Peter Martyr's Use of Pliny

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Peter Martyr of Anghiera’s De Orbe Novo was the first historical account of the discovery of, and early contacts with, the New World. His successor as chronicler of the Indies, Fernandez de Oviedo, sought to establish his own authority in the wake of a distinguished predecessor by emphasising that his was an eye-witness account (Martyr had never visited the New World) and defending his use of Spanish rather than the scholarly Latin of Martyr’s account. Oviedo also sought to enhance his standing by portraying himself as the emulator of the great natural historian of antiquity, Pliny the Elder. This paper suggests that this ploy, too, may in part have been directed at Martyr. It will be argued that Martyr's writing exhibits deep-seated familiarity and affinity with Pliny’s text and modes of thought and that his interaction with the Natural History was much more sophisticated than has previously been supposed, including in comparison with Oviedo's. Moreover, Pliny, like Martyr, was (ironically for Oviedo), not for the most part an eye-witness. It will be argued that Martyr evolved strategies to overcome any perceived disadvantages of his Plinian position. Moreover, his place at the centre of information-gathering even had its advantages when attempting to obtain an overview, an idea already current 1500 years before.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-244
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2014


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