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Cosmographical warfare: secrecy and heroism in Juan de Miramontes’s Armas antárticas

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This article examines the historical and cultural significance of cosmography in the early modern Spanish Empire, as seen in Juan de Miramontes Zuázola’s seventeenth-century epic poem, Armas antárticas (2006). It takes the description of a pilot in the harbor of Callao, Peru, on the eve of Francis Drake’s arrival at the port as its point of departure. The essay examines the portrayal of cosmography as a “secret science”, to use the words of María M. Portuondo (2009). The poem suggests that Drake’s surprise attack was made possible by cosmographical knowledge. It also depicts cosmography as a countermeasure to combat future pirate incursions by sending the cosmographer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa on a data-collecting expedition to the Strait of Magellan. Consistent with the important role accorded to cosmography in matters of the state, Armas antárticas also makes out the practitioners of cosmography to be heroic in their own right. This departs markedly from the conventional notions of epic heroism, whether it be of the traditional, chivalric sort or of the early modern, gunpowder sort. Such a perspective is in line with the new kind of epic heroism pioneered by Luis Camões in his sixteenth-century epic, Os Lusíadas (1973), as analyzed by Ayesha Ramachandran (2015), but it also carries with it negative connotations that blur the distinction between seafarers like Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake. It was sailors like Drake, moreover, who foiled attempts to keep cosmography secret, prompting a reorientation of its strategic use away from secrecy and toward controlled dissemination.
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Keywords: Cosmography; Ferdinand Magellan; Francis Drake; Spanish empire; epic poetry

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Spanish, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Publication date: April 2, 2020

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