Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mysterious Columbus the Explorer's Name, Origin, Face, and Other Details Remain Puzzling

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mysterious Columbus the Explorer's Name, Origin, Face, and Other Details Remain Puzzling

Article excerpt

IRONICALLY, while new criticisms grow about Christopher Columbus, old mysteries remain about his personal life, particularly about his actual appearance, where he was born and buried, and why he changed his name a number of times.

For example, though there are more than 70 old portraits of him, all are different, and none has been authenticated. Also, about a dozen countries and cities claim him to be a native son, though the weight of evidence favors Genoa. Some scholars, including Italian ambassador Alberto Leoncini Bartoli, suggest that his parents, especially his mother, were Jews who had converted to Roman Catholicism.

While traveling from one country to another in search of financial backers, he frequently changed his name. Christopher Columbus is the Latinized form of the Italian Christoforo Colombo. When living in Portugal, he used Colom as his surname, and when he moved to Spain, he adopted Colomo and then Colon. Why the changes, no one really knows.

Greater mystery revolves about where his remains, or part of them, are buried - in Seville, Santo Domingo, Cuba, or in a destroyed Franciscan monastery's vault in Valladolid, Spain, above which there is now a poolroom.

Other aspects of Columbus's persona are less murky, though not always to his credit. He was a persuasive, determined, proud, and religious man, obsessed with finding a Western route to the Indies, whose riches he had read about in Marco Polo's writings. His seamanship was daring, if not foolhardy, based on a gross mis-estimation of the earth's circumference, which eventually led him to believe that he was in the Indies, which were really thousands of miles away.

And his lust for glory and wealth was second only to that of Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, whose political and religious rule he hoped to expand by crushing Islam and reconquering Jerusalem.

Then, as today, not everyone liked him. Many in the Spanish court maligned him as a "stranger," braggard, and dilettante; others hailed him as a bold, experienced, devout seaman. …

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