1 712864HOS / History of ScienceLeitão and Sánchez research-article2017 Special Issue: Iberian Science: Reflections and Studies Too much to tell: Narrative styles of the first descriptions of the natural world of the Indies HOS History of Science 2017, Vol. 55(2) The Author(s) 2017 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalspermissions.nav DOI: journals.sagepub.com/home/hos Henrique Leitão Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e da Tecnologia, University of Lisbon Antonio Sánchez Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e da Tecnologia, University of Lisbon Abstract Describing a Mundus Novus was a very singular task in the sixteenth century. It was an effort shaped by a permanent inherent tension between novelty and normality, between the immense variety of new facts (some extraordinary) and the demand of credibility. How did these inner strains affect the narrative style of the first descriptions of the natural world of the Indies? How were the first European observers of the nature of America able to simultaneously transmit the idea of immensity and regularity (mundus), and that of novelty (novus)? How did they attempt to describe new worlds knowing that there was a lot perhaps too much to tell? This paper focuses not on the muchdiscussed epistemological issues related to those questions, but on their narrative and stylistic consequences. We argue that the first Europeans meeting the new realities of the Americas or India had to meet new challenges, and these translated into texts with specific characteristics. Thus, their first descriptions are essentially different from the texts about the natural world that were written before or after the discovery. We show that they adopted very specific discursive approaches, and were deeply influenced by the credibility strategies of the medical profession in which they had been trained. Keywords Natural history, New World, Iberian naturalists, narratives styles, living voice, autoptes Corresponding author: Henrique Leitão, Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e da Tecnologia Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa , Lisbon, Portugal.
2 168 History of Science 55(2) Mundus Novus as a new narrative problem Mundus Novus, a New World: this is how Amerigo Vespucci titled his description of America in ca , and this is how contemporary authors frequently referred to the new reality they had come to know in their oceanic voyages. 1 As Vespucci put it: I have found a continent [ ] more populous and more full of animals than our Europe, or Asia, or Africa, and even more temperate and pleasant than any other region known to us. 2 Even before Vespucci, Peter Martyr d Anghiera had already used the expression New World in a letter of 1493 referring to the lands found by Columbus. 3 As W. G. L. Randles pointed out several years ago, the first uses of the notion of a new world have some connection with discussions dating from ancient and medieval times. 4 But those that afterwards took upon themselves the task of describing the natural world of the Indies, while not immune to the classical resonances of the expression, used it in more complex ways. One of the first to attempt such a description, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo ( ), acknowledged the correctness of the term by saying that Peter d Anghiera had been right in calling it a New World ( tuvo razón Pedro Mártir de llamarlo Mundo Nuevo ). 5 But Oviedo was not simply interested in naming the place. Like other Europeans in America he was attempting to explain to readers in the old continent the almost unbelievable variety of the new flora and fauna. More than isolated novelties, 1. See the letter Mundus Novus, sent by Vespucci to Lorenzo de Medici. In Clements R. Markham (ed.), The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci and Other Documents Illustrative of his Career (London: Hakluyt Society, 1894). 2. The relevant passage is worth quoting in full: In passed days I wrote very fully to you of my return from the new countries, which have been found and explored with the ships, at the cost, and by the command, of this Most Serene King of Portugal; and it is lawful to call it a new world, because none of these countries were known to our ancestors, and to all who hear about them they will be entirely new. For the opinion of the ancients was, that the greater part of the world beyond the equinoctial line to the south was not land, but only sea, which they have called the Atlantic; and if they have affirmed that any continent is there, they have given many reasons for denying that it is inhabited. But in this their opinion is false, and entirely opposed to the truth. My last voyage has proved it, for I have found a continent in that southern part; more populous and more full of animals than our Europe, or Asia, or Africa, and even more temperate and pleasant than any other region known to us, as will be explained further on. I shall write succinctly of the principal things only, and the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered, which I either saw or heard of in this new world, as presently will become manifest. In Markham, The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci, p Peter Martyr d Anghiera, Opus Epistolarum (Alcalá, 1530), fol. xxxiii, r. Note, however, that d Anghiera did not use the expression Mundus Novus, but Orbis Novus. Both express the meaning of World but in a not completely equivalent manner. The two expressions had a very different fortuna, with Mundus Novus becoming the most well-known and emblematic. For a detailed discussion of the origin and use of the term New World, see W. G. L. Randles, Le Nouveau Monde, l Autre Monde et la Pluralité des Mondes, in Geography, Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), paper XV. 4. See Randles, Le Nouveau Monde, l autre monde et la pluralité des mondes. 5. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Historia general y natural de las Indias (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1851 ), p.463.
