When the Conquistadores came to South America they were looking for wealth, especially gold. They found plenty. After a while they started looking specifically for El Dorado, the king who was said to be so wealthy he covered himself in gold dust every day and washed it off each night. Many of those expeditions in the early part of the sixteenth century were fuelled by such a vision. Countless people died as a result. The figures are probably in the tens of millions.
The Spaniards who worked themselves and others to death for this myth of gold felt that these tales of El Dorado were literal. They were factually true, they felt. Native Americans were not thought to have the power of thinking abstractly.
To the Indians of the Americas, though, the stories never were “true” in a factual sense. They were metaphorical. El Dorado was the myth of a kingdom in which everything was well-regulated and plentiful, and so gold had no power to motivate anyone. It was simply decoration, to be enjoyed. Like a bowl of flowers that could be savored and then cast aside when they faded, gold had no real value in their vision.
The Spaniards were too literal. And their heirs now own a land far more desolate than before.
Perhaps we, too, are too literal in our pursuit of wealth?