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Archive for October, 2008

…Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness.
Ah, that night Of all dark nights!
And then a speck –
A light! a light! a light! a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on.”
Columbus, by Joachin Miller
Christopher Columbus, by Carl von Piloty

Christopher Columbus, by Carl von Piloty

The themes of the life of Christopher Columbus are timeless.  Among them are independence, vision, courage, dedication, perseverance.  All are captured in the excellent painting by German master historical painter Carl von Piloty in his painting simply entitled “Christopher Columbus.”

A calm sea.  A starlit night.  The men are asleep.  But one man cannot rest.  He is driven by an idea–an idea which carried him and his advocates to the courts of the major seafaring powers of Europe for years to no avail–an idea that was rejected by the scholarly thinkers of his day as impractical and either way unacceptable–an idea so forcefully held, however, that it allowed him to imprint its aspect on the mind of the Queen of Castile, Isabella, bringing her ultimately to sponsor the voyage which has brought him to this point.

The great mariner, conviction unshaken, is awake on the night that might very well seal his fate.  Mutiny is on the men’s minds; the fear of the unknown into which he has thrust them further than any man before, is more than these hardy sailors can take.  It must be soon, or all may be lost.  His best information and judgment suggest that land must be near.  By the light of a lamp he has been examining the maps, charts, and books that have guided him to this point.  It must be there.

The strain on the man is visible.  The bags under his eyes attest to his sleepless task. But his vigor is unabated.  Even now he is composed, in the moment, when quite suddenly–so surprisingly that his violent motion has caused him to lose his hat and flung his hanging cross across his body–everything that he had hoped becomes reality!  His index finger is fixed to the spot where his mind believed land to be, and his eyes on the horizon take in the faint glimmer that means he was right!

A light! A light! A light! A light!

How many people in all of man’s past on earth have ever experienced something as powerful as this moment must have been for Columbus?

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The following is a passage from Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.  Although it does not contain any plot spoilers, I still think it advisable to warn readers that it is a very significant passage from a book every person in America should read for themselves.  I quote this passage because it fits the case of Christopher Columbus perfectly.  It reflects the essence of the man, the injustices dealt him both in his lifetime and by posterity–and also his true place in history.

“Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered and evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had lifted darkness off the earth. Centuries later, the first man invented the wheel. He was probably torn on the rack he had taught his brothers to build. He was considered a transgressor, who ventured into forbidden territory. But thereafter, men could travel past any horizon. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had opened the roads of the world.

“That man, the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures—because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer—because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that that one paid for his courage.

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”

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Welcome to the second annual celebration of Columbus Week at Powell History!

Columbus: a man of independence and courage

Columbus Week? Yes. When Ayn Rand was asked “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?” she answered, “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

Similarly, Columbus represents virtue and historical greatness, the nature of which strikes fear and enmity in various people. As a promoter of individualism and reason in the face of crippling faith and second-handedness, he propelled Europe forward despite itself.  He helped make Western civilization better, and because of his discovery, allowed it to become the dominant culture of the world.  In the process, a previously barbarous continent was populated by Western peoples, and the most important civilization in World history–the United States of America–was eventually created. For enemies of Western culture, this process is anathema. These Enemies of Christopher Columbus perversely uphold the Stone Age mysticism of American Indians as superior to rationality and individual rights, and denounce Columbus for having brought about the downfall of the primitive way of life of America’s natives. That such a perspective has gained currency today is tragic. Thus, nothing short of a week in honor of Columbus will do…for the reason that makes them afraid of it.

To kick things off, let me recommend an op-ed about Columbus day in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Dimitri Vassilaros, featuring the ideas of Thomas Bowden. It’s a good introduction to some of the topics discussed in Mr. Bowden’s important book.

So why do the people of the world, who have gained so much thanks to Columbus, think ill of him?  Gain some insight into Columbus’s reversal of fortune in modern history through my series of essays from last year, Kant vs. Columbus.

More on Columbus, from last year’s series:

What made Columbus a “world changer”?  Sculptor Giulio Monteverde answer with his masterpiece, Young Columbus.

What exactly does a proper assessment of Columbus look like?  Try Joel Barlow’s Columbiad.

This year:

This year I’m going to focus on the power of art and poetry to capture the nature and impact of Christopher Columbus on the world.  Tomorrow, some tips on how to celebrate Columbus Day!

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Croesus: Solon, am I not the most fortunate man alive?
Solon: No great king, anyone looking at us over there can afford to study you with Powell History’s payment plans!


The payment plans you’ve been waiting for are here!

The Ancient History page has been updated with three fantastic payment plans to suit your budget.

  • OPTION 1: The 5-month plan, for five easy payments of $69.80.
  • OPTION 2: The 7-month plan to reduce your monthly payment to only $49.86.
  • OPTION 3: The ultimate in manageable payments: 10 payments of only $34.90!

Classes start October 8th! Go to the Ancient History page now to take advantage of these great payment options!

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Hurricane Ike can’t keep a good history program down!

The Ancient History webpage for Powell History’s fourth installment of A First History for AdultsTM is finally up!

Classes start October 8th!

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