Portugal's presence in the Orient in the sixteenth century has been systematically explored by modern historiographers, who have described it quite accurately and comprehensively. Such is the case with certain aspects of the history of culture, which have often taken a back seat to political, military or economic subjects, and that today require a return to the old sources in search of answers to new questions. Among the subjects neglected by historiographers is the history of books and reading. What exactly do we know about the reading habits of the sixteenth-century Portuguese who travelled to the Indies seeking honour and profit? Were they avid readers?
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Portugal's presence in the Orient in the sixteenth century has been systematically explored by modern historiographers, who have described it quite accurately and comprehensively. Such is the case with certain aspects of the history of culture, which have often taken a back seat to political, military or economic subjects, and that today require a return to the old sources in search of answers to new questions.
Among the subjects neglected by historiographers is the history of books and reading. What exactly do we know about the reading habits of the sixteenth-century Portuguese who travelled to the Indies seeking honour and profit?
Were they avid readers? What type of works did they read? Did they take significant sets of printed books with them?
And once they arrived in the Orient, did they set up important libraries? Did they continue to receive books from Portugal, sent by family members and friends? Once they left Lisbon, on the ships that set off each year down the Tagus, did our overseas travellers leave behind the familiar European cultural world?
Evidently not; daily life changed dramatically during the long trip around the Cape of Good Hope, 2 but the established cultural models, practices and values were exported to Asia, where the rules that governed them were maintained, though they were subject to inevitable acculturative influences. A brief survey of a broad range of coeval sources will certainly yield evidence of an intense cultural life in which books and reading played a fundamental role, not only as normal processes of building and disseminating knowledge, but also as strategies for settlement in remote places.
The first few years of Portugal's presence in the Orient were no doubt marked by urgent material concerns, so that cultural issues became secondary in overseas logic, which gave priority to navigation, conquest and commerce. Notwithstanding this, in addition to men, arms, provisions and ammunition, the armadas also carried customs and institutions, practices and mentalities, invariably introducing an old cultural world and mentality to new lands.
In Vasco da Gama's inaugural armada, for example, the sailors, soldiers, captains and factory administrators were accompanied by men of culture responsible for establishing communication with the land of spices and exotic products.
It seems logical to conclude that books and, more generally, written materials, were present from the very beginning in the luggage of many men who set off from Lisbon, depending on how cultured they were and on their specific missions while overseas. For professional reasons, many of them needed a more or less extensive set of printed or manuscript works. The pilots who sailed the ships must have had technical literature, from almanacs and registers to charts and logs, which helped them follow routes that were already known and, sometimes, invent new ones.
Other passengers would have taken printed books in their trunks for more personal reasons. Physicians and apothecaries could not have travelled without manuals, which were often voluminous manuscripts containing knowledge that had been patiently accumulated over several years. A regular trip between Lisbon and Goa rarely took less than six months, under good weather conditions, so the ship's passengers had to try to fill their time as best they could.
As soon as the Portuguese founded the first permanent settlements in Asia, they concerned themselves with consolidating and disseminating their national cultural model. At first, this was done through the teaching of reading, writing and Catholic doctrine at the elementary level. Portuguese men, their Asiatic wives and descendants, and the Orientals who frequented our outposts all benefited from this instruction, which was provided by both lay people and ecclesiastics.
According to a contemporary chronicler, Afonso de Albuquerque, who governed the Portuguese settlements in India from to , was concerned about the consolidation of the Portuguese presence, so he sent "[ And in , there were reports that two hundred spelling primers had arrived in that metropolis, 13 a clear sign that the Christianized population continued to increase. The Portuguese Crown also paid particular attention to the reign of Prester John because, in the first few decades of the sixteenth century, it seriously considered the possibility of a strategic alliance with Ethiopia against Islam.
With the embassy sent from Lisbon to Ethiopia in , King Dom Manuel I sent about fifteen hundred books, most of them printed. This is a clear indication that the Portuguese authorities were also preparing a cultural dissemination project, although it was to have a strong religious component.