3 Leitão and Sánchez 169 bizarre animals, or exotic lands, what they found was a New World. But how to describe it? How to even start? Consider for a moment the sheer ambition of the enterprise: to describe the plants of the Indian continent; to describe the flora of the Americas; to inform the European reader of the immense variety of new animals in lands of almost infinite extension. 6 Bear in mind also the novelty of many of these natural objects from the east and the west: fruits and spices such as pepper, cocoa, corn, potato, or cinnamon; plants, medicinal and non-medicinal, such as cotton, snuff, guaiac, or sarsaparilla; and animals like rhinos, elephants, llamas, armadillos, or parrots, among many others. How to write a coherent and credible account of these stunning natural elements? How to convey at the same time that this immense variety formed a world, that is, how to simultaneously convey the strangeness and the familiarity? How to express in one same text the extraordinary and the mundane, the known and the unknown? These, of course, are not new questions for historians. An immense amount of work has been conducted in the past decades around these topics. In this essay we rely on this scholarly corpus, but we argue that despite its impressive dimension and depth, there are, in our opinion, important issues that have been overlooked and lines of analysis that require more attention. More specifically, we submit that a careful reading of books on the natural history of the new lands puts in evidence a first phase in these descriptions (roughly until the mid to late sixteenth century), with specific problems, and that dealing with these problems led to special narrative modes. The first men who attempted to describe the New World had to face two conceptual problems. On the one hand, they had to make it clear that they were talking about a World, an immense variety of elements, forming a coherent, stable whole; on the other hand, they had to explain in which sense it was New, different from what was already known. Most likely they were not fully conscious of this double requirement, but it would be wrong to suppose that this dichotomy is nothing but an historian s abstraction. In 1552, in the dedication letter to Emperor Charles V in his book Historia general de las Indias, the Spanish chronicler Francisco López de Gómara (1511 ca. 1566), showing what is perhaps an exceptional awareness of the issues at stake, clearly separated the World from the New : in relation to the first he said that it was huge, almost as large as the old world; in relation to the New, he explained that it could be called so because all its elements were very different from those in Europe. 7 This double theoretical and argumentative requirement was a complex challenge these authors had to meet. In addition, as we will argue in this section, both terms stand in some tension with each other since the regularity associated with mundus needs to conform with the unexpectedness of the novus. Thus, whether fully conscious of the subtlety of the task or what is perhaps more 6. For the new animals, see Miguel de Asúa and Roger French, A New World of Animals: Early Modern Europeans on the Creatures of Iberian America (London: Routledge, 2005). 7. La mayor cosa después de la creación del mundo, sacando la encarnación, y muerte, del que lo crio, es el descubrimiento de Indias, y assi las llaman Mundo nuevo, y no tanto le dicen nuevo por ser nuevamente hallado, quanto por ser grandissimo, y casi tan grande como el viejo, que contiene a Europa, Africa, y Asia. Tambien se puede llamar nuevo, por ser todas sus cosas diferentissimas delas del nuestro. Francisco López de Gómara, Historia general de las Indias (Antwerp: Juan Bellero, 1554 ), f. 4r.
4 170 History of Science 55(2) likely in an instinctive manner, they had to devise strategies and narrative modes that made their texts carriers of adequate meaning in both of these senses. 8 Once a New World had been identified and defined, it was then possible to apply to it the proper methods of enquiry of natural history. The first phase of this complex process corresponded to the need to create, for the first time, a discursive conceptualization and a reification of this New World. This characterized especially (but not exclusively) the practices and the texts of the Spanish and Portuguese voyagers and chroniclers of the sixteenth century who first took it upon themselves to explain the new realities. 9 The second phase, roughly from the later years of the sixteenth and all throughout the seventeenth centuries, corresponded to a phase when the specific descriptions of botany, biology, and natural phenomena could be made against a background that was already ontologically assured; these selected botanical and biological items were now inhabitants of an already established New World. This phase involved many authors, not only Iberian, but from many different European provenances, such as Carolus Clusius, Conrad Gessner, or Ulisse Aldrovandi, to name a few of the most prominent. 10 The identification of a first phase is proposed to clarify historical matters, but should not be used with excessive rigidity. It is obvious that there is no complete homogeneity between the authors of this phase and that temporal variations can be discerned. Yet, men as diverse as Tomé Pires, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Garcia de Orta, Francisco Hernández, Jaime Honorato Pomar, Juan Fragoso, Cristóvão da Costa, Nicolás Monardes, and José de Acosta share in common that they were some of the first to attempt lengthy descriptions of the natural world of the new lands, and they all had some medical background. One of the most striking aspects of the investigation of nature by these authors lies in the fact that from the very beginning their enterprise did not follow conventional genres. 11 Consciously or not, these observers of nature did not imitate the classical models of large-scale description of the world based on an encyclopedic approach, trying to 8. Sara Beckjord has studied recently the rhetorical elements of some of these narrative strategies in the case of the early Spanish chroniclers of America. See Sara Beckjord, Territories of History: Humanism, Rhetoric, and the Historical Imagination in Early Chronicles of Spanish America (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007). However, she does not analyze these strategies from the point of view of the Mundus/Novus dichotomy. 9. For a study of the sources about American nature of this first phase, see José Pardo Tomás and María Luz López Terrada, Las primeras noticias sobre plantas americanas en las relaciones de viajes y crónicas de Indias, (Valencia: Instituto de Estudios Documentales e Históricos sobre la Ciencia, Universitat de València, CSIC, 1993). 10. In the last few decades, many historians have analyzed this second phase, such as Giuseppe Olmi, Florike Egmond, Sachiko Kusukawa, Londa Schiebinger, Claudia Swan, Eric Jorink, Daniela Bleichmar, Brian W. Ogilvie, Mauricio Nieto, Ralph Bauer, Harold J. Cook, Richard Drayton, Susan Scott Parrish, and Richard H. Grove, among many others. See also some important collective works especially in English historiography like Nicholas Jardine, James A. Secord, and E. C. Spary (eds.), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 11. However, even in this first phase of descriptions of the New World, one must consider that significant temporal variations occurred. It was not the same to write in the 1520s or 1530s, as Oviedo did, as writing in the 1570s or 1590s, as Hernández and Acosta did.
