Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685

Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685

Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685

Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685

Excerpt

The earth, whatever part of it lay beyond the Ocean Sea, was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. Then came the Discovery, and the embodiment of God's spirit moved across the face of the waters. The sixteenth-century Catholic Spaniard, in his own mind, brought the light to this New World. Separating the light from the darkness, he sought the firmament in the midst of the waters.

In Triana, across the Río Guadalquivir from Seville, there stands a statue of an obscure sailor named Rodrigo, his likeness transfixed in time at the moment of the new beginning. The inscription contains but a single word, a word significant only for the time and place in which it was uttered:

&¡Tierra!

Contemplating the marble figure upon its pedestal, the imaginative mind sees more than actually is present. Barefoot, his tattered pantaloons rolled up on lank shins, Rodrigo grips in one hand a bobbing mast while pointing afar with the other. Upon his face he wears an expression of unspeakable awe. The gently rolling deck of Pinta takes shape around him, her billowing sails catching the moonlight, her bow dipping into the swells to stir a phosphorescent glow. A split second of electrifying stillness follows Rodrigo's cry as its significance sinks in: Land ho! Then the shouts of triumph and a cannon shot, followed by brisk orders and a bustle of activity to shorten sail and await the arrival of Niña and Santa María.

Rodrigo de Triana, a simple seaman, may never have felt himself a harbinger of fortune for his mere utterance of such a common word. His excitement at the moment perhaps was born more of sea-weariness, of consuming stale bread and fetid water, than of any sense of destiny. Yet . . .

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