Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Nautical Knowledge Exchanges at the Dutch Nautical School

Lucas Waghenaer’s (1534-1606) works had a great impact in the late Renaissance. Waghenaer’s first book, the two volume-edition of 1584-85 of the Spieghel der zeevaerdt (Mariner's Mirror), was the first compilation of nautical knowledge regarding Western Europe as a whole. It was composed as a pilot guide with nautical rutters and an atlas of charts. The 1592 Treasure of Navigation is usually considered as an update of the Mariner’s Mirror. The representation was extended from the Adriatic to the Baltic Sea, and smaller charts were made to be carried on board. But, how did Waghenaer come up with these detailed rutters and charts for such a huge area?


A former pilot in the Northern Seas during the 1550-70’s, Waghenaer exchanged nautical knowledge with Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Italian seafarers. Based on this experience, he founded a Dutch nautical school to train pilots and hydrographers. He also benefited from several close contacts with the Dutch elite. The relevance of his books is proved by their swift translation into other languages. Above, we can observe the English translation of the Mariner’s Mirror. Alongside is a map of Western Europe and a chart of the Portuguese coast, from the same book. Becoming acquainted with Fernando Álvaro Seco’s first known map of Portugal of 1561, Waghenaer used it to update the depiction of the Portuguese coast. This chart influenced later Portuguese developments.

The Dutch ability in acquiring nautical knowledge was matched by their capacity to update and transform it, firstly regarding Europe, and later including other far away locations. The Dutch school became the trading-zone between different nautical traditions (Iberian, Mediterranean, Northern, Baltic), and this explains why Waghenaer’s books became the international standard during the seventeenth century for producing new charts of Europe. Now, could such developments have occurred without the nautical and cartographical developments taking place at the Portuguese Armazéns da Índia and the Spanish Casa de la Contratácion since the beginning of the sixteenth century? History of Science studies have already shown how quickly nautical knowledge circulated across Renaissance Europe, making scientific developments possible in different places. Still, further historiographical enquiries are needed in order to address this question in detail. [Nuno Vila-Santa]

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Being “In the Know”

From around the eighth to the nineteenth century, among sailors, slaves and other riff-raff who went on board ships through the Mediterranean, flourished a maritime contact language, fascinating mixture not only of most Romance languages, but also of Greek, Arabic and Berber languages from the North African shores. This pidgin came to be known at some point as lingua franca, “the language of the Franks,” meaning something like “the language of Western Europeans.”

Centuries later, one of its variants came to be known as sabir, a term cognate of saber—“to know”, in most Iberian languages. Thus, the shared maritime language of the Mediterranean was simply “the knowing”. This resonates with the perennial experience of life aboard ships, where crew and passengers, when boarding their vessels, enter not merely a floating structure of planks and ropes, but a separate linguistic realm, where everyday terms acquire new or technical meanings, and where unique special words become daily fare.

Molière gave this language a spectacular appearance in literature with the words of an “Ottoman” mufti in his Bourgeois gentilhomme:

Se ti sabir
Ti respondir
Se non sabir
Tazir, tazir

(If you know/You answer/If you don’t know/Be silent, be silent.)

Moving further from Mediterranean shores, one of the fascinating and still barely studied aspects of oceanic exploration was the international mix of the crews, and the development of and the encounter with other sabirs on the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Think of the burgeoning studies on lascar crews and language…

Moving closer to our research in Lisbon, impartial observers have detected early signs of the development of a sabir among our team members, based on Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, academic English sprinkled with Latin and a dash of Arabic, maybe… Watch out for thrilling and unexpected RUTTER linguistic developments!
[Juan Acevedo]

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The “Mystery of the Needles”

“It is a thick, very high, fallow and melancholy place.” With these words, the Dominican friar João dos Santos presented the Cape of Needles (in Portuguese Cabo das Agulhas) in his book Ethiopia oriental (1609). Reading the tourist guide by Carrie Hampton, Passport to the Best of Cape Town, South Africa (2004), the impression that comes out is quite similar: the cape is an area “with dense fog, unpredictable currents and dangerous seas and worth a visit for its portentous atmosphere.” Nowadays, the Cape of Needles is commonly known as the southernmost point of the African continent, the place where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. But why was it called so?

