The Empathy and Antipathy Concerning Christopher Columbus

Christopher_Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo

Visiting Italy

Several years ago I made a rail trip across Italy. My journey began in old Venice and ended up at a small coastal town (Finale Marina) on the Italian Riviera. The scenery from Venice westward was rather mundane until the train began approaching Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Here, the flat plains gave way to a rugged almost mountainous terrain, where many dwellings were situated on the sides of some very steep hills.

800px-Genova_1481_(copy_1597) View of Genoa by Christoforo de Grassi
View of Genoa in 1481, copied in 1597 by Christoforo de Grassi

Birthplace of Columbus

At Genoa, I transferred trains at an underground station, so I didn’t get to see much of the city, but the ride along the Mediterranean coast was spectacular as the train passed through several long tunnels interspersed with short lengths of rail set right next to the tranquil blue sea. All in all, this provides little insight into the life and times of the “Great Mariner”, though it could shed a little light on the origins of the explorer, who crossed the Atlantic. For info on the trials and tribulations of Mr. Columbus it is necessary to do some research. A good place to begin is Martin Dugard’s excellent book, entitled The Fourth Joutney of Christopher Columbus.

Travel Poster for Venice

Cruising the Internet for Columbus Editorials and Articles

Every year about this time there appear several articles underscoring the destruction and misery caused by the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. This year the big winner seems to be over at the Oatmeal, where a poster by Mathew Inman has been published entitled Christopher Columbus was awful. Check it out.  On a similar (but not so negative) note you might want to check out what the staff at Indian Country Media Network has to say. Just go to their website and read the piece entitled, How not to party on Columbus Day. Then there is the more positive view which found at the Queens Gazette.  And finally on a lighter note, in an article written last year, Laura Geggel of the NY Times speculates on what that mysterious light might have been that Columbus saw just before he landed in the New World.

In Conclusion

After taking in all these viewpoints, don’t forget that Italy is still a fun place to visit. Along these lines I have included another travel poster. Ciao, and so long for now.

Travel Poster for the Italian Riviera

Revisiting Columbus Day

Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, painting by Salvador Dali from Wikipedia

Christopher Columbus

The more we know about Christopher Columbus, the Genoan sailor who ventured across the Atlantic in 1492 and safely landed on the island of Hispanola, the more the great adventurer becomes a modern-day enigma. Though contemporary evidence from Iceland and Newfoundland places doubt on the idea that Columbus was the first European to cross the Atlantic, his knowledge of the sea and his New World exploits are still legendary and shall probably remain so for generations to come. This is especially true, when one realizes that Columbus had to cross thousands of miles of open seas, while the Vikings and Celtic monks essentially traveled  between islands with the largest distance of open sea being only 250 miles.

painting of the Norse settlement of Iceland, by P. Raadsig, 1850

Iceland – Stepping Stone To America

According to Icelandic history, the Norse arrived in 874 A.D. and made a small settlement at Reykjavik with  Ingólfr Arnarson as the founder. However, it is generally believed that the Norse were preceded by Irish monks, who may have made it as far as the mainland of North America. Just a quick look at a map of the North Atlantic will give the viewer the perception that anyone who was able to sail to Iceland, would not have a difficult time traveling the extra miles to Newfoundland or beyond. It is even believed that Christopher Columbus visited Iceland in 1477, 15 years before he made his fateful voyage to the Caribbean. One possible reason for the journey would have been a search for the Northwest Passage to the Orient.

The Four Journeys of Christopher Columbus

After Columbus made his first voyage to the New World, he returned three more times with each trip becoming more and more harrowing, as he ventured further from his original landing point. For a fascinating account of Columbus’ fourth voyage, readers should check out The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain’s Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane and Discovery by Martin Dugard. This non-fiction tale reads like a sci-fi adventure story and should be taken in by any serious student of the Great Admiral.

What Columbus Did

Columbus is an easy person to hate. Before he sailed across the Atlantic he was a slave trader, an adventurer, a courtier to the royal court. He brought Native peoples back to Europe as hostages to prove his exploits and his travels lead to the trans-Atlantic slave trade to America. Still, he was the most able of sailors and sea captains, for Columbus was the first European sailor to understand and detect hurricanes. Also Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors forever changed the balance of power in the New World. This was not always a bad thing, especially when one considers the defeat of the Caribs, a powerful and horrendously terrifying alliance of Indians that enslaved local tribes all across Central and South America. Also in Columbus’ wake there emerged a great exchange of food and raw materials. Without these things our world would be very much poorer today, for nowadays people can make tomato salsa in Italy, while cafe guests can sip coffee in South America with all due respect to the early explorers.