The Four Voyages

             Christopher Columbus was always a named I recognized with traveling the world. Maybe I would have known more about him if I grew up in North America. In this book I learnt that I myself in particular needed to pick up a map and check out where places are in the world. The format of the book was very interesting. When I first saw the book on the reading list and Jon had mentioned the genre of letters I had assumed this book would be a Dear Dairy format to his family, nobles and the like. Needless to say this was not. I really like history; in high school I took as many history classes as possible. However exploration and the era of “discovery” was never one I was interested in. But more because I never really thought about the era more than anything else.

            Christopher Columbus was a more interesting person than I would have initially given credit to. He works hard to make his trip happen by going to many countries and looking for wealthy sponsors. I personally would have liked to have heard more about how he got Ferdinand and Isabela to sponsor his trip because I wonder how he got from Henry VII laughing at him, to Ferdinand and Isabela taking him seriously to the point of helping him out. Did the advisors in Spain know something the advisors in England did not? Anyways, I guess this was not the main focus of The Four Voyages. Christopher Columbus sets sail into the unknown. When I first read how he “reckoned” less distance than what he had measured I don’t know why but my head kept spinning the question, “what will he tell his crew on the way back?” There is something about gift exchange that seems to be a theme. Building friendships through the exchanging of items is what I found interesting. Also the idea that he strove in the first voyage to make good connections so when others from Europe would return they could be as well received as Columbus was. What was also interesting was how he initially assesses how intelligent a people were through the amount of clothing they wear and their ability to barter. He saw the people as those who could be educated into Christianity and made into servants. The way he saw other people outside of Europe reminded me of how globalized the world is today. And how lucky we are to be able to communicate with everyone. I guess traveling for him is a job, and unlike myself, who wishes to immerse in another culture unlike one I am used to, he sees the people as being able to change into a culture he recognizes.

            All in all I was hoping to find an Animaniac clip on Columbus. But all I could find with them was a Ballad on Magellan. But I did find this fun Horrible Histories video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kmwriy3a6sc&feature=related


Beowulf Response

I really enjoyed reading this epic tale. I found Beowulf to be one of the more intriguing reads on the list so far. For starters, I definitely enjoyed the copious amounts of pictures throughout the epic. The edition I purchased at the bookstore made reading it much more enjoyable, and grasped my attention way more than reading the tale just as a normal paperback. Maybe I’m just more of a visual learner, but having pictures to connect to the lines I read helped me better understand Beowulf as a whole.

I think a big question throughout reading this particular piece, is deciphering who the real monsters are. Initially, we think that Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon are all very monstrous characters. Initially, this thought makes sense. However, I have come to realize, that my thoughts regarding this matter are quite inaccurate. I’ve come to realize, that all these characters are not monstrous, for they all show a sense of vulnerability, and a reason for the way the act. Grendel merely just wants to fit in, his mother just wants to avenge her son’s death like any other mother would want to, and the dragon is only protecting what is rightfully his. I have come to better understand these characters, and their lack of monstrosity. Rather than showing disdain towards them, or view them as antagonists against Beowulf, I actually grew to like them. From reading this, I have learned that what we sometimes wrongfully perceive characters as being monstrous, and lacking any logical and acceptable reason for the way they act. However, in the case of Beowulf, I have indeed learned otherwise.

Having read Beowulf, I learned of the importance his assistance and presence was to others. The influence and impact that he had on many lives as a man to look up to, a man people seek for answers and help in difficult times. Beowulf clearly demonstrates his immense heroic sense of character, as heroism is most definitely a major theme in this epic poem as a whole. This epic tale is also quite a tragedy as well. We witness Beowulf’s life come to an end, in spite of the great contributions he made. Beowulf is a man who fought for his community, and did everything in his power to protect them from any evil.

All in all, I found Seamus Heany’s translation of Beowulf to be a very good read. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece as a whole, and I greatly applaud Beowulf for his heroic gestures, and the noble man that he is.

The Four Voyages

The four voyages is a story of perspective, and given the great historical importance of the events that took place, we get a unique 20/20 hindsight on the passages. With detailed footnotes highlighting and clarifying the initial assumptions made by columbus and his crew, we start to look at columbus and his crew in the same light that they viewed the “indians”. To the modern reader, the admiral and the crew seem somewhat misinformed and ignorant much like their assessment of the indigenous peoples.

The letters give us the unique opportunity to view both the crew and the indigenous people as foreign. Though the letters are intended to be read by citizens of 15- 16th century Spain, we get to see the whole picture, and to us, both the indigenous people and Columbus’ crew are strangers. Though, the letters are written from a viewpoint that is a closer reflection of modern western society than that of the indigenous people, I found that their are elements of the indigenous lifestyle that are preferable or more civil than ours.

