Of the origins and character of Christopher Columbus, first Admiral of the Indies, and how and why he was led to their discovery, according to common opinion.

Translated by Charlotte Rhoads ‘22

Some people are fond of telling how this land has been known for a long time, and that its location and coordinates were already written and noted. They say that the navigation and cosmography of these parts had been lost to the memory of men, and that Christopher Columbus, as a well-read and learned man in these sciences, ventured to discover these islands. And I myself am no stranger to this notion, nor do I doubt it, for the reasons that will be told in the chapter that follows. But more to the purpose is to establish a man to whom so much is owed as originator and founder of an achievement as significant as this one, through which he gave rise to so much industry for those who are alive and those who will come after them; I say that Christopher Columbus, according to what I have been told by men of his nation, was a native of the province of Liguria, which is in Italy, and which contains the city and domain of Genoa (some say he is from Savona, and others say he is from a small place or village called Nervi, which is on the eastern coast, two leagues from the same city of Genoa); it is more often asserted that he was a native of a place called Cugureo, close to the same city of Genoa. He was a man of honorable family and life, of good stature and appearance, taller than average and of strong limbs, his eyes were lively and the other parts of his face well-proportioned, his hair a deep auburn and his complexion likewise somewhat red and freckled; well-spoken, cautious, and a man of great ingenuity, a noted Latin scholar and a very learned cosmographer; and witty when he wanted to be; and irate when angered. His ancestors belonged to the ancient and noble lineage of Pelestrel, from the city of Piacenza in Lombardy, which sits on the banks of the Po river. While his father, Domitian Columbus, was alive, a young Christopher, being young, well learned, and no longer an adolescent, left his homeland and journeyed toward the Levant, traveling much or most of the Mediterranean Sea, where he learned navigation and its practices through experience. After traveling those routes, his yearnings turned towards more expansive seas and higher thoughts and he wanted to see the grand Ocean Sea, and so he went to Portugal. There he lived for some time in the city of Lisbon, and from there or from wherever he found himself, as a grateful son, he would help his old father with part of the fruit of his labor; living an exceedingly frugal life, not having been blessed enough by fortune as to be able to live without need.

There are those who say that a caravel traveling from Spain to England, loaded with merchandise and supplies such as wines and other things that are usually taken to that island (goods that it lacks and needs), came up against such strong and contrary winds that out of necessity it had to sail west for so many days that at some point it came across one or more of the islands of these parts and Indies. And they came on land and saw naked people in the manner they go here, and after the winds that took them there against their will ceased they took water and firewood to return to their earlier route. They say more: that most of the ship’s cargo consisted of provisions, food, and wines, so that they had enough to sustain themselves through such a lengthy voyage and ordeal; then the weather turned in their favor and the navigation was so favorable that they returned to Europe and went to Portugal. But as the journey had been so long and difficult, and especially to those who had to endure it amidst such fear and danger, no matter how swift the journey back was it would have taken them four or five months (or maybe more) to reach these parts and return to where I have said. And in this time almost all the people in the ship died and the only ones who disembarked in Portugal were the pilot, with three or four or maybe a few more of the seamen, all of them very ill, and in a few days, they too died.

It is also said that this pilot was a very intimate friend of Christopher Columbus, and that he understood something of the stars and marked that land that he had found in the manner that I have said, and he told Columbus of it very secretly and begged him to write a letter and record on it that land he had seen. It is said that Columbus took him into his home, as a friend, and cared for him, as he had also arrived very sick; but he died like the others, and this is how Columbus was informed of the land and navigation of those parts and he was the only one privy to this secret. Some say that this master or pilot was Andalusian, others make him out to be Portuguese, and others say he was from Biscay; some say that at the time Columbus was on the island of Madeira, others venture to say he was in Cape Verde, and that it was there that the ship reached port as I have told and where he had news of that land. If this happened in this way or not, no one can truly confirm; but this story is told by common folk around the world in the manner that I have told it. I myself take it as false, and as Augustine said: Melius est dubitare de ocultis, quam litigare de incertis[1]—It is better to doubt what we do not know than to insist on what is not determined.

[1] Insert English translation here. [EE]