1434 Fridays, Part the Fifth

So I think I’m about done with Gavin Menzies’ introduction to 1434.  That’s not to say I’m to the end.  That’s to say that this will be the last post I write about it because there’s just so goddamn much fail packed into this thing I might never get done.

Also, the latter half of the Introduction is all about Gavin Menzies making sure we know he goes on awesome vacations.  No, really.  He seems to think that the fact that his vacations are awesome but he doesn’t take vacations from his stupid ideas matter to us.  Also, I’m pretty sure he brings up the fact that he knows things because he was the captain of a Royal Navy submarine, which makes him an expert.  Captains, after all, are the unimpeachably brilliant successes of the sea.

Just don’t tell the people on the Costa Concordia.  Or the penguins covered in oil by the Exxon Valdez.  Or the folks from the Titanic.  Although it must be said that a Royal Navy-trained captain would probably know better.  The Royal Navy, after all, never used one of their pre-dreadnoughts to ram and sink another one of their pre-dreadnoughts because the admiral in charge couldn’t be arsed to figure out that running a 180-degree inward reversal of course is best accomplished when the ships are not within each others’ turning range.

You might be saying that I’m not making a fair comparison.  Gavin Menzies, after all, never once rammed the HMS Camperdown into the HMS Victoria.  Fair point, that.  My point is, though, that there’s nothing magical about “going to sea,” even though Menzies seems to think that matters.  The truth is that I’ve never been to sea, either, but I could still draw a pretty decent map of the world.

Well, I couldn’t, really.  I’m a terrible artist.

Anyway, fuck that noise.  We’ve got unsupported assertions to deal with here.

Menzies makes an interesting statement after dragging Schoner and Waldseemuller’s good names through the mud.

Similarly, Brazil appeared on Portuguese maps before the first Portuguese, Cabral and Dias, set sail for Brazil.

This literally comes out of nowhere.  He tosses it in as an aside after his claims that the di Virga map depicted Australia, which I covered last time out.  The problem here is that there’s no evidence Cabral had a map of Brazil.  We know next to nothing about what sort of kit Cabral had and all of the indications are that Cabral’s discovery of Brazil was a happy accident or, possibly, a secret instruction to find out if there was anything on Portugal’s side of the line from the Treaty of Tordesillas.

We simply don’t know what, if anything, Cabral knew.  Well, that’s not true.  We do know that they had to engage in a bit of surveying to prove that the land was, indeed, on Portugal’s side of the Tordesillas line.  Oh, and we know that Brazil’s original name was Island of the True Cross.  Because they thought it was a fucking island.  Which is problematic for Menzies’ Chinese map theory.

I suppose you could make up a theory that the Portuguese were doing it to bullshit the Spanish.  The fact is, though, that nobody knew what was what in the New World at the time and the Portuguese were in the right – at least where the Spanish and the Pope were concerned, which was the only issue that mattered to them at the time – to claim the land.  There was no real need to call the land a big island for the purposes of subterfuge.

It doesn’t matter, though.  You see, Gavin Menzies is engaging in a Gish Gallop here, just throwing out information without backing it up.  If I’m charitable I’ll admit that’s because I’m still in the Introduction.  Still, though, it’s a lot of bullshit.  Perhaps I’d have a better grasp on what he thinks is going on if I’d read all of 1421.  Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing these posts, though.  I don’t think they’d allow me to access my blog from the loony bin.

So what’s his next bit of information?  I’m glad you asked:

The South Shetland Islands were shown on the Piri Reis map four hundred years before Europeans reached the Antarctic.

I’ve seen the Piri Reis Map.  I have no clue what Menzies is talking about.  This should shock no one.

Piri Reis, or Piri the Captain, was one of the captains who served the first generation of what would be known as the Barbary Pirates.  He was a navigator and a mapmaker and the producer of the most detailed maps of the Mediterranean available to the armadas of the Sultan during the 16th Century.  He produced a world map in 1513 that looked quite a bit like the earlier Caverio and Cantino maps. Take a look at the Atlantic in the Piri Reis:


Now the Cantino:


Now the Caverio:


It’s also likely that Piri Reis would have had access to either the Ruysch map or the Waldseemuller map or both.  It’s pretty easy to look at the Piri Reis Map and see the influence of the earlier maps.  That’s pretty much always been the historical consensus about the Piri Reis map as far as I know.  This consensus is aided and abetted by the fact that early 16th Century mapmakers liberally stole from their source material all the freaking time.  And, hell, Piri Reis was a fucking pirate, so there’s that.

One thing Reis did that was different from his source material, though, was to draw other land in around South America.  This land, it should be noted, conforms to absolutely no land that exists anywhere near South America, as it makes it look like South America stretches almost to Africa just south of Brazil. There was absolutely nothing analogous to that landform on any maps before or after 1513.  Magellan hadn’t done his thing yet, but Vasco de Gama, Cabral, and Amerigo Vespucci would have known better by then.

The most likely explanation is pretty simple: Piri Reis decided to duplicate the shape of South America from the Ruysch map or the Waldseemuller map but ran out of paper, so he drew it around the corner.  This is a much easier explanation to swallow than the idea that he was drawing an accurate depiction of the South Shetland Islands.  That theory would require us to believe that Piri Reis had a super accurate Chinese map of the world that somehow put Antarctica on a line directly between Uruguay and South Africa.

Menzies then follows up his unsupported assertions with this paragraph:

The great European explorers were brave and determined men. But they discovered nothing. Magellan was not the first to circumnavigate the globe, nor was Columbus the first to discover the Americas. So why, we may ask, do historians persist in propagating this fantasy? Why is The Times Atlas of World Exploration, which details the discoveries of European explorers, still taught in schools? Why are the young so insistently misled?

Good god, but the man is a fucking idiot.  And a self-important fucking idiot, too.

Either way, I give up on the Introduction.  Join me next week when I wade into the giant pile-o-fail that is, well, the rest of the goddamn book.

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