Home is an ambiguous and complex concept, containing both the good and the bad-the yin and the yang. It is an intricate word that is impossible to thoroughly define in a single sentence. However, in the simplest of terms, home, literally, represents the place where one originates or lives over a duration of time. Figuratively, home is the manifestation of dreams and beliefs molded by one’s experiences; it is a paradise where imagination runs loose and thoughts roam free. In America Magica, Jorge Magasich-Airola and Jean-Marc de Beer define home for the Europeans as an Earthly Paradise located in the New World and shaped by the fantastical stories of the Greeks and the Bible.
The Europeans were influenced by the exaggerated journals of previous explorers and their interpretations of the Bible, which inspired them to search for the familiar myths. Because of these myths, they expected to find novel lands and peculiar natives. In the first four chapters of America Magica, Magasich-Airola and de Beer clearly demonstrate John Berger’s notion that “home is at the center of the real” for the Europeans because the myths and beliefs construing home to be an Earthly Paradise provided a channel of familiarity—and thus reality in the New World.
Combining the medieval beliefs of the Holy Scriptures with the rationality of the Renaissance, Europeans sought to topographically locate and thoroughly describe the Earthly Paradise that they undoubtedly perceived as real. As stated in a letter to Pope Alexander VI, Christopher Columbus “believed and…believe what so many saintly and holy theologians believed and believe, that there, in that region, is the Earthly Paradise” (Magasich-Airola, de Beer 14).
Columbus, by repeating the word “believe” in both past and present tense, asserts that the Europeans strongly supported the idea of an Earthly Paradise, to the point that it became their reality, even if there was a lack of substantial and concrete evidence. To Columbus, the Earthly Paradise represented his metaphysical home as he was influenced by Greek and Judeo-Christian beliefs.
These two religions transformed the idea of a Golden Age into an Earthly Paradise: “a well-protected garden with abundant water, where everything grew spontaneously” (15), and a place where trees grew “as tall as cypresses” with leaves “falling continuously” (18). The serene and alluring imagery that Magasich-Airola and de Beer provide further buttresses Berger’s claim that “home is at the center of the real” because the Europeans perceived a place with endless pure water and lush vegetation as an ideal version of reality. These beliefs, after influencing the Europeans for numerous decades, became a part of the explorers’ mindset and reality as they began to not only search for an Earthly Paradise but also the Fountain of Youth.
Along with the beliefs that influenced the Europeans to find an Earthly Paradise, according to Magasich-Airola and de Beer, Europeans, motivated by the ideas of immortality and juvenescence, embarked on a quixotic quest to find the legendary Fountain of Youth in the New World. Alexander the Great, in Roman d’Alexandre, stumbled upon a blessed land “where there was a stunning fountain…waters of which twinkled like lightning, and many other springs” (45). In this land, the air was also “perfumed and completely pure” (45) and the men “were young, none over thirty…with very handsome bodies” (47).
The Fountain of Youth, known for its potential to increase the longevity of a life and return humans back to a youthful state, created a zeal among the Europeans who sought to find this majestic water. Circling through Europe, the tales of the Fountain of Youth, such as the story of a cook who obtained access to the magnificent waters seducing one of the daughters of Alexander, provided a background of familiarity for the Europeans as they searched the New World for these heavenly waters. Just like the Earthly Paradise, the belief in the Fountain of Youth also became a part of Europeans’ perceptions of home and reality.
In addition to the ideas of an Earthly Paradise and the Fountain of Youth, America, immersed by tales of opulent lands in the most remote parts, is also presented as a place filled with wealth and opportunity for the voracious Europeans who were eager to obtain riches. Ciampagu, for instance, was believed to “have so much gold…that they do not know what to do with it” (58). The temptations of finding this “marvellous metal,” according to Magasich-Airola and de Beer, were fueled by the belief that gold was “the key to power, glory, and fortune” (59). The familiarity in the desire to obtain wealth and riches influenced Europeans’ imagination of the New World to the point that the lands, although not always as perceived accurately, became the explorers’ home.
Even though the New World was encountered through the stories and legends that the Europeans believed were true, America, in some eyes, is not considered “the center of the real” since the explorers only discovered lands consumed in unwelcoming natives rather than a home that fulfilled their imaginations. For instance, the adventurers had difficulty finding food and survival materials as they faced the “hostility of the forest dwellers who were so adroit in fighting river battles with their easily maneuverable canoes” (71). The lands were thought to have contained an Earthly Paradise without violence but, instead, the Europeans, intruding in the natives’ homes, understandably faced unruly people.
In addition, as noted by Jesuit Pedro Lorenzo, the lands of Chile were “lacking in gold. Only silver is so abundant” (95). The Europeans never found one of their main motives for exploration, but still discovered sources that provided potential wealth. Although some argue that the Europeans never found the concept of “home” since the New World did not actually fulfill their expectations, the concept of the Earthly Paradise in America, influenced by European myths and beliefs, still became their home-albeit not physical-in their heads because they believed that the Greek myths and Biblical stories were real.
Although the New World did not have natives with extremely long lives, lands lacking in disease, an abundance of gold, America, as pointed out by Magasich-Airola and de Beer, was still perceived by Europeans as a place that contained their familiar and real idea of an Earthly Paradise. Supporting Berger’s statement that “home is at the center of the real,” the first four chapters of America Magica highlight the belief that a home does not need to be a physical manifestation. To the Europeans, home, a rather complex concept, was an Earthly Paradise in their minds that was influenced by the familiarity of the myths that they believed were real.
A home does not always have to contain only the positive aspects of reality. Just like the yin and the yang, it also contains the illnesses of the land, the fights that may abruptly occur, and the shockingly contradictory information. Home and its counterpart, homelessness, transcend beyond words and physical manifestations—the two notions together provide others with one final question: what is a home?