In 1501 an admiral in the Ottoman navy named Kemal Reis captured seven Spanish ships off the coast of Spain, near Valencia. Aboard one of the prizes he found a strange feather headdress and an unfamiliar black stone. He was told by one of his prisoners that both came from newly discovered lands to the west, beyond the Sea of Darkness. The prisoner claimed to have visited these lands three times, under the command of a man named Colombo - and what was more, he had in his possession a chart, drawn by this man Colombo himself, that showed the newly discovered lands.
This was probably not the first time Kemal Reis had heard of Christopher Columbus's discovery. He had been sailing the Mediterranean for years, originally as a corsair. In 1490 he had gone to the relief of Granada, then besieged by Ferdinand and Isabella, but had been able to do little to alleviate the city's plight. In 1500, he had won a major victory over the Venetians in the eastern Mediterranean, capturing the important strongholds of Lepanto, Coron and Modon. He had almost certainly heard of Columbus within months of Columbus's return from his first voyage, either from prisoners of war or from contacts in the Genoese and Venetian colonies in the eastern Mediterranean.
Between 1492 and 1501, while Columbus was making his first three voyages, the Ottoman sultan Bayazid II was occupied on all fronts. The Mamluks of Egypt were still a very real threat to the Ottomans on the borders of Anatolia. The safawiya movement, soon to give birth to the powerful Safavid dynasty in Iran, was gathering momentum among the Turkoman tribes on Bayazid's eastern frontiers, and even within Anatolia itself. In Europe, the Ottoman victory in the war with Venice had resulted in a powerful Ottoman presence in what is now Yugoslavia, at the borders of the Venetian republic. Important victories had also been won in Austria, and although the Ottomans were defeated in the very year Columbus discovered America, it was only a matter of time before more Austrian territory was lost to the Turks. Convinced of the need for a powerful modern navy, Bayazid opened shipyards at Gallipoli and in the Adriatic and appointed men like Kemal Reis, with wide experience of Mediterranean waters, as admirals. To European observers, it seemed only a matter of time before the Turks would be at the gates.
The preoccupation of European courts with the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the East partly explains their relative lack of interest in Columbus's discoveries in the West - especially since no one, including Columbus, was clear about what had been discovered. Bayazid, however, was very interested in maps and meant good maps were vital for military purposes. We know that Bayazid possessed a magnificent Arabic copy of Ptolemy, still in the Topkapı Palace Library (See Aramco World, March-April 1987), a large-scale map of the Balkans, probably of European origin, and many other important charts and maps.
Columbus's discoveries in the Atlantic, however, were very remote from Ottoman interests. Closer to home were the Portuguese. Vasco da Gama found the way around Africa into the Indian Ocean in 1497 and within a very short time the Portuguese virtually controlled the trade routes to the Spice Islands - routes which had been under Muslim control for centuries. These were the very islands Columbus thought he had reached by sailing west: The Portuguese succeeded in reaching them the other way round. As yet, the Ottomans were unable to respond, but the Mamluks in Egypt, through whose ports the lucrative spice trade had traditionally run, sent a fleet to the Indian Ocean under an admiral called Husayn after the Portuguese sank 17 Arab trading vessels in an Indian port. In 1508, Husayn won a naval encounter against the Portuguese, sinking the admiral's ship. The Portuguese countered in the following year, and the Mamluks fortified Jiddah, using it as a base for naval operations in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The situation changed dramatically when the Ottomans, under Bayazid's successor Selim the Grim, conquered Egypt in 1517 and put an end to Mamluk rule. The security of Muslim shipping off the Arabian coasts and in the Indian Ocean was now the Ottomans' responsibility.
This was the background against which the famous world map of Piri Reis was made. Piri Reis was the nephew of Kemal, and had sailed with his uncle since he was a boy. In his Kitab-i Bahriye, he touchingly commemorates his uncle, from whom he learned so much:
Good friend, I want you
To remember us in your prayers,
And remember Kemal Reis, our master,
May his soul be content!
