An Ecocritical Approach to Manuals of Navigation: The Art of Navigation by Martín Cortés, a Case Study

In 1558, Steven Borough visited the navigational school in Seville and brought back to England a copy of Martín Cortés de Albacar’s Arte de Navegar (1551). The English navigator had his copy translated by Richard Eden and published by Richard Jugge as the Art of Navigation in 1561. This paper will aim at offering new perspectives on this work, the first English manual of navigation, as critical consensus generally presents it. The preliminary investigations focus on the last two chapters of the second part of the text “intreating of the motions of the Sun, and the Moon, and of the effects caused thereby”: they are entitled “Of certain signs which prognosticate tempests, or fair weather” and “Of the bright & shining exhalations that appear in tempests which the Mariners call Santelmo, or Corpus sancti.”

At first sight, they seem to question the idea that “[b]efore the nineteenth century, attitudes toward the oceans were more utilitarian than aesthetic.”[1] This case study explores the topic of natural disasters from the angle of the prevention of maritime risks and hazards. It examines to what extent the third part of this manual that “entreateth of the composition and use of Instruments, and Rules for the Art of Navigation” offers tools to anticipate and avoid tempests and how these technical pages full of maps and diagrams fit in the wider conception of “the composition of the world and universal principles necessary for the art of navigation” described in the first part. As Eden’s text circulated widely, some analyses ultimately concentrate on the impact of the translation process on the rhetoric of this aesthetic-scientific approach to navigation.

Anna Demoux (Université Clermont Auvergne)


[1] John R. Gillis, “The Blue Humanities; In studying the sea, we are returning to our beginnings”, Humanities, May/June 2013, Volume 34, Number 3, https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2013/mayjune/feature/the-blue-humanities.


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