Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I know Columbus Day was......

............................................................last week, but:

     Thanks to the enormous expansion in world trade that had been booming for more than two centuries, Europeans of means had come to take for granted certain substances that did not originate in Europe, especially the spices, opiates, and silks of faraway Asia.  No one (who was anyone) could imagine doing without these things.  But the fall of Greek Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 has created a profound and permanent alteration in international affairs.  It was of course still possible to extract the expected goodies from the Far East, but getting them past the Turks required both more cunning and more gold - and sometimes more blood - than had been previously required, considerably raising the price of the beloved commodities by the time they came to market.  (Imagine if Americans could no longer afford chocolate, salt, or cocaine, or if most of the Wal-Marts closed down.)  If Europeans could not dislodge the Turks - which they could not - what where they to do?  At times, it seemed as if all the best practical minds of Europe were engaged in figuring out how to solve the problem.  But think as much as they might, no one could come up with a solution.  Except Columbus.
     What he suggested made little sense.  He proposed to sail around the world, heading west into the Ocean Sea (as it was then called) till he hit the Island of Cipangu (Japan, as identified in the writings of Marco Polo) or perhaps, if he was especially lucky, the fabulous coast of Cathay (China) itself.

-Thomas Cahill,  Heretics and Heroes:  How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

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