He also gave a brief description of the native Arawaks whom he called " Indians " , emphasizing their docility and amenability, and the prospects of their mass conversion to Catholic Christianity. However, the letter also revealed local rumors about a fierce man-eating tribe of "monsters" in the area probably Caribs , although Columbus himself disbelieved the stories, and dismissed them as myth. In the letter, Columbus urges the Catholic monarchs to sponsor a second, larger expedition to the Indies, promising to bring back immense riches.
A slightly different version of Columbus's letter, in manuscript form, addressed to the Catholic monarchs of Spain, was found in , part of the Libro Copiador collection, and has led to some revision of the history of the Columbus letter. Christopher Columbus , a Genoese captain in the service of the Crown of Castile , set out on his first voyage in August with the objective of reaching the East Indies by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. As is well known, instead of reaching Asia, Columbus stumbled upon the Caribbean islands of the Americas. According to the journal of his voyage, on February 14, Columbus was caught in a storm off the Azores islands.
The resulting poor condition of his ship forced him to put in at Lisbon Portugal on March 4, Columbus finally arrived at Palos de la Frontera in Spain eleven days later, on March 15, During the return journey, while aboard the ship, Columbus wrote a letter reporting the results of his voyage and announcing his discovery of the "islands of the Indies". Copies of Columbus's letter were somehow picked up by publishers, and printed editions of his letter began to appear throughout Europe within weeks of Columbus's return to Spain.
A Latin translation of the letter addressed to Gabriel Sanchez was printed in Rome about a month later. Within the first year of his arrival, eight more editions of the Latin version were printed in various European cities—two in Basel , three in Paris , another two in Rome and another in Antwerp. Already by June , the letter had been translated by a poet into Italian verse, and that version went through multiple editions in the next couple of years.
A German translation appeared in The rapid dissemination of Columbus's letter was enabled by the printing press , a new invention that had established itself only recently. Columbus's letter particularly the Latin edition forged the initial public perception of the newly discovered lands. Indeed, until the discovery of Columbus's on-board journal, first published in the 19th century, this letter was the only known direct testimony by Columbus of his experiences on the first voyage of Original versions of Columbus's letter, written by his hand, have never been found.
Only the printed editions—Spanish and Latin—are known. However, a third version of the letter, contained in a 16th-century manuscript collection known as the Libro Copiador , was discovered in This manuscript version differs in several significant ways from the printed editions and, although its authenticity is still tentative, many believe the Copiador version to be a closer rendition of Columbus's original missive.
The published Latin versions of the letter are almost all titled "Letter of Columbus, on the islands of India beyond the Ganges recently discovered".
The term "India beyond the Ganges" India extra Gangem was the archaic term frequently used by earlier geographers e. The earlier printed Spanish edition bears no title, nor does the manuscript copy of the letter to the Catholic monarchs Libro Copiador. In the letter, Christopher Columbus does not describe the journey itself, saying only that he traveled thirty-three days and arrived at the islands of "the Indies" las Indias , "all of which I took possession for our Highnesses, with proclaiming heralds and flying royal standards, and no one objecting".
He describes the islands as being inhabited by "Indians" Indios. In the printed letters, Columbus relates how he bestowed new names on six of the islands.
Four are in the modern Bahamas: In the letter, Columbus says that he believes Juana is actually part of the continental mainland terra firme of Cathay Catayo , archaic for China , even though he also admits some of the Indians he encountered informed him that Juana was an island. In his letter, Columbus describes how he sailed along the northern coast of Juana Cuba for a spell, searching for cities and rulers, but found only small villages "without any sort of government" "no cosa de regimiento".
He notes that the natives usually fled when approached. Finding this track fruitless, he decided to double-back and head southeast, eventually sighting the large island of Hispaniola, and explored along its northern coast. Columbus exaggerates the size of these lands, claiming Juana is greater in size than Great Britain "maior que Inglaterra y Escocia juntas" and Hispaniola larger than the Iberian peninsula "en cierco tiene mas que la Espana toda". In his letter, Columbus seems to attempt to present the islands of the Indies as suitable for future colonization.
Columbus's descriptions of the natural habitat in his letters emphasize the rivers, woodlands, pastures, and fields "very suitable for planting and cultivating, for raising all sorts of livestock herds and erecting towns and farms" "gruesas para plantar y senbrar, para criar ganados de todas suertes, para hedificios de villas e lugares".
He also proclaims that Hispaniola "abounds in many spices, and great mines of gold, and other metals" "ay mucha especiarias y grandes minas de oros y otros metales". He compares lush and well-watered Hispaniola as more favorable to settlement than mountainous Cuba. Columbus characterizes the native inhabitants of the Indies islands as primitive, innocent, without reason "like beasts", "como bestias" , and unthreatening. He describes how they go about largely naked, that they lack iron and weapons, and are by nature fearful and timid "son asi temerosos sin remedio" , even "excessively cowardly" "en demasiado grado cobardes".
Columbus makes particular note that the natives lack organized religion, not even idolatry "no conocian ninguna seta nin idolatria". He claims the natives believed the Spaniards and their ships had "come down from heaven" "que yo Possibly worried that his characterization might make it appear that the natives are unsuitable for useful labor, Columbus notes that the Indians are "not slow or unskilled, but of excellent and acute understanding". He also notes that the "women appear to work more than the men". Columbus's physical descriptions are brief, noting only that the natives have straight hair and "nor are they black like those in Guinea".
They go around usually naked, although sometimes they wear a small cotton loincloth. They often carry a hollow cane , which they use to both till and fight. Columbus claims the Indians practice monogamy "each man is content with only one wife" , "except for the rulers and kings" who can have as many as twenty wives.
He confesses he is uncertain if they have a notion of private property "Ni he podido entender si tenian bienes proprios". Columbus compares the Indian canoe to the European fusta small galley. Towards the end of the letter, Columbus reveals that local Indians told him about the possible existence of cannibals , which he refers to as "monsters" "monstruos".
This is a probable reference to the Caribs from the Leeward Islands , although neither the word "cannibal" nor "Carib" appears in the printed editions however, in the Copiador letter, he claims the "monsters" come from an island called "Caribo", possibly Dominica. Columbus says the monsters are reported to be long-haired, very ferocious, and "eat human flesh" "los quales comen carne humana". Columbus has not seen them himself, but says that local Indians claim the monsters have many canoes, and that they sail from island to island, raiding everywhere.
However, Columbus proclaims disbelief in the existence of these "monsters", or rather suggests this is likely just a local Indian myth pertaining to some distant Indian seafaring tribe who are probably not unlike themselves "I regard them as of no more account than the others", "yo no los tengo en nada mas que a los otros".
Columbus connects the monsters story to another local legend about a tribe of female warriors , who are said to inhabit the island of "Matinino" east of Hispaniola "first island of the Indies, closest to Spain", possibly referring to Guadaloupe. Columbus speculates that the aforesaid canoe-borne monsters are merely the "husbands" of these warrior women, who visit the island intermittently for mating. Lest his readers begin to get wary, Columbus rounds off with a more optimistic report, saying the local Indians of Hispaniola also told him about a very large island nearby which "abounds in countless gold" "en esta ay oro sin cuenta".
He doesn't give this gold island a name in the printed letters, but in the Copiador version, this island is identified and named as " Jamaica ". In the printed letters, Columbus claims to be bringing back some of the gold island's "bald-headed" inhabitants with him. Earlier in the letter, Columbus had spoken also of the land of "Avan" "Faba" in the Copiador letter , in the western parts of Juana, where men are said to be "born with tails" "donde nacan la gente con cola" —probably a reference to the Guanajatabey of western Cuba.
The Libro Copiador version of the letter contains more native names of islands than the printed editions.
Columbus also gives an account of some of his own activities in the letters. In the letter, he notes that he ordered the erection of the fort of La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola, leaving behind some Spanish colonists and traders. He reports that La Navidad is located near reported gold mines, and is a well-placed entrepot for the commerce that will doubtlessly soon be opened with the Great Khan "gran Can" on the mainland. At the end of his printed letter, Columbus promises that if the Catholic Monarchs back his bid to return with a larger fleet, he will bring back a lot of gold, spices , cotton repeatedly referenced in the letter , mastic gum , aloe , slaves , and possibly rhubarb and cinnamon "of which I heard about here".
Columbus ends the letter urging their Majesties, the Church, and the people of Spain to give thanks to God for allowing him to find so many souls, hitherto lost, ready for conversion to Christianity and eternal salvation. He also urges them to give thanks in advance for all the temporal goods found in abundance in the Indies that shall soon be made available to Castile and the rest of Christendom.
The Copiador version but not the printed Spanish or Latin editions also contains a somewhat bizarre detour into messianic fantasy, where Columbus suggests the monarchs should use the wealth of the Indies to finance a new crusade to conquer Jerusalem , Columbus himself offering to underwrite a large army of ten thousand cavalry and hundred thousand infantry to that end. The sign off varies between editions. The printed Spanish letter is dated aboard the caravel "on the Canary Islands " on February 15, However, it is doubtful Columbus actually signed the original letter that way.
According to the Capitulations of Santa Fe negotiated prior to his departure April , Christopher Columbus was not entitled to use the title of " Admiral of the Ocean Sea" unless his voyage was successful. It would be highly presumptuous for Columbus to sign his name that way in February or March, when the original letter was drafted, before that success was confirmed by the royal court. In the Copiador version there are passages omitted from the printed editions petitioning the monarchs for the honors promised him at Santa Fe, and additionally asking for a cardinalate for his son and the appointment of his friend, Pedro de Villacorta, as paymaster of the Indies.
There is no name or signature at the end of the Copiador letter; it ends abruptly "En la mar" "At sea". In the printed Spanish editions albeit not in the Latin editions nor the Copiador , there is a small postscript dated March 14, written in Lisbon , noting that the return journey took only 28 days in contrast with the 33 days outward , but that unusual winter storms had kept him delayed for an additional 23 days.
A codicil in the printed Spanish edition indicates that Columbus sent this letter to the "Escribano de Racion", and another to their Highnesses. The Latin editions contain no postscript, but end with a verse epigram added by Leonardus de Cobraria, Bishop of Monte Peloso. Christopher Columbus's letter is often compared to the letters of other early explorers, notably his contemporary Amerigo Vespucci , whose letters of —05 enjoyed even greater dissemination and popularity.
Columbus's descriptions of the lands and peoples are not really as a detached observer, filled with sheer curiosity, but rather more as an invested entrepreneur with an eye for economic opportunities. It should be remembered that the Columbus expedition was commercial in purpose. Having failed to find the great markets and cities of China or India, he was returning with empty hulls. So it was unsurprising that in his letter, which has the purpose of reporting the results of his voyage to his investors, Columbus emphasized future economic prospects to make it appear a success.
At every turn, Columbus seems to attempt to portray the islands of the Indies as suitable for future colonization. The notion of colonization for profit was not unfamiliar at the time. The Portuguese had already colonized the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores and erected considerable export industries in timber, sugar and dragon's blood , and the Castilian crown was in the process of completing its conquest of the Canary Islands , drumming up trade in orchil and slaves as they went.
In his letter, Columbus's description of the land focuses on listing exploitable natural resources and what can be built there in the future mines, towns, farms , rather than launching into descriptive dissertations.
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There are no extended allusions to an earthly Garden of Eden, marvelous vegetation or colorful songbirds, or the structure of Indian villages, as can be found in Vespucci's letters or in Columbus's own journal. It seems evident Columbus's letter was written for an audience of European officials and merchants, not to delight the imagination of common European readers. The anthropological notes in Columbus's letter are relatively sparse.
He does not really inquire into or describe the local Arawak natives, their lifestyles, society or customs in much detail. Rather, Columbus's letter is primarily focused on the natives' interaction with the Spaniards, underlining their docility and amenability and other points relevant for the prospects of successful future colonization religion, exchange, notions of property, work capacity. In emphasizing their timidity and lack of weapons, Columbus may have had in mind the long and painful Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, which had been fiercely resisted by the aboriginal Guanches , and perhaps sought to underline that such difficulties would not likely be encountered in the Indies islands.
