Monday, February 10, 2014

Ridley Scott's "1492: Conquest of Paradise" -- Historical Notes: Accuracy vs Storyteling

In crafting an historical drama, a filmmaker walks a very fine line. By following history too closely, a filmmaker risks alienating an audience with incomprehensible period details or boring them with a story that features no real structure and is simply an account of events. But, if the filmmaker strays from history too far in the dramatization, then it begs the question of why tell a historical film at all, and also disrespects the peoples and cultures represented in the work. 

On the one side of that spectrum we may find films such as Tora Tora Tora, which excellently depicts the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 CE with near documentary accuracy, but lacks a strong narrative focus that allows the audience to care about what they are seeing on a level beyond the intellectual. On the other, we may find a film like Braveheart, which is more like a remake of Spartacus set in Scotland than a story with any resemblance to that of William Wallace and his rebellion (1297-1305). 

It is with these truths in mind of the precarious balance between historical accuracy and narrative efficacy in dramatic storytelling that we must view Ridley Scott's 1992 film 1492: Conquest of Paradise. A big budget Hollywood telling of the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Bahamas, it is a film that was clearly executed with much care to historical accuracy, has excellent production values and cast, carries the standard excellent visual flair of a Ridley Scott film, a superb score from Vangelis, and is without a doubt the best Christopher Columbus film ever made. And yet...

The historical character of Christopher Columbus, or Christoffa Corombo as he was born in 1450 in the Republic of Zêna (Genoa), is a highly problematic one. Columbus has long been regarded as a national hero of the United States of America, venerated for discovering the American continent and also proving that the Earth was round in the process. This tale is commonly told in US primary schools, and Columbus Day is celebrated on October 12.
Yet the true historical Columbus is very far from the mythical one. For one thing, he did not "discover" America, as of course there were many native peoples all ready living there, having crossed over from Asia from the Bering Strait some 15,000-20,000 years ago. For another, he was not even the first European to have done so, Norse seaman having founded colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland as early as 986. He was not even the first European of his time to reach the mainland -- the continent of America having been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci a few years later (hence the name). And finally, the idea that he proved the Earth round to a superstitious culture which believed it to be flat is a myth invented by Washington Irving in his fanciful 1828 biography of Columbus. 

But most problematic is perhaps not the voyage of discovery itself, but Columbus' governorship of the island colony he called Hispaniola thereafter. Columbus was, by all accounts, a tyrant, guilty of slavery, murder, torture, mutilation, and genocide on a scale that disgusted even his contemporaries in Spain.

So, if one is to do a movie about Columbus, how to approach such things? Previous films about the explorer, such as 1949's Christopher Columbus, embraced the patriotic myth and showed the Genoese navigator as a charming swashbuckling adventurer. In addition to Ridley Scott's 1492, two other films were released in the 500th anniversary year of his voyage - Christopher Columbus: The Discovery by John Glen and The Magic Voyage, a German animated film.

The Discovery embraces the myth of Columbus, and is also in all respects, just a very bad movie -- featuring a performance by Marlon Brando as Grand Inqusitor Tomás de Torquemada so phoned in that Roger Ebert said he wished he could "hang up". The Magic Voyage is a terrible piece of claptrap, the worst kind of "children's entertainment" which turns Columbus into a kind of goofy comic character "suitable" for children.

So how does 1492 approach it's central character? The film is by far and away the best of any on it's topic in terms of quality, and even in terms of history it stands head and shoulders above the others. But Scott made the decision that he wanted to portray Columbus heroically - a tragic hero yes, one capable of human faults, but still as a hero. This makes sense from a narrative point of view, but becomes increasingly problematic in terms of historical accuracy as the story goes on - you're left with three choices: glorifying Columbus' actions as governor, whitewashing to one degree or another, or ignoring them altogether.

Scott wants to romanticize Columbus, because he wants to tell the story of a dreamer, of a man who defied the conventions of his society to achieve something more, something thought impossible. Although he may not realize it, what Scott wants to do is tell a Randian story, with a Randian hero: that is, a hero who is smart, capable, and achieves something new despite the opposition of the world he lives in. 

Unfortunately, the historical Columbus was not really that kind of man, and so Scott must shift historical facts in order to portray him as one. Whether this makes 1492 a bad movie or not depends on how far along the earlier discussed scale it falls. To a certain extent, shifting facts to make a better story is expected of any historical drama - but in a case of Christoffa Corombo, it becomes very, very problematic if shifted too far.

