Page:American Anthropologist NS vol. 1.djvu/609

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54^ AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST [n. s., i, 1899

of the idea which led to the bestowal of the name of " Indians" on the American aborigines.

For centuries Venice and Genoa had been enriched by the commerce of the Orient, carried on by caravans from China and India overland to the Black sea, where they were met by the ships of the European republics. There on the peninsula which we now call Crimea was the nucleus of Genoese prosperity. This commerce, so vital to both Venice and Genoa, was ruined by the Mohammedan deluge that swept over western Asia and eastern Europe, and when in 1475 the Turks absorbed her Black Sea colonies Genoa began to wither. Christopher Columbus was a Genoese and a sailor ; the surroundings amid which he grew to manhood were all influenced by the wealth that had been poured into his native city by the products of Asia.

Great as this had been, the far East was rendered in a still greater degree the Eldorado of the world by the romantic tales of travelers. Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, at the end of the thirteenth century published in manuscript (as the art of printing had not then been invented) a narrative of his travels, in which he gave a fabulous account of the wonderful country of the Grand Khan with its gold-covered palaces, profusion of rare flowers, lus- cious fruits, sweet spices, and boundless stores of gold, silver, and precious stones. These marvelous tales were later reinforced by the narratives of other travelers, such as the Friar Odericus and Sir John Mandeville, until, in the excited imaginations of the European people, nothing but ready means of access to the nations of Asia were wanting to ensure boundless prosperity and wealth.

That Columbus had thoroughly imbibed and assimilated this illusive literature is evidenced by some of his letters after the dis- covery of the New World, and when he saw the end of the stream of wealth which had poured from the golden source, it was only natural that he, as a sailor, should conceive the idea of finding a sea-route by which its flow might be renewed.

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