Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation

Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation

by Antonio Pigafetta

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Remarkable firsthand account by one of the few survivors of Magellan's epochal journey (1519–1522). Remarkably detailed record of new lands, flora and fauna, shipboard life, etc. Introduction. 28 halftones. Map.  See more details below


Remarkable firsthand account by one of the few survivors of Magellan's epochal journey (1519–1522). Remarkably detailed record of new lands, flora and fauna, shipboard life, etc. Introduction. 28 halftones. Map.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Books on Travel, Adventure
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6.50(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.40(d)

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Magellan's Voyage

A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation

By Antonio Pigafetta, R. A. Skelton

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1969 Yale University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-12055-3


* Forasmuch as (most illustrious and very reverend Lord) there are divers curious persons who not only take pleasure in hearing and knowing the great and marvelous things which God has permitted me to see and suffer during the long and perilous voyage which I have made, hereafter written, but who also wish to know the means and fashion and the road which I took to go thither, not lending faith or firm belief to the end until they are first informed and assured of the beginning: wherefore, my Lord, be pleased to understand that, finding myself in Spain, in the year of the Nativity of our Lord 1519, at the court of the most serene King of the Romans, with the reverend Monsignor, master Francesco Chieregati, then apostolic protonotary and ambassador of Pope Leo X (and who has since by his virtue attained to the bishopric of Aprutino and principality of Teramo), and having learned, both by reading of divers books and from the report of many clerks and learned men who discussed the great and terrible things of the Ocean Sea with the said protonotary, I determined (by the good favor of the Emperor and the above-mentioned lord) to experience and to go to see some of the said things, thereby [f. 3] to satisfy the wishes of the said lords and also mine, that it might be told that I made the voyage and saw with my eyes the things hereafter written, and that I might win a famous name with posterity.

* Now, to come to unfold the beginning of my voyage (most illustrious lord), having heard that there was in the city of Seville a small fleet to the number of five ships ready to make that long voyage, that is, to find and discover the isles of Molucca whence come the spices (of which fleet the captain-general was Fernão de Magalhães, a Portuguese gentleman, commander of the Order of Santiago de la Spada, who had made several voyages in the Ocean Sea in which he had deported himself honorably and as a man of worth, I set out with several letters of recommendation from Barcelona, where at that time the Emperor was, and came by sea to Malaga. And from the sea I went by land until I reached the abovementioned city of Seville, where I abode the space of three months waiting for the said fleet to be put in order and prepared for its voyage. * And inasmuch (most illustrious lord) as on my return from the voyage, going to Rome to visit our Holy Father, I found your lordship at Monterosi where of your grace you made me welcome and later gave me to understand that you desired to have in writing the things which God by his grace allowed me to see in my said voyage: therefore to satisfy and yield to your wish I have set down in this little book the principal things as best I could. Finally (most illustrious lords), [f. 4r] all preparations having been made and the ships put in order, the captain-general, a wise and virtuous man and mindful of his honor, would not begin his voyage without first issuing some good and honorable regulations, as it is the good custom to make for those who go to sea. But he did not wholly declare the voyage which he wished to make, lest the people from astonishment and fear refuse to accompany him on so long a voyage as he had in mind to undertake, in view of the great and violent storms of the Ocean Sea whither he would go. And for another reason also. * For the masters and captains of the other ships of his company loved him not. I do not know the reason, unless it be that he, the captain-general, was Portuguese, and they were Spaniards or Castilians, which peoples have long borne ill-will and malevolence toward one another. Notwithstanding, they all held obedience to him and he made his regulations as follows, that in the hazards of the sea (which often occur by night and by day) the ships should not go astray and separate from each other. Which regulations he published and issued in writing to each ship's master, and ordered that they be observed and kept inviolably, unless with great and legitimate excuse and evidence of being unable to do otherwise.