The books destined for Ethiopia may very likely have remained in India, later being distributed throughout the Portuguese settlements. Chronicler Gaspar Correia, who had been in Hindustan since , mentions that the valuable present sent to Prester John — which evidently also contained many valuable objects — was embezzled in Cochin by Governor Lopo Soares de Albergaria.
The books that arrived from Portugal were not used only for elementary education. Early on, the religious communities that had settled in India began to set up specialized libraries, which represented other centres for disseminating culture. In January of , for example, Governor Lopo Soares de Albergaria requested that two barrels containing printed volumes be given to the Franciscans in Cochin.
It can be assumed that wherever there were Portuguese communities, and especially in those in which members of the Church resided, there were educational activities that implied the use of a more or less large number of books. A vast Lusophone network was thus formed along the coast of Asia, from Hormuz to the Moluccas, with more or less extensive centres of dissemination of the Portuguese language and culture, depending on the strategic importance of the areas, which implied the establishment of more or less important libraries.
Around , Br. Vicente de Lagos founded a college in Cranganore that offered elementary education along with advanced studies in Latin and Theology. The most famous college founded by the Portuguese in India was probably St. The Jesuit missionaries, who had arrived in the Orient a mere three years before, generally had a more thorough cultural preparation, which gave them an edge in education and missionary work.
When he arrived in Goa in , Fr. In , Fr. Nicola Lancilloto sent a request from Goa for books for the Jesuit college, claiming that they merely had "[ He also suggested that the Portuguese monarch make a donation to subsidize the purchase of "[ Another letter from Fr.
Nicola Lancilloto, written in , listed the works used to teach Latin, thus divulging some secrets of the library of St. Paul's college. Jerome's Opera, and even a treatise by Erasmus, De duplici copia verbor [um] ac rerum. Another example of a Jesuit library is found in a missive written in by Fr. Gaspar Barzeus, who was in Hormuz, to the Jesuits in Coimbra. He informed them that the missionary establishment in that Portuguese outpost in the Persian Gulf had a "[ In , the library of the Jesuit college in Goa was already large enough to justify the existence of a librarian and strict rules for the circulation of books among the priests and Brothers who resided there.
Melchior Nunes Barreto, who was to take them to the Jesuit institutions is Japan, where he was headed on an evangelical and diplomatic mission. The quality of the Jesuit library in Goa is illustrated by the extensive list of books sent to Japan, 36 which included religious books bibles, pontificals, breviaries, concordances, etc. Some of the works had just been published in Portugal, while others arrived from various European countries. This shows how quickly printed books circulated between Portugal and the Oriental establishments and proves that the book exchange that had been established was of a high cultural level.
The Jesuits therefore distinguished themselves by encouraging reading, as long as it was edifying, otherwise the material available to the reading public had to be carefully controlled.
There was a growing number of examples of censorship in the correspondence of the Jesuits, especially in letters that mention trips to India. A priest on a Portuguese ship in complained about the many profane books found aboard, telling his colleagues that he exhorted his fellow passengers to throw such works overboard because they were prejudicial to them.
In more serious cases, he went as far as tearing certain works that were "[ What type of works did the Jesuits ban, considering them profane and inadvisable reading?
In addition to the manuscripts and printed works that appeared in expurgatory indexes 49 starting in , the Jesuit Fathers must have banned works of fiction and those that people would have read solely for entertainment, which would make the faithful stray from the path of rectitude advocated by the Church. At least that is what a letter written in by a Jesuit priest aboard a ship leads us to believe.
It mentions that many books were thrown overboard during the trip, some of them "[ The situation in Spain, which has been studied more closely than ours, may serve as a comparison here.
