Monday, October 19, 2020

Quote of the Day

Christopher Columbus was one of those Genoese navigators who, when Genoa's Asiatic lines of trade were broken by the irruption of the Turks (see p. 467), conceived the idea of reaching India by an ocean route. While others were endeavoring to reach that country by sailing around the southern point of Africa, he proposed the bolder plan of reaching this eastern land by sailing directly westward. The sphericity of the earth was a doctrine held by many at that day; but the theory was not in harmony with the religious ideas of the time, and so it was not prudent for one to publish too openly one's belief in this notion.

P.V.N Myers
A General History for Colleges and High Schools (1889)

Jim's comments: This is a clear and widely-read statement of the flat earth myth -- the idea that, prior to Columbus, people (or at least Europeans) thought the earth was flat on religious grounds. It's false: the sphericity of the earth had been the almost universal view in Europe for two millennia by the time we get to Columbus. Perhaps we can give Myers some grace since the flat earth myth was very common at the time. I wrote about it before here. The best book on it is Jeffery Burton Russell's Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. Another interesting book is Christine Garwood's Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, although only the first chapter is on the flat earth myth, with the rest on the flat earth movement in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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