Mario Vargas on Questions of Conquest
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian, with now a Spanish nationality is one of the most significant novelists and essayists in Latin America. He is also a writer, politician, journalist, and college professor.
In his essay “Questions of Conquest: What Columbus wrought, and what he did not”, Mario Vargas is making an emphasis on the preservation of Indian cultures or the moral principle of not killing, exterminating, or destroying the Indian people. He explains that what was the most probable answer into why the Inca Empire fell down so easily upon the Spanish conquistadores is not the usage of weaponry or horses, but the pyramidal system that the Incas held. The Incas had been formed with a way of thought that had no individuality. Instead, they were like bees or ants obeying and following their queen; in this case emperor. They were so structured in their religion, that when the Spaniards took away their emperor, they simply let themselves be killed. They had no voice or choice, that when their emperor was gone, their whole life and orientation was gone. It was the pyramidal system that led to their destruction and death.
In his essay, he is also stating that we are the conquistadores, referring to the people in Latin America. For it was our parents and grandparents that conquered this part of the world, and gave us their language. Therefore, we were and still are part of the extermination of the Indians in certain parts of Latin America such as Guatemala and the Amazons.
As for what I read in his essay, he gives you a sense and feeling of wanting the unification of a civilization without the expulsion of the Indians. A civilization where we all love one another. A thing I believe would only be possible in the having of one religion, or belief, and the having of one same mind and feeling.
We have been taught that the people in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat. This education has formed preconceived ideas due to the lack of inquiring and scrutinizing for the truth. I was also deceived by this erroneous information. Remember this, “Just because the school teaches it, it doesn’t mean it’s true”. We have to seek deeply for the truth in all ways.
Back to the “flat earth”. It is a myth. People in the Middle Ages knew the world was a sphere. This myth developed in the 19th century. It makes cite of two people; Lactantius who was a former pagan, and then became a Christian heretic, and Cosmas Indicopleustes. It is obvious that these names ring no bells to us, but neither to the people of their time they did. After Lactantius turned to be a Christian heretic, he was opposed with the pagans about everything. Due to the fact he believed that the pagans had no good arguments as to the earth being a sphere, and the Bible didn’t mention anything about it (or has not yet been found), it wasn’t an important subject, and he could take the contrary. Cosmas on the other hand, was an early sixth-century Greek traveler and geographer. He constructed a model portraying the earth as flat. However, he never intended his model to be taken literally. Nonetheless, it has been argued that his model was responsible for the believing of the “flat earth” in the fifteenth century. Despite that, Cosmas was completely unknown during that time. His manuscripts were translated until the eighteenth century. So, as I mentioned before, these people had no influence on anyone and anywhere.
It is also said that the reason no one wanted to support Columbus at first on his expedition was because of the belief they could “fall off the edge.” Unlikely, the navigators knew the earth was a sphere. Instead, they saw that Columbus had underestimated the circumference of the earth, and thought he and his sailors would starve to death before they made it to the Indies. It was the finding of America that saved their lives.
Questionably, if neither Lactantius nor Cosmas had influence, and Columbus had underestimated the size of the earth, how did the myth take place? It has been made clear that its origins are not in the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. It was historian W. E. H. Lecky that was able to explain the views of Cosmas, without making an emphasis on the Church fathers believing the earth was flat. As a matter of fact, medieval scholasticism was too tight to the ideas of Aristotle. Not to mention that Aristotle believed the earth was a sphere.
A man named Jeffrey Burton Russell found different versions of the myth. One of them says that no one believed the earth was a sphere until the age of discovery proved the opposite. Another one says that the Greeks knew of the spherical earth, but this was lost in the Middle Ages. While another version states that everyone thought the earth was flat, with the exception of the “brilliants”, like Aristotle and Ptolemy. Russell also explains that by Boorstin’s time the myth was “firmly established that it was easier to lie back and believe it.” I guess it’s easier to let someone else do the work for you, instead of taking the effort of knowing the truth. It is easier to believe a lie, than to fight for the truth.
The American writer Washington Irving, and the French historian and polemicist Antoine-Jean Letronne were the central people of developing the myth. Irving wrote in a semi-historical and semi-fictional way that confused the difference between fact and fiction. In his writing “History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus”, he pushes in the theories of Lactantius as if Columbus was lecturing them, but refuses to believe them. Likewise, Letronne received his education from men who disseminated the hoax about the ignorance of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, he did accord that a sprinkle of people knew the earth was a sphere. Sadly, he contaminated the idea that the majority believed the earth was flat.
Also, for many scholars it was a very appealing idea to receive the myth without checking the primary sources.
Russell explains, “If Christians had for centuries insisted that the earth was flat against clear and available evidence, they must be not only enemies of scientific truth, but contemptible and pitiful enemies.