Monday, Oct. 10, 2011

It's Him or the Vikings

A common objection to Columbus' achievements is that he was not the first to travel to America: the Vikings may have done so hundreds of years earlier. On Columbus Day in 1965, Yale University scholars announced that they had found an ancient map proving this, effectively relegating Columbus to a second-place finish. But this was not the kind of announcement Italian-Americans were ready to accept.

A year later, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice named Michael A. Musmanno concluded that the so-called Vinland map was a forgery, and that Columbus did indeed discover America. His rebuttal came in a book straightforwardly titled Columbus WAS First. (One can only wish Yale then commenced research on their Was NOT! series.) Meanwhile, Italian-American societies at Yale staged map burnings to protest "Yale's callous and calculated release of the notorious Vinland map."

The debate remains unsettled. Others assert that Welsh or Irish or Hebrew or Basque sailors were first. Still others say that fellow Italian Amerigo Vespucci reached the mainland before Columbus, who sailed only among the West Indies on his first two voyages, and that Vespucci should technically get the credit. At least Columbus will, this year included, always have his holiday.