Monday, October 8, 2007
Christopher Columbus - Man of Mystery
A fascinating article today at The New York Times. What will the DNA tests eventually reveal? And - I thought there was some controversy about this - are they sure those bones from which they extracted a smidgeon of DNA are Columbus' bones? Seeking Columbus’s Origins, With a Swab By AMY HARMON Published: October 8, 2007 BARCELONA, Spain — When schoolchildren turn to the chapter on Christopher Columbus’s humble origins as the son of a weaver in Genoa, they are not generally told that he might instead have been born out of wedlock to a Portuguese prince. Or that he might have been a Jew whose parents converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Or a rebel in the medieval kingdom of Catalonia. Yet with little evidence to support them, multiple theories of Columbus’s early years have long found devoted proponents among those who would claim alternative bragging rights to the explorer. And now, five centuries after he opened the door to the New World, Columbus’s revisionist biographers have found a new hope for vindication. The Age of Discovery has discovered DNA. In 2004, a Spanish geneticist, Dr. Jose A. Lorente, extracted genetic material from a cache of Columbus’s bones in Seville to settle a dispute about where he was buried. Ever since, he has been beset by amateur historians, government officials and self-styled Columbus relatives of multiple nationalities clamoring for a genetic retelling of the standard textbook tale. Even adherents of the Italian orthodoxy concede that little is known about the provenance of the Great Navigator, who seems to have purposely obscured his past. But contenders for his legacy have no compunction about prospecting for his secrets in the cells he took to his grave. And the arrival on Oct. 8 of another anniversary of Columbus’s first landfall in the Bahamas has only sharpened their appetite for a genetic verdict, preferably in their own favor. A Genoese Cristoforo Colombo almost certainly did exist. Archives record his birth and early life. But there is little to tie that man to the one who crossed the Atlantic in 1492. Snippets from Columbus’s life point all around the southern European coast. He kept books in Catalan and his handwriting has, according to some, a Catalonian flair. He married a Portuguese noblewoman. He wrote in Castilian. He decorated his letters with a Hebrew cartouche. Rest of article here.