Antillia (or Antilia) is a semi-mythical island which was reputed during the age of exploration to lie in the
Atlantic Oceanfar to the west of Portugaland Spain. The so-called Phantom Islandwent by various other names such as Isle of Seven Cities, Ilha das Sete Cidades (Portuguese), Septe Cidades, Sanbrandan (or St Brendan). Antillia was also connected at times with ancient legends including the Isles of the Blestand the Fortunate Islands.
The origin of the name is quite uncertain. A theory first emerging in the late eighteenth century [Vicenzio Formaleoni, "Essai sur la marine ancienne des Vénetiens", 1788] fancifully connects it with
Plato's Atlantisbut this has been largely dismissed by academics. Later writers have favoured a derivation from the Latin "ante-ilha" (i.e. the "island out before" or the "island in front of") [William H. Babcock, "Legendary Islands of the Atlantic", 1922 [http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&id=NgIj2BEdxdkC&dq=Legendary+Islands+of+the+Atlantic&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=9qApLJG_GM&sig=CVjqJNNkYVhasUrUTpXKfARTkkc&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result] ] . Alexander von Humboldtsuggested an Arabic etymology from "Jezirat al Tennyn" ("Al-Tin"), or "Dragon's Isle".
The legend of such an island group in the western sea seems to have arisen at the latest in pre-Christian Roman times when
Plutarchchronicled (in 74 AD, chapter 8 refers) the life of the Roman military commander and Consul of Spain Quintus Sertorius(died 75 BC). After returning by sea to Spain after a campaign in " Mauretania" (modern northern Morocco), Sertorius "met some sailors who had recently come back from the Atlantic Islands." It was from these men that Sertorius learned facts so beguiling that he made it his life's ambition to find the islands and retire there. According to Plutarch:
cquote|The islands are said to be two in number separated by a very narrow strait and lie 10,000 furlongs from Africa. They are called the Isles of the Blessed. They enjoy moderate rains and long intervals of winds which for the most part are soft, and precipitate dew, so that the islands not only have a rich soil excellent for ploughing and planting but also produce a natural fruit that is plentiful and wholesome enough to feed, without toil or trouble, a leisured folk.
Moreover an air that is salubrious, owing to the climate and the moderate changes in the seasons, prevails on the islands. The North and East winds which blow out from our part of the world plunge into fathomless space and, owing to the distance, dissipate themselves and lose their power before they reach the islands, while the South and West winds that envelop the islands sometimes bring in their train soft and intermittent showers, but for the most part cool them with moist breezes and gently nourish the soil. Therefore a firm belief has made its way, even to the barbarians, that here are the Elysian Fields and the abode of the Blessed of which
Medieval beliefs and the Age of Discovery
s and their parishioners, seeking to avoid the ensuing Dark Age. Each congregation reputedly founded a city, which were known as Aira, Anhuib, Ansalli, Ansesseli, Ansodi, Ansolli and Con [Grazioso Benincasa, 1482] , and once established burnt their Caravell ships as a sign of their autonomy. It should be noted that since said events predated the Kingdom of Portugal and the clergy's heritage marked a claim to significant strategical gains, Spain counter claimed that the expedition was, in fact, theirs. [For an expansive modern telling of the tale, see "Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic" by Thomas Wentworth-Higginson, 1899. http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&id=Ameh7XS76BEC&dq=tales+of+the+enchanted+islands+of+the+atlantic&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=OUa7I4Cgee&sig=hdVbcUSFJrqtYxX1hZLmh9MqyRA&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPR1,M1]
One of the chief early descriptions of this legend of Antillia is that inscribed on the globe which the geographer
Martin Behaimmade at Nurembergin 1492 (see map: "History"). Behaim relates the Catholic escape from the barbarians, though his date of 734 is probably a mistake for 714. The inscription adds that a Spanish vessel sighted the island in 1414, while a Portuguese crew claimed to have landed on Antillia in the 1430s. According to the old tradition, the seven cities achieved a model of agricultural, economic and cultural harmony, and the whole island became a Utopiancommonwealth, free from the disorders of less favoured states.
