DE ORBE NOVO
The Eight Decades of Peter Martyr D'Anghera
Translated from the Latin with Notes and Introduction
By Francis Augustus MacNutt
In Two Volumes
THE FIRST DECADE
THE SECOND DECADE
THE THIRD DECADE
CARDINAL ASCANIO SFORZA From the Medallion by Luini, in the Museum at Milan. Photo by Anderson, Rome.
LEO X. From an Old Copper Print. (No longer in the book.)
DE ORBE NOVO
Distant a few miles from the southern extremity of Lago Maggiore, the castle-crowned heights of Anghera and Arona face one another from opposite sides of the lake, separated by a narrow stretch of blue water. Though bearing the name of the former burgh, it was in Arona, where his family also possessed a property, that Pietro Martire d'Anghera first saw the light, in the year 1457. He was not averse to reminding his friends of the nobility of his family, whose origin he confidently traced to the Counts of Anghera, a somewhat fabulous dynasty, the glories of whose mythical domination in Northern Italy are preserved in local legends and have not remained entirely unnoticed by sober history. What name his family bore is unknown; the statement that it was a branch of the Sereni, originally made by Celso Rosini and repeated by later writers, being devoid of foundation. Ties of relationship, which seem to have united his immediate forebears with the illustrious family of Trivulzio and possibly also with that of Borromeo, furnished him with sounder justification for some pride of ancestry than did the remoter gestes of the apocryphal Counts of Anghera.
[Note 1: Ranke, in his Zur Kritik neuerer Geschichtsschreiber, and Rawdon Brown, in his Calendar of State Papers relating to England, preserved in the Archives of Venice, mention Anghera, or Anghiera, as the name is also written, as his birthplace. Earlier Italian writers such as Piccinelli (Ateneo de' Letterati Milanesi) and Giammatteo Toscano (Peplus Ital) are perhaps responsible for this error, which passages in the Opus Epistolarum, that inexplicably escaped their notice, expose. In a letter addressed to Fajardo occurs the following explicit statement: "...cum me utero mater gestaret sic volente patre, Aronam, ubi plaeraque illis erant praedia domusque ... ibi me mater dederat orbi." Letters 388, 630, and 794 contain equally positive assertions.]
[Note 2: Mazzuchelli (Gli Scrittori d'Italia, p. 773) states that Peter Martyr was born in 1455, and he has been followed by the Florentine Tiraboschi (Storia della Letteratura Italiana, vol. vii.) and later historians, including even Hermann Schumacher in his masterly work, Petrus Martyr der Geschichtsschreiber des Weltmeeres. Nicolai Antonio (Bibliotheca Hispana nova, app. to vol. ii) is alone in giving the date as 1559. Ciampi, amongst modern Italian authorities (Le Fonti Storiche del Rinascimento) and Heidenheimer (Petrus Martyr Anglerius und sein Opus Epistolarum) after carefully investigating the conflicting data, show from Peter Martyr's own writings that he was born on February 2, 1457. Three different passages are in agreement on this point. In Ep. 627 written in 1518 and referring to his embassy to the Sultan of Egypt upon which he set out in the autumn of 1501, occurs the following: ...quatuor et quadraginta tunc annos agebam, octo decem superadditi vires illas hebetarunt. Again in Ep. 1497: Ego extra annum ad habitis tuis litteris quadragesimum; and finally in the dedication of the Eighth Decade to Clement VII.: Septuagesimus quippe annus aetatis, cui nonae quartae Februarii anni millesimi quingentesimi vigesimi sexti proxime ruentis dabunt initium, sua mihi spongea memoriam ita confrigando delevit, ut vix e calamo sit lapsa periodus, quando quid egerimsi quis interrogaverit, nescire me profitebor. De Orbe Novo., p. 567. Ed. Paris, 1587. Despite the elucidation of this point, it is noteworthy that Prof. Paul Gaffarel both in his admirable French translation of the Opus Epistolarum (1897) and in his Lettres de Pierre Martyr d'Anghiera (1885) should still cite the chronology of Mazzuchelli and Tiraboschi.]
[Note 3: The Visconti, and after them the Sforza, bore the title of Conte d'Anghera, or Anghiera, as the name is also spelled. Lodovico il Moro restored to the place the rank of city, which it had lost, and of which it was again deprived when Lodovico went into captivity.]
The cult of the Dominican of Verona, murdered by the Waldensians in 1252 and later canonised under the title of St. Peter Martyr, was fervent and widespread in Lombardy in the fifteenth century. Milan possessed his bones, entombed in a chapel of Sant' Eustorgio decorated by Michelozzi. Under the patronage and name of Peter Martyr, the child of the Anghera was baptised and, since his family name fell into oblivion, Martyr has replaced it. Mention of his kinsmen is infrequent in his voluminous writings, though there is evidence that he furthered the careers of two younger brothers when the opportunity offered. For Giorgio he solicited and obtained from Lodovico Sforza, in 1487, the important post of governor of Monza. For Giambattista he procured from the Spanish sovereigns a recommendation which enabled him to enter the service of the Venetian Republic, under whose standard he campaigned with Nicola Orsini, Count of Pitigliano. Giambattista died in Brescia in 1516, leaving a wife and four daughters. A nephew, Gian Antonio, whose name occurs in several of his uncle's letters is described by the latter as licet ex transverso natus; he served under Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, and finally, despite his bar sinister, married a daughter of Francesco, of the illustrious Milanese family of Pepoli.
[Note 4: Peter Martyr's will gave to his only surviving brother, Giorgio, his share of the family estate, but on condition that he should receive Giambattista's daughter, Laura, in his family and provide for her: emponiendola en todas las buenas costumbres y crianza que hija de tal padre merece (Coll. de Documentos ineditos para la Hist, de Espana, tom. xxxix., pp. 397). Another of Giambattista's daughters, Lucrezia, who was a nun, received one hundred ducats by her uncle's will.]
Concerning his earlier years and his education Peter Martyr is silent, nor does he anywhere mention under whose direction he began his studies. In the education deemed necessary for young men of his quality, the exercises of chivalry and the recreations of the troubadour found equal place, and such was doubtless the training he received. He spent some years at the ducal court of Milan, but there is no indication that he frequented the schools of such famous Hellenists as Francesco Filelfo who, in 1471, was there lecturing on the Politics of Aristotle, and of Constantine Lascaris whom the reigning duke, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, commissioned to compile a Greek grammar for the use of his daughter. In later years, when he found his chief delight and highest distinction in intercourse with men of letters, Peter Martyr would hardly have neglected to mention such precious early associations had they existed.
The fortunes of the family of Anghera were the reverse of opulent at that period of its history, and the sons obtained careers under the patronage of Count Giovanni Borromeo. The times were troublous in Lombardy. The assassination, in 1476, of Gian Galeazzo was followed by commotions and unrest little conducive to the cultivation of the humanities, and which provoked an exodus of humanists and their disciples. Many sought refuge from the turbulence prevailing in the north, in the more pacific atmosphere of Rome, where a numerous colony of Lombards was consequently formed. The following year Peter Martyr, being then twenty years of age, joined his compatriots in their congenial exile. His rank and personal qualities, as well as the protection accorded him by Giovanni Arcimboldo, Archbishop of Milan, and Ascanio Sforza, brother of the Duke, Lodovico il Moro, assured him a cordial welcome. For a youth devoid of pretensions to humanistic culture, he penetrated with singular ease and rapidity into the innermost academic circle, over which reigned the most amiable of modern pagans, Pomponius Laetus.
It was the age of the Academies. During the Ecumenical Council of Florence, Giovanni de' Medici, fired with enthusiasm for the study of Platonic philosophy, brilliantly expounded by the learned Greek, Gemisto, conceived the plan of promoting the revival of classical learning by the formation of an academy, in imitation of that founded by the immortal Plato. Under such lofty patronage, this genial conception, so entirely in consonance with the intellectual tendencies of the age, attracted to its support every Florentine who aspired to a reputation for culture, at a time when culture was fashionable. The Greek Cardinal, Bessarion, whom Eugene IV. had raised to the purple at the close of the Council, carried the Medicean novelty to Rome, where he formed a notable circle, in which the flower of Hellenic and Latin culture was represented. Besides this group, characterised by a theological tincture alien to the neo-pagan spirit in flimsily disguised revolt against Christian dogma and morality, Pomponius Laetus and Platina founded the Roman Academy—an institution destined to world-wide celebrity. Pomponius Laetus, an unrecognised bastard of the noble house of Sanseverini, was professor of eloquence in Rome. Great amongst the humanists, in him the very spirit of ancient Hellas seemed revived. What to many was but the fad or fashionable craze of the hour, was to him the all-important and absorbing purpose of living. He dwelt aloof in poverty; shunning the ante-chambers and tables of the great, he and kindred souls communed with their disciples in the shades of his grove of classic laurels. He was indifferent alike to princely and to popular favour, passionately consecrating his efforts to the revival and preservation of such classics as had survived the destructive era known as the Dark Ages. Denied a name of his own, he adopted a Latin one to his liking, thus from necessity setting a fashion his imitators followed from affectation. When approached in the days of his fame by the Sanseverini with proposals to recognise him as a kinsman, he answered with a proud and laconic refusal. The Academy, formed of super-men infected with pagan ideals, contemptuous of scholastic learning and impatient of the restraints of Christian morality, did not long escape the suspicions of the orthodox; suspicions only too well warranted and inevitably productive of antagonism ending in condemnation.
[Note 5: His refusal was in the following curt form: Pomponius Laetus cognatis et propinquis suis, salutem. Quod petitis fieri non potest.—Valete. Consult Tiraboschi, Storia della Letteratura Italiana, vol. vii., cap. v.; Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom in Mittelalter; Burkhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien, and Voigt in his Wiederlebung des Klassischen Alterthums.]
