Thursday, September 27, 2012

Columbus Day: What Columbus & Shakespeare Have in Common

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He sailed and sailed and sailed and sailed
to find this land for me and you.
~ children's song, traditional

Christopher Columbus!

Depending on your age, you either learned Columbus was a great visionary or an equally great imperialist. One shared view of Columbus, however, is that it took tremendous courage to make that first voyage upon a sea that was believed to be so flat – a flat plate upon which only the most daring would brave sailing off its distant edge.

Columbus made not one bur four trips to the New World.  The first of these journeys left Spain on October 12, 1492. This is the day that has been celebrated in the New World since colonial times. Imagine that. By the time the United States made Columbus Day an official, federal holiday (1937), the discovery of the New World had been celebrated throughout many parts of the world for well over 400 years.

etching of Columbus claiming the New World for Spain
Born in Genoa, Italy in 1451, Columbus had sailed the Atlantic many times prior to his famous voyage with the Santa Maria, the NiƱa, and the Pinta. His original goal was to find new route to Asia, heading west over the water. A voracious reader of geography and theology (Library of Congress), Columbus not just an adventurer, but an educated man – an educated man with a vision.

Upon his return to Spain and given his original agreement with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus was knighted, given a coat-of-arms, the titles of Admiral of the Sea and Viceroy of the Indies, and 10% of the riches he claimed in Spain's name.
Christopher Columbus' coat-of-arms

But within the space of  less than 10 years, the Crown would charge Columbus with gross mismanagement and abuse of authority. In 1500, he was arrested and put in chains. He lost his titles permanently, and much of his wealth. In 1504, however, Spain was willing to fund Columbus' fourth and final voyage to the New World.

Columbus died two years later in Spain. His death, however, was not the end of his journey. His body, though originally buried in Spain, was moved to what is now known as the Dominican Republic. In the 18th century (1795), they were moved to Cuba. In 1898, they were returned to Spain. 

It is generally accepted that Columbus died believing he had discovered a route to Asia.  And just like Shakespeare, there is no known contemporary portrait of him. Yes, we do not really know what Columbus looked like.

Let it fly!

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