Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: 2004-10-10 Archive
200th (hex) anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America
Today is the 512th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America, a nice round power of two which can be expressed as the number 200 hexadecimal (base 16). Nowadays Columbus's achievement has been heavily clouded by anachronistic moralizing and hackneyed “multicultural” reasoning, with the result that many people today end up quite confused as to whether Columbus achieved anything significant, or maybe was a monster to boot.
It should be clear, however, that one cannot sensibly judge other eras strictly by modern standards. That turns history into a desert, with us oh-so moral moderns suddenly leaping into ethical existence whole-cloth, as it were, out of nowhere, rather than undergoing the organic, painful accumulative growth to the modern sensibility that actually occurred.
Beyond that, people are often mystified how it's possible to “discover” a place where there are people already living. It kind of turns their heads around, thinking about it. As an American of native ancestry expressed it, writing on a private mailing list:
The answer to this logical riddle is that prior to Columbus the human world was divided into disjoint systems of internally communicating civilizations that externally knew nothing about each other. In the Old World, the “known world” of the pre-Modern age is sometimes termed the “Oikoumene,” 1 a Greek word which basically means “inhabited universe” (it's the root from which the English “ecumenical” derives). The Old World Oikoumene as a practical matter knew zilch of the New World, neither the presence of the physical continents of America nor its vigorous native system of civilizations and peoples. Similarly, the New World's civilizations and peoples knew basically nothing of the Old. (Yes, a trickle of Siberian cultural influences reached the Eskimos of the Bering Strait, as well as their slight cultural contact with the Vikings of Greenland during that phase.)
Columbus's great achievement was to introduce the Old and New World civilizational systems to each other, “discovering America” as far as the Old World Oikoumene (known world) was concerned (attaching the two continents of America and its peoples to the formerly known world), and for the native Americans he discovered Europe-Africa-Asia (and everything within it) for them! Fundamentally, Columbus opened up the road across the Oceans, so thoroughly and completely that (unlike the formidable but transient deeds of the Vikings) the way could never be closed up again.
As if that weren't enough, not only was Columbus a master seaman — historian Samuel Eliot Morison put it, “As a master mariner and navigator, no one in the generation prior to Magellan could touch Columbus” — but he was personally responsible for the discovery of more territory (miles of land and coastline explored and surveyed) than any other explorer, including such giants as Magellan and Captain James Cook, in history.
Samuel Eliot Morison, a formidable sailor himself as well as renowned scholar, actually followed the course of Columbus's explorations in his own sailing ship. He describes Columbus's tremendous achievement in a fascinating dual-volume work The European Discovery of America: 2, 3
1 Arnold Toynbee, Chapter 4: “The Oikoumenê,” Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the World, 1976, Oxford University Press, New York; pp. 27-37 (and elsewhere in the volume).
2 Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages 1492-1616, 1974, Oxford University Press, New York; p. 267.
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