`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 Léry, 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.
`his writing teems with apt insight' Financial Times
`a subtle, witty analysis of the "possessive madness" and sleight of mind by which Christian capitalism turned marvel into mandate.' Observer
`Marvelous Possessions is a marvellous book. It is also a compelling and powerful one. Nothing so original has ever been written on European responses to "the wonder of the New World".' Times Literary Supplement
`we owe him thanks for his scholarship, and for his study of the too-little-chronicled Go-Betweens in European-Indian relations.' Esmond Wright, Contemporary Review, March 1992
'Greenblatt's sensitivity to language helps him to unravel the fabulous ingenuity of Mandeville's Travels, the self-serving ambiguities of Columbus's log-books, and the conflicting reports of later sixteenth-century voyagers. The reader is rewarded by gems of analysis. This book is likely to be read long after many of the celebratory and recriminatory books on 1492 have been retired.'
David Cressy, California State University, Long Beach, Literature & History, third series, 2/1
'Greenblatt impressively shows how early recorders' responses to the New World are mediated through discourses of the marvellous, encounters between the materially unexpected ... and the existing codes and rhetorics for dealing with the marvellous which were part of the European baggage of discovery. The travel narrative is ideal new historical material: it is a carefully constructed text which frequently uses literary models to account for experiences
which are presented as real and not fictions. Marvelous Possessions is an important contribution to this field.'
Thomas Healy, Birkbeck College, Renaissance Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1
'his field of inquiry is wide-ranging ... Marvelous Possessions stands alone ... in its effort to understand the wonder the discoverers felt and the language they used to describe the marvels they encountered.'
Virginia Mason Vaughan, Clark University, MLR, 88.4, 1993
'it is an important contribution to the cultural history of the New World.'
Year's Work in English Studies
One of the pleasures...is the author's luxurious surrender to bafflement and awe. he never harries his texts with demands for