For every volume published on Magellan in English since the World War, five have appeared on Columbus; yet Magellan’s voyage stands as the greatest feat of navigation in history. Sanderlin’s new book is thus a welcome addition to the small shelf of “Mageliana.” Though written for the young student, the work will have a far wider interest, for the author makes history not only absorbing but downright exciting.
A twenty-six-page introduction in easy conversational style places Magellan’s life in the context of sixteenth-century navigational and geographical knowledge, rivalries, restlessness, and avarice. The “journal” which follows is pieced together from various sources, largely, of course, the account of Antonio Pigafetta, but beginning with the letter of Maximilian Transylvanus (which precedes Pigafetta in Ramusio) and a passage from Las Casas. Next are several contemporary documents, including part of Magellan’s second will, and there are excerpts from Gaspar Corrêa’s Lendas da India, from the account of an unknown Genoese pilot with Magellan’s fleet, and from the Deroteiro of another pilot, probably Francisco Albo. Though the captaingeneral did not survive to tell his own tale, there is fortunately no dearth of contemporary accounts. Drawing from these, Sanderlin begins with Magellan’s voyage as an idea, carries the reader briefly through the anxious years of planning to the voyage itself, and to the eventual return of a single vessel to Seville, completing the circumnavigation.
Achieving a smooth and continuous narrative from the mixed and often inconsistent sources has required a large measure of creative skill. The device used is a series of connecting explanatory notes and commentaries, set off in smaller type. The sources are carefully identified in the commentaries, but some of them might have been more closely related to the appended bibliography and their present location indicated. Unlike the rest of the book, the bibliography will be of value only to the student. Since bibliographies of Magellan are few, a fuller one than this would have been useful.