The Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. the Clarendon Lectures and the Carpenter Lectures 1988

Paperback
'And there I found very many islands filled with people innumerable, and of all of them I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no one contradicted me' - Christopher Columbus Marvelous Possessions is a study of the ways in which Europeans of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period represented non-European peoples and took possession of their lands, in particular the New World. In a series of innovative readings of travel narratives, judicial documents, and official reports, Greenblatt shows that the experience of the marvelous, central to both art and philosophy, was cunningly yoked by Columbus and others to the service of colonial appropriation. He argues that the traditional symbolic actions and legal rituals through which European sovereignty was asserted were strained to breaking-point by the unprecedented nature of the discovery of the New World. But the book also shows that the experience of the marvelous is not necessarily an agent of empire: in writers as different as Herodotus, Jean de Lery, and Montaigne - and notably in Mandeville's Travels, the most popular travel book of the Middle Ages - wonder is the sign of a remarkably tolerant recognition of cultural difference.