Christopher Columbus and Humanism

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Christopher Columbus and Humanism

By | April 2013
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Humanism: the belief system that laid the foundation for the Renaissance to reshape Europe. A movement of forward thinking men and philosophers who used ancient Greek and Roman texts to reshape their views of the world and reject the Medieval ways of thinking, breaking tradition by shifting man’s focus from the ethereal to the temporal. No longer would men accept religious or societal standards just because some dignitary declared them to be so. Instead, they would be lauded for thinking for themselves, learning, researching, analyzing, creating, and improving their earthly quality of life. These new European beliefs however, were put to the test with Columbus’s discovery of the new world, and in some cases they were abandoned completely.

In 1492, Columbus set sail for India and inadvertently stumbled upon a land full of riches but yet undiscovered by Europeans, the New World. A year later in his letters home to Ferdinand and Isabella, he describes the new land and the people he has found there. He describes the natives as incredibly timid and fearful of the Spaniards but goes on to explain that, “they are men of very subtle wit, who navigate all those seas, and who give a marvelously good account of everything,” and that their fear is due to the fact that they, “have never saw men wearing clothes or the like of our ships.” Here Columbus demonstrates the ideals of humanism, valuing the natives for their excellent sea faring skills and the knowledge he gains of the surrounding lands from their stories. He also takes into consideration their own life experiences such as having never seen men or ships such as his before. And while Columbus does take advantage of the natives’ extreme generosity, he makes a small attempt to prevent his men from completely swindling them, declaring that he forbade his sailors from trading trash such as broken glass with the natives in exchange for great quantities of gold. This application of Humanism’s ideals is a sharp contrast...