This is the essay for the 36th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. In this blog post, I will be answering two questions.
The first one is: Why does Mario Vargas Llosa think the Incas fell so easily?
The second one is: Is it true that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat?
Mario Vargas Llosa was a Peruvian writer who became famous for writing novels, however, he also wrote an article on the discovery of the new world. He specifically wrote about the fall of the Aztecs and Incas to the Spanish. The Spanish beat the Aztecs and Incas using only 1200 soldiers and 16 horses and 180 soldiers and 27 horses respectively. The Aztecs and Incas were very sophisticated civilizations and in some places were better than the Spanish. However, the Aztecs and Incas fell easily to the very small Spanish armies compared to the small tribes in North America. Mario Vargas Llosa is trying to figure out why this happened.
Llosa proposes that the reason why the Incas fell so quickly was that after their emperor was captured, they didn’t know what to do. The Incan society was based around the emperor, everyone’s lives were in his hands, no matter if they were rich or poor. The emperor also gave people inspiration on what to do. They did the only thing they could with heroism, which was to let themselves be killed. This was without breaking the 1001 taboos that existed in the Incan empire. The amount of Incan’s that did this could range from dozens to hundreds. They didn’t have the independence needed to act by themselves, while the invading Spaniards did. This was the key difference between Incan and Spanish people that allowed to Spanish to have such a huge advantage. It wasn’t the number of people that they had or the weapons but their independence. The Incas used a pyramidal system and theocratic system where the ruler at the top was considered a God who ruled over everyone, and the people at the bottom had no power whatsoever. Due to this the empire was a beehive, which made it very efficient and stoic. There was a catch, however, which was that the empire was very fragile as the entire empire rested in one person’s hands.
There is a claim that people in the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat and this was why they refused to sponsor Columbus’s voyage. This was a myth however and everyone knew the Earth was a sphere, which had first been figured out all the way back in the 3rd century BC. The proponents of the myth claimed that it was true by citing two people who believed the Earth was flat. These two people were Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustus. Lactantius lived from 245-325 and Cosmas was a Greek and traveler and geographer. The only problem was that nobody at the time had any idea who these people were. Lactantius was a pagan who converted to Christianity and he thought that everything the pagans believed was wrong. This is how he concluded that, since pagans believed the Earth was a sphere, it must actually be flat. Cosmas was also a Christian and he made a theoretical model of the universe that portrayed the Earth as flat. His contemporaries criticized him for this as it made Christians look dumb. Very few people ever read his works, because his books were written in Greek and weren’t translated into Latin until 1706.
Luckily most educational works on the subject have dropped these claims, but a few remain. Pretty much all respected Historians no longer believe this myth but many ordinary people still do. The last nail in the coffin for the myth is that people in the Middle Ages believed in the Sphericity of the Earth to such an extent that no amount of arguments could’ve convinced them otherwise. The two original proponents of the myth came from Washington Irving and Antoine-Jean Letronne. Washington Irving was a writer who wrote part historical and part-fictional works. The problem was that the distinction between the two was so blurry that his readers couldn’t tell the difference. In his book on Columbus, he had made up an account of a council held against Columbus that told him about the teachings of Lactantius on the flat Earth. Antoine-Jean Letronne received a lot of his academic training from men who propagated the ignorance of the people in the Middle Ages. From this Letronne believed that only a few highly knowledgeable people in the Middle Ages knew that the Earth was a Sphere and everyone else believed it was flat. Letronne’s beliefs took off because many people heard what they wanted to hear, which was that the Christians in the Middle Ages were dumb.