Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

Tags: American history, Christopher Columbus, holidays.

Whenever a holiday rolls around, we usually focus briefly on the person or event the holiday is supposed to commemorate. Holidays that celebrate the lives or accomplishments of individuals are especially interesting. Many of these historical figures are bigger than life and the known ‘facts’ often do not always fit reality. Shortly after his death, George Washington was the benefactor of exaggerated accounts intended to make him bigger than life. In our own time we have seen the same thing happen with Elvis and Michael Jackson. Each historical figure has their own list of facts and myths that shadow the reality of who they really were. Now that we are celebrating Columbus Day, it is interesting to examine a few of the myths surrounding Christopher Columbus and the time in which he lived. One is the theory that ships did not sail far from some known land mass because they were afraid they would fall over the edge of a flat earth. Once you examine ancient literature, you start to wonder if people ever believed the world was flat. You only have to stand on a beach and watch a vessel disappear over the horizon to see that this is not true. Greek mathematicians were able to calculate the circumference of the earth in ancient times, and arrived astonishing close to modern scientific measurements. It is interesting to note that the first known representation of a round earth was made by Crates of Mailus in what is now Turkey around 150 BC. Another depiction of a curving earth can still be viewed in the Naples Museum in Italy. It is part of a sculpture called the Farnese Atlas, and was created in 150AD. The first terrestrial globe that attempts to show the earth in its entirety, was made by Martian Behaim in 1474. While it is inaccurate by as much as 16 degrees in certain locations, it is interesting to note that this was 18 years before Columbus discovered America. The human race has always been restless, wandering the face of the earth for untold centuries before the official discoverers arrived. Recently, skeletons of Caucasians that date to more than 40,000 years ago have been found in graves in the Pacific Northwest, in Illinois, and in South Carolina. Our hats should still be off to Christopher Columbus for his role in the ‘discovery’ of the New World, but we should not forget those who went before him.

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