University Relations
http://www.umn.edu/urelate
612-624-6868
University of Minnesota : Driven to Discover.


James Ford Bell Library Home | Gallery Home

Portolan Charts

Unsolved Mysteries of the Portolans

Armando Cortesão and Island Names

Trying to trace or compare names on the maps is difficult. For example, Armando Cortesão, author of the major study devoted to the 1424 Nautical Chart, relates the name "Santanazes" to "demons" which he believed could refer to contact between hostile peoples and Portuguese mariners. On the other hand, he also noted that the names might refer to Irish or Norse stories about North America. The crescent-shaped island near Santanazes named "Saya," in his opinion, bears a relationship to a Portuguese word describing armor worn by soldiers. In some cases no meaning could be found for a name, for example "Ymana," an island west of Antilia. This island is Babcock’s Reylla. It becomes "Royllo" or "Roillo" on other maps. About this name change Cortesão simply says: "Why Ymana was changed into Royllo and Roillo, is anybody’s guess" (Cortesão 1954, p. 80).

Cortesão concludes his study by giving reasons that the Antilia group of islands should be considered representations of eastern America. As arguments Cortesão uses references to western lands by Plato, Aristotle, Strabo, Pliny and many other writers. Cortesão writes "It is easy to dismiss these early references to the Atlantic voyages and the existence of lands in the Western Atlantic, as many writers have done and still do, as a product of legend and fancy which successive authors perpetuated and enlarged out of their own imaginations" (Cortesão 1954, p. 95). About Antilia he concludes: "The origin and meaning of the word Antilia have been a subject of much controversy. In fact Antilia is composed of two Portuguese words: ante or anti and ilha, an archaic form of the Portuguese ilha, i.e. island. It is, therefore, a purely Portuguese word and it was meant to designate an island–discovered perhaps at the beginning of the fifteenth century by some unknown navigators, probably Portuguese–lying before a continent, which at first might have been thought to be Asia, or opposite the European Continent" (Cortesão 1954, p. 106). Cortesão’s work while respected, was done a long time ago, has a nationalist flavor, and depends heavily on assumptions about the seafaring of the Phoenicians, about which almost nothing concrete is known.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the island details.