Lesson 26--WORK IN PROGRESS!

 

WORLD LIT
HOME

1. Clay & Skin

2. Gilgamesh

3. Acts of God

4. Genesis

CLASSICAL WEST

5. Odysseus

6. Men like
Animals

7. Socrates

8. Alexander

9. Virgil

10. Paul

CLASSICAL
EAST

11. Krishna

12. Rama

13. Kalidasa

14. Buddha

15. Confucius

16. Lao Tse

WORLD
RECOVERY

17. Quran

18. Beowulf

19. Genji

20. Survival Itself

POST DARK
 AGE

21. Dante 1

22. Dante 2

 23. Dante 3

 24. Chaucer

25. Journey to the West

26. New World

27. Indians

28. Don Quixote

 


 

 

 

 

     Old cultures in a new world

Read from the Longman Anthology of World Literature, the "perspectives" section "The Conquest and its aftermath" (Damrosch C811-874).   

Then skim the page below and journal for an hour.

Finally, if you are enrolled in the course, go to the Angel web site, take the quiz and submit your journal to Dr. G

 CHRISTIAN ACTING

In Judaism and Islam the divine spirit is present only in the words of prophets, Chartres Cathedral, Jesus in glory.so these religions tend to express themselves in purely verbal form, as sacred words, codes of commandments, laws and rules that tell the cult members what to think and do. In Christianity, there are also verbal codes but, because of the incarnation, because of the belief that the spirit is embodied in human form, Christianity tends to express itself in images or models that show the cult way of life. Christian culture transmits itself by imitation of acts. Christians copy the life of Jesus, Paul and other "followers" who previously have imitated what (it is believed) Jesus did or would do in the same circumstances. The models exist in art, beginning in the literary art of the New Testament itself, and flowering in all of the arts of the European Middle Ages. 

right: a mystery play at York Cathedral (England) opens with God creating the universe. Chaucer's Absalon notwithstanding, Medieval Biblical drama provided ordinary Christians general acting models based on scripture.

Medieval Christians copied the Bible not only in their monastic libraries, and not only in their sculpture, painting, and drama, but in their self-consciousness. The New Testament came true in Christian culture, as if by magic, with real life Pauls and gospel-Jesuses. Consider, for example, Aurelius Augustinus (354-430 AD) and John d' Bernardone (cir. 1181-1223 AD), better known as saints Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Assisi

  • Augustine imitated Paul as a "born again" religious convert and theological writer who defended his church by defining correct spiritual beliefs and denouncing paganisms and heresies; 

  • Francis imitated gospel-Jesus as a humble preacher who gave up his possessions, lived in poverty, attracted disciples to his austere way of life, served lepers and social outcasts, and died by a kind of crucifixion, his stigmata. The reproduction of Jesus even carried on after Francis' death when some of his followers declared that he had been the new messiah, "the Second Coming of Christ," and when the church denounced these followers as heretics.

Augustine and Francis not only followed the primary New Testament models but also became important secondary models in themselves, as saints and founders of monastic orders. Their life stories, along with the stories of Jesus and Paul, became part of an expanding literary and artistic canon that describes Christian life. 

In practice, Christian imitation can be very complex, as the imitator copies imitations of imitations, layer upon layer removed from the primary models of the New Testament. But as the models proliferate so do questions about their authenticity or fidelity to original models. The protestant reformation of the early modern period was a movement engaged in this kind of critical review of how Christians should act. The Spanish Inquisition and counter-reformation movements were orthodox Catholic responses which Roman Catholic culture carried with it into the New World
 

above: Columbus' copy, with Columbus' notes, of Marco Polo's Travels.
Literature mapped the world in the sailor's mind and provided him with beliefs (sometimes incorrect ones!) as to where he was.

 

COLUMBUS

The Europeans who arrived in the New World, beginning with Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), carried the mind set of both the Christian and heroic cultures. Some like the friar Bartolomé de las Casas were more influenced by the Christian side than by the heroic one; others like the soldier Bernal Diaz del Castillo were more heroic than Christian. Most attempted to fuse the seemingly contradictory European cultures by imagining themselves as members of a "church militant" that would spread spiritual salvation by force of arms, as Islam had done in early medieval times.