After watching the movie, I am not sure how to judge it. While at times it becomes cartoonish and melodramatic, it is for the most part very effective, very realistic feeling, and very entertaining. One feels this is the best picture we may ever have of these momentous events on film. And yet, it strays further and further from the facts as it goes on. 

So, I have decided to herein chronicle the historical inaccuracies as I found them watching the movie, along with any necessary notes, to let anyone who reads them and watches the movie decide for themselves if Scott went too far in altering the facts. I still think that if one is to watch a Columbus movie, 1492 is the most worthwhile pick -- but if one watches the movie and reads these notes, then at least it's possible to get an idea of the whole story.

It must be noted, before I begin, that I am no historian. I have had a lifelong interest in history, my aunt is an historian, and I took a couple of history courses in university, but in fact I consider myself a filmmaker. That puts me more on Scott's side than against it in terms of occupational bias. I understand the need to alter and adapt to create a better narrative. I have made no distinction between "nitpicking", ie. minor historical errors that do not effect story, and notes of major inaccuracies and falsehoods. And I will also fully admit that almost all of the historical facts I am about to note came from Wikipedia. That means that maybe I am not entirely accurate either, but it also means that nothing of what I'm noting is obscure trivia, but pretty commonly agreed upon and widely known facts.

So, follow along with me as I recount the failings, trivial and major, of 1492: Conquest of Paradise.


