The New World and Italian Readers of the Spanish Historie in the Sixteenth Century

by Augustus Pallotta
The New World and Italian Readers of the Spanish Historie in the Sixteenth Century
Augustus Pallotta
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The New World and Italian Readers of the Spanish Historie in the Sixteenth Century

La maggior cosa dopo la creatione del Mondo, eccetto la Incarnatione et morte del figliuolo di Iddio, che lo creo, e il discoprimento delle Indie.

A. di Cravaliz in F. Lopez de Gomara, Historia delle Nuove Zndie Occidentali, 1560.

Gli huomini non sogliono narrare una cosa ad uno istes- so modo, ma variamente second0 le diversita dei lor0 in- telletti.

G.B. Ramusio, Delle navigationi et viaggi, vol. 111, 1559.

t is hardly necessary, in this context, to explain that Italians played a major role, as voyagers and historians, in the discovery of the New World. In some cases, travelling and writing, the qualifying activities of this phenomenon, were carried out by the same individual, who impressed readers with recounted events that were witnessed or ex- perienced. In this sphere fall, among others, Columbus's 1ournal of his first voyage, which appeared in highly abridged form in 1493; and the three letters that Vespucci wrote, between 1500 and 1502, to Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, which circulated in manuscript form.' Widely read as well were writers who never set foot in the New World but distinguished themselves as editors and compilers of travel ac- counts recorded in diaries, letters, or previously published exploits by those who journeyed to the Indies. Three representative works are noteworthy in this regard: Fracanzano da Montalboddo's Paesi nova- mente retrovati, first printed in Vicenza in 1507; Pietro Martire dlAn- ghiera's Decades de orb0 novo, published in separate volumes be- tween 1511 and 1530; and Dellenavigationi et viaggi (1550-1559) by the Venetian Giovan Battista Ramusio.

At least passing mention should be made of the significance that the works of Martire and Ramusio assumed in the course of the Cinquecento. In Martire's case, individual achievement lent quality and importance to his writings. Born in 1459 in Arona, the son of a humble family from Anghiera (today Angera) on the shores of Lago Maggiore, Martire, at an early age, went to Rome where he pursued humanistic studies and in time worlzed as secretary to the Spanish ambassador, who in 1487 took him to Spain. At the court of Ferdinand and Isabel, Martire had a remarkable career, serving as preceptor of many nobles and advisor to the Icing. He met Columbus in Barcelona after his first voyage; it was apparently the wealth of information re- ceived from Columbus that encouraged Martire to write the earliest history of the New World. As an influential court official who was close to Ferdinand, he was able to maintain a fruitful correspondence with Columbus, Vespucci, Vasco da Gama, Cortes and, among others, Magellan. From them he gathered valuable, firsthand information which he integrated into his writings. No doubt the quality of Mar- tire's sources and his humanistic formation made Decades de orb0 novo a worlz which influenced, in one form or another, nearly all ac- counts of the Indies written in the sixteenth century.

As regards Ramusio, his active interest in the New World antedates the publication of Navigationi by nearly thirty years. Between 1525 and 1528 Ramusio corresponded with Andrea Navagero, Venetian ambassador to Spain, about recent developments in the Indies, and in 1534 he was responsible for the publication of the first series of Martire's Decades as well as Fernandez de Oviedo's Summario de la general historia de l'lndie Occidentali, first issued in Spain in 1526. Yet it was, no doubt, the publication of the three-volume Navigationi, and especially the third, devoted to the Indies, which trans- formed the Italian consciousness of the world through the judicious choice of vast amounts of materials and a slzillful use of the printing press. Martire introduced a modern approach to geography consistent with the scientific spirit of the Renaissance to lznow and control man's environment. The significance of the Navigationi extended beyond the Italian peninsula; as a recent study points out, the worlz "offre au lecteur pour la premiere fois une vision totalisante d'un monde en pleine mutati~n."~

Around 1530, but more marlzedly in the second half of the six- teenth century, the contribution of Italian travellers and historians decreased substantially, to the point that Italian readers, still fasci- nated by the New World, came to rely almost exclusively on Spanish sources. Such reliance was prompted by the diminishing activity of Italian navigators and the expanding colonization efforts carried out by the Spaniards. The gamut of subject matters that kept readers' in- terest alive was indeed impressive; it included fresh and more exten- sive accounts of discovered lands and their inhabitants; the history, mores, and religion of the Indians; the colonization process and the building of new cities; the wars between Spaniards and Indians; the vegetation, animal life and mineral resources of various regions. A contemporary writer puts it eloquently: he remarks that a fresh book on the New World is valuable if it seeks to expand one's knowledge of "la varieta de' luoghi, de' popoli, degli uccelli, dell'herbe, delle pie- tre, e l'historia di molte altre meravigliose cose, che in molti luoghi si ~corgono."~