He had perfect knowledge of the seas
And knew the science of navigation.
He knew innumerable seas;
No one could stop him ....
We sailed the Mediterranean together
And saw all its great cities.
We went to Frankish lands
And defeated the infidel.
One day an order from
Sultan Bayazid arrived.
"Tell Kemal Reis to come to me,"
It said, "and advise me on affairs of the sea.
So in 1495, the year of this command,
We returned to our country.
By the sultan's command we set out
And won many victories....
Kemal Reis sailed hoping to come back,
But was lost at sea.
Everyone once spoke of him;
Now even his name is forgotten....
The angel of death caught him
While he was serving Sultan Bayazid.
May God give peace to those
Who remember Kemal Reis with a prayer.
Kemal died and went to the next world
And we found ourselves alone in this.
Kemal Reis went to the next world in 1511, having apparently entrusted the precious chart captured in the Spanish ship to his nephew Piri. Piri Reis, from the time he was a boy, had kept notes of harbors entered, compass bearings, reefs, shallows and hidden rocks, and was by now an experienced cartographer: The more than 125 large-scale maps in the Kitab-i Bahriye, "The Book of the Navy," show just how skillful he was.
Piri Reis spent the next two years in Gallipoli drawing a world map. Though Bayazid died in 1512, it is probable that this project was supported by the sultan, or at least known in official circles. This can be deduced from the fact that Piri used 20 source maps; he may have collected some of these personally, either by capture or purchase, but it is probable that up-to-date Portuguese charts were supplied to him by the sultan's officials.
In one of the inscriptions on the map itself, Piri Reis lists these sources, and tells us how he used them: No one now living has seen a map like this. I have composed and constructed it using about twenty maps and mappaemundi; these are the maps which were composed in the time of Alexander of the Two Horns, and which show the inhabited portion of the earth. The Arabs call these maps ja'fariya.
I have used eight ja'fariya maps, an Arab map of India and four recent Portuguese maps - these maps show the sea of Sind, India and China according to mathematical principles - and also a map of the western regions drawn by Colombo. The final farm was arrived at by reducing all these maps to the same scale. Therefore the present map is as accurate for the Seven Seas as the maps of our own countries used by sailors.
Another note gives the date and authorship of the map: "This map was drawn by Piri ibn Hajji Muhammad, known as the nephew of Kemal Reis, in the month of Muharram of the year 919 ."
The mappaemundi, or world maps, that Piri Reis says were "composed in the time of Alexander of the Two Horns," as Alexander the Great was known in the Muslim world, were maps based on Ptolemy. (Arab authors confused Claudius Ptolemeus, astronomer and geographer, who lived in the second century, with Ptolemy I, friend of Alexander and ruler of Egypt, who died in the third century BC.) It is obvious, however, from looking at Piri Reis's map that the mappaemundi he used as a source for the west Atlantic were European, as the depiction of St. Brendan's Island shows. Piri's caption to the charming picture of two men lighting a fire on the back of the fish reads: "They say that long ago a priest named San Vulrandan [St. Brendan] sailed the seven seas. It is said that he encountered this fish and, taking it for dry land, lit a fire on its back. When the back of the fish grew hot, it dived under the water. The people fled in their boat back to their ship. The Portuguese do not mention these events; they have been taken from old mappaemundi."
This is not the first time the story of mariners mistaking giant fish for islands and lighting fires on their backs occurs in an oriental context. Al-Jahiz tells the same story in his Book of Animals, written in the ninth century (See Aramco World, May-June 1982); it occurs in the Arabic translation of the Life of Alexander as well as in The Thousand and One Nights. But it is fascinating to see a reference to St. Brendan in a Turkish context. It also shows something significant about at least one of Piri Reis's source maps. Pictures of legendary islands - or in this case, a picture of an episode from a legendary voyage - were not depicted on Ptolemaic mappaemundi, which were produced in learned circles; they did occur on mariner's charts made for practical use (See "Voyages of the Mind," in this issue). Piri Reis must have had at least one European mariner's chart, probably showing the coasts of Spain, North Africa and the Atlantic islands. It may have looked very like the map by Grazioso Benincasa, which is dated 1473 and shows two large imaginary islands, Antilia and Satanazes - although unfortunately it does not include a giant fish.
