U M B E R T O E C O
The Island of the Day Before
Is the Pacifique Sea my home?
“Hymne to God my God”
Stolto! a cui parlo? Misero! Che tento?
Racconto il dolor mio
a 1’insensata riva
a la mutola selce, al sordo vento...
Ahi, ch’altro non risponde
che il mormorar del’onde!
—giovan battista marino, “Eco,” La Lira, xix
Table of Contents
An Account of Events in the Monferrato
The Serraglio of Wonders
The Labyrinth of the World
The Great Art of Light and Shadow
The Curious Learning of the Wits of the Day
The Aristotelian Telescope
Geography and Hydrography Reformed
The Art of Prudence
The Passions of the Soul
The Map of Tenderness
A Treatise on the Science of Arms
Discourse on the Powder of Sympathy
Longitudinum Optata Scientia
A New Voyage Round the World
Wit and the Art of Ingenuity
Telluris Theoria Sacra
The Orange Dove
Divers and Artificious Machines
Dialogues of the Maximum Systems
Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems
The Secrets of the Flux and Reflux of the Sea
Of the Origin of Novels
The Soul of Ferrante
Anatomy of Erotic Melancholy
A Breviary for Politicals
A Garden of Delights
Monologue on the Plurality of Worlds
Joyfull Newes out of the Newfound Worlde
The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying
Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the
Thinking of Stones
An Enquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell
Itinerarium Extaticum Coeleste
I take pride withal in my humiliation, and as I am to this privilege condemned, almost I find joy in an abhorrent salvation; I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship.
thus, with unabashedconceits, wrote Roberto della Griva presumably in July or August of 1643.
How many days had he been tossed by the waves, feverish surely, bound to a plank, prone during the hours of light to avoid the blinding sun, his neck stiff, strained unnaturally so as not to imbibe the water, his lips burnt by the brine? His letters offer no answer to this question: though they suggest an eternity, the time cannot have been more than two days, for otherwise he would never have survived the lash of Phoe?bus (of which he so poetically complains), he, a sickly youth, as he describes himself, a creature condemned by a natural defect to live only at night.
He was unable to keep track of time, but I believe the sea grew calm immediately after the tempest swept him from the deck of the Amaryllis, on that makeshift raft a sailor had fashioned for him. Driven by the Trades over a serene sea, in a season when, south of the Equator, a temperate winter reigns, he was carried for not many miles, until the currents at last brought him into the bay.
It was night, he had dozed off, unaware that he was ap?proaching a ship until, with a jolt, his plank struck against the prow of the Daphne.
And when—in the glow of the full moon—he realized he was floating beneath a bowsprit
with a rope-ladder hanging from it not far from the anchor chain (a Jacob’s ladder, Father Caspar would have called it), in an instant all his spirit re?turned. His desperation must have inspired him: he tried to reckon whether he had enough breath to cry out (but his throat was all an arid fire) or enough strength to free himself from the bonds that had cut livid furrows into his skin, and then to essay the climb. I believe that at such moments a dying man can become a very Hercules, and strangle serpents in his cradle. In recording the event, Roberto seems confused, but we must accept the idea that if, finally, he reached the fore?castle, he must somehow have grasped that ladder. Perhaps he climbed up a bit at a time, exhausted at every gain, until he flung himself over the bulwarks, crawled along the cordage, found the forecastle door open ... And instinct no doubt led him, in the darkness, to touch that barrel, pull himself up its side, until he found a cup attached to a little chain. And he drank as much as he could, then collapsed, sated, perhaps in the fullest meaning of the word, for that water probably con?tained enough drowned insects to supply him with food as well as drink.
He must have slept twenty-four hours. This is only an approximate calculation: it was night when he woke, but he was as if reborn. So it was night again, not night still.
He thought it was night still; for if not, a whole day had to have passed, and someone should have found him by now. The moonlight, coming from the deck, illuminated that place, apparently a kind of cook-room, where a pot was hanging above the fireplace.
The room had two doors, one towards the bowsprit, the other opening onto the deck.
And he looked out at the latter, seeing, as if by daylight, the rigging in good order, the capstan, the masts with the sails furled, a few cannon at the gun-ports, and the outline of the quarterdeck. He made some sounds, but not a living soul replied. He gazed over the bulwarks, and to his right he could discern, about a mile away, the form of the Island, the palm trees along its shore stirred by a breeze.
The land made a kind of bend, edged with sand that gleamed white in the pale darkness; but, like any shipwrecked man, Roberto could not tell if it was an island or a continent.
He staggered to the other side of the ship and glimpsed— but distant this time,
almost on the line of the horizon—the peaks of another mass, defined also by two
promontories. Ev?erything else was sea, giving the impression that the ship was
berthed in an anchorage it had entered through a channel separating the two stretches of land. Roberto decided that if these were not two islands, one was surely an island facing a vaster body of land. I do not believe he entertained other hy?potheses, since he had never known bays so broad that a per?son in their midst could feel he was confronting twin lands. Thus, in his ignorance of boundless continents, Roberto had chanced upon the correct answer.
A nice situation for a castaway: his feet solidly planted and dry land within reach. But Roberto was unable to swim. Soon he would discover there was no longboat on board, and the current meanwhile had carried away the plank on which he had arrived. Hence his relief at having escaped death was now accompanied by dismay at this treble solitude: of the sea, the neighboring Island, and the ship. Ahoy! he must have tried to shout on the ship, in every language he knew, discovering how weak he truly was. Silence. As if on board everyone was dead. And never had he—so generous with
similes—expressed him?self more literally. Or almost—and this is what I would fain
tell you about, if only I knew where to begin.
For that matter, I have already begun. A man drifts, ex?hausted, over the ocean,
and the complaisant waters bring him to a ship, apparently deserted. Deserted as if the crew has just abandoned it, for Roberto struggles back to the cook-room and finds a lamp there and a flint and steel, as if the cook set them in their place before going to bed. But the two berths beside the furnace, one above the other, are both empty. Ro?berto lights the lamp, looks around, and finds a great quantity of food: dried fish, hardtack, with only a few patches of mold easily scraped away with a knife. The fish is very salty, but there is water in abundance.
He must have regained his strength quickly, or else he was strong when he was writing this, for he goes into—highly literary—detail about his banquet, never did Olympus
see such a feast as his, Jove’s nectar, to me sweet ambrosia from farthest Pontus. But these are the things Roberto writes to the Lady of his heart: