Letters to Lorenzo di Medici
and to “A Magnificent Lord”

Amerigo Vespucci

According to Wikipedia, “In the 18th century three unpublished familiar letters from Vespucci to Lorenzo de' Medici were rediscovered. … The third letter was sent from Lisbon after the completion of that [third] voyage.”

In his “Introduction” to the Vespucci Letters, editor Clements Markham writes (p. xii) that the recipient of Vespucci's “Magnificent Lord” letter was probably Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere of Florence in 1504. The letter describes four voyages—the introductory paragraphs plus the description of the third voyage follow the Medici letter.

Both letters are presented here because they indicate Vespucci sailed south, beyond Bahía San Julián. Although he says nothing about that bay in either letter, see the Origin of San Julián Page for a few details on the possibility that he named it San Julián.

Markham's footnotes in the Medici letter frequently mention an “other letter” without identifying it. These are references to the “Magnificent Lord” letter cited above. Links are provided here to the appropriate locations within that letter, and links to the Medici letter have been inserted at the appropriate places in the “Magnificent Lord” letter.

A Google Earth 3D view shows the route of Vespucci's third voyage.

Letter on his Third Voyage
Amerigo Vespucci
to Lorenzo Pietro Francesco di Medici

March (or April) 1503.

Alberico Vesputio to Lorenzo Pietro di Medici, salutation. In passed days I wrote very fully to you of my return from the new countries, which have been found and explored with the ships, at the cost, and by the command, of this Most Serene King of Portugal; and it is lawful to call it a new world, because none of these countries were known to our ancestors, and to all who hear about them they will be entirely new. For the opinion of the ancients was, that the greater part of the world beyond the equinoctial line to the south was not land, but only sea, which they have called the Atlantic; and if they have affirmed that any continent is there, they have given many reasons for denying that it is inhabited. But this their opinion is false, and entirely opposed to the truth. My last voyage has proved it, for I have found a continent in that southern part; more populous and more full of animals than our Europe, or Asia, or Africa, and even more temperate and pleasant than any other region known to us, as will be explained further on. I shall write succinctly of the principal things only, and the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered, which I either saw or heard of in this new world, as presently will become manifest.

We set out, on a prosperous voyage, on the 14th of May* 1501, sailing from Lisbon , by order of the aforesaid King, with three ships, to discover new countries towards the west; and we sailed towards the south continuously for twenty months.† Of this navigation the order is as follows: Our course was for the Fortunate Islands, so called formerly, but now we call them the Grand Canary Islands, which are in the third climate, and on the confines of the inhabited west. Thence we sailed rapidly over the ocean along the coast of Africa and part of Ethiopia to the Ethiopic Promontory, so called by Ptolemy, which is now called Cape Verde§ , and by the Ethiopians Biseghier, and that country Mandraga, 13° within the Torrid Zone, on the north side of the equinoctial line. The country is inhabited by a black race. Having taken on board what we required, we weighed our anchors and made sail, taking our way across the vast ocean towards the Antarctic Pole, with some westing. From the day when we left the before-mentioned promontory, we sailed for the space of two months and three days.‡ Hitherto no land had appeared to us in that vast sea. In truth, how much we had suffered, what dangers of shipwreck, I leave to the judgment of those to whom the experience of such things is very well known. What a thing it is to seek unknown lands, and how difficult, being ignorant, to narrate briefly what happened. It should be known that, of the sixty-seven days of our voyage, we were navigating continuously forty-four. We had copious thunderstorms and perturbations, and it was so dark that we never could see either the sun in the day or the moon at night. This caused us great fear, so that we lost all hope of life. In these most terrible dangers of the sea it pleased the Most High to show us the continent and the new countries, being another unknown world. These things being in sight, we were as much rejoiced as anyone may imagine who, after calamity and ill-fortune, has obtained safety.

* 10th of March in the other letter.

† This should be ten months, according to the other letter.

§ The name now refers to the islands about 450 miles west of the mainland cape.

‡ Seven days, according to the other letter.§§

§§ Actually, sixty-seven days in the other letter.

