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‘Preaching to Ravens’
‘This World is Small”: Prophecy and Reality in 1492 by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
An Appendix to A Sickness of the Heart
2009, HarperCollins, NY, Chapter 1, pages 1-26 in 1492: The Year the World Began
In this insightful essay the author paints a picture of the collective European mind from dreamers, to prophets, to schemers and people we would rate as intellectuals even today. He begins by pointing out that the life forms on planet earth had been diverging for 150 million years, and were about to be brought back into contact again by Asian inventions that had long lain dormant and would soon emerge in the hands of restless Europeans as the tools of world exploration and exploitation.
Myths such as spices being desired from the Far East to cover tainted food when in fact medieval food was fresh by modern standards, and the belief that Europeans thought the world was flat, when they were already making globes, are dispelled.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto lays the groundwork for considering Columbus and the age he was about to inaugurate via his great ignorance and overreaching ambition. Columbus believed that the world was far smaller than it is, and would have starved to death on the Santa Maria had his belief that no land masses stood between Europe and China were not equally false.
Armesto notes that ‘Everywhere people watched the stars’, ‘in a world without escape from the elements.’ This brief and insightful survey does more than lay the groundwork for the end of an age, but paints a vivid word picture of the world people then inhabited, and the fact that from England to Russia Europeans believed that their world was about to end. Columbus set sail in an atmosphere of apocalyptic fervor that had not been seen since A.D. 9999.
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