Daily Archives: November 26, 2012

LIONEL PODCAST: Never Trust. OK, Trust. But Not Often. Sit Down. Trust Me.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: This is a Thanksgiving, post-Thanksgiving pastiche. We’re talking mondo.

History would be a wonderful thing if only it were true. That Leo Tolstoy was on to something.Look at current history. How many folks think that Hopey is something he isn’t. He’s Dubya. That’s the truth but some folks’ reality won’t allow that perspective.

Could we have an example as to myth, please? I’d be delighted. Here’s a god one. Did Chris Columbus do what they said he did? Look, virtually everything you think you know about Columbus is a myth. Here’s a favorite.

Columbus set out to prove the world was round.

If he did, he was about 2,000 years too late. Ancient Greek mathematicians had already proven that the Earth was round, not flat. Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.E. was one of the originators of the idea. Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.E. provided the physical evidence, such as the shadow of the Earth on the moon and the curvature of the Earth known by all sailors approaching land. And by the third century B.C.E., Eratosthenes determined the Earth’s shape and circumference using basic geometry. In the second century C.E., Claudius Ptolemy wrote the “Almagest,” the mathematical and astronomical treatise on planetary shapes and motions, describing the spherical Earth. This text was well known throughout educated Europe in Columbus’ time. [Related: Earth Is Flat in Many People's Minds]

Columbus, a self-taught man, greatly underestimated the Earth’s circumference. He also thought Europe was wider than it actually was and that Japan was farther from the coast of China than it really was. For these reasons, he figured he could reach Asia by going west, a concept that most of educated Europe at the time thought was daft — not because the Earth was flat, but because Columbus’ math was so wrong. Columbus, in effect, got lucky by bumping into land that, of course, wasn’t Asia.

The Columbus flat-earth myth perhaps originated with Washington Irving’s 1828 biography of Columbus; there’s no mention of this before that. His crew wasn’t nervous about falling off the Earth.

There’s a reason you hate certain people. I know hate’s a strong word. So is syphilis. But enough about Columbus.