Christopher Columbus Was On the Lookout For Monsters On His First Journey To The Americas

Faced with the great unknown as far as the eye can see, it is understandable for the human mind to run wild. When Christopher Columbus set out on his journey west toward the New World in 1492, that very mysterious unknown was his destination. Sure, natives had lived in the Americas since time immemorial, and adventurers from Iceland and Greenland had explored the northern shores of North America by around the year 1000. Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean region, however, was something new for Europe—an area without sagas and maps for guidance. As the explorer had no idea what to expect (besides his false assumptions that he was somewhere in Asia), superstitions and sailor yarns took hold of the imagination. Like the wary ancient Romans who feared imagined creatures in unconquered parts of Britannia and Germania, Christopher Columbus and his crew similarly believed that it was possible for monstrous creatures to be prowling around in the New World.

As one might expect, no mythical monsters were found by Columbus in the Bahamian islands. The most monstrous thing that the explorers encountered was a community of Carib natives believed by the Europeans to have been cannibals. This pleasant lack of monsters was something of note for Christopher Columbus, and he made sure to let his patrons back home in Spain know that no dragons or lizardmen were inhabiting the Caribbean islands. In his letter to Luis de St. Angel, the treasurer of Aragon, Christopher Columbus wrote, “As for monsters, I have found no traces of them except at the point in the second isle as one enters the Indies, which is inhabited by a people considered in all the isles as most ferocious, who eat human flesh” (Letter of Christopher Columbus to Luis de St. Angel, dated 1493). Besides these natives of unsavory appetite, Christopher Columbus gave a glowing review of the region he had found, triggering a new age of exploration and colonization.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Image of the Pinta, Santa Maria and the Niña, dated to 1892, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

 

Sources:

  • Letter of Columbus to Luis de St. Angel in American Historical Documents edited by Charles W. Eliot in the Harvard Classics series. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909, 1937.
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