Geography and the More Circle:
John Rastell, Thomas More
and the 'New World'
ROMUALD IAN LAKOWSKI
- While much has been written about the geographical background of Utopia, modern critical attention for the most part has been too narrowly focused on the Americas. 1 It is all too often forgotten in relation to Utopia that there were in fact at least two 'New Worlds' in the 16th Century – not only
the Americas but also sub-Saharan Africa and most of Asia, which were
equally new to Europeans at this time as well. I am convinced that the
Portuguese voyages of discovery and exploration in the Far East after
1500, are at least as important for understanding Utopia as is
the 'discovery' of the Americas after 1492. On the basis of evidence
from More's own works and from other contemporary references, I wish to
argue that More was really far more interested in 'The East' than in the
Americas, and that India and Ceylon (Taprabone) in particular served as
prototypes for the fictional geography of Utopia.
- While most of the details of Thomas More's description of Utopian
society in Utopia have Classical or Mediaeval prototypes, it is
clear that he was just as profoundly influenced by the contemporary
Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery. Hythloday, the fictional
narrator of Book II of Utopia, was Portuguese and supposedly went
on Amerigo Vespucci's Fourth 'Portuguese' Voyage, and was left
behind in what is now Brazil, though More does not mention it by name.
Somehow, from there he managed to get to the Portuguese possessions in
India and Ceylon (Taprabone) from where he sailed back to Europe. In
between, he spent five years in Utopia. More is delightfully vague
about the location of Utopia. Most scholars have tried to look for
models in Latin America, but have come away disappointed by the few
parallels. I think a much stronger case can be made for locating Utopia
in the Far East. Only in the Orient did the European explorers find
societies with as rich a history and culture as the West had (apart, of
course, from the Arabs who were traditional enemies). More's views
on the "New World" can be fruitfully elucidated by comparing them with
those of his brother-in-law John Rastell, who included a
dramatic 'geography lesson' in his play The Interlude of the
John Rastell's Interlude of the Four Elements
- John Rastell's Interlude of the Four Elements, which has been
edited by R. Axton, was probably written about 1520 (Axton 1979, 8-9),
and contains one of the first mentions of America in English
John Rastell, who had married Thomas More's sister Elizabeth before
1504, and possibly as early as 1494 (Geritz 1976, 23-24), took part in
organizing an unsuccessful voyage in 1516-1517 to Newfoundland (first
claimed for England 20 years earlier by John Cabot in 1497) to found a
colony there and to trade with the native Indians. The voyage proved
abortive, and Rastell only got as far as Ireland where the crew mutinied
and forced him to call the journey off (Reed 1926, 187-201; Devereux
1976, 119-23; Chambers 1963, 130-35). A later voyage to Newfoundland in
1536 by one of Rastell's sons, John Rastell Jnr., was to fare even
worse, ending in starvation, cannabalism and piracy (Axton 1979, 10).
- The one permanent legacy of this voyage was the rather curious
Interlude of the Four Elements. The section of about two hundred
lines, from about lines 660-880, which comprises a rather crude
'geography lesson' given by Experiens to Studyous Desire,
the two characters on stage at this point. Experiens begins by
declaring the extent of his travels:
- Ryght farr, syr, I have rydden and gone
And seen straunge thynges many one,
in Affryk, Europe, and Ynde,
Both est and west I have ben farre,
North also, and seen the sowth starre,
Bothe by see and lande . . . (669-674)
Studyous Desire then asks how to get to these lands from
Jerusalem, the traditional medieval starting off point for all journeys
to visit the 'Wonders of the East' (cf. FE 678-683). This
is all the invitation that Experiens needs, and immediately
after giving a brief account of European geography (FE
704-732), starting with England, he gives a description of the 'New
- This See is called the great Ocean,
So great it is that never man
Coude tell it sith the worlde began,
Tyll nowe, within this twenty yere,
Westwarde be founde new landes,
That we never harde tell of before this
By wrytynge nor other meanys,
Yet many nowe have ben there . . .
For dyuers maryners haue it tryed
And sayled streyght by the coste syde
Above fyve thousand myle. (733-40, 744-46)
- Rastell goes on to say that this land 'The moste wyse prynce the
seventh Herry / Causyd furst for to be founde' (FE 773-74), and
that the French and others 'have founde the trade, / That yerely of
fyshe there they lade / Above an hundred sayl' (FE 808-810).
