Goodbye Columbus

August 01, 1991|By New York Times

DEFTLY upstaging all the ballyhoo that's in the works for next year's 500th anniversary of Columbus' first landing in the Americas, a Viking longboat is even now approaching the coast of Newfoundland to commemorate Leif Ericson's 1,000th.

No one knows exactly when Ericson landed -- probably not in 991, but around then. His exact landfall is also in dispute, but so is Columbus'. Details. Details. Leaving historical precision to the academics, Norway and Iceland built three replicas of the sailing ships on which Norsemen of yore prowled the northern seas. One of them, the 78-foot Gaia, is set to land Thursday on the northern tip of Newfoundland, where archeologists have found an early Viking settlement -- though none of the vines Ericson is said to have found in his "Vinland."

All three ships will visit New York and Washington in the fall. So will Norway's queen, Iceland's president and both prime ministers. America welcomes visitors, of course, but these in particular had better not speak their purpose too boastfully. Rampant revisionism is fast destroying Columbus' reputation as a bold adventurer, recasting him as a plunderer who ruined the hemisphere and brutalized the natives. Who knows what awaits Ericson if the revisionists get the idea that it was he, not Columbus, who started it.

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