My impression of Columbus is one that has never had particularly strong footing. At a young age, he was a sort of folk hero, along the same lines as someone like Hernan Cortes of Ferdinand Magellan. The implications of Columbus’ ‘discovery’, as well as his own character, were of less importance than his arbitrary elevation to the position of one of history’s great figures. This began to change as time went on, particularly when I became aware of Indigenous People’s day as a counter-celebration to Columbus day. Since then I’ve become more appreciative of the fact that his position in history is significant because of the colonial era that he would come to be associated with, rather than the fact that he reached land in 1492. Furthermore, I’ve become more appreciative of the fact that this is a hugely negative association for a lot of people, and that the omnipresent name of Columbus can carry a sense of oppression. If a person is taught this sort of lineage between Columbus’ voyage and the eventual genocides of indigenous peoples, it is unsurprising that his name, or the celebration of his life, are seen as problematic by many.
After reading Columbus’ own words, it’s quite clear that the manner in which he was glorifying his own voyage must have been an attempt to save face to an extent. He was extremely ambitious, and needed to create a narrative suggested glory akin to his ambition. He did not have the gold, nor the diplomatic achievement, to solidify his journey as being culturally, economically, or politically significant. In this regard he’s a bit of a pathetic character, with his main goal essentially amounting to not being wrong. Is it solely because of the economic prosperity brought by the colonization of the ‘new world’ that Columbus did not fade into obscurity? How does this relate to some of the other historical figures whose names become immortalized? What makes a legend? Is there a political implication to the deliberate immortalization of a figure like Columbus?