There are many myths about Christopher Columbus and often people do not take the time to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the great explorer. In these days of revisionist history writers, it is critical to get the facts correct and to portray the navigator as a man of his times – that of the late Renaissance period. It was in fact not one trip, but four that Christopher Columbus made across the great unknown that was the Atlantic Ocean to the ‘New World.’ Everyone remembers the first trip in 1492, but Columbus also set sail from Spain in 1493, 1498 and 1502. He was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but due to a computation difference between the supposed size of the Earth and his own navigational charting, he calculated the diameter of the Earth to be far smaller than was truly the case. Traveling west, he sailed to the islands that we now describe as the West Indies, a name that is in itself a tribute to Columbus. It is convenient to say that he “discovered” the New World, but we know that people were already there. We also know that Scandinavian sailors made their way to parts of North America hundreds of years before Columbus. Then why is Columbus given such credit? He was the man who opened the door to the European exploration of the continents. It was his journeys that marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic exploration and colonization of the new lands. It was one of the most important events in history.
Myth – It was Columbus who first proposed that Asia could be reached by sailing west. Scholars recognized that the idea dates back to Roman times. Their belief, as was that of Columbus, is true. Sailing west from Europe will eventually lead to Asia. However, there is the giant land mass of the Americas in the way, as well as the vast Pacific Ocean. Before Columbus, no one ventured into the great unknown of the Atlantic. It took courage and unprecedented navigational skills to reach the “New Lands.”
Myth – Most people of Columbus’ time believed the world was flat. The uneducated may have thought that the world was flat, then again, they may have thought it round. The fact is, those of peasant status didn’t really have the luxury to contemplate such things. If queried about it, most would say that they didn’t care. Those who were educated had known that the world was round since the time of the golden age of the Greeks. Columbus certainly knew that the world was round, but then again, so did every other navigator. It was never a question of falling off the edge of the Earth. It was a question of setting sail into unknown, sailing away from the coast and out into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. That was a risky venture, given the technology of the day.
Myth – Queen Isabella of Spain sold her jewelry to finance the exploration. She in fact did not. But one must step back and think about the events contemporary with Columbus. Spain had finally expelled the Moors from their country, a feat that took centuries to accomplish. No longer embroiled in a battle at home, they then turned to enterprise. Since Spain was secure, how could it expand? The seemingly endless riches of the Far East were definitely attractive. As a matter of business, the importation of goods from the Far East could be profitable, but in addition, since the knowledge of the lands beyond Europe was quite sketchy, the opportunity to discover new lands and lay claim to them was on the minds of most monarchs of seafaring nations.