This crusader spirit was running especially high in 1492, when Columbus sailed on his first voyage, because "the Catholic Monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella that year had driven the last remaining Muslim Moors from the Iberian peninsula with the conquest of Grenada. They also had expelled all Jews from Spain, excepting only those who converted to Catholicism. The soverigns' announced goal was no less than the recovery of the Holy Land from Muslim occupiers and the conversion of all people everywhere on the globe. Their initiative eventually succeeded to the extent that Latin America became Catholic. It is also to them that the Spanish Inquisition is attributed. 

Columbus played into the plans for world domination by promising Ferdinand and Isabella to sail west to China where, according to Marco Polo (who wrote 200 years earlier), the Great Khan was waiting to receive Christian missionaries. In fact, the Khans had lost China in 1368, but because European contact with China had been lost there had been no update to Marco Polo's book.

It was from ancient and medieval readings that Columbus formulated a "small world" theory, a belief that the ocean was small enough so that the range-limited ships of the day might have the capability to traverse the ocean directly from east to west. Based on other ancient and medieval texts, most scholars of Columbus' time very properly disagreed with the small world theory, but Ferdinand and Isabella eventually were persuaded to invest in the mission.

Faithfully believed, the old books were tenacious in their hold on European brains. Until the seventeenth century Enlightenment, empirical data was forced to fit into the frameworks established by the texts, and so it was that Columbus kept his faith in the small world despite the experience he gained on his famous voyages. His summarizing letters and ship logs reveal his unshaken convictions that Cuba was Japan, that the central American coast was the East Asian shore, that Eden was in the Caribbean, and that King Solomon's gold had come from central America. As we all do, the great explorer attempted to synthesize his reading with his experience, but the synthesis came out like a fantasy of Don Quixote, not like a scientific solution.

Columbus did make discoveries about Spanish politics, however. His emotional letter of 7 July 1503 to Ferdinand and Isabella (Damrosch C815-821) reflects his disgust with them and their corrupt courtiers. It was doubtful to him whether they would pay his surviving sailors the wages that they had earned from their long and dangerous work. Despite the extravagant titles and powers that the crown had promised him prior to his voyages, Columbus had been brushed off as soon after the first voyage as the king and queen found more expedient ways to profit from the new territories.

After Columbus' first voyage, Ferdinand and Isabella began to enlist the services of fortune-hunters to exploit the new territories and return 20% in commissions to the crown. In the modified feudal system they devised, known as the encomienda, the monarchs granted their favorites a specified number of Amerindians of whom they were to take responsibility. The conquistadors were to instruct these natives in the Spanish language and in the Catholic religion. In exchange for these benefits, the natives were to pay tribute to their benefactors in the form of enforced servitude, gold or agricultural products. A fifth of the tribute was to be remitted to the crown.

Columbus was exasperated. He had coveted the Indians' gold--Ferdinand and Isabella required it from him--but he supposed that he would trade for it. He came into conflict with the encomienda holders who rejected his authority, and by the time of his third voyage they arranged to have him arrested on fabricated charges, and he was deported back to Spain in chains. Columbus' bitter letter to their majesties from his fourth voyage reflects this near-complete disillusion that his project had turned to personal humiliation and courtier profiteering.

Nonetheless, Columbus became the first hero in the New World, earning fame at the cost of  personal sacrifice. His astonishing achievements were due to the total seriousness with which he adopted and maintained both the Christian and heroic traditions. In the last letter to Ferdinand and Isabella he describes a "compassionate voice," at once Christian and heroic, that spoke to him in sleep and awakened him from despair. It reminded him that God had given him fame, no less than the fame of Moses or David, and that a "great undertaking" still could lie ahead, despite old age (Damrosch C817). With these inspiring words he arose from hopelessness, as if from the dead, and somehow pushed himself to the next port that would allow him to land.
 

