Rene Descartes’s, Discourse on Method, helps with the understanding of both Michel de Montaigne’s Essay, Catalina de Erauso’s autobiography, as well as Peter Paul Rubens painting, Descent from the Cross. Their ideas added to the ways in which Europe helped conceptualized the New World. Each of their writings exercise the idea of being skeptical and to question beliefs and common opinions.
Rene Descartes, author of Discourse on Method, thought that math held all answers and contributed to many methods used in the New World. One of him maxims, stated in his essay, is as follows, “The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex,” (Descartes, 2). His method starts with the simple and easy problems before moving to more complicated ones. In other words, he believed that starting with the simpler objects allowed him to slowly progress toward more difficult objects of study. His universal doubt also led to the conceptualization of the New World. Which taught people to be skeptical about one’s beliefs.
Much like Descartes, Montaigne, who wrote Of Cannibals, also thought to be cautious about common opinions and to think about things differently. To start, he thought that the inhabitants of the New World lived in a very pleasant and balmy place. So, it was rare to hear of someone being sick. These inhabitants also never disputed over land or money, in turn, made Montaigne see this New World as utopian. As far as the natives and their beliefs, Montaigne states, “but there is not one found in an age, who will not rather choose to die than make such a confession, or either by word or look, recede from the entire grandeur of an invincible courage. There is not a man among them who had not rather be killed and eaten, than so much as to open his mouth to entreat he may not,” (Montaigne, 7). He explains that the natives want to preserve their will from being conquered. “It is no victory unless the vanquished admits your mastery,” (Montaigne, 7). Moreover, a man can be killed, but he cannot be defeated until he admits to it; and if he were taken prisoner, even tortured or eaten, he would still have his will power.
In Catalina de Erauso’s autobiography, she describes some encounters she faced while exploring the New World. Although her story is widely believed to be a myth, she still remained a cultural hero. Her social status, Basque nationality and her falsely stating she was a man allowed her to be trusted in going to the New World. Religious tension was one motive in her story, “He was such a holy man, I seemed in that moment to be in the very presence of God, and I revealed myself to him saying, 'Sir, all this I have told your Lordship is not so. The truth is this: that I am a woman,” (Erauso, 22). After confessing that she was a woman, the church had confirmed that she never took her vows as a nun. She is then free to go after she received authorization from the Pope to continue dressing as a man. Religion during this time frame was also seen in the art work known as baroque style.
Peter Paul Rubens, painter of Descent from the Cross, shows the opposite of what Montaigne talks about in his essay. The figure embodying Christ lays still and defeated as Mary holds her son for what looks to be the last time. This can symbolize the Christian virtue of resignation. This is a Baroque style oil painting from year 1618. Baroque style emphasizes emotion and dynamism, which can be seen in the faces of the people surrounding Christ. This style was popular from 1600-1750 and it was a search for stability in a restless age. Along with Rene Descartes contributing to atheism, there were other religious tensions within this era.
In conclusion, the discovery of the New World was both filled with curiosity and vehemence. Rene Descartes’s, Discourse on Method, Michel de Montaigne’s Essay, Catalina de Erauso’s autobiography, and Peter Paul Rubens painting, Descent from the Cross all contributed the development and ideas of the New World.