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ALVARES, Francisco. Historia de las Cosas de Etiopia, en la qual se Cuenta muy copiosamente, el estado y potécia del Emperador della, (que es el que muchos an pesado ser el Preste Juan)... Antwerp, Juan Steelsius, 1557.

8vo., (20), 207 ff., 1 blank. Bound in 19th-century calf, gilt title on spine, gilt-ruled borders on covers, fore-edges gilt. Repair to tear in blank margin of title and wormhole filled; cuts to lower blank margin of p. 132, just grazing a signature letter; apart from some toning in the margin, very good.


Rare first Spanish language edition of one of the earliest detailed reports on Ethiopia available to Europeans: “incomparably more detailed than any earlier account of Ethiopia that has survived, it is also a very important source for Ethiopian history, for it was written just before the country was devastated by the Moslem Somali and pagan Galla invasions of the second quarter of the 16th century.” -- Hakluyt Society I., p. 12. The work appears on all four 16th century book lists employed in the influential exhibit, Europe Informed, which identified in a historically controlled way the most widely disseminated early travel accounts informing 16th century Europeans about Asia and Africa.

The account is the fruit of an embassy made by the author in connexion with the search for eastern Christians. The journey had roots in the medieval legend of Prester John, a mythical King whose vast domains contained wondrous panaceas and who was, to boot, a Christian. The legend proved a well-known stimulus to European exploration, and just as importantly provided Catholic Europe with an influential eschatological fantasy: reunited with their long lost eastern brethren, they would finally subdue Islam or, in a later generation, Protestants etc. Although the work is much concerned with the activity and structure of the Eastern Church, the fact that Alvares recognizes Ethiopians as equals paradoxically makes him more observant, and the work contains much information about agriculture, natural history (wild life and the terrible locusts), the curious architectural tradition of carving churches out of rock etc.

According to Rogers, Alvares was constrained from publishing his account, but an unauthorized version appeared in Portuguese 1540. An Italian translation with a somewhat different recension of the text appeared in Ramusio’s volume devoted to Africa (1550); this first Spanish language edition by Tomás de Padilla was the first of three 16th century editions in that language

* Adams A-848; BL Spanish, p. 7; Francis M. Rogers, Europe Informed, 51 and The Quest for Eastern Christians, 162; revised Hakluyt Society edition Series 2, vols. 113-14, prepared by C. F. Beckingham & G. W. B. Huntingford (1961).

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