Although some historians point to practical and com- mercial reasons for the success of travel books, in Italy cultural con- siderations proved far more important. In fact, Federica Ambrosini notes that, "certo, lo scopo della lettura era il viaggio alle Indie: ma un viaggio che aveva luogo soltanto nella fantasia, e si annunciava percio tanto piu attraente e sicura dei viaggi reali."4

As one can well imagine, the printing industry assumed a pivotal role in an era that can rightly be called the first age of information. Venice in particular, already the largest publishing center in Italy, be- came the main point of diffusion of most travel literature regarding the Indies and the Far East.5 Translators, most of them Spanish literati or writers manque living in Italy, found fresh demand for their ser- vices. Conscious of the value of such services, they often made use of the preface of a given text to boost their professional identity or personal convictions.

Among numerous books dealing with the New World, the most fre- quently published was Francisco Lopez de Gomara's Storia generale delle Indie Occidentali, first issued in Venice in 1556 and reprinted twelve times in the latter part of the century. Like Martire and Ra- musio, Lopez de Gomara never crossed the ocean, yet his work be- came popular and influential: it proved a reliable source for other his- torians and for Montaigne's Ess~is.~

Somewhat less popular but also widely read was Pedro Cieza de Leon's Cronica del regno di Peru, which was reprinted six times following its publication in 1555. Given Spain's role in the colonization of the New World, Spanish sources were considered reliable, even authoritative. Aretino, Bembo, Benzoni, Botero, Doni, Fracastoro, and Possevino, among others, drew generously from the Spanish texts of this period. To cite but one instance, Giovanni Botero's Relationi universali (1601), a work ad- mired and quoted widely in the early part of the Seicento, betrays ex- tensive and unscrupulous borrowings from Jose de Acosta's Historia naturale e morale delle Indie, which appeared in 1596.'

It is common knowledge that the books we are examining are not only regarded as basic historical documents, but they have also con- tributed in large measure to the development of anthropology, ethnol- ogy, sociology, geography, botany, zoology, and medi~ine.~

However, my interest lies in a different perspective- the perspective of Cinque- cento readers facing the panoply of images and perceptions transmit- ted by the Spanish historie. In this article I will concentrate on textual strategies aimed at attracting and holding the reader's interest -a fac- tor which, in large measure, affected textual content. In that age-old triangular relationship involving author, reader, and printer, the reader is an important, even determining factor. That the reader is present in the process of writing is borne out by the prefatory matters of many books. Thus, in his Trattato della historia et virtu delle droghe medicinali (1585), Cristobal Acosta addresses the reader in this fashion:

Ben conosco, candido lettore, il pericolo nel quale io mi son posto im-

prendendo quest'opra, che la malitia humana regna cotanto. . . . Certo

non mi ha mosso a prender questa fatica alcuna vanagloria di voler esser

tenuto per dotto. . . . ma solo e stato il mio desiderio di servirti con sana

et intiera volonta. Et tengo per fermo che almeno terrai per buona la

diligenza et per honesta la fatica, non biasimando l'affetto col quale ho

procurato peregrinando per tante et cosi diverse terre di vedere co' miei

propri occhi quello che altri per sola udita ~crissero.~

In general, a widely felt need among literate groups to learn about the New World accounted for the success of travel books. But if we talze the time to examine that need, we discover that it was consti- tuted by such personal propensities as curiosity, diversion, escapism, and fantasizing, as well as the more serious desire to be educated. The unifying thread of reader disposition to the text was-if I may resort to a common Cinquecento phrase used long before Roland Barthes re- discovered it -the pleasure of reading. It is hardly a coincidence that the words usually employed to describe travel boolzs are diletto, stu- pore, and maraviglia. Pleasure, above all. As Antonello Gerbi points out, Martire writes, in part, "per dar piacer e lieto stupore ai suoi cor- rispondenti"; lo Francesco Avanzo, the translator of Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza's Dell'historia della China (1586), prepares the reader for "quel piacere che sono per recarti le cose nuove, rare" and ends the prologue with this entreaty: "Godi allegramente il dono che t'e of- ferto."l

Without discounting the need to expand their understanding of the world, sixteenth-century readers were attracted to the historie mainly by the sense of novelty inherent in the subjects in question. At work was the same psychological force that traditionally has drawn readers to the short story and the novel. According to Am- brosini, "i motivi principali per cui si ricercavano tali opere" were "il gusto del romanzesco e dell'avventuroso, attrazione per gli scenari esotici, ammirazione per i protagonisti di gesta quasi s~vrumane."~~ At the same time, writers were fully cognizant of reader expectations.

