The quincentenary of Columbus' arrival in the New World is now safely past. The spate of timely studies, instant media wisdom, abysmal films, ecological outrage, mediocre drama and politically correct comment is subsiding. Yet ironically enough, despite such outpourings we know little more about the man himself than was known a century ago. His legacy is another matter. The successful crossing of the Atlantic, followed by European conquest and settlement of part of the Americas were eventually to affect most of mankind, though not always in such a manner as publicists in early-modern Castile predicted or as has been alleged by Columbus' modern detractors. But before we turn to this vast and emotive subject it should be emphasized that the Admiral's achievements in a brief, enigmatic and turbulent public career were of an astounding and probably unparallelled order. A man of foreign and obscure birth, he managed to secure employment in race and caste-ridden Spain, and from such unpropitious beginnings went on to prove himself a superlative seaman. He inspired and accomplished four voyages which revealed to Europeans a huge continent of which they were unaware. He discovered more unknown territory than any other navigator. He achieved some understanding of the true size of the Atlantic – and just how much of the globe was covered by water came as a horrible shock to his contemporaries – and, uniquely, he set in motion a staggering sequence of exploration and conquest.