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Martyr, Peter

De Rebus Oceanicis & Orbe Novo Decades Tres: Quibus Quicquid de Inventis Nuper Terris Traditum, Novarum Rerum Cupidum Lectorem Retinere Possit, Copiose, Fideliter, Eruditeque Docetur. Eiusdem Praeterea Legationis Babylonicae Libri Tres . . . Basle: Joannes Bebelius, 1533. This volume of ninety-two leaves bear a title page vignette. The folio binding is eighteenth century gilt calf, expertly rebacked in uniform style, with spine gilt and raised bands. A few very minor contemporary marginal notes appear on the later leaves. This is a very handsome copy of an important rarity, with the bookplate of Lord Dinorben.

This esteemed Americanum contains Martyr's first three Decades, an abridgement of the fourth, and the Legationis Babylonicae. It reprints the text of the 1516 edition of the first three decades, supplemented with an abridgement of the fourth. The Decades are detailed accounts of the discoveries of Columbus, Vespucci, Cabot and Cortes, and are based on first-hand information. Martyr served on the Spanish Council of the Indies and consequently had ready access to all explorers and their records. Though Martyr never traveled to the Indies, all of the information that he imparts on the subject was derived from documents he examined, including interviews of explorers and sea captains who had returned from the area.

Peitro Martire d'Anghiera (Martyr) was born in Arona, Italy in 1457. He was educated in Milan and Rome. In 1487, Martyr traveled to Spain with Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain. He ran a school for the children of Queen Isabella's court and also took holy orders in 1494. Between 1497 and 1502, Martyr functioned as a diplomat for the Spanish Court and traveled through France, Egypt and Italy. He became a member of Emperor Charles V's Council on the Indies in 1518. In 1522, he was appointed arch-priest of Ocana and in 1524 was created Abbot Of Jamaica and was responsible for building a church on the island. In 1530, Martyr published De Orbe Novo ("On the New World") in which the first reference to India rubber appears in a description of an Aztec game. Martyr also published over several years a collection of letters written to friends and dignitaries in Spain and Italy. A surviving collection of over 800 letters provide important source material for the period.

Given the early period of discovery and exploration dealt with in these Decades, Martyr was at the time of publication the leading source for the history of Cuba, Hispaniola and the Caribbean. There is mention and discussion of such other provinces as Florida, Darien and Cozumel, as well as accounts of Cortes and the conquest of Mexico. The Legationis Babilonicae is Martyr's account of his embassy to Egypt in 1501 on behalf of Ferdinand. In the tenth book of the first Decade, Martyr describes the island of Cuba:

They have nowe founde that Cuba, (wich of long tyme they thowght to have byn firme lande for the greate length therof) is an Islande. Yet is it noo marvell that the inhabitantes themselves towlde oure men when they searched the length therof, that it was withowte ende. For this hacion being naked and contente with a lyttle, and with the limittes of theyr owne countrey, is not curyous to know what theyr neighbors doo, or the largenes of theyr dominion. Nor yet knewe they if there were any other Thinge under heaven, besyde that whiche they walked on with theyr feete. Cuba, is frome the Easte into the Weste, much larger then Hispaniola: And in breadthe from the Northe to the Southe, much lesse then they supposed at fyrst: for it is very narowe in respecte to the length: And is for the moste parte, very frutefull and peasaunt.

In the third Decade, Martyr describes new lands and islands of recent discovery and their inhabitants. He describes the discovery of Florida in a discourse about Spanish explorers:

Shortly after they made owte a new vyage to an other of the Ilandes, whiche lye there about so thicke, that they commonly caule the number of them Archipelagus, as they in owre sea of Ionicum are cauled Symlegades. Here owre men were cruelly handeled: and as many of them came alande eyther slayne or wounded. This Ilnade they named Florida, bycause they arryved there on Easter day whiche the Spanyardes caule the floyshynge day of the resurrection. They say also that in this tract they save. Xxvi. Ilandes which Colunus [Columbus] had overpassed: And the same so to lye about Hispaniola and Cuba, as though they warded them from the furie of the Ocean.