Sunday, 4 March 2012

Dear Mr Wolfgang Stockhausen...

First, let me thank you for your comments ("Amerigo's the man", 26 February 2012) regarding my review of Laurence Bergreen's Columbus: The Four Voyages.

Alas, I could only remember one reference Bergreen made to Vespucci in the book: near the end, where he states that the "New World" was named after the Florentine explorer. However, I can't recall if he explains how that came to be. I believe Bergreen was trying to keep his writings from straying too far from the book's central figure, so not much was mentioned about Amerigo Vespucci.

My wayward pen tends to run away when reviewing things, so I try to keep my piece within the perimeters of the book itself, and not the subject. Unfortunately, this also means that some salient points, such as the origins of America's name, are likely to escape notice. My thanks for pointing that out (this is why people should write to newspapers).

The German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller is believed to have named the new continent for Vespucci in 1507. By the time Waldseemüller had second thoughts, a large number of maps had been distributed with the name, so it stuck. I don't think it occurred to Vespucci to give his own name to the New World.

Nor was Columbus on the look-out for a new land mass. He'd promised his royal Spanish patrons the fabled riches of China, India and maybe Japan: gold, spices and the like. From the book, one feels his fear of failing to live up to their expectations as well as his own.

Although Bergreen suggests that Columbus may have eventually realised that he stumbled upon a whole new continent, others posit that the Genoan mariner died believing he'd reached the shores of Asia.

I'd written this reply about six days earlier and sent it to The Star first; they published it on 11 March 2012.

In this version, the second paragraph is restructured, and the last line in the fifth paragraph is removed.


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