Natural and Moral History of the Indies

Natural and Moral History of the Indies

Book Pages: 568 Illustrations: 10 figures, 3 maps Published: October 2002

Author: José de Acosta

Editor: Jane E. Mangan

Translator: Frances Lopez-Morillas

Contributor: Walter D. Mignolo

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > European History, Latin American Studies

The Natural and Moral History of the Indies, the classic work of New World history originally published by José de Acosta in 1590, is now available in the first new English translation to appear in several hundred years. A Spanish Jesuit, Acosta produced this account by drawing on his own observations as a missionary in Peru and Mexico, as well as from the writings of other missionaries, naturalists, and soldiers who explored the region during the sixteenth century. One of the first comprehensive investigations of the New World, Acosta’s study is strikingly broad in scope. He describes the region’s natural resources, flora and fauna, and terrain. He also writes in detail about the Amerindians and their religious and political practices.
A significant contribution to Renaissance Europe's thinking about the New World, Acosta's Natural and Moral History of the Indies reveals an effort to incorporate new information into a Christian, Renaissance worldview. He attempted to confirm for his European readers that a "new" continent did indeed exist and that human beings could and did live in equatorial climates. A keen observer and prescient thinker, Acosta hypothesized that Latin America's indigenous peoples migrated to the region from Asia, an idea put forth more than a century before Europeans learned of the Bering Strait. Acosta's work established a hierarchical classification of Amerindian peoples and thus contributed to what today is understood as the colonial difference in Renaissance European thinking.


“[D]espite the book’s fame, the translation by Frances López-Morillas is the first modern translation into English. It is beautifully done, a felicitous combination of translating accurately and idiomatically, while also giving the reader some sense of Acosta’s stylistic idiosyncrasies and of his simple, straightforward immediacy.” — Sabine MacCormack , Catholic Historical Review

"[A] crisp new rendition. . . . Both the annotations and the study help put Acosta in a larger cultural and ideological context. . . ." — Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra , Ethnohistory

"[I]nformative, interesting, and illustrative of many characteristics of its historical location. The translation is graceful and clear. The editor's notes are thorough and most helpful."

— James Gaffney , Religious Studies Review

"[S]killfully translated by Frances López-Morillas and adroitly edited by Jane E. Mangan. The book, in truth, is a marvel to behold." — W. George Lovell , Canadian Journal of History

"[T]he publication of a new English language edition of the text is warmly to be welcomed; indeed, it appears to reflect, and will surely contribute to, growing interest in the histories and geographies of (post) colonial Latin America in the Anglophone world. Translated into highly readable contemporary English that nevertheless remains faithful to the original, Mangan's edition includes extensive footnotes to the text that provide a wealth of background information and suggestions for further reading that will be useful for undergraduates and researchers alike." — Heidi V. Scott, Journal of Latin American Studies

"[T]his exemplary translation . . . deserves shelf space in the library of anyone interested in the colonial phase of sixteenth-century Latin America or the concomitant shift from scholastic experiential learning." — James Ogier , Sixteenth Century Journal

"[W]ell edited. . . . This basic text in translation is an important contribution to such popular fields as ecclesiastical history and the history of colonialism." — Leonard R. N. Ashley , Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

"Jane E. Mangan's edition and Frances López-Morillas' translation of the Historia is a major contribution to Latin American studies. . . . Of special significance to this edition is Walter D. Mignolo's introduction and commentary. . . . Frances M. López-Morillas . . . renders an excellent translation of the Historia, Acosta's elegant simple prose is captured completely by the translator. The work reads so smoothly one might think that its original language is English. . . Mangan's edition is an excellent example of thoughtful and scrupulous research and reflection. I highly recommend that it become an essential work for consultation by serious scholars and students of colonial Latin America." — Charles Kargleder , South Eastern Latin Americanist

"Readers doubtlessly will be impressed by one of the outstanding minds of the sixteenth century. . . . Acosta's fascinating Historia offers us a window through which we can explore the knowledge and values of a different culture across time." — , Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"This English-language edition of Acosta's work provides a rewarding opportunity to engage the mind of the conquerors. . . . Historian Jane Mangan . . . provides numerous insights into Acosta and the various contingencies (theological, institutional, historical) that governed the writing of his Historia. In a thought-provoking commentary that follows Acosta's text, Walter Mignolo highlights the 'border epistemologies' that are absent from Acosta's text, yet that were central to the lives of millions of Indians and mestizos during and since the colonial period. Frances López-Morillas has done an admirable job translating the original Spanish text. . . ." — Daniel T. Reff, Anthropological Quarterly

"This excellent new translation is the first to appear in English since that of Edward Grimston in 1604. . . . Walter D. Mignolo’s useful introduction provides a context for the book as well as an outline of its contents. . . . Scholars and students of the European encounter with the Americas will be grateful for this new translation of Acosta’s classic treatise. . . . Highly recommended."