5 Leitão and Sánchez 171 collect and inform following a prescriptive methodology. 12 They never attempted to write, for example, a Historia animalium along the Aristotelian prescription, nor a Natural History in the Plinian format. 13 A closer examination immediately reveals the impossibility of following along those lines. The Aristotelian style in Historia animalium is particularly valuable when the animals described are reasonably familiar and what is at stake is above all a detailed, minute explanation of the form and function of those animals organs. The popularity of the genre Historia naturalis, of which Pliny s work was the most celebrated, sometimes hides the fact that these were essentially bookish enterprises: Pliny s 37-volume Naturalis historia presents 20,000 important facts, extracted from about 2000 volumes by 100 authors. 14 In both the Aristotelian and the Plinian format, the purpose is to describe sometimes in surprisingly rich detail forms of nature that inhabit a well-known space. But Europeans arriving in America had to face quite a different challenge, and they were sometimes very explicit about this difference: Oviedo says explicitly that he is not, like Pliny, extracting his knowledge from books, but, on the contrary, from what he had seen and experienced in person. 15 In the same way, Tomé Pires (ca ca. 1540) claims that his description of Asia is not based on second-hand information, as is the case of Friar Anselmo, Ptolemy, and others, but from his own experience. 16 So, detaching their texts from the previous tradition of books about the natural world was something that these men did, whether consciously or unconsciously. But there was more that shaped the tone of their narratives. For many years, historians have concentrated on studying the strategies used to describe the experience of the Novus, that is, the discursive forms that the first European observers adopted in their reports, and the ways they used to transmit to other Europeans 12. On the natural history of the ancient world see Roger French, Ancient Natural History: Histories of Nature (London: Routledge, 1994). French analyzes the methodology used by classical authors such as Aristotle, Theophrastus, Strabo, and Pliny in the study of nature through their texts. 13. This does not mean that there were no such attempts; indeed, there were. Conrad Gessner s, Historia animalium (1558) is a superb example of a bookish enterprise. And the same could be said of the equally remarkable book by Pierre Belon, L histoire naturelle des estranges poissons marins (Paris: Regnaud Chaudiere, 1551); but these are not the type of books we are considering here, where a new world had to be described. 14. On Pliny s encyclopedic project: Roger French and F. Greenaway (eds.), Science in the Early Roman Empire: Pliny the Elder, his Sources and Influence (London: Croom Helm, 2008); V. Naas, Le projet encyclopédique de Pline L Ancien (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2002); T. Murphy, Pliny the Elder s Natural History: The Empire in the Encyclopaedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 15. Oviedo, Historia general, p. 6. See Kathleen Ann Myers, Fernández de Oviedo s Chronicle of America: A New History for a New World (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007). As will be seen below, the relation was perhaps more complex. To be more precise: Iberian authors sometimes emulated Aristotle and Pliny, and sometimes distanced themselves from these authorities. 16. The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires and The Book of Francisco Rodrigues, Volume I (London: Hakluyt Society, 1944), p.5.
6 172 History of Science 55(2) the wonder and the surprise of this new reality. 17 Of the recent contributions, perhaps the work by Stephen Greenblatt and Anthony Pagden has been the most influential. 18 Curiously, much less effort has been made to analyze the strategies used to justify that it was also a Mundus. 19 It is our objective in this paper to show that the problem of describing a Mundus also had deep implications, perhaps deeper than previously noticed. And, most of all, in our opinion, what previous scholars have not noted is the fact that the idea of Mundus and the idea of Novus stand in tension with each other, and this inherent tension has important narrative consequences. To describe new things was always one of the main tasks in the study of nature. 20 The development of scientific knowledge is surely a very complex process, but few would dispute that one of its main axes is the gradual and cumulative growth of its empirical basis. This is especially relevant in what concerns natural history, where the successive accumulation of new evidence, incorporating novelties into what is already known, plays a very important role. Dealing with novelties and incorporating new evidence is not, in itself, a new situation in the study of nature. It was thus in Antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and afterwards. Of course, this widening of empirical basis with new natural elements (animals, plants, diverse phenomena, etc.) is in itself a complex process since classification, grouping, and theoretical construction go hand in hand with it. But in the history of medieval and Renaissance Europe all of these processes can be clearly documented. They are rather slow processes of accumulating, recording, and interpreting knowledge about the natural world. Yet, it had never occurred that new things appeared in their immense variety but also their inner coherence due to an abrupt event or series of events that suddenly revealed 17. Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973 ); A. Gerbi, Nature in the New World: From Christopher Columbus to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985 ); Raquel Álvarez, La conquista de la naturaleza americana (Madrid: CSIC, 1993); António Alberto Banha de Andrade, Mundos novos do mundo: panorama da difusão, pela Europa, de notícias dos descobrimentos geográficos portugueses (Porto: Imprensa Portuguesa, 1972); Fredi Chiappelli (ed.), First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New: (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Anthony Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995). 18. See Stephen Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003); Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993); and Tzvetan Todorov, La conquête de l Amérique: la question de l autre (Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1982). 19. One exception is Edmundo O Gorman, La invención de América. Investigación acerca de la estructura histórica del nuevo mundo y del sentido de su devenir (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1958), p.68 ff., 123 ff., and 151 ff. 20. See Brian W. Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006). Ogilvie considers natural history as the science of describing, a science which ranged from personal experience to the development of techniques for cataloging and classifying the natural world.