A number of captions on the Piri Reis map seem to point to the Genoese origin of one or more of his source maps. The caption next to the Azores, for example, reads: "A Genoese ship out of Flanders was driven by a storm to these islands, and they thus became known." As far as we know, the Azores were first sighted around 1420 by a Portuguese, not a Genoese, ship. An earlier discovery by the Genoese is not unlikely, however, but knowledge of it may have been limited to Genoese circles.
The caption to the Cape Verde Islands seems to reinforce the idea. It reads: "The Genoese call the captain of this caravel Messer Anton, but he grew up in Portugal. One day his caravel ran into a storm and was driven to these islands. He found much ginger and was the first to describe these islands." One of the Portuguese ships that discovered the Cape Verde Islands in 1456 was commanded by a Genoese in Portuguese service named Antoniotto Usodamare. The islands in the archipelago were not fully explored until 1460, when another Genoese, named Antonio da Noli, was appointed governor of the island of Sant 'Iago. Since Piri's captain speaks of a chance discovery, the "Messer Anton" of his source map was probably Antoniotto Usodamare, the first of these two Genoese Antonios associated with the islands. Again, this points to a Genoese origin for the chart Piri was copying: Local pride would explain why the Genoese captain, and not the more important Venetian, was mentioned as the discoverer.
The mention of ginger in the Cape Verde Islands is significant too. Ginger does not grow in these islands, but it is possible that the ginger substitute asarabacca did. It was widely believed in the 15th century that valuable spices grew anywhere along the equator; Columbus was constantly "discovering" old world spices in the West Indies where they did not in fact exist. The statement that ginger grew in the Cape Verde Islands sounds very "Columbian," and it is possible that this note may have originated with Columbus himself.
These associations with Genoa are particularly interesting in view of Columbus's own Genoese origin. When the Piri Reis map was discovered in the Topkapı Palace Museum in 1929 (See Aramco World, January-February 1980), it was naturally the long inscription referring to Columbus that excited the most interest. Paul Kahle, the first scholar to write about the map, suggested that the Caribbean portion of it was based on a map drawn by Columbus himself, just as Piri Reis states. If so, this Turkish map is the only evidence we possess for how Columbus visualized his discoveries.
Here is what Piri Reis tells us in a long legend on the map itself:
These coasts are called the shores of Antilia. They were discovered in the year 896 of the Muslim era [AD 1490]. It is reported that a Genoese called Colombo was the first to discover these territories. It is said that a book came into his hands which stated that at the end of the Western Sea, on its western side, were coasts and islands and different kinds of metals and precious gems. This man, having studied the book thoroughly, explained these things one by one to the great men of Genoa and said: "Give me two ships and I will go and find these regions!" "O foolish man" they said, "in the West there is nothing to be found but the end and limit of the world! It is full of darkness" The said Colombo saw there was no help to be had from the Genoese so he went to the king of Spain and told him his story in detail. The king gave him the same answer as the Genoese. At last, after Colombo had been very insistent, the king gave him two ships, equipped them well, and said: "O Colombo, if what you say is true, I will make you admiral over that country!' Having said this, he sent the said Colombo to the Western Sea.
The late victorious Kemal [Reis] had a Spanish slave. This slave said that he had been three times to that land with Colombo. He said: "First we sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, then we voyaged straight ahead for 4000 miles, sailing a middle course between west and southwest in the Western Sea. Then we saw an island ahead of us and the waves became still and the sea becalmed. The North Star... gradually became veiled and finally invisible" He also said that the stars in that region are not disposed as they are here; they are in a different arrangement.
