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النشر الإلكتروني

BOOK I

TO THE VISCOUNT FRANCESCO MARIA SFORZA,
DUKE OF MILAN

THE beginning of my Decades De Orbe Novo was presented to Your Excellency's uncle, the Vicechancellor Ascanio, formerly one of the most illustrious of the cardinals, whose merits were exceeded by none. He had often asked and commanded me to inform him of everything that happened in those fardistant western lands. I appeal to the confirming testimony of a man gifted with all the virtues and experience, Marino Caracciolo, * Prothonotary Apostolic, Bishop-elect of Catania, and at present Ambassador of the Emperor Charles at your court. He was secretary to your uncle when the ocean first opened its gates which had been closed since the beginning of the world. He it was who received my Decades in his master's name and penned the answers dictated to him by the Cardinal. When Ascanio died, I relapsed into idleness, since no one any longer urged me to work. King Frederick, before Fortune showed herself his pitiless stepmother rather than his mother, obtained a second edition of my book from me, through the intermediary of his uncle the Cardinal of Aragon. Later the Sovereign Pontiff, Leo X., and his successor Adrian W., urged me by their briefs and letters to continue my labours. They gathered the dispersed Decades into one volume, and charged me to preserve the records of such great deeds from oblivion. You, Most Illustrious Prince, * who have been born later and have ascended the throne of your forefathers, will only receive the narrative of the latest events. Since your secretary, Camillo Gillino, has interpreted your wishes to the Emperor, I turn from other sovereigns to address my narrative exclusively to Your Excellency, in whose principality I was born.

1 Marino Caracciolo, born in 1469, was a trusted friend of Leo X., for whom he undertook several important missions, notably the negotiations with the Elector of Saxony for the surrender of Martin Luther. He later entered the service of Charles V., by whom he was named governor of Milan after the death of Francesco Maria. He was created Cardinal by Paul III., and died in Milan, January 28,1538. Consult Guicciardini, i., xv., xvi., xvii.

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Your Excellency has suffered many trials, and you have often affirmed and vowed that the perusal of my Decades would prove the most agreeable diversion. From the moment when the ocean, thanks to Christopher Columbus, generously disclosed its secrets, up to this present time, the narrative of events had been collected into one volume by Giacomo Pierio, Prothonotary Apostolic, Bishop-elect of Catania, when he repaired to your court as the Emperor's ambassador. This volume was destined for Pope Adrian. Thanks to the printers a part of its contents had already been previously circulated. Another part had been copied by him from my manuscript. He is now at Your Excellency's court. Ask him what has happened, and if he does not give a faithful account, treat him as an unworthy servant.

Now that we have hastily summed up what has preceded, let us review the recent marvels revealed by the ocean. For our ocean is more prolific than the Albanian sow, to which tradition assigned thirty pigs at a litter; and more liberal than a generous prince. Does it not each year disclose new lands, new nations, and vast wealth?

1 Francesco Maria Sforza, last duke of Milan, was the son of Lodovico 3 Moro and was born in 1492. He obtained possession of the duchy after the battle of Bicoque in 1522. His independence was more seeming than real, Charles V. being, practically, his suzerain. He died in 1535. Consult Giovio, Vita F. Maria SJoraa ducts, 1539; Ratti, ilamoria ddla famiglia SJorta.

We have sufficiently described Hispaniola, queen of the islands, that vast region and residence of the Royal Council; also Jamaica and Cuba, under its new name of Fernandina, and the other truly Elysian islands stretching under the Tropic of Cancer to the equator. In these regions the natives enjoy days and nights of equal length during the entire year. Their summer is not oppressive, their winter not rigorous, while throughout the year trees bear their leaves and are simultaneously weighted with flowers and fruits; while vegetables—pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, and other garden products—are always ripe. In those regions also the beasts of burden and the cattle brought from Europe (since no quadrupeds live in those islands') propagate in great numbers and sizes. We have likewise sufficiently described the supposed continent, whose length from east to west is twice that of all Europe, and is of equal extent from north to south, although it narrows in certain places to isthmuses. This continent reaches to the fifty-fifth degree towards the arctic pole, traversing both tropics, covering the equator and extending to the fifty-fourth degree towards the antarctic pole. While the inhabitants of the Orcades Islands enjoy summer, the natives of this continent shiver with cold and vice versa. Your Excellency will understand this by considering what I addressed to Pope Adrian in Rome. By studying a little parchment map' I gave to your representative, Tomaso Maino, when he left Spain, you will also find the exact positions of these countries and the dependent islands.

Let us now consider the most recent events. In the waters off the northern coasts of Cuba—otherwise called Pernandina after King Ferdinand—lie so many islands, important or insignificant, that I scarcely believe what is told of them; although I am kept informed of all the discoveries. Within the twenty years that have elapsed since the Spaniards arrived there, they claim to have explored four hundred and six of these islands, and to have carried off forty thousand of their inhabitants of both sexes as slaves, to satisfy their unquenchable appetite for gold. We will tell this story later on. These islands are embraced under the general name of Lucayas, and the islanders are called Lucayans.

1 Obviously a slip of the author's pen, since he elsewhere enumerates the quadrupeds of the West Indian Islands. * See Frontispiece.

The trees which grow wild in most of these islands are very useful. Their leaves never fall off; when age robs them of some, the tree is not stripped, for new leaves bud forth and grow before the old ones perish. Nature has endowed them with two trees which, above all others, deserve mention and description. The first is called the jarnma; the name of the second is unknown to us. The jaruma resembles a fig-tree, at least as regards its leaves. It is taller than a poplar. It is not as hard as the other trees, but is more solid than a bamboo. One might describe it as a sambucus. Its fruit is half a cubit long, and soft like a fig, with strong flavour, and is excellent for healing wounds. Its leaves possess miraculous virtues; of which I quote a proof, offered by trustworthy persons. Two Spaniards quarrelled and fought; one of the two almost cutting off the arm of the other at the shoulder with his sword, so that it only hung to the body by the skin of the armpit and of the breast. An old woman of the island put the limb in its place, and without other remedy than the crushed leaves of this tree, which she applied to the wound, succeeded in a few days in restoring to the unfortunate man the use of his arm. Let those who seek knots in cane, ponder on this at their pleasure. For my part, I am resolved to believe that nature has even more extraordinary powers than this.

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