Columbus Day has become an occasion not just to celebrate the first steps toward founding America, but a time to re-examine what we know about the famed explorer. The accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are myriad and well-known, but much of his life's story, as well as his subsequent voyages to the Americas, is lost in mythos and misconception.
While he did in fact "sail the ocean blue" in 1492, the biography of Christopher Columbus is filled with obscure facts and historical oddities that never make it into any school nursery rhyme - or even into many textbooks. Many people still believe that Columbus set out from Spain to prove the Earth was round - but we know he didn't. We also believe he made peaceful contact with the natives of what he thought was India - but he didn't, and he actually believed he'd reached the mythical land of Japan.Could he have even made it there? What about his other trips to the New World? Or his revisionist reputation for brutality and cruel treatment of the natives? Here are some facts about Columbus that, despite decades of re-examination, most people don't know.
Writers like Washington Irving have implanted in the popular consciousness that Columbus set out to prove Catholic teaching wrong about the Earth being flat. But it was already widely believed that the Earth was round. As early as the sixth century BCE, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras used mathematics to surmise the world was round, and later, Aristotle proved it with astronomical observations, while Eratosthenes used geometry to estimate its circumference. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not a flat disc.