Christopher Columbus' . . . cosmographic ideas about America capture the
spirit of denial in its purest form.
The most distinctive characteristic of the way Columbus interpreted his
own discoveries beyond the Atlantic was the stubborn manner in which he
tried to force practically everything he encountered on his first voyage
to America into the traditional image of a tricontinental world. Throughout
that voyage, it was his rigid preconceptions, evidently unaffected by the
facts themselves, that dictated his cosmographic interpretation of what
he actually found beyond the "Ocean Sea." Columbus was indeed,
under the domination of a fixed idea, and rationalized all his experiences
into harmony with his earnest wishes.
Most remarkable in this regard were Columbus's relentless efforts to force
the totally unfamiliar new continent into the familiar contours of the Old
World. As evidence from the entry in his diary on the day of his very first
encounter with it, Columbus identified America right from the start as "the
Indies" and its inhabitants as "Indians." Cuba, Hispaniola,
and the Bahamas, whose existence had until then been virtually unknown in
Europe, thus became in his mind rather familiar entities. They were among
the 7,440 islands lying, according to Marco Polo, in the China
Sea off the shores of Asia. His strong belief that he had actually reached
the Orient is also quite evident from the repeated references in the diary
to Japan (Cipango) as well as to the Great Khan.
Title: Terra cognita : the mental discovery of America / Eviatar Zerubavel.
Pub. Info.: New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, c1992.