 

 

Left: the familiar posthumous portrait of Columbus by Florentine artist Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, cir 1520, Museum of the Sea and Navigation, Genoa.

 

 

Left: much less known posthumous portrait of Columbus by Alejo Fernandez, cir 1531-1536, in Casa de Contratación Seville. Columbus is one of the most sculpted and painted figures in history, but we don't know what he looked like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

left: recreation of one of the tiny caravels used on Columbus' expeditions. The ship was designed as a Mediterranean shore-hugger, not an ocean-crosser. Columbus was alone in the belief that such vessels could directly cross the great ocean.

 


LAS CASAS

Columbus was fortunate to have a disciple who tried to fix the encomienda mess. That follower was a literary man of the first order, Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1576). Inspired by Columbus' voyages in which his father and uncles had participated, Las Casas moved to Hispaniola at age 18 in 1502, and he became for a time an encomienda holder. He underwent a conversion in middle age, after he witnessed the Spanish genocide of the native peoples of Cuba, and he heard a  Dominican preacher's denunciation of Spanish oppression and inhumane treatment of innocent natives.

Las Casas resolved the conflict between heroic and Christian cultures by converting from one to the other. He gave up his conquistador life (freeing his Indian servants), became a member of the  Dominican order, and in prolific writings and public advocacy called for the Christian golden rule to be applied in all dealings with Native Americans. He described the heroic "conquest" of the New World by Spanish conquistadors as nothing more than a hoax used to glorify exploitation, torture, enslavement and genocide. Because of these writings, Las Casas today is regarded as the father of the black legend of the cruel, intolerant, greedy and fanatical excesses of Spanish colonialism. He is also regarded as a founding father of the international human rights movement. The powers of literature to affect culture continued into the early modern period, as Las Casas' example shows.

Although Las Casas may seem modern in comparison to his contemporaries, he is a kindred spirit to Jeremiah and the Hebrew prophets of old. He did not pretend to speak for the Lord in the old prophetic way, but he adopted a prophetic view that God had punished the wickedness of the Spanish people with a dark age disaster culminating in the Moor's conquest of Spain in 711 CE, and divine punishment seemed to be in progress again as evidenced by recent triumphs of Muslin Turks over Christian forces. Las Casas witnessed Spanish behavior in the New World so abominable, so far from the Christian ethic of love of neighbor, that he was sure God would prepare another great catastrophe for Spain unless it changed its ways. The salvation of the Spanish people from the wrath of God would depend on their treatment of their indigenous brothers and sisters of the New World.

Above: human sacrifice and cannibalism practiced by the Carib people and Aztecs resulted in the sudden downfall in their cultures as neighboring victim tribes were quick to side with Columbus, Cortes and other European invaders who promised to end these barbaric terrors.

 

 

Although Longman is weak in its representation of Las Casas (see Damrosch C859-864), your anthology came packaged with the Penguin Classics edition of Las Casas' important work, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. I strongly recommend that book to all students.

 

Left: Las Casas portrayed by Constantino Brumidi (1876) in the US Capitol Building, Senate Wing, Washington DC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The practice of human sacrifice in pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico and the Caribbean seems to have been designed not only as a form of political terrorism but to ritualize cannibal meals. Unlike Eurasia, in the central Americas few sources of animal protein were available. The Spanish introduced cattle and hogs. In exchange Europeans received corn and potatos.   

 

 


BERNAL DIAZ


The Indian holocaust described by Las Casas in A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies was denied repeatedly by conquistadors and their apologists. Critics of Las Casas included Bernal Diaz del Castillo who claimed to be present at Cholula when forces of Hernan Cortes slaughtered most of the men of the village; Diaz accuses Las Casas of contradicting the facts about Cholula, where Cortes and his men had been trapped by allies of Monteczuma who were going to massacre, sacrifice and eat their Spaniard guests. Was Cortes' action a pre-meditated effort to instill fear in the Aztecs waiting for him at Tenochtitlan? Or was it, as Diaz describes and as Cortes testified under questioning, self-defense against native treachery?