Rastell is clearly referring specifically to John Cabot's Voyage to
Newfoundland in 1497. And most of the details in the next section
dealing with the 'New World' (cf. FE 721-822) seem to deal
specifically with the voyages to Newfoundland, including a rather
pointed reference (cf. FE 754-761) to mariners who make false
promises to and betray their '[ad]venturers'. This part of the Four
Elements has been extensively analysed in a series of articles published
over fifty years ago dealing with Rastell's geographical knowledge of
There is no need to go over this well-worn ground again, except to point
out that among other sources, Rastell clearly had a map in front of him.
We know he was interested in maps since when he died, 110 maps of
Europe were found in his printing shop
and he also makes mention of examining Waldseemüller and a Mappa
Mundi in the Prologue of The Pastyme of
Axton, the editor of the Four Elements, thinks that the details
in Rastell's account in the Four Elements are consistent with the
Waldseemüller Carta Marina of 1516, based in turn on
Waldseemüller's own map in the Cosmographiae Introductio of
1507 (Axton 1979, 130-131).
- There is almost no mention of Central America in the Four
Elements. All that Rastell has to say is that: 'But in the
south parte of that countrey / The people they go nakyd alway, / The lande
is of so great hete' (FE 811-813). After finishing his
description of his westward journey, he then describes another journey
this time to the east, following the itinerary of such famous medieval
real and fictional travellers as Marco Polo and John Mandeville and of
the contemporary Portuguese explorers:
- Loo, estwarde beyonde the great occyan
Here entereth the see callyd Mediterran,
of two thousand myle of lengthe.
The Soudans contrey ['Syria'] lyeth here by,
The great Turke on the north syde doth ly,
A man of merveylous strengthe.
This sayde north parte is callyd Europa,
And this south parte callyd Affrica,
This eest parte is callyd Ynde [Asia],
But this newe landys founde lately
Ben callyd America by cause only
Americus dyd furst them fynde.
Loo, Jherusalem lyeth in this contrey,
And beyonde is the Red See,
That Moyses maketh of mencyon
This quarter is India Minor [Ethiopia]
And this quarter India Maior,
The lande of Prester Johnn. (829-46)
- Northward beyond the land of Prester John, is the land of the
'Cane of Catowe' (FE 852), clearly a reference to Marco
Polo's Khan of Cathay. And beyond China we come to the newfound lands
again, though Rastell is not sure whether 'the great eest see [the
China Sea] . . . go thyther dyrectly / Or if any wyldernes betwene
them do ly' (FE 853, 856-57). Rastell greatly underestimates
the distance between China and the 'New World':
- But these new landis, by all cosmografye,
From the Cane of Catous lande can not lye
Lytell paste a thousande myle;
But from those new landis men may sayle playne
Estwarde, and com to Englande againe,
Where we began ere whyle. (859-64)
We know in fact that Rastell significantly underestimated the size of
the Earth. In the Preface to the Four Elements, Rastell states
that the Earth "is in circumference above 21,000 myle" (FE
xvii-xix). Almost as astonishing to our modern ears as Rastell's
underestimate of the distance between Asia and North America, is his
complete ignorance of what lies in the "Antipodes", on the "other side"
of the Southern Hemisphere:
- But the south parte of the other side
Ys as large as this full, and as wyde,
Whiche we knowe nothynge at all.
Nor whether the most parte be lande or see,
Nor whether the people that there be
Be bestiall or connynge,
Nor whether they knowe God or no,
Nor howe they beleve nor what they do,
Of this we knowe nothynge. (868-76)
- It is interesting to compare Rastell with his brother-in-law
Sir Thomas More here, though I will deal with Utopia in detail
later. More doesn't seem to have shared Rastell's passion for
Newfoundland Cod. Indeed, he never makes mention of Newfoundland, or of
North America specifically, in any of his writings, even though, if
Pearl Hogrefe is right, his own father, Sir John More, may have helped
finance Rastell's abortive Newfoundland expedition (Reed 1926, 12;
Hogrefe 1959, 29-30).
