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George Psalmanazar was best known for posing as the first Formosan to visit Europe.
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George Psalmanazar was an imposter who claimed to be the first Formosan to visit Europe. He even published a book, translated into three European languages, about the customs of Formosa— they were completely fabricated.
George Psalmanazar was an imposter who claimed to be the first Formosan to visit Europe.
Because Psalmanazar was an imposter, many of the facts of his life are unknown. Psalmanazar was born to a Catholic family, sometime between 1679 and 1684, probably in the south of France. It is believed that he took his name from the Old Testament King of Assyria, Shalmaneser.
Psalmanazar's hoaxes began in France, where he pretended to be an Irish pilgrim en route to Rome. That disguise didn't work for long, as many French people were familiar with Ireland and knew he was a fraud.
Psalmanazar soon upped the ante and changed story. Having learned about the Far East from Jesuit tutors, he began telling people he was a Catholic convert from Japan. Psalmanazar's Japanese routine consisted of eating strange foods and sleeping sitting up.
As Psalmanazar traveled through Germany, the clock ran out on his Japanese ruse when he was asked to translate a passage from Cicero into Japanese—and clearly didn't know the language. As before, Psalmanazar changed his identity to one he thought no one was familiar with-he told people he was from Formosa (modern day Taiwan).
In 1702 Psalmanazar met a Scottish priest and together the two traveled to London. The priest introduced Psalmanazar to Anglican clergy, and Psalmanazar became a local celebrity. He told scandalous tales of an exotic land and its bizarre customs, including polygamy, cannibalism, and infanticide. One of his most outrageous lies was about his own skin color— Psalamanazar claimed he was fair-skinned because the upper classes of Formosa lived underground. He wrote a book about his "homeland" in Latin, "An Historic and Geographical Description of Formosa," which was soon translated into English, French and German.
Eventually, Psalmanazar's lies caught up to him. Over the years knowledge of the real Formosa spread, and Psalmanazar was discredited. He went on to study theology, and eventually went on to publish theological essays.
Later in life Psalamanazar wrote his memoirs, published posthumously. Though the book gives away real details of his life and the hoax he engineered, Psalamanazar never revealed his real name.
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