Garcia de Orta

Garcia de Orta

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Garcia de Orta was a Portuguese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 Sephardi Jewish physician and naturalist. He was a pioneer of tropical medicine
Tropical medicine
Tropical medicine is the branch of medicine that deals with health problems that occur uniquely, are more widespread, or prove more difficult to control in tropical and subtropical regions....

.

Life



Garcia de Orta was born in Castelo de Vide, probably in 1501, the son of Fernão (Isaac) da Orta, a merchant, and Leonor Gomes. He had three sisters, Violante, Catarina and Isabel. Their parents were Spanish Jews from Valencia de Alcántara
Valencia de Alcántara
Valencia de Alcántara is a Spanish town near the Portuguese border . It is located in Cáceres province.Nuestra Señora de Rocamador is the most important church...

 who had taken refuge, as many others did, in Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 at the time of the great expulsion of the Spanish Jews by the Reyes Catolicos
Catholic Monarchs
The Catholic Monarchs is the collective title used in history for Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They were both from the House of Trastámara and were second cousins, being both descended from John I of Castile; they were given a papal dispensation to deal with...

Ferdinand
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand the Catholic was King of Aragon , Sicily , Naples , Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre, Count of Barcelona, jure uxoris King of Castile and then regent of that country also from 1508 to his death, in the name of...

 and Isabella
Isabella I of Castile
Isabella I was Queen of Castile and León. She and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon brought stability to both kingdoms that became the basis for the unification of Spain. Later the two laid the foundations for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor...

 of Spain in 1492. Forcibly converted to Christianity in 1497, they were henceforth classed under the despised names of Cristãos Novos (New Christians) and marranos. Some of these
Anusim
Anusim is a legal category of Jews in halakha who were forced or coerced to abandon Judaism against their will, typically while forcibly converted to another religion...

 refugees maintained their Jewish faith secretly.

He studied medicine, arts and philosophy at the Universities of Alcalá de Henares
University of Alcalá
The University of Alcalá is a public university located in Alcalá de Henares, a city 35 km northeast of Madrid in Spain. Founded in 1499, it was moved in 1836 to Madrid. In 1977, the University was reopened in its same historical buildings...

 and Salamanca
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca is a Spanish higher education institution, located in the town of Salamanca, west of Madrid. It was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the third oldest European...

 in Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. He graduated and returned to Portugal in 1523, two years after his father's death. He practiced medicine first in his home town and from 1526 onwards in Lisbon
Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, where he gained a professorship at the university in 1530.

Perhaps fearing the increasing power of the Inquisition
Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

, and fortunately evading the ban on emigration of New Christians, he sailed for India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 in 1534 as Chief Physician aboard the fleet of the Viceroy
Viceroy
A viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. A viceroy's province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty...

 Martim Afonso de Sousa
Martim Afonso de Sousa
Martim Afonso de Sousa was a Portuguese fidalgo and explorer.Born in Vila Viçosa, he was commander of the first official Portuguese expedition into mainland Brazil...

. He travelled with the Viceroy on various campaigns, then, in 1538, settled at Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

, where he soon had a prominent medical practice. He was physician to Burhan Shah I
Burhan Shah I
Burhan Shah I was ruler of the Ahmednagar Sultanate, in Central India. He ascended the throne on the death of his father Nizam Shah in 1508 or 1510 when he was seven years old. He died in 1553 and was succeeded by Hussein Shah I....

 of the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmadnagar
Ahmadnagar
Ahmadnagar is located in Gujranwala DistricTt, Punjab, Pakistan.-References:...

, and concurrently to several successive Portuguese Viceroys and governors of Goa: one of these granted him a lease of the island of Bombay, though he never lived there.

