Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Christopher Columbus: Italian polymath

Christopher Columbus: Italian polymath
Everyone knows Christopher Columbus for his historic ‘discovery’ of the Americas, but there was much more to the man than pioneer and explorer. The son of a weaver and merchant, Columbus grew up in Genoa, Italy, learning to sail as a teenager, where he joined several trading voyages of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. He may have gained fame for crossing the Atlantic, but his first trip on it almost killed him when his boat was boarded by French privateers off the coast of Portugal and burnt. Luckily, he managed to swim to shore.

His understanding of the Atlantic currents, and the need to find a trade route to Asia that bypassed the dangerous Middle East, made his calculating and navigation skills a godsend. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus didn’t prove the world was round, but he did put the theory to the test, going on to discover the Americas.

Along with his captain’s and navigator’s hat, Columbus adopted many other roles in his career. Diplomacy was a must, from negotiating funds from governments to pay for his voyages, to representing Europe to indigenous people on the lands he discovered, the way he carried himself would mean the difference between success and failure. He got into many legal wranglings with governments over his adventures, but a clear head and talent for research usually helped him get his way.
In a time when we all seem to have highly specialized careers, the Italian can-do attitude of Columbus reminds us just how far a wide skill-set can take us.