The text is in two parts. The first section, ff. 3r-45v, Dialogo de tutti li circuli et sphaerae coeleste et de li 4 elementi e cosse loro pertinenti, is a compendium of classical and medieval geographical and cosmographic texts written in the form of a dialogue between a master and his student. The author’s list of his authorities (f. 3v) mentions Pliny’s Historia naturalis, St Isidore’s Ethimologia, Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, the Margarita philosophica and, in particular, a 1499 Venetian edition of Johannes de Sacro Bosco’s Sphaera mundi, identifiable as the book published by Simon Bevilacqua on 23 Oct. 1499 (ISTC ij00419000).
As stated in the long colophon (f. 45v), this manuscript is an autograph: “Don Bernardo wrote this work at Monterosso and composed and assembled it in one volume”. The text represents the summa of Bernardo’s knowledge on astrology, cosmology and geography, supplemented (ff. 29r-45v) by a number of astronomical diagrams and tables. Some of the tables provide the geographical coordinates and climate of the regions and cities of the world mentioned with their Latin names as found in Ptolemy’s Cosmographia.
The second part, ff. 46r-48r, is a compilation of accounts of voyages and geographical discoveries from 1455 (Alvise da Mosto along the Western African coast), to 1502 (Amerigo Vespucci to Brazil and the northern tip of Antarctica), including those by Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean and Vasco da Gama to India. Bernardo provides the names and locations of newly-discovered territories, their distance from Spain, Portugal or the Canary islands and their geographical coordinates, climate and brief information about their inhabitants. THE COMPILATION SEEMS TO DRAW FROM ACCOUNTS SUPPLIED BY THE EXPLORERS THEMSELVES OR THEIR COMPANIONS, comprising:
1. The Columbus first voyage; f. 46, col. 1.
2. The Columbus second voyage; f. 46, 1-2.
3. Events in Hispaniola (4th voyage); f. 46, 2.
4. Voyages of Alonso Nino and Pinzon; f. 46, 2.
5. The Michele de Cuneo summary; f. 46, 2-46v, 2.
6. Discoveries of Cadamosto in Africa, 1455; f. 46v, 2-47, 1.
7. Voyage of Cadamosto and Antonieto Modinare (Africa); f. 47, 1-2.
8. Vasco da Gama and others, 1497-99; f. 47, 2.
9. Portuguese exploration of the Red Sea, 1499; f. 47, 2-47v, 2.
10. Pedro Cabral, voyage to India, 1500--1501; f. 47v, 2-48, 1.
11. Amerigo Vespucci, voyage to America, 1501-1502; f. 48, 1-2.
The beginning of the section is devoted to the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus. Bernardo’s accounts of Columbus’ first (10 Sept. 1492 – [4 March] 1493) and second (25 Sept. 1493-[autumn 1494]) journeys mention the discovery of Haiti (Hispaniola), Cuba (Juana), and of the land of the “canibali” (i.e. cannibals), ff. 46r-v. It is followed by a short mention of the revolt of Spaniards against the Admiral at the end of his third voyage (30 May 1498-October 1500), the imprisonment of Columbus and his brothers by governor [Francisco de Bobadilla] sent from Spain, and their return to Europe in chains, and the voyages and discoveries made by of Alonso Nino, known as "negro", and the Pinzón Brothers.
This is followed by a more detailed description of the second journey as recounted by Michele da Cuneo (Savona, bef. 1448-bef. 1503), Columbus’ friend and travelling companion, in a report entitled “De novitatibus insularum Oceani Hesperii repertarum a Don Christoforo Columbo Genuensi”. The report was written at the request of a Genoese nobleman, Girolamo Aimari, between 15 and 28 October 1495, and lists almost in full the newly-discovered islands and their names, together with observations about climate, tides, and distances.