- If there is no South America in the Four Elements,
there is equally well no North America in Utopia. Indeed,
apart from the mention of Amerigo Vespucci's Fourth Voyage at the
beginning of Utopia, Book I, and the reference to the
feather headdresses of the priests in Utopia at the end of Book
II, there is precious little in Utopia that can be tied
specifically to the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries in South
America. More does seem to have shared Rastell's belief that
these new lands were very close to Asia. When Peter Giles
introduces Hythloday to Morus, he summarizes Hythloday's voyages
as follows: 'when after Vespucci's departure he had
travelled through many countries . . . by strange chance he was
carried to Ceylon, whence he reached Calicut. There he
conveniently found some Portuguese ships, and at length arrived
home again, beyond all expectation' (CW 4,
50/15-19). There is not even any clear sense, at least in
Utopia, that these new-found lands comprised a continent,
nor is there any sense of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
When Hythloday goes on to summarize his voyages, he tells Morus
and Peter Giles that after leaving Vespucci's fort, Hythloday and
his companions travelled 'partly by water on rafts and
partly over land by wagon' (CW 4, 50/33). This
is hardly the stuff to cross a continent or an ocean with, unless
you are a Thor Heyerdahl. More does mention Magellan's ill-fated
Voyage around the World in 1522 later on in the Dialogue
Concerning Heresies (1529):
- Or who wolde not wene it impossyble but yf experyence had
proued it that the hole erthe hangeth in the ayre / and men walke
fote agaynst fote / & shyppes sayle bottom agaynst
bottom / a thyng so straunge & semyng so far agaynst nature
& reason / . . . whyche is yet nowe founden trew by experyence
of them that haue in lesse than two yeres saylyd the worlde rounde
about. (CW 6, 66/12-16, 19-22)
Nonetheless, Magellan's voyage came too late to have any influence on
either the Utopia or Rastell's Four Elements. There is,
however, one late reference in More's works in which More does refer to
these 'new founden' lands as a continent. In the Confutation of
Tyndale's Answer, published in 1532, More wrote in defense of the
Observant Franciscan friars against the attacks of Luther and Tyndale:
- For I am sure there haue ben mo [more] Ilandes and more parte
of the ferme lande and contynent, dyscouered and founden out wythin this
fourty yeres laste passed / then was new founden, as farre as any
man may perceyue this thre thousand yere afore / and in many of
these places the name of Cryste now new knowen to and preachynges had,
and sacramentes mynystred . . . But god hath prouyded that his name is
preached by such good crysten folke . . . yt is good
relygyous freres & specyally ye freres obseruauntes . . .
(CW 8, 191/10-18)
This is a reference to the spectacular successes of the Franciscan
missionaries in converting the native populations in Mexico after 1522
(cf. CW 8, 1535-36), and is the only clear and unambiguous
reference to the Americas that can be found in any of More's other
works. Apart from Rastell's Four Elements, there is only one
other reference to the "new founden landes" by a member of the More
Circle. It was made by John More, Thomas More's son, in the Preface
to his translation of Damião de Góis' Legacy of
Prester John (1533), an account of the first Ethiopian Embassy to
Portugal in 1513:
- This empyre of prester Iohñ ys reputed as great a
maygne countre in a maner (yf yt be not gretter) as all the remanaunt
that nowe remayneth christened, except the new founden landes, that haue
ben bycomen chrystened wythin few yeres of late. (Legacy,
A2v-A3r; Blackburn 1967, 45-46)
The Voyage to Utopia
- In an essay written almost sixty years ago, entitled 'More's
Utopia and Geography', George B. Parks (1938b, 224-36) dealt with
More's knowledge of geography in Utopia and the evidence from
contemporary maps. It is a sign of the serious neglect of this topic
that very little has been added since to Park's discussion of the
location of Utopia, apart from a few notes in the Yale edition. Parks
points out that: 'Hythloday was thus the first European to circumnavigate
the globe, anticipating the followers of Magellan by perhaps a decade'
(1938b, 226). He then goes on to attempt to trace Hythloday's route.