They anchored at the island they had sighted in front of them. The inhabitants of this island approached, shot arrows at them and did not allow them to land and get information. The men and women shot arrows, the tips of which were made of fishbone. The entire population goes naked. When they saw that they could not land on the island, they sailed to the other side, where they saw a boat. When it saw them, the boat fled and the people ran away onto the land. They took the boat and saw that it was full of human flesh. The people of that nation went from island to island hunting men and eating them. The said Colombo saw another island; they drew near it and saw that it was covered with large snakes. They did not land on this island, but stayed at anchor for seventeen days. The inhabitants of this island saw that no harm came to them from the ship, so they caught fish and brought them in their little boats. The Spaniards were pleased and gave them glass beads. It seems that Colombo had read in a book that glass beads were valued in that region. When they saw the beads, they brought still more fish and the Spaniards gave them more beads.
One day they saw gold on the arm of a woman; they took it and gave her beads. They told her to bring more gold and said they would give her more beads. The natives went and brought more gold. It seems that in their mountains there were gold mines.
One day they saw someone with pearls. When they gave glass beads for them, more pearls were brought to them. Pearls were found on the shore of this island, in a place one or two fathoms deep. They loaded their ships with brazilwood and took two natives with them and returned within the year to the king of Spain. The said Colombo, not knowing the language of these people, traded with them by signs. After this trip, the king of Spain sent priests and barley. The Spaniards taught the natives how to sow and reap and converted them to their religion. The natives had no religion at all. They went naked and lay about like animals. Now these regions have been opened to all and have become famous. The names which mark the places on the islands and coasts were given by Colombo, in order that these places might be known by them. Colombo was also a great astronomer. The coasts and islands on this map are taken from Colombo's map.
This short account is filled with interesting variations from what we know of Columbus' first three voyages. The first paragraph, which is based on some other source than Kemal Reis's Spanish captive, gives the name Antilia to the coast of the American mainland. Antilia was marked on medieval charts; it was a legendary island to the west, to which seven bishops, fleeing the Arab invasion of Spain, supposedly sailed with their flocks and where they founded seven flourishing cities. It is prominently marked on Martin Behaim's globe of 1492 and its distance from Spain is given in the Toscanelli letter. The name itself may be a corruption of the Arabic transliteration of "Atlantis," the story of which reached Europe through translations of Plato's Timeus. Although Columbus frequently mentions Antilia, it is obvious from his journals that on his third voyage, when he finally reached the American mainland, he thought he had found a province of China.
The mistake about the year of discovery is perhaps not too important; other contemporary writers also got it wrong, and Piri Reis, in the Kitab-i Bahriye, later "corrected" it to 1465!
The form of Columbus's name, written Kolonbo in the Arabo-Turkish script, again reveals an Italian source. The name of the discoverer of America is "Cristobal Colon" in Spanish, "Cristovao Colom" in Portuguese, but "Colombo" only in Italian.
The book that "came into" Columbus' hands was probably Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi (See Aramco World, January-February 1992). This late medieval work, printed at Louvain, in today's Belgium, in three volumes between 1480 and 1482, was Columbus's favorite bedside reading. His own copy, the margins full of annotations in his own hand, survives in the Biblioteca Colombina, founded by his son Hernando, in Seville. A single quotation from the Imago Mundi will show why it fired the imagination of Columbus: "The end of Spain and the beginning of India are not far distant but close, and it is evident that this sea is navigable in a few days with a fair wind."
Columbus was absolutely convinced, from stories he had heard, from his wide and indiscriminate reading and from his very mistaken mathematical calculations that Asia lay only some 3900 kilometers (2400 miles) west of Spain.
Columbus spent years in frustrating negotiations with the Portuguese and Spanish monarchs; his brother Bartholomew laid the plan before the English kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as Francis I of France. Not so well known is Columbus's attempt to gain Genoese backing. This is referred to by Peter Martyr in his invaluable Decades, based on interviews with Columbus and other early navigators. After all, at this very time, Genoese bankers were financing sugar cultivation in the Atlantic islands and their agents were well established in Seville, the city from which the early voyages were orchestrated. It was natural for Columbus to approach his countrymen, but the fact that he did so is not very well known; mention of it here - together with the absence of any reference to his negotiations with the Portuguese - again hint at a Genoese source.
