Midweek Short: The Magellanic Diaries, 1
To understand: Magellanic.
According to Merriam Webster, my daily go-to: of, relating to, or characteristic of the Strait of Magellan or that general area of the southern hemisphere.
But this is oddly derivative. Why “of, or relating to”?
Because of Magellan.
More sensibly, then, according to Wiktionary: Of or pertaining to, or named from, Magellan, the navigator.
Though “navigator,” while serving prominently, only partially explains.
Offers, however an anonymous editor at Definitions.net:
Widely traveled, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Daring and succeeding in an untried quest of global importance or dimension.
Neil Armstrong's voyage to the Moon was more than Magellanic.
Ah. Now we can begin.
We have the Magellanic Penguin, because first identified by Magellan and his crew in what is now called Patagonia.
We have the Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies visible and noted in the southern celestial hemisphere for centuries and longer before but only first widely recorded in European annals because of the sightings of Magellan’s men.
There was NASA’s Magellan Mission, and the Magellan spacecraft’s historic travel to Venus.
Magellan, an ultra-deep water ROV (remotely operated vehicle) operations company.
Magellan Navigation, a producer of global positioning system receivers, “named after Ferdinand Magellan, the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe.”
Most people, then, I learned (including me, just over two years ago), if they know anything more about Ferdinand Magellan than “wasn’t he an explorer?” will identify him, from what they always cite as an elementary school lesson, as the first person to circumnavigate the earth.
So if they know almost anything at all about Magellan more than explorer, the first thing they know is wrong. He was killed in battle, in what are now known as the Philippines, halfway through what ended as a three-year voyage. He personally, actually, did not successfully circumnavigate the earth.
After several succeeding, short-lived captaincies, the voyage ended under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano.
In the first years after the voyage, for as long as a century, Elcano received credit for the circumnavigation. In time, as the complexities came to light of the drama that preceded the voyage, unfolded disastrously during the voyage, and played out politically after the voyage, Magellan began to receive his due. Professional historians refer to the Magellan-Elcano expedition.
What politics played a role?
Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães) was a minor Portuguese noble, seaman, adventurer, and warrior who sailed – having pledged his loyalty to the new, young King, Charles I – for Spain. In the early Sixteenth Century, Portugal and Spain, though neighbors, pursued their national destinies in bitter enmity and rivalry. The Spanish mistrusted Magellan. The Portuguese, and their King, Manuel, resented what they portrayed as his betrayal.
At the time of Magellan’s expedition, only 27 years had passed since the Genoese Christopher Columbus’s first voyage, also for Spain. The following year, Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borja) issued the Papal Bull "Inter Caetera" establishing a demarcation line over the globe between what would rightfully, in discovery, belong to Spain and what might be claimed in further discovery by other Christian nations: it further directed that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”
This became known as the Doctrine of Discovery (which, by the way, is the legal foundation on which U.S. assertion of a right to rule over Native Americans established itself in the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision, still standing and relied on, Johnson v. McIntosh).
Only Portugal rivaled Spain as a Christian, European sea power capable of acting on the rights claimed by "Inter Caetera." However, the basis for the demarcation line – longitudinal awareness – was the weakest link in geospatial knowledge at the time, so the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas sought to clarify the placement of the demarcation line, in order to settle disputes between the two rival sea powers. Nonetheless, where the line fell, particularly on the Indies side of the world – Magellan’s destination – remained unclear right up until Magellan’s departure in August 1519.
Among the multiple gains imagined from the voyage by the variety of interested parties was further clarification of that demarcation line – what lands and riches might be claimed by Spain, what by Portugal. Among the different possible causes of conflict between the two nations, and of failure for the expedition, was for Magellan’s Spanish-flagged ships to be discovered on the wrong side of the line.
And were they so discovered, who would Magellan really be representing?
And of Magellan himself?
Bold, rash, intrepid, reckless. Courageous, foolhardy, fierce, cruel. Tyrannical, commanding, imperious, importunate. Principled, faithless, true-believer, glory seeker.
And the men?
Something between 247-270 men in five ships sailed down the Guadalquivir River from Seville and out of the Atlantic-coast port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda that summer of 1519. In the fall of 1522, three years later, only 18 of them, on a single ship, returned to complete the journey.
Everything in those two sentences is true. Yet they distort and misguide any true understanding of the events and the experience.
Events. Experience. The difference.