Over the Edge of the World ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
In the 1500s, many people still believed the earth was flat and that if you sailed far enough, you’d fall over the edge, even though the Bible states (around 800 B.C.) in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah that the world is an orb suspended in nothing. Around 1520, Portuguese explorer and navigator Ferdinand Magellan proved the world was round by sailing west to get to the East. Although Portuguese by nationality, Magellan was employed by Spain for the simple reason that the King of Portugal wouldn’t finance an expedition for him. Magellan set out to find the Spice Islands on the other side of the world to bring back treasure for Spain (all-important spices) that was to be found there.
Spain and Portugal, side-by-side European countries, were both world powers and were involved in a fierce struggle to be the first to the Spice (Molucca) Islands. Spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, etc.) were more valuable than gold and were playing an ever-important role in the world’s economy. Whichever country claimed the Spice Islands for its own was going to have an enormous economic and political advantage.
In 1519, Magellan set out with 260 men in five ships. This fleet of ships was called the “Armada de Molucca.” Over the next three years or so, the men of these five ships would experience untold danger, hardship and deprivation. Magellan was a good administrator and manager, but he was driven by ambition and seemed to lack the human element to make him popular with this men. Most of his men despised him for his hardness and cruelty and for his steadfast adherence to rules. He refused at times to give his men as much food as they needed, even when supplies were plentiful.
Magellan’s voyage to find the Spice Islands was only marginally successful, but he has taken his place in the history books because he was the first person to circumnavigate (go all the way around) the earth, a voyage of 60,000 miles. His men believed that, if they were just able to survive the hardships (hunger, danger, extremes of weather, loneliness, fear, discomfort, disease) of the voyage, they’d have enough money at the end of it to live the rest of their lives in financial security. Sadly, their dreams were never to be realized.
Magellan met a bloody end in the Philippine Islands when he overplayed his hand in trying to convert some of the natives to Christianity; some were compliant while others were not. (The irony is that Magellan wasn’t supposed to be trying to convert the natives; he was only there to claim the Spice Islands for Spain.) After Magellan’s death, his men continued on to the Spice Islands, but they knew, even the ones who despised him, that they were at a loss without his guiding hand and managerial skills.
Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen, is a fascinating and detailed account of the life and times of Ferdinand Magellan and his daring voyage all the way around the world. It’s a true-life story with an ironic and bitter ending. Once again, we see how truth is stranger than fiction. People play only a small part in controlling their own destinies.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp