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The Personality of Christopher Columbus

The personality of Christopher Columbus is shrouded in myth. As noted by Kirkpatrick Sale in The Conquest of Paradise (1990), historians have turned Columbus into a "largerthanlife character" (p. 346). School children today are presented with an image of the man as a national hero beyond reproach. However, as Koning (1991) notes, "the standard textbook image of Columbus is false" (p. 12). In reality, Columbus was seeking personal gain when he set out in search of a westward passage to Asia. Furthermore, he was the first European explorer to exploit the land and labor of the "New World." Many students of history are surprised when they learn that Columbus showed extreme cruelty toward the American Indians, and that he was responsible for setting in motion the chain of events which would severely decrease their population within a short period of time. In the words of Wilford (1991), the true legacy of Columbus is one of "pettiness, selfaggrandizement, and a lack of magnanimity" (p. 264). Despite the importance of Columbus' discovery, it is apparent that the opening of the New World had both good and bad effects.

When Columbus set out on his first westward voyage across the Atlantic, the nations of Europe were interested in finding new trade routes to the Far East. At that time, Europe depended on its trade with India and China for such luxury items as spices and silk. However, the trade routes of the Middle East were cut off when the Turkish Moslem Empire seized control of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard during the middle of the fifteenth century (Koning, 1991, p. 13). Although Italian merchants continued to trade with the Moslems, their monopoly on that trade drove prices up for the rest of Europe. As a result of this situation, nations such as Portugal and Spain were actively searching for new sea routes which would gain them direct access to the riches of the Far East. During the late fifteenth century, Port...

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