Below: the first family of Mexico: Cortes, La Malinche ("the captain's woman"), and their son. "Monumento al Mestizaje" by Julián Martínez y M. Maldonado (1982). Is Bernal Diaz story a Spanish foundation myth for Mexico? In Mexico these days it is a derogatory name to call someone is a “malinchista,” one who conspires with outsiders, but not everyone considers La Malinche a traitor. Some view her as a heroine, helping spread the word of Christianity. For others, she was a woman in love, who had no choice but to follow her heart and protect her beloved Cortés. Malinche is also viewed as the first mother of the Mestizo race.
 


The following commentary is from Damrosch
Teacher's Guide to the Longman Anthology

Díaz . . . is a master of colorful description and fast-paced narration. Students can look at the preface to his True History (Vol. C, p. 822) to see how Bernal Díaz slyly advertises his account, at once insisting that he is “no Latin scholar” and highlighting “what a wonderful story it is” that he has to tell. His preface uses a strategy common among participants in the “vernacular revolution” described in Volume C: he may lack the polish and elegance of Latin scholarship and its fund of classical references, but his account gains in immediacy and truth value, as he is “a fair eye witness,” blind though he now is in old age.

Students should find his account compulsively readable, both for the drama of the events it describes and for the salty depictions of the brilliant but manipulative Cortés and the noble but doomed Montezuma. They can also look at the literary and rhetorical means by which the authors construct their narratives and make sense of these unprecedented events. Bernal Díaz and his fellow soldiers think they’re living in scenes out of the knightly romance of Amadis of Gaul (pp. 827 –828), a prime role model for Cervantes’s Don Quixote as well (Vol. C, p. 365–366). Bernal Díaz brings to life the wealth and splendor of the teeming Aztec capital and its mixture of beauty and horror, with its elaborate aviaries side by side with temple pyramids thick with the blood of sacrificial victims.

Hernando CortesEven as he conveys the utter strangeness of this foreign culture, Bernal Díaz analyzes the Aztecs’ personalities and actions shrewdly and with remarkable sympathy, showing respect and loyalty to Doña Maria and Montezuma in particular. He is actually more ambivalent toward his leader, Cortés, whose vanity and greed are recurrent themes in the account and whose insistence on confronting Montezuma over his “idols” creates problems for the Spaniards from the very start. Students may note how, without directly criticizing Cortés for his rashness, Bernal Díaz shows their own chaplain, Bartolomé de Olmedo, counseling caution and restraint—advice that Cortés promptly ignores (pp. 831–832).

 

 

Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón

Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón’s Treatise on the Superstitions of the Natives of this New Spain shows some of the fruits of the Spanish missionaries’ work, a century later. The natives have accepted the Christian faith, but they have blended in many elements of their traditional beliefs and practices. Appointed as an ecclesiastical judge to seek out and punish “heretical” mixtures of belief, Ruiz de Alarcón recorded many of the incantations used by native priests, healers, and common people in their daily lives.

File:Juan Ruiz de Alarcon.jpgYou can ask students to consider just how Ruiz de Alarcón’s beliefs actually differ from those of his parishioners. He seems to accept that native sorcerers can really change themselves into animal form, for example, and their gods (or devils) do have the power to cause sickness and to heal. Indeed, he is particularly unsettled by the parallels he finds between native healing practices and the sacrament of baptism (p. 871). Are the natives hiding their pagan beliefs behind a veneer of Christianity?

RESONANCE

Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl,” the Resonance selection after Ruiz de Alarcón’s text, uses a tale of human-animal transformation to suggest that ancient native culture persists in the midst of modernity. Even as the narrator resists falling into “mythology” (rejecting it as “easy, almost obvious,” p. 858), he evokes Aztec transformations in a way that echoes the Metamorphoses of Ovid and of Kafka, finding “a mysterious humanity” despite the radical difference of the axolotl (pronounced “AH-sha-lot’l”). The aquarium guard suggests that the narrator File:Cortázar.jpgis trying to eat the axolotl alive with his eyes (p. 858), but then the axolotl’s intense, lidless gaze consumes him instead. In the story’s brilliant, metafictional conclusion, the narrator is now fully detached from his authorial self, which stays away from the aquarium, writing a story about axolotls that he only thinks he’s making up.
 

