Last year, I wrote thoughts about Christopher Columbus. Through the Internet my thoughts sailed across the country, prompting numerous debates regarding his morality and his significance. Indulge me as I revisit his story. This time I’ll delve deeper into the nature of the man.
There was a time when the New World did not exist — at least not for Europeans. The sun set in the west at the far edge of an ocean where no man dared to venture, and beyond that, infinity — or so they thought. Geographers believed that monsters guarded the edge of the world. It was thought to be impossible to cross the ocean.
In 1492, obsessive monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile ruled a Spain that was consumed by fear and superstition. Their ruthless inquisition persecuted those who dared to dream.
The Old World castigated visionaries as science denied possibility. Life was inert, waiting for a dreamer.
Christopher Columbus, a determined navigator from Genoa, Italy, challenged the monarchs and — driven by his sense of destiny, greed and narcissism — crossed the sea of darkness in search of honor, gold, fame and the glory of God.
Columbus’ reputation has not survived the scrutiny of history. He never set foot on the mainland. Leif Erikson established an outpost on the island of Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus’ arrival.
Christopher Columbus was no saint. He was like you and me; he possessed a duality of good and evil. He was a visionary, a man of courage who went beyond the edge of the world to find what was out there.
“I will not be told what to be afraid of,” he said. “I want to find out for myself.”
Defying the superstitions of the status quo, he said, “Go and find out what the world is about and tell me something I can accept.”
He was impractical and vehemently asserted integrity of purpose and imagination against those who play it safe. He was brutally critical of the unimaginative and viewed them as slaves of the ordinary.
His charm and flirtatious manner wooed Isabella but he danced one step away from her guillotine. Showing no servitude toward royalty, his arrogance and seductiveness controlled Isabella’s will. He defied the leading scientists and pointed out their lack of daring. He made many enemies. He was only safe at sea.
On Aug. 3, 1492 Columbus set sail from Spain with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. “Following the light of the sun, we left the old world,” he wrote. For 10 weeks his crew of 90 mariners braved tempest-driven seas searching for cities in the Indies that were, according to Marco Polo, made of gold. Provisions waned; their water became putrid. Relentless in his drive, he convinced mutineers that there was no turning back. “The land is there,” he said.
“Nothing that results from human progress is achieved through unanimous consent,” Columbus said. “Those who are enlightened for others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of others.”
Columbus returned and was celebrated as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and ironically fell into political obscurity and financial ruin.
We often destroy the dreamer, the enlightened, the courageous, the most daring.
As Hemingway put it, “If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them; so of course it kills them.”
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.