7 Leitão and Sánchez 173 a whole world. This was a novel situation. The adaption to a sudden and almost explosive growth in the empirical basis of new knowledge forced new forms of dealing with the empirical evidence: new forms of collecting, analyzing, validating, circulating, and so forth but also new forms of telling about it, of conveying such information to wide audiences. It is in this sense that it is justifiable to talk about a specific modality within European natural history. A new world had to be proposed as a concrete entity so that it could afterwards be described in ever increasing detail. The situation of having to go from the general to the particular is not exactly new for those interested in the natural world; Ptolemy, for example, proposed going from the universal (cosmography) to the regional/local (chorography). But what made it unique in this case is that the general was perceived as a whole new world. And that is why, to the first wave of Europeans that met the new regions of the world and attempted some sort of description, one of the main problems was that they had too much to tell or, as a contemporary said, there are so many [things] that I do not know how to count them ( hay tantas que no sabré contarlas ). 21 A Mundus with too much to tell It is pertinent to insist on the fact that proposing to describe a Mundus Novus is a quite anomalous situation in the history of scientific knowledge. Similar historical cases are difficult to trace, perhaps nonexistent. It was only much later, in a certain sense only with the telescope and the microscope, that comparable situations occurred, and it is no coincidence that parallels were explicitly made between these events: upon learning about Galileo s observations with the telescope, several contemporaries compared him to a new Columbus. 22 As is well known, one of the most powerful images for some of the most outspoken promoters of scientific modernity in the seventeenth century Bacon, for example was that of a ship sailing in the ocean or sailing beyond the pillars of Hercules; but what made that ship so powerful a messenger of modernity was that it was bound to reach the strangest of entities: a New World. Indeed, as pointed out at the beginning, until the navigations of the fifteenth century, the very concept of new world seems to be absent from Europe s imagination. 23 The attempt to describe and make acceptable the overseas New World was thus a very novel situation which presented not 21. For a clarification of the quote, see note 37. The expression too much to tell and the title of our paper echo the well-known and excellent book by Ann M. Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010), but the contents are unrelated. More proximity exists perhaps with Giuseppe Marcocci s paper Too Much to Rule: States and Empires across the Early Modern World, Journal of Early Modern History 20(6) (2016): Giovanni Battista Manso to Galileo, 18 March 1610 (Opere, X, 296). 23. This is not to be confounded with the concepts of new places, exotic places, faraway places, mysterious islands, fantastic locations, magical sites, etc., all of which had long traditions in Europe. What seems difficult to trace before the fifteenth century is the concept that a new world really existed.
8 174 History of Science 55(2) only new epistemological challenges but also deeply affected the narrative modes employed to communicate it. Mundus is a very rich term. Leaving aside the nuance introduced by Christianity mundus in the sense of the realm of mundane things as opposed to spiritual ones a world means essentially an immense totality of connected elements, coherently disposed. 24 The important aspect to note is that a world is not a place, it is not a situs: it is not an island, or a beach, or a forest, or the camp of a certain tribe. It is a unique and harmonious whole, despite being composed of myriads of elements of many varied characteristics. Used as we all are to the expression new world, we sometimes fail to note that the term and, what is more, its meaning, was not always employed when referring to the new places found. In the famous papal bull Inter caetera of May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI referred to certain lands and islands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others. 25 But this and similar forms of expression were not the ones that prevailed, most of all in the works of those who actually attempted to describe the nature of America. They did not see certain lands and islands remote ; they saw truly an immense and autonomous new world. Variety and the presence of multiform elements must be subsumed under the continuous and harmonious whole. The etymology of the word Mundus somehow captures this, with its meaning of clean, elegant, adorned, and wellbalanced. 26 Elio Antonio de Nebrija, in his Vocabulario español-latino, notes that the Latin mundus is cognate to the Greek cosmos, which also contains the idea of clean and adorned (hence cosmetics, etc.), whereas Sebastián de Covarrubias, in his Tesoro de la lengua castellana, underlines especially the religious connotation and the aspect of quantity (multitud). 27 The immense quantity of elements and the coherence and the mutual relationship of the elements are aspects inevitably tied to the idea of Mundus. A mere listing of elements will not capture or will capture only in a very deficient manner the idea of Mundus; a simple list of new findings will not carry the idea of a new world. The reification of World thus imposes the creation of a certain mental space endowed 24. The Latin word mundus (and its vernacular cognates) has an ample set of meanings. Although the harmony, coherence, and completeness are the senses we most explore here, it is worth remembering that other senses (for example, religiously inspired) were also common. 25. Frances Gardiner Davenport (ed.), European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), pp According to Gaffiot, mundus means also objects de toilette [des femmes], ornements, bijoux, parure. Félix Gaffiot, Dictionnaire illustré latin-français (Paris: Hachette, 1934), p See Mundus in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879). 27. Elio Antonio de Nebrija, Vocabulario español-latino (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1989 [1495?]), fol. LXXIIIv: Mundo propiamente el cielo, mundus. Mundo este mesmo en griego, cosmos ; Sebastián de Covarrubias, Tesoro de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Luis Sanchez, 1611), fol. 558r: Mundo, el trato de aquellos que atienden tan solo a las cosas temporales, y a estos llamamos Mundanos. [ ] Mundo vale multitud de gente, cuando decimos Todo el mundo ha salido a ver qualquier novedad. También vale multitud, como esta casa me costó un mundo de dinero.
