Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth by Alessandro Scafi
Reviewed by Anthony Grafton
The New Republic Online
"In 1498, Columbus reached the coast of South America. As he entered the estuary of the Orinoco, wonders multiplied. He felt that he and his men were sailing upward, not horizontally, and wondered if the world might possibly be shaped like a pear rather than a sphere. The water itself changed as he sailed, from salt to fresh. The climate was mild, and the people he encountered struck him as handsome, intelligent, and brave. The discoverer of a new route to Asia ? Columbus still saw himself in this light, though he was coming to realize that he had actually struck a continent unknown to Europeans ? leaped to a characteristically bold conclusion: 'There are great indications of the earthly paradise, for the situation agrees with the opinion of those holy and wise theologians, and also the signs are very much in accord with this idea, for I have never read or heard of so great a quantity of fresh water coming into and near the salt. And the very mild climate also supports this view.' As Columbus's own situation became more difficult ? when he reached Hispaniola, he would find the population decimated and the settlement in ruins, and he would be shipped home in chains ? this bold, pragmatic, and sometimes violent adventurer began to use a new language, an apocalyptic language. Some historians have thought him insincere in this regard, others desperate. Even those who took Columbus at his word have found it hard to repress a smile at his naïveté...." Read the entire New Republic Online review.