Myth Or Reality
The Atlantic Coast Seen by Champlain and his Predecessors
Myths and legends of the existence of ancient civilized nations abounded in the sixteenth century. It was believed that the discovery of lost kingdoms would link the past and the present, the Ancient and the New World. Such speculation provided the context for Samuel de Champlain‘s exploration of the Atlantic coast of America beginning in 1604. One of the important fables was that of Norumbega, a myth originating in Dieppe and identifying a place that Pierre Crignon had described in his Discorso of 1539 as part of Asia where "the inhabitants are amiable and peaceful" and that "oranges, almonds or wild vines could be found." Champlain may have found a more explicit discussion of Norumbega in Voyages aventureux (1536–43) by Jean Alfonse who described "a great city where people are small and swarthy as in the Indies," and its inhabitants spoke a language which reminded him of Latin, symbolizing the conflation of antiquity and the Christian world. Alfonse's description of this mythic place was widely repeated in other texts of the time. Lescarbot added that Norumbega was discovered by the Portuguese and the Spanish, and he "corrected" Alfonse's description of the people by saying they were tall and good looking, and wore fur as proof of their wealth. Jehan Mallart recounted Alfonse's narrative in a lengthy poem dedicated to François I in 1575, and added his own embellishments, so that the ancient city became a large, beautiful island. André Thevet expanded the discourse by publishing the story of his own but imaginary voyage to Norumbega (which he situated north of Florida) and detailed an encounter with the Natives. To authenticate his story, he included Native terms such as the word Canoque for their dwellings. He thus placed the myth within the realm of reality and Mallart became the principal witness in contemporary ethnographic cultural travel traditions.