Maya Feile Tomes
How many times has Christopher Columbus sailed to America in Neo-Latin epic? Versifications of Columbus’ exploits enjoyed a certain vogue in European literary circles in the early modern period, producing – alongside a host of epyllionic episodes and shorter cameos for Columbus – a small corpus of dedicated Neo-Latin epics on his voyages to the “New World”. Scholarly interest in these poems experienced a surge around the Columbian quincentenary of 1992, in the course of which a total of five principal Neo-Latin epics were disinterred and rehabilitated to academic horizons: Lorenzo Gambara’s De Navigatione Christophori Columbi (1581-5), Giulio Cesare Stella’s Columbeis (1585/9), Vincentius Placcius’ Atlantis Retecta (1659/68), Ubertino Carrara’s Columbus (1715) and Alois Mickl’s Plus Ultra (ca. 1730). The classic treatment of these five is Hofmann 1994, since which time the core constitution of the canon has remained unchallenged (Oberparleiter 2001: 48, Kallendorf  2007: 1, Kallendorf 2011: 205, Scheer 2007: 22-25, and, most recently, Villalba de la Güida’s 2012 doctoral thesis) and Columbus epic scholars’ energies primarily expended on producing editions of the same aforementioned five (Martini 1992, Wiegand 1992, Gagliardi 1993, Hofmann et al. 1993, Torres Martínez 2000, Llewellyn 2006’s UCLA doctoral thesis, Schaffenrath 2006, Yruela Guerrero 2006, Scheer 2007, and Sánchez Quirós 2010). However, to the hitherto-known five we can now add a sixth and latest Neo-Latin Columbus epic: José Manuel Peramás’ De Invento Novo Orbe Inductoque Illuc Christi Sacrificio (1777). Peramás was a Spanish-born Jesuit who joined the missionary effort in what was then the Province of Paraguay and spent the next twelve years in and around a territory essentially corresponding to present-day northern Argentina. However, following the Jesuits’ expulsion from the Spanish Crown’s dominions in 1767, Peramás embarked for Italy, where he was to remain for the next twenty-five years. Most of his works composed during this time – almost all of them on an American theme – remain tolerably well-known in the relevant (mainly Hispanophone) scholarly circles. The De Invento Novo Orbe Inductoque Illuc Christi Sacrificio, however, has not been so lucky: for reasons I have recently pieced together for the first time, it slipped beneath the radar very soon after its author’s death in 1793 and spent the next two centuries in near-total obscurity. The purpose of this paper is not, however, to expound the reasons for the poem’s neglect but to introduce the epic and inscribe it in the Columbian epic canon to which it so rightly belongs, and in which its author is in so many ways unique. Peramás is not only the sole (known) Neo-Latin Columbus epicist of Spanish nationality – which is to say: of the same nationality as the wielders of imperial power in the region under discussion – but alone among all foregoing Columbus epicists and epyllionists in actually having visited America. As such, we must interrogate the Weltanschauung of Peramás’ poem in a manner substantively different from that of his predecessors. To model this approach, I have elected to focus on the poem’s easily most salient scene – an ekphrasis of a shield on which a map of America is depicted – and tease out the different aspects of its worldview, both metaphorical and literal (i.e. cartographical), highlighting key particulars on which it differs from the poetics of, and ekphraseis in, the previous Columbian epics. In so doing, I use Peramás’ fascinating microcosmic representation of America – and the characters’ reactions thereto – as a similarly microcosmic test case for the poem’s wider engagement with the themes of cross-cultural interaction, the (non-)transferability of European paradigms of knowledge and thought, and Spanish imperial power, as articulated by the only Neo-Latin Columbus epicist with experience of life on both sides of the Atlantic. Is it possible to speak, for a poem from 1777, of something approaching a “mid-Atlantic” point of view?
Neo-Latin Texts in the Americas and Europe