Translating Marvels: The Spanish and Latin Versions of Columbus’ First Letter Home, 1493

Translating Marvels: The Spanish and Latin Versions of Columbus’ First Letter Home, 1493

By Mary L. Dudy Bjork

Mediterranean Studies, Vol.14 (2005)

Introduction: With an aplomb that has its theatrical equivalent in a carefully choreographed sweep of the arm, Columbus’ now famous 1493 letter to Luis de Santángel, royal treasurer to Isabel of Castile, and Gabriel Sánchez, royal treasurer of Aragon, simultaneously claims and reveals a whole New World in the name of God, of the King and Queen of Spain and, of course, of himself. For there can be no mistake that the man who would be known to history as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea was amazed by the rapidly unfolding possibilities of this fertile land inhabited by unarmed and naked people, not only for its own sake but because, through his discovery of it, he felt a divine sanction descend upon him and was seeking confirmation of a royal sanction. Columbus’ amazement reflects the unmitigated joy of a man who believes he has located the very nexus where his three separate, yet fundamentally intertwined, quests converge: proof of heavenly favor, the grounds for irrevocable imperial favor, and the fruits of all favor, gold. But this enthusiasm, preserved, of course, only through the written word, was not what would be disseminated throughout Europe, throughout the rest of the world, and indeed, throughout time. For not long after the Admiral had penned his letter in Spanish announcing the discovery, the document was transported to Rome and translated into Latin by Aliander de Cosco and then out of Latin into various European languages so that it could begin its own journey. The wonder, la maravilla, that appeared in Columbus’ letter seven times as adverb, noun, and adjective and greatly informed his understanding of the entire quest, was translated into the Latin only once and then as an adjective, not a noun, to describe neither the discovery nor the strange new people, but mirabiles (marvelous) pine trees.

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See also Christopher Columbus was the son of a Polish king, historian says

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