Do you know that one of the more frequent words in a Portuguese rutter was precisely “agulha”? In fact, the agulha de marear was a fundamental instrument for navigation, used to adjust the direction of the ships. This instrument was also a frequent source of errors, result of the magnetic declination of the Earth, but from very early the Portuguese pilots became aware of the problem and the determination of the angle of variation of the needle on board was part of their daily practice. The diplomat and scientist D. João de Castro seemed “obsessed” with it and wrote to the King about his hard work on the “mystery of the needles, about which so frequently the pilots complain.” In the rutter resulting from the voyage to Goa of 1538, Castro reported more than fifty observations of magnetic declination, trying to correct the Tratado da Agulha written in 1514 by João de Lisboa. The origins of the toponym Cabo das Agulhas were explained by the same D. João de Castro: the pilots claimed that the Cape was the place where “the needles don’t vary at all.”

After almost two centuries, in 1699, the cosmographer Manuel Pimentel described in detail the “Portuguese needle”, as well as the travel experiences to India of the previous forty years, and for him it was still a “magnetic mystery” whether the variation of the needle was regular or not.
[LG]

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

A Rutter for the Sea of Love of Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos

Saltwater runs in the veins of sixteenth-century Portuguese theatre, brimming with technological vocabulary and a fresh cartographical vision of the world. So, it should come as no surprise that the scientific concept of the rutter flowed as a metaphor into the heart of this body of works, pervading its plays with terms of the science and technology which made oceanic voyages possible. It was a lexicon of the lived experience at sea which Portuguese theatre audiences were very familiar with, since it was used by all social strata, deeply involved as they were in this enterprise. Both a scientific document and a mental construct, at the hands of playwrights the maritime rutter became symbol of successfully finding a way to get to a desired place.

In Comedia Ulyssippo (circa 1561), by Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos (1515-1585), the destination is a place of love, when noblemen Regio and Alcino speak about how to get to a woman’s heart (Act II, scene 3). Commenting on an encounter between himself and Otoniam, both in love with noble sisters Tenolvia and Gliceria, Regio metaphorically describes Otoniam’s lack of seduction skills, employing the image of the rutter:
He knows little about this piloting, because it seems he did not sail outside the strait of peasant girls and concubines. And for this superior hunt there is the need for other rutters and a vast experience, as it encompasses many arts and deceptions in which the very Palinurus often loses sight of hope, which is the north of his endeavours. And his lordship has no practice in this route.
To seduce a noblewoman, one must be a pilot in the sea of love. For successfully finding a way to her heart, one must read instructions that allow for a safe arrival to the most desired place. Unlike Palinurus, the pilot of Aeneas’ ship, who was only guided by hope and therefore died at sea, the skills that Regio mentions shine with rationality, a scientific spirit, and point to the true north. Quite different from trying to gain the affection of a concubine, or to sail near shore where no rutters are needed, the path to a noblewoman’s love is not an adventure. Such as an oceanic voyage is accomplished by reading a carefully designed rutter and by relying on the experience to navigate these emotional waters.
[Joana Lima]

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Rutter Team On the (Archive) Road!

Lisbon, Biblioteca da Ajuda, 1 July 2020, 10:30am.

What a privilege! The library of the Palácio da Ajuda is all for us: we are only 3 readers in the library room.

Many sources relevant to our project are currently kept in the Library of Ajuda.
One of them is the “First rutter of Brasil”, the 1530 codex Naveguaçam que fez Pero Lopez de Sousa no descobrimento da Costa do brasil…. The codex is a 16th century copy, and before belonging to the Ajuda library it was treasured by the family of the Counts of Redondo. The manuscript was discovered in the Ajuda collections in 1839 by Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, who published its first edition.

