The Reputation of Christopher Columbus
When judging a person's importance in history it becomes hard not to
judge that person without characterizing their achievements as either negative
or positive. It becomes even harder when all of the facts are not known and
when a reputation has already been established. Christopher Columbus is such
a person. Through history, from the time he sailed to the present, debate as
to whether this man should be deemed a hero or a villain has raged. Facts
about his life have been tainted by embellishments and myths have been
accepted as truths. So how does one come to a conclusion about this man?
History has hardly taken a middle ground on Columbus, from his own sons
writings to present day students in classrooms. Historical debate of
Columbus will always continue. His life has been scrutinized by his
contemporaries, the hero makers, the historical progressives and especially
now in the times of multi-culturalism.
The story of Columbus is one of misunderstandings and embellishments and
the myths of his voyages begin with himself. For it was he who reported to
the monarchy of his efforts and achievements and it was he who took all of the
glory. The first to establish Columbus as a classical hero was his own son
Ferdinand. He took the life of his father, as told to him by his father. The
true background of Columbus is one of mystery as of today because the only
writings by Columbus himself have been proven false. Ferdinand used the
documents of his father's voyages that give the first real account of Columbus
and his times.
But early on Columbus was not without his detractors including his own
patron Isabella. Even though Columbus gained the backing from the Spanish
Monarch it was not a friendly relationship. Columbus tried to play the King
and Queen as if he was doing a favor to them with his voyages and when he
returned to the Court with 500 Arawak Indians the Queen was not a happy Queen.
Her assessment of Columbus was that he was an arrogant, megalomaniac.5 She
and some others did not agree with the ideals that Columbus passed on in the
New World. The other major critic of Columbus during this time was Las Casas.
He, however, was not necessarily opposed to the actions of Columbus as far as
his adventures. Most of his complaints dealt with the treatment of the
Natives by Columbus and his men. What actions Columbus accepted his men doing
was what Las Casas wrote about, but at the same time praised Columbus for his
Christian beliefs. Las Casas stated, " He it was who gave the light by which
all others might see how to discover."4 It is safe to say that Las Casas was
one of the first to see that the accomplishments of Columbus were of terrific
importance, but that they should be weighed against the consequences of his
actions against the natives.
The reason for the lack of information about Columbus can be attributed