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Post Magellan, Elcano, Pigafetta
Created by John Eipper on 07/19/14 7:24 PM

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Magellan, Elcano, Pigafetta (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/19/14 7:24 pm)

Following up on the post of Anthony J. Candil (19 July), I would like to add a few notes on Magellan and Elcano.

The importance of the first circling of the globe should be credited to three men, Fernão de Magalhães, who commanded the ships until his death at Mactan, Philippines, on 27 April 1521, Juan Sebastian Elcano, who as master of the vessel Victoria returned to Spain on 6 September 1522, and Antonio Pigafetta.

The latter, born at Vicenza 1492, is famous for having written the "Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al Mondo" (Relation of the first voyage around the world). Being a great humanist, mariner and geographer, he gave an excellent detailed account, including the sexual habits of the various local sultans. By many historians he is considered the real chief of the expedition after the death of Magellan, while Elcano is considered only the master of the Victoria. Apparently Pigafetta did not much like Elcano after his mutiny in Patagonia on April 1520, following which the Spaniard was sentenced to death, but the death penalty was commuted to be put in chains to pump out water from the bottom of the vessel for the entire winter of 1520.

However, Elcano was highly appreciated by the Spanish Court and the first diary of Pigafetta given to the Emperor Charles V disappeared, as it was too favourable to the Portuguese and not to the Spaniard.

Pigafetta died in 1531 fighting against the Turks. He was a Cavaliere di San Giovanni, at Methoni Greece.

Pigafetta was the first men that faced and solved the problem of the date change that occurs when circling the globe.

Another Italian, Leon Pancaldo, from my hometown, remained behind with the ship Trinidad, returning only 1525. By the way in Savona his old house still exists; the Nautical School is dedicated to Leon Pancaldo and contains a small museum which should instead be installed in the the above-mentioned house when it is restored.

About the death of Magellan, Pigafetta wrote: "He could have saved himself by retreating helter-skelter with the rest, but like a preux chevalier of old, he felt obliged to cover the retirement of his men."

Those wanting more details may look at the books of Admiral Morison, The European Discovery of America, New York Oxford University Press. Even if it contains some minor errors of which I have already written in previous WAIS posts, it is a good basic work for the history of explorations.

JE comments:  In our Yankee schoolbooks it was all about Magellan, but in the picturesque Basque port of Getaria, the hero is Elcano--"primus circumdesdisti me."  (I need to pay more attention to Pigafetta.)

Getaria, 19 July 2014

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  • Magellan, Elcano, Pigafetta: In Praise of Spain's Italians (Anthony J Candil, USA 07/20/14 9:30 AM)
    Interesting story from Eugenio Battaglia (19 July). I've to admit that I haven't heard much about Antonio Pigafetta. I will work on that.

    Maybe stealing from a famous expression, we will have to conclude that "behind every brilliant Spaniard there is an intelligent Italian." And I'm not joking or being sarcastic.

    For although much of the glory goes to Christopher Columbus, an Italian by the way, not much is said of Amerigo Vespucci from whom we got the name of America.

    But we can go on and on. Don Juan de Austria wouldn't have defeated the Turks without the help of that great Italian admiral, Andrea Doria, at Lepanto.

    And coming to modern times, keep in mind that former king Juan Carlos was born in Rome, so technically he is not even Spanish, and I heard always that one of his great mentors was the late Italian president Sandro Pertini. They also say that former president Felipe González usually asked for advice from the president or prime minister Bettino Craxi.

    And General Franco wouldn't have won his war without the Italians, that's for sure. Now that John E is in the Basque Country, I wonder if he has seen a small monument that was once on a bridge over the Nervion River to the glory of the Italian troops that helped to "liberate" Bilbao (Bilbo) in 1937. I imagine it has been probably demolished by now.

    Ah! And don't forget the glamorous Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, Ava Gardner's lover, who was married to the gorgeous Italian actress Lucia Bose (by the way she was my neighbor when I lived in Madrid for a while, and she was always very nice).

    Spain, after all was just a Roman province, Hispania, isn't it ?

    What the world would have done without the Italians? Can we, Americans, have survived without pizza?