[Note 6: Sabellicus, in a letter to Antonio Morosini (Liber Epistolarum, xi., p. 459) wrote thus of Pomponius Laetus: ...fuit ab initio contemptor religionis, sed ingravesciente aetate coepit res ipsa, ut mibi dicitur curae esse. In Crispo et Livio reposint quaedam; et si nemo religiosius timidiusques tractavit veterum scripta ... Graeca ... vix attingit. While to a restricted number, humanism stood for intellectual emancipation, to the many it meant the rejection of the moral restraints on conduct imposed by the law of the Church, and a revival of the vices that flourished in the decadent epochs of Greece and Rome.]
From trifles, as they may seem to us at this distance of time, hostile ingenuity wove the web destined to enmesh the incautious Academicians. The adoption of fanciful Latin appellations—in itself a sufficiently innocent conceit—was construed into a demonstration of revolt against established Christian usage, almost savouring of contempt for the canonised saints of the Church.
Pomponius Laetus was nameless, and hence free to adopt whatever name he chose; his associates and admiring disciples paid him the homage of imitation, proud to associate themselves, by means of this pedantic fancy, with him they called master. The Florentine, Buonacorsi, took the name of Callimachus Experiens; the Roman, Marco, masqueraded as Asclepiades; two Venetian brothers gladly exchanged honest, vulgar Piscina for the signature of Marsus, while another, Marino, adopted that of Glaucus.
If the neo-pagans were harmless and playful merely, their opponents were dangerously in earnest. In 1468 a grave charge of conspiracy against the Pope's life and of organising a schism led to the arrest of Pomponius and Platina, some of the more wary members of the compromised fraternity saving themselves by timely flight.
Imprisonment in Castel Sant' Angelo and even the use of torture—mild, doubtless—failing to extract incriminating admissions from the accused, both prisoners were unconditionally released. If the Pope felt serious alarm, his fears seem to have been easily allayed, for Pomponius was permitted to resume his public lectures undisturbed, but the Roman Academy had received a check, from which it did not recover during the remainder of the pontificate of Paul II. With the accession of Sixtus IV., the cloud of disfavour that still hung obscuringly over its glories was lifted. Encouraged by the Pope and frequented by distinguished members of the Curia, its era of greatness dawned in splendour.
The assault upon the Church by the humanists, which resulted in the partial capture of Latin Christianity, was ably directed. Although the renascence of learning did not take its rise in Rome, where the intellectual movement and enthusiasm imported from Florence flourished but fitfully, according to the various humours of the successive pontiffs, the papal capital drew within its walls eminent scholars from all the states of the Italian peninsula. Rome was the world-city, a centre from which radiated honours, distinctions, and fortune. Gifts of oratory, facility in debate, ability in the conduct of diplomatic negotiations, a masterly style in Latin composition, and even perfection in penmanship, were all marketable accomplishments, for which Rome was the highest bidder. If classical learning and the graces of literature received but intermittent encouragement from the sovereign pontiffs, both the secular interests of their government and the vindication of the Church's dogmatic teaching afforded the most profitable exercise for talents which sceptical humanists sold, as readily as did the condottieri their swords—to the best paymaster, regardless of their personal convictions. There consequently came into existence in Rome a new ceto or class, equally removed from the nobles of feudal traditions and the ecclesiastics of the Curia, yet mingling with both. Literary style and the art of Latin composition, sedulously cultivated by these brilliant intellectual nomads, shed an undoubted lustre on the Roman chancery, giving it a stamp it has never entirely lost. They fought battles and scored victories for an orthodoxy they derided. They defended the Church's temporalities from the encroachments of covetous princes. Their influence on morals was frankly pagan. Expatriated and emancipated from all laws save those dictated by their own tastes and inclinations, these men were genially rebellious against the restraints and discipline imposed by the evangelical law. From the Franciscan virtues of chastity, poverty, and obedience, preached by the Poverello of Assisi, they turned with aversion to laud the antipodal trinity of lust, license, and luxury. The mysticism of medieval Christianity was repugnant to their materialism, and the symbolism of its art, expressed under rigid, graceless forms, offended eyes that craved beauty of line and beauty of colour. They ignored or condemned any ulterior purpose of art as a teaching medium for spiritual truths. To such men, a satire of Juvenal was more precious than an epistle of St. Paul; dogma, they demolished with epigrams, the philosophy of the schoolmen was a standing joke, and a passage from Plato or Horace outweighed the definitions of an Ecumenical Council.
The toleration extended to these heterodox scholars seems to have been unlimited,—perhaps it was not in some instances unmixed with contempt, for, though they lampooned the clergy of all grades, not sparing even the Pope himself, their writings, even when not free from positive scurrility, were allowed the freest circulation. In all that pertained to personal conduct and morality, they directed their exclusive efforts to assimilating classical standards of the decadent periods, ignoring the austere virtues of civic probity, self-restraint, and frugality, that characterised the best society of Greek and Rome in their florescence. These same men lived on terms of close intimacy with princes of the Church, on whose bounty they throve, and by degrees numbers of them even entered the ranks of the clergy, some with minor and others with holy orders. To their labours, the world owes the recovery of the classic literature of Greece and Rome from oblivion, while the invention and rapid adoption of the printing-press rendered these precious texts forever indestructible and accessible.
Into this brilliant, dissolute world of intellectual activity, Peter Martyr entered, and through it he passed unscathed, emerging with his Christian faith intact and his orthodoxy untainted. He gathered the gold of classical learning, rejecting its dross; his morals were above reproach and calumny never touched his reputation. Respected, appreciated, and, most of all, beloved by his contemporaries, his writings enriched the intellectual heritage of posterity with inexhaustible treasures of original information concerning the great events of the memorable epoch it was his privilege to illustrate.
General culture being widely diffused, the pedantic imitations of antiquity applauded by the preceding generation ceased to confer distinction. Latin still held its supremacy but the Italian language, no longer reputed vulgar, was coming more and more into favour as a vehicle for the expression of original thought. Had he remained in Italy Martyr might well have used it, but his removal to Spain imposed Latin as the language of his voluminous compositions.
Four years after his arrival in Rome, a Milanese noble, Bartolomeo Scandiano, who later went as nuncio to Spain, invited Peter Martyr to pass the summer months in his villa at Rieti, in company with the Bishop of Viterbo. In the fifteenth letter of the Opus Epistolarum he recalls the impressions and recollections of that memorable visit, in the following terms: "Do you remember, Scandiano, with what enthusiasm we dedicated our days to poetical composition? Then did I first appreciate the importance of association with the learned and to what degree the mind of youth is elevated in the amiable society of serious men: then, for the first time, I ventured to think myself a man and to hope that I might become somebody." The summer of 1481 may, therefore, be held to mark his intellectual awakening and the birth of his definite ambitions. Endowed by nature with the qualities necessary to success, intimate association with men of eminent culture inspired him with the determination to emulate them, and from this ideal he never deflected. The remaining six years of his life in Rome were devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, and in the art of deciphering inscriptions and the geography of the ancients he acquired singular proficiency.
During the pontificate of Innocent VIII., Francesco Negro, a Milanese by birth, was governor of Rome and him Peter Martyr served as secretary; a service which, for some reason, necessitated several months' residence in Perugia. His relations with Ascanio Sforza, created cardinal in 1484, continued to be close, and at one period he may have held some position in the cardinal's household or in that of Cardinal Giovanni Arcimboldo, Archbishop of Milan, though it is nowhere made clear precisely what, while some authorities incline to number him merely among the assiduous courtiers of these dignitaries from his native Lombardy.
The fame of his scholarship had meanwhile raised him from the position of disciple to a place amongst the masters of learning, and in his turn he saw gathering about him a group of admirers and adulators. Besides Pomponius Laetus, his intimates of this period were Theodore of Pavia and Peter Marsus, the less celebrated of the Venetian brothers. He stood in the relation of preceptor or mentor to Alonso Carillo, Bishop of Pamplona, and to Jorge da Costa, Archbishop of Braga, two personages of rank, who did but follow the prevailing fashion that decreed the presence of a humanist scholar to be an indispensable appendage in the households of the great. He read and commented the classics to his exalted patrons, was the arbiter of taste, their friend, the companion of their cultured leisure, and their confidant. Replying to the praises of his disciples, couched in extravagant language, he administered a mild rebuke, recalling them to moderation in the expression of their sentiments: "These are not the lessons you received from me when I explained to you the satire of the divine Juvenal; on the contrary, you have learned that nothing more shames a free man than adulation."
[Note 7: Epist. x. Non haec a me profecto, quam ambobus Juvenalis aliguando divinam illam, quae proxima est a secunda, satiram aperirem, sed adulatione nihil esse ingenuo foedius dedicistis.]
The year 1486 was signalised in Rome by the arrival of an embassy from Ferdinand and Isabella to make the usual oath of obedience on behalf of the Catholic sovereigns of Castille and Leon to their spiritual over-lord, the Pope. Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, Count of Tendilla, a son of the noble house of Mendoza, whose cardinal was termed throughout Europe tertius rex, was the ambassador charged with this mission. Tendilla shone in a family in which intellectual brilliancy was a heritage, the accomplishments of its members adding distinction to a house of origin and descent exceptionally illustrious. Whether in the house of his compatriot, the Bishop of Pamplona, or elsewhere, the ambassador made the acquaintance of Peter Martyr and evidently fell under the charm of his noble character and uncommon talents. The duties of his embassy, and possibly his own good pleasure, detained Tendilla in Rome from September 13, 1486, until August 29th of the following year, and, as his stay drew to its close, he pressingly invited the Italian scholar to return with him to Spain, an invitation which neither the remonstrances nor supplications of his friends in Rome availed to persuade him to refuse. No one could more advantageously introduce a foreigner at the Court of Spain than Tendilla. What prospects he held out or what arguments he used to induce Martyr to quit Rome and Italy, we do not know; apparently little persuasion was required. A true child of his times, Peter Martyr was prepared to accept his intellectual heritage wherever he found it. From the obscure parental village of Arona, his steps first led him to the ducal court of Milan, which served as a stepping-stone from which he advanced into the wider world of Rome. The papal capital knew him first as a disciple, then as a master, but the doubt whether he was satisfied to wait upon laggard pontifical favours is certainly permissible. He had made warm friendships, had enjoyed the intimacy of the great, and the congenial companionship of kindred spirits, but his talents had secured no permanent or lucrative recognition from the Sovereign Pontiff. The announcement of his resolution to accompany the ambassador to Spain caused consternation amongst his friends who opposed, by every argument they could muster, a decision they considered displayed both ingratitude and indifferent judgment. Nothing availed to change the decision he had taken and, since to each one he answered as he deemed expedient, and as each answer differed from the other, it is not easy to fix upon the particular reason which prompted him to seek his fortune in Spain.