It was on the 7th of August 1501,* that we reached those countries§, thanking our Lord God with solemn prayers, and celebrating a choral Mass. We knew that land to be a continent, and not an island, from its long beaches extending without trending round, the infinite number of inhabitants, the numerous tribes and peoples, the numerous kinds of wild animals unknown in our country, and many others never seen before by us, touching which it would take long to make reference. The clemency of God was shown forth to us by being brought to these regions; for the ships were in a leaking state, and in a few days our lives might have been lost in the sea. To Him be the honour and glory, and the grace of the action.

* 17th of August in the other letter.

§ Presumably, Cabo de São Roque & Cabo de Santo Agostinho—only the latter mentioned by name in Vespucci's letter to a “Magnificent Lord.” He may have gone ashore later in the vicinity of the modern Rio de Janeiro , but that landing is not mentioned in either letter.

We took counsel, and resolved to navigate along the coast of this continent towards the east, and never to lose sight of the land. We sailed along until we came to a point where the coast turned to the south. The distance from the landfall to this point was nearly 300 leagues.* In this stretch of coast we often landed, and had friendly relations with the natives,† as I shall presently relate. I had forgotten to tell you that from Cape Verde to the first land of this continent the distance is nearly 700 leagues; although I estimate that we went over more than 1,800, partly owing to ignorance of the route, and partly owing to the tempests and foul winds which drove us off our course, and sent us in various directions. If my companions had not trusted in me, to whom cosmography was known, no one, not the leader of our navigation, would have known where we were after running 500 leagues. We were wandering and full of errors, and only the instruments for taking the altitudes of heavenly bodies showed us our position. These were the quadrant and astrolabe, as known to all. These have been much used by me with much honour; for I showed them that a knowledge of the marine chart, and the rules taught by it, are more worth than all the pilots in the world. For these pilots have no knowledge beyond those places to which they have often sailed. Where the said point of land showed us the trend of the coast to the south, we agreed to continue our voyage, and to ascertain what there might be in those regions.

* 150 leagues, according to the other letter.

† In the other letter he tells a very different story.

We sailed along the coast for nearly 500 leagues, often going on shore and having intercourse with the natives, who received us in a brotherly manner. We sometimes stayed with them for fifteen or twenty days continuously, as friends and guests, as I shall relate presently. Part of this continent is in the Torrid Zone, beyond the equinoctial line towards the South Pole. But it begins at 8° beyond the equinoctial. We sailed along the coast so far that we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and found ourselves where the Antarctic Pole was 50° above our horizon. We went towards the Antarctic Circle until we were 17° 30' from it; all which I have seen,* and I have known the nature of those people, their customs, the resources and fertility of the land, the salubrity of the air, the positions of the celestial bodies in the heavens, and, above all, the fixed stars, over an eighth of the sphere, never seen by our ancestors, as I shall explain below.

* In 73° 30' S.!§ There is no such statement in the other letter.

§ Vespucci states he was 17° 30' from the Antarctic Circle, not from the South Pole. In other words, he had reached 66° 30' (Antarctic Circle) - 17° 30' = 49° South Latitude, not 90° - 17° 30' = Markham's 73° 30' S.

As regards the people: we have found such a multitude in those countries that no one could enumerate them, as we read in the Apocalypse. They are people gentle and tractable, and all of both sexes go naked, not covering any part of their bodies, just as they came from their mothers' wombs, and so they go until their deaths. They have large, square-built bodies, and well proportioned. Their colour reddish, which I think is caused by their going naked and exposed to the sun. Their hair is plentiful and black. They are agile in walking, and of quick sight. They are of a free and good-looking expression of countenance, which they themselves destroy by boring the nostrils and lips, the nose and ears; nor must you believe that the borings are small, nor that they only have one, for I have seen those who had no less than seven borings in the face, each one the size of a plum. They stop up these perforations with blue stones, bits of marble, of crystal, or very fine alabaster, also with very white bones and other things artificially prepared according to their customs; which, if you could see, it would appear a strange and monstrous thing. One had in the nostrils and lips alone seven stones, of which some were half a palm in length. It will astonish you to hear that I considered that the weight of seven such stones was as much as sixteen ounces. In each ear they had three perforations bored, whence they had other stones and rings suspended. This custom is only for the men, as the women do not perforate their faces, but only their ears. Another custom among them is sufficiently shameful, and beyond all human credibility. Their women, being very libidinous, make the penis of their husbands swell to such a size as to appear deformed; and this is accomplished by a certain artifice, being the bite of some poisonous animal, and by reason of this many lose their virile organ and remain eunuchs.

