History Through Literature: Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone: The Strange Voyage and Adventures of Domingo Gonsales to the World in the Moon (1638)

European Exploration, Perception of the Other, and the Columbian Exchange

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

Francis Godwin’s Man in the Moone is one of the first works of science fiction. The main character, Domingo Gonsales, has to flee Spain after killing a nobleman, Delgades, in a duel and being blackmailed for money by his relative, a Spanish count. He replaces his fortune through trade in the West Indies but on his return is abandoned on an island and escapes by harnessing geese to fly home. However the geese fly to the moon instead where Gonsales finds marvelous wonders, meets lunar people, trades jewels, and observes the earth from the vantage point of the moon. In the English translation a preface suggests the entertainment value but also the possible knowledge to be gained from exploring the unknown saying, “I have thought fit to republish the Substance thereof, wherein the Author says he does not design to discourse his Readers into a Belief of each particular Circumstance, but expects that his new Discovery of a new World, may find little better Entertainment than Columbus had in his first Discovery of America, though yet that poor Espial betrayed so much Knowledge as hath since increased to vast Improvements, and the then Unknown is now found to be of as large Extent as all the other known World.

A famous SpanishCount coming from the West-Indies, published triumphant Declarations of a great Victory he had obtained against the Englishnear the Isle of Pines, whereas in reality he got nothing at all in that Voyage but Blows, and a considerable Loss. It had been well if Vanity and Lying had been his only Crimes; his Covetousness had like to have been my utter Ruin, though since it hath proved the Occasion of eternizing my Name I verily believe to all Posterity, and to the unspeakable Benefit of all Mortals for ever hereafter, at least if it please Heaven that I return home safe to my Country, and give perfect Instructions how those almost incredible and impossible Acquirements may be imparted to the World. You shall then see Men flying in the Air, from one Place to another, you shall then be able to send Messages many hundred Miles in an Instant, and receive Answers immediately, without the Help of any Creature upon Earth; you shall then presently impart your Mind to your Friend, though in the most remote and obscure Place of a populous City, and a Multitude of other notable Experiments; but what exceeds all, you shall then have the Discovery of a New World, and Abundance of rare and incredible Secrets of Nature, which the Philosophers of former Ages never so much as dreamt of; but I must be cautious in publishing these wonderful Mysteries, till our Statesmen have considered how they may consist with the Policy and good Government of our Country, and whether the Fathers of the Church may not judge the divulging them prejudicial to the Catholic Faith, which (by those Wonders I have seen above any mortal Man before me) I am instructed to advance without Respect to any temporal Advantage whatsoever. But to proceed: This huffing Count pretended much Discontent for the Death of Delgades, who was indeed some Kin to him; however, he was willing to be quiet if I would give him a thousand Ducats: I had now, besides a Wife, two Sons, whom I was not willing to beggar, only to satisfy the avaricious Humour of this Boaster, and so was necessitated to take some other Course. I embarked in a stout Carrick bound for the East-Indies, carrying the Value of two thousand Ducats to trade with, leaving as much more for the Support of my Wife and Children behind, whatever Misfortune might happen to me. In the Indies I thrived exceedingly, laying out my Stock in Diamonds, Emeralds, and Pearls, which I bought at such easy Rates, that my Stock safely arriving in Spain, (as I understood it did) must needs yield ten for one. . . . [travels to moon by means of a flock of geese]

. . . Again the Earth, which I had ever in mine Eye, seemed to mask itself with a kind of Brightness like another Moon, and as we discern certain Spots or Clouds as it were in the Moon, so did I then see the like in the Earth; but whereas the Form of these Spots in the Moon are always the same, these on the Earth seemed by Degrees to change every Hour; the Reason whereof seems to be, that whereas the Earth according to his natural Motion (for such a Motion I am now satisfied (he hath according to the Opinion of Copernicus) turns round upon her own Axis every four and twenty Hours from West to East) I should at first see in the Middle of the Body of this new Star the Earth, a Spot like a Pear, with a Morsel bit out on one Side, in some Hours I should observe this Spot move away toward the East: This no doubt was the main Land of Africa; then might I perceive a great shining Brightness in that Place which continued about the same Time, and was questionless the vast Atlantick Ocean: After this succeeded a Spot almost Oval, just as we see America described in our Maps, then another immense Clearness, representing Mare del zar or the South Sea; lastly, a number of Spots like the Countries and lands in the East-Indies, so that it seemed to me no other than an huge mathematical Globe turned round leisurely before me, wherein successively all the Countries of our earthly World were within twenty-four Hours represented to my View, and this was all the Means I now had to number the Days, and reckon the Time. . . [meets lunar people]
. . . .Being surprized at the Appearance of these People so suddenly and in such Accoutrements, I crossed myself, and cried out, Jesu Maria: No sooner was the Word Jesu pronounced, but Young and Old fell all on their Knees (whereat I not a little rejoiced) holding up their Hands on high, and repeating certain Words which I understood not; and presently rising again, one much taller than the rest came and kindly embraced me, and ordering, as I perceived, some of the rest to attend my Birds, he took me by the Hand, and led me to his Dwelling.