Columbus Knew Where He Was Going, Claims Soviet Historian December 30, 2012Posted by Beachcombing in : Contemporary, Medieval , trackback
A weird little news report from New York Herald Tribune, 12 October 1959
Soviet Historian Declares Columbus Tricked World.
A Soviet Historian said today that Christopher Columbus hoodwinked the world 467 years ago because he knew all along where America was. The historian, identified only as Tyspernik, a lecturer at the Kazakh Pedagogic Institute, was quoted by the Moscow radio as saying he had discovered a secret letter from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to Columbus in which they decided to whitewash reality and pretend that Columbus had discovered a new world of riches. Actually, Tyspernik said, Columbus already knew the location of the Antilles, where he made his landfall on October 11, 1492, and merely dressed up his discovery story to make colonization more attractive to Spaniards. Tyspernik said other sailors had been to America and had told Columbus all about it, and that when he found only a wild land which did not make a favourable impression on the crews of his ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, he and the Spanish government decided to circulate the version that fabulous wealth had been discovered. Tyspernik said he believes Columbus misled historians of his day into believing that he was trying to find a new route to the Orient, when all the rime he knew he was headed for America. He explained away Columbus’s diaries detailing the voyage by saying, on his return to Spain from the voyage, he deliberately altered the contents of his diaries., and the most difficult thing for me was to find out what he had written in them before.
For those lucky enough not to have grown up in the Cold War, Beach will break this gently. A lot of arrant nonsense came out of Soviet institutes of higher education. Typically, these would be spun in one off reports in the Soviet newspaper Pravda (‘Truth’), picked up by the western media and then allowed to die their death when no one was able to follow up the story. You couldn’t send an email back then to Soviet academics. Hell, you couldn’t even get on the phone and letters sent were invariably opened before being delivered.
There is no follow up for this story and that is surely the proof that nothing substantial was found: hacking away at an American national myth would have given the Soviets great satisfaction, we need be sure that they had no self constraint in that. The Kazakh Pedagogic Institute seems to be the Kazakh State University (founded 1928). We have been unable to find any trace of Tyspernik and no one at Strange History is holding their breath.
So what actually happened here? Reading the report carefully the idea that other European sailors had been to the Americas could easily be justified (correctly or not) by various reports including the Bristol voyages in search of mysterious Brasil. That Columbus dressed up a discovery of islands in the Caribbean is also credible: in fact, you only have to read the letters to see that is precisely what he did. The mystery, if there is one, is the secret letter from Isabelle and Ferdinand. Where did Tyspernik claim that he had found this? Archives in Central Asia just don’t have that much medieval European stationary, Moscow doesn’t have that much more. And the idea that the Soviet Union would have given Tyspernik a study visa to head off to Lisbon or Madrid or Barcelona and the idea that while there he was allowed in an archive by the fiercely anti-communist regimes of Franco and Salazar and that once inside he happened to pull out one of the great plums of archive history… Well, credibility gets pulled, stretched and finally breaks.
Looking around other sources Beach came across this sentence, namely the claim that: ‘[Tyspernick] has found a letter from Columbus to Queen Isabella which shows that Columbus knew the location of the Antilles and understood the value they would be to Spain in the future.’ Had the American report got confused about writer and receiver? Then: ‘On the 5th of September 1960, John Wingate reported, in his radio broadcast, several statements from a congress of 1,500 historians which met in Russia to deal, inter alia, with Columbus s discovery of the Antilles. It was revealed that the Columbus letters affirmed that Columbus had learned the position of the Antilles from a Portuguese.’ Quite how these discordant sentences can be linked together and explained, God only knows. Any attempts? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
31 Dec 2012: David P writes in (via Larry) ‘ I think this is a rehash of the old story that Columbus heard about America when he sailed to Bristol in the 1480s. Turns out that the Basques and the Bristol sailors were regularly traveling to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland to fish for cod by the 1470s. In the past few years it has become clear that the Basques, at least, made landfall when they had cause. Bristol tended to keep the source of its fish a secret for fear that the Hanseatic League would get involved, as had happened when they fished the North Sea and Baltic, and the Basques’ secret was safe because of their geographic and linguistic isolation.’ Thanks David and Larry
29 Jan 2012: Thanks to Larry for getting these further thoughts on the Columbus question: PJP writes ‘There is a further theory that Columbus had maps of the New World to take with him on his trips West. These maps were Chinese ones made by the Zheng He (and perhaps other Chinese expeditions) flotilla. This theory, which has only parts verified currently, and in which many scholars and historians dispute, is proffered by Gavin Menzies. He has been writing a series of books about this trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific travel before Columbus. These books include 1421, and 1434. And more recently, Atlantis (about the theory that the Minoan civilization had been mining copper in the Great Lakes region). 1434 is Menzies’ view that when the Chinese visited Italy in 1434 and visited the Pope, they brought along with them a full “Encyclopedia of the World” with them (about all the Chinese knowledge accumulated up to that time) that they provided the Pope, and also brought with them “maps of the entire world”-and there are some extant European maps from that time frame that show a great deal more than what Europeans are believed to have explored at that time frame. Menzies puts forth the theory that these maps are copies of Chinese ones that were provided to the Pope. Menzies’ theory is that the Chinese data contribution ignited the Renaissance. He has a website you can visit, and search the evidence (each book has the chapter listing on a separate webpage that you can click on) he has used to bolster his viewpoints. David Portree replies: By way of linking this to spaceflight, we already have plenty of myths of space travel. Nazi bases on the far side of the moon, the Face on Mars, Apollo 18, faked moon landings, etc., etc. Menzies’ stuff reminds me an awful lot of Eric von Daniken. It has been similarly demolished by serious scholars, though it still has a fan following. I see it as alternate history. There is no evidence that anyone serious would point to that the Chinese visited the Americas. Never mind Minoans in the Great Lakes, which is just silly. There are many explanations for maps that appear to show more than they should for their time. These include assigning incorrect dates to maps, interpreting mythical lands medieval cartographers routinely inserted into their maps as real places, and promulgation on maps of the ancient view that the Old World continents should be “balanced” by other continents as yet undiscovered. There is also ample evidence of early fabrications: for example, Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote of journeying to America and for whom North America and South America are named, never actually traveled to the New World. Incidentally, I’m not one who believes that the Norse explored deep into the interior of North America or even very far south along the east coast. I’ll change my mind when we locate physical evidence. David S. F. Portree. Thanks David, PJP and Larry! Beach is strongly of the opinion that Menzies is unconvincing. He suffered a great deal at that man’s hands….