[Note 8: From Burchard's Diarium, 1483-1506, and from the Chronicle of Pulgar we learn that Antonio Geraldini and Juan de Medina, the latter afterwards Bishop of Astorga, accompanied the embassy.]
To Ascanio Sforza, who spared neither entreaties nor reproaches to detain him, assuring him that during his lifetime his merits should not lack recognition, Martyr replied that the disturbed state of Italy, which he apprehended would grow worse, discouraged him; adding that he was urged on by an ardent desire to see the world and to make acquaintance with other lands. To Peter Marsus, he declared he felt impelled to join in the crusade against the Moors. Spain was the seat of this holy war, and the Catholic sovereigns, who had accomplished the unity of the Christian states of the Iberian peninsula, were liberal in their offers of honours and recompense to foreigners of distinction whom they sought to draw to their court and camp. Spain may well have seemed a virgin and promising field, in which his talents might find a more generous recognition than Rome had awarded them. Upon his arrival there, he showed himself no mean courtier when he declared to the Queen that his sole reason for coming was to behold the most celebrated woman in the world—herself. Perhaps the sincerest expression of his feelings is that contained in a letter to Carillo. (Ep. 86. 1490): Formosum est cuique, quod maxime placet: id si cum patria minime quis se sperat habiturum, tanta est hujusce rei vis, ut extra patriam quaeritet patria ipsius oblitus. Ego quam vos deservistis adivi quia quod mihi pulchrum suaveque videbatur in ea invenire speravi. The divine restlessness, the Wanderlust had seized him, and to its fascination he yielded. The opportunity offered by Tendilla was too tempting to be resisted. Summing up the remonstrances and reproaches of his various friends, he declared that he held himself to deserve rather their envy than their commiseration, since amidst the many learned men in Italy he felt himself obscure and useless, counting himself indeed as passerunculus inter accipitres, pygmeolus inter gigantes.
Failing to turn his friend from his purpose, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza exacted from him a promise to send him regular and frequent information of all that happened at the Spanish Court. It is to this pact between the two friends that posterity is indebted for the Decades and the Opus Epistolarum, in which the events of those singularly stirring years are chronicled in a style that portrays with absolute fidelity the temper of an age prolific in men of extraordinary genius and unsurpassed daring, incomparably rich in achievements that changed the face of the world and gave a new direction to the trend of human development.
On the twenty-ninth of August the Spanish ambassador, after taking leave of Innocent VIII., set out from Rome on his return journey to Spain, and with him went Peter Martyr d'Anghera.
[Note 9: Dixi ante sacros pedes prostratus lacrymosum vale quarto calendi Septembris 1487. (Ep. i.)]
Spain in the year 1487 presented a striking contrast to Italy where, from the days of Dante to those of Machiavelli, the land had echoed to the vain cry: Pax, pax et non erat pax. Peter Martyr was impressed by the unaccustomed spectacle of a united country within whose boundaries peace reigned. This happy condition had followed upon the relentless suppression of feudal chiefs whose acts of brigandage, pillage, and general lawlessness had terrorised the people and enfeebled the State during the preceding reign.
The same nobles who had fought under Isabella's standard against Henry IV. did not scruple to turn their arms upon their young sovereign, once she was seated upon the throne. Lucio Marineo Siculo has drawn a sombre picture of life in Spain prior to the establishment of order under Ferdinand and Isabella. To accomplish the needed reform, it was necessary to break the power and humble the pretensions of the feudal nobles. The Duke of Villahermosa, in command of an army maintained by contributions from the towns, waged a merciless campaign, burning castles and administering red-handed but salutary justice to rebels against the royal authority, and to all disturbers of public order throughout the realm.
This drastic work of internal pacification was completed before the arrival of our Lombard scholar at the Spanish Court. Castile and Aragon united, internal strife overcome, the remaining undertaking worthiest to engage the attention of the monarchs was the conquest of the unredeemed southern provinces. Ten years of intermittent warfare had brought the Christian troops to the very walls of Granada, but Granada still held out. Almeria and Guadiz were in possession of the enemy and over the towers of Baza the infidel flag proudly floated.
The reception accorded Tendilla's protege by the King and Queen in Saragossa was benign and encouraging. Isabella already caressed the idea of encouraging the cultivation of the arts and literature amongst the Spaniards, and her first thought was to confide to the newcomer the education of the young nobles and pages about the Court—youths destined to places of influence in Church and State. She was not a little surprised when the reputed savant modestly deprecated his qualifications for such a responsible undertaking, and declared his wish was to join in the crusade against the infidels in Andalusia. Some mirth was even provoked by the idea of the foreign scholar masquerading as a soldier.
In 1489, King Ferdinand, who had assembled a powerful force at Jaen, marched to the assault of Baza, a strong place, ably defended at that time by Abdullah, known under the proud title of El Zagal—the Victorious—because of his many victories over the Christian armies he had encountered. During the memorable siege that ended in the fall of Baza, Peter Martyr played his dual role of soldier and historian. The Moors defended the city with characteristic bravery, for they were fighting for their property, their liberty, and their lives. From Jaen, where Isabella had established herself to be near the seat of war, messages of encouragement daily reached the King and his commanders, inciting them to victory, for which the Queen and her ladies daily offered prayers. Impregnable Baza fell on the fourth of December, and, with its fall, the Moorish power in Spain was forever broken. Smaller cities and numerous strongholds in the surrounding country hastened to offer their submission and, after the humiliating surrender of El Zagal in the Spanish camp at Tabernas, Almeria opened its gates to the triumphant Christians who sang Te Deum within its walls on Christmas day. Peter Martyr's description of this victorious campaign has proved a rich source from which later writers have generously drawn, not always with adequate acknowledgment. From Jaen the Court withdrew to Seville, where the marriage of the princess royal to the crown prince of Portugal was celebrated.
Boabdilla still held Granada, oblivious of his engagement to surrender that city when his rival, El Zagal, should be conquered. We need not here digress to rehearse the oft-told story of the siege of Granada, during which Moslem rivalled Christian in deeds of chivalry. Peter Martyr's letters in the Opus Epistolarum recount these events. He shared to the full the exultation of the victors, but was not oblivious of the grief and humiliation of the vanquished whom he describes as weeping and lamenting upon the graves of their forefathers, with a choice between captivity and exile before their despairing eyes. He portrays his impressions upon entering with the victorious Christian host into the stately city. Alhambrum, proh dii immortales! Qualem regiam, romane purpurate, unicam in orbe terrarum, crede, he exclaims in his letter to Cardinal Arcimboldo of Milan.
[Note 1: The Moorish power was at this time weakened by an internal dissension. El Zagal had succeeded his brother, Muley Abdul Hassan, who, at the time of his death ruled over Baza, Guadiz, Almeria, and other strongholds in the south-east, while his son Boabdil was proclaimed in Granada, thus dividing the kingdom against itself, at a moment when union was most essential to its preservation. Boabdil had accepted the protection of King Ferdinand and had even stipulated the surrender of Granada as the reward for his uncle's defeat. Consult Prescott's Ferdinand and Isabella.]
Divers are the appreciations of the precise part played by Peter Martyr in the course of this war. He spent quite as much time with the Queen's court as he did at the front, and he himself advances but modest claims to war's laurels, writing rather as one who had missed his vocation amongst men whose profession was fighting. The career he sought did not lie in that direction. In later years writing to his friend Marliano, he observed: De bello autem si consilium amici vis, bella gerant bellatores. Philosophis inhaereat lectionis et contemplationis studium.
Glorious as the date of Granada's capture might have been in Spanish history, it acquired world-wide significance from the decision given in favour of the project of Christopher Columbus which followed as a consequence of the Christian victory. Though he nowhere states the fact, Martyr must at this time have known the Genoese suppliant for royal patronage. Talavera, confessor to the Queen, was the friend and protector of both Italians.
[Note 2: Navarrete states that the two Italians had known one another intimately prior to the siege of Granada. Coleccion de documentos ineditos, tom. i., p. 68.]
Fascinated by the novelties and charms of Granada, Martyr remained in the conquered city when the Court withdrew. His friend Tendilla was appointed first governor of the province and Talavera became its first archbishop. Comparing the city with others, famous and beautiful in Italy, he declared Granada to be the loveliest of them all; for Venice was devoid of landscape and surrounded only by sea; Milan lay in a flat stretch of monotonous plain; Florence might boast her hills, but they made her winter climate frigid, while Rome was afflicted by unwholesome winds from Africa and such poisonous exhalations from the surrounding marshes that few of her citizens lived to old age. Such, to eyes sensitive to Nature's charms and to a mind conscious of historical significance, was the prize that had fallen to the Catholic sovereigns.
[Note 3: In the month of June, 1492.]