The existence of the Caribs—the prospect of warlike cannibals would surely be discouraging to colonization—is promptly dismissed by Columbus as myth. The religious angle, the repeated emphasis on the masses of new souls available and inclined for conversion to Catholic Christianity , and even the crusade theory of the Copiador letter, was written more for an ecclesiastical-legal audience rather than investors.
The decision on the future of the islands belonged to the pious Queen of Castile and the Pope, the ultimate arbitrator of the legal claims. Here too, Columbus seemed to be aware of history. The discovery of the Canary Islands in the s had launched a wave of slaving expeditions that had shocked the Church and prompted the intervention of the pope, who overrode the claims of the Iberian monarchs and wrote the islands over to a private entrepreneur Luis de la Cerda who promised to convert the natives instead. The Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator had deftly connected the concepts of enslavement and religious conversion to secure a papal grant for the exclusive commercial exploitation of Guinea.
Whether such a gambit would work in Columbus's case was as yet unclear, but the letter was not leaving things up to chance. The queen had already made some significant promises Capitulations of Santa Fe , which Columbus reminded her of in the Copiador letter. Should the monarchs not follow through, his religious arguments might find a sympathetic ear in the Church and perhaps persuade the pope to defend his privileges, and maybe even although this is a stretch decide to turn Columbus into a modern De la Cerda or Prince Henry, and enthrone him personally as the "Prince of the Indian Isles".
The practical intentions of the Columbus letter affected its tone and focus, and perhaps limited his audience, especially when compared to the more popular letters of Amerigo Vespucci. Matters of the Asian trade, economic exploitation and legal claims, might be interesting to overseas merchants, royal officials and Church lawyers, but less so to common European readers who were not likely to be involved at that high level.
Vespucci's letters, by comparison, spoke to a more common imagination— new worlds , paradises on earth, noble savages , societies without masters and the folly of the ancients , appealed to common curiosity and intrigued the scientific interests of the Renaissance humanists of the day.
Vespucci's rawer tales of cannibalism and free sexuality added a touch of titillation to the wonder. Columbus's letter, which passes over these details too quickly, and focuses on promising riches to merchants and converts to the Church, seemed relatively dull and grasping by comparison. The few points of marvel in Columbus's letter—cannibals, men with tails, and the island of the Amazons—are brief and only hearsay, dismissible as usual travel myths, unlikely to draw serious attention or set tongues talking in humanist circles. Columbus's letter introduced his name to European audiences, but did not quite immortalize it.
In years to come, it was Amerigo Vespucci's name that became associated with the new continent. No original manuscript copy of Columbus's letter is known to exist. Historians have had to rely on clues in the printed editions, many of them published without date or location, to reconstruct the history of the letter. It is assumed that Columbus wrote the original letter in Spanish. As a result, historians tend to agree that the Barcelona edition which has no date or publisher name, and the appearance of being hurriedly printed was probably the first to be published, and was the closest to the original manuscript.
At the end of the Barcelona edition there is a codicil stating:. In the printed version of the Spanish letter, the post-script is dated March 14, rather than March 4; this could be just a printer's error; the letter to the monarchs in the Libro Copiador gives the correct post-script date, March 4, It should be noted it is also unlikely Columbus initiated the long letter in the middle of the storm—he surely had more urgent matters to attend to; he probably wrote the main body of the letter in the calm period before the storm began on February 12, and hurried to finish them when the storm hit.
There is some uncertainty over whether Christopher Columbus sent the letters directly from Lisbon , after docking there on March 4, , or held on to them until he reached Spain, dispatching the letters only after his arrival at Palos de la Frontera on March 15, It is highly probable, albeit uncertain, that Columbus sent the letter from Lisbon to the Spanish court, probably by courier.
It was common for royal and commercial agents to accost and interview returning sailors in the docks, so the Portuguese king would likely have the information he sought soon enough.
So Columbus realized the Spanish court needed to be informed of the results of his voyage as soon as possible. Had Columbus decided to wait until he reached Palos to dispatch his letter, it might have been received too late for the Spanish monarchs to react and forestall any Portuguese actions. The earliest Spanish record of the news, reporting that Columbus "had arrived in Lisbon and found all that he went to seek", is contained in a letter by Luis de la Cerda y de la Vega , Duke of Medinaceli , in Madrid, dated March 19, , .
