Looking at early maps of North America can be disconcerting; in the sixteenth century, only the bare outlines of the shape of the continent were known. But the explorers of the New World knew what they would find: dragons. Not actual dragons, necessarily; only one map that ever read Hic sunt dracones, and dragons were more more properly situated in Asia. But they would find strange and unusual things that nonetheless were strange and unusual things they had a context for. Maps of the world at the time of Columbus’ journey were far more detailed than those of the days of Herodotus, the Greek "father of history"; European exploration had mapped out much of the Atlantic coast of Africa, for instance. Francis Bacon‘s dictum that empirical evidence should be believed before received wisdom had yet to take hold, however, so the leading minds of Europe strenuously tried to fit the new continents into classical knowledge. As one book on the conflict between the power of tradition and the shock of discovery. John of Plano Carpini, the Papal ambassador to the Mongol court, had written of his voyages and the wonders he had seen, but when Marco Polo, the Italian merchant, had described fanciful nonsense like furry chickens and nuts in Sumatra as big as a man’s head that were filled with a clear liquor, few believed him. Herodotus had described the flying snakes of Arabia and gold-digging ants of India. Ptolemy had told of the Mountains of the Moon. But those were ancient times. Columbus had called America Another World, one which was separate from the old but whose boundless riches could fund Spain and thus Catholicism. The ancient texts could find room for the odd creatures of the New World that Buffon catalogued in the eighteenth century, and for the golden city of El Dorado. The natives of the New World were harder to explain, and when in 1550 a great debate — a literal debate, two scholars having it out — attempted to settle the question of the righteousness of the Spanish Empire, neither pariticipant made arguments that makes much sense to modern eyes. Juan Ginés de Sepulveda attested to the natural inferiority of the Indian and his rejection of Christianity and the Spaniards natural right to rule him; Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, the "defender of the Indians", rested his argument not on natural human rights but on the fact that the Indians, despite not being able to speak Greek, failed to meet Aristotle’s definition of a barbarian. Las Casas was a devoted humanist and Godly man whose dedication to the cause of welfare of the American natives cannot be understated, but he never diverged from the arguments of Politics to simply talk about politics. Nobody would have listened, even if he had. When they had moved off of Herodotus’ map, early modern Europeans still drew all their knowledge from the classics. They knew it all would have been would have been explained correctly had the ancients simply realized they wouldn’t burn when they arrived. There were no dragons in the New World. There was a blank map, and that was a more terrifying matter.