What influences worked to prepare the change which took place in Peter Martyr's life within the next few months are not known. After the briefest preparation, he took minor orders and occupied a canon's stall in the cathedral of Granada. Of a religious vocation, understood in the theological sense, there appears to have been no pretence, but ten years later we find him a priest, with the rank of apostolic protonotary. Writing on March 28, 1492, to Muro, the dean of Compostello he observed: Ad Saturnum, cessante Marte, sub hujus sancti viri archiepiscopi umbra tento transfugere; a thorace jam ad togam me transtuli. In the coherent organisation of society as it was then ordered, men were classified in distinct and recognisable categories, each of which opened avenues to the ambitious for attaining its special prizes. Spain was still scarcely touched by the culture of the Renaissance. Outside the Church there was little learning or desire for knowledge, nor did any other means for recompensing scholars exist than by the bestowal of ecclesiastical benefices. A prebend, a canonry, a professorship in the schools or university were the sole sources of income for a man of letters. Peter Martyr was such, nor did any other road to the distinction he frankly desired, open before him. Perhaps Archbishop Talavera made this point clear to him. Disillusionised, if indeed he had ever entertained serious hope of success as a soldier, it cost him no effort to change from the military to the more congenial sacerdotal caste.
Granada, for all its charms, quickly palled, and his first enthusiasm subsiding, gave place to a sense of confinement, isolation, and unrest. Not the companionship of his two attached friends could make life in a provincial town, remote from the Court, tolerable to one who had spent ten years of his life in the cultured world of Rome. The monotonous routine of a canon's duties meant stagnation to his keen, curious temperament, athirst for movement and novelty. His place was amongst men, in the midst of events where he might observe, study, and philosophically comment. Writing to Cardinal Mendoza, he frankly confessed his unrest, declaring that the delights and beauties of Nature, praised by the classical writers, ended by disgusting him and that he could never know contentment save in the society of great men. His nature craved life on the mountain tops of distinction rather than existence in the valley of content. He did not yearn for Tusculum.
To manage a graceful re-entry to the Court was not easy. To Archbishop Talavera, genial and humane, had succeeded the austere Ximenes as confessor to Isabella. The post was an important one, for the ascendancy of its occupant over the Queen was incontestable, but, while Peter Martyr's perspicacity was quick to grasp the desirability of conciliating the new confessor, it equally divined the barriers forbidding access to the remote, detached Franciscan. In one of his letters he compared the penetration of Ximenes to that of St. Augustine, his austerity to that of St. Jerome, and his zeal for the faith to that of St. Ambrose. Cardinal Ximenes had admirers and detractors, but he had no friends.
In this dilemma Martyr felt himself alone, abandoned, and he was not a little troubled as to his future prospects, for he was without an advocate near the Queen. He wrote to several personages, even to the young Prince, Don Juan, and evidently without result, for he observed with a tinge of bitterness: "I see that King's favours, the chief object of men's efforts, are more shifting and empty than the wind." Fortune was kinder to him than she often shows herself to others who no less assiduously cultivate her favour, nor was his patience over-taxed by long waiting. With the return of peace, Queen Isabella's interest in her plan for encouraging a revival of learning amongst her courtiers re-awakened. It was her desire that the Spanish nobles should cultivate the arts and literature, after the fashion prevailing in Italy. Lucio Marineo Siculo, also a disciple of Pomponius Laetus, had preceded Martyr in Spain by nearly two years, and was professor of poetry and grammar at Salamanca. He was the first of the Italians who came as torch-bearers of the Renaissance into Spain, to be followed by Peter Martyr, Columbus, the Cabots, Gattinara, the Geraldini and Marliano. Cardinal Mendoza availed himself of the propitious moment, to propose Martyr's name for the office of preceptor to direct the studies of the young noblemen. In response to a welcome summons, the impatient canon left Granada and repaired to Valladolid where the Court then resided. The ungrateful character and dubious results of the task before him were obvious, the chief difficulties to be apprehended threatening to come from his noble pupils, whose minds and manners he was expected to form. Restive under any save military discipline, averse by temperament and custom to studies of any sort, it was hardly to be hoped that they would easily exchange their gay, idle habits for schoolroom tasks under a foreign pedagogue. Yet this miracle did Peter Martyr work. The charm of his personality counted for much, the enthusiasm of the Queen and the presence in the school of the Infante Don Juan, whose example the youthful courtiers dared not disdain, for still more, and the house of the Italian preceptor became the fashionable rendezvous of young gallants who, a few months earlier, would have scoffed at the idea of conning lessons in grammar and poetry, and listening to lectures on morals and conduct from a foreigner. Of his quarters in Saragossa in the first year of his classes he wrote: Domum habeo tota die ebullientibus Procerum juvenibus repletam.
[Note 4: In the month of June, 1492.]
During the next nine years of his life, Peter Martyr devoted himself to his task and with results that gratified the Queen and reflected credit upon her choice. In October of 1492 he had been appointed by the Queen, Contino de su casa, with a revenue of thirty thousand maravedis. Shortly after, he was given a chaplaincy in the royal household, an appointment which increased both his dignity and his income. His position was now assured, his popularity and influence daily expanded.
[Note 5: An office in the Queen's household, the duties and privileges of which are not quite clear. Mariejol suggests that the contini corresponded to the gentilshommes de la chambre at the French Court. Lucio Marineo Siculo mentioned these palatine dignitaries immediately after the two captains and the two hundred gentlemen composing the royal body-guard. Consult Mariejol, Pierre Martyr d'Anghera, sa vie et ses oeuvres, Paris, 1887.]
It would be interesting to know something of his system of teaching in what proved to be a peripatetic academy, since he and his aristocratic pupils always followed the Court in its progress from city to city; but nowhere in his correspondence, teeming with facts and commentaries on the most varied subjects, is anything definite to be gleaned. Latin poetry and prose, the discourses of Cicero, rhetoric, and church history were important subjects in his curriculum. Though he frequently mentions Aristotle in terms of high admiration, it may be doubted whether he ever taught Greek. There is no evidence that he even knew that tongue. Besides the Infante Don Juan, the Duke of Braganza, Don Juan of Portugal, Villahermosa, cousin to the King, Don Inigo de Mendoza, and the Marquis of Priego were numbered among his pupils. Nor did his personal influence cease when they left his classes. The renascence of learning did not move with the spontaneous, almost revolutionary, vigour that characterised the revival in Italy, nor was Peter Martyr of the paganised scholars in whom the cult for antiquity had undermined Christian faith—else had he not been acceptable to Queen Isabella.
Some authors, including Ranke, have described him as occupying the post of Secretary of Latin Letters. Officially he never did. His knowledge of Latin, in a land where few were masters of the language of diplomatic and literary intercourse, was brought into frequent service, and it was no uncommon thing for him to turn the Spanish draft of a state paper or despatch into Latin. He refused a chair in the University of Salamanca, but consented on one occasion to deliver a lecture before its galaxy of distinguished professors and four thousand students. He chose for his subject the second satire of Juvenal, and for more than an hour held his listeners spellbound under the charm of his eloquence. He thus described his triumph: Domum tanquam ex Olympo victorem primarii me comitantur.
[Note 6: Talvolta era incaricato di voltare in latino le correspondenze diplomatiche pin importanti. I ministri o i lor segretari ne faceano la minuta in ispagnuolo, ed egli le recava nella lingua che era allora adoperata come lingua internazionale. Ciampi, Nuova Antologia, tom, iii., p. 69.]
[Note 7: Opus Epistolarum. Ep. lvii.]
During these prosperous years in Spain, the promise made to Cardinal Ascanio Sforza was faithfully kept, though the latter's early fall from his high estate in Rome diverted Martyr's letters to other personages. With fervent and unflagging interest he followed the swift march of disastrous events in his native Italy. The cowardly murder of Gian Galeazzo by his perfidious and ambitious nephew, Lodovico il Moro; the death of the magnificent Lorenzo in Florence; the accession to power of the unscrupulous Borgia family, with Alexander VI. upon the papal throne; the French invasion of Naples—all these and other similar calamities bringing in their train the destruction of Italy, occupied his attention and filled his correspondence with lamentations and sombre presages for the future.
He was the first to herald the discovery of the new world, and to publish the glory of his unknown compatriot to their countrymen. To Count Giovanni Borromeo he wrote concerning the return of Columbus from his first voyage: ...rediit ab Antipodibus occiduis Christophorus quidam Colonus, vir ligur, qui a meis regibus ad hanc provinciam tria vix impetraverat navigia, quia fabulosa, que dicebat, arbitrabantur; rediit preciosum multarum rerum sed auri precipue, qua suapte natura regiones generant tulit. Significant is the introduction of the great navigator: Christophorus quidam Colonus, vir ligur. There was nothing more to know or say about the sailor of lowly origin and obscure beginnings, whose great achievement shed glory on his unconscious fatherland and changed the face of the world.
In the year 1497 Peter Martyr was designated for a diplomatic mission that gratified his ambition and promised him an opportunity to revisit Rome and Milan.
Ladislas II., King of Bohemia, sought to repudiate his wife Beatrice, daughter of King Ferdinand of Naples, and widow of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. Being a princess of Aragon, the outraged lady's appeal in her distress to her powerful kinsman in Spain found Ferdinand of Aragon disposed to intervene in her behalf. It was to champion her cause that Peter Martyr was chosen to go as ambassador from the Catholic sovereigns to Bohemia, stopping on his way at Rome to lay the case before the Pope. In the midst of his preparations for the journey the unwelcome and disconcerting intelligence that Pope Alexander VI. leaned rather to the side of King Ladislas reached Spain. This gave the case a new and unexpected complexion. The Spanish sovereigns first wavered and then reversed their decision. The embassy was cancelled and the disappointed ambassador cheated of the distinction and pleasure he already tasted in anticipation.
