Listen Up Cause These Are 5 Things About Columbus’s Voyage You Didn’t Learn in School!

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Our impressions of historical events and the players that drove them shift as perceptions of propriety and our values change and evolve over time, so it is not surprising that Christopher Columbus’s voyage of “Discovery” in 1492 is now seen more as a voyage fueled by the lust for capital, than by any lofty ideals. This was a journey with the express purpose of finding a faster, simpler way to get to Asia in order to simplify trade routes and make money for the Spanish monarchy. Those are the facts, kids.

While Columbus’s journey was certainly bold and innovative, it was hardly undertaken for any of the reasons so often taught to school children, and its results, too, were hardly positive for most any of the people involved, whether they were willing participants or hapless victims. The journey did, however, inarguably touch off the so-called Age of Discovery, even though that is something of a misnomer – perhaps a more accurate term would be the “Age When Disease Ravaged Millions of Native Peoples and then Greedy Europeans Took All Their Land.”

Today, though, we’ll focus on a few of the things you might not know about that maiden voyage across the Atlantic, and we’ll leave the hundreds of years of history that were inextricably affected by it aside.

5 Columbus Never Laid Eyes on Territory That is Part of the United States

Image credit: Wikipedia

Columbus never once set foot on, or even laid eyes on, territory that is part of the United States. In all four of his transatlantic trips, he saw many places, including (modern) Cuba, Hispaniola, and South and Central America, but he never once spotted the good old US of A.

4 The First Crossing of the Ocean Took Only a Little More Than a Month

Image Credit: Marineinsight.com

The first crossing of the ocean took Columbus and his crew only a little more than a month (once they left the Canary Islands and made for uncharted waters), whereas the Mayflower, carrying the Pilgrims west almost 130 years later, took well over two months. Chalk it up to many factors, but the biggest being that Columbus’s maiden Atlantic voyage was pretty remarkably smooth sailing, on the outbound journey, at any rate (they lost the Santa Maria when it ran aground while the journey was in its “island hopping” phase).

3 More Than a Fifth of the Crew of Columbus’s Mission Was Under Twelve

Image Credit: Wikipedia

And did you know that more than a fifth of the crew of Columbus’s mission was under twelve years old at the time the three ships set out that August in 1492? Now, granted, 500+ years ago being 12 was about equivalent to being 47 today (we have not verified this, but are running with it), but still, let’s be real here: 12 years old? That’s pretty goddamn young to hop onto a boat and sail off across the Atlantic Ocean.

2 “That Ain’t Gonna Work”

Image credit: Wikipedia

Before Columbus got the OK (and the cash, of course) to go ahead with his mission from the Spanish monarchy, he had made the same proposal to the Portuguese king twice, to the leaders of the then-sovereign republics of Genoa and Venice, and had even sent his brother to talk to Henry VII in England. The answer, every time, was a resounding “Nah, dude. That ain’t gonna work.” In fact, Columbus initially pitched his plan to the Spanish royals several years before they said “OK, fine,” which they largely did only because they were afraid someone else might eventually be wise/nuts enough to support him, leaving them out in the cold if the journey was a success.

1 Columbus Knew Damn Well the World Was Round

The fact that anyone still thinks that the educated, experienced sea captain that he was would have sailed west on the notion that just maybe the earth wasn’t flat is a condemnation of modern education. Since the days of the Ancient philosophers and scientists, it had been pretty common knowledge that the earth was a sphere. Though one must admit that had Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish king and queen, bankrolled the trip thinking there was a chance the boats would kind of fall off the end of the flat planet, would have been most excellent.

Here’s one more quick anecdote for you, just to show what kind of fellow Chris C. really was: it had been agreed that the first man to spot land would receive a lifetime pension supplied by the Spanish royalty. On 10/12/1492, in the wee hours of the morning, a lookout named Rodrigo spotted land and, by all rights, in so doing secured his financial future. Except that later Columbus said “Um, no, I saw land a few hours before he did,” and, being as he was in charge despite being an asshat, Columbus got the lifetime pension, which meant next to nothing to him, as he was already richer than all hell thanks to the journeys themselves.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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