Columbus’ entire voyage is fuelled by a society so intently focused on it’s place in the global hierarchy. A sense of ethnocentrism is  very prevalent all throughout the letters. The admiral and the crew feel that they’re bringing a sense of civility to the beasts in the indies. Columbus and his crew automatically assume their  way of life is superior to that of the natives because they don’t see large cathedrals or extravagant lifestyles. Something that kept coming up in the letters was that the indigenous peoples did not use iron. this was particularly important to me because it demonstrated a completely different stand on what was important in life. Columbus and his crew represented a society that was obsessed with building and expanding, so iron was almost a centrepiece of society. To them, any society that didn’t make use of iron was a society of lesser value than theirs. That’s where perspective come into play. In most cultural exchanges, what is given is something that is of little value to that particular society and of high value to the other. The indigenous people of the indies don’t value gold in the same way the spanish do. Gold was not a measure of wealth, but rather just an ornament for decoration. Therefore gold didn’t control their lives like it controlled the life of the spanish. They valued objects that they believed came from “Ture” or the sky. So, to them, the trifling objects given away by the crew, were far more precious than the gold, which was the main object of importance for Columbus and Spain.

 

Christopher Columbus: Four Voyages

So upon reading the Four Voyages, I definitely had some mixed feelings. With all the books that we have read so far in this course, in my opinion, this book was the most fact, historically based one. With that being said, I found this book to be a bit more difficult because of how factual it is. But I did think that it was somewhat interesting in spite of this.

I did, however, find his log book of his voyages somewhat interesting. Perhaps it is how the text was set up, the formatting, but I found that this was a more intriguing part of the book. Reading what Columbus and his crew did each day and the progress, or lack thereof, they made along their voyage was really the only part that kind of got my attention.

Relative to how other people felt about this read, I learned a lot of things about Christopher Columbus that I never otherwise would have known. Growing up, I never further looked into his background, or the kind of man he was. I was simply just under the impression that, “oh cool, Columbus, the dude who sailed the oceans and contributed a lot to history and stuff.” To be completely honest, I never really knew all that much about him. But one thing that I thought I knew for sure, was that he contributed greatly to the world with his discoveries, and being the first man to sail around the world. However, upon reading this, I have learned of a whole other side of Mr. Columbus. Basically, I learned that my perception of him was pretty flawed. Christopher Columbus isn’t the man that I thought he was. I noticed that he is a man of greed, a man that would also make exceptions for his short comings. Makes me wonder that perhaps Columbus is not worth all the novelty and fame he has received from naïve people like me.

So I guess you could say that from reading the Four Voyages, I was quite disappointed and kind of shocked, having been exposed to the real Columbus; the ruthless and materialistic man that he has proven to be. Christopher Columbus is a man filled with many broken promises, which is something I never realized before. It makes me question that maybe he is somewhat of a monster to an extent. One thing that I will say I respect about this book, is the fact that it does show events from Columbus’ point of view. Despite my criticism and skepticism about his character, reading the Four Voyages allowed me to read his accounts first hand, getting a better idea of what he was experiencing through his own words.

Columbus

This book brought back memories in the United States for getting to skip a school for Columbus Day. At the time I had no idea what the significance of Columbus Day was. Eventually, as I became slightly older, I learned that he was a man who traveled to the Americas. I thought “Oh what a fantastic man! He must have been such an explorer and strong-willed person. He has a day recognized all to himself after all.” I soon learned that although he may be attributed to some of the actions he partook in (sailing for Spain in search of trade routes) he did not really “discover” anything. He brought his ship to a land which was already inhabited by Natives. These natives were the ones who are truly responsible for discovering South America. It is interesting to see how certain words such as “discovery” and “history” can be wrongfully utilized. For Columbus did not actually find anything original, as “discovery” would lend one to believe.

Another change in heart regarding Columbus day I found, especially after reading this book, is the character I associated with Columbus. I always believed he was a man seeking glory and fame. I did not realize the brutal and greedy nature he had. You see Columbus landing and greeted by kind natives. They seek nothing more than to please Columbus and his crew. They come to Columbus bearing kindness and a willingness to trade. Columbus did not show the same characteristics to his counterparts. He brought a white-man superiority complex and gave himself the right to plunder and pillage the many lands to traversed. This was a complete shift in my view regarding Columbus. I no longer take Columbus for a man of the sea and an adventurer. I now see him as nothing more than an asshole with an obsession for gold.

Another interesting idea I found was the idea of history. As most people would assume, Columbus made history when he landed in the new world. But I don’t believe he did, well, not in the same way people think. I believe that the only history he created was the reaction to his arrival, not the arrival itself. Whether it was by his pillaging or his spreading of diseases, Columbus and his crew were not paving way to history by finding new people. They made history by causing death and a growing amount of imperialism in the world.


