Why was Christopher Columbus a hero?


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Traditionally, Christopher Columbus has been seen as a hero because of his role as an explorer, facing harsh conditions and the unknown as he made his famous voyage. He wanted to forge a western path to the East Indies so that trade with those nations could be accomplished much more quickly. It took him some time before his lobbying paid off with the Spanish king and queen.

One myth claims Columbus was heroic because he stood his ground against the idea that the earth was flat and that his voyage across the sea was meant to be a way of illustrating the earth's roundness, but this has since been debunked.

As of recent years, many have disputed the heroic image of Columbus due to his harsh treatment of the native Cuban and Hispaniolan peoples, subjecting them to enslavement, torture, and rape at the hands of his men. He was primarily interested in getting land and gold for the Spanish Empire, so his goals were not entirely noble.

He also sought to convert the natives to Catholicism, an act which may have been heroic by the standards of his culture but would be seen in a more negative light now, since this conversion involved the destruction of native cultures and killing those who refused to convert.

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In a way, Columbus was a hero in that he took three small ships across an ocean of unknown size in order to find new lands for the Spanish monarchy. His goal was to gain riches for Spain by finding a shorter route to the Asian spice trade. He also hoped to convert millions of Asians to Christianity. This was important as the Catholic Church was still looking for new believers as a counterbalance to heresies and the ever-present Muslim threat posed by the Ottoman Turks. Muslim influences were only recently kicked out of Spain when Columbus sailed in 1492. The Spanish monarchy had both riches and religion in mind when they sent Columbus on his voyage.

In another way, the story of Columbus is less successful. He made multiple voyages to the New World but never did establish the Asian spice trade for the Spanish monarchy. He also personally did not get rich off the lands. He did not even get naming rights to the new territory.

Some also see Columbus as a villain. He treated the people living in Hispaniola very unfairly, using them as slaves. He opened up the Americas to the Spanish who promptly sent out groups to conquer and subjugate the people living there. They destroyed whatever gold artifacts they could find and brought them back to Spain as bullion. European diseases destroyed much of Native American culture--far more than Spanish muskets did. In some circles today celebrating Columbus Day is considered controversial as he is not the true "discoverer" of America; there were other people already there.

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Some might consider Christopher Columbus to have been a hero because he had several traits distinctive of classic literary heroes. For one, he had the courage to cross an ocean most people believed to lead to the edge of the world or be inhabited by monsters. He also died during one of his journeys and can be considered to have given himself fully to his work as an explorer. He must have been considered a hero by the people of Spain who would benefit economically from the trade he enabled. To European Christians in Spain and elsewhere, he may very well have represented an exemplary case of evangelization.

However, many people feel that Christopher Columbus is the archetype of the evils of European imperialism. I suppose to really decide whether Columbus was a hero, we must ask ourselves whether a hero's actions must be good for all, or are they still heroic if they are only good for some?

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