DISTANT SONS OF ADAM: A NEWLY DISCOVERED EARLY VOICE ON THE ORIGIN OF THE PEOPLES OF THE NEW WORLD
Van Duzer Chet
Scholar, John Carter Brown Library
One of the many intellectual problems that faced Europeans following the discovery of the New World was how those lands had been populated before their European discovery, if all humans had descended from Adam and Eve. One hypothesis to account for the presence of Amerindian peoples was based on a passage in the pseudo-Aristotelian De mirabilibus auscultationibus, which spoke of Carthaginian navigators discovering a large island in the Atlantic. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his Historia general de las Indias (1535) was believed to be the first to suggest that this passage showed that the New World had been discovered and populated in antiquity, and this theory was maintained by many later authors. In this article I examine anonymous annotations relating to the New World in a copy of the 1525 edition of Ptolemy’s Geography now split between Princeton and a private collection in Brussels. The annotator proposes this same theory about eight years before Oviedo, and I suggest that the theory was transmitted from the annotator to Oviedo by way of Willibald Pirckheimer’s Germaniae explicatio (1530, 1532). In fact, of the authors whose writings survive today, the annotator seems to have been the first not just to have proposed the Carthaginian origin for the native peoples of the New World, but the first to propose any theory to account for their presence.