Indeed, often shedding the garb of historians and acting more like nov- elists, they sought to impress readers with the uniqueness of a given experience, the novelty of an event; in short, they wrote in a way, as Fernandez de Oviedo put it, "che fa una forte e singolare presa" over the reader.l3 Take the following scene illustrating the beneficial ef- fects of tobacco, found in Nicolas Monardes' Delle cose che siportano dall'lndie Occidentali (1575).The attention to graphic detail rivals any naturalist passage ever written by Zola, Verga, or Huysmans:

10 viddi un huomo che aveva alcune piaghe antiche nelle narici, donde uscia molta marcia, et andavano correndo sempre piu, et lo consigliai che tirasse su per le narici il succo del tabaco, il quale lo fece, et alla seconda volta getto piu di venti vermi piccolissimi, et da poi alcuni altri pochi finche ne rest6 senza niuno, et usandolo cosi per qualche giorno guari delle piaghe che haveva di dentro del naso, benche non rifacesse quello che gli era mangiato et caduto, et se piu tardava, credo che non li rimaneva piu naso perche tutto se lo mangiavano, come avviene a molti che a1 presente veggiamo senza naso.14

Such writing entails a delicate balancing act, for in travel literature the author's credibility is always at stake. "Tensione continua nei te- sti di viaggi," writes Giorgio Cardona, "e l'insistenza sul valore di ve- rita di quanto viene affermato; e come se la presupposizione costante fosse che quanto si dice puo non esser vero perche e diverso, perche chi parla e l'unica fonte."15 Thus the need to insist on the veracity or eye-witness accounts of the matters presented. Indeed Cristobal Acosta draws a qualitative distinction between his work and those written by Pietro Martire. He says: "Ho procurato. . . . di vedere co' miei propri occhi quello che altri per sola udita scrissero." At times the translator vouches for the author in order to lend credibility to the text, as is the case in Jose de Acosta's Historia naturale e morale delle Indie, where the reader is told: "Molte delle quai cose [l'autore] le ha viste, et vedendole ce le spiego in questi libri, et molte le ha scritte, come li sono state raccontate da testimoni fedeli, che le hanno vedute."16

"Historia" is the most frequent semantic attribute chosen for the titles of the books in question, preferred to "cronica" and "relatione," which are also used with a certain frequency. In Cinquecento histo- riography the term stands for a form of writing codified by tradition and supposedly grounded in truth, reality, objectivity. "L'historia," writes the translator of Acosta's Historia naturale, "col suo lume ci rappresenta la verita delle cose che sono fatte." But "historia," much like today's "storia," was used at the time to mean both history and narrative fiction. It so happens that the ambiguity inscribed in "his- toria" is manipulated prodigiously by the writers we are examining.

The semantic division is often blurred and gray areas are formed as historical characters enter the domain of literature and are fictional- ized. In such cases, it proves difficult to distinguish between the fic- tional and the historical, between reality and creative fancy. In these cases, and they are frequent, the text takes on a novelistic aspect; con- sistent with its avowed purpose to inform and entertain, it supple- ments the traditional function of storytelling. One may take as an example an excerpt from Martire's Summario de la generale historia del'lndie Occidentali (1534)which relates the climactic moment of Columbus's first voyage to the New World:

Colombo comando che uno delli compagni montasse in su della gabbia della nave, il che fatto, non passo molte hore che comincio di lontano a discoprir certi monti, li quali veduti subito comincio con grande al- legrezza a gridar terra, terra; li altri compagni et quelli delle caravelle udita questa voce gridorono anchor lor0 terra, terra discaricando tutti gli pezzi che havevan di artiglierie. Christophoro Colombo, vedendo gli suoi disegni con lo aiuto di Dio havere avuto si felice principio, si riempi di tanta allegrezza che era cosa mirabile a vederlo. . .. Colombo, primo con una bandiera nella quale era figurato il nostro Signore Iesu Christo in croce, salt6 in terra, et quella pianto, et poi tutti gli altri smontorono, et inginocchiati baciorono la terra tre volte piangendo di allegrezza. Di poi Colombo, alzate le mani a1 cielo, lagrimando disse, Signor Dio eterno, signore omnipotente tu creasti il cielo, la terra et il mare con la tua santa parola, sia benedetto et glorificato il nome tuo, sia ringra- ziato la tua maesta, la quale si e degnata per mezzo d'uno humil suo servo, far chel suo santo nome sia conosciuto et divulgato in questa parte del mondo.17

What strikes us about this passage is the fact that the reader is im- mediately brought into the midst of the narrative act and, as a con- sequence, is led to partake of all the drama and the emotional inten- sity generated by such a momentous event. As readers, we are able to get close to Columbus because he is drawn not as a distant, heroic figure, but with the attributes of a real person, with the traits of a lit- erary character found in realistic fiction. This Columbus has the in- nocence and the smile of a child, and he is moved to tears like a ro- mantic character.

