By now, Columbus had succeeded in shrinking the ocean down to just sixty degrees. Yet still he was not done. In one last, Panglossian twist, he chose to follow not the standard - and roughly accurate - measure of a degree developed by the Greeks but a slightly lower figure, which had been put forward by the ninth-century Arab astronomer Al-Farghani. Conveniently, he also decided that Al-Farghani's calculations had been done in Roman miles as opposed to nautical miles, which are a fifth longer. On the basis of these and other manipulations, Columbus concluded that the distance from the Canary Islands westward to Japan was less than twenty-seven hundred miles. It was really thirteen thousand miles.
Okay, so he was a bit delusional.
- In 1490, a royal commission officially rejected Columbus's plan, on the ground that, in the words of las Casas, "his promises and proposals were hollow" and "could not be fulfilled." Two years later, the proposal was turned down again. Columbus was on his way to France, to try his luck there, when Ferdinand and Isabella, at the urging of one of their privy counsellors, had a change of heart.
Nothing survives to indicate what the Taino made of Columbus when he landed on the island of Guanahani, now called San Salvador, on October 12, 1492. Columbus, for his part, marvelled at the beauty and gentleness of the natives he encountered. In his log he wrote:
- I gave some of them red caps and glass beads that they put around their necks and many other things of little value with which they were very pleased, and they remained so entirely ours that it was a wonder. . . . All of those whom I saw were young men - for I saw no one of an age greater than thirty years - very well made, with very handsome and beautiful bodies and very pleasant features. . . . They do not bear arms, nor do they know them, for I showed them swords, and out of ignorance, they took them by the edge and cut themselves.
Within days, Columbus had come up with a use for these gentle souls: on October 14th, writing in his log again, he addressed himself to Ferdinand and Isabella: "When your highnesses should so command, all of them can be brought to Castile, or be kept captive on their own island, for with fifty men you will keep them all in subjugation and make them do anything you wish."