Oedipus the King

I was expecting a lot of things from this play, mainly because I had always heard a lot of it, but I had never actually read it. After reading it, I could see what made it such a classic Greek literature, yet I really didn’t enjoy reading it. The way Oedipus is just working away to his own destruction was pretty disturbing to me. The amount of dramatic irony in this play is ridiculous, and it was a bit too much for me. While I knew the story before I read it, the amount of dramatic irony just made it difficult for me to expect any surprises while reading. I knew Oedipus was going to have to find out eventually, and that being the hero of the story, he would punish himself.

I found that for the first time in our reading list, Oedipus is the first “hero” with which I didn’t have a very strong connection with. While I definitely pitied him, and felt sorry for him, I had difficulty relating or connecting with Oedipus. Particularly in certain parts, like when he picks on the blind beggar. While of course those parts are important to foreshadow, and add to the irony (of which there’s already plenty of), I felt like it made Oedipus inconsistent as a character, especially when as a king he is so adamant about righteousness and justice.

While the play is definitely a tragedy, I don’t feel like it is a traditional tragedy. This play is a tragedy from the very beginning, with absolutely no deviation or opportunity to surprise the reader. It essentially felt like I was just waiting for Oedipus to realize what we all knew the entire time. This isn’t a tragedy which is able to connect the reader to a pair of star-crossed lovers, before their tragic deaths ensue. This tragedy instead is one in which the reader simply knows everything, and just waits until the hero punishes himself. This tragedy wasn’t exactly tragic for me, while I definitely felt bad for Oedipus who constantly works away to his own demise I never felt remotely sad. Perhaps the only tragic part of the play is how cruel Oedipus’s punishment to himself is.

While I’m sitting here, bashing the play about not being tragic enough, I think it’s important to recognize how Sophocles most likely had a very different definition of “tragedy” than we do today. In the modern era, we have many defining archetypal tragedies like Romeo and Juliet which set the standard for what to expect form a tragedy. Sophocles had none of these classics to guide him in his writing, in fact, Sophocles is very probably ahead of his time. While I recognize how fantastic this piece of literature is, I was still disappointed by my expectations set by our modern definition of tragedies.

Thoughts on Columbus

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the previous readings that we have been assigned in this class, but I did not enjoy reading The Four Voyages. I do tend to appreciate factual information more than entertaining stories in regards to books, but that is only when I enjoy the subject that I’m reading about. History is not one of my main interests, and this collection of anecdotes did not interest me very much. But I do of course understand how important the events are that are discussed in the book. Without Columbus’ conquering having occurred, the world we’re accustomed to would be completely different. I always find the “butterfly effect” very interesting when it comes to historical events. If certain events in our history happened even slightly differently, our entire world could be completely different than it is. If Columbus did not end up sailing towards the Americas, and made it to East India like he originally intended to, I wonder who would have been the man that took Columbus’ place as the person who would have brought European traditions to the natives in America. It was bound to happen eventually, not that it is correct in any way though.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella told Columbus to win over the inhabitants, but to ensure that he does not cause them any harm or injury. These words clearly went in one ear and out the other, because Columbus was far from treating the natives with the respect that they deserved. Instead of attempting to assimilate with the native peoples, Columbus and his men went the violent route and treated them inhumanely in order to gain riches and to spread Christianity as best as they could.

After hearing about Columbus as a hero my whole life, it was interesting reading a more detailed and factual account of his voyages. Columbus has his own holiday dedicated to him even though in retrospect, his actions likely do not warrant a day of celebration in his honor. It may be that I am not that interested in history, or that I’m just not particularly interested in the story of Christopher Columbus, but this was not one of my favorite readings so far. Looking forward to discussing in class with everyone!

 

Thoughts On Beowulf

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Beowulf, specifically I enjoyed the version of the book that I purchased which included complementary photos that made the reading even more interesting. I had already read both Beowulf and the related story of Grendel, which I actually enjoyed much more than Beowulf, in high school. In Beowful, Grendel is represented as a complete monster, and does not offer any sympathy towards him. Whereas in Grendel, he is not a monster, but a confused and curious creature that is simply unable to interact with the humans in an intelligible way, making him seem like a scary monster when that is not his intention at all.

Both the dragon and Grendel’s mother are represented as monsters in the story as well. I don’t feel that the dragon is a monster, because all he really does is generally keep to himself and protect the large treasure. He only becomes involved with the humans after the thief comes and disturbs him. Though I do think the story of Beowulf is an interesting read, I really think that Grendel should be included as part of the Arts One curriculum in the same unit in which we read Beowulf. The stories complement each other really well, and give you a different perspective on the story of Grendel, Beowulf, and the men in Hrothgar’s kingdom. Specifically, Grendel is made out to have much more human-like characteristics in Grendel, which makes us more sympathetic towards Grendel instead of disliking and fearing him as a murderous beast.

