Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is famous for not discovering the New World.  He was trying to find a new route to the Indies but he didn’t discover that either.  This is not unexpected for a cheesemonger, but for Columbus there was a world of money to be made out of more than just cheese.

From how some people talk, he was the last to know about America.  The Vikings might have been there already, yes, and maybe the Celts, and even the Chinese if you can believe that.  And there is the small issue of some squatters who had been hanging around for some time beforehand.  But it was Columbus who brought widespread attention and exploitation of the Americas and their peoples, which should count for something.
It’s untrue that people before Columbus thought the Earth was flat.  Since the days of the early Greeks, mathematics had proven otherwise.  Columbus had been taught math, too, he just hadn’t understood it, underestimating the size of the Earth by almost a half.

Columbus’ plan to sail across the Atlantic to Asia was duly rejected by all kings having competent scientific advisors.  This continued until Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  Realizing that the plan nonetheless risked the lives of neither monarch, they freed up the cash for Columbus’ expected suicide.

So in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west with his ships the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  On October 12th, Columbus sighted the island of Guanahani, which he named San Salvador instead.  He marvelled at the peaceful natives, whom he was, to his credit, the first to mistake for Indians.  Columbus packed a great deal of these into the boats for the return voyage, due to the high rate of spoilage overseas.

Transporting a diminished number of natives to Spain would be the high point of Columbus’ career.  His forts wouldn’t stay put, his colonists complained of the lack of promised wealth, and there was the little matter of denying the conversion of the natives due to a rule against enslaving Christians. His governorship was so well received that he was placed in chains (and his brothers too, for good measure).  Up to his death, the Spanish monarchs debated granting Columbus their agreed terms fro the voyage on the grounds of his unexpected survival.

Some people say that we shouldn’t hold up Christopher Columbus as a hero, as he only shows that you can get as far on dumb luck as you can on genuine skill and intelligence.  I don’t know.  Amerigo Vespucchi got two continents named after him for doing absolutely nothing, so there may be something to it.

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