They have no cloth, either of wool, flax, or cotton, because they have no need of it; nor have they any private property, everything being in common. They live amongst themselves without a king or ruler, each man being his own master, and having as many wives as they please. The children cohabit with the mothers, the brothers with the sisters, the male cousins with the female, and each one with the first he meets. They have no temples and no laws, nor are they idolaters. What more can I say! They live according to nature, and are more inclined to be Epicurean than Stoic. They have no commerce among each other, and they wage war without art or order. The old men make the youths do what they please, and incite them to fights, in which they mutually kill with great cruelty. They slaughter those who are captured, and the victors eat the vanquished; for human flesh is an ordinary article of food among them.

You may be the more certain of this, because I have seen a man eat his children and wife; and I knew a man who was popularly credited to have eaten 300 human bodies. I was once in a certain city for twenty-seven days, where human flesh was hung up near the houses,§ in the same way as we expose butcher's meat. I say further that they were surprised that we did not eat our enemies, and use their flesh as food, for they say it is excellent. Their arms are bows and arrows, and when they go to war they cover no part of their bodies, being in this like beasts. We did all we could to persuade them to desist from their evil habits, and they promised us to leave off. The women, as I have said, go naked, and are very libidinous, yet their bodies are comely; but they are as wild as can be imagined.

§ Perhaps the author indulged in a bit of “creative writing” above, and also in the next paragraph, as there were no known houses in those days, nor any convincing evidence of long lives.

They live for 150 years, and are rarely sick. If they are attacked by a disease they cure themselves with the roots of some herbs. These are the most noteworthy things I know about them.

The air in this country is temperate and good, as we were able to learn from their accounts that there are never any pestilences or epidemics caused by bad air. Unless they meet with violent deaths, their lives are long. I believe this is because a southerly wind is always blowing, a south wind to them being what a north wind is to us. They are expert fishermen, and the sea is full of all kinds of fish. They are not hunters; I think because here there are many kinds of wild animals, principally lions and bears, innumerable serpents, and other horrible creatures and deformed beasts; also because there are vast forests and trees of immense size. They have not the courage to face such dangers naked and without any defence.

The land is very fertile, abounding in many hills and valleys, and in large rivers, and is irrigated by very refreshing springs. It is covered with extensive and dense forests, which are almost impenetrable, and full of every kind of wild beast. Great trees grow without cultivation, of which many yield fruits pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the human body; and a great many have an opposite effect. The fruits are unlike those in our country; and there are innumerable different kinds of fruits and herbs, of which they make bread and excellent food. They also have many seeds unlike ours. No kind of metal has been found except gold, in which the country abounds, though we have brought none back in this our first navigation. The natives, however, assured us that there was an immense quantity of gold underground, and nothing was to be had from them for a price. Pearls abound, as I wrote to you.

If I was to attempt to write of all the species of animals, it would be a long and tedious task. I believe certainly that our Pliny did not touch upon a thousandth part of the animals and birds that exist in this region; nor could an artist such as Policletus,* succeed in painting them. All the trees are odoriferous, and some of them emit gums, oils, or other liquors. If they were our property, I do not doubt but that they would be useful to man. If the terrestrial paradise is in some part of this land, it cannot be very far from the coast we visited. It is, as I have told you, in a climate where the air is temperate at noon, being neither cold in winter nor hot in summer.

* Policletus was not a painter.§

§ In his “Introduction” (p. vii), Markham writes that Vespucci thought “… the sculptor Policletus was a painter.”

