Academic Master


Literary Analysis of Columbus’ Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage

Columbus’ entire life is a voyage in itself as he rose to fame as a distinguished navigator and explorer. During his journeys to pass by waters, he wrote letters to different people documenting his discoveries and experiences. Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain on July 7, 1503, in Jamaica is one of them. He always had dreamt to set sail to Asia but could not manage it because of the lack of financial support. To overcome this obstacle, he approached the King and Queen of Spain to get funding for his trip which they agreed. However, his plan to set sail to Asia did not turn out as he hoped, and he ended up somewhere he was unaware of. Columbus after a few months of his journey to the unknown decided to write a letter to the patrons of his voyage to explicitly clear them how and why his journey was a success. In his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus tried to deliver the relevant information to the patrons of the trip regarding the voyage they financed and also a meticulously crafted argument tending to persuade them to fund future voyages for him. The premise behind the primary source, the letter to King and Queen of Spain was to influence the trip patrons, Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and his queen Isabella of Castile through his pretentious descriptions throughout the letter so that they could invest in his future voyages (MacKie, 1892). The letter detailed the encounters of Christopher Columbus through the Canary Islands during his voyage and described what he thought of Indies.

Columbus in an attempt to influence Ferdinand and Isabella through his letter regarding Fourth Voyage vividly explained his experiences by using literary devices such as imagery, setting, tone, hyperbole, personification, metaphor, and allusion. He overtly discussed his “successful” voyage to aggrandize how the new land he managed to discover after a lot of hardships was a land “to be desired.” He talked about location, land, people, his hardships, and achievements in his letter to point out how the location he discovered was ideal for economic gain “well adapted for constructing buildings”, numerous harbors on all sides”, and how the land had “very broad and healthy-giving rivers” (Columbus, 2009) beneficial to the mainland. Through the use of imagery with these words, Columbus provides the evidence that his findings in Central America were successful, and he wants more future free-of-cost voyages sponsored by Ferdinand and his wife Isabella to let him explore the world better. Another example of imagery is when he explained to the trip patrons how the storm made him think the world was ending, “I did not put into the harbor, nor could I, nor did the storm from heaven cease; there was rain and thunder and lightning continuously” (Clay, pp. 617–620). He also gives a clear view of the amount of gold in Ciguare by stating that the people had necklaces from head to shoulders and corals from head to feet and arms.

The fourth voyage by Christopher Columbus is remarkable as it offers new insights into exploration in Central America. Columbus, the Italian explorer during his voyage encountered many cultures, discovered fauna and flora, and witnessed enormous economic potential while setting sailed in the “New World.” Besides, the letter portrays the cultures of the native, his resilience, his struggles, and his perseverance although he failed many times and lost his ships and men (Columbus’ journal, First Voyage, excerpts (1492): Encyclopedia of world trade: From Ancient Times to the present-credo reference). The journey began with fleets consisting of four ships aiming to establish uncharted areas in the Western Caribbean. However, due to the disintegration of the ship, they were stranded and only managed to examine the Southern Central American parts. When he reached Hispaniola, he was rejected and sought to exchange his ship for acquiring a better one, but a storm struck forcing him to anchor his ship. Although the hurricane sank many ships, Columbus’s ships remained afloat and arrived safely (Columbus’s journal, First Voyage, excerpts (1492): Encyclopedia of world trade: From Ancient Times to the present – credo reference). He had struggled with the storm for 88 days instilling great fear and pain in the crew members. He stated that the storms were unbearable on their way to the Caribbean. They survived death many times and arrived in Central America safely, where they made the ships, replenished their supplies, and discovered the gold mines in Ciamba and Veragua. In Central America, Columbus gives his experience with the Mayan traders who had textiles, weapons, tools made of copper, fermented corn, and wooden swords (Clay, pp. 617–620). The Columbus crew focused on exchanging food/ gold and examined the structures of the stones. Before being restricted, the ships reached Jamaica, where they actively established a rapport with the Jamaicans before being retrieved in 1504 (Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506): The oxford companion to ships and the sea – credo reference).