After admitting that: 'More almost deliberately avoids the usual
precisions of the travel literature' (Ibid.), Parks suggests
three possible routes: the first 'a south west passage to the Indies'
(the Cape of Horn had not yet been discovered at this point); the second
across the 'terra incognita of Brazil'; and the third, suggested by an
oral communication by R. W. Chambers to Parks, that Hythloday was the
first to sail the Northwest Passage (Parks 1938b, 227). There is,
however, another possibility overlooked by Parks and Chambers: namely
that far from sailing westward Hythloday actually sailed East round the
Cape of Good Hope, following in the path of none other than Pedro
Alvarez Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil, to arrive at the destination
that Vespucci himself had hoped to reach on his Fourth Voyage. And in
fact by the time that More wrote Utopia, many Portuguese fleets
had already made the voyage to and from India round the Cape of Good Hope.
- A number of More's own contemporaries also looked primarily to
Asia rather than to the Americas for the real-life models and the
fictional location of Utopia. I will cite the evidence of three
important "witnesses" who all located Utopia in the East. The first is
that great admirer of Utopia, François Rabelais. In Book
II, Chapter 24 of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais gives the
itinerary of Pantagruel's voyage to Utopia as follows:
- Indeed, an hour later the wind arose as north-northwest, to
which they set full sails, and took to the open sea, and in a few days,
passing by Porto Santo and Madera, they put in at the Canary Islands.
Leaving there, they passed by Cape Blanco, Senegal, Cape Verde, by
Gambia, by Sagres, by Melli, by the Cape of Good Hope, and went ashore
in the kingdom of Melinda [Zanzibar?]. On leaving there, they
set sail to the Transmontane [north] wind, passing by Meden, Uti, Udem,
Gelasim, the islands of the Fairies, and near the kingdom of Achoria;
finally they arrived at the port of Utopia, three leagues and a little
more away from the city of the Amaurots (Frame 1991, 212 and 834).
Rabelais is following the route, as given in Simon Grynaeus's
Novis Orbis (1532), that the Spanish and Portuguese explorers
took from Europe to India, down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape
of Good Hope and up the east coast to Zanzibar [Melinda], and
from thence to India, though after Melinda the geography becomes
imaginary (LeFranc 1922, IV:255-57). (Later, in Books IV and V,
Pantagruel does in fact visit India.)
- The next witness is More's friend and fellow English humanist
Richard Pace, who in a work published the year after Utopia in
1517, De Fructu quae ex doctrina percipitur (The Benefit of a Liberal
Education), tells several anecdotes about More and makes a number of
comments on Utopia (Pace 1967, 43,69,103-9,127; Surtz 1958,
36-50), one of which explicitly links Utopia with the Portuguese Voyages
to India and Ceylon:
- Ptolemy and Strabo, who described the regions of the world in
their works, are the reason I shall not pass over geography entirely in
silence. For through the art of these men the Portuguese discovered
Ceylon [Taprabone] in our own time. That's certainly a famous
place and useful to the King of Portugal. Nevertheless, I wouldn't put
it in front of Utopia. For granted Utopia doesn't have the spices the
Portuguese buy, still, the way to it is far less dangerous, and it is
full of its own unknown delights. But whoever takes the science of
geography to heart either has to travel all over the world (which is
extremely unpleasant, difficult, and expensive) or he has to read
through Strabo, which is about as long and as broad as the earth and is
a world in itself – and in Greek too, since the translation is
extremely corrupt. But that's what you have to do, unless this seems
shorter: to study the sketches of the globe called colloquially maps of
the world. But you ought to know that they also proceed from the
learning of those two men I've already mentioned (Pace 1967, 108-9,172-3).
Pace is being disingenuous here since the 16th Century Ptolemaic maps
were being modified to take the new geographical discoveries into
account. Taprabone, which Hythloday visited first after leaving Utopia
was usually identified with Ceylon and was the furthest known eastern
point in Asia that the Greeks and Romans had any direct trade contact
with in ancient times. As such it was an antipodean reflection of
Ultima Thule, the furthest known Western point, often identified by the
The 'rediscovery' of Tabrabone/Ceylon had been the goal of both the 1501
Voyage of Cabral, the 'discoverer' of Brazil, and of Vespucci's Fourth
'Portuguese' Voyage of 1502, though the Portuguese didn't actually reach
Ceylon until 1505.