The sky and air are serene during a great part of the year. Thick vapours, with fine rain falling, last for three or four hours and then disappear like smoke. The sky is adorned with most beautiful signs and figures, in which I have noted as many as twenty stars as bright as we sometimes see Venus and Jupiter. I have considered the orbits and motions of these stars, and I have measured the circumference and diameters of the stars by a geometrical method,* ascertaining which were the largest. I saw in the heaven three Canopi, two certainly bright, and the other obscure. The Antarctic Pole is not figured with a Great Bear and a Little Bear, like our Arctic Pole, nor is any bright star seen near it, and of those which go round in the shortest circuit there are three which have the figure of the orthogonous triangle, of which the smallest has a diameter of 9 half-degrees. To the east of these is seen a Canopus of great size, and white, which, when in mid-heaven, has this figure:—

* He may mean their orbits, not the stars themselves; but in either case he is talking nonsense.

After these come two others, of which the half-circumference, the diameter, has 12 half-degrees; and with them is seen another Canopus. To these succeed six other most beautiful and very bright stars, beyond all the others of the eighth sphere, which, in the superficies of the heaven, have half the circumference, the diameter 32°, and with them is one black Canopus of immense size, seen in the Milky Way, and they have this shape when they are on the meridian:—

I have known many other very beautiful stars, which I have diligently noted down, and have described very well in a certain little book describing this my navigation, which at present is in the possession of that Most Serene King, and I hope he will restore it to me. In that hemisphere I have seen things not compatible with the opinions of philosophers. Twice I have seen a white rainbow towards the middle of the night, which was not only observed by me, but also by all the sailors. Likewise we often saw the new moon on the day on which it is in conjunction with the sun. Every night, in that part of the heavens of which we speak, there were innumerable vapours and burning meteors. I have told you, a little way back, that, in the hemisphere of which we are speaking, it is not a complete hemisphere in respect to ours, because it does not take that form so that it may be properly called so.

Therefore, as I have said, from Lisbon, whence we started, the distance from the equinoctial line is 39° , and we navigated beyond the equinoctial line to 50°, which together make 90° , which is one quarter of a great circle, according to the true measurement handed down to us by the ancients, so that it is manifest that we must have navigated over a fourth part of the earth. By this reasoning, we who inhabit Lisbon, at a distance of 39° from the equinoctial line in north latitude, are to those who live under 50° beyond the same line, in meridional length, angularly 5° on a transverse line. I will explain this more clearly: a perpendicular line, while we stand upright, if suspended from a point of the heavens exactly vertical, hangs over our heads; but it hangs over them sideways.

Thus, while we are on a right line, they are on a transverse line. An orthogonal triangle is thus formed, of which we have the right line, but the base and hypothenuse to them seems the vertical line, as in this figure it will appear. This will suffice as regards cosmography.

§ Zenit in the Italian version (refers to the 1 after “Vertex” in the illustration).

These are the most notable things that I have seen in this my last navigation, or, as I call it, the third voyage. For the other two voyages were made by order of the Most Serene King of Spain to the west, in which I noted many wonderful works of God, our Creator; and if I should have time, I intend to collect all these singular and wonderful things into a geographical or cosmographical book, that my record may live with future generations; and the immense work of the omnipotent God will be known, in parts still unknown, but known to us. I also pray that the most merciful God will prolong my life that, with His good grace, I may be able to make the best disposition of this my wish. I keep the other two journeys in my sanctuary, and the Most Serene King restoring to me the third journey, I intend to return to peace and my country. There, in consultation with learned persons, and comforted and aided by friends, I shall be able to complete my work.

I ask you pardon for not having sooner been able to send you this my last navigation, as I had promised in my former letters. I believe that you will understand the cause, which was that I could not get the books from the Most Serene King. I think of undertaking a fourth voyage in the same direction, and promise is already made of two ships with their armaments, in which I may seek new regions of the East on a course called Africus. In which journey I hope much to do God honour, to be of service to this kingdom, to secure repute for my old age, and I expect no other result with the permission of this Most Serene King. May God permit what is for the best, and you shall be informed of what happens.