The Ajuda library is the direct heir of the Portuguese Royal Library and is one of the oldest cultural institutions of Portugal. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake destroyed its core collection, but it rapidly rose from its ashes, like a phoenix. In the 19th century, the King took his library to Brazil and its 60,000 volumes formed the initial core of the National Library of Brazil. Today, the Ajuda manuscript collection alone holds approximately 2500 codices and more than 33,000 documents.

It feels like we’re just starting to dive into the past! [Luana Giurgevich]

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Building Roads: Land vs. Ocean

Building a land road is a complex task. Extensive preparation work and the participation of professionals from various fields is required. But in spite of this, the difficulties involved in connecting point “A” with point “B” can be overcome relatively easily. The existence of constant references, for example, makes the mission much easier.

But an “oceanic road” is another story. At the beginning of the Modern Age the ocean was an empty space that needed a reference system to become a reliable environment, suitable for the construction of safe transoceanic routes. In addition, new professionals and social agents were needed to shape and consolidate these routes. Thus, the ways of the sea, compared to those of the land, did not seem easy to tame. Few words illustrate so well this maritime-terrestrial dichotomy as those collected by Martín Cortés de Albácar in his Breve compendio de la Sphera y de la Arte de Navegar, of 1551 (fol. 61v):
I say that sailing is nothing more than walking on water from one place to another. [...] This way differs from the way of the earth in three things: that of the earth is firm, this way is flexible; that of the earth remains, this way is movable, and that of the earth is marked and that of the sea is unknown. And if the ways of the earth are steep and rough, the sea matches them with dead calms (serenas) and storms. Being such a difficult path, it would be difficult to put it into words, or to write it down with a pen.
Portrait of Martín Cortés. In Breve compendio de la Sphera y de la Arte de Navegar,
by Martín Cortés de Albácar (1556). Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid).

Despite the challenging nature of the problem, the Iberian empires of the sixteenth century managed to criss-cross the entire world through multiple transoceanic routes. The scale of the globe had changed completely. Point “A” could still be Lisbon or Seville, but point “B” was no longer a handful of miles away, but several thousand, in Goa, New Spain, or Malacca.
[José María Moreno Madrid]

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Nautical Knowledge Exchanges in the Indian Ocean in the Renaissance

During the sixteenth century the Indian Ocean was a place of exchange of nautical knowledge between different traditions: first, between Arabic and Portuguese, and later between Portuguese, Dutch and English. The last process had a key-figure: Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, who, in 1596, published the Itinerario with the main Portuguese rutters to and within Asia.

Ever since the beginning of the sixteenth century, Lisbon, as one of the global cities of the Renaissance, was a place for scientific and nautical espionage. There are multiple known-cases: the Italian ambassador Cantino, in 1502; Jean Nicot, ambassador of France, in the 1560s; Juan Baptista Gesio scientific espionage in the 1570s at the orders of the Spanish ambassador; the Dutch Houtman brothers spy-mission in 1592. By the end of this century, the major Spanish scientific and cosmographical works, and with them much of the Portuguese nautical knowledge, were already translated into English and Dutch, almost by the same time that Linschoten’s book was printed. In the Itinerario, Linschoten reports nautical exchanges in the Indian Ocean. He not only reports how the Portuguese used to hire Arabic pilots: he also depicted it as can be seen below.
The figure shows a fusta, a light ship used by the Portuguese to sail in the Indian Ocean. In this depiction, Linschoten singles out the Portuguese captain and pilot, with a sombreiro to signal their status, but also an Asian crew from Malabar. These crews were usually recruited by Arab officers hired by the Portuguese. Linschoten also drew this officer (the mocadão) standing on the left corner of the ship. The mocadão was the link between the crew and the Portuguese officers. This drawing intended to inform how Portuguese ships in Asia were essentially composed by Asiatic crews. But it is also an example of how, by the end of the sixteenth century, exchanges of nautical knowledge between the Portuguese and the Arabs were still taking place, on the eve of the arrival to Asia of the Dutch and the English. Both cases of knowledge transfer are poorly studied and need to fully addressed.
[Nuno Vila-Santa]