In the historie we also come across instances in which the text, shedding any pretense of reality or veracity, enters the domain of the fable. Pedro Cieza de Leon, who left Spain as a youngster and spent seventeen years in the New World, integrates the following tale into his story of Peru:

Narrano quei del paese [small town in Peru] d'haver udito da i lor0 padri come vennero per mare in certe barche di gionchi, fatti a foggia di bur-

chio, huomini si grandi che dal ginocchio in su erano tanto alti, i corpi tanto difformi che era cosa mostruosa a vedere le lor0 teste cosi smi- surate et i capelli che gli giungevano alle spalle. Questi, giunti che fu- rono a questa Punta [de Santa Helena], non trovando acqua per provve- dersi, si fecero pozzi profondissimi. . . .Et cavarono questi pozzi in un monte di sasso vivo, finche trovarono l'acqua. . . . Passati alquanti anni, i Giganti che stavano tuttavia in queste parti, perche gli mancavano le donne, o quelle del paese non gli piacevano, o per la lor0 grandezza, o perche fosse tra lor0 vitio usato, per instigatione del maledetto Demo- nio, usavano uno con l'altro l'horribile peccato della sodomia. Et affer- mano quei del paese che Dio nostro Signore, non volendo dissimulare cosi gran peccato, gli mando un castigo, alla bruttura di quel peccato conforme; percio dicono che stando lor0 involti nella sua maledetta so- domia, venne dal Cielo un fuoco tremendo et horribile con un gran ru- more, del quale usci un'Angelo risplendente con una spada tagliente, et lucida, con la quale gli uccise tutti d'un solo colpo, et il fuoco gli con- sumo di maniera che rimasero solamente alcuni ossi, o teste, le quai volse Iddio che non fusseno consumate dal fuoco, perche restasse me- moria di cosi tremenda giustitia.18

The tale is punctuated by distinct echoes of classical mythology and explicit condemnation of sinful conduct brought to a resolution through Biblical recollections of divine wrath. These diverse forces, which malze up the frame of the story, uphold the moral and religious superiority of European culture vis-a-vis the social life of native Americans, for the practice of homosexuality is identified with them. Throughout the historie when negative aspects of Indian life are men- tioned, what usually crops up is the reference to deviant sexual acts ["sodomia") and the consequent need for missionary work to convert the Indians to Christianity. Hence, as with all fables, the text is the situs where the struggle between good and evil takes place. But the tale should be evaluated as well in a different perspective- that is, in terms of the evolving European perceptions of native Americans. Fol- lowing the mythification of the Indian as a noble savage initiated by Pietro Martire, Spanish writers became increasingly harsh toward the Indians who resisted evangelization, often characterizing them as "bestiali" and "inhumani" -in short sub-human. On the other hand, Indians did not lack apologists who upheld their dignity as human be- ings as they pointed to the achievements and positive facets of their cultures. Foremost among the latter was, of course, BartolomC de las Casas who, choosing semantic forms analogous to those utilized in the historie, calls Spaniards in the New World "lobos y tigres y leones crudelissimos de muchos dias hambrientos."19

The depiction of far-distant lands inhabitated by "primitive" peo- ple and "monstrous" creatures like the iguana conveyed to sixteenth- century readers a sense of unreality, which was affirmed and comple-

mented by a similar world found in the romances of chivalry. In fact, the historie and the romances are allied expressions of a culture that seeks affirmation of its character outside its natural boundaries. To put it another way, the romances are often regarded by cultural his- torians as the artistic projection of the Spanish conquista. A manifes- tation of this phenomenon -one, 1may add, which is seen as the em- blem of Spain's awesome undertakings in the New World-is the following attribution to Amadis de Gaula, the protagonist of the novel bearing the same name: "Este hara tales cosas que ninguno cui- daria que pudiesen ser comenzadas ni acabadas." Martin de Riquer, a widely respected student of the romances, interprets the merit of those words as follows: "Amadis insegno agli spagnuoli del secolo XVI come sia possibile conquistare regni e imperi, dominare selvaggi e propagare lafede, con la spada in pugno, per quelle terre meravigliose che nel futuro si chiameranno Ameri~he."~~

Perhaps some of us would not be inclined to accept Riquer's remark without qualifications as regards its literary and, in a larger sense, cul- tural connotations. Yet it is a fact that the romances held an extraor- dinary appeal in sixteenth-century Europe and amid the limited read- ership in the New World.21 Personally I find more persuasion in the following statement by Northrop Frye:

The romance is nearest of all literary forms to the wish-fulfillment dream, and for that reason it has socially a curiously paradoxical role. In every age the ruling social or intellectual class tends to project its ideals in some form of romance, where the virtuous heroes and beau- tiful heroines represent the ideals and the villains the threats to their ascendancy. . . . The perennially child-like quality of romances is marked by its extraordinary persistent nostalgia, its search for some kind of imaginative golden age in time or space.""

