Columbus and the Age of Exploration

By Marshall, Michael | The World and I, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Columbus and the Age of Exploration


Marshall, Michael, The World and I


European global exploration manifested the empirical spirit in action. It tested ancient authority against experience, making the world one knowable reality.

Christopher Columbus is an unlikely figure to be considered the discoverer of America and the leading symbol of European exploration overseas. When he made landfall somewhere in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, he was not the first mariner to have made the crossing from Europe. There are legends of Celtic and Phoenician seafarers making the Atlantic crossing, perhaps blown off course by storms, centuries before Christ. The Navigation of St. Brendan, a tenth-century chronicle recounting the sea journeys of the sixth-century Irish monk in the skin-covered open boats known as curraghs, has him reaching the "land of Promise." Described as vast and temperate, it has been identified speculatively with Florida.

None of this is certain and probably never will be. What is certain now is that the Vikings, whose longboats bore the raiding parties from Scandinavia that terrorized Christian Europe, reached Newfoundland and established a settlement there toward the end of the tenth century. Their land-hopping wanderings took them from Norway to the Faeroe Islands, thence to Iceland, and to Green land, establishing settlements.

Around the year 1000 Leif Eriksson took a party west and south from Greenland, made landfall in a place they called Vinland, and established a short-lived settlement there. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of Norse longhouses near the northern tip of Newfoundland. The story of the settlement is recorded in the Norse sagas, but that was the only record of their arrival in North America. It was little known beyond Norse society and changed no one's view of the world. Eriksson and his Viking companions had, in other words, no sense of what they had discovered.

By contrast, Columbus was a self-conscious explorer driven by the desire for discovery. He knew what he was looking for--a sea passage that would carry him to the fabled wealth of China by sailing west from Europe. This is not what he found. The irony of his life is that, until the end of his days, he refused to recognize that he had not reached the Orient but had stumbled upon vast lands totally new to the European mind. It was left to others--much later--to appreciate the full significance of the discoveries that he had inadvertently set in motion, and it is not insignificant that the new lands were eventually named America (after a later explorer) rather than Columbia.

CHRISTIAN EUROPE EMERGES

In fact, Columbus and his voyages received little attention from historians for some three hundred years. Since 1792, however, he has been resurrected in a number of guises to serve a variety of causes. For the youthful American republic, he was the lone pioneer who broke with tradition to explore new pathways. That he was not Anglo-Saxon added to his stature as a symbol of American independence.

By 1992 Columbus was reviled as much as he was lauded. Accused of genocide and ecocide, he was labeled the guilty symbol of the excesses, real and imagined, of European conquest and colonization. This Columbus is more myth than history, molded and remolded to reflect the positions of various parties in contemporary cultural debate. Such a depiction has little to do with the Columbus of 1492, who was quintessentially a man of his era.

In hindsight it is clear that the Europe of his time was on the verge of breaking out in new directions. Rivers and seas played a vital role in the earliest civilizations. Egypt was built along the Nile and Babylon between the Tigris and Euphrates. Later, Greek and then Roman civilization centered on the Mediterranean. After the Roman Empire collapsed in the west, the center of gravity shifted north, as Roman Christianity reached out to the Germanic tribes, creating the seed of the future Europe. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Columbus and the Age of Exploration
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.