Who Was Christopher Columbus?
New York Daily News, October 12, 2015
Radical revisionists revile him as the ethnic-cleansing despoiler of an ecological paradise. Stephen Hawking believes that if extraterrestrials ever visit Earth, "the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans."
Assorted ethnicities, including Greeks, Spaniards and Catalans, have claimed the Admiral of the Ocean Sea as one of their own. Even some Scots believe that the Italian navigator had roots in old Caledonia.
Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, once wondered if Columbus was Jewish. In response, Paolo Emilio Taviani, author of "Columbus: The Great Adventure," recalled a wry syllogism he had posed to a group of Jewish colleagues: "You have so many geniuses of your own. Why would you want one of ours?"
Fervent Christians of yore sought sainthood for Columbus.
Then there are those who seek to minimize Cristoforo Colombo's epochal discovery. Gavin Menzies, a retired British submarine officer, has peddled the theory that a fleet of Chinese ships journeyed to the Americas. Some in the Irish community still cling to the myth of St. Brendan's voyage. Turkey's historically challenged president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, maintains that Muslims discovered the New World.
And while the Vikings made forays into Greenland, these excursions did not alter the destiny of man on Earth. Moreover, the Vinland Map was verified as a forgery.
Truth be told, Genoa's favorite son was the scion of Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa. In addition to his native city's maritime tradition, Christopher Columbus was inspired by two paesani across the ages: Marco Polo and Seneca.
Cristoforo brought a copy of Marco Polo's "Travels" (in Latin) on his trek across the wine dark Atlantic. And he recalled the words of the Roman poet Seneca, an Italian born in Spain, who presaged a new world: "An age will come after many years when the Ocean will loose the chains of things, and huge land lie revealed."
In the United States, Columbus has long been revered as a Founder, for the Admiral of the Ocean Sea's discovery led to the establishment of "the last best hope of Earth." The White House, the Supreme Court and Congress are all situated in Washington, D.C. — the District of Columbia. And our pledge of allegiance was penned by Francis Bellamy to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cristoforo Colombo's voyage.
Yes, Columbus was a flawed icon. As Samuel Eliot Morrison noted: "He had his flaws and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great — his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission."
The Colombian historian Germán Arciniegas wrote in "Amerigo and the New World" that "The discovery of America was in part an Italian enterprise." And Paolo Emilio Taviani agrees: "Without the Italian Renaissance there would have been no modern Age. Christopher Columbus symbolizes the creative genius if Italy shaping the beginning of the modern age."
Indeed, as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea declared: "Following the light of the sun, we left the old world."
Rosario Iaconis is chairman of The Italic Institute of America.