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I teach secondary school History classes. Our school library contains old academic works (from the 60s-80s) and unreliable children's academic literature. These all claim that ancient myths motivated the Spanish to explore the Americas. The Spanish were looking for the Seven Cities of Gold, the Fountain of Youth, the Lake of Gold, etc.

I have yet to encounter a reliable source, however, that supports this notion. I read two detailed diaries, and an autobiography, of three different explorers, and these texts never mentioned any myths. I can understand they would want to find gold, but did they really think they'd find the gold in these mythical contexts?

I found hundreds of books claiming Ponce de Leon was looking of the Fountain of Youth, but some stronger sources arguing otherwise:

Peck, Douglas T. "Anatomy of an historical fantasy: The Ponce De Leon-fountain of youth legend." Revista de Historia de América (1998): 63-87.

So its clear the search for the Fountain of Youth was added to the stories. Was that the case for the other myths?

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    Have you dug through the leads in the Wikipedia article? For example it says Quesada believed Metza might have been El Dorado and there's a footnote on that statement.
    – Brian Z
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:07
  • One doesn't have to take the myths literally to be "motivated" by them. Even a mere kernel of truth in any of these myths might have made most explorers wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Modern day prospectors aren't much different, toiling for years in search of just one undiscovered lode of gold. Dec 6, 2022 at 2:43

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Let's go over what we do know:

  1. The Seven Lost Cities were an old pre-Columbian myth. Spaniards and Portuguese believed there was an island called Antilla out in the Atlantic Ocean. This island had seven cities, populated by Christians who fled the Muslim conquest of Iberia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antillia). The Caribbean islands that Columbus discovered got the name Antilles from the legend of Antilla. But the Spaniards found no cities of Christians there. Maybe the Seven Cities were yet further west, somewhere as yet undiscovered.

  2. Francisco Cordoba discovered the Yucatan in 1517 and found gold there. Juan Grijalva was sent back in 1518 specifically to look for more, and he found much more than Cordoba did. Cortes was sent back in 1519 and found staggering amounts of gold in the city of Tenotchitlan. Pizarro's conquest of Peru in 1531-1533 was motivated by a quest for gold, based on rumors that turned out to be true. By the mid-1530s, undiscovered lands of gold were no longer myths, they were fact. The only question was where the next one would be found, and who would find it.

  3. In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca and three comrades returned to Spanish civilization after eight years of being lost and reported on seeing and hearing signs and rumors of gold, silver, and copper in what is now the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Viceroy Mendoza sent Friar Marcos de Niza to investigate. Marcos returned from a journey into Arizona and New Mexico. He said he found a city named Cibola. He only saw it from a distance and dared not enter, because some of his party had already been killed, but he described it as "grander than the city of Mexico." The natives with him told him that Cibola was the least of seven cities in that province. Marcos said he then went to the mouth of a valley and "I saw seven fair-sized settlements somewhat in the distance ... I obtained a report that in the valley there is much gold..." (Account of Fray Marcos de Niza, August 26, 1539, in Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542 by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, pp. 75-76.) This was in 1539.

  4. With Mendoza's approval and aid, Coronado raised an army and went out in 1540 to find Cibola. After he got there and found no gold, he continued searching, following rumors of a land of gold all the way into Kansas.

Putting it together, it is unclear whether Marcos or someone before him morphed the seven lost Christian cities of Antilla myth into a rumor of seven cities of gold. I am unaware of any instance of the seven cities of gold rumor that predates him, but there could be one. If there is, I doubt it goes back further than 1517, so it's a little recent to be called a myth. Marcos is definitely the person who placed it in Cibola. And Coronado definitely was looking for them, even if he didn't write, "I'm looking for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" in his letters.

Also see Children of the Sun by David Carson for more about Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth myth (p. 27, agrees with Peck that Ponce de Leon didn't sail looking for it); p.410 (the Seven Cities of Antilla), pp. 31-41 (the discovery of gold in Mexico), pp. 408-409 (Cabeza de Vaca's report), pp. 417-421 (Friar Marcos's journey and account), and pp. 420-421 (Coronado marches to Cibola). Full disclosure: It's my book.

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    – Community Bot
    May 16 at 18:26
  • Tl; dr....: Yes.
    – Spencer
    May 16 at 23:14

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