The desire to understand human societies and the ideas and practices that distinguish one from the other is shown by the late-Renaissance philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. In Des cannibales, Montaigne famously refers to the anthropophagous Tupi by producing a uniquely modern, relativistic discussion of the customs and people called “savage” by his contemporaries. Using the example of cannibalism, Montaigne compares the ways in which the Amerindians and the French butcher the members of their own societies. He concludes that the furious violence connected with the religious turmoil of late 16th-century France surpasses the cannibalism of the Tupi in its savagery.
Montaigne expresses a desire for accurate and precise travel accounts. The philosopher describes his stringent standards for the quality of information brought to him by observers—he demands in Des cannibales that reporters not embellish or change their observations by adding their own ideas. Montaigne also calls for direct, first-hand experience as the only valid claim to knowledge. Lastly, for those that have written down their observations, a topographer is called for by Montaigne, to relate only what he truly understands without formulating expansive theories and incorporating speculative causes—in in other words, to avoid doing cosmography.
In my thesis, I argue that Jean de Léry shows the same appreciation for topography as Montaigne by relating his direct, personal experience among the Tupi in Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil. André Thevet, by comparison, writes a collage of observations on the entire American continent in Les singularités de la France Antarctique. The latter is guided by a cosmographic paradigm which seeks to tie local cultural phenomena to global trends and hierarchies of values.
Driton’s thesis, “Cosmography and Topography: A Comparison of André Thevet’s Les Singularités de la France Antarctique and Jean de Léry’s Histoire d’un Voyage Faict en la Terre du Brésil”, is available for viewing and download at Scholarship@Western. The recommended citation for his thesis is as follows:
Nushaj, Driton, “Cosmography and Topography: A Comparison of André Thevet’s Les Singularités de la France Antarctique and Jean de Léry’s Histoire d’un Voyage Faict en la Terre du Brésil” (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. Paper 3701. http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/3701