An activity for Columbus Day

Today is Columbus Day. Please honor the occasion by gathering around your family, talking to your friends and neighbors, and mentioning to your casual acquaintances that it isn’t true that people believed that the world was flat until Columbus proved them wrong! The ancients believed that the world is round and so did the people of the Middle Ages. Plato and Aristotle talk about the sphericity of the earth, as did the medieval theologians and scholars. For the easiest proof of that, just read Dante! Furthermore, the sailors and navigators of the Middle Ages knew the world was round, and the maps and navigation techniques of the time demonstrate that beyond all doubt. The Columbus myth came from Washington Irving, the 19th century American writer, who wrote a not very scholarly biography of the explorer. If you still don’t believe me, read this: Myth: “In the days of Christopher Columbus, everyone thought the world was flat.”

I continue to be astonished when I hear this scholarly howler repeated by people who should know better. Today, strike a blow for truth by pointing this out to everyone you can. Maybe we can begin the process of stamping out this urban legend.

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  • rlewer

    And besides, Columbus was wrong about the size of the earth and his critics were right.

  • Carl Vehse

    Some people will not be celebrating today. Check out the Flat Earth Society or Flat Earth Society Forum.

  • Joe

    I prefer to used today to point out all the evidence that suggests that the Vikings were here before Columbus.

  • I have a copy of a translation of the 13th Century Norwegian book, “The King’s Mirror,” in my collection. In this book the anonymous author uses a couple different utilitarian demonstrations to prove that the world is “round like a ball.”

  • FullTime

    Well, seriously, why else would we have arches in our feet? 😉

  • allen

    Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276 BC – 194 BC) calculated the circumference of the Earth to be 252,000 stadia. He did not mention if he was using the Greek or Egyptian stadion. If the first case, he was 16% off; in the latter, 1%.

  • chuck

    Yesterday, a kid in my Sunday school class showed me a book that claimed the Chinese discovered America in 1423. Has anyone else heard of this theory?

  • Joe

    Chuck – I have heard that theory. It seems to have some support – old maps, ect. – but I have not followed it to see if there has been a debunking.

  • Much as I enjoy debunking Columbus, I think we shouldn’t entirely lose sight of the fact that he did something significant (unintentionally, but unquestionably). His discovery began the European migration to the New World. As a Norwegian I’m a big booster of Leif Eriksson, but Leif didn’t do that. Nor did the Chinese, or the Welsh, or the Irish, or the Phoenicians, or any other people from the Eastern Hemisphere who may have stopped here for a bit. They came, they went home, and things returned to the way they’d been before. Columbus came, and everything changed forever. You can’t take that away from him, whether you’re happy about it or not.

  • WebMonk

    Oh sure I can, Lars! 🙂

    Columbus sailed over and it was a good accomplishment, but not unique by that time. So, he gets the credit for being the umpteenth person to make the trip, and he gets credit for being the tool of the ones who actually made the migrations happen – the kings, queens and other powerbrokers of the time.

    THEY’RE they ones we should be celebrating! This should be Queen Isabella Day, not Columbus Day!

    (That was joking, btw.)

  • Anon

    The evidence seems to suggest that that Chinese treasure fleet sailed to Madagascar, not the New World.

    Lars has it right. Even though the occasional hoenecian, Gaul, Roman (amphorae off the coast of Brazil), St. Brendan’s voyage (more significant, it was known and inspired mariners such as:) the Irish who colonized Iceland (which is genetically Irish to this day, though they speak essentially Old Norse), The Norse who followed them to plunder and settle, and then saw Greenland from mountain tops, and who then hunted walrus and seal extensively along Baffin Island and traded with the Dorset and Innuit, plus the Church knew all about the Greenland colonies and sent a bishop at one point, and of course there are records of trade goods from Greenland including walrus and narwhal ivory and walrus skin useful for rigging, and converted many Dorset to Christ, before the previous little ice age before the current one, drove them back to Iceland (estates made available due to the Black Death)Basque and Bristol fisherman in the Grand Banks who probably dried their catch in North America (but it was a secret, money was involved), Christopher Columbus who worked his way to Iceland and heard the Vinlander Saga, and took the southern route from Spain in order to avoid lands claimed by the Danish crown – and on we go. Drake and Hudson sailed the north route, possibly on information from the Bristol fishermen, possibly because they had reason to know that Greenland had been abandoned.

    What a story a certain commenter here could weave – as I understand it, the first volume is done, awaiting a publisher, right, Lars?

  • My novel on a post-Leif Viking voyage to Vinland is scheduled for release sometime early in 2009. I don’t have a specific date yet.

    I have to correct one point. According to all I’ve read, DNA analysis of Icelanders shows them to be 70-80% Scandinavian, 20-30% Irish. Mitochondrial DNA indicates that almost all of those Irish ancestors were women. The working hypothesis is that the majority of Norse settlers came from Ireland, from which the Irish drove them out at about that time, and that they brought Irish wives (and slave women) with them.

  • Anon

    Lars, I didn’t know that. I do remember reading that when the Norse got to Iceland, they found “papar” living there. That was there name for the Catholic (as was every Christian west of the Danube at that time) Irish.

    How could I forget the Norse navigator who actually (re) discovered America? Bjarni Herjolfsson, who was sailing to Greenland to do some trading, and got blown off course in a storm finding (probably) Labrador, and then who coasted back up and across to Greenland.

  • Yes, Anon, the “papar” were there, according to the sagas. However, they were hermit monks, who can be assumed not to have left any progeny.

  • Also be sure and say a prayer of thanks for great Italian explorers like Colombo and Vaspucci – for whom our once great country was named.

    Not to mention Italian Lutheran Pastors 🙂

  • Lars–I’m anxious to hear about your new novel coming out. Who is publishing it? Please alert me when it is published.

  • Dr. Veith–in fact I’ve e-mailed you twice in connection with this book. For some reason, it appears my messages aren’t getting through. Would you e-mail me at lars (at) larswalker (dot) com? I’ll be happy to tell you all.

  • THANK YOU for bringing up my biggest historical pet peeve!