* Regulations made by the captain-general for the conduct of his ships, their


* First, the said captain-general desired that the ship in which he was should go before the other ships and that the others should follow him; and to this end he carried by night on the poop of his ship a torch or burning fagot of wood, which they called farol, that his ships should not lose him from sight. Sometimes he put a lantern, at other times a thick cord of lighted rushes, called trenche, which was made of rushes soaked in water and beaten, then dried in the sun or by smoke. And this was a thing very favorable for the purpose. * When the captain had made one of his signals to the people, they responded to him likewise. Thus he knew whether the ships were following him or not. And when he wished to change course because the weather changed, or the wind was contrary, or he wanted to reduce way, he had two lights shown. And if he wished the others to haul in a bonnet (which is a part of the sail attached to the main sail) he showed three lights. Thus by three lights, even if the weather was good for sailing faster, he meant that the said bonnet be brought in, so that the mainsail could be sooner and more easily struck and furled when bad weather came on suddenly in some squall or otherwise. * Likewise, when the captain wished the other ships to strike sail, he showed four lights, which he quickly caused to be extinguished. Then he showed one as a signal that he wished to stop [f. 5r] there and remain, so that the other ships did as he. * Further, when he discovered some land or reef (that is, a rock in the sea) he showed several lights, or fired a mortar once. And if he wished to make sail, he signaled to the other ships by four lights, that they should do as he and follow him. And he always kept the aforesaid farol hanging at the poop of his ship. * Also when he wished to lace the bonnet on the sail again, he showed three lights. And to know also whether all the ships were following him and coming together he showed only one light besides the farol. And then each of the ships showed another light in reply.

* Besides the above-mentioned regulations, to practice the art of the sea (as is customary) and to avoid the dangers which may befall those who do not set watches, the said lieutenant expert in matters of navigation ordered three watches to be set at night: the first at the beginning of the night, the second at midnight, and the third toward daybreak, commonly called the diane, otherwise the [watch of the] morning star. And every night the said watches were changed, that is to say, he who had made the first watch made on the morrow the second, and he who had made the second then made the third. And after this manner they changed every night. * Then the captain ordered that his regulations, both for signals and for watches, be strictly observed, that their voyage be made [f.5v] with greater safety. * The people of the fleet were divided into three companies: the first was the captain's, the second that of the pilot or boatswain's mate, the third that of the master. The said regulations being made, the captain-general prepared to sail, as related below.

* The departure of the five ships from the port of Seville. Of the river called Betis. The dangers which there are in navigating it. Of the place San Lucar. And the sojourn which the captain-general made along the river Betis, now called Guadalquivir.


* On Monday, St Lawrence's day, the tenth of August in the aforesaid year, the fleet, having been furnished with all that was necessary for it, and having in the five ships people of divers nations to the number of two hundred and thirty-seven in all, was ready to depart from the Mole of Seville, and firing all the artillery we set sail with the staysail only and came to the mouth of a river named Betis, which is now called Guadalquivir. And going by this river we passed by a place named Gioan de Farax where there was a great settlement of Moors. And there was there a bridge over the river by which one went to Seville, which bridge was in ruins, although two columns remained at the bottom of the water. Wherefore you must have practiced and expert men of the country to point out the proper channel for passing safely between these two columns, for fear of striking on them. Further, it is necessary to pass the bridge and other [f. 6r] parts of the said river when the water is fairly high. After passing the two columns we arrived at a place named Coria. And passing through several small villages along the river, at length we arrived at a castle belonging to the Duke of Medina Sidonia called San Lucar, which is a port by which to enter the Ocean Sea. You enter it on the west wind and depart from it on the east wind. And nearby is Cape St Vincent, which (according to the cosmography) lies in thirty-seven degrees of latitude and twenty miles distant from the said port. And from the city to the port by the aforementioned river there are thirty-five or forty miles. * A few days after, the captain-general went along the said river in his boat, and the masters of the other ships with him, and we remained for some days at the port to supply the fleet with some necessary things. We went every day to hear mass on land at a church named Our Lady of Barrameda near San Lucar, where the captain ordered all those of the fleet to confess themselves before going farther. In which he himself showed the way to the others. Moreover he would not allow any woman, whoever she might be, to come into the fleet and to the ships, for many good reasons.

* Departure of the fleet from San Lucar. The captain, sailing continually, arrived at an island of the Grand Canary, where is no water but rain from heaven.


* Tuesday the twentieth of September of the said year, we departed from San Lucar, laying course by the southwest wind, otherwise called Labeiche. And on the sixteenth of the said month we arrived at an island of the Grand Canary named Tenerife, in twenty-eight degrees of latitude, where we remained three and a half days to take in provisions and other things which were needed. Then we departed thence and came to a port called Monterose, where we remained two days to furnish ourselves with pitch, which is a thing very necessary for ships. * Know that among the other islands which belong to the said Grand Canary, there is one where no drop of water coming from spring or river is found, save that once a day at the hour of noon there descends from heaven a cloud which encompasses a great tree in the said island, then all its leaves fall from it, and from the leaves is distilled great abundance of water, so that at the foot of the tree there is so great a quantity of water that it seems a living fountain. And from this water the inhabitants of the said place are satisfied, and the animals both domestic and wild.