It was possibly fear of the interception of the courier from Lisbon by Portuguese agents that prompted Columbus to introduce some disinformation in his letter. For instance, Columbus claims he wrote the letter on a caravel while he was around the Canary Islands rather than the Azores probably in order to conceal that he had been sailing in Portuguese territorial waters. He gives no details of his bearing, no mention of whether he sailed west, north or south, or whether the waters were shallow or deep—Columbus's letters "say much and reveal nothing".
Finally, his emphatic statement that he formally "took possession" of the islands for the Catholic monarchs, and left men and a ship at La Navidad, may have been emphasized to forestall any Portuguese claim. It is unsurprising that Columbus singled Santangel out as the first recipient of the news. Santangel had been the person who made the case to, and persuaded, Queen Isabella to sponsor Columbus's voyage eight months earlier.
Indeed, Santangel arranged for much of the financing to the Castilian crown much of it from his own pocket to enable the monarchs to sponsor it. Moreover, as the letter indicates, Columbus sought more financing to return with an even larger fleet to the Indies as soon as possible, so it would be useful to contact Santangel immediately, so he could set the wheels in motion for a second voyage. The story of the second copy of the letter, the one ostensibly sent to the Catholic Monarchs, has been more complicated.
The "contain" verb in the codicil of the Spanish Letter to Santangel leaves ambiguous which one was contained in which. Some believe the letters to the Monarchs and to Santangel were sent separately, perhaps even on different days March 4 and March 14 respectively  others suggest Santangel was supposed to personally deliver the letter to the monarchs even though handling royal correspondence was outside his formal functions, Santangel's proximity to Isabella may have been a security consideration  ; still others believe it the other way around, that the letter to Santangel was submitted first to the monarchs to get royal approval before being forwarded to Santangel for ultimate publication it would have been consistent with Santangel's office as Escribano , to oversee and pay the printers.
The printed Spanish and Latin editions are practically identical, with only some very minor differences, most of them attributable to the printers. In particular, the Latin edition omits the postscript and codicil pertaining to the Escribano , and adds a prologue and epilogue not present in the Spanish editions, which give some clues as to its assumed provenance.
The earliest Latin version although bearing no date or printer name states the letter was addressed to "Raphael Sanxis" assumed to mean Gabriel Sanchez , the treasurer of the Crown of Aragon  , and has an opening salutation hailing the Catholic king Ferdinand II of Aragon later Latin editions correct the addressee's name to "Gabriel Sanchez" and add Isabella I of Castile to the salutation. For much of the past century, many historians have interpreted these notes to indicate that the Latin edition was a translated copy of the letter Columbus sent to the Catholic monarchs, who were holding court in Barcelona at the time.
The story commonly related is that after Columbus's original Spanish letter was read out loud at court, the notary Leander de Cosco was commissioned by Ferdinand II or his treasurer, Gabriel Sanchez to translate it into Latin. A copy was subsequently forwarded to Naples then part of the crown of Aragon , where Bishop Leonardus got a hold of it. At the time, the pope was then deep in the midst of arbitrating between the claims of the crowns of Portugal and Spain over Columbus's discoveries.
The papal bull Inter caetera , delivering the pope's initial opinion, was issued on May 3, , albeit there remained disputed details to work out a second and third bull followed soon after. While in Rome, Bishop Leonardus arranged for the publication of the letter by the Roman printer Stephanus Plannck, possibly with an eye to help popularize and advance the Spanish case. The discovery of a manuscript copybook, known as the Libro Copiador , containing a copy of Columbus's letter addressed to the Catholic Monarchs, has led to a revision of this history.
It is now increasingly believed that the Latin edition printed in Rome is actually a translation of the letter to Santangel, and that the letter to the Monarchs was never translated nor printed. Ugo Mursia Editore Language: Be the first to review this item Would you like to tell us about a lower price? Related Video Shorts 0 Upload your video. Customer reviews There are no customer reviews yet. Share your thoughts with other customers.
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