from Chapter 3
Columbus, Son of Innocent VIII
Nothing is known of Columbus’s youth; his visibility begins with his arrival in Portugal. Surely his relationship with his father must have been extremely important in the formation of his character. This is even revealed by the navigator’s handwriting: polished, perfect, and ecclesiastic in style, in a time when simple sailors did not know how to read or write.
Merely being such a good calligrapher would have been enough to allow Columbus to support himself, and, if this fact is logically assessed, it is sufficient in itself to overturn hearsay. His father certainly could not have been the unknown Domenico of Genoa. Columbus’s provenance cannot be identified with the family to which he is attributed. We can presume, at best, Columbus might have been entrusted to this familial nucleus for some period of time--hence certain “political prizes,” such as Domenico’s appointment to be gate warden of the Porta dell’ Olivella, which would never have been assigned to a mere tavern keeper.
As for the navigator’s upbringing and education, it took place, without a shadow of doubt, in a different house, a different lineage. The man whose perseverance resulted in the completion of four voyages fundamental to the path of humanity probably had the determination of a bastard--one who has a mission to complete, not only for the redemption of Jerusalem but also for the redemption of his own blood.
At this point, the investigation becomes even more intriguing. Merely taking a close look at the statue by Pollaiolo on Pope Innocent VIII’s tomb in St. Peter’s, and mentally superimposing his dark features upon those of Columbus, produces a striking effect, which cannot be simply the product of imagination. The resemblance between the two men is obvious--yet we do not have a definite record of the admiral’s exact physiognomy. The many portraits of Columbus, so different from one another, render him “one, no one, and a hundred thousand.”
Nevertheless, we do know some images are very faithful to the true face of Columbus. These are the ones most resembling the statue of Innocent VIII, even leading one to think they could have been the same person. It is a disturbing realization; Pollaiolo’s red pastel study of the pope’s face, preserved at Florence, looks like a facsimile of some images of Columbus. If we look at Innocent VIII’s profile on the aforementioned poster of the popes, and compare it with the classic portrait of Columbus by Ghirlandaio, it seems almost as if one image were traced from the other: the same face, the same cranial structure, the same Semitic nose. A rare portrait of Aronne Cybo, Innocent’s father, resembles an engraving of Columbus by Aliprando Capriolo to a disturbing degree. The resemblance is equally strong in recently identified portraits of Columbus, such as the one by Pedro Berruguete. More similarities may arise.
The pope had so many unacknowledged children, so many “nephews and nieces.” What became of them? “Nephew” was the term with which the Curia attempted to gloss over the frequent paternity of popes and cardinals. In a Roman edition of Ptolemy’s Geography from 1508, mention is made for the first time of Christopher Columbus in a work “which humanist tradition deems untouchable.” In the small treatise of fifteen chapters, “little known in Columbian literature today . . . the name of Columbus appears many times.” A “Columbus primus” and a “Columbus nepos” are mentioned, as well as lands which either the Portuguese or Columbus discovered, and which were called the New World.
The author of the small treatise, the Celestine monk and mathematician Marco Beneventano, must have been well informed. “Columbus,” he states, “discovered those lands in the company of the Portuguese and not the Spaniards.” Here we see the definite possibility of voyages having taken place prior to 1492. But more importantly, Columbus, whose accomplishments are exalted here, is identified as nepos (the Latin “nephew”).
It is said the surname Colombo was common in Jewish populations in the north of Italy, as was Esposito in the south. It was a reference to abandoned children, who were often left in churchyards, or to the foundlings placed in the rotating wooden containers designed for that purpose, whose birth was attributed to the Holy Spirit (symbolized by a dove = colomba in Italian), the names of the parents remaining unknown. Finally, Colombo and Colón are the translations of the Hebrew Jonah, “perhaps another name for John,” the prophet who predicted the reconquest of the ancient lands of Israel.
It is remarkable, furthermore, that Columbus, considering his many affectionate family ties, to his children as well as his siblings, never remembered the parents attributed to him, Domenico and Susanna. Susanna--the name means lily--was the Hebrew woman, chaste as a virgin. It signifies an unadulterated purity and a woman who has never been a mother in the carnal sense. Meanwhile, Domenico means dominus, the Lord par excellence, God himself. The adjective dominicus is equivalent to “belonging to the Lord,” “dedicated, consecrated, and destined to the Lord.”
These are highly significant names in this puzzle, of which the Christbearer and those who surround him form the pieces: this man, a new Jesus, appears to have been the offspring of a virgin and a son of God, or a man “consecrated to the Lord”--like the men of the Church, and above all, the popes. Domenico, Susanna, and Christopher Columbus are equally symbolic names surrounding the birth of a man without a face, without parents, without a homeland, without a birthday: “from time to time, his origin was Corsican, Catalan, French, Hebrew, without origins (or rather, a foundling), or even a bastard of royal or papal blood.”