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Reviewed by:
  • Tratado verdadero del viaje y navegación
  • Mercedes Camino
Fray Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa, Tratado verdadero del viaje y navegación. Critical edition by Sara L. Lehman. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta. 2008. 174pp. ISBN 978-1-58871-142-7.

The gifted Carmelite Friar Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa (c. 1570–1630) spent around fourteen years of his life (1608–1622) in the New World. He wrote three books and a number of memoriales about his experience, the most famous of which is his multi-volume Compendio y descripción de las Indias Occidentales, where, in truly interdisciplinary fashion, Vázquez de Espinosa deals with navigation, flora, fauna and what we would describe today as anthropology and ethnography. Also multi-disciplinary is his Tratado verdadero del viaje y navegación (1623), now carefully edited by Sara Lehman, which stands out for its unusual topic: the trials and tribulations of a fleet's return journey from the Mexican harbour of San Juan de Ulúa (near today's Veracruz).

The exceptionality of Vázquez de Espinosa's Tratado is due not only to its tracing a geographical segment in the unusual direction of the Old World from the 'Indies' but also to the insights it provides into the lives of sailors, as well as colonists, including women and children. Equally interesting, as this edition stresses, is the book's treatment of the contradictory aspects of exploration, since it became increasingly commonplace during Vázquez de Espinosa's life to criticize exploration as the harbinger of social decline. This was thought to be the case because of the greed that exploration inspired, which was considered by many to be a capital sin. Vázquez Espinosa embodies this sin in the precious metals encountered in the New World: gold and silver, resulting in, to borrow Dr Lehman's words, a 'navegante-pecador condenado al castigo providencial' (38).

Dr Lehman's edition of Vázquez de Espinosa's work is a welcome addition to the scant works available to scholars and students of the early modern period and the history of colonialism. Her introduction is particularly good in its thorough outline of the socio-economic and cultural context in which the Tratado was written. Especially relevant is the aforementioned criticism of ambition, which pervaded seventeenth-century discourses, showing clearly how 'en la metódica asociación de este viaje marítimo con el pecado, se alinea nuestro autor con una tradición literaria bien establecida' (29).

The allegorical and associative reading that Dr Lehman proposes provides a layered interpretation of events and the characters taking part in them. Consequently, if 'los navegantes vazquezianos representan a los cristianos en general y el mar simboliza la vida, los elementos sobredichos son los efectos providenciales de nuestros pecados en la tierra' (43). Those sins can, however, be redeemed by prayers or by the heroism of the people facing storms, rats, or even the ultimate decision to die with one's kin, as did an 'hombre casado, que […] aunque se pudo salvar […] no quiso desamparar a su mujer afligida, y a su hija' (145).

Those familiar with his type of manuscript will be immediately aware of the painstaking work and the accomplishments of this scholarly edition. The sources and citations are well documented, and the annotations are careful and mostly relevant. Others, however, are redundant since they appear both in the notes and in the Glossary at the end, or are well-known words, (for example, derrota, faena, bonanza, bizcocho and braza).

Although Dr Lehman's introduction takes up nearly one-third of the total number of pages in this book, this section is, by and large, highly relevant and it includes all extant information about the Tratado and its elusive author, whose life is shrouded in mystery. [End Page 1021]

On the whole, readers will be grateful to have this important book made readily accessible. Dr Lehman offers a polished, annotated edition of a remarkable work, and her research is thorough and well documented. The interest of Vázquez de Espinosa's book and the clarity of the edition should help to raise our awareness of the interest and complexity of early modern...


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