What lends more plausibility to Frye's argument is the fact that many, if not most, writers of historie were avid readers of the romances. Among them, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo even wrote a chivalric poem entitled Claribalte (1519). No doubt, upon visiting or reading about the Indies, some writers of historie not only were reminded of the novels of chivalry but integrated in their chronicles structural as- pects of the romances which were deemed particularly attractive to readers. In turn, European readers could appreciate a sort of cultural metamorphosis through which the fictional knights and exotic lands of the romances assumed concrete form in the chronicles of the New World. Echoes of chivalric novels surface with some regularity in the historie, be it in the guise of a bucolic landscape:

Et la verita e ch'el paese ha li miglior pascoli del mondo et acque molto chiare, et aere temperato, et cosi li armenti sono maggiori, et piu belli molto di tutti quelli che sono in Spagna (Oviedo, p. 51,

or the transfiguration, in a primitive setting, of a knight slaying a monstrous dragon that holds prey a beautiful damsel:

Piu eccellente fu la vittoria ch'ebbe un indiano di un altro caymano, el quale haveva tolto un figliuoletto, et se lo aveva messo sotto nell'ac- qua. Per la qua1 cosa l'indiano, ferito nell'animo et irato, si gitto subito sotto a quell0 con un cortello. Et per essere eccellente sotto acqua, et il cayman non piglia se non fora dell'acqua, di sotto nella pancia lo feri si forte che '1 cayman se ne usci ferito alla riva. Et lascio il figliuoletto quantunque horamai morto, et affogato (Jose de Acosta, p. 49).

The connection to the narrative matrix of the romances is apparent here in such linguistic choices as "ferito nell'animo et irato," "lo feri si forte," "ne usci ferito," and "la vittoria" -all common forms in the repertoire of knights engaged in combat. Moreover, the structural or- der of the passage befits a duel or a military action more than the de- scription of a tragic accident.

Frequent too is the effort to transfer the superhuman qualities of the knight errant to the heroes of the conquista. Here, for instance, is how Lopez de Gomara recounts the trials endured by Hernan Cortes in his quest for heroic deeds:

Oh quanti periculi gli soprastettero. . . .con quanto generosissimo animo si dispose a fare l'impresa da se solo, quando conobbe l'invidia del prefatto governatore, che lo voleva atterrare et privare di quella glo- riosissima occasione, et mettere a1 basso il suo animo invittissimo; ar- rivato in terra ferma, con quanta accortezza d'ingegno conobbe le par- cialita che erano fra li indiani, la lega secreta con quelli. . . .23

Dangers, rivalries, secret alliances, exotic warriors: this is the stuff that marks the novels of chivalry. And, as with Acosta, the plaintive tone ("Oh quanti periculi. . .") and the lexical choices bear the im- print of chivalric narrative: periculi, generoso, glorioso, impresa, in- vitto, and so on. Not irrelevant is the fact, too, that conquista, the root word of conquistador, means to conquer, to vanquish, to over- come and, as such, it shares an emblematic affinity with the quests of the knight errant.

The most telling kinship with the books of chivalry is found in the Relatione del primo viaggio intorno a1 mondo (1525) where the au- thor, the Italian Antonio Pigafetta, describes the death of his leader, Ferdinand Magellan, which occurred in 1521 in the course of a skir- mish with a native tribe on the island of Macatan, in the Philippines:

Uno indio li lancio una lanza de canna nel viso. Lui subito con la sua lancia lo ammazzo e lascioglila nel corpo; volendo dar di mano alla spada, non pote cavarla, se non mezza per una ferita de canna che aveva nel brazzo. Quando visteno questo, tutti andorono addosso a lui: uno

con un gran terciado (che e como una scimitarra, ma piu grosso), li dette una ferita nella gamba sinistra, per la quale casco col volto innanzi. Su- bito li furono addosso con lancie de ferro e de canna e con quelli sui ter- ciadi, fin che lo specchio, il lume, e il conforto e la Vera guida nostra ammazzarono (p. 127).

It seems clear that, in mourning Magellan, Pigafetta was reminded of Amadis de Gaula and his heroic exploits. Especially revealing are the distinctly chivalric attributes specchio, lume, and guida, which echo the designation "flor de 10s caballeros de su tiempo" given to Amadis by one of the novel's minor characters, Urganda la Descono- cida.

