The volume under review consists of 20 papers delivered during a colloquy under the aegis of the Société des Italianistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SIES) and the Société des Hispanistes Français (SHF) at the University of Provence in April 1992.
It should be stated at the outset that this reviewer earned a doctorate in history and holds another graduate degree in political science, and so can be regarded as an interdisciplinarian—but most certainly not as a multidisciplinarian, a deconstructionist, or a semiotician. This is mentioned because it is my belief that one would have to be “all of the above” to understand all of the papers in this book, and especially to comprehend the specialized vocabularies (jargon?) employed by some of the authors. Certainly Bruno Toppan, in his paper, “Images de Christophe Colomb en Italie des Lumières à Leopardi,” has completely mystified me by terming Columbus “en proie à l’ennui existentiel” (a victim of existential ennui). What in the world is that condition supposed to entail? Was Columbus a neurasthenic? And Ricardo García Cárcel, in an “introductory communication,” employs the Spanish word hispanidad, which my dictionary defines as “Hispanic solidarity” but which in a French summary of the paper becomes l’hispanité; such a word is not even included in a major French-English dictionary.
Frank La Brasca’s paper reexamines the influence of Toscanelli; Faul Roche’s paper emphasizes the lack of attention to Columbus in the Decades of Peter Martyr; Monique Mustapha considers the status of Columbus’ accomplishments in López de Gómara’s Historia general; and Charles Minguet discusses the evaluation of Columbus—and Vespucci—by Humboldt in his Histoire de la géographie du nouveau continent. I enjoyed reading and, especially, viewing the illustrations in Jean-Paul Duviol’s paper, “Le débarquement de Christophe Colomb à Guanahaní: histoire d’un stéréotype,” in the section “Colomb dans l’iconographie,” although he could have greatly profited from a reading of Carla Rahn Phillips’ article on the subject in Terrae Incognitae 24 (1992), 1-8. Alain Milhous paper, “Le messianisme de Christophe Colomb: tradition hispanique, tradition juive, ou tradition joachimite?,” while exploring a fascinating aspect of the Admiral’s personality, similarly could have profited from a reading of one of the most seminal papers ever to have appeared on this topic; namely, Pauline Moffit Watt’s “Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s ‘Enterprise of the Indies,”’ which appeared not in some obscure periodical of religious theory but in the most widely circulated and read English-language historical journal, the American Historical Review, 90:50 (Feb. 1985), 73-102. These omissions are symptomatic of one of the major faults of all of the papers: they contain 530 footnotes, but only 3 of these are citations of English-language authors: Morison, George E. Nunn, and Kirkpatrick Sale, whose book was termed by some to be a polemic. It may be even more significant and revealing of the state of continental Columbus scholarship that the most frequently cited author is Tzvetan Todorov, the creator of “the Other.”
Most scholars, commentators, and reviewers agree that Christopher Columbus did not fare very well during the observance of the five hundredth anniversary of his first transatlantic voyage. This volume serves to indulge many who have special theories to promulgate, some of which are seminal and stimulating. It does not, however, further the quest embodied in the old latin motto Ne quid veri non audeat historia (History does not attempt anything but the truth).