August 26, 2007

Was Columbus a liar?

All the existing portraits of Columbus were painted post-humously, from memory or from imagination. One of the strangest depictions of him is this one, wearing a sariki (traditional turban) that could have been pyrgian.
November 1429, Columbus arrives in Cuba and writes in his journal, “After the Nina was moored, the boatswain came and asked me to remunerate him for having found mastiha. But he did not bring the sample with him because he’d lost it en route. So I sent Rodrigo Sanches and Captain Diego to the trees and they brought me some mastiha, which I saved for the monarchs. I also kept a piece of the trees since I knew it to be mastiha tree. Although it must be harvested during the proper season, the region could produce fifty tons a year. An Indian told me with gestures that mastiha was good for stomach pains”.
The tree Columbus discovered in the Caribbean is called Bursera gummifera, and indded excretes a resin, but other than that has no connection to the mastiha tree. The explorer intentionally falsified information to convince the Spanish monarchs, his financers in fact, that his voyage was successful. Until that time, he hadn’t found either gold or diamonds or spices – none of what he’d promised. So, he presented the supposed mastiha tree of Cuba as an important find, reminding them that Genoese collected 30.000 gold ducats a year from Chian mastiha.
The Genoese-born Columbus, was well aware of mastiha and its commercial value. He has visited Chios and stayed for a few months in Pyrgi. One of the hundreds of legends told has it that a Chian by the name of Captain Andreas beat Columbus to America, revealed the secret to him and drew him maps.

The Mastiha of Mullah Nasruddin
Nasruddin Hodja was a real person. He lived somtime in the 14th-15th century in the region of Ikonio in southeastern Asia Minor. One evening, Mullah Nasruddin was invited to the house of friends. He has a piece of mastiha in his mouth, whichc he continued to chew while conversing. At some point, the host offered his guests some food. The Mullah immediately removed the mastiha, stuck it on his nose and commenced eating. Some guests regarded him with curiosity, wondering why he’d stuck mastiha there.
One asked him,
-Why did you do that, Mullah?
Whereupon the Mullah replied,
Ah, don’t you know that the poor man always wants to keep his fortune right under his eye?

*Reference: Chios mastiha – Voyage to the east mediterranean.

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