This section, while brief, is notable in that it contains information not included in the only text previously known. Bernardus states that his report of the second voyage of Columbus is taken from Michele da Cuneo’s letter to Geronimo Aimari, f. 46r. But Bernardus also refers to Michele’s observation that Columbus conceived the idea of sailing to the Indies from the West from his knowledge of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia; this statement is not included in Michele’s letter to Aimari. Bernardus’s text also includes more details of distances between West Indian islands than is found in Cuneo’s letter. It is therefore likely that Bernardo knew Michele and obtained this information through their personal contact.
The remainder of the section is devoted to exploratory voyages of the coasts of Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The account begins with the discovery of Cape Verde islands, the Kingdom of Cayor (Paise de Budomel; now northern and central Senegal), the rivers Gambia, Senegal and Casamance by Alvise da Mosto in 1455 and in 1456 with Antonio da Noli, also known as Usodimare. It continues with the discoveries of the Cape of Good Hope (Capo de Bona Speranza) and a river full of gold (possibly the Keiskamma river) by Bartolomeu Dias (1488), and the opening of the sea route to Malindi (Melinde), Mogadishu (Mori bixi?), Kozhikode (Calicut) and the Red Sea by Vasco de Gama (1498-1499), of Brazil by Pedro Alvares Cabral and Dias (1500), and possibly Sri Lanka (Taprobane) by Lourenço de Almeida in 1505.
The text reports: da Mosto’s accounts of trading with the king of Bati (Batimansa), meeting populations that were mostly Muslim, and the explorers’ inability to communicate with the half-naked natives of the Casamance region, which made them decide to sail back to Spain; Vasco de Gama reaching Calicut with the help of a pilot met in Malindi who could speak Italian, and describing the city as bigger than Lisbon, the distance between the two cities calculated to 3800 sea leagues, i.e. 15,200 miles, and by sea it would be covered in 15 or 16 months; a letter written in Lisbon on 20 July 1499 (King Manuel of Portugal to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain?) illustrating how Portuguese ships sailed through the Bab el Mandeb strait from the Gulf of Aden and landed on a port from which Mecca could be reached in 3 days, and Calicut market as buzzing with life, trading silk velvets, spices, and precious stones and woods, but only accepting payments in gold Venetian ducats or Egyptian sarafi (minted in 1425) or silver coins.
The final page covers Amerigo Vespucci’s discovery of Brazil and Antarctica in the course of his third voyage (14 March [but 10 May] 1501 – 7 Sept. 1502) after a 65-day journey with storms that lasted for 44 days according to Amerigo Vespucci. These new territories had the most pleasant climate and were populated by naked good-natures natives and many animal species not found anywhere else.
THE AUTHOR AND THE DEDICATEE
Bernardo (active 1491-1512), OSB, was born at Albenga, a small town on the Liguria coast, 49 miles west of Genoa; he was a Benedictine monk at the Hermitage of Santa Maddalena at Monterosso, which belonged to the Congregation of St Justina of Padua. The present work is unique, and only three other manuscripts of Bernardo’s works are known: in Genoa, Rome and the Newberry Library, Chicago.
The dedication of these manuscript texts to Lorenzo Fieschi (1465/6-1519), bishop of Ascoli (1510-1512) and elected governor of Rome by Pope Giulio II della Rovere in 1512, suggests that Bernardo might have had personal connections with the circle of powerful Genoese families (Fieschi, della Rovere, Gallo, Grimaldi, Doria and da Cuneo). This rich Genoese mercantile and political class was a strong supporter of Admiral Columbus, his ambitions and explorations. Bartolomeo Fieschi (d. 1528), known as “delle Indie”, was a friend of Columbus, sailed with him in the course of Columbus’ fourth journey to the “Indies”, acted as witness to the Admiral’s testament and was at his bed when he died on 20 May 1506. Bernardo’s possible ties with the Fieschis and others could have provided him with the first hand material on which his geographical studies and accounts of the first explorations of the New World are based.
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