Francisco Hernández de Toledo
Hernández was among the first wave of Spanish Renaissance physicians practicing according to the revived principles formulated by Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna. Hernández studied medicine and botany at the University of Alcalá and may have traveled between cities in Spain, as it was common among physicians seeking to make a name for themselves. Moving from Seville with his wife and children, Hernández served briefly in the Hospital y Monasterio de Guadalupe and then at the Hospital Mendoza in Toledo, where he gained prominence for his studies of medicinal botany and publication of a Castilian translation of a work on natural history by Pliny the Elder. In 1567 Hernández became a personal physician to King Philip II.
Scientific Expedition to the New World
In 1570, Hernández was ordered to embark on the first scientific mission in the New World, a study of the region's medicinal plants and animals. Accompanied by his son Juan, he traveled for 7 years collecting and classifying specimens. It estimated that Hernández collected more than 3,000 species on this expedition. Along the way, he also interviewed the indigenous people through translators and conducting medical studies in Mexico. He was assisted with his illustrations by three indigenous painters - Baptized Antón, Baltazar Elías and Pedro Vázquez. During the colonial-period population decline of the Aztecs in 1576, Hernández performed autopsies in the Hospital Real de San José de los Naturales in collaboration with surgeon Alonso López de Hinojosos and physician Juan de la Fuente. Hernandez described the gruesome symptoms of the epidemic (referred to as cocoliztli, Nahuatl for "pest") with clinical accuracy.
Hernandez’s describes over three thousand Mexican plants, a feat that was significant because classical texts did not amass so much plant biodiversity. His dedication to helping generate an early taxonomy for New World plants allowed for European utilization. Since the preexisting botanical terminology was so limited, he used native names (mostly Nahuatl) when classifying the plants. He also used categories of native names, comparison to Old World plants, or a combination of those two instead of the traditional categories of trees, shrubs, and herbs.
Some specific plants of the New World he described include: vanilla, the first written account of it; corn (Zea mays L.), in long and detailed chapters; four varieties of cacao; tobacco; chilis; tomatoes, in four chapters; cacti, in fourteen chapters.
Hernández was a writer who had to cautiously orchestrate two different themes. He had to show respect toward medieval medicine's own mixture of mythical creatures, magical powers, and miraculous events, and mysterious sympathies while fulfilling his professional mission and recording his personal evaluation of native health practices. In the Natural History of Pliny, Hernandez points out his own dissections of human cadavers at Guadalupe and the dissection of a chameleon. Hernandez also described plants and animals in detail and analyzed Nahua traditions and practices including their geography, climate, and anthropological considerations in his writings.
There was proof that Hernandez’s work was published in twenty-two books in Latin, and it was in the process of being translated to Spanish and probably Nahuatl. To the king, Hernandez had transmitted sixteen volumes, bounded in blue leather embellished with gold and silver.
Near the end of the sixteenth century, various editions of Hernández's work were distributed due to the interests of scientists from several European countries. Fabio Colonna, a member of the Accademia de Lincei (Latin for "Academy of the Lynx-eyed"), was the first to publish the work of Hernández. Other notable Italian scientists who made translations of his work include: Peter Martyr, Fernandez de Oviedo, Cieza de Leon, Francisco Lopez de Gomara, Agustin de Karate, and Jose Acosta. Ulisse Aldrovandi, a prominent Italian scientist, was interested in Hernández's work and played a pivotal role in developing European botanical studies.
The first text of Hernández's work, Index medicamentorum, was published in Mexico City. It is an index that lists Mexican plants according to therapeutic use and their traditional uses; the Index was arranged according to body part, and it was ordered from head to toe. It appeared in Juan Barrios's Spanish translation as an appendix to his medical treaties in 1607.
In 1615, Nardo Antonio Recchi published the first edition of Francisco Hernández's extensive descriptions of his findings were published in a translated collection entitled Plantas y Animales de la Nueva Espana, y sus virtudes por Francisco Hernandez, y de Latin en Romance por Fr. Francisco Ximenez also cited as Cuatro libros de la naturaleza y virtudes de las plantas y animales que están recibidos en uso de medicina en la Nueva España published by Francisco Jiménez. Eventually, the members of the Accademia de Lincei went to edit and familiarize this text.
A heavily redacted compendium in the original Latin was later published as Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus (Rome, 1628) by collector, Federico Cesi.
Another impression was put out by Johannes Schreck and Fabio Colonna as Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium mexicanorum historia a Francisco Hernández in indis primum compilata, de inde a Nardo Antonio Reccho in volumen digesta (Rome: Vital Mascardi, 1648).