Four years later circumstances rendered an embassy to the Sultan of Egypt imperative. Ever since the fall of Granada, which was followed by the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Spain or their forcible conversion to Christianity if they remained in the country, the Mussulman world throughout Northern Africa had been kept in a ferment by the lamentations and complaints of the arriving exiles. Islam throbbed with sympathy for the vanquished, and thirsted for vengeance on the oppressors. The Mameluke Sultan of Egypt, aroused to action by the reports of the persecution of his brethren in blood and faith, threatened reprisals, which he was in a position to carry out on the persons and property of the numerous Christian merchants in the Levant, as well as on the pilgrims who annually visited the Holy Land. The Franciscan friars, guardians of the holy places in Palestine, were especially at his mercy. Representations had been made in Rome and referred by the Pope to Spain. King Ferdinand temporised, denying the truth of the reports of persecution and alleging that no oppressive measures had been adopted against the Moors, describing whatever hardships they may have suffered as unavoidably incidental to the reorganisation of the recently acquired provinces. His tranquillising assurances were not accepted with unreserved credence by the Sultan. By the year 1501, the situation had become so strained, owing to the knowledge spread through the Mussulman world that an edict of general expulsion was in preparation, that it was decided to despatch an embassy to soothe the Sultan's angry alarm and to protect, if possible, the Christians within his dominions from the threatened vengeance. For this delicate and novel negotiation, Peter Martyr was chosen. The avowed object of his mission has been suspected of masking some undeclared purpose, though what this may have been is purely a matter of conjecture. He was also entrusted with a secret message to the Doge and Senate of Venice, where French influences were felt to be at work against the interests of Spain. Travelling by way of Narbonne and Avignon, the ambassador reached Venice a few days after the death of the Doge, Barbarigo, and before a successor had been elected. Brief as was his stay in the city of lagoons, every hour of it was profitably employed. He visited churches, palaces, and convents, inspecting their libraries and art treasures; he was enraptured by the beauty and splendour of all he beheld. Nothing escaped his searching inquiries concerning the form of government, the system of elections, the ship-building actively carried on in the great arsenal, and the extent and variety of commercial intercourse with foreign nations. Mention of his visit is made in the famous diary of the younger Marino Sanuto.
[Note 1: A di 30 Septembris giunse qui uno orator dei reali di Spagna; va al Soldano al Cairo; qual monto su le Gallie nostre di Alessandria; si dice per prepare il Soliano relaxi i frati di Monte Syon e li tratti bene, e che 30 mila. Mori di Granata si sono baptizati di sua volonta, e non coacti.]
Delightful and absorbing as he undoubtedly found it to linger amidst the glories of Venice, the ambassador was not forgetful that the important purpose of his mission lay elsewhere. Delivering his message to the Senate, he crossed to Pola (Pula), where eight Venetian ships lay, ready to sail to various ports in the Levant. The voyage to Egypt proved a tempestuous one, and it was the twenty-third of December when the storm-beaten vessel safely entered the port of Alexandria, after a narrow escape from being wrecked on the rocky foundations of the famous Pharos of antiquity. Christian merchants trading in the Levant were at that period divided into two groups, one of which was under the protection of Venice, the other, in which were comprised all Spanish subjects, being under that of France. The French consul, Felipe de Paredes, a Catalonian by birth, offered the hospitality of his house pending the arrival of the indispensable safe-conduct and escort from the Sultan. In the Legatio Babylonica, Peter Martyr describes, with lamentations, the squalor of the once splendid city of Alexandria, famous for its beautiful gardens, superb palaces, and rich libraries. The ancient capital of the Ptolemies was reduced to a mere remnant of its former size, and of its former glories not a vestige was perceptible. Cansu Alguri reigned in Cairo. A man personally inclined to toleration, his liberty of action was fettered by the fanaticism of his courtiers and the Mussulman clergy. The moment was not a propitious one for an embassy soliciting favours for Christians. The Portuguese had but recently sunk an Egyptian vessel off Calicut, commercial rivalries were bitter, and the harsh treatment of the conquered Moors in Spain had aroused religious antagonism to fever pitch and bred feelings of universal exasperation against the foes of Islam.
[Note 2: Writing to Pedro Fajardo he thus expressed himself: Alexandriam sepe perambulavi: lacrymosum est ejus ruinas intueri; centum millium atque eo amplius domorum uti per ejus vestigere licet colligere meo judicio quondam fuit Alexandria; nunc quatuor vix millibus contenta est focis; turturibus nunc et columbis pro habitationibus nidos prestat, etc.]
[Note 3: Also spelled Quansou Ghoury and Cansa Gouri; Peter Martyr writes Campsoo Gauro.]
From Rosetta Peter Martyr started on January 26th on his journey to the Egyptian Babylon, as he was pleased to style Cairo, travelling by boat on the Nile and landing at Boulaq in the night. The next morning a Christian renegade, Tangriberdy by name, who held the important office of Grand Dragoman to the Sultan, presented himself to arrange the ceremonial to be observed at the audience with his master. This singular man, a Spanish sailor from Valencia, had been years before wrecked on the Egyptian coast and taken captive. By forsaking his faith he saved his life, and had gradually risen from a state of servitude to his post of confidence near the Sultan's person. Tangriberdy availed himself of the opportunity afforded by his duties, to relate to the ambassador the story of his life and his forcible conversion, declaring that, in his heart, he clung to the Christian faith and longed to return to his native Spain. Whether his sentiments were sincere or feigned, his presence in an influential capacity at the Sultan's court was a fortuitous circumstance of which the ambassador gladly took advantage. The audience was fixed for the following morning at daybreak, and that night Tangriberdy lodged the embassy in his own palace.
[Note 4: Cairo was thus called in the Middle Ages, the name belonging especially to one of the city's suburbs. See Quatremere Memoires geographiques te historiques sur l'Egypt. Paris, 1811.]
Traversing the streets of Cairo, thronged with a hostile crowd curious to view the giaour, Peter Martyr, accompanied by the Grand Dragoman and his Mameluke escort, mounted to the citadel, where stood the stately palace built by Salah-Eddin. After crossing two courts he found himself in a third, where sat the Sultan upon a marble dais richly draped and cushioned. The prostrations exacted by Eastern etiquette were dispensed with, the envoy being even invited to sit in the august presence. Thrice the Sultan assured him of his friendly disposition; no business was transacted, and after these formalities the ambassador withdrew as he had come, a second audience being fixed for the following Sunday.
Meanwhile, the envoys from the Barbary States, who were present for the purpose of defeating the negotiations, excited the populace by appeals to their fanaticism, reminding them of the cruelties endured by their brethern of the true faith at the hands of Spaniards. They even declared that if Cansu Alguri consented to treat with the infidels, he was no true son of Islam. A council of military chiefs was summoned which quickly decided to demand the immediate dismissal of the Christian ambassador. Tangriberdy, who sought to alter this determination, was even threatened with death if he persisted in his opposition. Remembering that he owed his throne to the Mamelukes, who had exalted and destroyed no less than four Sultans within as many years, Cansu Alguri quailed before the outburst of popular fury. He ordered Tangriberdy to conduct the obnoxious visitor from the capital without further delay. Peter Martyr, however, received this intimation with unruffled calm and, to the stupefaction of Tangriberdy, refused to leave until he had accomplished his mission. Such audacity in a mild-mannered ecclesiastic was as impressive as it was unexpected. The Grand Dragoman had no choice but to report the refusal to the Sultan. By what arguments he prevailed upon Cansu Alguri to rescind his command, we know not, but a secret audience was arranged in which Martyr describes himself as speaking with daring and persuasive frankness to the Sultan. He availed himself in the most ample manner of diplomatic license in dealing with facts, and succeeded in convincing his listener that no Moors had been forced to change their religion, that the conquest of Granada was but the re-establishment of Spanish sovereignty over what had been taken by conquest, and finally that nobody had been expelled from the country, save lawless marauders, who refused to abide by the terms of the fair treaty of peace concluded between Boabdil and the Catholic sovereigns. He closed his plea by adroitly introducing a scapegoat in the person of the universally execrated Jew, against whom it was the easiest part of his mission to awaken the dormant hatred and contempt of the Sultan. Into willing Mussulman ears he poured a tirade of abuse, typical of the epoch and the nation he represented: ...proh si scires quam morbosum, quam pestiferum; quamque contagiosum pecus istud de quo loqueris sit, tactu omnia fedant, visu corrumpunt sermone destruunt, divina et humana preturbant, inficiunt, prostrant miseros vicinos circumveniunt, radicitus expellant, funestant; ubicumque pecunias esse presentiunt, tamquam odori canes insequunt; detegunt, effundiunt, per mendacia, perjuria, dolos insidias per litas, si catera non seppelunt, extorquere illas laborant: aliena miseria, dolore, gemitu, mestitia gaudent. With every word of this diatribe, the representative of the Prophet was in perfect agreement. United in the bonds of a common hatred, than which no union is closer, a treaty between the two powers was easily concluded. The military chiefs were converted to the advantages of friendly relations with Spain, and means were devised to calm the popular excitement.
Assisted by some monks of the Mount Sion community, the successful ambassador drafted the concessions he solicited, all of which were graciously accorded by the mollified Egyptians. Christians were henceforth to be permitted to rebuild and repair the ruined sanctuaries throughout the Holy Land; the tribute levied on pilgrims was lightened and guaranties for their personal safety were given. It is noteworthy that only religious interests received attention, no mention being made of commercial privileges. More noteworthy still, is the absence of anything tangible given by the adroit envoy in exchange for what he got. The Sultan was reassured as to the status of such Moors as might remain under Spanish rule, and was encouraged to count upon unspecified future advantages from the friendship of King Ferdinand. A truly singular result of negotiations begun under such unfavourable auspices, though the value of concessions, to the observance of which nothing constrained the Sultan, seems problematical, and was certainly less than the ambassador, in his naive vanity, hastened to assume and proclaim.