9 Leitão and Sánchez 175 with stability and coherence. 28 It is no surprise that the first authors who attempted to describe the Mundus Novus had frequently to resort to the creation of geographies of intense imaginative flavor. Often their texts become verbose and seem to diverge from a cold and objective description, but these detours, consciously or unconsciously, serve a very specific purpose. Pedro Vaz de Caminha s poetic first description of Brazil is a good example of this. 29 But of course world denotes above all a very complex and very large entity, perhaps infinite in its variety. Virtually all authors associate the New World with the fact that there are many things. But they express even more: they say that there are so many that they are too much to tell. To a greater or lesser extent, when describing the New World, the issue that there is too much to tell becomes unavoidable. That there is too much to tell is very clear in the work of Fernández de Oviedo, who titled his first attempt of a description of nature in America simply as Sumario (1526), summary, that is, a brief overview. 30 In his later, more ambitious book, Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535), he repeatedly declares the limitations of his study. 31 Oviedo comes across as clearly anxious to tell everything, overwhelmed by a task that evidently is much beyond his powers. On several occasions he insists that there are too many things that need to be told, that the Indies are so vast that man s life is too short to see it and to know it and to analyse it. 32 At the beginning of his work he dramatically laments: Which mortal mind will be able to understand such diversity of languages, men, animals, trees, fruits, plants, grass, flowers, fragrances, birds, rivers, seas and mountains? 33 Throughout the book he insists on the near impossibility of the task, at one point saying that such is the 28. For a comparable question (the construction of architectural space), Gaston Bachelard famously argued that the notion of space acquires its sense by a process that is above all poetic, that is, that appeals to imaginative and esthetic faculties. Gaston Bachelard, La poétique de l espace (Paris: PUF, 1961 ), pp.19 and Enquanto andávamos nessa mata a cortar lenha, atravessavam alguns papagaios por essas árvores, deles verdes e outros pardos, grandes e pequenos, de maneira que me parece que haverá muitos nesta terra. Porém eu não veria mais que até nove ou dez. Outras aves então não vimos, somente algumas pombas-seixas, e pareceram-me bastante maiores que as de Portugal. Alguns diziam que viram rolas; eu não as vi. Mas, segundo os arvoredos são mui muitos e grandes, e de infindas maneiras, não duvido que por esse sertão haja muitas aves! Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha a D. Manuel I (1500) (Letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha to King Manuel I of Portugal), Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Gavetas, Gav. 8, mç. 2, n.º Fernández de Oviedo, Sumario de la natural historia de las Indias (Santafé de Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 1995 ). 31. Oviedo, Historia general. 32. que es muy corta la vida del hombre para lo poder ver, ni acabar de entender o conjeturar. Oviedo, Historia general, p.2. Also: Materia es, muy poderoso señor, en que mi edad y diligencia, por la grandeza del objeto y sus circunstancias, no podrán bastar a su perfecta definición, por mi insuficiente estilo y brevedad de mis días. Oviedo, Historia general, p Cuál ingenio mortal sabrá comprender tanta diversidad de lenguas, hombres, animales, árboles, frutas, plantas, hierbas, flores, fragancias, aves, ríos, mares y montañas? Oviedo, Historia general, p.2.
