You Should Have Been Here Yesteryear

When the Golden State Was Paradise

California was imagined and named before it was discovered.  In 1510 in Seville there appeared a novel that would have Fabio on the cover today.  Written by Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, Las sergas de Esplandián is a romance of chivalry that vividly describes the adventures of a fictitious Christian knight, Esplandián.  In defending Constantinople against the Muslim invaders Esplandián is aided by an army of amazons from an island in the Western Sea.  The island abounds with riches and wonders and is called California.

Montalvo’s novel was a best-seller and inspired explorers to search for California, not because the idea of a paradisiacal land in the Western Sea was something newly introduced by Montalvo but because it tapped into an old Celtic myth that had currency in Europe for centuries if not millennia.  The Celts believed that somewhere to the west—of wherever they currently were—was a paradisiacal land.  They pushed westward for centuries until one tribe, the Gaels, reached Ireland, probably during the third century b.c.  By the fifth century a.d., Irish monks were voyaging into the Atlantic in hopes of finding paradise.  They found Iceland and Greenland, and perhaps North America.  Vikings followed their path.  But no paradise.

During the 1530’s Hernando Cortés renewed the search that others had abandoned centuries...

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