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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

A navigator and cartographer, Christopher (c. 1451-1506) is presumed to have been born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451, son of Giovanni Colombo and Susana Fontanarossa. During his adoles­cence, he worked in his father’s weaving shop. In the busy port of Genoa, learned the rudiments of navigation and cartography. During his youth, he traveled as a sailor to vari­ous countries such as Iceland, Flanders, and Portugal, where he was shipwrecked in 1476. In Lisbon he married Felipa Moniz de Perestrello, a lady of the Portuguese court, whose connec­tions permitted him not only to further his read­ings about navigation but also to present King Joâo II with his project to travel to India by sail­ing westward. His project would later be approved, but more important, he received the title of Captain, which would grant him greater prestige and credibility when presenting his project to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1486. Undoubtedly a very important figure of modern history, helped to transform the knowledge and the history of his time.

Columbus set sail from the port of Palos in Frontera, Huelva, Spain, on August 3, 1492, and arrived on the island of Guanam on October 12 of that same year. In all, Columbus embarked on four voyages that circumscribed the Caribbean Sea and the Panamanian Isthmus. Although the stipu­lated that Columbus would receive the titles of Admiral of the Seas, Viceroy, and Governor, his failed experience in Hispaniola demonstrated that, although an excellent navigator, he was a terrible military officer, a disastrous politician, and a failure as an entrepreneur. Of his Onboard Diary, only the abstract compiled by Fray Bartolome de las Casas has survived; in this fragment Columbus details the exploits of his four expeditions and makes an inventory of the newly discovered lands in rhetorical flourishes designed to convince the Catholic monarchs of the viability of his enterprise.

Myths and legends have sprung up around ’s name. Elevated to the stature of a Romantic genius by leaders who have wanted to see the mythical origins of their nations in his heroic deeds, Columbus has been repre­sented in multiple novels and movies, exalted to the point of paroxysm in poetry, and lauded in extensive biographies and studies. That which is known for sure is that Columbus’s arrival on the American continent heralded the genocide of mil­lions of Indigenous people and the annihilation of important civilizations such as the Aztec and the Incan, as well as opened one of the most shameful chapters of human history: African slavery. died in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506. There is a controversy regarding his remains. While some scholars assure that his remains rest in the Cathedral of Seville, others claim that his remains are buried in the Columbus Lighthouse, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Fernando Valerio-Holguı’n

See also Christianity; Marco Polo

Further Readings

Chase, A. (2003). Christopher Columbus. The Columbia companion to American history on film (P. C. Rollins, Ed.) (pp. 148-152). New York: Columbia University Press.

Fernandez-Armesto, F. (2000). Columbus and the conquest of the impossible. London: Phoenix Press.

Forbes, J. D. (1992). Columbus and the other cannibals. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.

Stam, R. (1993). Rewriting 1492: Cinema and the Columbus debate. Cineaste 19(4), 66-71.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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