Misquote of the moment: Magellan didn’t say it, but it’s still brilliant, “shadow on the Moon”

An anonymous portrait of Ferdinand Magellan, 16th or 17th century (The Mariner's Museum Collection, Newport News, VA) Legend:

An anonymous portrait of Ferdinand Magellan, 16th or 17th century (The Mariner’s Museum Collection, Newport News, VA) Legend: “Ferdinan[dus] Magellanus superatis antarctici freti angustiis clariss.” (Fedinand Magellan, you overcame the famous, narrow, southern straits.)

From Wikiquote:

  • The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow of the earth on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church.
    • This quotation is often found on the internet attributed to Magellan, but never with a source, and no English occurrence prior to its use by Robert Green Ingersoll in his essay “Individuality” (1873) has been located. Thus, it it most likely spurious. In that essay Ingersoll states:

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions, — some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, “The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.” On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.

Where did Ingersoll get that thought? Wouldn’t he claim it as his own, had he invented it?

And, is it true? Can we tell anything by the Earth’s shadow on the Moon?  EarthSky.org discusses the reality, when can we really see the Earth’s shadow?  Turns out, we don’t have to wait for a lunar eclipse. More, is this false attributing perhaps the source of the old, incorrect claim that many in the days of Columbus thought the Earth to be flat, and not spherical?

Wikiquote, and the rest of us, need more sleuthing on this one.


One Response to Misquote of the moment: Magellan didn’t say it, but it’s still brilliant, “shadow on the Moon”

  1. Porlock Junior says:

    It’s not the source of that silly traditional error, but a then-new instance of Washington Irving’s piece of nonsense. OK, I can’t prove Irving invented it, but he has seniority over Ingersoll, and nobody seems to have found an earlier source.


    Sounds as if Ingersoll noticed that Columbus did not in any way establish the sphericity of the Earth, even under the assumption that there was any reason to do that; so he provided a variant using the guy who actually did circumnavigate–or, since one is trying t be accurate here, start an ultimately successful circumnavigation.

    As to why he didn’t claim credit, it seems to me that people don’t usually claim personal credit for a deliberate fabrication that they want to pass off as fact.

    On the lighter side, I have in fact seen, on a cereal package, an attribution of the world-is-round heresy to Copernicus.

    I can’t wait for someone to cite Luther for this. You know, “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders, aber I’m getting awfully dizzy with all this spinning around.”

    With apologies for blaspheming that statement, which is admirable, not least for its use of the power of the German language for forcefulness and concision.

    Liked by 1 person

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