However, Columbus told Isabella and Ferdinand that despite his hard work, toil, and having to persevere and put his life in danger for the nation’s benefit, he had not received adequate awards and appreciation. Columbus uses hyperbole/ exaggeration in describing different scenes in his letter to give a clear view of the scenes of accomplishments he made. The use of hyperbole in his letter is significant in this regard as he consistently mentions “I” throughout to leave a mark of him as an outstanding explorer of all the lands and most of the riches in order to exaggerate that he was solely responsible for all the success, discoveries, and positive impacts of the voyage. In another instance, he explains how the storm varied through the voyage, “the sea changed from rough to calm, and there was a strong current which carried me as far as the Hardin de la Reina without the land being sighted” (Clay, pp. 617–620). Hyperbole is further used in the letter when he states that his son’s courage “revived the spirit of the others, and he acted as if he had been a sailor for eighty years” (Clay, pp. 617–620). This vivid description gives the reader a clear view of the storm’s rising and falling (The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed.). The words “rough” and “calm” also personified the “river” relating their significance to the “hardships” and “rise and fall” of Columbus throughout his voyage. The idea of personification is further explored in the letter where the storm is personified. For instance, he states that the storm carried him to Bastimentos harbor. In the statement, “the wind and current with fury drove me back” (Clay, pp. 617–620) the wind and current are personified (The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed.). He also states that the ‘cruel weather’ compelled him to stay for fifteen days. He as well used exaggeration in different scenes, such as when he tried to explain his crew’s fear of the hurricane and the painful journey that they encountered by saying that their hearts failed them (The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed). Imagery, hyperbole, and exaggeration throughout the letter help create a vivid picture of the situation, indicating the severity of the storm and the challenges faced during the voyage.

Aside from everything, Columbus uses allusion, personification, metaphor, ideology, tone, and setting to drive the intended meaning further and to give a clear account of his journey. He used allusion to address the hardships he came across and the difficulties he internally faced during his voyage without mentioning them explicitly “alone in my trouble, sick, in daily expectation of death.” The use of allusion as well as exaggeration is so clear when he claims that he was “so separated from the holy Sacraments of Holy Church, my soul will be forgotten” (Columbus, 2009) and wants others to sympathize with him when his “abandoned” soul would leave his body exaggerating his fear of loneliness and death “weep for me” while asking others if they had “charity, truth, and justice.” Furthermore, he uses the metaphor for his faith or religion through words like “holy Sacraments” and “Holy Church” while he “encompassed about million savages” talking about the cruelty and hatred surrounding him that made him “alone” and “sick.” It is discerning to hear through his letter how Columbus felt while being sick, afraid, and alone “in daily expectation of death” (Beazley, 1907). However, it seems that it is not a sudden desire for religion but a realization for Columbus that he had strayed away from his faith and therefore he may be wanted to reestablish the religious connection he had before he began his voyages as he might have realized that his religious fervor had suffered to a great extent during his voyages. The literary figure is further used in the letter when Columbus describes how his son, friends, and brothers’ lives were in danger (The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed.). For example, he states that his son’s distress racked his soul as he was still young, exhausted, and terrified by the whole experience. In addition to that, he describes how his brother’s ship was in great danger and regretted having forced him to accompany him on the voyage (Clay, pp. 617–620). He then uses another metaphor of death when he states, “there was I held, in a sea turned to blood, boiling like a cauldron on a mighty fire” (Clay, pp. 617–620).

Another literary device Columbus explicitly used in the letter is ideology when he gives an account of how he had worked hard to discover resources such as gold in the Caribbean. The efforts he made in order to establish the different cultures and items being traded so that his discoveries could unveil different opportunities for the Europeans (Mann, 2011). He states that he was of great service to the nation, but he had gained only a few benefits from it. He says that he had served for a great period of time but got no recognition. Instead, all the possesses he had were stolen from him therefore he puts forward a plea to Ferdinand and Isabella for “the reparation of (his) losses” and the “punishment of him who did this” as he had given a length of his service to the Spanish crown. Columbus asked Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to punish Alonso de Ojeda and made him endure the same Columbus endured during his voyage as Alonso took everything from him. He further states that he began his work of exploration when he was only twenty-eight years old and now, he had grey hair over his body therefore his patrons should take steps for the “restitution of (his) honor” (Columbus, 2009). The setting Columbus built in the context of his letter mainly illustrates his main encounters in the sea due to the storm and his interactions with the Natives. The setting explained in the letter helps connect the various scenes to enhance the letter’s plot and the readers’ understanding of the message.

