The beginning of the New Atlantis is, in the first place, an account of a long voyage across the Pacific, undertaken by a crew of 51 sailors. At the same time, it serves as a brief introduction to two different peoples – the sailors on the one hand and the Bensalemites on the other. The passage also presents the narrator's first impressions of the newly discovered island of Bensalem. In addition, the opening passage of the New Atlantis is more than a simple description of an adventure which begins at sea and is triggered by a tempest. The phrase “We sailed from Peru” not only establishes the nature of the story one is about to read but also plunges the reader into a hasty and unexpected departure. “We” are caught unprepared for an adventure that tosses both reader and characters into a peculiar setting, where complete loss of orientation, purpose and identity melt together to form the basis of a questioning about the real purpose of the text.
[...] We can distinguish three that seem to stand out in particular at the beginning of the New Atlantis the ship or the boat, the opposition between light and darkness and, to a certain extent, the colours. All are placed in relation to the sailors as well as to the people of Bensalem. Each of these categories serves to describe and situate the newly acquainted parties in respect to one another. An early and accepted emblem of the church is the ship and the word which refers to the central part of the church comes from the Latin word for ship (Medieval Latin nāvis, from Latin, from its shape). [...]
[...] Their curiosity brings new worlds to light but their inner light makes them persevere with their curiosity, hence the opposition between light and darkness which recurs in a number of places throughout the New Atlantis. Light is the symbol of God's power but it is also used to denote the power of knowledge. It is interesting to take a look at the island of Bensalem which gradually comes to light and materializes out of the vanishing mist. The island passes from darkness to light; it is unknown at first and is announced only as an allusion to what lies beyond the discovered regions of the globe. [...]
[...] It lacks definition because it has to be filled in by the persona of every different reader of the New Atlantis. Such a reader-narrator is more suitable than any other narrator we would have to imagine or adjust to if the story started otherwise. And since the reader-narrator has to be devoted to an accurate observation of reality, he must be kept in the shadows in order to make a thorough record of all the facts and study everything he observes. [...]
[...] With this in mind, it is obvious that the beginning of the New Atlantis becomes the meeting point of all the perspectives through which the text could be interpreted. It contains an infinite number of interwoven themes and if we tried to study them, we would probably be able to decide upon certainties. And even if these be scanty, at least we would have found a fragment of the truth. The first sentence of the New Atlantis could very well be read as the first entry in the diary of any English captain of the 17th century. [...]
[...] The beginning of the New Atlantis is so devised that it leaves the possibility for the writer to compile something more than a simple story. His text becomes an exhaustive collection of the recurrent themes of Bacon's philosophical writings, a more accessible version of The Advancement of Learning, a reference to the scientific methods and discoveries of the time, a text on religion and its role. The only certainty we could establish about the New Atlantis at this point is that it has a polysemantic and multifunctional nature. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee