The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

He made himself acquainted with all that had been written by the ancients, or discovered by the moderns, relative to geography. His own voyages enabled him to correct many of their errors, and appreciate many of their theories. His genius having thus taken its decided bent, it is interesting to notice from what a mass of acknowledged facts, rational hypotheses, fanciful narrations, and popular rumors, his grand project of discovery was wrought out by the strong workings of his vigorous mind.


CHAPTER V.
GROUNDS ON WHICH COLUMBUS FOUNDED HIS BELIEF OF THE
EXISTENCE OF UNDISCOVERED LANDS IN THE WEST.

It has been attempted, in the preceding chapters, to show how Columbus was gradually kindled up to his grand design by the spirit and events of the times in which he lived. His son Fernando, however, undertakes to furnish the precise data on which his father's plan of discovery was founded.* "He does this," he observes "to show from what slender argument so great a scheme was fabricated and brought to light; and for the purpose of satisfying those who may desire to know distinctly the circumstances and motives which led his father to undertake this enterprise."

As this statement was formed from notes and documents found among his father's papers, it is too curious and interesting not to deserve particular mention. In this memorandum he arranged the foundation of his father's theory under three heads: 1. The nature of things. 2. The authority of learned writers. 3. The reports of navigators.

Under the first head he set down as a fundamental principle that the earth was a terraqueous sphere or globe, which might be travelled round from east to west, and that men stood foot to foot when on opposite, points. The circumference from east to west, at the equator, Columbus divided, according to Ptolemy, into twenty-four hours of fifteen degrees each, making three hundred and sixty degrees. Of these he imagined, comparing the globe of Ptolemy with the earlier map of Marinus of

____________________
*
Hist. del Almirante, cap. 6, 7, 8.

-34-

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