For new generations in New Spain beyond Cortes the question became: are you Spanish or are you Mexican? Literature was used by New World individuals to prove that they were Spanish, despite their birth overseas.

 

Left: Hernando's brother Juan, the famous playwright, also sought to prove his loyalty to old world culture--both were Mexican born. Juan composed plays that found acceptance by audiences in Madrid, before becoming a judge on the royal court that heard appeals cases from the New World.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

[Juan+de+Miranda.Detalle+Sor+Juana+Inés+de+la+Cruz.+Cervantes+virtual.jpg]In a mysterious document written a year before her death, [Sor Juana] forswore all of her intellectual work and agreed never to write again, repenting her actions of years past. After her death from plague in 1695, Mexico City’s powerful Archbishop, who had opposed her while she lived, confiscated the books and manuscripts that remained in her cell (a fairly comfortable and spacious library) and fought to purge her name from memory. But it was too late. Her Obras had already been published in Madrid, and she has gone on to claim a place as one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers.

Thanks to the carefully annotated edition of her Response by Electra Arenal with Amanda Powell (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Respuesta and Selection of Poems, 1994) and a detailed, engaging biography by Octavio Paz, available in translation (Sor Juana: or, The Traps of Faith, 1988), she has in recent years become much better known among English speakers as well.

In what space among what she called her “mudos libros”—her silent books—could a criolla and a woman participate? The criollas, children of Spanish fathers and indigenous mothers, inherited two cultures instead of one. Even if in the eighteenth century they would attempt to define a uniquely Latin American culture independent of their colonizer, they were always dependent on the language, religion, and political order of the Spaniards—a double legacy that has defined and problematized Latin America to this day.

In her poems, Sor Juana both interrogates and dismisses the conventions of the Spanish baroque that had been practiced by Lope de Vega and Garcilaso de la Vega. Once those conventions are dismissed (as in her poem to her portrait), what, exactly, is left? Is it simply “nada” or is it something else, such as the poem itself that has dared to undo the conventions of a poetic practice that made the sonnet a vehicle for the commemoration of female beauty?

Response to “Sor Filotea,” to which you will surely want to refer from earlier in Volume C (p. 123), is one of the most eloquent defenses of women’s learning ever written, as it moves back and forth between what might be called Sor Juana’s topos of humility—her protestations that she has no right to write—and her convictions in her vast, even unique, abilities . . . She was treading on dangerous ground in late-seventeenth century Mexico, when the Inquisition was still in full swing . . .

Not all of the Response is represented in the Anthology, but it might be helpful to point out that it corresponds to a circular pattern: Sor Juana starts out protesting the necessity of her remaining silent, then she moves into an (ironic?) discussion of her unworthiness. From here, she talks about how, like Saint Teresa, she is compelled to write by her superiors. Then in one of the longest sections, she turns to the persecutions she has faced simply because she excels and because she has been granted the gift of “letters.” We return to her compulsion to study, which is beyond her “arbitrio” or will to control, to a long section on her putative unworth, and then arrive at the close, which finds her protesting once more that she will remain silent and never write again.

Throughout she is anxious to tie her extensive learning to sacred things, as though “el deseo de saber” (desire to know), as she so frequently calls it, always had as its true endpoint God alone. And it is God who has given her both her reason and “la luz de entendimiento.” To deny that light of understanding and the use of her reason is to deny nothing less than God himself. Similarly, to deny  women and poets their place is to deny a long biblical and patristic tradition clearly sanctioned by God and his representatives on earth, such as Jerome and Jesus, who had women as their trusted companions.

By stressing continuously her fight against her cursed “desire to know” and the suffering that she endures as a result of that useless struggle, Sor Juana engaged in an artful ploy; the exercise of her intellect is not the result of her own agency, but the product of God-given compulsions and gifts. At the same time, the mind that is the troubled beneficiary of those gifts is essentially nongendered: “is not my mind, such as it is, as free as Viera’s [the preacher whose sermon she had criticized]: consider their common origin”—that is, in God. Using the Bible and Catholic tradition against her accuser, she shows how adroit she is at playing devil’s advocate.