  • We're in trouble from the moment the introductory text begins, wherein Scott claims the Spanish Inquisition persecuted men for "daring to dream" -- the Inqusition didn't really care about scientists or dreamers, it's target was converted Jews and Muslims, and it's goal was the expulsion of those faiths from Spain and the establishment of Catholic hegemony. Columbus didn't "challenge this power" -- he was a devout Catholic and did not come before the Inquisition, and he was not "driven by a sense of destiny". But Scott obviously feels that he must from the beginning set up the idea of Columbus as a heroic outsider to society's norms. 
  • "No man dared to venture" across the western Ocean Sea (as the Atlantic was then called) -- in fact the Europeans of the 1490s knew people had sailed west before. While the Viking expeditions to "Vinland" were not as well known in the mainstream Christian world, the "Island of St. Brendan" was a well known legend since the 9th century of a mythical journey of Catholic monks from Ireland to an island in the Atlantic in 512.
  • The Myth of the Flat Earth: all educated men (priests, navigators, cartographers, philosophers, etc) knew the Earth was round. Indeed, globes and maps with a round Earth survive from this time period and a spherical Earth was the basis of all martime navigation -- this was known since at least the 4th century BC.
  • It bears mentioning that as Columbus was Genoese, his accent should be more Italian than French, although Genoese has aspects of both. In Genoese his name is Christoffa Corombo, however he signed his name in Latin as Christophorus Columbus - in Italian he is called Cristoforo Colombo, in Portuguese Cristóvão Colombo, and in Spain he was known as Cristóbal Colón. 
  • The movie accurately portrays Columbus' belief that Japan was 3,000 miles west of the Canary Islands. He based this on the writings of Marinus of Tyre (who incorrectly judged the size of the Earth) and Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Kathīr al-Farghānī or Alfraganus of Baghdad -- but did not realize Alfraganus was using the longer Arabic mile rather than the shorter Roman one. Columbus was less of a visionary navigator than he was an incompetent one. The use of a Muslim source would be problematic to his position, but the movie instead paints the Jewish Ezras as the potential problem -- Columbus took nothing of his theory from Ezras, who was a biblical scribe, not a cartographer.
  • Catholic priests at the Inquisition in Cordoba are shown doing Last Rites in Spanish when all Catholic rites would be in Latin until after 1965.
  • The film tries to make it seem like it is superstition and ignorance that drives the monks of Salamanca to reject Columbus, but in fact they are totally right to laugh at him. I mean, Columbus thought that the distance from Spain to Cipangu (Japan) was 3,000 miles! He maintained until he died the belief that the native peoples of the Bahamas were Indians and that Cuba was a peninsula of China! The monks knew from the writings of Aristotle and Ptolemy that Asia was much farther than that as the Greeks had calculated the circumference of the Earth with great accuracy centuries ago - the issue was more that the felt no European ship of the time could cross such a distance because of issues of supplies and provisions. Not funding such an enterprise was the most rational decision in the world. Columbus landed at the Bahamas not because he was a visionary, but because he got lucky.
  • Columbus calls the Kingdom of China one of the richest in the world, but the name China would not be recorded by westerners until 1516. Columbus would have known it as "Cathay."
  • Columbus' son Diogo (Diego) is portrayed as a priest/monk, but I could find no evidence he ever was one (if he was he definitely must have renounced it by 1500).
  • Martín Alonso Pinzón did not meet Columbus until after his journey was approved by the Crown -- he was an experienced mariner who Columbus promised half the profits to in order to get access to his ships and his men as Christoffa could not otherwise convince any experienced seamen to sail with him.
  • Pinzón did not introduce Columbus to Luis de Santángel. Santángel was Queen Isabella's finance minister and intervened in January 1492 to convince Isabella to fund Columbus otherwise Christoffa was going to take his idea to Charles VIII of France. Santángel and Isabella's treasurer Gabriel Sanchez believed that while it was unlikely that Columbus would return, it was worth the attempt because Spain otherwise had no trade routes to the East thanks to interference from Portugal and the Turks, and the Kingdom badly needed the funds after the costly war to drive the Moors from Spain. The movie vastly glosses over these motivations.
  • Luis would've thought the sack of Granada tragic not for cultural reasons but for financial ones -- the eight month siege had been expensive and its cost was the main reason the Crown of Castile and Aragon had not funded Columbus' voyage earlier. Luis himself was a Jew forced to convert by the Inquistion.
  • In the movie Columbus' demands are rejected by Gabriel Sanchez but Isabella has him called back. In history it was Isabella who rejected and her husband King Ferdinand who called him back. Ferdinand gets totally shafted in this movie, with no lines. 
  • Columbus is depicted as unique in navigating by the stars "as the Moors do", something which none of his men know how to do. In fact celestial navigation had been in use by westerners for over 200 years by this point and its methods widely known. 
  • Columbus states a mistake of one degree would put them off course by 600 leagues, in fact one degree is only 16 leagues.
  • The crew in the movie gets restless when they haven't spotted land after nine weeks. Columbus' first voyage took five weeks. 
  • Pinzón is depicted as worrying about a mutiny among the crew while Columbus is steadfast and confident in their voyage. In fact, the reverse was true. The historical Columbus was somewhat paranoid about people doubting him and turning against him.