The interview with the Spanish king, with the reference to the granting to Columbus of the title almirante, of course really happened, although not quite as simply as related here. It is odd that only two ships are mentioned; perhaps the little Niña, of only 50 tons, was not thought worth mentioning.
Kemal Reis's Spanish captive's estimate of the distance between Spain and the New World - 4000 miles, or 6400 kilometers - is much closer to the true distance than Columbus' own, which varied between 1600 and 2400 miles (2500 and 3800 kilometers). Columbus kept two logs, one with the true distance sailed each day - as far as could be estimated - and another with shorter distances so the crew would not realize how far they had sailed and want to turn back. Both figures are considerably less than the 4000 miles mentioned here.
No cannibals were actually encountered on Columbus's first voyage, although the Arawak Indians of Hispaniola and Cuba repeatedly told Columbus of raids by cannibalistic Carib Indians. Columbus at first discounted these stories: "And so I repeat what I have said on other occasions ... the Caniba [Caribs; hence our word cannibal] are nothing else than the people of the Great Khan, who must be very near here and possess ships, and they must come to take them captive, and as the prisoners do not return, they believe that they have been eaten." It was only on the second voyage, in 1493, when Columbus reached Dominica and Guadaloupe, that cannibals were found.
The island "covered with large snakes" is rather mysterious. Columbus was very interested in snakes, and in the journal of his first voyage carefully noted their appearance, not for herpetological reasons, but because he believed that where there were snakes, there was gold. This belief had the authority of the great Pliny. Although the sources we know of mention snakes -- and iguanas, a favorite food of the Indians - on a number of islands, including Hispaniola, no island is specifically mentioned as particularly snake-ridden. The trade in glass beads had been going on for years on the Guinea coast, where Columbus had been himself. He had no need to read about "beads for the natives" in a book.
The Spanish didn't only trade beads for gold, but bits of broken crockery, metal tips of boot laces and little bits of leather straps. It is quite true that the Indians were willing to exchange gold for these exotic goods.
The pearls were found on the third voyage, off the coast of Venezuela, but in large amounts not by Columbus but by Alonso de Ojeda and Pedro Alonso Niño on an independent expedition in 1499. Anyone sailing with Columbus would have learned of this, and of the brazilwood, which was used for dye.
Priests and wheat - rather than barley - were a feature of the second voyage of 1494. Over and over in his journal of his first voyage, Columbus stresses that the Indians "have no creed," and would be easily won to Christianity. Their nakedness was a sign that they inhabited an earthly paradise, innocent of The Fall.
By the time Piri Reis charted these coasts in 1513, in far away Gallipoli, it was true that "these regions have been opened to all," if by "all" we understand "all Spaniards." It is equally possible that Piri Reis means this phrase in the sense of "known to all".
Forty-two place names are inscribed on the islands and coasts of the New World on Piri Reis's map. All but three are transcriptions from Spanish or Portuguese, with the odd exception of one Italian place name - undizi virgini, Italian dialect for "Eleven Virgins," the present-day Virgin Islands. The correct name, given by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, was "Las Once Mil Virgenes" after the legend of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. The word "thousand" had been dropped, and oddly enough, twelve little islands are depicted. Paul Kahle thought this single Italian place name went back to Columbus himself, which is possible, although only two annotations in Italian in Columbus's hand are known, both full of errors. Even when writing to bankers in Genoa, Columbus used Spanish, and all the names he gave his discoveries were in that language. It is possible that this name, along with the other references to Genoese discoveries in other captions, goes back to a Genoese source chart.