Letter of Amerigo Vespucci
on the Islands Newly Discovered
in his Four Voyages

First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci *

* Latin edition: “To the most illustrious René, King of Jerusalem and Sicily, Duke of Lorraine and Bar.”

MAGNIFICENT LORD.* I submit humble reverence to you and offer due recommendations. It may be that your Magnificence will be astonished at my temerity that I should dare so absurdly to write the present long letter to your Magnificence, knowing that your Magnificence is constantly occupied in the high councils and affairs touching the lofty Republic. And I may be considered not only presumptuous but also idle in writing things not convenient to your condition nor agreeable, and written in a barbarous style. But as I have confidence in your virtues and in the merit of my writing, which is touching things never before written upon either by ancient or modern writers, as will be seen, I may be excused by your Magnificence. The principal thing that moved me to write to you was the request of the bearer, who is named Benvenuto Benvenuti, our Florentine, who is very much the servant of your Magnificence, as he tells me, and a great friend of mine. He, finding himself here in this city of Lisbon, requested me to give an account to your Magnificence of the things by me seen in different parts of the world, during the four voyages that I have made to discover new lands; two by order of the Catholic King Ferdinand, by the Great Gulf of the Ocean Sea towards the west, the other two by order of the powerful King Manoel of Portugal, towards the south. He assured me that you will be pleased, and that in this I might hope to serve you. It was this that disposed me to do it, being assured that your Magnificence would include me in the number of your servants, remembering how, in the time of our youth, I was your friend, and now your servant, going together to hear the principles of grammar under the good life and doctrine of the venerable religious friar of St. Mark, Friar Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, whose counsels and doctrine, if it had pleased God that I had followed, I should have been another man from what I am, as Petrarch says. Quomodocunque sit, I am not ashamed, because I have always taken delight in virtuous things. Yet if these my frivolities are not acceptable to your virtue, I will reflect on what Pliny said to Maecenas, “Formerly my witticisms used to entertain you.” It may be that, though your Magnificence is continually occupied with public affairs, you may find an hour of leisure, during which you can pass a little time in frivolous or amusing things, and so, as a change from so many occupations, you may read this my letter. For you may well turn for a brief space from constant care and assiduous thought concerning public affairs.

* Supposed to be Pietro Soderini, Gonfaloniere of the Republic of Florence in 1504, who had studied with Vespucci. See Bandini, p. xxv.

Your Magnificence must know that the motive of my coming into this kingdom of Spain was to engage in mercantile pursuits, and that I was occupied in such business for nearly four years, during which I saw and knew various changes of fortune. As these affairs of commerce are uncertain, a man being at one time at the top of the well, and at another fallen and subject to losses, and as the continual labour that a man is exposed to who would succeed, became evident to me, as well as exposure to dangers and failures, I decided upon leaving the mercantile career, and upon entering on one that would be more stable and praiseworthy. I was disposed to see some part of the world and its wonders.

… … … …

We went on shore in a port where we found a village built over a lake, like Venice.§ There were about fourty-four large houses founded on very thick piles, and each had a drawbridge leading to the door. From one house there was a way to all the rest by drawbridges which led from house to house.

§ From this brief excerpt, Vespucci has been credited with giving the name Venezuela to the area. Note however, that although he said the village was like Venice, he said nothing about naming it.

… … … …

(The continuing description of the first and second voyages is omitted here.)

The Third Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci

Being afterwards in Seville, resting from so many labours endured during these two voyages, and intending to return to the land of pearls, Fortune showed that she was not content with these my labours. I know not how there came into the thoughts of the Most Serene King Don Manuel of Portugal the wish to have my services. But being at Seville, without any thought of going to Portugal, a messenger came to me with a letter from the Royal Crown, in which I was asked to come to Lisbon, to confer with his Highness, who promised to show me favour. I was not inclined to go, and I despatched the messenger with a reply that I was not well, but that when I had recovered, if his Highness still wished for my services, I would come as soon as he might send for me. Seeing that he could not have me, he arranged to send Giuliano di Bartholomeo di Giocondo for me, he being in Lisbon, with instructions that, come what might, he should bring me. The said Giuliano came to Seville, and prayed so hard that I was forced to go. My departure was taken ill by many who knew me, for I left Castille where honour was done me, and where the King held me in good esteem. It was worse that I went without bidding farewell to my host.

