The Great Antonio

From Notes and Queries, 7th S. vol. IV, p. 386 (November 12, 1887)

"THE GREAT ANTONIO" — Sir Thomas Browne, at the beginning of his 'Letter to a Friend', has the following passage, "Since we find in that famous Story that Spirits themselves were fain to tell their Fellows at a distance, that the great Antonio was dead." Dr. Greenhill, in his note, suggests that Antonio is an error for Pan, because the well-known story of the mysterious voice which was heard by the Egyptian pilot, as recorded by Plutarch, is undoubtedly referred to in the 'Vulgar Errors' (vii. 12). But "Antonio" is correct, and Sir Thomas Browne had in mind the narrative of George Sandys, the traveller, in his relation of a journey begun A.D. 1610. The following quotation is from the second edition, 1621, pp. 248–9: —

"It was told me at Naples by a countreyman of ours, and an old pentioner of the Popes, who was a youth in the days of King Henry, that it was then generally bruited throughout England, that master Gresham, a merchant, setting saile from Palermo, (where there then dwelt one Anthonio called the Rich, who at one time had two kingdoms morgaged unto him by the King of Spaine), being crossed by contrary winds, was constrained to anchor under the lee of this Iland. Now about mid-day, when for certaine houres it accustomedly forbeareth to flame, he ascended the mountaine with eight of the sailers: and, approaching as neare the vent as they durst; amongst other noises they heard a voice crie aloud, Dispatch, dispatch, the rich Antonio is a coming. Terrified herewith they descended; and anon the mountains againe evaporated fire. But from so dismall a place they made all the haste that they could: when the winds still thwarting their course, and desiring much to know more of this matter, they returned to Palermo. And forthwith enquiring of Antonio, it was told them that he was dead; and computing the time, did finde it to agree with the very instant that the voyce was heard by them. Gresham reported this at his returne, to the King: and the marriners being called before him, confirmed by oath the narration. In Gresham himselfe, as this Gentleman said (for I no otherwise report it) it wrought so deepe an impression, that he gave over all traffique: distributing his goods, a part to his kinsfolke, and the rest to good uses; retaining onely a competency for himselfe: and so spent the rest of his life in a solitary devotion."


This article is a note to Sir Thomas Browne's Letter to a Friend

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