This adroitness is especially apparent in the “Loa,” which like the sonnets questions conventions—the conventional beliefs, in this instance, that the mainland had about the “other” that was New Spain. By the late seventeenth century, the great efforts at conversion were over, and Sor Juana’s “Loa,” which prefaced her longer one-act play, The Divine Narcissus, was meant to be performed not in Mexico but in Spain, as though to rehearse for her Spanish counterparts the historical moment of the conquest.

Sor Juana’s history is a revisionary one, in several ways. For one thing, while it clearly emphasizes the superiority of Christianity to the religion of the “Occident,” it also points out the meaningful similarities between the two systems. Even though the bloody sacrifices referred to by Music at the beginning are no more, Christ’s death is a sacrifice too, and arguably Sor Juana gives to the Aztec America in Scene 1 lines that could be true of the Christian dispensation: “We eat his body, drink his blood, / and by this sacred meal are freed / and cleansed from all that is profane” (1.65–67). This could argue for the universality of Christianity, suggesting that it was already present among the natives in some primitive form. But the fact that the play ends with a paean to the god of the seeds and that the formerly stern Zeal exits with the others, “bailando y cantando”—dancing and singing—shows how indigenous techniques of celebration and ritual are incorporated into the Christians’ eucharistic celebration rather than completely “purged” (and in other works, Sor Juana wrote in the native language of Nahuatl).

It is worth noting that the “Loa” calls itself an allegory. The play it prefaced, The Divine Narcissus, is also allegorical, blending pagan with Christian symbolism: Narcissus, traditionally seen as foolishly absorbed with his own beauty, becomes a Christ in love with himself—a self equivalent to human nature. Like allegory, the “Loa” is syncretic rather than intent on obliterating a pagan system of belief. It reveals the incongruity between the desire to make two cultures one, and the bloodshed represented by Zelo that claimed so many lives. We see too a muted cry of rebellion against Spanish military practices such as the use of “centaurs” (probably horses) and “molten balls of burning lead,” and America refers to the pompous Zeal as the true “bárbaro” or barbarian among the group. Finally, take careful note of the genders of the allegorical figures in the play: it is the female Religion who preaches the meaning of the “true word,” effectively silencing Zeal, and Religion too who justifies bringing the play to Spain. In perhaps a curious allusion to Sor Juana herself, America steps forward at the play’s end to beg forgiveness of Spain’s poets for her “crude attempt” to describe the “mystery” of Christianity with her awkward lines (p. 873 in the Anthology)—yet another veiled reference to the Mexican nun’s uneasy yet defiant relationship to the European traditions that shaped her.

 

 

 

 

left: Sor Juana portrait, Inter-cultural and inter-racial exchange lead to distinctively modern questions of identity

 

Lesson Summary: Influences of ancient Eurasian literature carry over to the New World in the heroic and Christian cultures of the European explorers, missionaries, soldiers, monks and nuns.  As they struggled among themselves to define the European culture that should be transplanted to the New World, their cultures also intermingled with native American ones which they failed to obliterate completely.


Suggested journal topics
and optional readings

1.  Christian and heroic cultures: how are these cultures still active (if at all) in the modern world? How are they reconciled? 

How are the Christian ideals the same or different for the authors and personalities introduced in this lesson: Columbus, Las Casas, Diaz, Cortes, Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón, Sor Juana?

2. European and native American cultures: how are they reconciled? What problems or opportunities are presented for children of mixed descent?

3. Epidemiology of contact: how accurate are the reports of Las Casas and Diaz? Both claim to be eye witness accounts, and there is no reason to doubt that either author experienced first-hand some of the events that they write about. Yet their points of view are limited, as most of the information they gathered was anecdotal or hearsay.

