Biography of Francisco Hernández (1517-1587)

Spanish scientist, born in Puebla de Moltalban (Toledo) in 1517, and died in Madrid in 1587. After studying medicine at the University of Alcalá, he/she practised several years in Toledo and Seville. He/She was then one of the better-paid jobs and more category in the Spain of the time: at physician hospitals of the monastery of Guadalupe, which served as a top training facility for surgeons and doctors and graduates. In the mid-1960s he/she returned to Toledo, but was already in direct contact with the Court, which ended up moving definitively as doctor's Chamber of the King in late 1568 or 1569 principles.

Convinced a humanism of Erasmus Court supporter, Hernández had a solid intellectual and scientific training and a mindset open to innovations. In Guadeloupe, he/she practiced dissections of human cadavers, in accordance with the assumptions of the movement headed by Vesalius, who was a personal friend you, the same as Juanelo Turriano, Juan de Herrera or Benito Arias Montano. He/She was also one of the earliest defenders of the pulmonary circulation. Above all highlights, however, his dedication of naturalist. In its Seville years explored various areas of Andalusia, sometimes next to the surgeon Juan Fragoso, to study its flora and fauna. He/She later directed the Botanical Garden in Guadeloupe plantations and toured the sierras Extremadura in search of plants and animals, some of which dissected.

It is not strange that Felipe II elected precisely Hernández as director of an expedition destined to study American natural history. It is even likely that his transfer to the Court was motivated by the project. In any case, in January 1570 King appointed him "general protophysician of our Indies, Islands and mainland of the ocean sea", with orders "pertaining to the history of the natural things that you do in those parts". The first one was "that in the first fleet, one of those kingdoms departed for the new Spain you embarquéis and going to that land first that other none of such Indian, because concerns that it is amount of plants and herbs and other medicinal seeds than elsewhere". The expedition, planned for five years, was not in principle limited to Mexico. For this reason, the same cited date, Felipe II went to the Viceroys of new Spain and of the Peru two statements with identical text.

Completed preparations, Hernández left Sevilla in August of the same year, accompanied, among others, of his son mayor Juan, which would serve as Secretary of the expedition, and the cosmographer Francisco Domínguez, responsible for taking the "Heights" of territories that were studying and their mapping. In February 1771 landed in Veracruz. Six months after he/she was successively in Gran Canaria and Santo Domingo de Cuba, islands whose natural history wrote three studies which have not reached us. Until March, 1574 toured - Somolinos - says "the almost all of the then discovered territories of the new Spain [...]" developing on his travels a kind of large circuits covering whole regions", including the Mexican central area, the coasts of the southern sea and Oaxaca, Michoacán and the Pánuco. Members of the expedition were, apart from the own Hernández, his son and the cosmographer, two or three painters, other so many scribes, many herbalists, an interpreter, some indigenous doctors and grooms and acemileros.

Since March, 1574 until his return to Spain in February 1577, Hernández lived in the city of Mexico, dedicated to order materials, to experience the therapeutic effects of local drug and write. He/She also studied Mexican Archaeology and, of course, practiced medicine in the Royal Hospital of Indians, where had the opportunity to deal with the epidemic of "cocolitze" of 1576, in the course of which attended the autopsies that practiced Alonso López de Hinojosos. Materials that were delivered to the King as a result of the expedition included live plants planted in barrels and buckets, "sixty-eight bags of goods from seeds and roots", dried plants "pasted on sheets", paintings of plants and animals in pine and thirty-eight volumes with drawings and text tables. Among the latter there were three volumes in nahuatl, language that Hernández learned and he/she translated much of his study so that its results were, in his words, "of benefit" to the Mexican indigenous population. Another sign of the relationship that ended up having with this - so different from other scientific figures of the time - is the series of demands that included in his will in favour of several native collaborators of his expedition.

Hernández died without be fulfilled his great illusion see printed his work on Mexican natural history. There were also without posting the rest of his numerous writings, among them the seven volumes of its Spanish translation, with extensive comments, of the natural history of Pliny, text of importance similar to the version that made Andrés Laguna of the Materia medica of Dioscorides.

