Sir Walter Raleigh, El Dorado, and Renfusa

Sir Walter Raleigh reported that on his 1594 trip to South America, he learned of a large lake, Parime, on the shores of which was the city of Manoa… or “El Dorado”. He did not visit or see the lake or city, mostly because neither actually existed, then or now. Whether he mistakenly believed stories of the natives, or got the stories he did hear, wrong, or more darkly, he was spicing things up to impress Elizabeth… all are possible, from what I know of this so far. Here is a later engraving of Manoa, made from his descriptions:

Manoa: a Fantasy City

Manoa: a Fantasy City

According to Wikipedia:

“Once back in England, he published The Discovery of Guiana, an account of his voyage which made exaggerated claims as to what had been discovered. The book can be seen as a contribution to the El Dorado legend. Although Venezuela has gold deposits, there is no evidence Raleigh found any mines. He is sometimes said to have discovered Angel Falls, but these claims are considered “far-fetched”.”

So Manoa, Parime, and El Dorado, all fiction. And any illustrations of them, fictional. But if we found an illustration of Manoa, today, with no labels which we could read, would many be looking for these buildings and castles as fruitlessly as one may have back in Raleigh’s time? I’ve no doubt at all. We don’t look for them only because we know these images are of fictional places and buildings. And if we saw the fantasy entrance city to New Atlantis, called Renfusa, illustrated in some mysterious cipher text, would we recognize it? Or would we continue to search for the “real” castles of the rosettes page of the Voynich Manuscript?

Another Map of the Fictional Manoa, with Fantasy Buildings

Also another quote from Wiki, relating to his poetry:

“Raleigh is generally considered one of the foremost poets of the Elizabethan era. His poetry is generally written in the relatively straightforward, unornamented mode known as the plain style. C. S. Lewis considered Raleigh one of the era’s “silver poets”, a group of writers who resisted the Italian Renaissance influence of dense classical reference and elaborate poetic devices.”, and “…while achieving a power and originality that justifies Lewis’ assessment, and contradicts it by expressing a melancholy sense of history reminiscent of The Tempest and all the more effective for being the product of personal experience.”

So what does this tell us? First of all, once again we see the fascination and importance of “the fictional city”, the exploration of new worlds, the Utopia, and of forgotten or unknown cultures and lore, which pervades the art, theatre, poetry, history, religion, literature and politics near the time I suspect the Voynich was created (1610 to 1620). Shakespeare was including it in his plays, Bacon in his philosophies and the New Atlantis, Jonson in his plays, and everyone in their art. And the objects from the new world appeared in the curio cabinets… Kunstkammers… all over Europe, right alongside the microscopes and telescopes and kayaks. And the plants (sunflowers for one) and animals (armadillos, alligators) of the New World were also included in these collections, and influential to many aspects of the early 17th century Renaissance culture.

And here is Sir Walter Raleigh, as one of this very circle, as both a source and an outlet for much of this lore and culture. He fits right in with the others, whom we see borrowing from Medieval alchemy, herbals, art and lore, and combining it with both their discoveries in science and the New World, into an amalgam of truth, error, and fiction. Raleigh was an important, many toothed-gear in the machinery of his time, contributing much to both to the real and mythical lore of his time… and adding to one of the greatest myths, of all time. H.R. SantaColoma

—adapted from a 2008 post on the VMS-net list.

–edited for addition, 6/28/09: I came across an interesting fact which ties Raleigh’s first Virginia expedition directly to Bacon’s New Atlantis… well, not a “fact” so much, as a person. It seems the Jewish scientist in The New Atlantis, Joabim, is believed based on the real Joachim Gaunse… a man of some repute for his abilities in metallurgy. And Joachim Gaunse was on Raleigh’s expedition as a metallurgist and mining supervisor. The symbiotic relationships between the people of Raleigh’s circle are decernable without such connections, but it was nonetheless gratifying to find one. Rich Santacoloma.

Renfusa?

The Fictional Walled City, Renfusa, from The New Atlantis?

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2 Responses to “Sir Walter Raleigh, El Dorado, and Renfusa”

  1. Mitch Says:

    What about Lake Titicaca and its’ ancient shoreline settlement at Chiripa Pata? Could Raleigh have been recounting stories of that?

    • proto57 Says:

      I’m afraid I am not familiar with the history of the discovery and exploration of Lake Titicaca… but I will look it up when I have a chance. So many mythologies have origins in multiple truths, though, so who knows? A whisper of a rumor of a lie could launch a fleet, though. The unknown had more of a driving force on history at this point than the known, really, so it is important to “get into their heads” as much as possible, and not apply a modern mindset to trying to understand their motivations… to mounting an expedition, starting a war, toppling a king, or creating a really weird book.

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