10 176 History of Science 55(2) abundance of subjects that come to my memory, that only with great difficulty can I finish writing, 34 and, somewhat later: I say that the trees in these Indies are something impossible to explain due to their quantity, 35 and on yet another occasion, that the number of some animals is perhaps uncountable. 36 The excessive abundance of things to describe became a topos in all these books and reports. José de Acosta (ca ), writing about the roots of plants of the Indies, says that there are many more than in Europe, and that their number is so large that he cannot count them ( hay tantas que no sabré contarlas ). 37 Likewise, the translator of the works of Francisco Hernández, Fray Francisco Jiménez, stated in his note to the reader that plants, trees, and flowers of the new world are so many and so admirable that other new volumes would be needed only to mention them. 38 Even for authors such as Nicolás Monardes (ca ), who, while not in America, were receiving natural products from there, it seems imperative to state that American natural products vastly exceed their counterparts in Europe. 39 To describe the New World therefore entails a practical problem of selection. Limitations of space and limitations of time create a very clear problem of how to select the elements that will be described while at the same time somehow justifying sometimes in an explicit way, yet often in an implicit or even in a silent way those that are not described. One strategy that was frequently employed was to establish some sort of hierarchy in the natural products. Vespucci was clearly at a loss in his attempt to explain the New World, 34. Es tanta la abundancia de las materias que me ocurren a la memoria, que con mucha dificultad las puedo acabar de escribir y distinguir. Oviedo, Historia general, p Digo que en general los árboles que en estas Indias hay es cosa para no se poder explicar, por su multitud Oviedo, Historia general, p Writing about flying fishes in the ocean: pero en ellos es grandíssimo e incontable el número destos peces voladores. Oviedo, Historia general, p Aunque en los frutos que se dan sobre la tierra es más copiosa y abundante la tierra de aca por la gran cantidad de arboles frutales y de hortalizas: pero en raíces y comidas debajo tierra paréceme que es mayor la abundancia de alla, porque en este genero aca hay rabanos, y nabos, y zanahorias, y chicorias, y cebollas, y ajos, y algunas otras raíces de provecho, alla hay tantas que no sabré contarlas, José de Acosta, Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Sevilla: Juan de Leon, 1590), p Son tantas y tan admirables [plantas, árboles y flores] las que encierra en si este nuevo mundo, que para solo referirlas, sería menester otros nuevos volúmenes. Francisco Hernández, Quatro libros de la naturaleza, y virtudes de las plantas, y animales que están recevidos en el uso de Medicina de la Nueva España (Mexico: viuda de Diego Lopez Daualos, 1615). Note to the reader (Al Lector). 39. ay muchas Provincias [ ] en las quales se han hallado cosas, que jamas en estas partes, ni en otras del mundo, han sido vistas, ni hasta oy sabidas, y otras que si las tenemos en estas partes, exceden en la mucha abundancia que de ellas nos traen. And he continues: Así como, oro, plata, perlas, esmeraldas, turquessas y otras piedras finas de grande valor, que si aca teníamos alguna parte dellas, es grande el exceso y cantidad que ha venido, y cada día viene. Nicolás Monardes, Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales que sirven en medicina (Sevilla: Fernando Diaz, 1580 ), fol. 1-1r.
11 Leitão and Sánchez 177 and he said simply that I shall write succinctly of the principal things only, and the things most worthy of notice and of being remembered, which I either saw or heard of in this new world. But what exactly are the principal things and the most worthy of notice? Rarity, strangeness, exceptionality, or the sense of surprise or amazement could function as criteria. Oviedo indeed chose to select facts and events according to their strangeness and their rarity. 40 Interestingly, in doing this he was approaching the model of Pliny, thus showing that his relation with the traditional models of natural history was more nuanced after all. But perhaps even more curious is noticing that he was exploring the inner tension between mundus and novus by using wonder as a selection procedure. 41 Other Iberian authors were not as explicit as Oviedo, Acosta, Jiménez, or Monardes, and tried to manage and sometimes to elude the problem of having to describe the immensity of a world using other discursive techniques. Garcia de Orta (1501? 1568) most probably did it using a dialogue. Garcia de Orta s well-known Colóquios dos Simples e Drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia (1563) is written as a dialogue. 42 Dialogue, of course, was a very common form among humanists and a literary style much in vogue in Europe. It was also in fashion in Portugal, having been chosen by some of the finest literary figures of the country. João de Barros, Fr. Heitor Pinto, and Fr. Amador Arrais all published dialogues in Portuguese. 43 A dialogue form can be prompted by very different requirements and can lead to multiple uses. 44 A closer inspection of the works of the authors listed above shows that sixteenth-century Portuguese literati used this form in very different ways. Whereas the dialogue form can be construed a priori as a way to deploy a subject in a dialectical manner, introducing argument and counter-argument, and leading the reader to the final conclusion, this structure seems to have been used only at the high level of scholarly texts. In a didactic setting, where they were used frequently, dialogues serve usually to introduce questions by a student, and to provide answers by the master; in fact, dialogues 40. Su forma de distinguir y seleccionar es cuando mas raras y peregrinas fueren [ ] tanto mas sera cada cual digna de ser sabida y no puesta en olvido. Oviedo, Historia general, p.161. See Jesús María Carrillo Castillo, Naturaleza e Imperio: La representación del mundo natural en la Historia general y natural de las Indias de Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (Madrid: Doce Calles and Fundación Carolina, 2004). 41. We owe this very perceptive remark to an anonymous referee, to whom we offer our thanks. 42. Garcia de Orta, Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia (Goa: Ioannes de Endem, 1563). The literature on Orta is quite considerable. For recent works with updated bibliography see: Palmira Fontes da Costa (ed.), Medicine, Trade and Empire: Garcia de Orta s Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India in Context (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015); and Teresa Nobre de Carvalho, Os desafios de Garcia de Orta. Colóquios dos Simples e Drogas da Índia (Lisbon: Esfera do Caos, 2015). 43. In addition, other Portuguese authors published dialogues, but in Latin: Sá de Menezes, André de Resende, Jerónimo Osório, Luísa Sigeia, Duarte de Sande, and Diogo de Sá. 44. For a general approach to the topic, see Virginia Cox, The Renaissance Dialogue: Literary Dialogue in its Social and Political Contexts, Castiglioni to Galileo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