Closer to the historical dimension of the texts in question but still reliant on literary means is the penchant for dramatization, which is often charged with a sense of suspense and a full consciousness of the reader's response. Let us take two versions of the execution of Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of the conqueror of Peru who, accused of se- dition and defeated in battle, was decapitated in the city of Cuzco in 1548. The first account is by the historian Agustin de Zarate:

I1 capitano Diego Centeno, che lo aveva in guardia quando gli tagliarono la testa, diede a1 manigoldo tutti i suoi drappi, i quali erano di gran va- luta: percioche portava una casacca d'arme di velluto giallo quasi tutta seminata di stampe d'oro, et un cappello dello stesso mod^.^^

The second is found in Lopez de Gomara's Historiegenerali dell'India (1557):

Condussero a decapitare Gonzalo Pizarro sopra una mula insellata con le mani ligate, et coperto con capa. Mori da christiano, senza parlare, con molta autorita et virile sembiante. Gli fu tagliata la testa et portata su la piazza de i Re, sopra un pilastro di marmo, circondato con una rete di ferr~.~~

Zarate's dry description virtually hides Pizarro's execution in a rel- ative clause, highlighting instead, in colorful details, the man's princely garment. The synecdoche is eloquent enough: it attests to Pizarro's acquired wealth in Peru, ingeniously underscored by the color of gold. In short, we have a literary account whose merits could only be appreciated by an educated reader with a sensitivity to literary language. Gomara's passage, on the other hand, no doubt satisfied the expectations of a broader audience. The defiant Pizarro holds center stage: from the first line on, the reader's eye is fixed on the man's de- meanor as he is led to death. He is the center and radiating energy of the passage. The slow, scenographic movement iterates the solem- nity of the event with a crescendo of dramatic force which can only heighten the reader's emotional response.

I pointed out earlier that many historie sought to bring pleasure to readers in the form of diversion and escapism. They did so, but often in accordance with the age-old precept of discere dilectando. This process arises from a widely-felt consciousness among Cinquecento writers in Italy and Spain that the fruits of literacy be extended to the historically disadvantaged classes. Together with the romances of chivalry, the historie, with their compelling accounts of new conti- nents, were admirably suited to foster interest among marginally lit- erate groups in large cities, provincial centers, even the ~ountryside.~~ Military feats competed for attention in these texts with "mon- strous" animals, and wonderous exotic plants, such as the guaiacum used to cure syphilis, were said to have healing properties for nearly every human affliction. Among the numerous specimens of animal life brought to the attention of the Europeans through the historie, one that drew considerable attention was the iguana. The description offered by Pedro Cieza follows a common pattern, combining phys- ical characteristics and factual, usually witnessed accounts of the subject, designed to leave a lasting impression on European readers:

Tra gli animali che sono vicini a1 fiume, si trova un animale nomato
iguana, che pare un serpente, molto simile ad un lucertone, di quelli
che nascono in Spagna, ma ha piu gran capo, e piu feroce. . . . Questi
animali, levatone il core, arrostiti o a lessi [a1 lesso] sono buoni da man-
giare, come conigli, ma per mio appetito sono di miglior gusto le femine
che i maschi, hanno molt'ova, che sono grati a1 mangiare (p. 196).

A more systematic approach to the treatment of another exotic animal, the elephant, is found in Acosta's Trattato delle droghe medic- inali. The writer begins by identifying the subject in broad terms:

E l'elefante animale benigno, di sua natura clemente, vergognoso, ave-
duto, et amorevole. Ha egli gran memoria, nella quale conserva tena-
cemente tutto cio ch'egli aprende. Obedisce a colui che lo governa et
facilmente intende il linguaggio che gli viene insegnato (p. 324).

Next he points to man's exploitation of the elephant as a beast of bur- den:

Portano peso grande sopra ciascuno dei denti cosi come una gran trave

o un mastello o mezza botta di vino et altri pesi grandi. Non prendono
il carico co' denti, ma con la tromba, della quale si vagliono in luogo
di mani (p. 324);

and as a source of entertainment for the natives:

Fanno anco per essercizio et bella posta combattere gli elefanti dome-
stici uno con l'altro. Combattono con ogni crudelta et furia, ferendosi
con denti et con l'armi da due tagli quando le hanno, incontrandosi fu-

riosamente a testa per testa in mod0 che molte fiate resta morto uno

di loro; et per questo effetto sogliono alcune fiate inebbriarli (p.335).

Midway between the justified utilization of the elephant and its ab- ject use for diversion, Acosta intervenes with a personal account that posits itself as a stark juxtaposition of human folly and respect for na- ture. He relates that in a village in Goa he saw a woman with a child walking down a country road. At one point, the mother eyes an ele- phant charging toward them; struck by fear, she takes cover, inadvert- ently leaving the child behind. "Giongendo l'elefante alla creaturalu writes Acosta, "la prese con la tromba et senza farle male alcuno, la pose sopra un coperto basso, ch'era quivi per mezzo, et lasciandola, consider0 se ella stava sicura; poi passo oltre con la sua furia" (p. 330).

