The idea of an earthly paradise located in the west is an integral part of Western literary tradition. The Garden of Eden from Genesis is the most well known version, but other lost lands of plenty appear as far back as Plato's description of the sunken island Atlantis. Throughout European history, adventurers returned from the Atlantic high seas with reports of rich, fertile islands that many thought might be Atlantis, or Eden, or both. In his General History of 1622, Captain John Smith refers to two such English legends. Attempting to argue that England had in fact "discovered" the New World long before Columbus, Smith cites the legendary adventures of the fifth-century Irish monk St. Brendan, and the twelfth-century Welsh prince, Madoc.
Christopher Columbus was keenly interested in finding the lost Garden of Eden. One of his prized possessions was a copy of cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundy, a geographical treatise that suggested "Terrestrial paradise perhaps is the place which the authors call the Fortunate Islands [the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa]." Columbus' copious marginal notes demonstrate his abiding interest in mapping the location of the lost Garden. When he stumbled onto the island of Hispanola, Columbus believed he was close to rediscovering Eden; a belief reinforced by the strength of the Orinoco river: "I have never read of heard of so great a quantity of fresh water so coming into and near the salt," he wrote to Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. "And the very mild climate also supports this view, and if it does not come from there, from paradise, it seems to be still a greater marvel, for I do not believe that there is known in the world a river so great and so deep."
Columbus' belief that he was near the earthly paradise is evident in his first letter to the Spanish monarchs. He notes the paradisical beauty of the islands, the mildness of the climate, the abundance of food, the innocent charm of the natives, and the richness of the island's natural resources in language suggesting that he believed himself close to the lost earthly paradise.
America as the Garden during the Renaissance | The Political Garden | Conclusion