- The third witness is none other than Peter Giles, and the
evidence can be found in the pages of Utopia itself. Among the
additions made by Giles as copy-editor for the press of Thierry Martens
to the first edition of Utopia (Antwerp, 1516), was a
Tetrastichon in the Utopian language. The only clearly recognisable
words in this imaginary language are the pair 'gymnosophaon/gymnosophan',
translated by 'philosophia(m)' (CW 4, 18-9, 277-8). This
is almost certainly a reference to the gymnosophistae of the
Alexander Romances or naked wisemen of India who chastised
Alexander the Great when he invaded India for his world-conquering
- They were later on confused or conflated in the Medieval literature
about India with the Brahmans as in Mandeville's Island of the
The two essential features of the gymnosophists were that they practised
communism and that they were philosophers. Despite his coyness about the
location of Utopia in his letter to Jerome Busleyden which prefaces the
Utopia, Peter Giles does hint at one point, like Richard Pace, that More
may have had classical geographical models:
- As for the difficulty that the name of this island is to be
found nowhere in the cosmographers, that was well explained by
Hythlodaeus himself. It was possible, he said, either that the name
used by the ancients had afterward been changed or that this island had
even escaped their notice, just as nowadays we find very many lands
cropping up which were unknown to the ancient geographers.
(CW 4, 24/4-8)
- More and Peter Giles are both extremely vague about the location
of Utopia. Giles pretends in his 'Prefatory Letter to Busleyden' that
someone coughed right at the critical moment when Raphael was giving the
location of Utopia. He promises to find out not only the location of the
island but even its exact latitude (cf. CW 4, 22/31). In his
'Prefatory Letter to Giles', More states:
- We forgot to ask, and he forgot to say, in what part of
[that] new world Utopia lies (qua in parte noui illius orbis) . .
. I am rather ashamed to be ignorant in what sea lies the island (quo
in mari sit insula) of which I am saying so much. . .
(CW 4, 43/1-5)
The Cambridge edition of Utopia translates quo in mari sit
insula as: 'the ocean where this island lies' (Thomas More 1995,
35). In 1516, there were only two real choices: the Atlantic and the
Indian Oceans. Prior to Magellan's circumnavigation of the World in
1522, nobody knew how vast the Pacific Ocean was, nor did it appear
any contemporary pre-1522 maps as a separate body of water, distinct
from the Indian Ocean. It was also too early for any real
differentiation of the North and South Atlantic Oceans. On the other
hand the Indian Ocean, which was known to the Ancients, appears, usually
marked as Mare Indicum or Pelagus Indicum, on all
Renaissance World maps, including Pre-Columbian Ptolemaic ones.
- Furthermore, when More uses the expression novus orbis, he
always uses the demonstative pronoun ille ('that new
world'), a point apparently sometimes lost on both the Yale and
Cambridge editors, as opposed to using hoc for Europe. Since
orbis terrarum can mean 'the whole world' in Latin,
ille novus orbis seems to have the force of 'that
hemisphere'. This is especially clear at the end of Book I:
- 'But you should have been with me in Utopia . . . for I lived
there more than five years and would never have wished to leave except
to make known that new world (novum illum orbem) . . .' 'Yet
surely,' [said] Peter Giles, 'it would be hard for you to convince me
that a better-ordered people is to be found in that new world (in
illo nouo), than in [this world well-known to us] (in hoc noto
nobis orbe). In the latter I imagine there are equally excellent
minds, as well as commonwealth, which are older, than those in [that]
new world (in illo) . . .' 'As for the antiquity of
commonwealths,' he [said], 'you could give a sounder opinion if you had
read the historical accounts of that world (historias illius
orbis). If we must believe tham, there were cities among them before
there were men among us. (CW 4,106/13-27)
More's Utopia was written much too early in the history of the
European voyages, for More to have been thinking of the Americas in
hemispheric terms. In addition, there is clear evidence in Utopia
itself that the Island of Utopia is in the Southern Hemisphere.
- J. Duncan M. Derrett (1966, 61-66) has suggested an Eastern
provenance for the Utopian alphabet, in particular the Indian Malayalam
script. This is not impossible since some woodcuts of oriental alphabets
were already available in print at this point. Futhermore, there had
been more than one Indian visitor to Europe by this time (Derrett 1962b,
18-34; 1965b, 17-18; Minattur 1969, 39-43), and the Portuguese in
Antwerp may even have had samples of Indian writing available for Peter
Gillis to examine.
