Saturday, September 20, 2008

Antonio Pigafetta

It was on this day in 1519 that Ferdinand Magellan departed on the first successful circumnavigation of the world.
Antonio Pigafetta
Setting off with five ships and 270 men funded by Charles I, the King of Spain (although Magellan was Portuguese, the King of Portugal declined the investment opportunity), Ferdinand had the adventure of his lifetime.
The Spanish captains didn't trust Magellan because he was Portuguese, a foreigner, and three of them plotted to kill Magellan. He stopped the mutiny by imprisoning the ringleader, Cartagena, aboard a different ship. They reached South America by December and spent the winter in Patagonia, where one of the captains freed Cartagena, and they led another mutiny. Magellan marooned Cartagena in Patagonia, executed the remaining rebels, and set off to look for a passage to the other side of the continent.
In May, one of his ships was wrecked in bad weather, but the other four sailed through a strait that Magellan named All Saints' — it was later renamed the Strait of Magellan. It took them 38 days to make it through the strait, and during that time, one of the ships' captains turned his ship around to sail back to Spain, taking with him most of the provisions for the whole fleet. But the remaining three ships got to the other side and emerged into the ocean, and Magellan named the ocean the Pacific because it was so calm. Magellan thought the Pacific was small; he thought they could cross it and reach the Spice Islands in two or three days. But it actually took four months. They arrived in the Philippines in March of 1521. Magellan made friends with a local king, agreed to help him attack the neighboring island, and was killed during the battle with that tribe. There were three ships left, and 115 men.
After Magellan died, Sebastian del Cano took over as captain, and since there weren't enough men left to crew three ships, he had one of the ships burned. They left the Philippines in May and made it to the Moluccas, the Spice Islands, six months later. Del Cano wanted to make sure that at least one ship made it back to Spain, so he sent one back, east across the Pacific, and the other one continued west. The eastward-bound ship was attacked by the Portuguese, who killed most of the crew. The westward-bound ship crossed the Indian Ocean, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in Spain almost three years after it had departed with Magellan. 
Despite having his adventure, and his life, truncated by his participation in a local Philippine war, Ferdinand is still usually associated with circumnavigating the globe.  However, it is because of just one of the only 18 surviving crew members who completed the journey by returning to Spain, that we know the whole story.  Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian crew member and a supporter of Magellan, was the one who kept a detailed diary.  It is because of  Antonio Pigafetta, that we know the details of that momentous journey to circumnavigate the globe.


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