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Christopher Columbus: Five things you thought you knew about the explorer

It’s Columbus Day – a time when faulty lore about the “discoverer of America” abounds. The myths surrounding the epic voyages of Christopher Columbus are as plentiful as the riches he supposedly discovered. Here are some commonly held beliefs that have endured since, well, 1492.

Columbus did not embark on his journey hoping to prove the Earth was round. Almost everyone already knew that already.
World History Archive/Newscom
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1. MYTH: Columbus set out to prove the earth was round.

FACT: Columbus (and most everyone else) already knew the Earth was round.

Columbus Day is often an occasion for schoolchildren to repeat the notion that the explorer set out on his renegade voyage to defy the flat-Earth believers who warned he would sail off the face of the planet.

This myth entered popular imagination some 500 years after Columbus’s voyage, thanks mainly to American author Washington Irving’s 1828 chronicle “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.”

In reality, most educated people living at the end of the 15th century knew the Earth was a sphere. In fact, the Flat Earth model began to phase out of popular thinking after Aristotle's studies proved the spherical shape of the Earth during the 3rd century BC. Columbus actually thought the planet was pear-shaped.

What was in question, however, was the Earth's circumference. Upon mapping his route, Columbus underestimated the distance to Asia by thousands of miles because he used obsolete Greek data to make his calculations.

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