Lettera die Amerigo Vespucci à Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere. L’anno 1504 [Letter from Amerigo Vespucci to Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere. Dated 1504]. pp. 1-45 (in) Amerigo Vespucci. Letter to Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere. The Year 1504 [Describing The Four Voyages]. Translated by G.T. Northup. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1916.
NARATIVE OF THE PRESUMED FIRST VOYAGE
We set forth from the port of Cadiz, the 10th of May, 1497, and set our course over the great expanse of the Ocean Sea, in which voyage we spent 18 months; and we discovered much continental land and islands without number, and a great share of them inhabited, of which no mention is made by the ancient writers (p. 3).
We departed from the port of Cadiz, four consort ships, and began our cruise straight for the Isles of the Blest, which are today called the Grand Canary … we lingered eight days … we started and set sail … towards the west … and we sailed until after 37 days we reached a land which we judged to be continental … Here we anchored our ships a league and a half off land; and we cast off our boats laden with men and arms … We proceeded toward land, and before we reached it, sighted many people who were walking along the shore, whereat we greatly rejoiced … We sailed north-west … continually seeing people along the beach, until, after having voyaged two days, we found a tolerably safe place for the ships. And we anchored a half league from the shore, where we saw an immense number of people. And this same day we went ashore with the boats. And we leaped ashore, full 40 well equipped men, and the people ashore still showed themselves shy of associated with us … And this day we so persistently endeavored in giving them of our wares, such as bells, mirrors, glass beads and other trash that some of them were rendered confident and came to converse with us … And when we had established kindly relations with them, inasmuch as night was falling, we took leave of them and returned to the ships. And the next day, when dawn broke, we saw that infinite hordes were on the beach; and they had with them their wives and children … They are of medium statue, very well proportioned. Their skin is of a color which inclines to red, like a lion’s mane…they have broad faces, so that their appearance may be that of the Tarter…They are very swift of their bodies, in walking and in running, both men and women; for a woman [thinks] nothing of running a league or two, as we frequently saw; and in this they have a very great advantage over us Christians … Their weapons are bows and arrows, very well wrought, except that they have no iron or other sort of hard metal; and in place of iron they put animals’ or fishes’ teeth or a splinter of stout wood burnt at the tip…They do not practice justice, nor punish the criminal, nor do father and mother punish their children … The manner of their living is very barbarous, because they do not eat at fixed times, but as often as they please. And it matters little to them that they should be seized with a desire to eat at midnight rather than by day, for at all times they eat. And their eating is done upon the ground, without tablecloth or any other cloth, because they hold their food either in earthen basins which they make or in half gourds … They are people neat and clean of person, owing to the constant washing they practice … They are very fertile women, and in their pregnancies avoid no toil. Their parturitions are so easy that one day after giving birth they go out everywhere, and especially to bathe in the rivers; and they are sound as fish … Every eight to ten years they shift their towns. And when asked why … they did so on account of the soil, which, when once rendered infectious and unhealthful by filth, occasioned disease in their bodies, which seemed to us a good reason … Their wealth consists of feathers of many hued birds, or of little rosaries which they make out of fish bones, or of white or green stones which they stick through cheeks, lips, and ears, and of many other things to which we attach no value … They engage in no barter; they neither buy nor sell … But the greatest token of friendship which they show you is that they give you their wives and daughters … When they die, they employ various sorts of [customs] and some they bury with water and food at their heads, thinking that they will have the wherewithal to eat … They use in their sicknesses various kinds of medicines, so different from ours that we marveled how anyone escaped; for I often saw how they would bathe from head to foot, with much cold water, one sick of fever, even when he had one that was rising. Then they would build a great fire around him, causing [him] to be turned over again and again for two more hours, until they wearied him and permitted him to sleep; and many would recover. In addition to this they make much use of dieting, for they remain three days without eating, and also of bloodletting, but not from the arm, only from the thighs, loins, and the calf of the leg. Then, too, they provoke vomiting with herbs of theirs which are put into the mouth; and they use many other remedies which it would be tedious to relate. They are much vitiated in the phlegm and in the blood because of their food, which consists for the most part of roots, herbs, fruit, and fish. They have no seed of wheat, nor of other grains, and for their common [use and] diet [they eat] the root of a tree, of which they make flour; and it is tolerably good, and they call it Iuca; and there are other roots which they call Carabi, and others, Ignami. They eat little flesh, other than human flesh (pp. 3-11).
We decided to leave and push ahead…after some days we reached a harbor where we underwent very great peril. We entered into a harbor where we found a town built over the water like Venice … [and we were attacked] … about 15 or 20 of them died, and many remained wounded; and on our side five were wounded, and all recovered, praise be to God … and the next day we resolved to quit this harbor and to further on our way. We went constantly skirting the coast until we saw another race which might be distant 80 leagues from this other … and when we reached the shore, they did not await us, but began to flee through the forests, abandoning every possession of theirs … we leaped ashore, and advanced … and … we found their huts, where they had built very great fires, and where they were cooking their food and roasting many animals and fish of many kinds. There we perceived that they were roasting a certain beast which resembled a serpent except that it had no wings, and so ugly in appearance that we wondered greatly at its fierceness. Going in this way through [their] huts, we found many of these serpents still alive; and they were bound at the feet and had a cord around the muzzle so that they could not open their mouths, just as is done with mastiffs that they may not bite. They were so fierce in appearance that none of us dared take one away, thinking them poisonous; they are the size of a kid, and an ell and a half in length; they have long, thick feet, armed with great claws; they have a hard skin, and are variegated in color; they have the snout and face of a snake, and from their nose starts a saw-like crest which passes on over the middle of the back to the tip of the tail; in short, we deemed them to be serpents and poisonous; and yet they ate them. We found that they made bread of little fish which they caught in the sea, but first boiling them, [and then] pounding them and making [of them] dough or a loaf, and these they would roast over coals. Thus they ate them; we tried it, and found that it was good. They had so many other sorts of food, and especially of fruits and roots, that it would be a long matter [to] enumerate them in detail (pp. 12-15).
