SEARCHING FOR THE SECRETS OF NATURE

THE LIFE AND WORKS OF DR. FRANCISCO HERN��NDEZ

STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2000 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-3964-1


Chapter One

THE CLASSICAL TRADITION IN RENAISSANCE SPAIN AND NEW TRENDS IN PHILOLOGY, MEDICINE, AND MATERIA MEDICA

RAFAEL CHABR��N

That students dedicate themselves to the study of the liberal arts, holy scripture, medicine and the study of languages, grammar, and Greek. -Constitution of the University of Alcal�� de Henares

We must emphasize the usefulness and necessity of letters-what the Greeks call grammar, which nature has linked inseparably with all other sciences; thus all those who dismiss grammar in any discipline are wrong. -Juan de Brocar

Thanks to the contributions of very diligent and very wise men (many of which have been produced in this century), [the classics] have been returned first to their integrity and original elegance, and later translated into elegant Latin. -Francisco Valles

Francisco Hern��ndez is still known in some circles today by the nickname he acquired in his own time, "the Third Pliny," and indeed the life and work of Hern��ndez are intimately bound to the work of the elder Pliny (A.D. 23-79), especially to translations, editions, and corrections published during the Renaissance. In the preface to his own translation of Pliny, Hern��ndez referred to the Natural History as "the encyclopedia of all the sciences." The works of both Pliny and Hern��ndez can be considered "encyclopedias" in the sense that they are "knowledge books" that were written in order to preserve and order knowledge. It could be said that they had a common purpose, at least in the general sense in which Pliny expressed it: "My subject is the natural world, or life-that is life in its most basic aspects." At times, the work of both can seem to be "unwieldy conglutinations" of raw materials. Pliny's work is diffuse and frequently runs squarely upon the problem of presenting encyclopedic knowledge. Both works aim to provide "useful information." Hern��ndez, who spent a large part of his life (at least eleven years, probably many more) translating Pliny's work and composing a long commentary on it, must have been influenced by Pliny's interest in the utilitarian aspects of knowledge derived from natural history. Like the well-known official chroniclers of the Indies, Hern��ndez frequently combined anthropological materials with encyclopedic descriptions of natural phenomena. Natural history fused with moral history. But at times, the new knowledge did not square with the facts of his classic model.

"Between 1550 and 1650," as Anthony Grafton points out, "Western thinkers ceased to believe that they would find all important truths in ancient books." Frequently, the experience of travel and confrontation with a new nature contradicted the views of the ancients, and so "naked experience" began to take the place of written authority. Humanists challenged the scholastics and questioned the authority of the ancients. Following the lead of L��pez Pi��ero, who underscores the importance of approaching the history of science in terms of "a complex network of interconnections between the disciplines," the present essay explores interconnections between Renaissance developments in philology, anatomy, and botany in Spain during the sixteenth century, within the contexts of tradition and innovation of Spanish medical knowledge at the Universities of Alcal�� de Henares and Valencia. We will situate Dr. Francisco Hern��ndez's intellectual development in the context of the history of the University of Alcal�� and in an academic environment in which Hern��ndez was introduced to the classic scientific and medical texts of the times. At Alcal��, he was taught the value of studying the classics in the original as well as the usefulness of breaking with tradition by establishing the importance of firsthand experience of observation and research. Of necessity we will have to look at the broad features of Renaissance humanism-a vast subject in itself-and its impact on education and philology as well as its relationship with the sciences, especially medicine, botany, and natural history.

The Dynamic and Dialectic of Tradition and Renovation

In order to examine the intellectual development of Francisco Hern��ndez, we must summarize the principal intellectual currents of tradition and renovation in the areas of philology, medicine, anatomy, and botany in Spain during the sixteenth century. Specifically, we must contextualize these developments within the framework of the confrontation between late medieval "Arabist scholasticism" and Renaissance humanism in Spain. "Arabist scholasticism" is that body of knowledge that resulted from the assimilation of Greek, Hellenic, and Islamic philosophic and scientific knowledge in universities in the late Middle Ages. This body of knowledge and the thought it produced were based on Latin translations of Arabic texts. In Spain during the second half of the twelfth century and the early thirteenth, many translators were engaged in translating Greek science and philosophy, which Arab peoples had preserved, into Latin. As C. H. Haskins has indicated, the circuit of translation was long and complicated, often from "Greek into Syrian or Hebrew, thence into Arabic and thence into Latin and often with Spanish as an intermediary." From Spain came Latin translations of the natural philosophy of Aristotle and the most current versions of Galen and Hippocrates, often accompanied by vast amounts of Arabic commentary. During the thirteenth century, Arabist texts were attacked by scholastic physicians who put together large compilations and commentaries on classic texts. This was the period of "aggregators" and "conciliators."