    JE comments:  Ava Gardner was also a regular visitor to the Basque Country--I think it was San Sebastián, although I'm experiencing Basque information overload!  In any case, our unforgettable four days in Gernika have come to a close.  I'm writing these lines from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, en route to Warsaw.  Just had a quick cafe au lait with WAISer David W. Pike near the Jardin des Plantes.  It was an honor to meet this WAIS patriarch for the first time.

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    • Genoa and the French (John Heelan, UK 07/21/14 2:35 AM)
      Anthony J. Candil wrote on 20 July: "much of the glory goes to Christopher Columbus, an Italian." Was not Genoa a republic occupied by France at the time of Columbus' birth (c. 1450)?

      JE comments:  This question is tailor-made for Eugenio Battaglia.  In any case, there was no "Italy" at all in the 15th century--although as we learned during four days in Euskadi (Basque Country), "nation" and "state" are not the same thing.

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      • Genoa and the French; Nation, State, Country (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/21/14 12:25 PM)
        I will try to answer John Heelan's question (21 July) about Genoa being occupied by France at the time of Columbus's birth, c. 1450.

        In reality, up to 1494 Italy had not experienced significant foreign occupations or invasions for quite a long time.

        In 1438 Renè d'Anjou, king of Naples, was welcomed at Genoa but at that time the Ligurian power was allied with Anjou against Aragón, which wanted to take Sardinia and Corsica.

        According to a recent researcher, Franco Icardi, Columbus was born in Savona, but is called a Genoese as Savona was for most of its time under the oppressive rule of Genoa. He first went to sea in 1456, and by 1461 he was captain of a French privateer ship operating from Tunis.  When this fact became known to the King of Spain, in 1495, the latter was very angry.

        However France entered in the history of Genova in 1458 when the Doge Pietro II Campofregoso, pressed by a civil war, offered the government of the town to the French king Charles VII.  However, this nominal possession lasted only a couple of years.

        It is only in 1494 with the invasion of Charles VIII of Anjou, king of France, to conquer the kingdom of Naples, that the troubles and the foreign domination in Italy started.  Italy returned to its complete sovereignty and almost complete unity only when the town of Fiume was annexed in 1924.  This unfortunately lasted only about 20 years.

        Very good comments from JE about nation and state. Perhaps we may say that the nation is a people who have a common language, customs, and traditions and feel as one, separate from others, a united entity even if not within a common border.

        For the Italians we can go back to the Roman Empire, but we may start mentioning the best supporters of this idea from Dante Alighieri, passing through Francesco Guicciardini and Niccolò Macchiavelli, up to the present day.  Country is when within a border a people agree to live united, even if they may be ethnically diversified.  State is the complex of authorities that rules the country and to which the people must give respect. 
        The best is when all three--Nation, Country and State--coincide.

        JE comments:  I cribbed the "nation" and "state" distinction from the Basque Lehendakari emeritus himself, José Antonio Ardanza.  More on my conversations with this extraordinary statesman in a later post.

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        • Genoa, Columbus, and Italian Nationalism (Pietro Lorenzini, USA 07/22/14 1:28 AM)
          Recent comments about Genoa, France, Columbus and Italians got me to thinking about group identities. Much has been written about the development of nationalism and national identity in Italy. One of the more interesting studies I came across (I reviewed it for Choice Magazine, January 2014) is a book written by Sabina Donati titled A Political History of National Citizenship and Identity in Italy, 1861-1950 (Stanford 2013). Another book, In the Name of Italy: Nation, Family and Patriotism in a Fascist Court (Fordham 2012), authored by Maura Hametz (which I reviewed in Choice, April 2013) starts its discussion of Italian identity and citizenship with a legal case concerned with whether a family living in the Trieste/Istria region during Mussolini's rule was Italian or not. This book might be particularly interesting to Signor Battaglia.

          As for the specific comings and goings of foreign powers in Italy and about the birthplace of Columbus, I must leave serious discussion to those more expert than I. However, I would recommend to all those interested in Genoese history a seminal work in English written by Steven A. Epstein called Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528 (U of North Carolina Press, 1996).