When I was presented to that King, he showed his satisfaction that I had come, and asked me to go in company with three of his ships that were ready to depart for the discovery of new lands. As the request of a king is a command, I had to consent to whatever he asked, and we sailed from this port of Lisbon with three ships on the 10th of March§ 1501, shaping our course direct for the island of Grand Canary. We passed without sighting it, and continued along the west coast of Africa. On this coast we made our fishery of a sort of fish called parchi. We remained three days, and then came to a port on the coast of Ethiopia called Besechiece*, which is within the Torrid Zone, the North Pole rising above it 14° 30', situated in the first climate. Here we remained two days, taking in wood and water; for my intention was to shape a course towards the south, in the Atlantic Gulf.

§ 14th of May in the Medici letter.

* Beze quiche, now Gorée. Biseghier in the Medici letter. Besilieca in the Latin ed.

We departed from this port of Ethiopia, and steered to the south-west, taking a quarter point to the south* until, after sixty-seven days, we came in sight of land, which was 700 leagues from the said port to the south-west.† In those sixty-seven days‡ we had the worst time that man ever endured who navigated the seas, owing to the rains, perturbations, and storms that we encountered. The season was very contrary to us, by reason of the course of our navigation being continually in contact with the equinoctial line, where, in the month of June, it is winter. We found that the day and the night were equal, and that the shadow was always towards the south.

* 2 S.W. ¼ S.

† C. S. Roque.§

§ Note that Vespucci simply states that they “ …came in sight of land,” but does not name the landfall. The “C. S. Roque” was inserted by the Hakluyt editor (Clements Markham), presumably derived from the French St. Roch, whose Feast Day is August 16. Markham may have “borrowed” the name from Michael Kerney's summary, written some 10 years earlier. Now, Cabo de São Roque, Brazil.

‡ “two months and three days” in the Medici letter, where Markham's footnote states seven days—presumably a typographical error.

It pleased God to show us a new land on the 17th of August,§ and we anchored at a distance of half a league, and got our boats out. We then went to see the land, whether it was inhabited, and what it was like. We found that it was inhabited by people who were worse than animals. But your Magnificence must understand that we did not see them at first, though we were convinced that the country was inhabited, by many signs observed by us. We took possession for that Most Serene King; and found the land to be very pleasant and fertile, and of good appearance. It was 5° to the south of the equinoctial line. We went back to the ships, and as we were in great want of wood and water, we determined, next day, to return to the shore, with the object of obtaining what we wanted. Being on shore, we saw some people at the top of a hill, who were looking at us, but without showing any intention of coming down. They were naked, and of the same colour and form as the others we had seen. We tried to induce them to come and speak with us, but did not succeed, as they would not trust us. Seeing their obstinacy, and it being late, we returned on board, leaving many bells and mirrors on shore, and other things in their sight. As soon as we were at some distance on the sea, they came down from the hill, and showed themselves to be much astonished at the things. On that day we were only able to obtain water.

§ 7th of August in the Medici letter.

