André Thevet (1516?-1592)
(Click on the call number to view digital facsimile)
Cosmographie de Levant,
par F. André Thevet d'Angoulesme
Lyon, Ian de Tournes et Guil. Gazeau, 1554.
1558 .T54 (Click on the call number to view digital facsimile)
Singularitez de la France
Antarctique, autrement nommee Amerique, & de plusieurs
terres & isles decouvertes de nostre temps: par
F. Andr Thevet, natif d'Angoulesme.
Anvers, Christophle Plantin, 155
André Thevet traveled extensively
and wrote prolifically. Few sixteenth-century writers
covered more territory or wrote more ambitiously.
While serious doubt exists as to whether some of the
writing published under his name was really his, Thevet
remains an important figure in early geographical
Born in Angoulême around 1516, Thevet’s
early education was apparently limited; we know little
of his early life. Thevet became a Franciscan friar,
and his first excursion into the world occurred in about
1550, when he accompanied the Cardinal Jean de Lorraine
on travels into Italy and the Mediterranean basin. Shortly
thereafter, Thevet published his Cosmographie
de Levant (Gordon 1558 .T54), a compendium
of facts about the people, places, flora and fauna of
the area. The section on the Nile, for example, includes
a woodcut depiction of a crocodile (p. 138), something
contemporary readers would most likely never have seen.
The intriguing illustrations have been attributed to
Women crying for
joy in a traditional ritual to welcome a visitor.
Thevet's experience as
a traveler attracted the attention of Nicolas Durand,
Chevalier de Villegagnon, who was preparing to found
a colony in what is today Brazil. He asked Thevet
to accompany the expedition as its confessor. Thevet
fell ill during the voyage and had to return to France
after only ten weeks in Brazil. Using his own observations,
however, combined with information gained from other
travelers, Thevet quickly produced his Singularitez
de la France Antarctique (Gordon 1558 .T54).
The first edition was published in Paris in 1557.
combine extensive description of the New World with
scholarly comparisons with authors of classical antiquity.
Questions arose about the authorship. Shortly after
its publication, a scribe sued Thevet, saying that
he -- not Thevet -- was actually responsible for the
writing, particularly the erudite references. The
settlement of the suit indicates that it had some
"Comme ces barbares
font mourir leurs ennemis qu'ils ont pris en guerre,
et les mangent." (Ch.XL)
After the publication of the Singularitez,
Thevet received royal recognition and eventually became
cosmographer of the Valois court. He began his most
ambitious work, the Cosmographie universelle,
which described and defined every part of the known
world. Once again, an angry collaborator caused problems
for Thevet. François de Belleforest, who wrote
in praise of Thevet in the Singularitez, apparently
quarreled with Thevet and left his employ, publishing
his own Cosmographie, a translation of Sebastian
Munster's Cosmographia, in 1572.
Thevet claimed that much of Belleforest's
new material was stolen. Certainly Belleforest stole
Thevet's thunder, and the 1575 publication of Thevet's
2,000-page Cosmographie was not very successful.
However, the work's anti-Protestant polemic did attract
the attention of Huguenot Jean
de Léry, who had traveled to Brazil
after Thevet. In 1578, Léry published his version
of events in Brazil, the Histoire
d'un voyage fact en la terre du Bresil.
His work criticized Thevet on numerous occasions. Both
Léry and Thevet included a chapter on new world
cannibals that undoubtedly influenced Montaigne’s well-known essay on cannibalism the first
book of his Essais.
Thevet's last published work, his Vrais
pourtraits et vies des homes illustres, appeared
in 1584. The collection of biographies of famous men
(and three women) accompanied by portraits, played
on the interest in biography evidenced by Jacques
Amyot's translation of Plutarch's Lives.
The work also signaled Thevet's continued interest
in the religious conflicts
of France, strongly supporting the
Guise family's position and criticizing Protestants,
notably Léry. The book failed commercially,
perhaps because of Thevet's diminished reputation.
Thevet continued to write of travels real and imagined.
He left behind two manuscripts at his death in 1592,
the Grand Insulaire, an almanac of islands
around the world, and the Histoire de deux voyages,
a probably exaggerated account of his travels that
had him visiting the New World not once but twice.
While today Thevet is seen largely as a compiler
and editor of experiences that belonged to others,
his work on Brazil remains useful to those studying
the first French encounters with the New World. His
other works, with their extensive descriptions and
lavish illustrations, give a broad picture of the
historical and geographical knowledge of the sixteenth
Jeanneret, Michel. "Léry et Thevet: comment
parler d'un monde nouveau?" Mélanges à
la mémoire de Franco Simone IV: Tradition et originalité
dans la création littéraire. Geneva:
Slatkine, 1984. 227-45.
Lestringant, Frank. André Thevet, Cosmographe
des derniers Valois. Geneva: Droz, 1991.
---. L'Atelier du cosmographe. Paris: Albin Michel,
Schlesinger, Roger and Arthur P. Stabler. André
Thevet's North America: A Sixteenth Century View. Kingstone,
Ont.: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986.
Whatley, Janet. "Savage Hierarchies: French Catholic
Observers of the New World." Sixteenth Century
Journal. 17 (1986): 319-30.
Material on this page was generously provided
by Elsa Conrad.
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