Beowulf seems to be a hero in every sense of the word. He embodies the perfect hero in the way he carries himself and his strength and athletic abilities. He went extremely out of his way in order to offer a helping hand to Hrothgar and his people, and it was fairly obvious from the beginning that he was going to be able to handle the monstrous Grendel, but that was to be expected. I enjoyed re-reading Beowulf, and I also enjoyed the conversations that we had in class about the story.

Beowulf

Growing up I would often hear about Beowulf and I never really got a chance to read it before, also the idea of reading Old English text was not my idea of a fun read. However when I heard that we were going to read Beowulf in class I was quite excited! Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf was not only easy to read but also kinda fun. I love books about old time heroes and dragons and monsters and this epic poem took that idea and put it in a whole different sphere where by the end I was left wondering who the monster really was.

At first Grendel, his mother and the dragon are the obvious monsters, however when thinking about the idea of monsters and the poem further I took a second glance and realized that I think Beowulf is the actual monster. While Grendel is monstrous in his own, human eating way, he also appears to be lonely and misunderstood. He merely wants to become a part of the group and in many cases our own weird factors are what make it impossible for us to become part of a certain society (while in Grendel’s case this is his penchant for human flesh).

Grendel’s mother and the dragon, on the other hand, are quite similar in some ways. They are both taking revenge for an injustice. Grendel’s mother is obviously angry that Beowulf killed her son and if she were a human or god or goddess the people would automatically understand her anger and in fact side with her over Beowulf – however since she is not human and deemed a monster by the people she is thus wrong to want to avenge the death of her son (someone close to her) by taking away someone close to the king. Her actions make absolute sense when thinking about the reasons for them.

The Dragon is also like Grendel’s mother in the fact that if he were human or perhaps eve humanoid his actions would be totally acceptable. He is angry at the people for stealing from him. If the King had had something stolen from him and had acted out and been angry at the people it would be understandable. The Dragon is taking revenge in the only way he knows how to and he should not be deemed a monster for trying to guard or protect something, it is not like he is planning on using it for something or stealing it.

Beowulf was quite revalatory with relations to the idea of monsters since usually we would not consider Beowulf a monster, however at a second glance he is becoming more and more monstrous as the “monsters” are becoming less.

- S


Captain’s Log. Stardate 1492 Location: Atlantic Ocean

Well… one thing I can say for certain about Columbus…. his log entries are boring… I think the captain’s log entries in Star Trek were far more interesting.  I have to admit though, my expectations were set too high for this particular reading.  I expected something rather fun, dynamic, full of history and information.  What I got was a well… a log, and a few letters of a controversial figure, all of which was historical, but required much interpretation and not a lot of dynamic.  There were some parts of it that were fun to read though, (surprisingly).

The first part of the 4 Voyages that I had to read through was the digest of the captain’s log.  This account by an unknown member of Columbus’s crew was written from a surprisingly aloof 3rd party perspective.  Admittedly, he tended to side with Columbus, but the way he explained things from a more neutral point of view allowed me to accept the information without much hassle and bother of questioning every word he was writing.  As I began reading the digest, there was quite a bit of information, that gave the appearance of mundane, but wasn’t so mundane after all.  Soon I found myself noticing every symbol of land, every threat of mutiny, while I knew they would get there, I couldn’t help but wonder what was life like on that fateful voyage across the seas, clinging on mere hopes.  It’s no wonder Columbus, when he finally sighted land, was overjoyed.  I was also taken aback by the scale of what Columbus was describing.  Latin America for the first time and yet, he seemed or tried to keep an open view, not calling the natives barbarians (which was what I expected him to do) and although he later descended into slavery, his first foray into the caribbean was almost like a child wandering through a lush forest.

Then came the denial… when he began to realize and wonder if he had made it to Asia.  This I found rather hilarious thanks to my hindsight information, but then again, I had to pity Columbus.  He sailed all the way across the Atlantic, hoping to find a route to Asia and make it big with Castille, only to find he had stumbled across something entirely new.  If only he had a satellite and GPS!

The letters for me, were the hardest.  Everything that Columbus wrote about how he conducted himself and about he situation, I was forced to think and doubt.  After all, the letters were defending his position.  He sounded quite convincing and it wasn’t easy.  In the end, I managed to take everything at face value, yet still manage to understand Columbus’s defense.

In the end, I didn’t enjoy reading the 4 voyages as a whole.  My ideal explorer is something more like the characters in Star Trek.  But there were some fun tidbits and juicy information that I learnt about this interesting early explorer and the challenges he faced on his voyage.

Signing out

Vincent