Next morning we saw from the ship that the people on shore had made a great smoke, and thinking it was a signal to us, we went on shore, where we found that many people had come, but they still kept at a distance from us. They made signs to us that we should come inland with them. Two of our Christians were, therefore, sent to ask their captain for leave to go with them a short distance inland, to see what kind of people they were, and if they had any riches, spices, or drugs. The captain was contented, so they got together many things for barter, and parted from us, with instructions that they should not be more than five days absent, as we would wait that time for them. So they set out on their road inland, and we returned to the ships to wait for them. Nearly every day people came to the beach, but they would not speak with us. On the seventh day we went on shore, and found that they had arranged with their women; for, as we jumped on shore, the men of the land sent many of their women to speak with us. Seeing that they were not reassured, we arranged to send to them one of our people, who was a very agile and valiant youth. To give them more confidence, the rest of us went back into the boats. He went among the women, and they all began to touch and feel him, wondering at him exceedingly. Things being so, we saw a woman come from the hill, carrying a great stick in her hand.* When she came to where our Christian stood, she raised it, and gave him such a blow that he was felled to the ground.§ The other women immediately took him by the feet, and dragged him towards the hill. The men rushed down to the beach, and shot at us with their bows and arrows. Our people, in great fear, hauled the boats towards their anchors,† which were on shore; but, owing to the quantities of arrows that came into the boats, no one thought of taking up their arms. At last, four rounds from the bombard were fired at them, and they no sooner heard the report than they all ran away towards the hill, where the women were still tearing the Christian to pieces. At a great fire they had made they roasted him before our eyes, showing us many pieces, and then eating them. The men made signs how they had killed the other two Christians and eaten them. What shocked us much was seeing with our eyes the cruelty with which they treated the dead, which was an intolerable insult to all of us.

* “Traeua un gran palo,” which is Spanish. In Italian, “portava un legno.”

§ In his “Introduction” (pp. xv-xvi), Markham refers to Vespucci's 1503 letter to Lorenzo di Medici (see below), and states that this account was in that letter. But as seen here, it is in fact in the “Magnificent Lord” letter. In any case, Markham refers to it as one of Vespucci's “… fictitious stories about the natives and their cannibalism” (pp. xvi-xvii). By contrast, Vespucci writes that “We … had friendly relations with the natives” in the Medici letter.

Fateixa (fatesce), a boat's anchor in Portuguese.

Having arranged that more than forty of us should land and avenge such cruel murder, and so bestial and inhuman an act, the principal captain would not give his consent. We departed from them unwillingly, and with much shame, caused by the decision of our captain.

We left this place, and commenced our navigation by shaping a course between east and south. Thus we sailed along the land, making many landings, seeing natives, but having no intercourse with them. We sailed on until we found that the coast made a turn to the west when we had doubled a cape, to which we gave the name of the Cape of St. Augustine.* We then began to shape a course to the south-west. The cape is distant from the place where the Christians were murdered 150 leagues§§ towards the east, and this cape is 8° from the equinoctial line to the south. In navigating we saw one day a great multitude of people on the beach, gazing at the wonderful sight of our ships. As we sailed we turned the ship towards them, anchored in a good place, and went on shore with the boats. We found the people to be better conditioned than those we had met with before, and, responding to our overtures, they soon made friends, and treated with us. We were five days in this place, and found canna fistola very thick and green, and dry on the tops of the trees. We determined to take a pair of men from this place, that they might teach us their language, and three of them came voluntarily to go to Portugal.

* St. Augustine's Day, 28th August.§

§ The Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo. The modern Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Brazil.

§§ 300 leagues in the Medici letter.

Lest your Magnificence should be tired of so much writing, you must know that, on leaving this port, we sailed along on a westerly course,§ always in sight of land, continually making many landings, and speaking with an infinite number of people. We were so far south that we were outside the Tropic of Capricorn, where the South Pole rises above the horizon 32°. We had lost sight altogether of Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, which were far below and scarcely seen on the horizon.* We guided ourselves by the stars of the South Pole, which are numerous and much larger and brighter than those of our Pole. I traced the figure of the greater part of those of the first magnitude, with a declaration of their orbits round the South Pole, and of their diameters and semi-diameters, as may be seen in my Four Voyages. We sailed along that coast for 750 leagues, 150 from the cape called St. Augustine, to the west, and 600 to the south.

§ Leaving Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Vespucci's “westerly course” would have been approximately S. by W. ¾ W.

* Lat. 26°, not 32°.§§

§§ The Tropic of Capricorn is actually at 23° 26' 16" S, so Vespucci's 32 may have been an accidental inversion of 23.

