Sir Walter Raleigh’s Search for El Dorado

AMAZONS. AMERICAS. VOYAGES & TRAVELS. Raleigh (also Ralegh), Walter, Sir (1552-1618); Hulsius, Levinus (1546-1606)

Kurtze wunderbare Beschreibung, deß goldreichen Königreichs Guianae in America oder newen Welt, under der linea Aequinoctiali gelegen: So neulich Anno 1594, 1595 und 1596

Nuremberg: C. Lochner for Levinus Hulsius, 1601


Octavo: 18 x 14.8 cm. [5], 17, [2] pp. 2nd p (verso of title) and final p (verso of table) are blank. With an added folding map and 6 plates. Collation: A-C4

SECOND EDITION, 1st issue (1st ed. 1599).

Bound in contemporary  or near-contemporary vellum, soiled, remains of green silk ties. A very nice copy with minor faults. Outer blank margin of plates trimmed close as often (as these leaves were wider than the letterpress), with some fraying, but not touching the engravings aside from plate 1, where the plate mark is affected (but with no loss to the image). Two clean tears (blank margin of title and blank margin of one plate) mended. The map is in excellent condition. An unusually well-preserved copy. First issue, with 13 lines on p. 17, signing Ciii on p. 14 and marginal note "pag. 68".

Second German edition, describing the voyage of Raleigh to South America in 1595, sought after for the map of northern South America and the attractive plates showing fantastic creatures. This version of the text, the first to be illustrated, was produced by Levinus Hulsius as Part V of his series of voyages. The title translates as: “A Wonderful Description, of the gold-rich kingdom of Guiana in America, or the New world, which has been visited lately in 1594, 1595 and 1596 by Sir Walther Raleigh an English knight.”

The expedition left England in 1595 headed for the Orinoco River, in search of El Dorado, a legendary city made of gold, hidden (according to tradition) in the jungle. Upon his return to England, Raleigh published his account of the voyage “The discovery of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana” (1596). 

Raleigh included a description of mythical tribes, whom he did not personally encounter, but in whom he believed. These were the Ewaipanoma, headless people whose faces appear on their chests, and the fabled Amazons, who held a once-yearly “association” with men so that they may produce offspring. (Female children are raised by the Amazons; boys are given back to the men). It has been suggested that Raleigh’s description of the Ewaipanoma might  have influenced Shakespeare, who wrote in “Othello” of “The cannibals, that each other eat./ The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads/ Do grow between their shoulders."

The plates illustrate: 1. Natives of the region of the Gulf of Paria, living in huts built in trees and on islands; 2. Natives with bows and arrows, hunting sloths and other animals (“Simi Vulpa, Haute, Armadillo”); 3. The walled city of Manoa (El Dorado) on the banks of Lake Parime, with the city’s inhabitants carrying boats overland from the Essequibo River; 4. The country of the Amazons, showing the yearly gathering, at which the Amazons allow men to “associate” with them; 5. Amazons shooting arrows at men suspended by the feet from a tree while another Amazon kindles a fire beneath them; 6. The mythical headless natives of Guiana (Ewaipanoma).

“In this work Raleigh gives an account of his second voyage (1595) and seems to confirm the marvelous tales concerning the Spanish city of El Dorado, which he calls by the Indian name “Manoa.” Camus says he described the country with the exactness of a person who had been born there, but that when he speaks of the richness of Guiana he seems to have been seduced by false appearances and the accounts of the natives and Spaniards, as he did when describing the Amazons and the people whose faces seemed placed on their breasts.” (Church, 254, for the English editions). Shakespeare apparently obtained from this work his knowledge of the “still vexed Bermudes”.

Hulsius’ series of travel narratives:

“Eight years after Theodor de Bry began the publication of his Great Voyages, Levinus 
Hulsius, stimulated by the success of de Bry’s works, began the publication of a similar collection in quarto. Hulsius is credited with having exercised better judgment in 
his selections and translations than the de Brys. The work (ultimately) was published at intervals from 1598 until 1663. As it was published in German and was of convenient size, it became more popular than the larger folio editions of de Bry. Due to the long interval between the publication of the first and last parts, with their various editions, sets of this work in anything approaching completeness are of extreme rarity.”(Asher, Hulsius)

Mapping an Imagined World: Blemmyes & Amazons in South America

In Walter Raleigh’s Discovery of Guiana, the Blemmyes (Ewaipanoma) and Amazons, fantastic “races” of the Old World (Africa and Asia) become firmly ensconced in the New World. The Blemmyes and Amazons were traditionally believed to dwell at the edges of the known world. Situating them in the little-explored (by Europeans) lands of South America was in keeping with this tradition. But through Raleigh’s written account, and also (and perhaps more effectively) through the maps and illustrations based derived from that account, the mythical took on the appearance of concrete fact. In the company of exotic (but real) creatures like armadillos and sloths, Amazons and Ewaipanoma took their place on professionally-drawn maps, situated along accurately-rendered rivers near imagined lakes.

