CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS ||| Ch.I. Goodbye, GenoaCategory: Christopher Columbus
This edition is illustrated with 15—16th centuries engravings.
Most of them are taken from books by Flemish engraver THEODORE DE BRY (1528—1598). He was born at Liege. Because of religious persecutions he left for Frankfurt and established a printing house there in 1590. He was the first to print books of America.
It should be marked that by that time a century had already passed since Columbus voyage and in some respects DE BRY modernized some forgotten details (such as ships and costumes).
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“For seven years was I at your royal court, where everyone to whom the enterprise was mentioned, treated it as ridiculous; but now there is not a man, down to the very tailors, who does not beg to be allowed to become a discoverer…
I was twenty-eight years old, when I came into your Highness’ service, and now I have not a hair upon me that is not grey; my body is infirm, and all that was left to me, as well as to my brothers, has been taken away and sold, even to the frock that I wore, to my great dishonour…
Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth and justice!”
From the letter to the King and Queen of Spain by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage and sent from Jamaica, July 7th, 1503.
The two Columbus brothers raced down the narrow streets of the poor section of old Genoa. The streets, without pavement, were hardly wide enough for a horse and cart. Old houses and shops stood on both sides. The sun was never seen here and it was always dark in the streets.
The smells were horrible, especially on this hot day. Most people threw their refuse into the street, where dogs and beggars always struggled over it.
Hawkers, housewives, children, sailors and workmen filled the streets and squares. The sounds of human voices were everywhere.
In the race to the port Christopher was always first, because he could find his way easily in the slums. For Bartholomew, his brother, it was like a game, and he enjoyed himself greatly.
At last they ran down stone steps and came to a wide clear space that overlooked the sea.
Now the sky was blue over them. Ahead of them, to the south, they saw the Mediterranean. Into their faces the south-west wind blew fresh after its long journey over the Mediterranean Sea from African sands.
Christopher closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “Africa!” he said to himself. Then he turned and looked up at the hills overlooking the bay. He had never been there, because this was where the wealthy merchants of the Genoese Republic lived. A few minutes later the two brothers went down the long stone steps. The harbour was filled with ships, some at anchor, some sailing across the bay.
“You know what?” said Christopher.. “I’ve travelled on the sea!”
Bartholomew said, “You’re making up stories again.”
But Christopher was telling the truth. “It was that day and night I didn’t come home and Papa thought I was at Uncle Raphael’s. The skipper of a packet let me go with him to Corsica.”
“In all the world,” said Christopher, “there is nothing more beautiful and mysterious than coming across an island in the middle of the sea. It seems that you are the first to see it and that you are a discoverer.”
“A discoverer!” Bartholomew sighed. “I think it’s better to be a discoverer than to be anything else.”
Christopher nodded. ‘There’s nothing greater than discovering new places, than seeing islands rise up” out of the ocean as you sail towards them.”
“Do they really me up out of the ocean?” Bartholomew asked. “Were they under water?” “Of course not! It only seems that way, just as you see the masts of a ship first when she is far away and then, as she comes nearer to you, you see her decks and then the other part. She seems to rise up out of the ocean. But that’s because the ship is coming towards you over a curved surface. The earth is round, you know. An old sea captain once explained that to me.” Bartholomew shook his head. “It looks flat to me,” he said. “Papa says it’s flat.”
Christopher did not agree. ‘That’s an old tale,” he said. “Everybody knows now that the world is round as a ball.”
“But you could just fall off if you sailed over and down to the bottom of the world!”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Imagine sailing upside down!” Bartholomew said.
“If you could do that,” said Christopher, “then you could just keep on sailing until you came back to the same place you started from.”