The text in question here is not a historia but rather, as the title indicates, a Trattato delle droghe medicinali che vengono portate dalle Indie Orientali in Europa. Even so, this meta-scientific work by Cristobal Acosta was expertly fashioned for a large audience and, accordingly, shares with the historie andrelationi a penchant for nar- rative digressions which the writer knew would prove effective with his audience. At the same time, one needs to point out that the human traits conferred upon the elephant are anything but fortuitous. They issue from a deep vein of ecological consciousness which prompts Acosta to write in this timely fashion: "Sappiansi che se vi e tanto avorio, cio aviene perche vi sono molti elefanti, li quali vengono uc- cisi per mangiarne la carne et vender li denti" (p. 333).

The timelessness of Acosta's Trattato is apparent as well in its lengthy account of drug addiction in the Far East. The condition is said to be widespread and it is nearly always associated with both sex- uality and the exhaustion caused by long hours of physical labor:

Quest'opio si mangia molto ordinariamente in quelle terre [of the

Orient] perche dormendo o mezo alienati tra la vigilia e il sonno, [the

drug users] non sentano le lor0 fatiche; come per l'effetto venereo per

lo quale, benche ripugni alla ragione, l'hanno in tanto uso, che e il piu

ordinario et familiar remedio che abbiano i vili figliuoli di Venere (p.


Although he was a doctor, Acosta deals with this matter in religious- moralistic terms. Yet his account of opium addiction is no less com- pelling in human terms: "E peggio e che, accomodato per habito una fiata il gusto et l'appetito a lui [opium], non lo possono lasciare senza grande rischio della vita, la quale manca loro, mancando l'opio, se con buon vino puro in luogo dell'opio non gli soccorono" (p. 317).

Italian historians are usually at a loss when they are called to ac- count for the favorable response accorded by Italians to such expres- sions of Spanish culture as the historie and the novels of chivalry. When the effort is made, as in the case of Benedetto Croce, the results are usually di~appointing.~' This essay has sought to demonstrate the value of the historie without preconceived, elitist notions, which is often the mark of Italian scholarship in these matters. I have chosen to view these Spanish texts simply as cultural forms whose hetero- geneous structure, veined with novelistic and historical elements, drew a considerable readership, and in the process acquainted Italians with the wonders of the New World.


'As regards Vespucci, we can add Mrlndus novrls (1504) and the so-called "Lettera a1 Soderini" j 1505-061, both of which are regarded by historians as being largely spu- rious.

3.Albertan-Coppola et M. C. Gomez-Guerard, "La collection de Navigationi et viaggi (1550-59) de Giovanni Battista Ramusio: mecanisme et projets dfapri.s les para- textes," Revue des etudes italiennes, 36 (1990), 69.

lGiovanni A. Magini, Commentarii et annotation1 nel primo libro della Geografia di Claudio Tolomeo. In Venetia, 1598, p. 3.

"Federica Ambrosini, Paesi e mari ignoti. America e colonialismo europeo nella cul- tura veneziana (secoli XVI-XVII), (Venice: Deputazione Editrice, 1982), p. 35. Cf. M. Milanesi, who remarks that Italian merchants "non escludono la possibilita di fare in- vestimenti sulle nuove linee di scambio che i portoghesi in Asia e gli spagnoli nelllIndie d'occidente stanno aprendo." Introd. to G. B. Ramusio, Navigazioni e viaggi [Turin: Einaudi, 19781, p. XXII.

'As Milanesi (cit.,p. XVIIJ points out, Venice became at this time "un centro di rac- colta e smistamento delle informazioni relative a cio che avveniva a1 di la dei mari." See also Augustus Pallotta, "Venetian Printers and Spanish Literature in Sixteenth- Century Italy," Comparative Literature, 43 (1991): 20-42.

"Probably the earliest scholar to trace Montaigne's work to Lopez de Gomara was Pierre Villey, Les livres d'histoire moderne rztilises par Montaigne (1908). For a recent discussion of the subject and a complementary bibliography, see Stelio Cro, The Noble Savage. Allegory of Freedom (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1990).

'Milanesi writes: "Se la forza di un'opera si misura anche da coloro che la copiano, non ci pare inutile ricordare che Girolamo Benzoni pubblico nel 1572 una Historia del Mondo Nuovo che riassumeva e copiava, insieme con Lopez de Gomara, i due autori stampati in Italia da Ramusio, Pietro Martire e Oviedo; ma Giovanni Botero, impla- cabile saccheggiatore del primo volume delle Navigazioni [di Ramusio] per le sue Relazioni universali, preferi, scrivendo sul Nuovo Mondo, copiare la Historia natural y moral de las Indias di Jose de Acosta." G. B. Ramusio, Navigazioni e viaggi, a cura di

M. Milanesi (Turin: Einaudi, 19851, V, XXII-XXIII. RFor a discussion of such subjects, see Fredi Chiappelli, First Images of America. The Impact of the New World on the World (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976).

