January 16, 2018
Pigafetta and Magellan's VoyageOn this day in 1522 Captain Sebastian del Cano returned to Spain, completing Magellan's first circumnavigation of the earth. Magellan died half-way through the three-year voyage, during a fight with Philippine natives. Of the five ships and approximately 270 men who set out, only one ship and seventeen men returned. But the Victoria was full of spices and land claims, and for this del Cano received a pension, an addition to his coat of arms, and a globe with the inscription, "You were the first to encircle me" ("Primus circumdedisti me").
Among the survivors was Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian tourist destined to make a major contribution to the genre of travel literature. Little is known about Pigafetta, but he was on business at the Spanish court at the time, adventurous enough to want to tag along with Magellan, and well-connected enough to arrange it. Although snubbed by Captain del Cano upon their return, Pigafetta also presented himself to Charles V (now Holy Roman Emperor), bringing with him not "gold, silver, or any other precious thing worthy of so great a lord," but "a book written in his own hand, in which were set down the things that happened from day to day during their voyage." Now known as Magellan's Voyage. A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation, this tells a detailed tale of exploration and exotica. The worst dangers came from within: mutiny, scurvy, such starvation that they ate not just the rats but sawdust, and "certain ox hides that covered the tops of the yards to keep them from chafing the shrouds" (these they grilled, after first marinating them in sea water for five days). On land they encountered cannibals, "giants" with huge feet ("Patagonians," or "men with big feet," stuffed their shoes with straw for warmth), "strange geese" (penguins), and other wonders. But Pigafetta was not everybody's fool:
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