  • Columbus promises 10,000 maravedis ($650US today) to the first man to sight land. In fact, this reward had been promised by the Crown, and after Rodrigo de Triana spotted land Columbus claimed he'd already seen it the night before so he could claim the reward. 
  • The first sign of land was a mysterious light spotted the night of 11 October. Land was sighted at 2 am, 12 October, but Scott has it later in the evening, near sunset, with fog enshrouding Guanahani (San Salvador Island) so its reveal can be mysterious and dramatic.
  • The Lucayan people are depicted with long hair, but Columbus recorded in his journal that they kept it cut short, except in the back.
  • In the movie, Columbus' journal of 21 October states that if the natives are to be converted it will be with persuastion, not force, and that they should be treated with honor, respected and that pillaging and rape will be punished.
    Conversely, the real Columbus' journal of 12 October reads "they ought to make skilled servants, for they repeat whatever we tell them" -- Columbus wrote this after discovering that the Lucayans were often attacked by the mainland to be taken as slaves. In the same entry he writes "they can be very easily made Christians, for they seem to have no religion," and noted their lack of advanced metallurgy, writing "I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern as I pleased." 
  • The Lucayans are shown with gold nose rings and necklaces, and when Columbus inquires of the source of gold they are lead to Cuba. In history it was their gold earrings which piqued his interest and so he took some of them prisoner (this is glossed over by the movie) and headed to Cuba, which he named Juana, on 28 October.
  • Pinzón is shown with syphilis in Cuba, which he will bring back to the Old World and die of, but he is not shown getting it - the only way being by banging the natives.
  • Pinzón is shown landing with Columbus on Hispaniola (Haiti) on 5 December, still sick. In actuality he had disobeyed orders from Columbus and set off on his own on 21 November in search of more plentiful gold,  landing at Hispaniola seperately in the Pinta, while the Niña and the Santa María went on without him.
  • Columbus asks permission of the Taino chieftain Guacanagaríx, cacique of the Marien, to leave 39 men behind to build a fort and stay until he returns. The true reason for this was that on 25 December the Santa María ran aground and was abandoned and the Niña did not have room for all the men.
  • The movie shows all three boats returning, but it was material from the abandoned Santa María that was used to construct the settlement La Navidad.
  • The movie completely ignores Columbus' 16 January encounter with the Ciguayos of the Samana Peninsula who were the only natives to attack the Spanish, killing two of them. As mentioned earlier, it also ignores Pinzón's mutiny, and the reconnection of the Pinta with the Niña on 6 January. Pinzón was furious that Columbus had left 39 men behind, convinced that they would be killed or otherwise die. Columbus threated to hang him for insubordination.
  • The movie also ignores the 25 Taino prisoners Columbus took, of which only six survived the trip back to Spain, although they are shown with him in the Spanish court when he returns, but the question of their consent in coming along is lampshaded.
  • Due to a storm, the Pinta and Niña were seperated, with the Pinta reachng Pelos on 15 March 1493, while the Niña landed at Lisboa (Lisbon) in Portugal. Columbus controversially spent a week with King João II (John II) before carrying on to Spain.
  • Columbus is shown bringing tobacco to the Spanish court - in the form of smoking a TOTALLY MODERN TIGHT ROLLED CIGAR! The tobacco smoked in Hispaniola was smoked in a pipe, and not brought back to Spain until the 1520s. Rodrigo de Jerez brought his habit back to his hometown and was imprisoned by the Inquisition because "only the Devil could give a man the power to exhale smoke through his mouth." Modern cigars would not exist until the 1800s.
  • Columbus describes the religion of the "Indians" in terms of "God and Nature as one" in a very '90s New Age idealistic appropriation of Native culture kind of way -- as noted earlier the historical Columbus felt the Taino had no religion and thus could be easily converted, indeed this was one of the primary rationales of Spanish colonization and exploration -- to spread the word of God.
    In fact, the Taino had a polytheistic religion with two main gods -- Yucahu, god of the crops, and Atabey his mother, goddess of water and fertility. There were also many other minor gods and a fairly developed mythology.
  • Columbus' second voyage is described as comprising 17 ships and 1,500 men. It was 1,200.
  • Columbus' brothers Bertomê and Giacomo (Bartholomew and Diego) are depicted as unwilling to go along and govern with Columbus in Hispaniola, but in fact it was Bertomê the mapmaker who devised with Christoffa the entire West Indies scheme. 
  • Bertomê actually missed the boat on the second voyage and had to go on his own voyage in 1494 to meet Columbus, where he was made governor of Hispaniola in Columbus' absence. Both brothers were in fact fiercely loyal to him, rather than what is portrayed here.
  • Columbus' second voyage returned to Hispaniola on 22 November 1493, but the movie has this as 28 November for some reason.
  • Adrián de Moxica is shown with Columbus landing at the second voyage, but he in fact did not join him until the third voyage.
  • Columbus says "there will be no revenge" for the slaughter of the La Navidad settlement. He states that the Taino outnumbering them 10 to 1 as a reason not to start a war, and that they do not know which tribe to attack, and that they did not come to start a crusade. This is in STARK contrast to the true events, and this is the point where the movie takes a real turn away from history.
