ANGHIERA, Pietro Martire d'

(Peter Martyr d'Anghera) (1457-1526)
An Italian humanist, author, and member of the Spanish Council of the Indies, Peter Martyr was among the first Europeans to publicly contemplate the con­sequences of a "New World"; he might even be credited with inventing the whole concept. The reactions generated by Columbus's 1492 voyage, in turn, provoked greater interest in "discovery" among the chattering classes of late-fifteenth- and early-sixteenth-century western Europe. Martyr, the author of De orbe novo, a series of newsletters circulated in manuscript to prominent church­men, including the pope, after 1494 and published posthumously in several languages, set the tone of the discussion in Renaissance and pro-Spanish terms.
Martyr was a native of Milan, but Queen Isabella attracted him to the resur­gent Spanish court to tutor young aristocrats, and it was there that the educator first received the news of Columbus's first voyage. While Columbus clung to his belief that he had arrived at the outskirts of the Indies, Martyr quickly realized that the admiral had stumbled upon lands and peoples hitherto unknown in Europe.
The enormity of "discovery" could only be comprehended, even by the in­telligentsia, in familiar terms. Martyr's reports try to make sense of American Indians with biblical and classical references. His "savages," some of them part human, lived in an idyll but with little semblance of European law or sense of decency; scarcely clad, they were full of sexual desire and even stooped to cannibalism. Notwithstanding its "strange" denizens, the "New World" also of­fered the chance to recheck some of the claims made by antiquity. Martyr's accounts continually stressed the possible American locations of ancient legends, such as the Fountain of Youth that intrepid explorers might seize.
America and its inhabitants never ceased to fascinate, and Martyr's house became a nerve center for information on the newfound territories where government officials, aristocrats, churchmen, seafarers, cartographers, diplomats - anyone interested in the expansion of Spanish interests in the Western Hemi­sphere—could meet and discuss the "discoveries." Martyr himself accepted a policy role when he joined the Council of the Indies, and he was appointed bishop of Jamaica, in recognition of his promotion of America, in 1499.
The intellectual excitement generated notions of finding fabulous cities of gold and the mass conversion or overthrow of pagan kingdoms that also were in accord with the current of conquistador thinking in reconquista Spain. In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon tramped through Florida in his fruitless quest for the source of eternal youth. But eight years later Hernan Cortes, espousing God, gold, and glory, completed his remarkable conquest of Mexico. The defeat of the Aztecs and the Spanish acquisition of the wealth of Central America sud­denly made the realization of Martyr's American dreams of conversion and conquest feasible.
Bibliography
P. Martyr d'Anghera, The Decades of the Newe Worlde on West India, 1966.
Louis Roper

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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