In particular they had no scientific understanding of the Amerindian collapse.  Today it is generally recognized that the pre-Columbian Amerindians had no significant resistance to the diseases of Eurasia and Africa, diseases to which Eurasians and Africans had been developing immunities for thousands of years.  Modern estimates put the Amerindian population level at about 100 million in 1492, and at one-tenth of that number only 75 years later. In central Mexico, the population shrank from about 30 million at the time of Cortes invasion to about 3 million in 1568, and it ebbed further to a low of about 1.6 million by 1620.

Wars, punitive massacres and forced labor certainly were responsible for Amerindian deaths, but a decimation of 90% is not out of line with the mortality to be expected from epidemics. See Plagues and Peoples, William McNeill (Anchor 1998), 208-241.  Smallpox has been traced from Hispaniola in 1518 to Mexico in 1520 where it spread southward through Central America to the Incas in Peru by 1525 or 1526. The "conquest" of these areas by a handful of European soldiers may have been accomplished primarily by disease, and secondarily by the superstitious assumption of divine causes which  made the Spaniards into God's chosen race. The general adoption of Christianity in Latin America may have resulted from the relative survival rates of Christians and non-Christians.  

4. Early Modern versus Bronze Age civilizations: how did it happen that while western Europe had entered a state of modernity, pre-Columbian Americans were living a technological level last seen in Europe in the late stone age or early Bronze Age?  Does geography explain it? Were there disadvantages to human beings situated in the Americas compared with Eurasia? Or does culture explain it? Did New World cultures prohibit or retard the technological advancement necessary to compete against Eurasians?

Does catastrophism suggest at least a partial answer to this problem? Many scientists now argue that the last Ice Age abruptly ended in about 10,000 BCE with a bombardment of North America by space debris, the so-called "Clovis Comet" or the Younger Dryas impact event, which resulted in the destruction of Clovis civilization and extinction of almost all North American megafauna.  Such events may have pushed the social organization and technological development of people in the New World back to square one without necessarily causing so great disruption everywhere in Eurasia.

5. Webs of note:

Columbus Monuments pages

Conquistadors from PBS with Michael Wood

Hernando Cortes on the web

Las Casas excerpts from Apologetic History of the Indies.

Sor Juana Cambridge U lecture

Sor Juana Project at Dartmouth College

6.  Recommended reading for Columbus: Columbus' letters, his biography by his sons Hernando Colon, his edited log book and other sources are skillfully assembled in The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus, ed. J. M. Cohen. New York: Penguin 1969.

(from Damrosch) Samuel Eliot Morison’s biography (1942) is still the best and most detailed life of the captain, while Margarita Zamora’s Reading Columbus (1993) is a good account of the letters and their troubled contexts. You may also wish to have a look at Columbus’s log, edited by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley as The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage to America, 1492–93 (1989) and full of fascinating details. Finally, Zvi Dor-Ner’s Columbus and the Age of Discovery (1991) is a masterful, highly entertaining account of the details of the voyages themselves, providing rich background on Columbus’s unsavory crewmates, the flora and fauna of the late-fifteenth-century Caribbean, and the value of a Spanish marivedi.

7. Saint Augustine's conversion was text based, demonstrating the power of literature; it occurred when the young man heard a child-like voice singing tolle, lege ("take up and read")

I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to You, O Lord. And, not quite in these words, but to this purpose, I spoke at length to You and said, Lord, how long? how long, Lord, will You be angry for ever? Remember not my past sins. I felt that I was held by them, so I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? why is this hour not the end of  my uncleanness?

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read; Take up and read. " Instantly, my face altered, I began to think most intently whether children sing such words as these in any kind of play, But I could not ever to have heard the like. So holding back the flood of my tears, I arose. I interpreted the voice to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming into church during the reading of the Gospel, he received the instruction, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was immediately converted unto You. Eagerly then I returned to the place where . . . I had laid the volume of the Apostle [St Paul's epistles] when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence" [from Paul's Epistle to the Romans]. No further did I read; nor did I need to read for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book XIII, Paragraphs 28 and 29.

Instructor: gutchess@englishare.net 
Copyright © 2009