The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus


Mar 21, 2017
6 x 9.25 in.
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Rather than focusing on the well-rehearsed facts of Columbus’s achievements in the New World, Valerie Flint looks instead at his imaginative mental images, the powerful “fantasies” that gave energy to his endeavors in the Renaissance. With him on his voyages into the unknown, he carried medieval notions gleaned from a Mediterranean tradition of tall tales about the sea, from books he had read, and from the mappae-mundi, splendid schematic maps with fantastic inhabitants. After investigating these sources of Columbus’s views, Flint explains how the content of his thinking influenced his reports on his discoveries. Finally, she argues that problems besetting his relationship with the confessional teaching of the late medieval church provided the crucial impelling force behind his entire enterprise. As Flint follows Columbus to the New World and back, she constantly relates his reports both to modern reconstructions of what he really saw and to the visual and literary sources he knew. She argues that he declined passively to accept authoritative pronouncements, but took an active part in debate, seeking to prove and disprove theses that he knew to be controversial among his contemporaries. Flint’s efforts to take Columbus seriously are so convincing that his belief that he had approached the site of the earthly Paradise seems not quaint but eminently sensible on his own terms.

Originally published in 1992.

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