With this legend underpinning growing reports of a bountiful civilisation mid-way between Europe and
Cipangu, or Japan [ Paul Toscanelli's 1474 letter to the Spanish Court, 'Toscanelli and Columbus', H. Vignaud, 1902] , the quest to discover the Seven Cities attracted major attention. However, in the last decade of the 15th century the Portuguese state inexplicably ceased sponsoring such exploratory voyages [RA Skelton, "Explorers' Maps: Chapters in the Cartographic Record of Geographical Discovery" http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=61480298] , and in 1492, under the Spanish flag of Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbusset out on his historic journey to Asia, citing the island as the perfect halfway house. Colombus had supposedly gained charts and descriptions from a Spanish navigator, who had "sojourned... and died also" at Colombus's home in Madeira, after having made landfall on Antillia. [ Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, De Orbe Novo, 1511-25 http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12425]
It is impossible to estimate how far this legend commemorates some actual but imperfectly recorded discovery, and how far it is a reminiscence of the ancient idea of an
elysiumin the western seas. However, what is beyond dispute is its critical role in the discovery of the New World, and it is worth noting that just five years after Peter Martyr d'Anghierareported that Colombus had discovered Antillia as Hispaniola- effectively writing the island out of history- Thomas Morepublished " Utopia".
, the whole group often classified as "insulae de novo repertae", "newly discovered islands".
On these maps, Antillia was typically shown as being almost the size of Portugal, lying around 200 miles west of the Azores. It was an almost perfect rectangle, its long axis running north-south, but with seven
trefoilbays shared between the east and west coasts. Each city lay on a bay. The form of the island occasionally becomes more figurative than the semi-abstract representations of Pareto, Benincasa et al; Bianco, for instance, shifts its orientation to north-west - south-east, transmutes generic bays into river mouths (including a large one on the north-eastern coast), and elongates a southern tail into a Cape with a small cluster of isletsoffshore.
Around the time of Spain's discovery of South America, Antillia dwindles substantially in size on
Behaim's Globe and later charts. Contrary to the earlier descriptions of the two island groups as distinct entities, a 16th century notion relegates Antillia to the island of Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores, where a national park centring on two lakes still bears the name Sete Cidades.
Current beliefs and legacy
Some, the first being
Peter Martyr d'Anghierain 1511 [De Orbe Novo http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12425] , suggested that Antillia represented a previous discovery of the West Indies(and more specifically either Puerto Ricoor Trinidad), and as a result the Caribbean islands became known as the Antilles. The island's shape on Behaim's globe is similar to that of Trinidad. As explorations continued in the Americas and Atlantic knowledge improved, Antillia shrank on maps and disappearing entirely after 1587.
Sixteenth-century explorers such as
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vacaand Francisco Vásquez de Coronadocontinued to look for the Seven Cities, but located them in the American Southwest rather than the Caribbean (the "Seven Cities of Cibola").
Antilia is also thought by some to have been called
Maydaor Asmaida. This story is told by Vincent H. Gaddis in his " Invisible Horizons".
A controversial book titled "The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America" by Canadian architect and amateur
archeologist Paul Chiasson(St. Martin's Press, 2006) presents the claim that the Island of Seven Cities was in fact Cape Breton Island, settled in Cape Dauphinby sailors from Chinawho had rounded Africa and sailed up the Atlantic. [http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1147557011677&call_pageid=1105528093962&col=1105528093790] Chiasson write that some of those Chinese sailors may have been Nestorian Christians. These claims are based on interpretations of an alleged archaeological site, since identified as actually consisting of a 20th Century firebreak and a road constructed in the 1980s, and also alleged cultural similarities between the Mi'kmaq peoples native to the Canadian Maritimesand New England, and the Chinese. Chiasson's claims were systematically refuted by a team of five Nova Scotian professional archeologistswho visited the site in summer 2006. [http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2006/07/27/capebreton-chinese.html]
El Dorado (legend)
City of the Caesars(Ciudad de los Césares)
Quivira and Cíbola
Sierra del Plata
* [http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1147557011677&call_pageid=1105528093962&col=1105528093790 "A Chinese puzzle on a lonely hilltop"] "The Toronto Star", May 14, 2006, retrieved May 15, 2006
*Gaddis, Vincent H. "Invisible Horizons", Chilton Books, Philadelphia, 1965.
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