While the text of the treaty was being prepared, Peter Martyr occupied himself in collecting information concerning the mysterious land where he found himself. Egypt was all but unknown to his contemporaries, whose most recent information concerning the country was derived from the writings of the ancients. The Legatio Babylonica, consisting of three reports to the Spanish sovereigns, to which addenda were later made, contains a mass of historical and geographical facts, of which Europeans were ignorant; nothing escaped the ambassador's omnivorous curiosity and discerning scrutiny, during what proved to be a veritable voyage of discovery. He treats of the flora and fauna of the country; he studied and noted the characteristics of the great life-giver of Egypt—the Nile. The Mamelukes engaged his particular attention, though much of the information furnished him about them was erroneous. He plunged into antiquity, visited, measured, and described the Sphinx and the Pyramids—also with many errors. Christian tradition and pious legends have their place in his narrative, especially that of Matarieh—ubi Christus latuerat when carried by his parents into Egypt to escape the Herodian massacre of the Innocents.
On the twenty-first of February, Peter Martyr, escorted by a guard of honour composed of high court officials and respectfully saluted by a vast concourse of people, repaired to the palace for his farewell audience. In taking an affectionate leave of him, the Sultan presented him with a gorgeous robe, heavy with cunningly-wrought embroideries. Christian and Mussulman were friends. Six days later he left the capital for Alexandria, where he embarked on April 22d for Venice.
Leonardo Loredano had meantime been elected Doge in succession to the deceased Agostino Barbarigo. Spanish interests in the kingdom of Naples were seriously compromised, and the diligence of the French envoys threatened to win Venice from the neutral policy the Republic had adopted and convert it into an ally of Louis XII.
On June 30th, Peter Martyr landed in Venice and immediately sought audience of the new Doge, to whom he repeated the message he had delivered a few months before to the Senate. Perceiving the headway made by French influence, he wrote to Spain, explaining the situation and urging the sovereigns immediately to despatch an embassy to counteract the mischievous activity of the French. He offered, as an alternative, to himself assume the negotiations if the requisite instructions were sent to him. King Ferdinand ignored the proffer of service, but, acting upon the information sent him, entrusted the business to Lorenzo Suarez de Figueroa, who had been his ambassador in Venice in 1495. Zealous for his adopted country and, possibly, overconfident in consequence of his easy success in Egypt, Peter Martyr did not wait for the credentials he had solicited but made the mistake of treating affairs for which he had received no mandate. The French envoys were quick to detect his opposition, and as prompt to take advantage of the false position in which the diplomatic novice had unwarily placed himself. His unaccredited presence and officiousness in the capital of the Doges were made to appear both offensive and ridiculous. The adherents of the French party denounced him as an intriguer, and spread the report that he was a spy in the pay of Spain. His position speedily became intolerable, unsafe even, and he was forced to escape secretly from the city; nor did he stop until he reached his native Lombardy, where he might rely upon the protection of his kinsmen, the Marshal Trivulzio and the Borromeos, to shield him from the consequences of his indiscretion.
He writes with emotion of the visit he paid to his native town of Arona and the scenes of his childhood, where he renewed acquaintance with the charms of one of the loveliest landscapes in Italy. He yielded to early memories, and the gentle dream of one day returning to the shores of Maggiore, there to pass his declining years, took shape in his fancy. When peace between France and Spain was later restored, after King Ferdinand's marriage to the Princess Germaine de Foix, he obtained the King's intercession to procure for him the abbacy of St. Gratian at Arona. He himself solicited the protection of the Cardinal d'Amboise to obtain him this favour, declaring the revenues from the abbacy were indifferent to him, as he would only use them to restore to its pristine splendour the falling church in which reposed the holy relics of SS. Gratian, Fidelius, and Carpophorus. The peace between the two countries was too ephemeral to permit the realisation of his pious hope.
The Marshal Trivulzio accompanied his kinsman to Asti and from thence to Carmagnola where they obtained an audience of the Cardinal d'Amboise, Legate for France. Despite his undisguised hostility to Spaniards, the Legate furnished the ambassador with a safe-conduct over the frontier into Spain.
If the Catholic monarchs felt any vexation at the excess of zeal their envoy had displayed in Venice, they betrayed none. Peter Martyr's reception was not wanting in cordiality, the Queen, especially, expressing her gratitude for the important service he had rendered the Christian religion, and he received another appointment which augmented his income by thirty thousand maravedis yearly. Having taken holy orders about this time and the dignity of prior of the cathedral chapter of Granada falling vacant, this benefice was also given to him, regis et reginae beneficentia.
[Note 1: Maestro de los cabelleros de su corte en las artes liberates. He had long exercised the functions of this office, as has been described: the formal appointment was doubtless but a means invented for granting him an increase of revenue.]
On November 26th in the year 1504, the death of Isabella of Castile plunged the Court and people into mourning and produced a crisis in the government that threatened the arduously accomplished union of the peninsula with disruption. None mourned the Queen's death more sincerely than did her Italian chaplain. He accompanied the funeral cortege on its long journey to Granada, where the body was laid in the cathedral of the city her victorious arms had restored to the bosom of Christendom. During several months, Martyr lingered in Granada, hesitating before returning uninvited to King Ferdinand's Court. To a letter from the Secretary of State, Perez Almazen, summoning him to rejoin the King without delay, he somewhat coyly answered, deprecating his ability to be of further service to His Majesty, adding, however, that he asked nothing better than to obey the summons. Elsewhere, in one of his Epistles, he states that he returned to the court at Segovia, as representative of his chapter, to secure the continuation of certain revenues paid from the royal treasury to the clergy of Granada.
The political situation created by the Queen's death was both perplexing and menacing. Dona Juana, wife of the Archduke Philip, inherited the crown of Castile from her mother in default of male heirs, but her mental state excluded the possibility of her assuming the functions of government. Already during her mother's lifetime, the health of this unhappy princess, who has passed into history under the title of Juana the Mad, gave rise to serious anxiety. Deserted by the handsome and frivolous Philip at a time when she most required his presence, she sank into a state of profound melancholy. She waited, in vain, for the return of the husband whom her unreasoning jealousy and amorous importunities had driven from her.
[Note 2: The Infante Don Juan died in October, 1497, shortly after his early marriage with the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, and without issue. Isabella, Queen of Portugal, died after giving birth to a son, in whom the three crowns of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon would have been united had the prince not expired in 1500, while still a child. Dona Juana, second daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and next heir, had married, in 1496, the Archduke Philip of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, and became the mother of Charles I. of Spain, commonly known by his imperial title of Charles V.]
In conformity with the late Queen's wishes, Ferdinand hastened to proclaim his daughter and Philip sovereigns of Castile, reserving to himself the powers of regent. He was willing to gratify the archduke's vanity by conceding him the royal title, while keeping the government in his own hands, and had there been no one but his absent son-in-law with whom to reckon, his policy would have stood a fair chance of success. It was thwarted by the intrigues of a powerful faction amongst the aristocracy, who deemed the opportunity a promising one for recovering some of the privileges of which they had been shorn.
Ferdinand of Aragon had gained little hold on the affections of the people of his wife's dominions, hence his position became one of extreme difficulty. His opponents urged the archduke to hasten his arrival in Spain and to assume the regency in the name of his invalid wife. Rumours that Louis XII. had accorded his son-in-law permission to traverse France at the head of a small army rendered the regency insecure, and to forestall the complication of a possible alliance between Philip and King Louis, Ferdinand, despite his advanced age and the recent death of his wife, asked the hand of a French princess, Germaine de Foix, in marriage, offering to settle the crown of Naples upon her descendants. To conciliate Philip, he proposed to share with him the regency. Upon the arrival of the latter at Coruna in the month of May, Martyr was chosen by the King to repair thither and obtain the archduke's adhesion to this proposal. That the latter had distinguished the Italian savant by admitting him to his intimacy during his former stay in Spain, did not save the mission from failure, and where Peter Martyr failed, Cardinal Ximenes was later equally unsuccessful. Ferdinand ended by yielding and, after a final interview with his son-in-law in Remesal, at which Peter Martyr was present, he left Spain on his way to Naples, the latter remaining with the mad queen to observe and report the course of events.
The sudden death of King Philip augmented the unrest throughout the country, for the disappearance of this ineffective sovereign left the state without even a nominal head. Ferdinand, who had reached Porto Fino when the news was brought to him, made no move to return, confident that the Castilians would soon be forced to invite him to resume the government; on the contrary, he tranquilly continued his journey to Naples. Rivals, he had none, for his grandson, Charles, was still a child, while the unfortunate Juana passed her time in celebrating funeral rites for her dead husband, whose coffin she carried about with her, opening it to contemplate the body, of which she continued to be so jealous that all women were kept rigorously at a distance. A provisional government, formed to act for her, consisted of Cardinal Ximenes, the Constable of Castile and the Duke of Najera, but inspired little confidence. Peter Martyr perceived that, besides Ferdinand, there was no one capable of restoring order and governing the state. He wrote repeatedly to the secretary, Perez Almazen, and to the King himself, urging the latter's speedy return as the country's only salvation from anarchy. Events proved the soundness of his judgment, for the mere news of the King's landing at Valencia sufficed to restore confidence; he resumed the regency unopposed and continued to govern Castile, in his daughter's name, until his own death.
Dona Juana ceased her lugubrious peregrinations and took up her residence in the monastery of Santa Clara at Tordesillas, where she consented to the burial of her husband's body in a spot visible from her windows. Peter Martyr was one of the few persons who saw the unhappy lady and even gained some influence over her feeble mind. Mazzuchelli states that, at one period, there were but two bishops and Peter Martyr to whom the Queen consented even to listen. Now and again the figure of the insane queen appears like a pallid spectre in Martyr's pages. Her caprices and vagaries are noted from time to time in the Opus Epistolarum; indeed the story of her sufferings is all there. The insanity of Dona Juana was not seriously doubted by her contemporaries—certainly not by Martyr, whose portrait of her character is perhaps the most accurate contemporary one we possess. He traces her malady from its incipiency, through the successive disquieting manifestations of hysteria, melancholia, and fury, broken by periods of partial and even complete mental lucidity. Such intervals became rarer and briefer as time went on.
