Reading Quiz #1:
The First Columbus Letter
The following is a literal translation from Latin. Although this will be rather strange to modern readers, it has
been done to provide students with a flavor of the original text. We have, however, added paragraph breaks to
aid reading. We hope in the future to add an idiomatic translation to this web site.
We have based the following from
, 1-13, which was a translation of the Basel 1493 edition. Some small
changes have been made so as to agree with the text of the 1494 edition.
This letter was written by Christopher Columbus to the Spanish crown during his first voyage to the Western
Hemisphere/New World in 1493.
It has been published and translated many times and serves as a wonderful
document illustrating his perceptions and misconceptions of the people and lands he had encountered.
Concerning the Islands Recently Discovered in the Indian Sea
Letter of Christopher Columbus, to whom our age owes much, concerning the islands recently discovered in the
Indian sea. For the search of which, eight months before, he was sent under the auspices and at the cost of the
most invincible Ferdinand, king of Spain. Addressed to the magnificent lord Raphael Sanxis, a treasurer of the
same most illustrious king, and which the noble and learned man Aliander de Cosco has translated from the
Spanish language into Latin, on the third of the kalends of May, 1493, the first year of the pontificate of
Alexander the Sixth.
The First Columbus Letter:
Because my undertakings have attained success, I know that it will be pleasing to you: these I have determined
to relate, so that you may be made acquainted with everything done and discovered in this our voyage. On the
thirty-third day after I departed from Cadiz, I came to the Indian sea, where I found many islands inhabited by
men without number, of all which I took possession for our most fortunate king, with proclaiming heralds and
flying standards, no one objecting. To the first of these I gave the name of the blessed Saviour, on whose aid
relying I had reached this as well as the other islands. But the Indians call it Guanahany. I also called each one
of the others by a new name. For I ordered one island to be called Santa Maria of the Conception, another
Fernandina, another Isabella, another Juana, and so on with the rest.
As soon as we had arrived at that island which I have just now said was called Juana, I proceeded along its coast
towards the west for some distance; I found it so large and without perceptible end, that I believed it to be not
an island, but the continental country of Cathay; seeing, however, no towns or cities situated on the sea-coast,
but only some villages and rude farms, with whose inhabitants I was unable to converse, because as soon as
they saw us they took flight.
I proceeded farther, thinking that I would discover some city or large residences. At length, perceiving that we