2019 marked the five-hundred year anniversary of the launch of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage around the world–a milestone marked by commemorative sailings, museum exhibitions, and a joint submission from Spain and Portugal to UNESCO. Two years later, the Philippines marked their own commemoration of Magellan’s voyage: the 500th anniversary of his death at the hands of local leader Lapu-Lapu.
A master voyager in Spain and Portugal, a defeated imperialist in the Philippines–these are just two of the ways that Magellan’s image has evolved and changed over the past five centuries. But what was the man actually like?
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto tries to get at who Magellan was in his latest book Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan. Relying on first-hand accounts of Magellan’s voyage, Felipe portrays Magellan as a self-promoter, devious over-promiser, lover of chivalric literature, ruthless authoritarian and, at the end, a believer in his own hype.
In this interview, Felipe and I talk about Magellan: the man, his voyage (and what it was actually supposed to do), and the legacy of his expedition.
Felipe holds the William P Reynolds Chair of Mission in Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, where he is a professor in the Departments of History and Classics and the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science. His most recent books are Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It (University of California Press, 2019) and, as editor, The Oxford Illustrated History of the World (Oxford University Press, 2021).