Documenting the tropical natural world in the account of Antonio Pigafetta

Teresa Nobre de Carvalho

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Abstract

In the account of his journey of circumnavigation, Antonio Pigafetta (1492-c.1531) noted the uniqueness of the places that he had visited. In addition to peoples and landscapes, he described trees, fruits and herbs, as well as insects, birds, fish and mammals. He referred to numerous species, some of which were new to, or little known in the West.
In this essay, I will analyse Antonio Pigafetta’s references to the plants and animals observed during his overseas travels. The species recorded around the world suggest that he was both a keen observer and well resourced. His observations allowed him to describe a world which, united by the oceans, revealed a surprising continuity. For the Italian, many of the vegetable and animal species that he observed in the Americas, on the islands of Southeast Asia or on the vast oceans were similar to others spotted previously, in other regions, by European voyagers. From the Indies to the African coast and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the globe navigated by Pigafetta demonstrated continuity never before attested to. Crossing boundaries established by political agreements and routes defined by commercial interests, the description of this unified and circumnavigable planet contributed, throughout the 16th century, to the emergence of a new way of understanding nature. In this article, I will seek to identify, in some Early Modern botanical treatises, echoes of this new way of looking at the natural world, as proposed by Antonio Pigafetta.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-314
Number of pages26
JournalRevista Magallánica. Revista de História Moderna
Volume7
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Fernão de Magalhães
  • circumnavigation
  • tropical natural world
  • circulation of botanical knowledge
  • cloves
  • Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M.Perry

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