Paul Sharrad


What was it that separated off Columbus's journey and its successors from the great mythic journeys of Europe's classical tradition? Perhaps it was the fact that his journey was an act of will rather than fate. Ulysses's adventures were accidental under the whim of the gods; Aeneas's were driven by Virgil's 'manifest destiny' narrative validating Rome's empire. Dante followed on with a Christian 'imaginary voyage'. All three tales operated within the decrees of divine fate and the Ptolemaic ordered universe. It was Columbus who acted out of human understanding and will, thereby challenging the limits of knowledge. His journey was, in its beginning and ending, an act of the imagination envisioning the union of opposites: Occident and Orient, Eden and barbary, souls and gold. It set in train a series of similarly willed imaginings. Only after Columbus could Milton rework the classical epic and the Christian myths as a drama of wilfulness -of human action and imagination at odds with predestination and the fixed order of creation. Milton's tale is about the possibility of new worlds - building on the post-Columbian imaginings of Thomas More, Montaigne and The Tempest and anticipating the succession of utopian voyages which would gradually circumnavigate the globe in a constantly displaced quest for El Dorado.



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