IN one and the same year, 1498, Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa and reached India, and Columbus discovered the South American continent blocking his path to that part of Asia where riches lay. Asia had been reached by the African route and its wealth had been sampled; but the African route was ten thousand miles long, and it was dangerous. Columbus believed that south of the limit of his explorations there was a passage beyond the American mainland. But the great dream of reaching the East by way of the West now stirred the hearts of venturesome seamen in other lands than Spain. It had, indeed, been the talk of seamen ever since Diaz had come home to tell of the eastern ocean beyond the "Cape of Storms." There were those who thought that a river flowed from China through this new continent of America; others believed that there was no continent but rather a group of very large islands, and that among these islands lay the passage which presently came to be spoken of as the Strait of Anian. Where lay this strait -- whether to the north or the south or, perhaps again, just to the west of the land found by Columbus -- no one knew. Its importance, however, none failed to grasp. The nation which should discover that strait and fortify it would be master of the world. Therein lay the motive of the struggle which followed, a struggle in which all gained -- England, Portugal, Spain, Holland, and France. Around this contest centers much of the early history of America. From it emerged two mighty continents, no longer mere barriers to the riches of the East, but a vast and far-flung arena where the colonial schemes of rival European powers were to clash for the next two hundred years.
212 The Student of Navigation, from Martin Cortés, Breve Compendio de la Sphera, Sevilla, 1556