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Christopher Columbus and the New World

Sea Thoughts
The long years that Christopher Columbus spent at sea in making voyages to and from
his home in Genoa, years so blank to us, but to him who lived them so full of life and
active growth, were most certainly fruitful in training and equipping him for that future
career of which as yet, perhaps, he did not dream. The long undulating waves of the
Mediterranean, with land appearing and dissolving away in the morning and evening
mists, the business of ship life, harsh and rough in detail, but not too absorbing to the
mind of a common mariner to prevent any thoughts he might have finding room to grow
and take shape; sea breezes, sea storms, sea calms; these were the setting of his
knowledge and experience as he fared from port to port and from sea to sea. He is a very
elusive figure in that environment of misty blue, very hard to hold and identify, very shy
of our scrutiny, and inaccessible even to our speculation. If we would come up with him,
and place ourselves in some kind of sympathy with the thoughts that were forming in his
brain, it is necessary that we should, for the moment, forget much of what we know of the
world, and assume the imperfect knowledge of the globe that man possessed in those
years when Columbus was sailing the Mediterranean.
That the earth was a round globe of land and water was a fact that, after many
contradictions and uncertainties, intelligent men had by this time accepted. A conscious
knowledge of the world as a whole had been a part of human thought for many hundreds
of years; and the sphericity of the earth had been a theory in the sixth century before
Christ. In the fourth century Aristotle had watched the stars and eclipses; in the third
century Eratosthenes had measured a degree of latitude, and measured it wrong;—[Not so
very wrong. D.W.]—in the second century the philosopher Crates had constructed a rude
sort of globe, on which were marked the known kingdoms of the earth, and some also
unknown. With the coming of the Christian era the theory of the roundness of the earth
began to be denied; and as knowledge and learning became gathered into the hands of the
Church they lost something of their clarity and singleness, and began to be used
arbitrarily as evidence for or against other and less material theories. St. Chrysostom
opposed the theory of the earth's roundness; St. Isidore taught it; and so also did St.
Augustine, as we might expect from a man of his wisdom who lived so long in a
monastery that looked out to sea from a high point, and who wrote the words 'Ubi
magnitudo, ibi veritas'. In the sixth century of the Christian era Bishop Cosmas gave
much thought to this matter of a round world, and found a new argument which to his
mind (poor Cosmas!) disposed of it very clearly; for he argued that, if the world were
round, the people dwelling at the antipodes could not see Christ at His coming, and that
therefore the earth was not round. But Bede, in the eighth century, established it finally as
a part of human knowledge that the earth and all the heavenly bodies were spheres, and
after that the fact was not again seriously disputed.
 
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