- Although the alphabet was added by Peter Giles, we have one
reference by More that shows that he shared Giles's interest in exotic
scripts. In the Letter to Martin Dorp (1515) which is exactly
contemporary with Utopia, More states in complaining about bad
printers: ' . . . Dorp, let us not forget about those who print Latin so
that it looks more like Greek and print Greek so that it looks more like
Arabic' (CW 15, 94/17-19). Furthermore, Hythloday tells us
in Book II of Utopia that the Utopian language resembles Persian,
but also has some traces of Greek in it.
- According to my conjecture, they got hold of Greek literature
more easily because it is somewhat related to their own. I suspect that
their race was derived from the Greek because their language, which in
almost all other respects resembles the Persian, retains some traces of
Greeks in the names of their cities and officials. (CW 4,
More who was familiar with the classical literature about Alexander
the Great may well have been thinking of the Greek speaking cities that
were founded by Alexander and his Seleucid successors in Persia and
Afghanistan. We are also told that the Utopians worship the Persian God
Mithras (CW 4, 216/21, 232/13). In Book I, we are told by
Hythloday, when he describes the imaginary society of the Polylerites,
that he had even visited Persia in the course of his travels:
- I can find no better system in any country than that which,
in the course of my travels, I observed in Persia among the people
commonly called the Polylerites, a nation that is large and
well-governed and, except that it pays an annual tribute to the Persian
[king], otherwise free and autonomous in its laws. They are far from
the sea, almost ringed round by mountains, and satisfied with the
products of their own land, which is in no way infertile.
(CW 4, 74/18-26)
- At the very end of Book I, Hythloday tells us that the Utopians even
had contact with the Romans and Egyptians. He cites an incident in which
a ship, manned by Roman and Egyptian sailors had been shipwrecked on the
coast of Utopia twelve hundred years beforehand. And the Utopians had
eagerly mastered everything the Romans and Egyptians had to teach them
(cf. CW 4, 106/30-108/11). One More scholar (J. D. M.
Derrett) has found a possible source for this in the account of a Roman
Egyptian official who was shipwrecked on the Malabar coast of India in
355-360 A.D., which was later interpolated into Palladius on the
Races of India and the Brahmans (Derrett 1962a, 21-31).
The Pseudo-Palladius was often included as an appendix to the
Pseudo-Callisthenes, one of the Alexander Romances, and was one
of the sources of the Gymnosophist tradition that More may have
consulted. Derrett's explanation seems far more plausible to me than
André Prévost's (1978, 672-73), that More was anticipating
Thor Heyerdahl's famous Ra expedition in suggesting that the Egyptians
(and the Romans) had reached Central America long before Columbus did.
- When the Portuguese first arrived in India almost exactly 500 years
ago (Vasco da Gama's First Voyage was in 1497-1499), they found a
society every bit as advanced and culturally sophisticated as their own
and even more so. (Indeed the Portuguese must have seemed like
barbarians to the East Indians.) The only thing the Indians lacked was
Western technology. The relatively tolerant Hindu society of India even
had a significant Christian minority population, the St. Thomas
Christians, on the Malabar coast where the Indian spice trade was
centered. Furthermore, unlike the South American Indians encountered by
Columbus and Vespucci, the East Indians were highly urbanised and
literate. The Spanish Conquest of the Inca and Aztec Empires came much
too late (in the 1520's and 1530's) to have any possible effect on
More's Utopia. The Portuguese Empire in India, although in
reality it only consisted of a string of forts around the Indian Ocean,
has with some justification been called the first European Empire. The
Spanish Empire in Mexico and the South American continent really dates
from the conquest of Mexico City in 1521. And the Portuguese
colonization of Brazil comes even later. In a real sense, the Portuguese
Empire in India was just reaching its climax in 1515 at the death of
Albuquerque, right at the time when More was writing Utopia.
- Which brings me back to Antwerp. It's amazing that Utopia scholars
have completely missed the significance of the setting of Book I of
Utopia in Antwerp. For, as any Renaissance economic
historian will tell you, Antwerp was the major emporium for the
Portuguese spice trade with India. And what better place was there than
India House, the Portuguese feitoria, in Antwerp for More to
hear all the latest news from India?