This land is most populous and filled with people, and an infinite number of animals; few are like ours, except the lions, panthers, stags, boars, goats, and deer … they have no horses or mules, nor saving your reverence, asses or dogs, nor any kind of sheep or oxen … The fruits are so many that they are beyond number, and altogether different from ours … And they [are called] in their tongue Caraibi, which means men of great wisdom (pp. 17-18).
[And we sailed north-east and east and after seven days] came upon the islands which were numerous, some inhabited and others deserted. And we anchored at one of these, where we saw many people who called it Iti … [and they began to] shoot arrows at us to prevent us from jumping ashore … And they persisted so long in preventing us from landing that we were forced to discharge our artillery … [We jumped ashore and] they came at us, and we fought about an hour … And when the next day came, we saw coming over the land a great number of people … [whereas we] decided that, since these people wished hostility with us, we should go to reason with them and do everything to make them friends … And having armed ourselves as best we could, we put in to shore; and they did not oppose our landing, through fear of the mortars, I think … And after a long battle, having slain many of them, we put them to flight … We burned the town and returned victorious and with 250 prisoners to the ships, leaving many of them dead and wounded; and on our side only one died, and 22 were wounded, all of whom recovered, praise be to God … and we set sail for Spain, with 222 slave prisoners; and we reached the port of Cadiz on the 15th day of October, 1498, where we were well received and sold our slaves (pp. 20-22).
NARATIVE OF THE SECOND VOYAGE
We left the port of Cadiz, three consort ships, on the 16th day of May, 1499, and began our course straight toward the Cape Verde isles, passing in sight of the Grand Canary island; and we sailed until we came to an island which is called the Isle of Fire … [from there] we set our course to the south-west and in 44 days we came to a new land; and we judged it to be a continent … at the outset we saw no people…[we sailed along the shore] until we came to a most beautiful port … [and] we sighted many people … [and after several adventures] … we perceived that these people had in their ears some slight amount of gold … We departed and [sailed 80 leagues] and entered a bay and found many people … We established friendship with these, and many of us went very safely to their towns, and were well received. [Here] we traded for 150 pearls, which they gave us for a bell, and for some little gold which they gave us gratis; and in this land we learned that they drank wine made of their fruits and seeds, like beer, both white and red; and the best was made of mirabolani, and was very good; and of these last we ate many, for it was the season for them; it is a very good fruit, savory to the taste and healthful to the body … We remained in this port 17 days … We departed … and sailed along the coast … and sighted an island 15 leagues distant from land … we found on it the most bestial and ugly people that were ever seen [and also the most lovable and kind] … They were very ugly of demeanor and countenance, and all had their cheeks stuffed out inside with a green grass which they continually chewed like cattle, so that they could scarcely speak; and each had around his neck two dry gourds, one of which was filled with that grass which they had in their mouths, and the other with a white flour which seemed like powdered chalk; and from time to time they would dip into the flour-gourd a splinter which they would keep moistening in the mouth; then they would insert it into their mouths; and this they would do very frequently … we reasoned that this isle was poor in water, and that to assuage their thirst they kept that grass in the mouth, and the flour for this very same reason … They had no manner of food or roots such as those on the mainland had, and they fed upon fish which they caught in the sea; of these they had a great plenty, and they were famous fishermen; because they presented us with many tortoises and numerous very excellent big fish … They had no town … but dwelt under bowers which protected them against the sun … Seeing that [this island] had nothing of value, we departed and went to another isle; and we found that in it dwelt a very tall race … We came upon a path which led inland … we saw in a valley five of their huts … we advanced up to them … We found only five women, two old women and three girls, of such tall stature that out of astonishment we stood looking at them … And two old women began with words to offer us hospitality, bringing us many things to eat, and led us into a hut … [because the young girls were so tall] we were all resolved to carry off the three girls by force, and take them to Castile as a curiosity … And while [we discussed this] there began to enter through the door of the hut … 36 men, much taller than the women, men so well built that it was a splendid thing to see them … They carried huge bows and arrows and great knobbed clubs … Beholding ourselves to be in [much] peril … we decided to leave the hut, and depart secretly by the path leading to the ships; and so we did … We named this island the Isle of Giants … And we continued onward, skirting the coast … and we were not desirous of returning to Castile, because we had been about a year at sea and had few supplies … While considering these things, the Holy Ghost was pleased to grant some respite to our numerous hardships … we fell in with a people who received us with much kindness; and we found that they had an immense quantity of oriental pearls, and quite good ones. With them we lingered 47 days; and by barter we obtained from them 119 marks of pearls for a very slight amount of merchandise … because what we gave them was only bells, mirrors, glass beads, and sheets of copper; for in return for a single bell one would give all the pearls he had … We set forth, and, owing to our need of provisions, we made the island of Antilles, which is the one that Christopher Columbus discovered several years ago … There, we took on a good stock of stores, and remained two months and 17 days … We left the said island on the 22nd day of July and sailed for a month and a half, and entered the port of Cadiz, which was on the 8th day of September, where we were well received with honor and profit. God be praised (pp. 23-32).