Monday, October 26, 2009

snipe hunt

"The gnat chasers, which likewise serve other purposes, are called cucurios, and are winged worms, inoffensive, a little smaller than butterflies, and resembling rather a scarabaeus, since their wings are protected through a tough outer covering, into which they are drawn when the insect stops flying. These insects, like the fireflies we see shining at night or certain luminous worms found in hedgerows, have been supplied by provident nature with four luminous points, two of which occupy the place of the eyes, and the other two are hidden inside the body under the shell, and are only visible when they put out their little wings like the scarabs, and begin to fly. Each cucurio thus carries four lanterns, and it is pleasing to learn how people protect themselves against the pestiferous gnats, which sting every one and in some places are a trifle smaller than bees.

"As soon as one knows that these dangerous gnats have invaded his house, or wishes to prevent them doing so, cucurios are immediately procured by the following artifice; necessity, the mother of invention, has taught this method. To catch cucurios, one must go out at nightfall, carrying a burning coal, mount upon a neighboring hut in sight of the cucurios, and call in a loud voice, "cucurios, cucurios!"

-Pietro Martire d’Anghiera
De Orbo Novo

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

fish stories

"A certain cacique of the region, Caramatexius by name, was very fond of fishing. Upon one occasion a young fish of the gigantic species called by the natives manatí was caught in his nets. I think this species of monster in unknown in our seas. It is shaped like a turtle and has four feet, but is covered with scales instead of shell. Its skin is so tough that it fears nothing from arrows, for it is protected by a thousand points. This amphibious creature has a smooth back, a head resembling that of a bull, and is tame rather than fierce. Like the elephant or the dolphin, it likes the companionship of men and is very intelligent. The cacique fed this young fish for several days with yucca bread, millet, and the roots the natives eat. While it was still young, he put it in a lake near to his house, as in a fish-pond. This lake, which had been called Guaurabo. was henceforth called Manati.

"For twenty-five years this fish lived at liberty in the waters of the lake, and grew to an extraordinary size. All that has been told about the lake of Baiae or the dolphins of Arion is not to be compared with the stories of this fish. They gave it the name of Matu, meaning generous or noble, and whenever one of the king's attendants, specially known by him, called from the bank Matu, Matu, the fish, remembering favours received, raised its head and came towards the shore to eat from the man's hand. Anyone who wished to cross the lake merely made a sign and the fish advanced to receive him on its back. One day it carried ten men altogether on its back, transporting them safely, while they sang and played musical instruments. If it perceived a Christian when it raised its head it dived under water and refused to obey. This was because it had once been beaten by a peevish young Christian, who threw a sharp dart at this amiable and domesticated fish. The dart did it no harm because of the thickness of its skin, which is all rough and covered with points, but the fish never forgot the attack, and from that day forth every time it heard its name called, it first looked carefully about to see if it beheld anybody dressed like the Christians. It loved to play upon the bank with the servants of the cacique, and especially with the young son who was in the habit of feeding it. It was more amusing than a monkey. This manati was for long a joy to the whole island, and many natives and Christians daily visited this animal.

"It is said that the flesh of manatis is of good flavour, and they are found in great numbers in the waters of the island."

-Pietro Martire d’Anghiera
De Orbo Novo

Thursday, October 15, 2009

...and hemispheres

In that hemisphere I saw things incompatible with the opinions of philosophers: a white rainbow was twice seen around midnight, not only by me, but also by all the sailors. Likewise we have frequently seen the new moon on that day when it was in conjunction with the sun. Every night in that part of the sky innumerable vapors and glowing meteors fly about. A little while ago I spoke of the hemisphere, although it is not properly to be spoken of as a complete hemisphere, comparing it to ours; yet since it approaches such a form, such may we be permitted to call it.

-Amerigo Vespucci
from Mundus Novus

Monday, October 12, 2009

of hemispheres

Ptolemy and the other geographers believed that the world was spherical and that the other hemisphere was as round as the one in which they lived, its centre lying on the island of Arin, which is below the Equator between the Arabian and Persian gulfs; and that the boundary passes over Cape St. Vincent in Portugal to the west, and eastward to China and the Seres. I do not in the least question the roundness of that hemisphere, but I affirm that the other hemisphere resembles the half of a round pear with a raised stalk, as I have said, like a woman's nipple on a round ball.

-Christopher Columbus
October 14, 1492

related: reconquista 84627