It's a sad fact of life that I was born on Columbus Day (which for many years in America was observed on October 12, but now floats around in the October calendar like a piece of dislocated cartilage). As a child, I recall that Columbus Day was often a school holiday, too. And so I was glad that Columbus had "discovered" the New World on my birthday so I could stay home and watch cartoons.
Last week I completed The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain's Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Mutiny, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane, and Discovery, by Martin Dugard. Great book. What I learned was that Columbus was everything I thought he might have been, including a religious nut who enjoyed enslaving the native populations, whose insatiable lust for "Gold" drove him back to the "New World" in search of more plunder (which, of course, he stole from the native peoples in copious amounts), and a guy who enjoyed his fame and fortune so much that, when he was no longer famous and fortunate, he decided to die in his early fifties.
But, hey, it was a crazy time back then, and it was a swashbuckling era. I wish I lived in a swashbuckling era now. I would love to swashbuckle, and I would love to be known as a swashbuckler. And I don't even know what swashbuckling is! I just love the word.
Columbus died broke, and in fact, his name faded into oblivion and he was completely forgotten and disregarded as the discoverer of anything, until more than two hundred years later, when he was recognized as the one who actually "found" the New World. But as the book points out, there were certainly others (like the Vikings--who are now in Minnesota and run a football team) who preceded him. But Columbus wasn't really recognized because he discovered and ran. Rather, Columbus stayed in the New World (and actually made four voyages. . . and that's his real claim to fame.
I'm just glad the guy was savvy enough to discover America on my birthday. Thanks, Chris!