Tales of the Venture Society
Paolo de Malocchio
Paolo de Malocchio
(b.1582 – d. 1612?)
Paulo Septimo Ducceschi was born in Malocchio, Italy, a tiny town west of Florence. He was half Italian through his father and half Portuguese through his mother, and grew up fluent in both languages, which has made deciphering his records difficult. His service to the Hapsburg Crown (which then ruled Italy) in securing the Peninsula against foreign powers rewarded him with a Captain’s commission. Late economic failure (exacerbated by plague) throughout the region caused a desperate Phillip III to award him a charter to discover new trade sources in the New World.
In 1608 he set forth from Italy upon a voyage of discovery aboard the caravel-style vessel Belladonna della Fiore, or simply the Belladonna. He was ultimately unsuccessful, and his death is not even recorded. The only real surviving record of note was one of the logbooks of the voyage, preserved in the Venture Society Museum, primarily because of a curious discovery made along the way, which remained unverified for centuries after his death. Paulo claimed to have discovered a “fabulous Island, fenced by a ring of fangs” which he called Isole de Zanne— Island of Fangs. According to the Archivist Tolliver Bode, the book came into the possession of the society when the founders, Charles and Abigail Venture willed their private collection to the Museum in 1872. How they came by it is anyone’s guess.
Excerpts from the Logbook of the Belladonna are transcribed below. They are a difficult translation, due to Paolo’s frequent mixing of Italian and Portuguese, combined with a tendency toward archaic idioms. The translation work was done by Miss Emma Witherspoon, of Surrey, England.
_*November 4, 1608* We have been blown for many days. The sea is finally calm, but a thick mist hangs over it, lasting throughout the day and the night. The stars are denied us, but the compass is our guide. We shall make north as best as wind and water allow.
November 14, 1608 Surely the devil himself sails in our wake. For ten days we have worked eastward and a little north, trying to reach warmer waters and the coast of the Southern New World continent. This morning, the sunrise was visible, but only for a moment. To our great consternation, the red orb was shone upon us from the North! Our compass is bewitched, else the devil drives Apollo’s chariot. We have corrected again, so that our compass now says we are heading east, but the mist returns and our fortunes look bleak.
November 17, 1608 God be praised and revered! We have found land. But such land! Great pillars and stacks of rock jut from the sea like angry fangs, their bases overhung and swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean. What Styx have we crossed that has borne us into such a sea? The men cross themselves and look fearfully at the land, but we have no choice, We must brave the tearing teeth of the deep, and find landing for water or we shall surely perish.
November 20, 1608 By sailing around the rocks and islets, we have found a small beach, but at great cost. We had been following a warm current, inexplicably warm, though it does perhaps explain the heavy vapors that plague this sea, when our man in the crow sang out for land. But, O calamity! A submerged rock has torn a rent in the hull upon the starboard side twice the length of a man. We have grounded the Belladonna while the carpenter seeks timber for repair. The chances are good, for although the\is strip of beach is thin, barren and strewn with pebbles, the interior of the islet promises trees. Our scout has reported that beyond the crest which he alone seems to have the facility of climbing, a great land stretches inward, filled with many other islands, thickly forested. Further, the sun shine full upon the interior, unshrouded with the devil’s exhalation which cloaks the ocean about. None others have seen this, but I have little cause to doubt him. Indeed, from what we can see, the land is filled with flora and fauna unknown to us, some wondrous beautiful to behold, some fierce and horrific.
November 26, 1608 Repairs on the Belladonna go well. The trees that we have recovered are marvelous strong and promise a seaworthy vessel. But, wonder of wonders! These islands are graced by the hand and foot of man. Tall clean-limbed savages live inland, in rude huts of most primitive construction. They are greatly curious over our ship and treat us with the reverence due to pagan gods. We do not disabuse them of this illusion, for we are in great need of help in getting water and game.
November 30, 1608 The leader of the tribe of people, whose name is Tanado, has taken me to their holiest of places, a great obelisk of stone, such as said are to exist in the ancient sands of Egypt. Never have I seen the like. It stands on a hillside, as tall as the Arch of Trajan in the Eternal City, and is covered with curious heathen writing of which I cannot decipher the least character. Tanada indicated for me through means of many gestures, to open the great doors of the holy place—and behold, he made truth, for the low side of the spire does indeed bear the indication of a door or gate. To his disappointment, I was unable to budge it the slightest inch. He returned me to the beach, but the look on his face had become black as a thundercloud.
December 1, 1608 We have left this curious land, though we leave fourteen brave souls behind. It appears that Tanada and his people have discovered our non-divinity, likely when I showed no particular affinity for their relic. They set upon us during the night with spear and arrow, silently at first, and then with frightful wails. None know what happened to the watch we had set, for they have not been seen again. Were it not for the baying of the ship’s dog, we should all have been dispatched to heaven in our sleep. These are not men, they are devils. Devils!
December 11, 1608 We have sighted the coast of South America. The crew is near to mutiny, and I fear we must again brave the southern passage back to the waters of the South Atlantic, or the ship will be taken from my hands. Nevertheless, I have worked the secret of the compass and how it is deflected by this mysterious land, and set forth the calculation in the margin. To my best knowledge, I have set forth here in my journal the location of the Island of Fangs, should any try to follow. If no man ever sets foot upon that strange and forbidding land, however, he may count himself among the blessed._