    Columbus felt a force of 50 men could conquer all the Taino with no problem. Columbus inquired with his ally Guacanagaríx of the Marien and found him no to blame but rather the chief Caonabo of the Jaragua. Columbus then established a new settlement, La Isabella, and ordered the following as retaliation:
    Every Taino over 14 years old was to deliver a quota of gold to the Spanish settlers every month. If this tribute was not delivered, their hands were to be cut off and they were to be left to bleed to death.
  • Adrián de Moxica is depicted as cartoonishly evil.
  • Nowhere is it mentioned in history that the plans for La Isabella or Santo Domingo (the movie is vague on which settlement this first town is supposed to be) were based on those of Leonardo da Vinci. This is just a goofy historical wink at the audience moment, although it is true da Vinci did draw up plans for an "ideal city" in 1488 (as did many Italian architects of the period), however implementing them in Hispaniola would have been difficult. Also, da Vinci was in Milan when he designed those plans, from 1482-1499, not Firenze (Florence). 
  • Columbus mentions in his journal in the movie that by adapting to the Taino diet "meat is only a memory for us," another of the movie's over-idealizations of native culture. After all, if they don't hunt and don't make war, then why do they have archers who can shoot birds with great accuracy? In actuality the Taino ate many meats: hutias, worms, lizards, turtles, birds, manatees and of course as Islanders they were very skilled fishermen -- although their main staple was the crop cassava.
  • The Spanish are shown collecting the gold quota from the Taino, but the origins of this quota, the mines, etc. are not shown. This is similar to the film's overall strategy -- showing all the bad stuff Columbus did as happening, but not showing him actually doing it -- thus leaving him blameless.
  • Moxica is shown eating watermelon, a fruit native to Africa. No way he brought it with him unless they had refrigerators those ships.
  • Moxica is shown initiating the "chop off their hands" policy and everyone reacts like WTF, including Columbus. As mentioned earlier, this was Columbus' own policy.
  • When Moxica is arrested he says the Spanish have been there for four years, which makes the setting the city of Santo Domingo and also means the second and third voyages of Columbus have been conflated -- the second return to Spain and the third expedition skipped.
    It was during this crucial absence from Hispaniola that most of the anger against Columbus fermented -- Christoffa had left in August of 1494, and against the explicit orders of Isabella took 1,200 of the Taino's rival tribe, the violent Caribs, as slaves to be sold in Spain.
    This was because there was simply not enough riches of gold in the New World, and the voyages needed to be paid for somehow. Slavery of conquered peoples was standard practice for Portuguese explorers, and Columbus assumed it was the same for the Spanish. It was not. 200 of the Carib died on the way back, and Isabella was pissed.
    Because it was illegal to enslave Christians, Columbus made it illegal in Hispaniola to baptize the natives, desite the spread of Christianity being one of the project's intended goals.
  • Columbus was away for many years, returning for his third voyage on 30 May, 1498. He had left Bartholomew in charge, but during this time a man named Francisco Roldan had revolted and founded a rival regime with about half of the Spaniards.
  • The goal of the third voyage was to bring supplies to Hispaniola and to search for the still unfound mainland of Asia -- although Columbus was convinced Juana (Cuba) was a peninsula of Cathay (China). Meanwhile a mission by Amerigo Vespucci had left in May 1497 but had not yet returned -- breaking the previously held monopoly of Columbus.
    Vespucci landed at Coyana and discovered the Amazon River, becoming the first European to visit the mainland continent of America, which bears his name. He would return in October of 1498 and be made chief navigator of Spain in 1508.
  • Meanwhile King Henry VII of England sent the Genoese sailor Zuan Chabotto (John Cabot) to cross the sea as well on 2 May 1497, despite a papal decree that all new lands west of the Azores were claimed for Spain.
    Chabotto made landfall at what is now called Cape Bonavista in Newfoundland on 24 June 1497, returning in August. His second voyage would be lost at sea in 1499.
  • Anyways, Columbus would discover Trinidad and Tobago on 31 July 1498, then explore the coast of South America until 12 August. Since Columbus still firmly believed North America was Asia, he considered South America a new continent, positioning it in his head as being roughly in the position of Australia relative to Asia.
  • He arrived back at Hispaniola on 19 August 1498 to discover the rebellion. Although he initially resolved the situation peaceably, a second revolution was initiated by Adrián de Moxica, who had lead several expeditions for Spain to India in the 1480s. Columbus had Moxica's revolt violently put down, and Moxica was hanged.
  • AND NOW BACK TO WHERE WE LEFT THE MOVIE! In the film, the rebellion is depicted as the natives against Columbus in retribution for Moxica's cruelty, before Moxica uses the fighting and confusion to attack Columbus as well. In reality, it was a revolt of the Spanish settlers who were upset that Columbus had lied to them about the gold and were disgusted by his brutal methods as a governor. That said, Moxica's revolt probably did find plenty of support among the Taino. 
  • Moxica is depicted as committing honourable suicide by jumping off a cliff, when in reality as noted earlier, Columbus had him hanged. The other revolters are shown being strangled until dead, however. 
  • A priest in the film complains that Columbus treats "Christians equally with heathen savages", when as noted earlier the only reason Columbus let them remain heathen savages was so it would be legal to enslave them.