Some of these names are easily identifiable - Izle de Spanya is obviously Hispaniola, modern Haiti/ Dominican Republic. The shape, however, reproduces that of "Cipangu" - Japan - on the Behaim Globe of 1492, rather than the true shape of the island. This is evidence for the famous chart Columbus took along on his first voyage, showing the location of islands in the western Atlantic. Here is the entry, made in his log on September 25,1492: "The admiral talked with Martin Alonso Pinzón, captain of the other caravel, the Pinta, concerning a chart which three days before he had sent to him to the caravel and in which, as it appears, the admiral had certain islands depicted as being in that sea." It is possible that Columbus at first marked his discoveries on a pre-existing chart, and this would explain the retention of the conventional shape of Hispaniola. Two other place names occur on Izle de Spanya; al-Jazira, which is simply the Arabic word for "The Island," and Paksin Vidada, almost certainly Puerto Navidad.
Two names just north of Izle de Spanya may also come from the original chart carried on his voyage by Columbus. They are a word that can be transcribed istunasid, which may conceal the imaginary island of Satanazares marked on the Benincasa map, and, near it, Ile Verde, the mythical "Green Isle" marked on so many medieval and Renaissance charts. The variation in the two transcriptions used by Piri Reis for island - izle and ile - must reflect Spanish (isla) and Portuguese (ilha) originals respectively.
Another name that is transparent is Sancuvano Batisdo, San Juan Bautista, now Puerto Rico. Opposite this island, on what appears to be the mainland, is a purely Arabic place name - Qal'at Faridat, "Fort Precious Pearl." There is no reference to anything of the kind in the sources.
The place name Sancuvano Batisdo is also applied to another island, in the Lesser Antilles just west of Vadluq, which is obviously Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This argues that Piri Reis had more than one chart of the Caribbean; the repetition of this place name and of certain coastal features probably resulted from his attempt to fit together two quite different maps.
The chain of islands in the Lesser Antilles, discovered on the second voyage, is well drawn and most of the names jibe with those given by Columbus.
The proof that the source of the Caribbean section of the Piri Reis map was a map drawn by Columbus is the absence of Cuba. Columbus was convinced that the island of Cuba was part of the Asiatic mainland. He sent his Arabic interpreter, Luis de Torres, into the interior of Cuba with a royal letter of credence to the Great Khan. The failure of this diplomatic mission had no effect on Columbus's obsession, and he forced his crews to sign a statement to the effect that they believed Cuba to be mainland Asia, under pain of having their tongues cut out. That is why Cuba does not appear on the Piri Reis map. The indented triangular point on the "mainland" just west of Izle de Spanya is meant to be Cuba - or to Columbus, the empire of the Mongol Khan.
No one who looks at the southern part of the map can help being struck by the accuracy of the South American coast, derived from Portuguese charts, as the place names show. A caption explains:
A Portuguese ship on the way to India met a contrary wind blowing from the shore. The wind drove it from the coast.... After being driven south by the storm, they sighted a coast opposite them. They approached it... and saw that there were good anchorages, so they dropped anchor and went ashore in boats.... They stayed eight days, trading with [the] people by signs.... The said bark returned to Portugal without going to India, and made a report. Eight caravels were sent. They described these coasts in detail and this has been copied from them.
This refers to Pedro Alvares Cabral's accidental discovery of Brazil in 1500, on his way to India. As Piri Reis makes clear in his Kitab-i Bahriye, the secret of rounding the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa, was first to head far to the south west to pick up the winds that would drive one around the Cape. Doing just this, Cabral discovered Brazil and spent a number of days at anchor. Contrary to what Piri says, Cabral did go on to India, but he sent a ship back to Portugal with news of the discovery. The king sent an expedition to Brazil the following year, commanded by Gonsalvo Coelho, aided by the ubiquitous Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Some of the place names along this coast seem to go back to those given by Vespucci. Others are more mysterious. Sanu Saniyru must be Rio de Janeiro, but what is Qatinu? Is it Cananea, the southernmost point reached by Vespucci? And what of the next four names south - Izle Matus, Ila de Dasane, Ila de Viyola and Ila de Sara?
