The Mythology of Christopher Columbus and the Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America
Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis
Keywords:500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus, identity, fiction, myth
One of the most mystified personalities in the history of conquests is Christopher Columbus, a sailor from Genova, who is traditionally titled “the discoverer of America”. Over more than 500 years, the historical assessment of this person changed not once and provided innumerable myths and images for the research on the history of conquests. The author of this article focuses on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus as the object of her research. The aim of the article is to analyse the anniversary as legitimisation of a fictitious identity through festivity and ritual. Through the stories of Columbus’s conquests and the myths of his achievements, she analyses the importance of fiction in building a historical reality.
The author overviews the changes in interpreting Columbus’s biog- raphy and personality along with the changing historical discourses. She also analyses the discussions among scholars, historians, human rights activists, community leaders and artists related to the commemoration of Columbus’s 500th anniversary regarding the meaning of this commemoration for society, and the importance of ethnic emigrant communities in America for the creation and upholding of Columbus’s myth. The text is supplemented with an overview of artworks and films created on the occasion of Columbus’s anniversary of 1992, and related to the reproduction of Columbus’s myth. In the article, Columbus is compared to Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great, whose 500th anniversary of death was celebrated with festive events in interwar Lithuania in 1930, and his myth, which over more than 500 years managed to activate, unite and shape Lithuanian society.
The research reveals how the anniversary celebration establishes historical fiction, and shows the intertwining of personality myths with daily life, identity, ethnicity, reproduction of history and propaganda programmes. Though the worship of Christopher Columbus is gradually moving underground, his monuments are being dismantled in the United States and around the world, the fact that his image is still capable of provoking strong feelings in society illustrates how powerfully personality myths and fictions are intertwined with the issues of ethnicity, individual and community identity, and what a huge impact it can have on them.