Through investigations conducted by the Spanish Inquisition on board ships bound for the colonies in the Americas, it was possible to establish with some accuracy the reading habits of the men on board. Rarely did one find ships that were not carrying a large quantity of printed works, and this for a journey that almost never exceeded two months. The literature found on board included mainly religious works — missals, lives of saints, papal histories, accounts of miracles, moral advice, etc.
Poets were also represented, although in small number, through classics such as Virgil and Ovid. Some people who set off from Lisbon to the Orient took not only books but, in some cases, considerable libraries. The route to India was travelled by numerous men who were highly cultured and could not do without a more or less broad range of texts, depending on their education. Spain can be used for the purposes of comparison once again: we know, for example, the contents of a private library taken by a royal official to the Philippines in , which consisted of fifty-five titles on the most varied subjects.
Written in the second decade of the sixteenth century, it was an eminently practical work that communicated new knowledge resulting from a very recent experience of Asia and its peoples. In his work, however, Pires boasts of discreet erudition, referring to works by Aristotle and Ptolemy, and depreciatingly citing the medieval summae or treatises that talk about "[ Duarte Resende was another man of letters who went to India.
He must have taken with him a considerable collection of books, which, by the looks of it, he was able to develop. In he was assigned to the cathedral in Goa, where he taught Latin. Many men in the military, who were usually assigned official duties in the administration of overseas settlements, also dedicated themselves rather assiduously to literary pursuits in their spare time. The well-known botanist even identifies one of the fidalgo's favourite works, the famous De vitis pontificum historia, written by the Italian humanist Bartolomeo Sacchi under the name of Platina and printed in Venice in A man who knew the Orient, he commanded one of the ships of that year's armada.
Jorge de Valdez was a learned man, but he was also a soldier. He perished in the second siege of Dio. The fact that shortly after he approached the son of the Governor and offered to write a Latin account of the second siege of Dio proves that he was a good Latinist. The intellectual curiosity of the celebrated Governor of the Portuguese State of India and Viceroy has already been underscored, but the issue of the sources he used in his works has not yet been dealt with systematically.
And since he wrote his main works during his long months at sea, it would be safe to suggest that he took along a significant set of reference books, with which he maintained an animated intellectual dialogue. In his three journals, written between and , there are explicit or implicit references to classics such as Pliny's Naturalis Historia, Pomponius Mela's De situ orbis, the tables from Ptolemy's Geography and Marco Vitruvius' De Architectura. The first three works mentioned are present throughout Castro's works, who systematically compared Geography as he observed it with the annotations of the traditional authorities.
To satisfy the needs of the cultured public, a bookstore opened in Goa on a date that is uncertain; a work printed in that city in refers to the "[ This famous treatise on botany by Garcia de Orta provides good evidence of the intense cultural life in Goa; it contains many intertextual references and allusions to scholarly debates among the Portuguese who lived in the Orient.
Indeed, the first and last pages of the work provide a good indication of this cultural cosmopolitanism. Although the count of Ficalho reviewed Garcia de Orta's "[ First, there is the question of his having possessed all the titles cited in Coloquios dos simples e drogas. Like the scholars of his time, Orta takes great pleasure in citing literary authorities to support his own allegations or to criticize the limits of traditional knowledge.
Indeed, his motto is well known and often quoted: "Diguo que se sabe mais em hum dia aguora pellos Purtugeses do que se sabia em cien anos pollos Romanos. Some of the citations Orta used may be quotations of quotations found in other works.
And he may have had only a passive knowledge, acquired during his training in Salamanca, of some of the other works mentioned in Coloquios dos simples, e drogas [ That is no doubt the case with the works of Theophrastus, Marcellus Empiricus, Maswijak, Hermolaus Barbarus and others.
That is the case with the works of St. Augustine, Antonio de Lebrija's Dictionarium latinohispanicum and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Apologia, which would have been available in the libraries of religious institutions in Goa, and with the copy of Platina's De vitis pontificum historia, which belonged to his friend Martim Afonso de Sousa.
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