Perhaps by the huge expenditure which meant the full publication of the volumes from the American expedition, Felipe II commissioned the Neapolitan Nardo Antonio Recchi you summarize them. Somolinos considered "damaging" its work: "Recchi was not prepared for the assigned work, unknown America and failed to interpret the true value of the manuscripts of Hernández [...] Collect only what had application to medicine, and thereby killed the spirit of the work". At the end of the Neapolitan their work, the originals delivered to the King were deposited in the library of El Escorial, where apparently disappeared as a result of the fire in 1671. In power of Hernández had been only drafts or copies of it delivered.

Printing of the compendium of Recchi didn't take some tests. Some news from the work of Hernández began to appear in works of resident doctors in Mexico, until in 1615, Francisco Ximénez, a Dominican who worked in the hospital of Huaxtepec, published a Spanish version of the summary of the Neapolitan. Thirteen years later, the famous Academy dei Lincei, which was part Galileo, published the text of Recchi along with reviews and studies of several of its members, with the title of Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus. This book, which appeared with front pages dated in 1628 and 1630, 1648, 1649 and 1651, is due to the diffusion of the work of Hernández, albeit through a little lucky summary. We will add that in 1790 were published in Madrid, under the direction of Casimiro Gómez Ortega, the three volumes corresponding to the Botany of an original copy of Hernández. Unfortunately, those dedicated to Mexican minerals and animals returned to remain unpublished.

Hernández explicitly stated the intention of his work, which collides with the amputation of Recchi openly: "it is not our purpose - claims - aware only of the medications, but meet flora and compose the history of the natural things of the new world, putting in the eyes of our neighbors, and mainly our Lord Felipe, all that occurs in this new Spain". His work was, without hyperbole, gigantic. Matritense Edition includes descriptions endorsed two thousand nine hundred one plant species Mexican, all of them based on the direct study: "in our books history of plants there is nothing that we have not seen with our own eyes and found by smell and taste or by our own experience and that of others". The only exceptions, which his own author cares about stress, are five Philippine plants and six Peruvian "based on the testimony of eye-witnesses to very worthy of faith". Something similar can say volumes about animals and minerals. Finally, let us underline that the study of Hernández is subject to a rigorous methodical guideline: "descriptions - says talking about plants - is played briefly that suits the shape of the root, branches, leaves, flowers and seed or fruit, quality or grade della, taste, smell and virtue, according to the relation of the Indians medical, measured with the experience and rules of medicine"", and the region and parties do grow and even sometimes the time they are caught, quantity that applies and how to grow them".




Complete works of Francisco Hernández, Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma of Mexico, 1960-1966 (include introductory studies, the Natural history of new Spain in the Spanish version, and eight books of the annotated translation of the natural history of Pliny). Four books of nature and virtues of the plants and animals that are recevidos in use of medicine in the new Spain... Translated and increased many simple and composed by Francisco Ximénez, Mexico: D. López Dávalos, 1615. Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus..., Rome: J. Mascardi, 1628. Francisci Hernandi... Opera, cum edita, tum inedita, ad autographi fidem et integritatem expressa, 3 vols., Madrid: Her. of Ibarra, 1790.


SOMOLINOS D'ARDOIS, g.: Life and work of Francisco Hernández, Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma, 1960.BARREIRO, a. J.: "The unpublished works of Dr. Francisco Hernández on the gea and Mexican fauna", Spanish Association for the advancement of science, Congress in Barcelona, 1929, vol. VI, pp. 161-175--: "The testament of Dr. Hernández", in Bulletin of the Royal Academy of history, 94, 1929, pp. 475-497.PAOLI, U. G.: "vicissitudes of the works of Francisco Hernández and reviews to Pliny", in Revista de Indias, 3, 1942, pp. 251-290.lopez PIÑERO, J. M.: "the dissection and anatomical knowledge in the Spain of the first half of the 16th century", in books of history of the medicine Spanish, 13, 1974, pp. 51-110.