12 178 History of Science 55(2) were frequently used for pedagogical reasons. But dialogue could be chosen for other reasons. Duarte de Sande, in his De Missione Legatorum, published in 1590 in Macao, explains why he preferred the dialogue form: having thus started the composition of this book it seemed proper [ ] that it had not the form of a continuous story, which could provoke some tediousness, but of a dialogue. 45 Thus, clearly, dialogue was sometimes chosen to provide a more lively presentation of topics. It is likely that some of these factors were at play in Orta s choice of a dialogue, but maybe another reason was more pertinent. A dialogue allows for an accurate, but discreet, control of the selection of materials. A dialogue contains its own logic, its own dynamic flow that provides naturalness to the topics that are mentioned while at the same time dispensing justification for what is omitted. Texts in dialogue allow for the control of what is said but also of what is not said in an almost imperceptible way. In a dialogue the author is never required to explain the selections that were made: the characters of the dialogue do this. The reader of the Colóquios barely noticed if at all that he had been offered a very selected view of the natural products of India: selection is implicit and is done by the interlocutors. In a recent paper, Juan Pimentel and Isabel Soler noted perceptively that a dialogue is closer to an essay than to a treatise. 46 This is also an aspect we want to underline here. The immensity of what needed to be told made it impossible for sixteenth-century authors to adopt a systematic and exhaustive approach, and much less an attempt at classification. Thus the traditional academic modes of Summas, Compendiums, and Mirrors of Nature (Speculum naturalis) were especially ill-suited to the task at hand, and were not used. Furthermore, as noted earlier, the creation of mental spaces required some poetic license, and this is something dialogues allow quite naturally. In addition to being written in the form of a dialogue an aspect that is immediately noted by any reader and that has been discussed by all Orta scholars what truly strikes the reader of the Colóquios is the great number of characters that circulate in the work around seventy. Although some of these characters were meant to be immediately recognized by a reader who knew the scene in Goa, they were completely unknown for a reader in Europe. One may assume that Orta had in mind these two different readerships, but it is obvious that for the vast majority of readers the characters of the dialogue were not to be identified with real persons; they were types. But they are very human types, personae of a very lively appearance. This human aspect of the dialogue is very significant, and we will return to it shortly. The selection of materials to describe and discuss could be made using other approaches, however. For example, to Cristóvão da Costa (ca ca. 1594) the 45. Cum ergo opus hoc conficiendum susciperem, placuit eidem patri, ut non continuatae historiae, quae fastidium aliquod gignere posset, sed dialogi formam obtineret. D. de Sande, Diálogo sobre a missão dos embaixadores japoneses à cúria romana (Macao: Comissão Territorial de Macau para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Fundação Oriente, 1997), p Juan Pimentel and Isabel Soler, Painting Naked Truth: The Colóquios of Garcia de Orta (1563), Journal of Early Modern History 18 (2014):
13 Leitão and Sánchez 179 problem of the excessive number of natural things is solved precisely because Costa does not take the nature of the Indies as his point of departure. The point of departure of his well-known Tratado das Drogas (1578) is the natural elements plants and drugs that had previously been selected by Garcia de Orta. 47 Costa even reduces the number of natural elements mentioned by Orta. He was therefore able to direct attention to a very narrow set of elements, because these had already been selected and constituted as relevant by Orta. Nevertheless, Costa was well aware of the risks of such a decision and the fact that by doing so he had become exposed to critiques. He tried to anticipate those critiques by providing the following justification: pay no attention to the small size of this work, because although it seems small in quantity its quality is great. 48 He then proceeds with his defense by promising a larger book in the future. Despite being highly selective, Costa s Tratado das Drogas reveals a significant aspect of the dynamics of the construction of knowledge about the New World. Once an element of the reality of the New World had been established (by Orta) and a new empirical space had been delimited, it became possible to select within that new reality a very narrow set of natural elements and zoom in on them analytically. It is also interesting to note how Costa is wrong when he criticizes Orta for his supposed verbosity and the fact that he refers, as Costa says, to many unnecessary things. It is obvious that in Orta s book one finds much more than merely Simples y Drogas. But all of it plays its part; all of it, in a sense, is essential. Orta knows, in an instinctive manner, that what needs to be transmitted is a first-hand experience. It is because of this that the author remains inside the narration, which should not be perceived as a deficiency or a lack of objectivity on the author s part. On the contrary, the participation in the events is a crucial element in the description; absence is what inhibits the possibility of persuasive reports. Thus Oviedo, for example, explains that neither the blind man knows how to determine colours nor the absent [man] testify in these matters, but only those that have seen it. 49 On other occasions, selection of the natural elements discussed is even more explicit and more drastic. Monardes, for example, does not attempt to describe a new world at all. He limits his work to studying the natural products that reached him in Seville, that is, that had been previously selected on the other side of the world. As a result, the narrative style becomes more distant and detached, as well as more structured and schematized: for each product, Monardes offers a name, its history, uses, effects, notes, and so forth, as if filing entries for a catalogue. Some of these entries take up several pages and are quite detailed, as is for example the case of tobacco Cristóvão da Costa, Tractado de las Drogas, y medicinas de las Indias Orientales (Burgos: Martin de Victoria, 1578). 48. no mires al pequeño volumen de esta obra, que aunque parezca pequeña en cantidad su calidad es grande. Costa, Tractado de las Drogas, p.4 of the letter to the reader. 49. ni el ciego sabe determinar colores, ni el ausente testificar estas materias, como quien las mira. Oviedo, Historia general, p Monardes, Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal, ff