Some of Hernández' original manuscripts are housed in the library of the Escorial, but many were lost in the fire of July 17, 1671. In the winter of 1565 through 1576, Hernández made a copy of his work, due to numerous commands by King Philip II. This would later be considered the second version of Natural History due to Hernández's meticulous revisions and edits per the king's request. This revised version of his manuscript contained 893 pages of text along with 2,071 pages of paintings of plants so as to relay the New World plants back to Europe. This was the version of text that was destroyed in the fire at the Escorial library. Later it was confirmed that several copies of the artwork were found after the fire from the Codex Pomar, which had titles in Nahuatl and various other American Indian languages. Some of the images that Hernández included were "tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum I.), the mamey or Hitian zaptote (Lucma domingenis gaertner), the quauhchchioalli or breast tree (Rhus terebinthifolia schlecht and Ham.), the tozcuitlapilxochitl or "cana de cuentas" (Canna indica c.), the armadillo (Dasypus novemcuinctus), the coyote (Canis latrans), and the bird of paradise (Paradisa apoda)."
A new compilation by physician Casimiro Gómez Ortega, based on additional material found in the Colegio Imperial de los Jesuitas de Madrid was entitled Francisci Hernandi, medici atque historici Philippi II, hispan et indiar. Regis, et totius novi orbis archiatri. Opera, cum edita, tum medita, ad autobiographi fidem et jusu regio. (1790).
Nardo Antonio Recchi's Edition
Nardo Antonio Recchi edited, reconstructed, and published the second edition of Hernández's work. Reecho had been appointed by King Philip II to teaching botany to physicians in 1580. It is possible that King Philip II chose to delegate the job to Recchi following Hernández's divergence from his original mission. Benito Montano had claimed that "Hernández had become too friendly with the heathen natives and neglected to instruct and convert them to European ways." However, the primary reason that Recchi was appointed was due to Hernández's health rapidly deteriorating. Recchi's work suffered heavy criticism on his edition, but most prominently for being accused of deforming Hernández's manuscript.
Reaction to Hernández's Work
In “The Reception of American Drug in Europe, 1500-1650,” by J. Worth Estes, included topics such as guaiacum, balsams, jalap, sassafras, tobacco and cacao. Hernandez’s scholars, Jose Maria Lopez Piñero and his colleague Jose Pardo Tomas, gave an overview and assessed Hernandez’s contribution to all European botany and materia medica. Their attention was on vanilla, tomato, and corn. Another individual who gave a different illustration of the foods described by Hernandez was Maria Jose Lopez Terrada. She traced issues, such as the religious symbolism associated with the passion flower or the established myths that surrounded the sunflower. Today, two postscripts, one by David Hayes-Bautista and the other by Simon Varey and Rafael Chabran, record the continuation of “a popular tradition of Mexican medicine in Mexico and parts of the U.S. today”.
- Alfredo de Micheli-Serra. Médicos y medicina en la Nueva España del Siglo XVI. Gaceta Médica de México. May/June 2001, vol.137, no.3 (accessed 16 November 2005 available on the World Wide Web: [permanent dead link]. ISSN 0016-3813
- Fundació Catalunya-Amèrica Sant Jeroni de la Murtra revista RE (Edición castellano), "El preguntador" Volume 5. Number 45. pp. 57–60. July 1999.
- Sandra I. Ramos Maldonado (2006). “Tradición pliniana en la Andalucía del siglo XVI: a propósito de la labor filológico del Doctor Francisco Hernández”, en M. Rodríguez-Pantoja (ed.), Las raíces clásicas de Andalucía. Actas del IV congreso Andaluz de Estudios Clásicos (Córdoba, 2002), Córdoba: Obra social y Cultural Caja Sur, 2006, pp. 883–891. ISBN 84-7959-614-7.
- Acuna-Soto, Rodolfo; David W. Stahle; Malcolm K. Cleaveland; Matthew D. Therrell (October–December 2002). "Megadrought and Megadeath in 16th Century Mexico" (PDF). Revista Biomédica. Mérida: Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. 13 (4): 282–289. ISSN 0188-493X. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 21, 2009. Retrieved September 7, 2012. Lay summary – Geographical Review, Vol. 96, Issue 3, pages 502–505 (July 2006).
Summary. The native population collapse in 16th century Mexico was a demographic catastrophe with one of the highest death rates in history. Recently developed tree-ring evidence has allowed the levels of precipitation to be reconstructed for north central Mexico, adding to the growing body of epidemiologic evidence and indicating that the 1545 and 1576 epidemics of cocoliztli (Nahuatl for "pest") were indigenous hemorrhagic fevers transmitted by rodent hosts and aggravated by extreme drought conditions.
- Pinero, Jose. The Dissemination of Hernández's Knowledge. pp. 112–123.
- Quatro Libros de la Naturaleza y virtudes de las plantas y animales. Mexico. 1615.
- Varey, Simon (2000). Searching for the Secrets of Nature: the Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.