Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christopher Columbus

Michael Fong
Journal #20 Christopher Columbus
December 1, 2009

"I came to serve at the age of twenty-eight years, and now I have not a hair on my body that is not gray, and my body is infirm, and whatever remained to me from those years of service has been spent and taken away from me and sold, and from my brothers, down to my very coat, without my being heard or seen, to my great dishonor. It must be believed that this was not done by your royal command...I did not sail upon this voyage to gain honor or wealth; this is certain, for already all hope of that was dead. I came to Your Highnesses with true devotion and with ready zeal, and I do not lie." (Columbus 34-35)

"So Columbus said, somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else." (Ogden Nash - Wikiquote)

In an attempt to clear his name and restore his reputation, Columbus wrote the letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, seeking pardon from the charges made against him at the time. He was ultimately successful, as Ferdinand went forth with the pardon, as the royal couple restored Columbus subsequently with his wealth as well as freedom.

The difference between this particular letter to Ferdinand and Isabella could not have been more different with the letter to Luis de Santangel regarding the first voyage. Every phrase and every word used in the letter all point to the desperation that Columbus held when he was writing it. I myself was brought up with the idea that Columbus was the virtuous and fearless voyager who discovered America, so to be brought to face the darker side of Columbus was, at first, extremely strange to me.

Nash's quote had a tone of pity and defense for Columbus, as he lamented the fate that Columbus was met with, a fate that he took to be unfair given the immense significance of the discovery that Columbus made. I beg to differ. One should always judge an individual on every episode of his life, and not just selective moments. What about Columbus' atrocities in the West Indies? What about the violent bloodshed and torture that he put to use during his brief stint as governor? Although those charges were never proven, it casts doubt and shadow over Columbus' character. This much could be said though, that we should never herald Columbus as the perfect, moral voyager as history books still present to our generation nowadays.

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