In medicine, late medieval Arabist scholastic Galenism was a dominant current at Spanish universities during the latter part of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth. The basic medical text of this period was the Latin translation of Avicenna's Canon. Erwin H. Ackerknecht provides us with a good characterization of this type of medicine and the one medical text that supports it: "The Scholastic medicine of the second half of the Middle Ages was basically a mere repetition of Greek observations, theories, and interpretation.... Authority, reasoning, and dialectics were the backbone of this medicine. As a matter of fact, in view of the corruption and contradictions in texts that had undergone so many translations and copyings, dialectial [sic] discussion was necessary if any consistent attitude was to be derived from them." As Garc��a Ballester points out, medieval Arab medicine was still practiced by a segment of the Morisco population in the sixteenth century in Spain, and it did not break down as a medical system until the seventeenth century.

Diametrically opposed to Arabist scholasticism was Renaissance humanism, which sought to rescue the knowledge of antiquity through the study of original texts by using critical editions based on philological study. However, throughout the Renaissance there was, as is well known, a continuation of the tradition of classical learning, or what we might call the authority of antiquity. The works of Aristotle were especially revered for the structure and categories of knowledge and the division of the disciplines that he proposed.

Humanism stressed not only the importance of philological accuracy and the need to establish authoritative texts but also the need for a true understanding and interpretation of classical texts. However, new critical editions of scientific works generated a crisis over the lacunae and contradictions they exposed, which in turn brought the whole issue of authority into question. This tendency is evident in all the disciplines but is especially conspicuous in the study of human anatomy, particularly in the humanistic studies of the Galenic corpus that came with the Vesalian reform of anatomy. In this particular reform, anatomical knowledge was based on the dissection of human cadavers, which often produced information that openly contradicted classic Galenic doctrines. The same humanistic current of reform is visible in other disciplines, such as geography, natural history, botany, and materia medica.

Humanism encouraged the "purifying" or "cleaning up" and "refining" of classic texts, but it also emphasized the importance of trying to achieve an authentic understanding of classical thought (a task facilitated by the development of printing). After cleansing the texts of the supposed errors and falsifications, the next step was the "Renaissance" task of comparing the contents of the classic texts with observations from nature. This was especially true in anatomy and botany.

The New Renaissance University: Alcal�� de Henares

Alcal�� de Henares is situated about twenty miles northeast of Madrid along the northern bank of the Henares. The city was built on the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Complutum. Its chief claim to fame, other than being the birthplace of Cervantes, is that it has been a historic college town and intellectual center for more than three centuries. The university was founded in the sixteenth century and as such was Spain's first Renaissance seat of learning. Francisco Hern��ndez attended the University of Alcal�� when he was a young teenager and was clearly influenced by the Renaissance humanism that was part of its new curriculum. Alcal�� played an important role in the intellectual development of many significant Spanish Renaissance physicians and botanists, prominent among them Nicol��s Monardes, Juan Barrios, and Francisco Valles.

Tucked away in an autobiographical reference in his commentary and translation of Pliny's Natural History, which is filled with lengthy and diverse digressions by both the author and his translator and commentator, Francisco Hern��ndez mentions that he "lived in Alcal�� de Henares during the time of [his] studies." From documents found by Somolinos, we know that on Monday, May 22, 1536, Hern��ndez graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at Alcal�� with a degree of "Bachiller en Medicina." In order to receive this degree, he must have already attained the degree of "Bachiller en Artes," which was a prerequisite for entering medical school, and this means that he must have come to Alcal�� in 1528, at the age of thirteen. The same documents tell us that present at Hern��ndez's graduation from medical school were the president of his examining tribunal, Dr. Crist��bal de Vega (whom we will discuss later); Professor Esclarea, rector of the university; and two physicians, Pedro L��pez de Toledo and Gaspar de San Pedro.

