Columbus Returns to Spain
Once at anchor, and once having satisfied the Portuguese
authorities that he was a duly accredited officer of the Spanish
Marine, Columbus was hospitably received, granted supplies, and
invited by King John II, the same with whom he had held memorable
converse in 1483 or 1484, to visit him at Valparaíso near Lisbon.
Columbus went with some trepidation and, according to Portuguese
accounts, told the King that he "had come from the discovery of the
islands of Cipangu and Antillia, " but made no mention of Cathay and
the Great Kaan, or of India. "O man of miserable understanding," the
King is said, by Spaniards, to have exclaimed at the interview,
smiting his breast, "why didst thou let an undertaking of such great
importance go out of thine hands!"
By the 15th of March the Admiral was at Palos, where on the evening of the same day Martín Alonso Pinzón likewise arrived, having brought the Pinta safe into port at Bayona in Galicia. But it was a full month before Columbus was received by Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona, and in the meantime Pinzón, already ill when he disembarked, had breathed his last. What light upon the great voyage to the Antilles might have been shed had Pinzón — forceful personality that he was — survived!
In Sevilla where, amid much ovation, Columbus awaited the pleasure of the Spanish sovereigns, there came to him a letter, dated the 30th of March, addressed to "The Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and Governor of the islands discovered in the Indies, " and confirming what had previously been conditionally granted to him in the Capitulation and Letters Patent of April, 1492.
If the welcome to the Admiral at Sevilla had been noteworthy, that which he was accorded at Barcelona was more noteworthy still. Throngs attended him, and his bodyguard was the best chivalry of Spain. In advance marched a group of some half-dozen New World Indians and a squad of sailors from the Nina. The Indians wore gold armaments and carried spears and arrows, while the sailors bore aloft forty parrots of gorgeous plumage, besides other birds, together with rare plants and animals, among which not the least was an iguana five feet long, its back bristling with spines.
Ferdinand and Isabella, happy at the success of their adventurous protégé, which no doubt they had scarcely expected, were augustly gracious. Seated under a golden canopy in the Alcázar of the Moorish Kings, they rose to greet Columbus on his entry, gently deprecated his lowliness in stooping to kiss their hands, and made him sit at their feet. So placed, the discoverer of America, a master of speech, told his tale, illustrating it with the Indians, the sailors, the specimens, and the gold. The monarchs and court then said a prayer, the choir of the royal chapel chanted Te Deum, and the ceremony closed.
The news of the return of Columbus soon spread and evoked ingenious appraisals among the learned. "In the month of August last," as Hannibal Januarius, an Italian gentleman from Barcelona, wrote to his brother in 1493: "This great King [Ferdinand], at the prayer of one named Collomba, caused four [sic] little vessels to be equipped to navigate . . . upon the ocean in a straight line toward the west until finally the east was reached. The earth being round he should certainly arrive in the eastern regions." Also from Barcelona, on the 14th of May, Peter Martyr, the Horace Walpole of his day, wrote to his friend Count Tindilla: "A few days after [an attempted assassination of King Ferdinand], there returned from the Western Antipodes a certain Christopher Columbus, a Ligurian, who with barely three ships penetrated to the province which was believed to be fabulous: he returned bearing substantial proofs in the shape of many precious things and particularly of gold." Again, on the 1st of October, this time from Milan, Martyr wrote to the Archbishop of Braga: "A certain Columbus has sailed to the Western Antipodes, even as he believes to the very shores of India. He has discovered many islands beyond the eastern ocean adjoining the Indies, which are believed to be those of which mention has been made among cosmographers. I do not wholly deny this, although the magnitude of the globe seems to suggest otherwise, for there are not wanting those who think it but a small journey from the end of Spain to the shores of India." Finally, on January 31, 1494, our letter-writer addresses these words to the Archbishop of Granada: "The King and Queen at Barcelona have created an Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Columbus returned from his most honorable charge, and they have admitted him to sit in their presence, which is, as you know, a supreme proof of benevolence and honor with our Sovereigns."
But, anticipating rumors, reports, and letters, Columbus himself had had a word to say respecting his voyage. Writing from shipboard, on February 15, 1493, to Luis de Santangel, his stanch advocate with Isabella, he had declared: "When I reached Juana [Cuba] I followed its coast westwardly and found it so large that I thought it might be the mainland province of Cathay."
As a matter of fact, however, interest in this exploit on the part of Columbus attached itself less to the geographical discoveries than to the preternatural creatures that lurked on the margins of the earth. Hannibal Januarius, our Italian acquaintance of epistolary bent, remarked to his brother, apropos of the Genoese navigator, that "the earth being round the latter should certainly arrive in the eastern regions." But forgetful, near the end of his letter, of the scientific aspects of the great voyage, Januarius wrote: "He [Columbus] adds that he has lately been in a country where men are born with tails." Nor was the soft impeachment wholly inaccurate, for, in his own shipboard letter to Santangel, the Admiral said: "There remains for me on the western side [of Cuba] two provinces whereto I did not go — one of which they call Anan — where the people are born with tails." And in his Journal Columbus had already noted that "far away" there were, as he understood, "men with one eye, and others with dogs' noses who were cannibals." But he was wary in statement, for in the Santangel letter he concluded the subject by remarking that "down to the present [he had] not found in those islands [the Antilles] any monstrous men as many expected."
With regard to mermaids it was different. These the Admiral had himself seen, both on the coast of Guinea and in the Antilles. The Antillean sirens, as he had seen them, were three in number. "They rose well out of the sea" but were "not so beautiful as painted, though having to some extent the human face." And Columbus believed in Amazons. He had never beheld any, but had been told they lived in the island of Martinino [Martinique], and he had meant to stop there on his way home to secure a few to exhibit, along with his Indians, to Ferdinand and Isabella.
His half-dozen Indians, his forty gorgeous parrots, his spined iguana, and his gold — of the latter not more than enough to whet a royal appetite — together with stories about "mermaids," and natives who burnt a queer herb, " tabacos," were about all in the way of wonders, ocular or auricular, that Columbus had brought home with him. The great thing, the super-epoch-making thing, though not yet understood so to be, was the voyage itself; the voyage itself and the will to make it. This, too, largely irrespective of whether the objective was in some sort Asia, or simply a Barataria, an island to govern.
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