Christopher Columbus Vs. Montaigne - UNR CH202 - Essay

1358 words - 6 pages

Giacomo Ercole
CH 202
Dr. Adriana Varga
March 1, 2018
The case of European conquest provided a clear assertion of the innate dominance of
Western civilization to its contemporaries. The discovery of unexplored territories sparked a
massive interest in the European countries that were on the hunt for gold, riches, and spice. In
1492, Christopher Columbus attempted to reach the Indies by navigating west on the Atlantic
Ocean and stumbled upon the “new world”; the Americas. He reported the discovery with a
public letter addressed to the King and Queen of Spain for his voyage. Elsewhere, news of the
aforementioned discovery captured the attention of Michel de Montaigne, who challenged
Columbus’ xenophobic views on the indigenous peoples. With such massively contrasting
opinions on the manner in which we should act within the newly mapped territory, we see an
equal contrast in language. Montaigne, with an acute interest in attitudes towards technologically
inferior societies, speaks in a conscientious tone with regard for other life, but Columbus
attempts to extort the lives of indigenous people through religion and for wealth. It is through
this we can see the implied motives between the two writers, and the new ideas and practices of
the “new world” they are attempting to portray to their audience.
In his letter, Columbus provides a vivid description of his encounter within the “new
world” and his views of the “other”. For example, Columbus states “I have taken possession of
them all for their Highnesses, and all are more richly endowed than I have skill and power to say,
and I hold them all in the name of their Highness who can dispose thereof as much and as
completely as of the kingdoms of Castle” entailing that he effortlessly seized the land and lives
of the natives seeing as they posed no immediate threat to Europe. This was because he
attempted to showcase to his audience that another funded voyage would bring indisputable
success, and also further the ideology of European superiority. This sense of nationalism is seen
throughout the entirety of the letter, but more specifically, when describing the natives; “The
inhabitants of both sexes in this island, and in all the others which I have seen, or of which I have
received information, go always naked as they were born, with the exception of some of the
women.” Columbus is illustrating that the native society was imperialistic and incomparable to
that of the Europeans.
While Columbus recounts his own opinions on the “others” within his letter, Montaigne
argues against Columbus’ ideas and in favor of proper treatment for the inhabitants of the “new
world” in ​Of Cannibals.​ It was apparent that Columbus attempted to gain support and funding
for his future expeditions by extorting the lives of the natives, but Montaigne’s goal was to raise
awareness about how individuals should treat those who are viewed as different. By discussing
that all individuals are impermanent and relati...

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