Thursday, 4 January 2007

More Coincidences I Dug Up

Underneath the notorious "Most Haunted Lane" in this small town, lies a network of narrow alleyways leading to small underground rooms carrying priceless manuscripts.

In my spare time, I'm a pseudo-historian and my main interests are Egyptology, particularly The Book of the Dead, and Vampire mythology. I think these are interesting diversions from my day job of biophysics.

I'm happy that we have here a great collection of old manuscripts which I can browse to try to learn more about these topics.

The Philippines has its own scary vampire equivalents. The aswang is a shapeshifting bloodsucker while the manananggal has bat wings and has a culinary fetish for fetuses. Oddly, both can be repelled by garlic. I've often wondered why these mythical creatures are very similar to the western Count Dracula-type. These incarnations of the undead have common Christian elements. While the manananggal is endemically Malay, the aswang does not appear to predate European colonisation of South East Asia.

Anyways, news of the 14-year old British teenager's record breaking solo sailing across the Atlantic ocean tingled my envy bones. I also want to do something similar and have latched on the bright idea of retracing the Spanish circumnavigation of the world aboard a wooden ship. It will only be powered by the wind and navigation will be by old-school means, ie. a sextant and constellation reading and NOT GPS. It will be a long term plan that needs careful planning and lots of fundraising and I hope it really does happen.

One night, it was as if a voice was calling out my name. I went underground.....

So I did some leisurely reading and by accident found a 19th century map of the Pacific trade routes from a German Atlas that was in our underground archives. (I didn't realise that we DID have an underground Archive room! It's spooky down there and cold but I really like it.) This map also had Magellan's fleet's purported track. I wasn't sure if the route is accurate and wanted to dig deeper by requesting other old books from the main library stacks.

A 1898 English translation of Prof. H. Berghaus's Physikalischer Atlas. It includes trade routes and sea current observations.

Of Ferdinand Magellan's fleet of five ships and 200 men that set sail from San Lucar de Barrameda in 1519 to the West, only one ship, the aptly named Victoria, carrying only 18 men returned 3 years later.

One of the men was the Venetian Military Knight Antonio Pigafetta and he had in his person the most precious cargo on that ship - his journals. These journals chronicled the first circumnavigation of the world and their experiences with the people of those distant lands.

Upon his return, he set about to write a travel book from these journals. The draft was finished by August 1524. The original manuscript has been lost but there exists 4 codices. Two are in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (in French), the Heinecke-Yale codex (also in French), and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana manuscript (in original Italian.)

Among the explorers, Antonio Pigafetta spent the most time onshore with the locals and is in fact the first European to have a working knowledge of the Bisayan dialect. (There is an Italian/French - Bisaya glossary in the codices.)

His journals however did not record accurately the route of the ships. They were in fact nearly useless and unintelligible. The 23 sketches on the codex which he based from the charts made by the fleet's pilots did not have bearings and he retained the Mediterranean map style of orienting South on the top. He was a not a mariner but whether he intended his cartographic sketches to be vague to keep the coordinates secret is not known as he jotted down nearly everything else.

However, there were 17 other men on board that ship. A handful were proper navigators and pilots.

Enter the Italian humanist Peter Martyr. He gathered firsthand accounts from the other explorers upon their return while everything was fresh in their memories. Unfortunately, these records were lost in the sacking of Rome in 1527.

Cue spine tingling music now....because this is a coincidence......

Peter Martyr had a student who was married to the niece of Cristobal de Haro. Cristobal de Haro was Magellan's main financier. This student also did interviews of the surviving crew and his version of the first circumnavigation was in the form of 'letters to the Cardinal of Salzburg'.

Allegedly, he was really the bastard son of the prelate. Allegedly he was merely 'adopted' by the cardinal when his real aristocratic father was killed.

His name is Maximilian of Transylvania.

In Dec 1599, two Dutch fleets followed Magellan's route with only one ship completing the first Dutch circumnavigation. One ship was captured in Manila, two ended in other parts of Asia, two were sold or destroyed, but three were lost.

One of those lost ships carried cargo from Transylvania. Ooh...spooky...I'm loving it already.....

On my desk this afternoon was delivered a box. Not just an ordinary box.

Inside it was an January 1800 edition of Antonio Pigafetta's account of the Magellan expedition based on the Biblioteca Ambrosiana Codex.

This book, edited by Carlo Amoretti for the Count Gilberto Borromeo Arese, also had some maps along with Pigafetta's original 23 sketches. The sketches of this copy were handpainted by the way.

Digging deeper, I discovered we did have a 1536 edition of Maximilian of Transylvania's interviews. I need to learn Italian now......

How Pigafetta died, no one knows. Allegedly he was fighting the Turks and died in Malta around 1535. The introduction to the two-volume English translation and facsimile of the Heinecke-Yale codex led me to this heavy 2-volume 1894 opus which has a biography of Pigafetta.

My theory is that Pigafetta did not die in Malta. He in fact went back to the New World following his unpublished but accurate route coordinates with a Romanian nobleman. While the Spaniards successfully repelled the Dutch raids to Iloilo, they could hardly repel one who was from the Order of the Dragon.


Rene said...

interesting find. now i can't quit you. (hehe, can't get enough of conan's reaction when john cena blurted this out to him, hehe)


pwera biro, keep 'em coming.

The Nashman said...

pwede na tayong gumawa ng graphic novel bago pelikula.....:D

dora_the_exiled said...

starring... lito lapid?

seriously though, i'm an archaeology student and would love to share thoughts of some of your data... over coffee... in paris... you're so paying.

The Nashman said...

coffee in paris is cheaper than in starbucks-makati. i will buy you not one but three cups.