          Additionally, I should like to suggest that ironically Genoa, (and Florence) experienced the ultimate destruction of its liberty largely due to the fact that Genoese (and Florentine) money lenders helped fund the growing power of nascent national monarchies in Western Europe. Spain and France, good examples of the first nation states, eventually became more powerful than the wealthy Italian city states. It might be said too that the new nation states were also more ruthless for they did not play by the same rules. That is, generally speaking, Medieval and early Renaissance warfare on the Italian peninsula was about keeping a balance of power, not annihilation of the enemy.

          Interestingly though, the advent of Spanish and French national power, and the presence of their respective military forces struggling for hegemony on the Italian peninsula, also stimulated notions of Italianità. Nevertheless, even though thinkers such as Machiavelli underscored the need to rid the peninsula of foreign powers, we should not forget that the deep-rooted focus of political identity remained largely regional and local even when the Italian states faced a dual threat to Italian liberty from France and Spain.

          Yes, the second half of the 15th century, saw the Most Serene Republic of Genoa and much of the peninsula threatened by growing French power. But the French proved to be only one of Genoa's problems. The almost steady growth of Ottoman power meant that Genoa and Venice, the premier Italian commercial/naval powers, had to fight long and bloody wars in order to hold on to their Mediterranean commercial and colonial empires. While trading colonies and naval outpost were lost one by one over the centuries, we should recall that the Genoese didn't give up so easily. After all, it wasn't until 1797 that Napoleone Buonaparte put an end to their Republic (the same fate of the Venetians).

          I chose the Italian version of Napoleon's name for he personifies, I suggest, the complexities of national identity in that early modern age. Was he Corsican, or Italian, or French? In a very real way, he may have been all three. Yet the answer is as complicated as the history of Corsica, an island which long fought against Genoese suzerainty (Napoleone was born just after France took the island from the Genoese). And surely, the Genoese could not help but recognize the bitter irony in the fact that the man who brought Genoese independence to an end always remained a Corsican-Italian to the bone, a son of the Ligurian Republic's most troublesome isle.

          JE comments:  An excellent comment from our long-silent colleague in Chicago, Pietro Lorenzini.  Great to hear from you, Pietro!  These questions of identity are infinitely complex, and Napoleon(e) embodies the contradictions of nationality better than almost anyone:  the most gung-ho Frenchman was actually a Corsican/Italian.  (Note that in the next century, Germany's #1 nationalist was from Austria.)

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          • Columbus: a Catalan? (Enrique Torner, USA 07/23/14 2:50 AM)
            These posts on Columbus reminded me that, when I was a graduate student at Indiana University, I met a Catalan student who was researching Columbus: Jordi Bilbeny. At that time, he had found out in archival research that the Castilian government had been censoring and falsifying Catalan documents regarding Columbus, among many others. He also claimed that Columbus was Catalan, that he had been an ambassador for the "Generalitat," and that his ships had departed from Pals (on the northern coast of Gerona), not from Palos de Noguer, in Huelva.

            Our friendship lasted throughout my stay at IU (1987-1992). Funny enough, I just Googled him, and he has now a PhD in history from the University of Barcelona, is a college professor, and has published several books on Columbus, "proving" his thesis. I was wondering what our WAIS historians think about his thesis. However, there is a caveat: his books have been published in Catalan, though there are document in Spanish about him. Here is one link:


            Let me know what you think.

            JE comments:  A few years ago we addressed the possible Catalan origins of Columbus, including the possibility that he was born in Aragonese Sardinia.  I believe Jordi Molins sent a post or two on this topic.  Who can refresh our memory?

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  • Pigafetta's *First Voyage Around the World* (Edward Jajko, USA 07/21/14 1:57 AM)

    Following up on Eugenio Battaglia (19 July), one might also look into The First Voyage Around The World, from the accounts of Antonio Pigafetta and others. This 2010 Cambridge University Press book reproduces the 1874 publication in the First Series of the Hakluyt Society publications. The translation of the Relazione is part of the book.

    JE comments:  A rousing czesc to my favorite Polish-American WAISer, Edward Jajko, from the Polish capital!  It's a beautiful day here in Warsaw.  I need to get out and explore.

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