Eduardo Galeano on Christopher Columbus

Eduardo Galeano's MEMORY OF FIREFor Columbus Day, from Eduardo Galeano’s MEMORY OF FIRE: I. Genesis (W.W. Norton, 1998):

1506: Valladolid

The Fifth Voyage Last night he dictated his last testament. This morning he asked if the king’s messenger had arrived. Afterward, he slept. Nonsense mutterings and groans. He still breathes, but stertorously, as if battling against the air.

At court, no one has listened to his entreaties. He returned from the third voyage in chains, and on the fourth there was no one to pay attention to his titles and dignities.

Christopher Columbus is going out knowing that there is no passion or glory that does not lead to pain. On the other hand, he does not know that within a few years the banner that he stuck for the first time into the sands of the Caribbean will be waving over the empire of the Aztecs, in lands yet unknown, and over the kingdom of the Incas, under the unknown skies of the Southern Cross. He does not know that with all his lies, promises, and ravings, he has still fallen short. The supreme admiral of the ocean sea still believes he has reached Asia from the rear.

The ocean will not be called the Sea of Columbus; nor will the new world bear his name, but that of this Florentine friend Amerigo Vespucci, navigator and pilot master. But it was Columbus who found dazzling color that didn’t exist in the European rainbow. Blind, he dies without seeing it.

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