Delving deep into exploring the tone of the letter, it is disheartening, sad, and broken (Clay, pp. 617-620). Columbus talked to the patrons, Ferdinand and Isabella in a cynical and negative tone while in destructed and exhausted state to portray him as a broken man. He wrote the letter in a state of desperation to show the world how helpless he felt when miserable things occurred to him during the Fourth Voyage that made him go through a mental breakdown as he felt “alone in trouble, sick, in daily expectation of death.” Throughout the letter, Columbus describes how he had undergone dangerous situations that almost broke him but remained persistent and resilient (MacKie, 1892). Apart from the suffering he went through, he also put forward his agonized sentiments as he felt sad about his discovered lands and was frightened by who was benefitting from them. He spoke of “weeping” when he passed by the lands he discovered earlier where he was shipwrecked earlier in his voyage as native people were dying on them because they were pretty much barren because of the audacity of Indies taking over lands from the native of those lands and imprisoning people. He must have felt that his entire life and all the achievements and explorations went in flames and turned down in ashes because people benefitting from his efforts were selfish (Stock, 2015). However, his sad and devastated state must be equated back to the instance when Columbus’ crew asked him to turn back but he did not allow them to do so. He also shows his sadness for not being recognized for his excellent job and hardworking in service to the nation. Besides, he wanted to reveal to the world that everything was conquered by him for Spain so that King and Queen should not be the only ones who would receive the credit for his explorations.

All in all, the journey began with four ships and fleets aiming to establish unexplored areas in the Caribbean West and find a way to align them. Columbus’s letter to Isabella and Ferdinand on the voyage gives a view of the Native cultures, the pain, and fights that he endured his strength and persistence throughout the whole voyage, and his desire to “go beyond the line of madness” (Mancall, 1998). In conclusion, in his letter, Columbus used literary devices such as imagery, hyperbole, tone, setting, metaphor, personification, allusion, ideology, and hyperbole to describe what he had experienced realistically. He uses imagery and hyperbole/ exaggeration in most parts of his letter to give a clear view of the scene to show the dangers of the storm and the problems faced during the voyage. Allusion, personification, metaphor, ideology, tone, and setting drive the intended meaning much farther and give an understandable version of his voyage. The setting helps connect the various scenes to enhance the letter’s plot and the readers’ understanding of the message, and to put it all together, the letter’s overall tone is discouraging, sorrowful, and torn that explicitly depicting that Columbus might wish to go back in past and decide not to travel to the “New World” as he had witnessed the damage and destruction his endeavor has caused to both himself and his homeland.

Works Cited

Clay, Diskin. “Columbus’ Senecan Prophecy.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 113, no. 4, 1992, pp. 617–20. JSTOR, Accessed 09 Jun. 2022.

“Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506),” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, edited by I. C. B Dear, and Peter Kemp, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2nd edition, 2016. Credo Reference, Accessed 09 Jun. 2022.

“Columbus’s Journal, First Voyage, Excerpts (1492).” Encyclopedia of World Trade: From Ancient Times to the Present, edited by Cynthia Clark Northrup, Routledge, 1st edition, 2013. Credo Reference, Accessed 09 Jun. 2022.

Levine, Robert S. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 64-66.

Beazley, C. Raymond. “The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503.” (1907): 654-656.

Mann, Charles C. 1493: Uncovering the new world Columbus created. Vintage, 2011.

Stock, Jennifer. “American eras. Early American civilizations and exploration to 1600: primary sources.” 2015, pp. 46-48.

Columbus, Christopher. “Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella.” ca. August 30 (2009): 1498.

MacKie, Charles Paul. The Last Voyages of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea: As Related by Himself and His Companions. Chicago, AC McClurg and Company, 1892.

Mancall, Peter C. “The age of discovery.” Reviews in American History 26.1 (1998): 26-53.



Calculate Your Order

Standard price





Pop-up Message