Desiring to recount the things I saw on that coast, and what happened to us, as many more leaves would not suffice me. On the coast we saw an infinite number of trees, brazil wood* and cassia, and those trees which yield myrrh, as well as other marvels of nature which I am unable to recount. Having now been ten months§ on the voyage, and having seen that there was no mining wealth whatever in that land, we decided upon taking leave of it, and upon sailing across the sea for some other part. Having held a consultation, it was decided that the course should be taken which seemed good to me; and the command of the fleet was entrusted to me. I gave orders that the fleet should be supplied with wood and water for six months, such being the decision of the officers of the ships.

* Verzino.

§ Twenty months in the Medici letter.

Having made our departure from this land, we began our navigation with a southerly course on the 15th of February, when already the sun moved towards the equinoctial, and turned towards our Hemisphere of the North. We sailed so far on this course that we found ourselves where the South Pole had a height above our horizon of 52° and we could no longer see the stars of Ursa Minor or of Ursa Major. We were then 500 leagues to the south of the port whence we had departed, and this was on the 3rd of April.§ On this day such a tempest arose on the sea that all our sails were blown away, and we ran under bare poles, with a heavy southerly gale and a tremendous sea; the air being very tempestuous. The gale was such that all the people in the fleet were much alarmed. The nights were very long, for the night we had on the 7th of April lasted fifteen hours, the sun being at the end of Aries, and in that region it was winter, as your Magnificence will be well aware. Sailing in this storm, on the 7th of April we came in sight of new land,* along which we ran for nearly 20 leagues, and found it all a rocky coast, without any port or inhabitants. I believe this was because the cold was so great that no one in the fleet could endure it. Finding ourselves in such peril, and in such a storm that we could scarcely see one ship from another, owing to the greatness of the waves and the blinding mist, it was agreed with the principal captain that a signal should be made to the ships that they should make for land, and then shape a course for Portugal. This was very good counsel, for it is certain that if we had delayed another night all would have been lost; for, as we wore round on the next day, we were met by such a storm that we expected to be swamped. We had to undertake pilgrimages and perform other ceremonies, as is the custom of sailors at such times. We ran for five days, always coming towards the equinoctial line, where the air and sea became more temperate. It pleased God to deliver us from such peril. Our course was now between the north and north-east, for our intention was to reach the coast of Ethiopia, our distance from it being 300 leagues, in the Gulf of the Atlantic Sea. By the grace of God, on the 10th day of May, we came in sight of land, where we were able to refresh ourselves, the land being called La Serra Liona. We were there fifteen days, and thence shaped a course to the islands of the Azores, which are distant nearly 750 leagues from that Serra. We reached the islands in the end of July, where we remained fifteen days taking some recreation. Thence we departed for Lisbon, distant 300 leagues to the west, and arrived at that port of Lisbon on the 7th of September 1502, may God be thanked for our salvation, with only two ships. We burnt the other at Serra Liona, because she was no longer seaworthy. We were employed on this voyage nearly fifteen months; and for eleven days we navigated without seeing the North Star, nor the Great or Little Bears, which they call el corno, and we were guided by the stars of the other Pole. This is what I saw on this voyage.

§ To summarize, on April 3 they were at 52°, and 500 Spanish leagues (about 1,800 nautical miles) “south of the port whence we had departed” (apparently a reference to Rio de Janeiro, which is about 2,000 miles north of 52°).

* Varnhagen thinks this was South Georgia, so named by Cook in Jan. 1775, in 54° S. Navarrete suggests Tristan d'Acunha. Vespucci says that 50° was the furthest limit he reached to the south, along the coast, in the Medici letter, but that he then sailed to within 17° 30' of the S. Pole, or 73° 30' S.!! See p. 45.§§

§§ Not quite: as the p. 45 link shows, Vespucci claimed to have sailed “… towards the Antarctic Circle until we were 17° 30' from [the Circle, not the Pole].”


Although Vespucci sailed southward along South America's Atlantic coast for many months—from August, 1501 until April, 1502—he says little or nothing to help us identify the places he visited. As already noted above, he mentions only one place by name: the modern Cabo de Santo Agostinho in Brazil. And so his role, if any, in naming Rio de Janeiro, Puerto San Julián and other places remains unknown, pending further research.