They sat in the shade of a carrack that was unloading goods, looking at the water. “If you were going to sail round the world,” asked Bartholomew, “which way would you go?” Christopher thought for some time. “Well,” he said, “you couldn’t go towards the east, because that’s where the Mediterranean ends and the lands to the east are owned by the Saracens, who would never let you cross over their countries. You would have to go in the other direction, toward the west.” The two boys looked to the west. “And what is there? Tell me, Christopher, for you have seen the maps of the mariners.” Christopher’s eyes shone as he looked westward. “There,” he said quietly, “a thin channel passes between Africa and Spain. When you go through that channel, past a rock as big as a mountain, you go right into the Ocean Sea itself.”
“The Ocean Sea!”
“Yes, the Ocean Sea. Nobody knows how big it is. It stretches southward as far as Africa goes. It goes northward to the land of the Britons and even farther, to the land of Ultima Thule — the northernmost end of the earth.”
“And west? Does it go west?”
“It rolls westward farther than anybody knows. No man has ever seen the end of the Ocean Sea,” Christopher said.
Bartholomew became very excited. “Hasn’t anybody ever tried?”
“Many have tried, but all have turned back. The waves are bigger than mountains out there. There are gigantic sea monsters who can come out of the deep and pull ever the biggest carrack to the bottom of the sea.”
“And right you are, lad!” they heard a loud voice. The boys jumped up. The captain of the carrack was leaning over the rail of his ship just above them.
“Come aboard, lads,” he cried again.
The two brothers raced along the gangway, went up the ladder to the quarter-deck and stood before the carrack captain, smiling.
“Have you been on the Ocean Sea?” Christopher asked. “Yes, I have,” answered the captain. He leaned his elbows back on the rail and smiled down at them. “I have sailed to every port worth the trip, to every corner of the known world.” “What is in the Ocean Sea? What lies to the west?” Christopher’s questions came fast.
The big man leaned back his head and laughed. “There’s nothing out there to the west, only sunken ships. Why go that way when fortune can be found in the East?”
“The East?” Christopher asked.
“Yes, there’s the way for a man to go. East to the Indies, where almost for nothing you can get gold and silks and the whitest of ivory and gems.”
Christopher frowned. “But the Indies lie beyond the Saracen land, where only the Arabs dare to go.”
“And the Arabs make us pay very much for their goods,” the seaman said. “But there’s another way to get to the Indies and the isles of spices.”
The brothers stood on tiptoe to hear, for the huge seaman’s voice dropped now to a whisper. “How?” they both said at the same time.
“South, lads — south! Out into the Ocean Sea and down round Africa. People say that Africa is surrounded by the Ocean Sea, and a fearless mariner could sail all round it, to come up the other side direct to the Indies.”
Christopher leaned against the taffrail. “I want to go to sea,” he said quietly. “I want to sail east to the Indies in a Genoese ship.”
The carrack captain grunted. “You’ll get nowhere with these stick-in-the-mud Genoese,” he said. “There’s no future here for a sailor.”
Bartholomew was angry. “That’s not so!” he cried. “The best sailors in the world come from Genoa. Maps for the kings of all the world are drawn here in Genoa.”
“That’s true,” said the captain. “But fine sailors and map-makers won’t conquer the world. The merchants of Genoa, who have the necessary money, have lost their imaginations and : don’t think about new discoveries. Now Portugal’s a land for the sailor! Prince Henry the Navigator — there is a man for : you. He sent his sailors farther and farther down the coast of , Africa, looking for a way to the Indies. Those Portuguese sailors are real heroes.”
Christopher was looking south again, over the rail. Then he said, “The place for a sailor is on the sea.”
The big captain looked at him curiously. What a strange, serious way of speaking for a lad!
The rough man of the sea put his hand on Christopher’s head and turned it round so that he could look into the boy’s eyes. “The sea is harsh,” he said, “and sailing is not an easy life for a tender-hearted lad.”
The captain read the longing in the boy’s eyes and he said, “I need a cabin boy. Ask your father, son.”
Christopher walked off the gangway and started towards the centre of town. His face was happy, his eyes were bright. He walked homeward to his father’s weaver’s shop to ask his question.
And all the way home he was followed by a silent figure of his brother Bartholomew.