It is said that Columbus’ voyage cost his king less than a court ball. Yet, in a small vessel that looked like a square-rigged box, Columbus set sail with the dream and hope of discovery. Columbus’ voyage has many interpretations, and one given in the Ashland Daily Tidings discussed trading “Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day” at SOU. But this interpretation is limiting and misses the essence of why we celebrate Columbus Day.
There are two parts to Columbus’ voyage: One is mystic, which follows the Greek hymns of searching for some “land of pure delight where saints immortal reign.” The second is commercial, the search for a sea route to China and India. To tell one without the other doesn’t tell the whole story and simply does an injustice to the powerful tale of Columbus’ adventure and our human desire for discovery — a desire that is very much behind all intellectual traditions.
Another great Western voyage, but of a different type, is Homer’s gripping adventure where in front of our eyes we see the making of Achilles’ shield that contains the whole cosmos known to the human race — inanimate stars and waters, and of all life and time and space and action. But this shield is also forged for war and death. In essence, it provides a reflection that reveals all of humanity in its continuing and essential character, which is both good and bad. That also can be said of Columbus’ voyage.
Some want to focus on what they see as European conquest in America, but it also represents the final success of a dream that started over 2,000 years ago when the indigenous people of Europe colonized the Mediterranean Basin and wondered what was beyond their shores as they fished the great seas around them. Or, as the Greek poet Hesiod, of the eighth century B.C., asked: “What lay over there?”
The importance of Columbus Day is not just the recognition that his ship ran into America, but also a joyous celebration of fulfilling what Plato called the mystic dream of discovering the Utopian "Island of Atlantis.” I can’t think of a more appropriate intellectual value for a university to celebrate than Columbus’ desire to discover.
A day to acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous Americans also has great value. Not as a replacement, but for its own recognition and celebration.
I'd like to share some thoughts about the current vacancy for Ashland School District board member.
Commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity isn't something that can be accomplished by holding a public session, drafting a comprehensive plan or adding words to a web page. It takes placing a priority on creating diversity at every level in our schools — certainly on our School Board. A board with a more diverse membership, life experience and perspective makes it so much more capable of making any kind of decision.
Ultimately I'm not the right judge of when we've done enough as a community or as a school district to create a more inclusive environment. We'll know we've done enough when the women have said so. When the LGBTQ+ community says so. When the people of color say so. Until then, I strongly recommend that the School Board consider Kamilah Long to fill its vacant seat.