  • Santo Domingo, which the movie has somewhat conflated with La Isabella, is shown being ravaged by a hurricane in a very corny -- like EXTREMELY corny -- "wrath of God" type sequence. While this did happen, it was not until 1502, after Columbus was arrested. The same hurricane killed Francisco de Bobadilla, who has not properly arrived in the story yet. A hurricane did destroy the settlement of La Isabella in 1495, and its failure and abandonment let to the 1498 establishment of Santo Domingo, the first European-built city of the New World.
  • Gabriel Sanchez, the Royal treasurer, is shown in the film to turn against Columbus for no real reason. He is shown reporting the colony's various failings to Isabella, and makes a big point of how Columbus forced nobles to work and treated Spaniards and Indians as equals -- when in reality the nobles sat back and had Taino slave labor do all the work. What really horrified Isabella was in fact Columbus' tyranny of the natives -- when she had given him explicit orders to befriend them, to convert them, and not to enslave them.
  • Sanchez is depicted as learning of the failure of Santo Domingo from a discontented priest. In fact, it was from Columbus himself that the Crown learned of the failures in Hispaniola. By October 1499, Columbus was exhausted by recent events and wracked with arthritis and opthalmia. He requested a royal commissioner be sent to assist him, so the Catholic Monarchs setn Francisco de Bobadilla -- depicted here as a judge and a sycophant of Gabriel Sanchez with a grudge against Columbus, in reality a member of the military Order of Calatrava.
  • Bobadilla arrived in August 1500, having been appointed to replace Columbus as governor and investigate accounts of his brutality.
  • Bobadilla disappoints Columbus in the movie by reporting to him of the discovery of the mainland by Amerigo Vespucci "weeks ago". However this had happened in 1497 before the third voyage, and was already known to Columbus by this time. That said, it is true that Columbus was very resentful of Amerigo, accusing him of stealing his legacy and reputation - Columbus had naturally wanted to call the continent of (South) America Columbia, but at least a nation in the region would one day be named after him!
  • The movie then cuts to January 1501 where Columbus is imprisoned in the very German/Disney-esque "Prison Castille". In reality, Columbus was sent back to Cadíz in chain on 1 October 1500, and spent only a month and a half in prison.
  • Bobadilla's investigation had testimony from 23 people, supporters and detractors of Columbus alike, whom all said atrocities took place, such as:
    - Cutting a corn thief's nose and ear's off and selling him into slavery.
    - Parading a woman naked in the streets and cutting her tongue off for implying the Columbus family was of ignoble birth.
    - Parading the dismembered bodies of the slaughtered rebelling natives through the streets to discourage further rebellion.
    - Rape, torture and mutilations.
    - Death and desperation: mothers so starved they could not breastfeed newborns, a massive infant mortality rate, a mining program enforced so that women did not see their husbands for eight months at a time. This and the other deaths caused the birth rate and population to plummet. The real priest in Santo Domingo, Bartoleme de las Casas, estimated the Taino death toll between 1494-1508 at three million.
  • Columbus was not allowed a defense, and he and his brothers were sent to Spain in chains and jailed at Cadíz.
  • In 1501, Columbus' son Fernando is shown as all grown up, maybe 18 at the youngest, while in reality he was only 13 at the time - older brother Diogo is 22.
  • Diogo is depicted all throughout the movie as being against his father's journies, when in reality he succeeded his father as Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and was the most adamant fighter for the restoration of his father's titles after he was arrested and disgraced. Fernando went on one voyage (the fourth) and hated it and stayed home to be a scholar. 
  • Columbus asks Isabella to be allowed to return as he as still never seen the mainland, and Isabella says yes so long as he does not take his brothers.  In reality the rationale for the fourth voyage wasn't the mainland, which Amerigo Vespucci had found but that by now had been claimed for Portugal (in April 1500 by Pedro Cabral) -- and Columbus did in fact take Bartholomew and Fernando on the trip. The real rationale for the fourth voyage was to find a passage through to Asia, to Cathay and Cipangu, to the gold and spices and riches that were supposed to be the whole point! The real punishment was that all of the wealth and titles of "Cristóbal Colón" were taken, and he could no longer be governor of any lands.
  • In the scene with his mistress, Columbus claims he does not need riches -- yet he spent the rest of his life, as did his son Diogo, petitioning the Crown to have his title and his 10% of profits restored to him.
  • The film seems to skip Columbus' fourth voyage of 1502-1504, to show Columbus as an "old man" in 1506 -- in reality he was indeed aged to white hair and infirmity by this point due to his many diseases. It is implied in the film that he has lost prestige and legacy to Amerigo Vespucci, which is something that the Columbus family did indeed claim -- but then the Columbus family were a bunch of dicks anyway.
  • A scene where a priest at Salamanca lectures on the geography of the New World seems to confuse Santo Domingo as being a seperate place from Hispaniola, when in fact it is a city on that island.
  • Columbus' fourth voyage, in which he went to Panama and learned from the native population of the Pacific Ocean (and thus the way to China at last), was shipwrecked on Jamaica and denied rescue by the new governor of Hispaniola, impressed the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse and thus convincing them he was a sorceror, then escaped and returned safely to Spain through a hurricane that destroyed ALL his enemies in Santo Domingo --- is only covered in a brief one sentence note at the end.
  • Columbus died in Spain on 20 May 1506, at 54 years old, of chronic arthritis.