14 180 History of Science 55(2) Making the Novus credible In addition to having to focus their attention on a reduced but coherent subset of natural elements drawn from a nearly endless variety, the first authors that described the new world also had to present them in a manner that was credible to the reader. But how was this achieved? How, indeed, can direct experience be proposed as the road to knowledge when the nature to be investigated is unreachable to the readers to whom the book is addressed? More than mere writers of new facts, Orta and other authors used their credibility to become purveyors of truth. A first aspect to note is that the new in these texts is not the extraordinary or the marvelous of medieval chronicles and travel books. The new of these reports is fully domesticated and quite alien to the medieval monsters and mirabilia extraordinary, exotic, or notable phenomena. 51 Medieval and Renaissance literature on mirabilia is immense, but these were never the type of works that Iberian authors tried to produce. Quite on the contrary, it was crucial to transmit a sense of normalcy, of a stable and uniform coherence among all natural elements. This is critically imposed by the need to describe a world. Here we touch a critical narrative point of these texts: there is a certain inner tension between the description of a world and the description of new things, between normalcy and the extraordinary. The narrative difficulty was to maneuver within these constraints, and the solution could not be a mere insistence on the extraordinary. Thus, although the wondrous and the extraordinary do appear in these texts and, as mentioned above, they most likely played a decisive role in the selection of materials, they were not the narrative axis in the descriptions of the nature of the New World in this period. 52 This regularization of the new was possible through various means, as historians have already noted. Parallelism with the old world and the creation of real epistemologies of testimony are known to have been used. 53 Novelties were not persuasive because they were associated with exceptional circumstances, but because they contained a certain commensurability with what was known in Europe, and because the reports were credible. The regularization of the new by setting a parallelism with the situation in Europe is commonly found in texts of this first phase. José de Acosta, for example, is very clear 51. On medieval monsters, see Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, (New York: Zone Books, 1998). See also Peter Mason, Before Disenchantment: Images of Exotic Animals and Plants in the Early Modern World (London: Reaktion Books, 2009). 52. Thus we feel that analyses that center on the sense of wonder, such as Stephen Greenblatt s well known Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), need to be counter-balanced by the need to transmit normalcy. 53. These topics have been treated by various historians. For a recent and especially important discussion, see Chapter 1, The Principle of Attachment, in Pagden, European Encounters; On testimony, see Peter Lipton, The Epistemology of Testimony, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 29 (1998): 1 31.
15 Leitão and Sánchez 181 about this: he frequently establishes such parallels, by first describing las cosas propias de Indias [things that are specific from the Indies ], which he then compares with corresponding or similar ones in Europe. 54 Thus he makes parallels between the corn of America and wheat in Europe (Book 4, Chapter xvi, pp.226 7); the llama of Peru and the sheep in Europe (Book 4, Chapter xli, p.283); wells and fountains in America and those of Europe (Book 3, Chapter xvii, p.154); earthquakes in Mexico and in Italy (Book 3, Chapter xxvi, p.179), and others. This strategy obviously helps in creating a credible Mundus, but clearly attenuates the sense of newness. Assuring the truthfulness of reports was a problem that these authors also had to face. As is well known, one of the most common approaches was to resort to personal testimony. In doing so, they were relying on a process that would become common in early modern Europe. 55 But the issue requires perhaps closer inspection as we believe the way sixteenth-century observers of the nature of the Indies attempted to establish their credibility as suitable witnesses explains in part the narrative styles that characterize their texts. We are thus not specifically concerned with an epistemological issue but with its literary and stylistic consequences. In the ancient tradition the one that surely most influenced the narrative modes of the sixteenth-century naturalists the ideal testimony was not that in which the author adopted a distant and neutral role; quite the contrary. The most credible testimonies were those where the informer was a direct participant in the facts that he narrated. Thus, the notion of observation of seeing with one s own eyes as the texts so emphatically put it so omnipresent in Iberian texts of this period refers not only to a cognitive act the act of gathering information on the natural world by direct inspection and thus must not be analyzed under the criteria of objectivity or neutrality of a scientific observation. The observation that these books constantly refer to means most of all an existential position of epistemic value. That is, it means a personal participation in the events; it serves to confirm that the informer was there, that he lived through the facts that he narrates, that he has gone through those events in first person. In sum, that the informant fulfills the requisites of the credible witness. It is in a similar way that one should interpret the notion of experience frequently conveyed in the texts. Actually, to have seen and experienced ( visto y experimentado ) is an expression that appears many times in these texts. 56 The fact that an appeal to experience is common to find in those texts was noted by historians long ago, but it has been 54. Acosta, Historia natural. 55. As Lorraine Daston observed: modern empirical sciences have always and essentially depended on testimony. Daston, The Sciences of the Archive, Osiris (Clio Meets Science: The Challenges of History), 27 (2012): , 163. About personal experience and testimony in the field of botany in the context of European Renaissance see Ogilvie, The Science of Describing. But note that Ogilvie s study focuses especially on later texts and not on the period we are interested in. In the field of zoology, see Laurent Pinon, Livres de zoologie de la Renaissance, une anthologie ( ) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1995). 56. For example: quien ocularmente con sus mismos ojos las hubiese visto y experimentado. Costa, Tractado de las Drogas, p.3 of the letter to the reader.