Biography of Cristóbal Acosta (ca. 1525-ca. 1592)

Physician and naturalist of Portuguese origin, born in San Buenaventura (Cape Verde Islands) to 1525, and died in Tharsis, Huelva, sometime after 1592. Born into a judeoconversa family linked to the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa, always 'African' titled is. In the Decade of the 1950s was for the first time in India, where participated as a soldier in several military actions and met García de Orta, the great scholar of oriental medical matter. In 1568 he/she returned to India as a physician of Luis de Ataíde, their former Captain, who had been appointed viceroy. He/She had studied art and medicine at a Spanish University, probably Salamanca. This time, arrived in Goa a few months after the death of Orta. He/She worked as a doctor at the hospital in Cochin and traveled through various parts of the India and East Asia until it ended the colonial mandate of Ataíde in 1572. Back to our peninsula, eventually settling in Burgos, city in which it remained from 1576 to 1587, first as surgeon and then as a doctor hired by the municipality. After the death of his wife, a religious crisis led him to retire to our Lady of the Peña, next to Tharsis, in the province of Huelva.

In 1578, he/she published in Burgos a Tractado of drugs and medicines of the East Indies, which he/she dedicated to the city. Acosta widely recognized the merits of García de Orta and its debt to him, to the point that the phrase gave the subtitle: "in which verifies much of what wrote the Doctor García de Orta". His work, however, is largely original. He/She begins trying to cinnamon, black and white pepper, clove and nutmeg, and ends with opium, which devotes a large chapter that includes an excellent study of drug abuse. In total, he/she studied 69 medicinal plants and drugs, some of which had not been mentioned by Orta García. It should be recalled that the pepper, clove, nutmeg and other spices from the area were used for long time in Europe, where they had very high prices, which justifies the importance of their trade, it was mainly by land, as it is known, through the famous "Spice route" or "Silk Road". However, the plants that came from such products were not known. For example, it was believed that black pepper and white correspond to two separate species, when in fact both are the same, the first berries, immature and with cover, and in the second, mature and naked. The treatise of Acosta includes, among others, descriptions and engravings of plants of Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum BL.), pepper (Piper nigrum l.), nail (Caryophillus aromaticus l.), and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans Houtt.), as well as the galanga (Alpinea galanga Swartz), tamarind (Tamarindus indica l.), palo de China (Smilax china l.), metel (Datura metel L.), mango (Mangifera indica l.), turmeric (Curcuma longa l.), Ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.), bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris Schr.), and Indian hemp (Cannabis indica Lam.). In almost all of them, it offers an extensive synonymy in the Peninsular languages (Spanish, Portuguese, catalan and Basque), the largest in Western Europe (Italian, Flemish, French, English, German) and several languages of the far and the Near East. The descriptions are very detailed, as well as the figures, "drawn to the living", which were first published in Europe about plants from East Asia. It occupies also the places of origin of each plant or drugs, their collection and preservation, as well as their potential adulterants. The book includes a curious study on the elephant, excellent observation data that associated picturesque ideas of classical or medieval origin, and which was the first monograph on Asian elephant posted in Europe. This volume is illustrated with two prints, one of which was repeatedly plagiarized or reproduced in Europe for more than two centuries, similarly to what happened with his botanical figures.

The diffusion of the Tractado de Acosta was very wide. The translation and Latin, summarized and comments from Charles de l´Ecluse, appeared at four years and the original Spanish Edition and was reprinted several times. In 1585 appeared an Italian translation and a little later French.

In 1592, Acosta published two volumes on moral and religious subjects: the Tractado in praise of the women and the Treaty against, and pro of the solitary life, and other two treaties, one about Religion and the religious, and the other against evil men live. On the contrary, their materials were unpublished on "herbs, plants, fruits, birds and animals, as well as acuatiles land, that those parts [India], and in Persia, and in China there are", which planned to expose a broader and more systematic than his Tractado de 1578 on-site.



Tractado drugs and medicines of the Indias Orientales, with its plants debuxadas to the bivo, Burgos: M. Victoria, 1578. Clusius's Latin translation appeared for the first time in Antwerp: Plantin C., 1582 (four subsequent editions in the same city and the same printer, the last in 1632). The Italian version was published in Venice: F.Ziletti, 1585; the French in Lyon: J. Pillehotte, 1602, with two reprints.


OLMEDILLA and PUIG, j.: Historical study of the life and writings of the wise physician, botanist and writer of the 16th century, Cristóbal de Acosta, Madrid: Her. of M. Fernández, 1899.PAOLI, U. G.: "Christobal Acosta e le sue opere", in Archeion, 19, 1937, pp. 317-346.SEIDE, j.: "The Relationship I García da Orta´s and Christobal Acosta´s Botanical Works", in Actes du VIIe Congrés Internationale d´Histoire des Sciences (Jerusalem, 1953), Paris: Hermann, 1955, pp. 564-567.GUERRA, f.: "Materia medica in the Renaissance", in the Universal history of the medicine, vol. IV, Barcelona, 1973, pp. 131-149.