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OST HOLY FATHER, when the Augustinian .<Egidius di Viterbo,1 one of the luminaries of the Sacred College of Cardinals, left Spain after accomplishing his mission as legate a latere, he commanded me, in the name of Your Holiness and in his own, to add to my three decades already written all the marvels the ocean has produced. These decades began in the year 1492, and closed with the year 1516. I have delayed somewhat, because many futile particulars, unworthy of remembrance, were recorded. Our Royal Council for Indian Affairs daily received letters devoid of interest, written by correspondents bereft of intelligence, from which I was able to draw little material. The one boasted of having discovered the finger of a hand, another a joint of that finger; and they glorified themselves far more proudly and vociferously for having found new countries and accomplished great deeds, than did the true discoverers of the entire continent. They resemble the ant, which believes itself to be crushed beneath a heavy burden, when it has taken one grain from an immense heap of wheat sown by another, and dragged it to its underground storehouse. I mean by a finger of the hand or a grain of wheat, all the neighbouring isles which dot the sea about Hispaniola, Cuba, and the land supposed to be a continent. For these countries are surrounded on all sides by innumerable islands, like hens with their chicks, swarming about them.
1 Egidio Antonini was sent to Spain on a mission in 1518 by Leo X. He was a native of Viterbo, who became general of the Augustinians in 1507; was afterwards Patriarch of Constantinople, and was created Cardinal in 1517. He was learned in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldean; he died in Rome in 1532.
It is, nevertheless, necessary to reward each one according to his labour. We, therefore, place in the hands of Your Holiness the narrative of what we have learned about the lands of Yucatan, Cozumel, and the great country of Hacolucana, that your ears may thereby be delighted; of the last country it is not yet known whether it is an island or a part of the continent. I shall relate, avoiding irrelevancy, everything that appears to me worthy of remembrance; and I shall sum up the events that have happened upon the supposed continent, and terminate with Hispaniola.
THE SOVEREIGN PONTIFF LEO X
FROM THE SAME PETER MARTYR D'ANGHERA OF MILAN
IN my first Decades, which the printing-press has distributed to the public, was a story of how some fugitives, landed in the neighbourhood of Darien, were astonished upon beholding our books. They related that they had formerly inhabited a country where the people, living in a state of society under organised laws, used similar things. They had palaces, magnificent temples built of stone, public squares, and streets properly laid out for commercial purposes. It is these countries that the Spaniards have discovered, and to the authors of these discoveries and the manner in which they were carried out, I beg Your Holiness to now graciously give attention; because all these countries should become, as soon as known, subject to your domination. I have thus far spoken but little of Cuba, which Diego Velasquez,1 governor in the name of the Admiral Columbus, named
1 Diego Velasquez was a native of Cuellar, and was born about 1465. He sailed with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. He was deputed in 1509 by Diego Columbus to effect the conquest of Cuba, of which island he was later named Governor. The story of his bitter rivalry and struggle with Fernando Cortes is told by Peter Martyr in his pages which follow. Compare with other narratives: Las Casas in his Historia General de las Indias; Gomara, Historia de las Indias; Bernal Diaz, Historia Verdadera; MacNutt, Fernando Cortes.