"Trattato dl Christoforo Acosta africano medico et chirurgo della historia, natura, et virtiz delle droghe medicinali et altri semplici rarissimi, che vengono portati dalle Indie Orientali in Europa, con le figure delle piante ritratte et disegnate dal vivo poste a' luoghi propri. Nuovamente recato dalla spagnuola nella nostra lingua. In Venetia, presso Francesco Ziletti, 1585. Further references to this work will appear in the text.

10Antonello Gerbi, La natura delle lndie Nove. Do Cristoforo Colombo a Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo [Naples: Ricciardi, 19751, p. 68.

"Dell'l~istona della China, descritta nella lingua spagnuola do1 P. Maestro Gio- vanni Gonzalez di Mendozza et tradotta nell'italiana dal M. Francesco Avanzo. In Ve- netia, 1586 appresso Andrea Muschio.

"Ambrosini, Paesi e mar1 ignoti, p. 45.


de la naturale et generale historia de l'lndie Occidentali composta do Gonzalo Ferdinando del Oviedo. . . . Tradotta di lingua castigliana in italiana. In Vinegia, 1534, p. 6. Further references to this worlz will appear in the text.

14Dell'historia de i semplici aromati et altre cose che vengono portate dall'lndie Orientali pertinellti all'uso della Medicina, di Don Garzia dell'orto [Garcia de la Huerta] medico portoghese. Et due altri libri parimenti di quelle cose che si portano dall'lndie Occldentali. . . .di Nicolo Monardes medico dl Siviglia. Hora tradotto dalle lor0 lingue nella nostra italiana da Messer Annibale Briganti. In Venetia, 1616, p. 399. The passage cited here is from Monardes' worlz, which was first published in Italian translation in 1575.

"Giorgio R. Cardona, "I viaggi e le scoperte," in Letteratura italiana, a cura di Al- berto Asor Rosa [Turin: Einaudi, 1986), V, 705.

'Wistoria naturale e morale delle Indie scritta dal Padre Gioseffo di Acosta. Novamente tradotta dalla lingua spagnuola nella italiana da Giovanni Paolo Galucci. In Venetia, presso Bernardo Bassa, 1596. Further references to this work will appear in the text. The citation bears no number because in sixteenth-century prologues page references are often omitted.

17Summario de la generale historla de l'lndie Occidentali cavato dai libri scritti dal signor Don Pietro Martyre del Consiglio delle lndie. Stampato in Vinegia, 1534.

IXLa Prima Parte dell'Historia del Peru. . . .composts da Pietro Cieza dl Leone, In Venezia, appresso Giordano Ziletti, 1560, p. 104.Further references to this work appear in the text.

'"In Bartolome de las Casas' Brevissima relacion de la destruycion de 10s Indias, published in Seville, 1552; quoted in Rosario Romeo, Le scoperte americane nella co- scienza italiana del Cinquecento (Bari: Laterza, 1989jj, p. 52.

'Osee Dizionario letterario Bompiani (Milan: Bompiani, 19641, VIII, 43. "On this subject, see Irving A. Leonard, Books of the Brave [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1949). "Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 19731,

p. 186.

"Wistoria del capitano Don Ferdinando Cortes, marchese della Valle et quando discoperse et acquisto la Nuova Hispagna. Scritta per Francesco Lopez de Gomara in lingua spagnuola et hora tradotta nella italiana per Augustino de Cravaliz. Impressa in Roma per Valerio et Luigi Dorici nel 1561, p. 73.

14Le Historie del Sig. Agostino di Zarate. . . .Del discoprimento et conquista del Peru. Nuovamente di lingua castigliana tradotte dal S. Alfonso Ulloa. In Venegia, ap- presso Gabriel Giolito, 1563, p. 282.

"La Seconda Parte delle Historie Generali dell'lndia Idi Francisco Lopez de Go- mara]. Nuovamente tradotte di spagnuolo in italiano. In Venetia, appresso Giordano Ziletti, 1557, p. 274.

160n this matter, see especially Rudolph Hirsh, Printing, Selling, and Reading, 1450-1550 [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967); and Armando Petrucci, ed. Libri, scrit- tura e pubblico nel Rinascimento [Bari: Laterza, 1979).

2'See especially Benedetto Croce, La Spagna nella vita itallana durante la Rina- scenza [Bari: Laterza, 1922). It seems ironic that Croce, who sought to write a history of Spanish colonialism in Italy, failed to talze into account Italian wide interest in the historie through which Italians learned a great deal about Spain.

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