island valley might endure long enough
and seem imposing enough and be visited often enough by
Christians from the mainland to supply the nucleus of the most
picturesque and adventurous of legends; and this tale might
follow any later migration into the unknown, or survive and
find new abiding places for the name and fancy long after the

M A. S. Brown: Guide to Madeira and the Canary Islands (with notes on the
Azores), 5th edit., London, 1898, p. 148.

22 N. Buache: Recherches sur 1'ile Antillia et sur 1'epoque de d6couverte d'Am$-
rique, Mlmoires de Vlnstitut des Sciences, Lettres, et Arts, Vol. 6, 1806, pp. 1-29,
following p. 84 of Section entitled "Histoire" and appended list. See p. 13.

a Alexander von Humboldt: Examen critique de 1'histoire de la geographic du
nouveau continent et des progres de 1'astronomie nautique aux quinzieme et
seizime siecles, 5 vols., Paris. 1836-39; reference in Vol. 2, p. 281.
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