Hernández, Francisco


[Rerum medicarum Novĉ Hispaniĉ thesaurus]

Rerum medicarum Novĉ Hispaniĉ thesaurus, seu, Plantarum animalium mineralium mexicanorum historia.

Ex Francisci Hernandez Noui Orbis medici primarij relationibus in ipsa mexicana vrbe conscriptis a Nardo Antonio Reccho. . . collecta ac in ordinem digesta; à Ioanne Terrentio. . .notis illustrata. . .Quibus jam excussis accessere demum alia quorum omnium synopsis sequenti pagina ponitur. Opus duobus voluminibus diuisum. Rome: Ex typographeio Vitalis Mascardi, 1651. To the main work has been added, without t.p. but with separate paging: Historiae animalium et mineralium Novae Hispaniae. . ., Francisco Fernandez [i.e. Hernandez] authore. Inserted between p. 918 and 919 are numbered "Append. Ad pag. 917" and "Append. Ad pag. 918. Errata: p. [6] at end. Includes indexes. References: Sabin 31516; Hunt 247.

It took 74 years for Hernández's work to be published and due to the delay, much of the original text was sacrificed. As the earliest natural history of Mexico this book provides a record of the first official scientific expedition to the New World. In 1570, Dr. Hernández was given the title of First Physician of the Indies and awarded 60,000 ducats for botanical research. The expedition was expected to last 5 years. When he reached the New World he found the Aztecs had already devised a system of naming plants, which took into account their habitat and properties. Hernández enlisted native guides, artists, herbalists, and physicians to teach him about the materia medica of the country. He was impressed with the fact that the Aztecs had developed extensive botanical gardens and zoos, and had created collections of natural oddities and minerals. As a result, Hernández was able to obtain a clear picture of Mexico's natural history. Hernández records the names given to the plants in the native tongue of the region, whether it be Tarascan, Michoacan, or Aztec. In the chapter describing jasper, or "bloodstone," he shows that it was used by the Indians just as Europeans used it, in powdered form to stop hemorrhages. After his official funds were exhausted, Hernández stayed on in Mexico for two more years to complete his mission, paying his own expenses. Before returning to Spain in 1577 he purposely had copies of his manuscript made to leave in Mexico, but none, unfortunately, survived. When Hernández presented his work to the king, Philip had the manuscript sumptuously bound and then "buried it" in the Escorial's library. Following Hernández's death, Philip finally agreed to publish portions of the manuscript that he considered more useful, hiring Dr. Nardo Antonio Recchi to extract noteworthy passages. After Recchi's death his nephew inherited his uncle's working manuscript and sold it to the Accademia Lincei. The Accademia prepared it for the press, and a few copies were printed in 1628 before funds ran out. The projects was shelved until 1651, when the Spanish government supported publishing the two volume edition. Copies of this work continued to be made for many years, and an edition was published in Madrid as late as 1790. Sadly, the original manuscript by Hernández, including all his drawings, perished in a fire in the Escorial in 1671. Only a few fragments survived.

Subjects: Natural history--Mexico; Medicinal plants--Mexico.


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