On the folding map included in Levinus Hulsius’ edition of Raleigh’s account, just to the south of Lake Parime and the fabled city of El Dorado, the cartographer has depicted the lands inhabited by the Ewaipanoma and, further south, along the “Rio de las Amazones”, the realm of the Amazons. The artist has included images of these strange people. There are two Ewaipanoma, easily identified by their lack of heads, and a naked Amazon, armed with a bow and arrow. Further east, we see cannibals, one of whom butchers a man.

The legend of the South American Amazons began in 1541-2 with a violent encounter between the explorer Francisco de Orellana and an indigenous tribe, possibly the Tapuya. According to Orellana, the warriors of this tribe were both men and women, the latter of whom did “as much fighting as ten Indian men”. Orellana therefore dubbed them Amazons. But it was in Raleigh’s Discovery of Guiana that the New World Amazons gained their mythology.

More than fifty years after Orellana’s encounter, Raleigh says that he spoke to a cacique who had been to the Amazon River and beyond. This chief reported that "the nations of these women are on the south side of the river, in the province of Topago, and their chiefest strength and retreats are in the lands situate on the south side of the entrance, some sixty leagues within the mouth of the same river. The memories of the like women," adds the gallant knight, "very ancient as well in Africa as in Asia, in many histories they are verified to have been in divers ages and provinces, but they which are not far from Guiana do accompany with men but once a year, and for the time of one month, which I gather by their relations to be April. At that time all the kings of the borders assemble and the queens of the Amazons; and after the queens have chosen, the rest cast lots for their valentines. This one month they feast, dance, and drink of their wines in abundance; and the moon being done, they all depart to their own provinces. If they conceive and be delivered of a son, they return him to the father; if of a daughter, they nourish it and retain it. And as many as have daughters send unto the begetter presents, all being desirous to increase their own sex and kind; but that they cut off the right breast I do not find to be true. It was further told me that if in the wars they took any prisoners that they would accompany with those also at what time soever, but in the end for certain they put them to death; for they are said to be very cruel and bloodthirsty, especially to such as offer to invade their country. These Amazons have likewise great store of these plates of gold, which they recover in exchange chiefly for a kind of green stones, which the Spaniards call piedras hijadas, and we use for spleen stones: and for the disease of the stone we also esteem them.”

As for the Blemmyes, known to Herodotus as a people of Nubia, in Raleigh’s telling they are the “Ewaipanoma”. Like their Old World cousins, the Ewaipanoma, “are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and a long train of hair growing backward between their shoulders.”

As in the case of the Amazons, Raleigh’s information is second-hand. He has not personally encountered the Ewaipanoma, but he has confidence in his sources:

“Next unto Arui there are two rivers Atoica and Caura, and on that branch which is called Caura are a nation of people whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a mere fable, yet for mine own part I am resolved it is true, because every child in the provinces of Aromaia and Canuri affirm the same. They are called Ewaipanoma; they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and that a long train of hair groweth backward between their shoulders. The son of Topiawari, which I brought with me into England, told me that they were the most mighty men of all the land, and use bows, arrows, and clubs thrice as big as any of Guiana, or of the Orenoqueponi; and that one of the Iwarawaqueri took a prisoner of them the year before our arrival there, and brought him into the borders of Aromaia, his father's country. And farther, when I seemed to doubt of it, he told me that it was no wonder among them; but that they were as great a nation and as common as any other in all the provinces, and had of late years slain many hundreds of his father's people, and of other nations their neighbours. But it was not my chance to hear of them till I was come away; and if I had but spoken one word of it while I was there I might have brought one of them with me to put the matter out of doubt. Such a nation was written of by Mandeville, whose reports were holden for fables many years; and yet since the East Indies were discovered, we find his relations true of such things as heretofore were held incredible (Mandeville, or the author who assumed this name, placed his headless men in the East Indian Archipelago, the fable is borrowed from older writers, Herodotus &c). Whether it be true or no, the matter is not great, neither can there be any profit in the imagination; for mine own part I saw them not, but I am resolved that so many people did not all combine or forethink to make the report.

“When I came to Cumana in the West Indies afterwards by chance I spake with a Spaniard dwelling not far from thence, a man of great travel. And after he knew that I had been in Guiana, and so far directly west as Caroli, the first question he asked me was, whether I had seen any of the Ewaipanoma, which are those without heads. Who being esteemed a most honest man of his word, and in all things else, told me that he had seen many of them; I may not name him, because it may be for his disadvantage, but he is well known to Monsieur Moucheron's son of London, and to Peter Moucheron, merchant, of the Flemish ship that was there in trade; who also heard, what he avowed to be true, of those people.”

Alden-L. 601/81; Church 276; JCB I, 455-456; Sabin 67563; Asher, A. Bibliographical essay on the collection of voyages and travels edited and published by Levinus Hulsius and his successors at Nuremburg and Francfort from anno 1598 to 1660, p. 38-42