During the sixteenth century, the new medical school of the University of Alcal�� de Henares became one of the most important centers of learning in Spain. As Risse and others have noted, Alcal�� and Valencia were both important centers for the diffusion of the new medical learning. The sixteenth century in particular represents one of the richest periods of growth for Alcal�� de Henares, as it evolved into a true "university city" with colleges, student residences, convents, and guest houses all planned within the framework of an urban center. In reality there were two cities: a municipal area and the university city proper, which at its founding had about three thousand students. This pattern of expansion indicates that Alcal�� was not just a cultural center but was rather one of the more important Spanish cities of its time.

The creation of the University of Alcal�� de Henares was the cornerstone of the religious reform designed by Cardinal Francisco Jim��nez de Cisneros (1436-1517). The university was designed to provide the most exhaustive and comprehensive religious training available for those studying for the priesthood in Spain. The central purpose of the university was thus the education of the clergy, as L��pez Rueda makes clear: "Theological study constituted the raison d'��tre of the new university." The latest advances of the new humanistic philology were quickly appropriated to serve biblical studies. Cisneros sought to reform the clergy by establishing a new curriculum of theological and biblical studies and the production of the so-called Polyglot Bible-the first of two, as it happened, that would reverberate in unexpected ways across Europe. Cisneros brought together a brilliant group of Hellenists, Latinists, and Hebraists to work on the bible. The project began in 1502, but the actual printing did not begin until 1514 and was not completed until 1517. According to Otis Green, the publication of this bible was a high-water mark in early scriptural science.

The most common date given for the foundation of the University of Alcal�� de Henares is 1508, but the story is much more complicated. In order to carry out his objective of the establishment of the university, Cisneros had to overcome the apparent obstacle of papal approval for the project, but the cardinal seems not to have allowed that problem to worry him. He was already confidently planning his new university in 1492, and he authorized construction to begin in the first months of 1496, three years before official approval was obtained from Pope Alexander VI. Castillo Oreja refers to the early plans for "a true university city," a complex to be made up of various "Colegios," or colleges; the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso was the most important of the constructions and the signature building of the university. Pedro Gumiel, a leading architect from Alcal��, was put in charge of the project. Along with the construction of the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso and the rest of the university buildings, the entire infrastructure of the city of Alcal�� had to be put in place, and for this reason building continued throughout the sixteenth century-and would continue well into the eighteenth century. The construction of the two Alcal��s, the city and the university, can be divided into two main periods: 1495-1524 and 1530-91.

The construction of the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso was completed during the first period and the principal facade, with its plateresque decoration along with the Patio Triling��e, during the second. It was in this second period that Hern��ndez attended the university. The Patio Triling��e, or El Triling��e, was the building in which Greek, Latin, and Hebrew were taught and so connected the physical structure of the university with Cisneros's pet project-the Polyglot Bible. We should also stress here the expressed purpose of the foundation of the university: "that students dedicate themselves to the study of the liberal arts, holy scripture, medicine and the study of languages, grammar, and Greek." Thus the structure of the university was formally based on the study of Greek and Latin. Students had first to complete a course of study in the lower Faculty of Arts (liberal arts) before going on to the major faculties of theology, law, and medicine.

When Francisco Hern��ndez began his university career at the University of Alcal��, he undoubtedly heard the customary oratio paraenetica at the start of the academic year. Each academic year would begin in Spain with a speech known as "the opening of the course," or prolusion. These speeches often formally praised the importance of the liberal arts, and grammar in particular; one of them, Juan de Brocar's oratio of 1520, emphasized the value of grammar and its intimate connection with the other disciplines. According to Rico, Brocar's prolusion was greatly influenced by the work and thought of his teacher, Antonio de Nebrija. For Brocar, Nebrija was the prototype of the grammarian who believed that grammar was the key to the other disciplines, such as law, medicine, and-of course-theology or biblical studies. Grammar was the repository of the church's languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Thus the study of texts was as necessary for theology as it was for other disciplines. Without grammar, there could be no correct interpretation of texts, be they theological, legal, or medical.

(Continues...)



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