* The captain and his fleet navigating in divers places and weather. Of the fish called Tiburoni. The body of St Anselm appeared to the ships. And of divers strange kinds and species of birds.


* On Monday the third of October in the said year, at midnight, we sailed on the course to the south, which the seamen of the Levant call Cyroe, [and] engulfing ourselves in the Ocean Sea, we passed Cape Verde and sailed for many [days] along the coast of Guinea or Ethiopia, where there is a mountain called Sierra Leone, which is in eight degrees of latitude, according to the art and science of Cosmography and astrology. And sometimes we had the wind contrary, at others fair, and rain without wind. * Thus we sailed for sixty days of rain to the equinoctial line. Which was a thing very strange and uncommon, in the opinion of the old people and of those who had sailed there several times before. Notwithstanding, before reaching that equinoctial line, we had in fourteen degrees a variety of weather, and bad, both by squalls and by wind and currents which came head-on to us so that we could not advance. And in order that our ships should not perish or broach to (as often happens when squalls come together), we struck the sails. And in this way we went up and down in the sea until good weather came. * During the calm great fish called Tiburoni approached the ships. They have terrible teeth and eat men when they find them alive or dead in the sea. And the said fish are caught with a hooks [f.7v] of iron, with which some were taken by our people. But they are not good to eat when large. And even the small ones are not much good. * During these storms the body of St Anselm appeared to us several times. And among others on a night which was very dark, at a time of bad weather, the said saint appeared in the form of a lighted torch at the height of the maintop, and remained there more than two hours and a half, to the comfort of us all. For we were in tears, expecting only the hour of death. And when this holy light was about to leave us, it was so bright to the eyes of all that we were for more than a quarter of an hour as blind men calling for mercy. For without any doubt no man thought he would escape from that storm. * Be it noted that, whenever this fire which represents the said St Anselm appears and descends on a ship (which is in a storm at sea), the ship never perishes. Suddenly when the said fire vanished, the sea became calm again, and then we saw several birds of divers kinds. Among others there were some which had no rump. * There is also another species of bird of such kind that, when the female wishes to lay its eggs, she goes to do so on the back of the male, and there they are hatched. And the birds of this last kind have no feet and are always in the sea. And there is another kind of bird which lives on nothing else but the ordure of other birds (this thing is true), and they are called Cagaselo. For I have seen it follow the other birds until they drop ordure. And after eating this ordure and dung, it no longer follows the other birds until [f.8r] hunger again comes upon it; and always it behaves in the same way. * There are also flying fish, of which we saw so great a quantity together that it seemed an island in the sea.

* The captain and his fleet arrive at the land of Verzin. In what degrees it lies toward the Antarctic Pole. Of the desire of the people of that land to have goods from the captain. And of the Zenith.


* After we had passed the equinoctial line toward the south, we lost the north star, and sailed between the south wind and garbin, which is the wind between the said south and west, and we crossed to a land named Verzin, which is in twenty-four and a half degrees toward the Antarctic Pole. Which land extends from Cape St Augustine, which is in eight degrees toward the said Antarctic Pole. In which place we replenished our provisions, as with fowl and calves' flesh, also a variety of fruits named Battate, and sweet pineapples of singular goodness, and infinite other things which I pass over that I be not too long. * The people of this place gave for a knife or a fishhook five or six fowls, and for a comb a brace of geese. For a small mirror or a pair of scissors, they gave as many fish as ten men could have eaten. For a bell or a leather lace, they gave a basketful of the said fruit called Battate. Which tastes like a chestnut, and is of the [f. 8v] length of a turnip. And for a king of playing cards, of the kind used in Italy, they gave me five fowls, and even thought they had cheated me. * We entered the said port on the day of Santa Lucia, at the advent of Christmas, on which day we had the sun at the zenith, which is a term of astrology. This zenith is a point in the heavens which (according to astrologers, and only in the imagination) lies in a direct line above our head. As may be seen in the Treatise of the Sphere and in Aristotle's first book De celo et mundo. And the day that we had the sun in the zenith, we felt the heat greater than when we were on the equinoctial line.

* The fleet arrives at the land of Verzin. The opulence of that land. The manner of the inhabitants' living and sleeping. Of their boats. The people eat the flesh of their enemies. Their accoutrements. The making of their bread. Of the honest dealing of the said inhabitants of Verzin toward the captain and his men. And of the very great simplicity of those people.


Excerpted from Magellan's Voyage by Antonio Pigafetta, R. A. Skelton. Copyright © 1969 Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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