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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 4318 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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Posts: 4699

« Reply #120 on: January 27, 2009, 11:50:17 pm »

The early part of this narrative is founded on Professor O’Curry's Lectures on the manuscript materials of Irish history; it being another of those "Imrama" or narratives of ocean expeditions to which the tale of St. Brandan belongs. The original narrative lands the three brothers ultimately in Spain, and it is a curious fact that most of what we know of the island of Satanaxio or Satanajio--which remained so long on the maps--is taken from an Italian narrative of three other brothers, cited by Formaleoni, "Il Pellegrinaccio di tre giovanni," by Christoforo Armeno (Gaffarel, "Les Iles Fantastiques," p. 91). The coincidence is so peculiar that it offered an irresistible temptation to link the two trios of brothers into one narrative and let the original voyagers do the work of exploration. The explanation given by Gaffarel to the tale is the same that I have suggested as possible. He says in "Iles Fantastiques de l’Atlantaque" (p. 12), "S’il nous était permis d’aventurer une hypothèse, nous croirions voluntiers que les navigateurs de l’époque rencontrèrent, en s’aventurant dans l’Atlantique, quelques-uns de ces gigantesques icebergs, ou montagnes de

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glace, arrachés aux banquises du pôle nord, et entraînés au sud par les courants, dont la rencontre, assez fréquente, est, même aujourd’hui, tellement redoutée par les capitaines. Ces icebergs, quand ils se heurtent contre un navire, le coulent à pic; et comme ils arrivent à l’improviste, escortés par d’épais brouillards, ils paraissent réellement sortir du sein des flots, comme sortait la main de Satan, pour précipiter au fond de l’abîme matelots et navires." As to the name itself there has been much discussion. On the map of Bianco (1436)--reproduced in Winsor, I. p. 54--the name "Ya de Lamansatanaxio" distinctly appears, and this was translated by both Formaleoni and Humboldt as meaning "the Island of the Hand of Satan." D'Avezac was the first to suggest that the reference was to two separate islands, the one named "De la Man" or "Danman," and the other "Satanaxio." He further suggests--followed by Gaffarel--that the name of the island may originally have been San Atanagio, thus making its baptism a tribute to St. Athanasius instead of to Satan. This would certainly have been a curious transformation, and almost as unexpected in its way as the original conversion of the sinful brothers from outlaws to missionaries.

The name Antillia appears first, but not very clearly, on the Pizigani map of 1367; then clearly on a map of 1424, preserved at Weimar, on that of Bianco in 1436, and on the globe of Beheim in 1492, which adds in an inscription the story of the Seven Bishops. On some maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there appears near it a smaller island under

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the name of Sette Cidade, or Sete Ciudades, which is properly another name for the same island. Toscanelli, in his famous letter to Columbus, recommended Antillia as a good way-station for his voyage to India. The island is said by tradition to have been re-discovered by a Portuguese sailor in 1447. Tradition says that this sailor went hastily to the court of Portugal to announce the discovery, but was blamed for not having remained longer, and so fled. It was supposed to be "a large, rectangular island extending from north to south, lying in the mid Atlantic about lat. 35 N." An ample bibliography will be found in Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History," I. p. 48, with maps containing Antillia, I. pp. 54 (Pizigani's), 56, 58.

After the discovery of America, Peter Martyr states (in 1493) that Hispaniola and the adjacent islands were "Antillæ insulæ," meaning that they were identical with the group surrounding the fabled Antillia (Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History," I. p. 49); and Schöner, in the dedicatory letter of his globe of 1523, says that the king of Castile, through Columbus, has discovered Antiglias Hispaniam Cubam quoque. It was thus that the name Antilles came to be applied to the islands discovered by Columbus; just as the name Brazil was transferred from an imaginary island to the new continent, and the name Seven Cities was applied to the pueblos of New Mexico by those who discovered them. (See J. H. Simpson, "Coronado's March in Search of the Seven Cities of Cibola," Smithsonian Institution, 1869, pp. 209-340.)

The sailor who re-discovered them said that the chief desire of the people was to know whether the Moors still held Spain (Gaffarel, "Iles Fantastiques," p. 3). In a copy of "Ptolemy"

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addressed to Pope Urban VI. about 1380, before the alleged visit of the Portuguese, it was stated of the people at Antillia that they lived in a Christian manner, and were most prosperous, "Hic populus christianissime vivit, omnibus divitiis seculi hujus plenus" (D’Avezac, "Nouvelles Annales des voyages," 1845, II. p. 55).

It was afterwards held by some that the island of Antillia was identical with St. Michael in the Azores, where a certain cluster of stone huts still bears the name of Seven Cities, and the same name is associated with a small lake by which they stand. (Humboldt's "Examen Critique," Paris, 1837, II. p. 203; Gaffarel, "Iles Fantastiques," p. 3.)

The tales of the Norse explorations of America are now accessible in many forms, the most convenient of these being in the edition of E. L. Slafter, published by the Prince Society. As to the habits of the Vikings, the most accessible authorities are "The Age of the Vikings," by Du Chaillu, and "The Sea Kings of Norway," by Laing. The writings of the late Professor E. N. Horsford are well known, but his opinions are not yet generally accepted by students. His last work, "Leif's House in Vineland," with his daughter's supplementary essay on "Graves of the Northmen," is probably the most interesting of the series (Boston, 1893). In Longfellow's "Saga of King Olaf" (II.), included in "Tales of a Wayside Inn," there is a description of the athletic sports practised by the Vikings, which are moreover described with the greatest minuteness by Du Chaillu.

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