- To conclude, lest I be misunderstood, Utopia as a fictional
island, is nowhere in a sense because it is everywhere –
everywhere that is except here. The one thing we can clearly say
about it is that it is not in the Northern Hemisphere, in hoc
noto nobis orbe, in this world well-known to us. More wasn't
thinking of America in hemispheric terms, rather he associated,
the "new founden lands" of South and Central America with the
Classical understanding of the Antipodes and the Medieval
understanding of India.
earlier version of this paper was given at the Renaissance Society of
America Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on 5th April 1997. All the
significant published articles on Utopian Geography prior to 1993 are
listed in the relevant section of my online Utopia
Bibliography available on the World Wide Web, through Early
Modern Literary Studies
distinction of being the first to mention America (misspelled as
'Armenica') in English belongs to a wretched little work,
consisting of three tracts, called 'Of the newe landes and of ye
people founde by the messenger of the kynge of portyngale named
Emanuel' (Antwerp, 1511). The first of which contains one
paragraph dealing with America, and the remaining nine with the
voyage to India. The remaining two accounts 'Of the. x. dyuers
nacyons crystened' and 'Of pope Iohn [Prester John] and his
landes' are based on traditional medieval material, see Arber
articles by M. E. Borish (1938, 149-63), Elizabeth M. Nugent
(1942, 74-88), George B. Parks (1938a, 251-62; 1943, 572-74),
Johnstone Parr (1945, 48-58; 1948, 229-40), and Pearl Hogrefe (1959,
Cx mappis of Europa . . . ixs ijd' (Roberts 1979, 35). Roberts also
mentions (ibid., 37, 41) a lost Mappa mundi which has
been attributed by Dr. Helen Wallis to Rastell.
also very vnlykly that sich a shyp [carrying the daughters of
Dioclisian king of Syria] commyn from so far a contrey shuld neuer
touch land tyll it cam hyther consideryng that the course is so long
aboue .iii. or .iiii. M myles by see & dyuers other landis
& ylandis betwene / & also the passage so strayte &
daungerous that they must nedis come thorow many straytis &
shawllys & lykly to touch land in many other placys or they coud
come in to this occian see as they that be seen in Cosmografye may
well perceyue by the syght of the quart or Mappa mundi' John Rastell
(1985, 204). 'Cosmogrifye' is a reference to Waldseemüller. A.
J. Geritz (ibid., 495) thinks that the Mappa Mundi may
be one published in London, 1535 (STC 17297.2) which Rastell may have
seen before its publication.
idea was still current in the Renaissance, see for example John
Desmarais' 'Prefatory Letter to Giles' in the Utopia: ' . . .
the British, who live at the ends of the Earth' (Thomas More
1995,261; CW 4, 26/9); More's Latin Epigrams
(CW 3/2), p.190, #143/192-93: 'ultimam / monet
Britanniam' and John Vitalis' dedicatory poem (possibly composed by
More himself) in More's Responsio ad Lutherum: 'ab extremis .
. . Britannis' CW 5, 694/3).
CW 4, p. 278, and note to 18/11 in ADDENDA on p. 584
(Fourth Printing). For the significance of this reference, see J. D.
M. Derrett (1962b, 20-22; 1965a, 600-603) and D. Baker-Smith
For island of the Bragmans as a possible model for Utopia,
see CW 4, clxvii, and D. Baker-Smith (1991, 114).
List of Works Cited
Arber, Edward. Ed. 1885. 'Of the newe landes and of ye people founde
by the messenger of the kynge of portyngale named Emanuel' (Antwerp,
1511). In The First Three English Books on America. (?1511)-1555
A.D. Birmingham: Printed by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh,
Axton, Richard. Ed. 1979. Three Rastall Plays: Four Elements,
Calisto and Melebea, Gentleness and Nobility. Cambridge: D. S.
Brewer; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.
Baker-Smith, Dominic. 1991. 'The Location of Utopia: Narrative
Devices in a Renaissance Fiction.' In Addressing Frank Kermode:
Essays in Criticism and Interpretation, edited by Margaret
Tudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner. London: MacMillan, 109-23.
