Christopher Columbus – The World Is Round

Written on January 4, 2008 by Santiago Iñiguez in Philosophy


Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): The Four Voyages (*)

Columbus Most countries across The Americas celebrate Columbus Day every October 12, commemorating the landing of Christopher Columbus’ expedition, supported by the Castile Crown, at San Salvador (currently the Bahamas) on that same day in 1492. According to different historical sources, the event did not represent the actual discovery of the continent, since the Vikings had reached Labrador Island in previous epochs, but the credit went to the enigmatic Admiral given the subsequent conquest and a successful marketing initiative: Amerigo Vespucci, one of the members of his crew, accidentally gave his name to the discovered continent in one of his letters to a friend in Europe, who later spread the news.

One of the virtues of Columbus was his perseverance in looking for support and launching his project. He wanted to discover a new way to the Indies (Far East) westbound. Until then, explorers went to Asia following the path of Marco Polo or going around the African Coast. Columbus challenged the extended belief at his time that the world was flat and he further thought that the distance between Portugal and Japan was 2,760 miles –a severe miscalculation since it is over 12,000 miles. Columbus search for alternative financial resources for his

expedition reminds us about current fund raising efforts and road shows by many entrepreneurs. After trying at different quarters and getting negative answers from different kings and merchants, he was lucky to find the support of Isabel, Queen of Castile, who was on the right mood just after reuniting the Iberian peninsula under the same kingdom.

Apart from his endurance, there are not many other virtues applicable to Columbus as a manager, according to available sources. He was not a skilled pilot, according to comments of different experts, although he gained with experience. In fact, historians wonder whether he realized he had reached a new continent after his four subsequent travels to America. What is even more obvious is that he lacked leadership skills in his relations with his subordinates. He fought with all his captains and his crew was on the verge of mutiny several times. He could only trust the members of his family, something that results in unsustainable management. During his third trip to America, he faced the opposition of settlers and friars who accused him of mismanagement and was imprisoned by a delegate of the Crown and required to go back to Castile. It is famous his refusal to have his shackles removed during the whole voyage on the ship back to Spain, puffed up with pride. Indeed, self-pride developed over the years as a consequence of his recognized achievements in life was one of his weaknesses, as his son tells us of his passing away: “the Admiral, suffering more severely still from his gout and other illnesses and from grief at seeing himself so fallen from his high state, yielded his soul to God on Ascension Day”…

The account of the first discovery of American land in the book is not as epic as some paintings or movies have portrayed. The night between October 11 and 12 was filled with subsequent confirmations of land coming into sight. I enclose some words extracted from Columbus log-book on his historical landing at Guanahani: “In order to win their friendship –he refers to the natives-(…) I gave some of them red caps and glass beads which they hung round their necks, also many other triffles. These things pleased them greatly and they became marvelously friendly to us. They afterwards swam out to the ship’s boats in which we were sitting, bringing us parrots and balls of cotton thread and spears and many other things, which they exchanged with us for such objects as glass heads, hawks and bells. In fact, they were willingly traded everything they had”. A timeless evidence of business’ prodigy. Who has said in our days that the world is flat?

(*) The book referenced here is a compilation of different writings, including Columbus log-book, and excerpts from works by Bartolomé de las Casas, Hernando Columbus –son of Christopher- and others, edited by J.M. Cohen.


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