Ila de Sara has a caption: "These islands are uninhabited, but spices abound." This, the unnamed islands nearby and the stylized, indented coastline, seem to repeat Caribbean features. Again, one suspects that an error has been made by trying to reconcile a number of divergent charts. On the mainland an inscription reads: "In this country are found white-haired creatures like this, as well as six-horned cattle. The Portuguese had written this on their maps." What are six-horned cattle?
The last caption to the south, apparently describing the triangular indented coastal feature so reminiscent of "Cuba" in the Caribbean portion of the map, reads: "There is no trace of cultivation in this country. Everything is desolate, and big snakes are said to be there. For this reason the Portuguese did not land on these shores, which are said to be very hot." Wherever this is meant to be, it is not Patagonia!
In the Kitab-i Bahriye, Piri Reis gives more details of "Antilya" and of his map. It was a world map, and depicted the Indian Ocean and the China Sea as well as the Atlantic, and the Kitab-i Bahriye is filled with fascinating information on the Portuguese irruption into the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, these portions of the map are missing. It is possible that we owe the preservation of the Atlantic portion to the fact that the Ottoman Empire had no military interest in the Atlantic. The eastern portions of the map may have been removed to be used as sea charts, and never returned.
The Kitab-i Bahriye was written in 1521. The bulk of the book is a very accurate and detailed guide to the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean, perhaps the most detailed work on the subject until modern times; the introduction in verse deals with such things as cartography, navigation and general geography. The book was presented to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent in 1526, and 29 manuscripts of two different versions survive.
At the end of the introduction, Piri again takes up the subject of "Antilya." Curiously, the name "Colombo" now occurs in its Spanish form as Kolon. Although a few new details are given, the general tenor of the account is very much that given in the captions to the 1513 map.
They call the country Antilya.
Listen and I will tell you of it.
Let me explain how
That land came to be discovered.
There was an astronomer in Genoa
Whose name was Kolon.
A rare book no doubt from the time of Alexander
Came into his hands.
Everything known about navigation
Was gathered and written in that book.
Finally the book reached the land of the Franks
But they could not understand it.
Kolon found it and read it;
Then he took it to the king of Spain.
When he told the king its meaning,
The king gave him ships.
My friend, by using that book
Kolon sailed to Antilya
He continued to explore those lands;
So the way there became well known.
His map too has come into our possession....
Alexander once voyaged
Over all these seas
He wrote down everything he saw
And everything he heard.
Until he had gathered and written down
All the knowledge of the seas.
Know that this book
Was kept in Egypt.
Later the Franks came to Egypt in great numbers
And conquered the country.
'Amr ibn al-'As then conquered Egypt.
Now see what the people did!
When they saw Egypt was about to be conquered,
The leaders of the country fled.
They went to the land of the Franks,
Crossing to the other side of the sea.
And the book I mentioned
That had survived from the time of Alexander
Was taken with them when they fled.
They came and conquered many lands.
They had that book translated
Entirely into their own language.
If you want to know the truth,
I will tell you who translated it:
It was a man named Bortolomye.
They say he did the translation.
Here again is the story of an ancient book which led Columbus to his discovery. But now it is identified with Ptolemy's Geography, Claudius Ptolemeus as usual being identified with Alexander's friend and successor. This strange version of the transmission of a classical text, which in fact first reached "the Franks" through versions from the Arabic, has a certain poetic justice. For it was indeed Ptolemy's underestimate of the circumference of the earth that led Columbus to set sail across the Sea of Darkness.
Historian and Arabist Paul Lunde, author of the whole issue of Aramco World , is a frequent Contributor to the magazines with some 50 articles to his credit over the past two decades, including special multi-article sections on Arabic-language printing and the history of the Silk Roads. His immediate research for this issue was carried out in Seville, Rome, London and Cambridge, and he wrote from his base in Seville’s Barrio do Santa Cruz, a stone’s throw from the city’s cathedral—once a mosque—and from Alcázares Resales, the Moorish palace complex that remains today one of the residences of Spain’s Christian kings.