Blackburn, Elizabeth B. 1967. 'The Legacy of "Prester John" by
Damião à Goes and John More.' Moreana 14:37-98.
[A facsimile edition.]
Borish, M. E. 1938. 'Source and Intention of The Four
Elements.' Studies in Philology 35:149-63.
Chambers, Raymond Wilson. 1963. Thomas More. London: Peregrine Books.
Derrett, J. Duncan M. 1962a. 'The Theban Scholasticus and Malabar in
c.355-360.' Journal of the American Oriental Society 82:21-31.
Derrett, J. Duncan M. 1962b. 'Thomas More and Joseph the Indian.'
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society April, 1962:18-34.
Derrett, J. Duncan M. 1965a. 'Gemistus Plethon, the Essenes, and More's
Utopia.' Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance
27:579-606. [See especially, 'Appendix I: More's Utopia and
Derrett, J. Duncan M. 1965b. 'More's Utopia and Indians in Europe.'
Derrett, J. Duncan M. 1966. 'The Utopian Alphabet.' Moreana 12:61-66.
Devereux, E. J. 1976. 'John Rastell's Utopian Voyage.' Moreana
Frame, Donald M. Trans. 1991. The Complete Works of François
Rabelais. Berkeley: U of California P.
Geritz, Albert J. 1976. 'The Marriage Date of John Rastell and
Elizabeth More.' Moreana 52:23-24.
Hogrefe, Pearl. 1959. The Sir Thomas More Circle: A Program of
Ideas and Their Impact on Secular Drama. Urbana: University of
Lefranc, Abel. Ed. 1922. Oeuvres de François Rabelais.
Paris: Édouard Champion.
Minattur, Joseph. 1969. 'More's Utopia and Kerala.' Moreana
More, Thomas. 1963-1997. The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of
St. Thomas More. New Haven: Yale University Press. Cited as CW.
- 1984. CW 3, Part 2, The Latin Poems. Edited by Clarence H. Miller, Leicester Bradner, Charles A. Lynch and Revilo P. Oliver.
- 1965. CW 4, Utopia. Edited by Edward L. Surtz and J. H. Hexter.
- 1969. CW 5, Responsio ad Lutherum. Edited by John M.
Headley, translated by Sr. Scholastica Mandeville. 2 vols.
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Thomas M. C. Lawler, Germain Marc'hadour and Richard C. Marius. 2 vols.
- 1973. CW 8, The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer.
Edited by Louis A. Schuster, Richard C. Marius, James P. Lusardi and Richard J. Schoeck. 3 vols.
- 1986. CW 15, In Defence of Humanism. Edited by Daniel
More, Thomas. 1995. Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation,
edited by George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams and Clarence Miller.
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Nugent, Elizabeth M. 1942. 'Sources of John Rastell's The Nature of the
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Pace, Richard. 1967. De Fructu quae ex doctrina percipitur (The
Benefit of a Liberal Education), Edited and translated by Frank
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Parks, George B. 1938a. 'More's Utopia and Geography.' Journal
of English and Germanic Philology 37:224-36.
Parks, George B. 1938b. 'The Geography of the Interlude of the Four
Elements.' Philological Quarterly 17:251-62.
Parks, George B. 1943. 'Rastell and Waldseemuller's Map.' Publications
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Parr, Johnstone. 1945. 'More Sources of Rastell's Interlude of the Four
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Prévost, André. Ed. 1978. L'Utopie de Thomas More:
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Exégèse, Traduction et Notes. Paris: Mame.
Rastell, John. 1985. The Pastyme of People and A New Boke of
Purgatory, edited by Albert J. Geritz. New York: Garland.
Reed, Arthur William. 1926. Early Tudor Drama: Medwell, the Rastells,
Heywood, and the More Circle. London: Methuen.
Roberts, R. J. 1979. 'John Rastell's Inventory of 1538.' The
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Surtz, Edward. 1958. 'Richard Pace's Sketch of Thomas More.'
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1977. 180-88, 611-14.
© Copyright Romuald I. Lakowski 1999.
Renaissance Forum 1999. ISSN 1362-1149. Volume 4, Number 1, 1999.
Technical Editor: Andrew Butler. Updated
13 December 1999.