[Note 3: The efforts of the historian Bergenroth to establish Dona Juana's sanity and to depict her as the victim of religious persecution because of her suspected orthodoxy have been conclusively refuted by Maurenbrecher, Gachard, and other writers, who have demolished his arguments and censured his methods of research and interpretation. The last mention of Dona Juana in the Opus Epistolarum occurs in Epistle DCCCII. Peter Martyr describes the visit paid her by her daughter Isabella, who was about to be married to the Infante of Portugal. The insanity of the Queen was used as a political pawn by both her husband and her father, each affirming or denying as it suited his purpose for the moment. The husband, however, was stronger than the father, for the unhappy Juana would have signed away her crown at his bidding in exchange for a caress. Consult Hoefler, Dona Juana; Gachard, Jeanne la Folle; Maurenbrecher, Studien und Skizzen zur Geschichte der Reformationszeit; Pedro de Alcocer, Relacion de algunas Cosas; and Bergenroth's Calendar of Letters, Despatches, and State Papers, etc. (1869).]
Upon the death of King Ferdinand in 1516, the regency devolved upon Cardinal Ximenes, pending the arrival of the young King, Charles, from the Netherlands. The character of Cardinal Ximenes and his methods of government have been extolled by his admirers and condemned by his adversaries. The judgment of Peter Martyr is perhaps the least biassed of any expressed by that statesman's contemporaries. His personal dislike of the Cardinal did not blind him to his qualities, nor dull his appreciation of the obstacles with which the latter had to contend. In the Opus Epistolarum he seeks, not always with entire success, to do justice to the great regent. Through his laborious efforts to be fair to the statesman, there pierces his personal dislike of the man. Trivial jibes and small criticisms at the Cardinal's expense are not wanting. The writer shared the feeling of the Spanish Grandees, that it was "odious to be governed by a friar." He also derided the Cardinal's military spirit. One of the regent's earliest measures suppressed all pensions, but though he excepted Martyr by name, pending the King's decision, no answer came from the Netherlands; the Italian fared as did other pensioners, and he never forgave the Cardinal. Many of his letters of this period were addressed to his compatriot, Marliano, who was the young King's doctor, and were evidently intended for the monarch's eye. In these epistles, adverse judgments and censures of Cardinal Ximenes frequently recur, and the writer used the greatest frankness in describing men and events in Spain, and even in offering suggestions as to the King's policy upon his arrival.
Yielding to the repeated instances of the regent, Charles finally set out to take possession of his unknown kingdom. He landed, after a tempestuous voyage, near Gijon, bringing with him a numerous train of Flemish courtiers and officials, whose primary interest lay in preventing a meeting between himself and the regent, and whose presence was destined to cause a serious estrangement between the monarch and his Castilian subjects. Their first purpose was easily accomplished. While the Cardinal awaited him near Roa, the King avoided him by proceeding directly to Tordesillas to visit his mother. This ungracious and unmerited snub was applauded by Martyr, who dismissed the incident with almost flippant mention; nor did he afterwards touch upon the aged Cardinal's death which occurred simultaneously with the reception of the unfeeling message sent by Charles to the greatest, the most faithful and the most disinterested of his servants.
[Note 4: Consult Hefele, Vie de Ximenez; Cartas de los Secretarios del Cardinal; Ferrer del Rio, Comunidades de Castilla; Ranke, Spanien unter Karl V.]
During the opening years of his reign, the boy-king proved a docile pupil under the control of his ministers. Peter Martyr wrote of him: "He directs nothing but is himself directed. He has a happy disposition, is magnanimous, liberal, generous—but what of it, since these qualities contribute to his country's ruin?" So reserved was the royal youth in his manner, so slow of speech, that his mental capacity began to be suspected. People remembered his mother. The story of the troubled beginnings of what proved to be one of the most remarkable reigns in modern history, is related in the Opus Epistolarum. The writer watched from vantage-ground the conflict of interests, the strife of parties; zealous for the welfare of his adopted country, he was still a foreigner, identified with no party. Gifted with rare perspicacity, moderation, and keen judgment, he maintained his attitude of impartial observation. By temperament and habit he was an aristrocrat—placet Hispana nobilitas—he confessed, admitting also that de populo nil mihi curae, yet he sided with the comuneros against the Crown. While deploring their excesses, he sympathised with the cause they defended, and he lashed the insolence and the rapacity of the Flemish favourites with all the resources of invective and sarcasm of which he was master. In one of his letters (Ep. 709), he describes the disorders everywhere prevalent throughout the country. "The safest roads are no longer secure from brigands and you enrich bandits and criminals, and oppress honest folks. The ruling power is now in the hands of assassins." Despite his undisguised hostility to the Flemings and his outspoken criticisms on the abuses they fomented, Charles V. bestowed new honours and emoluments upon the favoured counsellor of his grandparents. In September, 1518, the Royal Council proposed his name to the King as ambassador to Constantinople, there to treat with the victorious Sultan, whose sanguinary triumphs in Persia and Egypt were feared to foreshadow an Ottoman invasion of Europe. Alleging his advanced age and infirmities, the cautious nominee declined the honour, preferring doubtless to abide by his facile diplomatic laurels won in Cairo. There was reason to anticipate that the formidable Selim would be found less pliant than Cansu Alguri. The event proved his wisdom, as Garcia Loaysa who went in his stead, learned to his cost.
[Note 5: Guillaume de Croy, Sieur de Chievres, who had been the young prince's governor during his minority, became all powerful in Spain, where he and his Flemish associates pillaged the treasury, trafficked in benefices and offices, and provoked the universal hatred of the Spaniards. Peter Martyr shared the indignation of his adopted countrymen against the King's Flemish parasites. His sympathies for the Comuneros were frankly avowed in numerous of his letters. Consult Hoefler, Der Aufstand der Castillianischen Staedte; Robertson, Charles V.]
In 1520, Peter Martyr was appointed historiographer, an office yielding a revenue of eighty thousand maravedis. The conscientious discharge of the duties of this congenial post, for which he was conspicuously fitted, won the approval of Mercurino Gattinara, the Italian chancellor of Charles V. Lucio Marineo Siculo speaks of Martyr as far back as December, 1510, as Consiliarius regius, though this title could, at that time, be given him only in his quality of chronicler of the India Council, his effective membership really dating from the year 1518. He was later appointed secretary to that important body, which had control over all questions relating to colonial expansion in the new world. In 1521 he renewed his efforts to obtain the abbacy of St. Gratian in Arona, which had been refused him ten years earlier. To his friend, Giovanni di Forli, Archbishop of Cosenza, he wrote, protesting his disinterestedness, adding: "Don't be astonished that I covet this abbey: you know I am drawn to it by love of my native soil." It was not to be, and his failure to obtain this benefice was one of the severest disappointments of his life. The ambitions of Peter Martyr were never excessive, for he was in all things a man of moderation; the honours he obtained, though many, were sufficiently modest to protect him from the competition and jealousy of aspiring rivals, yet he would certainly not have refused a bishopric. After seeing four royal confessors raised to episcopal rank, he slyly remarked that, "amongst so many confessors, it would have been well to have one Martyr."
[Note 6: "Tra tanti confessori, sarebbe stato ancora bene un Martire," Chevroeana, p. 39. Ed. 1697.]
Arriving in Spain a foreign scholar of modest repute, and dependent on the protection of his patron, the Count of Tendilla, Peter Martyr had risen in royal favour, until he came to occupy honourable positions in the State and numerous benefices in the Church. His services to his protectors were valued and valuable. His house, whereever he happened for the time to be, was the hospitable meeting-place where statesmen, noblemen, foreign envoys, great ecclesiastics, and papal legates came together with navigators and conquerors, cosmographers, colonial officials, and returning explorers from antipodal regions—Spain's empire builders. It was in such society he collected the mass of first-hand information he sifted and chronicled in the Decades and the Opus Epistolarum, which have proven such an inexhaustible mine for students of Spanish and Spanish-American history. Truly of him may it be said that nothing human was alien to his spirit. Intercourse with him was prized as a privilege by the great men of his time, while he converted his association with them to his own and posterity's profit.
Amongst the Flemish counsellors of Charles V., Adrian of Utrecht, preceptor of the young prince prior to his accession, had arrived in Spain in the year 1515 as representative of his interests at King Ferdinand's court. Upon that monarch's death, Adrian, who had meantime been made Bishop of Tortosa and created Cardinal, shared the regency with Cardinal Ximenes. A man of gentle manners and scholastic training, his participation in the regency was hardly more than nominal. Ignorant alike of the Spanish tongue and the intricacies of political life, he willingly effaced himself in the shadow of his imperious and masterful colleague. Peter Martyr placed his services entirely at the disposition of Adrian, piloting him amongst the shoals and reefs that rendered perilous the mysterious sea of Spanish politics. When Adrian was elected Pope in 1522, his former mentor wrote felicitating him upon his elevation and reminding him of the services he had formerly rendered him: Fuistis a me de rebus quae gerebantur moniti; nec parum commodi ad emergentia tunc negotia significationes meas Caesaris rebus attulisse vestra Beatitudo fatetur. Although the newly elected Pontiff expressed an amiable wish to see his old friend in Rome, he offered him no definite position in Curia. The correspondence that ensued between them was inconclusive; Martyr, always declaring that he sought no favour, still persisted in soliciting a meeting which the Pope discouraged. Adrian accepted his protests of disinterestedness literally, and their last meeting at Logrono was unproductive of aught from the Pope, save expressions of personal esteem and regard. Peter Martyr excused himself from following His Holiness to Rome, on the plea of his advanced years and failing health. If disappointed at receiving no definite appointment, he concealed his chagrin, and, though evidently not desiring his services in Curia, one of Adrian's first acts upon arriving in Rome was to invest him with the archpriest's benefice of Ocana in Spain. The ever generous King was less niggardly, and, in 1523, conferred upon Martyr the German title of Pfalzgraf, with the privilege of naming imperial notaries and legitimising natural children.
