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BOOK I

TO THE ARCHBISHOP OF COSENZA, TO BE OFFERED TO THE SOVEREIGN PONTIFF

BEFORE you returned to Rome, after concluding the useful and honourable mission in Spain confided to you by two Popes during the Spanish monarch's absence to assume the imperial crown offered him, you were aware, I think, that amongst the noble Spaniards engaged in exploring the southern coasts of the continent of the New World, Egidius Gonzales, commonly called Gil Gonzales, and the jurisconsult, Espinoza, licenciate, have distinguished themselves. In my Third Decade, composed at the invitation of Pope Leo X., I have already, in your presence, written much concerning Espinoza. After an interval of two years, we have now received a letter from Gil Gonzales, dated the eve of the nones of March, 1524, from Hispaniola, the capital of those regions.

Gil Gonzales reports that he landed at Hispaniola with 112,000 castellanos of gold, and returned to Panama, the other year on the fifteenth of July, 1523. We have a thick volume of his reports, in which he gives a detailed account of everything that happened to him during his long voyage. He writes with prolixity concerning the execution of the orders he had received from the Emperor, for he has suffered much and been exposed to dangers, even to painful extremities during this voyage.

Complaints and reproaches are not wanting in this report concerning Pedro Arias, the governor-general of the countries which we unite under the single denomination of Castilla del Oro. Gil Gonzales urgently requests to be delivered from dependence upon him. He bases his request upon the fact, amongst other things, that he is of more noble family, as though any difference exists between the meanest camp follower and the descendants of Hector, among the men kings choose to accomplish such great and glorious enterprises; especially in Spain, where it is thought to be a prerogative of nobles to live in idleness except in war-time and especially if it is a question of commanding, rather than administering.

On the ninth of May you wrote me a letter from Rome, which was delivered me by your faithful Gian Paolo Olivieri, in which you informed me that the Sovereign Pontiff, Clement, takes as much pleasure in reading of the happenings beyond seas as did his uncle Leo and his predecessor Adrian, who commanded me by their briefs to compile a narrative of these events for their benefit. I have made a choice amongst these reports, but it is not destined for His Holiness. If, however, the Sovereign Pontiff, following the example of his uncle Leo and his predecessor Adrian, commands me to write, I shall gladly obey; otherwise I shall refrain, for I do not wish to be accused by severe judges of excessive zeal. Following my custom, therefore, I shall omit useless details from this letter and sum up what appears to me to be worthy of notice. I shall not modify my determination, although you inform me at the beginning of your letter that, upon the advice of Juan de Granada, Bishop-elect of Vienna, all the letters addressed to our India Council and the Emperor by Fernando Cortes, conqueror of the immense regions of Yucatan and Temistitan, have been translated in Germany word for word from Spanish into Latin.1 For you are not unaware that I have extracted from these letters and other reports whatever seemed to me worthy of notice.

1 The first Latin translation of the Letters of Cortes was made by Pietro Savorgnani and published at Venice in 1523. The translation published in Germany was issued at Nuremberg in 1524, the Latin text being that of Savorgnani, in one volume dedicated to Clement VII.; this book contains only the second and third letters, the fourth and fifth not having yet been written. This translation was reproduced in the work, De Insults Nuper Inventis published in Cologne in 1532 and was afterwards included in Simon Grinco's Novus Orbis of which one edition was issued at Basic in 1555 and another at Amsterdam in 1616.

Let us now come to our subject, and begin by enumerating the colonies already founded. For, once we know the ancient geography, we shall the more easily comprehend what countries have been explored by Gil Gonzales.

1 have already spoken of the immensity of this country, which is three times as large as Europe, and of which the limits have not yet been found. In those of my decades, which have been printed and are in circulation in Europe, I have described it as the supposed continent. In speaking of the width of the Maragnon River, we have said that this continent was washed by two seas, one being our western ocean, along its northern coasts, and the other the south sea. These premises once laid down, His Holiness will learn that the Spaniards have founded six colonies along the coast of the new continent, three of which are on the northern seacoast: the first, on the banks of the river Darien in the gulf of Urabais Santa Maria Antigua; the second, twenty miles from Darien, is Acla; the third, in the territory of the cacique Careta, thirty-seven leagues from Acla, is called Nombre de Dios. There are likewise three along the southern seacoast. The first of these has kept its original native name of Panama, with a long a; twenty-one leagues from Panama is the second, called Nata; and the third, called Chiriqui, has been founded seventy-five leagues from Nata.

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