Christopher Columbus, 1451 - 1506
Detail from "Virgen de los Mavegantes" by Alejo Fernandez, oldest known likeness.
Born: Between 25 August and 31 October 1451, Genoa, Republic of Genoa
Died: 20 May 1506, Valladolid, Crown of Castile
Born Christoffa Corombo in the Ligurian language used in Genoa at the time, his father was a weaver of wool. He had no known education, but in 1473 he apprenticed as a business agent for several trading families which required reading and writing. It also involved several sea voyages, taking him to Bristol (England), Galway (Ireland), possibly Iceland, and certainly the ports of the Iberian peninsula. In 1479 he married the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman, who gave him a son, Diego. She may have died in 1485 or he may have just left her, he took a Spanish mistress in 1487. By this time he had learned Latin, Portuguese, and Castilian and read Ptolemy, Marco Polo, and other works relating to the world, leaving hundreds of annotations in the margins. Contrary to what some of us were taught in school, nobody thought the world was flat, but Columbus wildly miscalculated the diameter of the glove, believing Japan was some 2,300 miles to the west of Spain rather than the 12,200 miles we know now. Based on that error, in 1485 he began seeking a sponsor for a trip to establish a westward route, starting with John II, king of Portugal, but also Genoa and Venice, and he sent his brother to offer his services to Henry VII of England. Henry said yes, but news of that came only after Queen Isabella of Castile had granted him a salary to keep him from sailing for another country in 1489. In 1492, having retaken Grenada from the Moors, the Queen gave him three ships and a crew of about ninety. He made four trips, landing in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492. His attempts to govern the lands he claimed were not successful, during his third voyage he was arrested and returned to Spain in chains. He made one more trip, exploring the South American mainland and was shipwrecked and stranded on Jamaica for a year. After returning to Spain he took up residence at Valladolid, his fortune restored to him (but not his titles). He had suffered from reactive arthritis, which finally caused a heart attack.
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Christopher Columbus quotes:
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- An old man came on board my boat; the others, both men and women cried with loud voices: "Come and see the men who have come from the sky. Bring them victuals and drink." permalink
Journal of the first voyage (13 October 1492)
- And I say that Your Highnesses ought not to consent that any foreigner does business or sets foot here, except Christian Catholics, since this was the end and the beginning of the enterprise, that it should be for the enhancement and glory of the Christian religion, nor should anyone who is not a good Christian come to these parts. permalink
Journal of the first voyage (27 November 1492)
- And the sea shall grant all men new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home. permalink
Journal of the first voyage
- By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination. permalink
- Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World. permalink
- For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics, or maps. permalink
- Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise. permalink
- I came to serve you at the age of 28 and now I have not a hair on me that is not white, and my body is infirm and exhausted. All that was left to me and my brothers has been taken away and sold, even to the cloak that I wore, without hearing or trial, to my great dishonor. permalink
Letter to the Sovereigns, Fourth Voyage (7 July 1503)
- I have always read that the world, both land and water, was spherical, as the authority and researches of Ptolemy and all the others who have written on this subject demonstrate and prove, as do the eclipses of the moon and other experiments that are made from east to west, and the elevation of the North Star from north to south. permalink
Letter to the Sovereigns, Third Voyage (18 October 1498)
- I have come to believe that this is a mighty continent which was hitherto unknown. I am greatly supported in this view by reason of this great river, and by this sea which is fresh. permalink
Journal of the third voyage (1498)
- I should be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies to conquer a people numerous and warlike, whose manners and religion are very different from ours, who live in sierras and mountains, without fixed settlements, and where by divine will I have placed under the sovereignty of the King and Queen our Lords, an Other World, whereby Spain, which was reckoned poor, is become the richest of countries. permalink
Letter to Doña Juana de Torres (October 1500)
- I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that any one has gone. permalink
Journal of the first voyage (3 August 1492)
- Riches don't make a man rich, they only make him busier. permalink
- Thanks be to God, the air is soft as in April in Seville, and it is a pleasure to be in it, so fragrant it is. permalink
Journal of the first voyage (8 October 1492)
- These people have no religion, neither are they idolaters, but are a very gentle race, without the knowledge of any iniquity; they neither kill, nor steal, nor carry weapons.... They have a knowledge that there is a God above, and are firmly persuaded that we have come from heaven. permalink
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