On August 15, 1524, the King presented his name to Clement VII. for confirmation as mitred abbot of Santiago in the island of Jamaica, a benefice rendered vacant by the translation of Don Luis Figueroa to the bishopric of San Domingo and La Concepcion. A greater title would have doubtless pleased him less, since this one linked his name with the Church in the New World, of which he was the first historian. He surrendered his priory of Granada to accept the Jamaican dignity, the revenues from which he devoted to the construction of the first stone church built at Sevilla del 'Oro in that island. Above its portal an inscription bore witness to his generosity: Petrus Martyr ab Angleria, italus civis mediolanensis, protonotarius apostolicus hujus insulae, abbas, senatus indici consiliarius, ligneam priusaedem hanc bis igne consumptam, latericio et quadrato lapide primus a fundamentis extruxit.
[Note 7: The King instructed his ambassador in Rome to propose Luis Figueroa to succeed Alessandro Geraldino as bishop of Santo Domingo and Concepcion, and for the vacant abbacy of Jamaica presentareis de nuestra parte al protonotario Pedro Martir de nuestro Consejo. Dejando tambien Martir el priorado de Granada que posee, etc. Coleccion de Indias. vii., 449.]
[Note 8: Cantu, Storia Universale, tom, i., p. 900.]
In the month of June, 1526, the Court took up its residence in Granada with Peter Martyr, as usual, in attendance. Before the walls of Moorish Granada he had begun his career in Spain; within the walls of Christian Granada he was destined to close it and be laid to his final rest. A sufferer during many years from a disease of the liver, he was aware of his approaching end, and made his will on September 23, bequeathing the greater part of the property he had amassed to his nephews and nieces in Lombardy, though none of his friends and servants in Spain was forgotten. He devoted careful attention to the preparations for his funeral; eminently a friend of order and decorum, he left nothing to chance, but provided for the precise number of masses to be said, the exact amount of wax to be consumed, and the kind of mourning liveries to be worn by his servants. He asked that his body should be borne to its grave by the dean and the canons of the cathedral, an honour to which his dignity of prior of that chapter entitled him; but in order to ensure the chapter's participation, as he quaintly expressed it, "with more goodwill," he set aside a legacy of three thousand maravedis as compensation. Not only were his wishes in this and all respects carried out, but the cathedral chapter erected a tablet to his memory, upon which an epitaph he would not have disdained was inscribed: Rerum AEtate Nostra Gestarum—Et Novi Orbis Ignoti Hactenus—Illustratori Petro Martyri Mediolanensi—Caesareo Senatori—Qui, Patria Relicta—Bella Granatensi Miles Interfuit—Mox Urbe Capta, Primum Canonico—Deinde Priori Hujus Ecclesiae—Decanus Et Capitulum—Carissimo Collegae Posuere Sepulchrum—Anno MDXXVI.
[Note 9: His last will was published in the Documentos Ineditos, tom, xxxix., pp. 400-414.]
[Note 10: Harrisse, in his Christoph Colomb, fixes upon the 23d or 24th of September as the date of Martyr's death, believing that his last will was executed on his deathbed. There is, however, nothing that absolutely proves that such was the fact. The epitaph gives but the year. In the Documentos Ineditos the month of September is given in one place, that of October in another.]
Peter Martyr was perhaps the first man in Spain to realise the importance of the discovery made by Columbus. Where others beheld but a novel and exciting incident in the history of navigation, he, with all but prophetic forecast, divined an event of unique and far-reaching importance. He promptly assumed the functions of historian of the new epoch whose dawn he presaged, and in the month of October, 1494, he began the series of letters to be known as the Ocean Decades, continuing his labours, with interruptions, until 1526, the year of his death. The value of his manuscripts obtained immediate recognition; they were the only source of authentic information concerning the New World, accessible to men of letters and politicians outside Spain.
His material was new and original; every arriving caravel brought him fresh news; ship-captains, cosmographers, conquerors of fabulous realms in the mysterious west, all reported to him; even the common sailors and camp-followers poured their tales into his discriminating ears. Las Casas averred that Peter Martyr was more worthy of credence than any other Latin writer.
[Note 1: Las Casas, Histo. de las Indias., tom, ii, p. 272: A Pedro Martyr se le debe was credito que a otro ninguno de los que escribieran en latin, porque se hallo entonces en Castilla par aquellos tiempos y hablaba con todos, y todos holgaban de le dar cuenta de lo que vian y hallaban, como a hombre de autioridad y el que tenia cuidado de preguntarlo.]
No sooner had Columbus returned from his first voyage than Martyr hastened to announce his success to his friends, Count Tendilla and Archbishop Talavera. Meministis Colonum Ligurem institisse in Castris apud reges de percurrendo per occiduos antipodes novo terrarum haemisphaerio; meminisse opportet. He was present in Barcelona and witnessed the reception accorded the successful discoverer by the Catholic sovereigns. He, who had gone forth an obscure adventurer upon whose purposes, and even sanity, doubts had been cast, returned, a Grandee of Spain, Admiral of the Ocean, and Viceroy of the Indies. In the presence of the court, standing, he, alone, by invitation of the sovereigns, sat. The ambassadors from his native Republic of Genoa, Marchisio and Grimaldi, witnessed the exaltation of their fellow countryman with eyes that hardly trusted their own vision.
An alien amidst the most exclusive and jealous of occidental peoples, Martyr's abilities and fidelity won a recognition from the successive monarchs he served, that was only equalled by the voluntary tributes of respect and affection paid him by the generation of Spanish nobles whose characters he was so influential in forming. Of all the Italians who invaded Spain in search of fortune and glory, he was the most beloved because he was the most trusted. Government functionaries sought his protection, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries gave him their confidence and, after he was appointed to a seat in the India Council, he had official cognisance of all correspondence relating to American affairs. Prior to the appearance in Spain of the celebrated Letters of Cortes, Peter Martyr's narrative stood alone. Heidenheimer rightly describes him: Als echter Kind seiner Zeit, war Peter Martyr Lehrer und Gelehrter, Soldat und Priester, Schriftsteller und Diplomat. It was characteristic of the epoch of the Renaissance that a man of culture should embrace all branches of learning, thus Martyr's observation extended over the broadest field of human knowledge. Diligent, discriminating, and conscientious, he was keen, clever, and tactful, not without touches of dry humour, but rarely brilliant. Scientific questions, the variations of the magnetic pole, calculations of latitude and longitude, the newly discovered Gulf Stream and the mare sargassum, and the whereabouts of a possible strait uniting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean, occupied his speculations. Likewise are the flora and the fauna of the New World described to his readers, as they were described to him by the home-coming explorers. Pages of his writings are devoted to the inhabitants of the islands and of the mainland, their customs and superstitions, their religions and forms of government. He has tales of giants, harpies, mermaids, and sea-serpents. Wild men living in trees, Amazons dwelling on lonely islands, cannibals scouring seas and forests in search of human prey, figure in his narrative. Erroneous facts, mistaken judgments due to a credulity that may seem to us ingenuous, are frequent, but it must be borne in mind that he worked without a pre-established plan, his chronicle developing as fresh material reached him; also that he wrote at a time when the world seemed each day to expand before the astonished eyes of men, revealing magic isles floating on unknown seas, vaster horizons in whose heavens novel constellations gleamed; mysterious ocean currents, flowing whence no man knew, to break upon the shores of immense continents inhabited by strange races, living amidst conditions of fabulous wealth and incredible barbarism. The limits of the possible receded, discrimination between truth and fiction became purely speculative, since new data, uninterruptedly supplied, contradicted former experience and invalidated accepted theories. The Decades were compiled from verbal and written reports from sources the writer was warranted in trusting.
Since geographical surprises are now exhausted, and the division of land and water on the earth's surface has passed from the sphere of navigation into that of politics, no writer will ever again have such material at his disposition. The arrival of his letters in Italy was eagerly awaited and constituted a literary event of the first magnitude. Popes sent him messages urging him to continue, the King of Naples borrowed copies from Cardinal Sforza, and the contents of these romantic chronicles furnished the most welcome staple of conversation in palaces and universities. Leo X. had them read aloud during supper, in the presence of his sister and a chosen group of cardinals. It must be noted that the form of the Decades did not escape criticism at the pontifical court, nor did the censures, passed on the liberties he took with the tongue of Cicero, fail to reach and sting his ears. In several passages, he defends his use of words taken from the Italian and Spanish languages. He handled Latin as a living, not as a dead language, and his style is vigorous, terse, vitalised. He cultivated brevity and was chary of lengthy excursions into the classics in search of comparisons and sanctions. His letters frequently show signs of the haste in which they were composed: sometimes the messenger who was to carry them to Rome, was waiting, booted and spurred, in the ante-chamber. Juan Vergara, secretary to Cardinal Ximenes, declared his opinion that no more exact and lucid record of contemporary events existed than the letters of Peter Martyr, adding that he had himself often been present and witnessed with what haste they were written, no care being taken to correct and polish their style.
The cultivated ears of Ciceronian Latinists—such as Cardinal Bembo who refused to read the Vulgate for fear of spoiling his style—were naturally offended by the phraseology of the Decades. Measured by standards so precious, the Latin of Peter Martyr is faulty and crude, resembling rather a modern dialect than the classical tongue of ancient Rome.
[Note 2: Ciampi's comment is accurate and just: Non si, puo dire che sia un latino bellisimo. E quale lo parlavano e scriveano gli uomini d'affari. A noi e, pero, men discaro che non sia ai forestieri, in quanta che noi troviamo dentro il movimento, il frassegiare proprio della nostra lingua, e sotto la frase incolta latina, indoviniamo il pensiero nato in italiano che, spogliato da noi della veste imbarazzanta ci ritorna ignudo si, ma schietto ed efficace.]