Sunday, 30 May 2010

In search of the antuerpia

Image from Chinadaily BBS: The bay of pigs: swine swimming in crystal clear water. Seagoing pigs, Big Major Spot Island, Bahamas.

An interesting question I encountered via Yahoo! Answers: what's an antuerpia?

The word comes from The Memoirs of Fray Servando Teresa de Mier. Mier was a priest and politican born in New Spain, and an important figure in the cause for Mexican independence. At one point in the Memoirs, Mier attacks the anthropological stereotypes of his time, particularly those of Cornelius de Pauw who (without ever having been to the Americas), pontificated on the supposed degeneracy of the native Central Americans and the Europeans who settled in the Americas. Mier wrote:
"Era pues necesario dar también algunas escobadas sobre tanto incómodo escarabajo, despachurrarlo sobre sus propias horduras, y proveer a mis paisanos de un manual ito de exorcismos contra semejantes antuerpias"
- p13, Historia de la revolución de Nueva España, 1990

"It is also necessary to take a broom to all these many annoying beetles, squashing them on top of their own dung, and providing my countrymen with a little manual of exorcisms against such antuerpias
- p xxxii, The Memoirs of Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, OUP US, 1998
In trying to find the explanation, I rapidly found that the 1998 OUP US edition of the Memoirs is one of a number of books containing a false etymology of the word based on a bizarre misreading of a source text
The antuerpia is a marine boar that was sighted in 1537, according to Antonio Torquemada in his Jardín de Flores curiosas (Salamanca, 1570)
- page lix, Ibid.

La Antuerpia es un jabalí marino ...
- De un autor censurado en el "Quijote", Antonio de Torquemada, Alfonso Reyes, 1948
La Antuerpia es un jabalí marino ...
- La disputa del Nuevo Mundo: historia de una polémica, 1750-1900, Antonello Gerbi, 1960

La antuerpia è un cinghiale marino ...
- Il mito del Perù, Antonello Gerbi & Sandro Gerbi, 1988
Such a creature as a "marine boar" seemed so unlikely that I had to check the citation, and it turns out Torquemada says nothing of the sort. His account tells of the finding on the shores of the Sea of Germany a large sea creature with prominent tusks, spines and a head like a wild boar:
De ninguna cosa quiero maravillarme ni dejar de creer que sea posible lo que se dice de las bestias o pescados grandes del mar, habiendo entendido por cosa muy cierta y averiguada, y así lo escriben autores modernos, que el año de quinientos y treinta y siete se halló en las riberas del mar de Alemania un pescado de grandísima grandeza. Tenía la cabeza de hechura de puerco jabalí, con dos colmillos que salían más de cuatro palmos fuera de la boca, y cuatro pies de la manera y hechura que pintan a los dragones; y demás de los ojos de la cabeza, tenía otros dos muy grandes en los lados y otro junto al ombligo; en el cerro, unas espinas muy altas, fuertes y duras, como de hierro o azero. Este puerco marino se llevó a Antuerpia, como cosa maravillosa, para que todos le viesen, y hoy día habrá muchos testigos de los que entonces se hallaron presentes.
- see pp 474-475, Jardín de Flores curiosas, Volume 1982, comp. Giovanni Allegra
John Ashton's 1890 Curious Creatures in Zoology (Internet Archive curiouscreatures00ashtiala) gives an English translation of the description:

Again we are indebted to Gesner for the drawing of this Sea Monster. Olaus Magnus, speaking of "The Monstrous Hog of the German Ocean" says : " I spake before of a Monstrous Fish found on the Shores of England, with a clear description of his whole body, and every member thereof, which was seen there in the year 1532, and the Inhabitants made a Prey of it. Now I shall revive the memory of that Monstrous Hog that was found afterwards, Anno 1537, in the same German Ocean, and it was a Monster in every part of it. For it had a Hog's head, and a quarter of a Circle, like the Moon, in the hinder part of its head, four feet like a Dragon's, two eyes on both sides in his Loyns, and a third in his belly, inclining towards his Navel; behind he had a forked Tail, like to other Fish commonly.
- page 235, Ibid.
It's not clear what this beastie might have been - it looks to me like an embroidered description of a walrus (Gesner's drawing of a walrus on page 236 of Curious Creatures in Zoology isn't so different; though deserving credit as a pioneering zoologist, Gesner tended to pick up tales of sea creatures exaggerated to monstrousness 1). But whatever it was, the crucial pertinent sentence in the Torquemada account is "Este puerco marino se llevó a Antuerpia, como cosa maravillosa, para que todos le viesen" - "This sea pig was carried to Antwerp as a wonderful thing that everyone should see". Misreading the role of Antuerpia in this sentence is clearly the origin of the idea that an antuerpia was some kind of sea creature.

Credit to the authors of Fray Servando Teresa de Mier (Publications de la Sorbonne, 1990, ISBN 2859441859) for the far more likely explanation:
"Antverpia en latín es la ciudad de Amberes, donde se publicaron numerosos textos antiespañoles"
- footnote 25, page 13, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier

"Antverpia in Latin is the city of Antwerp, where many anti-Spanish texts were published"
This is consistent with the description of the Antwerp print industry in David Kunzle's From criminal to courtier: the soldier in Netherlandish art 1550-1672: page 13 describes how outrage at the Sack of Antwerp (nicknamed "The Spanish Fury") led to "what must be ranked as the second (after the earlier Lutheran) great cartoon campaign in history". The anti-Spanish sentiment evidently was still continuing in the 1800s when Mier was writing his Memoirs.

Antuerpias, then are "antwerpisms" - or a good translation to bring out Mier's pejorative edge might be "antwerpishness".

1. See the .PDF of William M Johnson's monograph Monk seals in Post-Classical History: The role of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus)in European history and culture, from the fall of Rome to the 20th century

- Ray


  1. Andrew Sullivan has recently had an extended series of posts about swimming pigs. Which provoked these emails.

  2. Stumbled upon your great detective work as I was trying to figure out the same thing. Would like your permission to cite.

  3. Would like your permission to cite

    Certainly: you're welcome to.