As we work on a digital edition of the exceptional Esmeraldo de situ orbis, an early 16th-century work on cosmography and overseas exploration, we would like to record what seems to be a spectacular literary device employed by its author, Duarte Pacheco Pereira. In book 1, chapter 12, speaking of the tides and the relation between compass points and time measurement, Pacheco Pereira writes:
Because the moon in every twenty-four hours, after its conjunction, recedes from the sun one quarter point of the compass, it was fitting that we should explain in the first section of this twelfth chapter why we began to calculate the tides at nine o’clock in the morning when the sun and moon were in conjunction in the southeast; and now having gone through all the points of the compass and explained about the tides, and twenty-four hours having passed since we began this work, and the moon being three-quarters of an hour behind the sun… Because of this it is well that what we have explained should be known and we will end in the southeast where we began.
So, he is not only establishing a relation between the number of the chapter and the theme he is discussing in it, but also relating his work, as if in real time, with the topic of time measurement by the lunar movements. This surprising glimpse into his working process feels like the breaking of the fourth wall in the scenic arts, when the actor suddenly speaks directly to the audience.
Some questions naturally arise upon this, which looks like an impressive feat of literary craftsmanship: had he planned it? Did he deliberately take a given number of hours to complete the section, and did he sleep meanwhile? or is he masterfully taking advantage of a perceived coincidence to throw this flourish at his readership?
In any case, as we confirm time and again working on our rutters and supposedly boring technical literature, there is no dull moment when poring with attention and care over early modern and medieval sources. Reader, you are invited to come and join us in our explorations! [J. Acevedo / S. Munzi]