RHETOR 151 Chapter 6: R151 Reading 2.7.2017

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8 Feb 2017
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Rhetoric 151 Reading 2/7
Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’
“Enterprise of the Indies”
Pauline Moffitt Watts
- Traditional line of scholarly interpretation: Columbus as the bold and innovative
explorer who won support for his enterprise of the Indies
- Two images that C had of himself
- (1) Predestined to fulfill a number of prophecies in preparation for the
coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world
- Christoferens (christ bearer)
- C studied for a while at university of Pavia - but this highly
contested
- “Question of where and when Columbus received his education
remains unresolved, evidence regarding some of the more
important sources of his thought survives
- C acquired knowledge mostly from reading and annotating
- Deeply acquainted with Testaments and the Apocrypha
- For men, the goal to fulfill prophecy on a cosmic or global scale
was a major stimulus to travel and discovery
Modern studies of the origins of C’s enterprise of the Indies can be traced back to the
first half of the nineteenth century
- 2 serious problems with the assessment of historical significance of the
Toscanelli-Columbus correspondence
- (1) Authenticity of the letters
- (2) Content of the letter: C could have gotten them from other sources
available to him
- C’s readings and own testimony indicate that his image of the world was
traditional rather than innovative
- No scholars took seriously the possibility that C’s personal spirituality or the
spirituality of his age might have inspired him to undertake his voyages of
discovery
- Phelan: first to emphasize the importance of spirituality to understand
mentality and motivations of Columbus
- D’Ailly: provided C with a larger chronological framework within which to
place the rise and decline of the great religions of the world
- We must consider D’Ailly as a principal source of C’s
apocalypticism and of his scientific geographical knowledge
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