The Zeno Narrative
an earl of Orkney of the late fifteenth century,
didn't go to America."
Central to the growing legend of Henry Sinclair's expedition to North America is a 16th century document known as the Zeno Narrative.
Published anonymously in Venice in 1558, the Zeno Narrative has been attributed to one Nicolo Zeno, in honour of his ancestors, the navigators Nicolo and Antonio Zeno. Compiled over 200 years after the events it claims to portray, the Narrative is supposedly made up from letters detailing the exploits of the Navigator Zeno as recounted to a relative in Venice.
The Zeno Narrative claims to detail a journey made by Nicolo Zeno in 1380. One this voyage, Zeno was shipwrecked on "Frislanda" - an island he said was larger than Ireland.
Here we are introduced to the elusive "Prince" Zichmni, "a great lord" of islands called "Porlanda". After encountering some trouble with the locals, Nicolo is rescued by the elusive Zichmni and subsequently enters his service.
Joined from Venice by his brother, Antonio, Nicolo Zeno is, before long, waging wars and exploring a mixture of fictitious and genuine "islands" in the North Atlantic.
Eventually, we learn how Zichmni comes to hear of a voyage to the unknown lands of "Estotilanda" and "Drogeo" in the far west. Together with Antonio Zeno, Zichmni sets sail but as far as the Zeno narrative is concerned they never reach them. Zichmni lands on Greenland (or "Engrouelanda" as the narrative puts it), where he builds a town at "Trin" and sets about exploring the Greenland coast.
And that, as far as the Zeno Narrative is concerned, is that. No Sinclair. No America. And, strangely enough, no Orkney.
As Shetland archivist Brian Smith states in his paper demolishing the myth of the Sinclair Atlantic voyage:
"If the Zeno map is the work of Venetian navigators who lived with the earl of Orkney for four and fourteen years respectively, they don't seem to have paid much attention to their surroundings."