Garcia de Orta married a rich New Christian relative, Brianda de Solis, in 1543; the marriage was unhappy, but the couple had two daughters. In 1549 his mother and two of his sisters, who had been imprisoned as Jews in Lisbon, managed to join him in Goa. According to a confession by his brother-in-law after his death, Garcia de Orta privately continued to assert that "the Law of Moses was the true law"; in other words, he, probably in common with others in his family, remained a Jewish believer. In 1565 the Inquisition was introduced to the Indian Viceroyalty and an inquisitorial court was opened in Goa. Active persecution against Jews, secret Jews, Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

s and New Christians began. Garcia himself died in 1568, apparently without having suffered seriously from this persecution, but his sister Catarina was arrested as a Jew in the same year and was burned at the stake for Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 in Goa in 1569. Garcia himself was posthumously convicted of Judaism. His remains were exhumed and burned in an auto da fé
Auto Da Fe
Auto Da Fe were an Irish new wave musical group formed in Holland in 1980 by former Steeleye Span singer Gay Woods and Trevor Knight. The band's sound incorporated keyboards and electronics. Woods stated "It was the happiest musical time I ever had so far. I learned so much. I was ridding myself...

 in 1580. The fate of his daughters is not known. During his lifetime, de Orta had been protected from the Inquisition by his friend and patron, Martim Afonso de Sousa
Martim Afonso de Sousa
Martim Afonso de Sousa was a Portuguese fidalgo and explorer.Born in Vila Viçosa, he was commander of the first official Portuguese expedition into mainland Brazil...

, Governor-General of Portuguese India
Portuguese India
The Portuguese Viceroyalty of India , later the Portuguese State of India , was the aggregate of Portugal's colonial holdings in India.The government started in 1505, six years after the discovery of a sea route to India by Vasco da Gama, with the nomination of the first Viceroy Francisco de...

 from 1542 to 1545.

His Work


Garcia de Orta's busy practice evidently prevented him travelling beyond the west coast of India, but in the busy market and trading hub of Goa he met spice merchants, traders and physicians from many parts of southern Asia and the Indian Ocean coasts. He was confident in Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Hebrew, Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 and Arabic; his work shows that he also had some knowledge of Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Marathi
Marathi language
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...

, Konkani
Konkani language
KonkaniKonkani is a name given to a group of several cognate dialects spoken along the narrow strip of land called Konkan, on the west coast of India. This is, however, somewhat an over-generalisation. Geographically, Konkan is defined roughly as the area between the river Damanganga to the north...

, Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and Kannada. Correspondents and agents sent him seeds and plants; he also traded in spices, drugs and precious stones. He evidently kept a laboratory and botanical garden.

His remarkable knowledge of Eastern spices and drugs is revealed in his only known work, Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia
Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India
Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia e assi dalgũas frutas achadas nella onde se tratam algũas cousas tocantes a medicina, pratica, e outras cousas boas pera saber Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia e assi dalgũas frutas achadas nella onde se tratam...

("Conversations on the simples, drugs and medicinal substances of India"), published at Goa in 1563. This deals with a series of substances, many of them unknown or the subject of confusion and misinformation in Europe at this period. He was the first European to describe Asiatic tropical diseases, notably cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

; he performed an autopsy
Autopsy
An autopsy—also known as a post-mortem examination, necropsy , autopsia cadaverum, or obduction—is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present...

 on a cholera victim, the first recorded autopsy in India. Garcia de Orta reveals in his writings an unusual independence in face of the usually revered texts of ancient authorities, Greek, Latin and Arabic.

The book happens to include the first published verses by his friend the poet Luís de Camões
Luís de Camões
Luís Vaz de Camões is considered Portugal's and the Portuguese language's greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Shakespeare, Vondel, Homer, Virgil and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas...

, now counted as Portugal's national poet.

Garcia de Orta's work was soon recognized across Europe when translations appeared in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 (then the scientific lingua franca) and other languages. Large parts of it were included in a similar work published in Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 in 1578 by Cristóbal Acosta, Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias orientales ("Treatise of the drugs and medicines of the East Indies").