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Nature in the New World

From Christopher Columbus to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo

By Antonello Gerbi, translated by Jeremy Moyle

Publication Year: 2010

Antonello Gerbi examines the fascinating reports of the first Europeans to see the Americas. These accounts provided the basis for the images of strange and new flora, fauna, and human creatures that filled European imaginations. Initial chapters are devoted to the writings of Columbus, Vespucci, Cortés, Verrazzano, and others. The second portion of the book concerns the Historia general y natural de las Indias of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, a work commissioned by Charles V of Spain in 1532 but not published in its entirety until the 1850s. Antonello Gerbi contends that Oviedo, a Spanish administrator who lived in Santo Domingo, has been unjustly neglected as a historian. Gerbi shows that Oviedo was a major authority on the culture, history, and conquest of the New World.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-xiii

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Translator's Preface

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pp. xv-xvii

Antonello Gerbi died on 26 July 1976, shortly after the publication of the Italian edition of this work. His disappearance robbed the field of intellectual history of one of its most outstanding practitioners, and the present translator of a much valued adviser...

Part 1: From Columbus to Verrazzano

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I. Introduction

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pp. 3-11

This study of Oviedo and the earliest chroniclers of American nature grew out of my research on the "weakness of America," in other words the thesis that the American continent is in some way inferior-and, to be more specific, immature- in relation to the Old...

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II. Christopher Columbus

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pp. 12-22

Christopher Columbus had things other than nature to occupy his mind. His indifference to some of the most astonishing aspects of the Americas, such as the new constellations to be seen in the American heavens, has been remarked on more than...

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III. Doctor Alvarez Chanca

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pp. 23-26

One of the members of the Admiral's second expedition was a doctor from Seville, Alvarez Chanca. And from Hispaniola, Dr. Chanca wrote a letter-cum-report to the cathedral chapter of Seville which was read and used by Andres Bemaldez but subsequently...

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IV. Nicolo Scillacio

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pp. 27-30

Nicolo Scillacio too was a doctor, but his affinities with Chanca go no further than this shared profession. First and foremost, Scillacio, a Sicilian and doctor and teacher at the University of Pavia, never set foot in America. He did however visit Spain...

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V. Michele da Cuneo

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pp. 31-34

No less realistic, indeed at times quite bluntly and cheerfully coarse, is Michele da Cuneo, a native of Savona, who sailed with the second expedition and told its story in a letter (to Gerolamo Annari) dated 15-28 October 1495. With his unqualified devotion...

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VI. Amerigo Vespucci

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pp. 35-44

The contrast between Columbus the visionary and yespucci the realist is a cliche of Americanist literature. With the added twist of the now familiar series of events that led to the New World being given the name of the Florentine rather than the Genoese,1 the theme lends...

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VII. The Pseudo-Vespucci

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pp. 45-49

After Magnaghi's studies, the authenticity of the reports attributed to Amerigo Vespucci-the Mundus Novus (August 1504) and the letter to Pier Soderini known in various reprints and translations as the Quatuor Navigationes (September 1504)-is generally...

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VIII. Peter Martyr

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pp. 50-75

Considerably different from Columbus's attitude is that of Peter Martyr, "the Livy of American historiography," 1 the Milanese humanist at the court of the Catholic Kings whose letters and pamphlets to princes, bishops, and scholars first spread the news of the transoceanic...

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IX. Martin Fernandez de Enciso's Suma de Geographia

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pp. 76-91

WHEN Martin Fernandez de Enciso, bachelor of laws and veteran of the Indies-where he had fought under Ojeda's orders and worked on Ojeda's behalf-sat down to draft his...

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X. Hernan Cortes

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pp. 92-99

The five letters in which Cortes tells the emperor the story of his discoveries and conquests take us a step backward, though not so much chronologically (they date from 1520-1526) as in the author's attitude to the new lands described. They remind us less...

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XI. Antonio Pigafetta

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pp. 100-112

On 8 September 1522 there arrived in Seville the wretched and glorious remnant of Magellan's great expedition-just one ship with 18 survivors, of the five ships and 237 (or more likely 265 or maybe 280)1 men that had quit that same port on 10 August 1519; the ship dropped...

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XII. Giovanni da Verrazzano

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pp. 113-116

The letter from Giovanni da Verrazzano to King Francis I (8 July 1524) incorporates a large stretch of the coastline of North America within the description of American nature, which had hitherto been confined to the lands discovered by the Spaniards...

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XIII. The Spanish Government and the Geographical Knowledge of the Indies

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pp. 117-123

The crown's desire for detailed information on the newly discovered lands appears to have been neither as intense nor as constant as the scientific curiosity of the cultured classes in Europe in general, and Italy in particular. Jimenez de la Espada, who studied...

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pp. 124-126

Before looking at Oviedo's ideas on nature in the Americas it might not be amiss to take stock of the sum total of knowledge gathered and set down before the publication of his...

Part 2: Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo

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XIV. Life and Literary Reputation

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pp. 129-144

Oviedo's literary reputation has suffered curious fluctuations. The Sumario was a huge and immediate success and the Histaria General y Natural de las Indias even more so. The first part of the Histaria, the only part published in the author's lifetime, in 1535, was reprinted...

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XV. Oviedo and Italy

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pp. 145-200

The chronicler's relations with the men, things, cities, and books of the peninsula call for closer scrutiny. We might pick up the story again with his arrival, at the age of twenty-two, at the Aragonese court of Naples (above, chap. XIV). For though, as we have...

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XVI. The Claribalte

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pp. 201-212

It was to Ferdinand, duke of Calabria, firstborn son of King Frederick of Aragon, that Oviedo dedicated-both in the frontispiece and in the woodcut embellishing it-the first printed work to bear his name, the chivalric romance entitled...

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XVII. Historical Criteria andGeographical Setting

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pp. 213-254

When the thirty-six-year-old Oviedo stepped ashore in America for the first time and settled his gaze on the new lands his prompt and joyful reaction was an avid thirst for knowledge, just as it had been when, seventeen years earlier, he first greeted the lands, courts, and cities...

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XVIII. View of the Historical and Natural World

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pp. 255-305

For Oviedo, everything is material for history. But his view of the world of men is altogether different from his view of the realms of nature. Natural history and "general" history are coupled even in the title of his major work. In a certain sense, as we have already...

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XIX. Relics of Medievalism and Dawn of a New Society

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pp. 306-377

The above claims, however, are not intended to present Oviedo as being more "modem" than he really is. Oviedo is a typical Renaissance Spaniard, and the Spanish Renaissance is notorious for the way certain medieval elements stubbornly survived alongside...

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XX. The Quinquagenas

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pp. 378-384

WE have already seen how the progression from the earlier to the later books of the History is accompanied by a steadily increasing occurrence of sermons, homilies, and edifying observations. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find that the...

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XXI. Oviedo's Art and Humor

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pp. 385-406

Of Spanish literature, of the sixteenth or any other century, I must frankly admit to a complete ignorance. But it seems obvious to me that Oviedo is not an insignificant writer. The reader who has had the patience to stay with me thus far should...


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pp. 409-423


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pp. 425-440


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pp. 441-462

E-ISBN-13: 9780822973812
E-ISBN-10: 0822973812
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960805
Print-ISBN-10: 082296080X

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2010