— R. Fritze , Choice

"This translation ambitiously but powerfully reintroduces this text with the tools gained from today's considerations of historical geography and Amerindian historical sources to better understand the intellectual crossroads of Acosta's time. . . . [T]ruly innovative." — Anita I. Bravo , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“A superb translation of José de Acosta’s Natural History into contemporary English that has been long overdue, with a first-rate introduction by one of America’s outstanding Hispanists. The volume should prove useful to those interested in the natural history of the New World, the history of the Jesuits, and an understanding of Catholic conversion efforts in the sixteenth century.” — Patricia Seed, Rice University

“José de Acosta’s Natural and Moral History of the Indies is the work of one of the sixteenth century’s keenest minds. Based on more than seventeen years of personal experience in Peru and Mexico as well as correspondence with fellow Jesuits around the world, Acosta creates a comparative understanding of the New World. This modern translation loses none of the freshness of Acosta’s prose and thankfully makes available to readers one of the most widely read and most influential books ever written on the Americas.” — Thomas Cummins, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

José de Acosta (1540–1600) was a Spanish Jesuit missionary trained in philosophy, theology, and history.

Jane E. Mangan is Assistant Professor of History at Harvard University.

Walter D. Mignolo is William H. Wannamaker Professor of Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University.

Frances M. López-Morillas has translated numerous Spanish-language works into English, including Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction to José de Acosta’s Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias

Prologue to the reader

Book I

1. Of the opinion held by some authors that the heavens did not extend to the New World

2. How the heavens are round everywhere and rotate around themselves

3. How Holy Writ gives us to understand that the earth is in the midst of the universe

4. In which a response is given to what is alleged in Scripture against the heavens being round

5. Of the shape and appearance of the heavens in the New World

6. How the world has both land and sea in the direction of both poles

7. Which refutes the opinion of Lactantius, who said that there were no antipodes

8. Of Saint Augustine’s motives in denying the antipodes

9. Of Aristotle’s opinion of the New World and what it was that caused him to deny it

10. How Pliny and most of the ancients believed the same as Aristotle

11. How some mentions of this New World is found in the ancients

12. What Plato believed concerning these West Indies

13. How some have believed that in Holy Scripture Ophir is this Peru of ours

14. What Tarshish and Ophir mean in Scripture

15. Of the prophecy of Abdias, which some say concerned these Indies

16. How the first men could have come to the Indies and how they did not sail purposely to these parts

17. Of the properties and remarkable virtue of the lodestone in navigation and how the ancients did not know of it

18. Which answers those who believe that in ancient times the ocean was crossed as in our day

19. How it may be believed that the first inhabitants of the Indies came there brought by storms and against their will

20. How it is more reasonable to believe that the first dwellers in the Indies came by land

21. How wild beasts and domestic animals crossed to the lands of the Indies

22. How the race of Indians did not come by way of Atlantis, as some believe

23. How the opinion of many, who believe that the Indians come from the race of the Jews, is false

24. Why there is no sure way to establish the Indians’ origin

25. What the Indians are wont to say about their origin

Book II

1. Which will deal with the nature of the equinoctial line, or equator

2. What caused the ancients to have no doubt that the Torrid Zone was uninhabitable

3. How the Torrid Zone is very wet, and how in this the ancients were much mistaken

4. How outside the Tropics there is more rain when the sun draws farther away, which is the reverse of the Torrid Zone

5. How in the Tropics the rains come in summer, or time of heat, and the calculation of winter and summer

6. How the Torrid Zone has a great abundance of water and vegetation, though Aristotle denies it

7. Which deals with the reason why the sun, outside the Tropics, causes rain when it is most distant, and in the Tropics the reverse, when it is nearest

8. How what is said of the Torrid Zone must be understood

9. How the Torrid Zone is not excessively hot but only moderately so

10. How the Torrid Zone’s heat is tempered by the abundance of rain and the brevity of the days

11. How in addition to the causes mentioned there are other reasons why the Torrid Zone is temperate, especially the proximity of the Ocean Sea

12. How the higher lands are colder and the reason for this

13. How cool winds are the chief reason why the Torrid Zone is temperate

14. How life in the equatorial region is very agreeable

Book III

1. How the natural history of the Indies is pleasant and enjoyable

2. Of winds and their differences and properties and causes in general

3. Of some properties of the winds that blow in the New World

4. How easterly winds always blow in the Torrid Zone and outside it both westerlies and easterlies

5. Of the differences between easterlies and southwesterlies and other kinds of winds

6. Why there is always an east wind for sailing in the Torrid Zone

7. Why westerly winds are more usually found when leaving the Torrid Zone, at higher latitudes

8. Of exceptions to be found in the rule just expressed and the winds and calms that exist on sea and land

9. Of some wonderful effects of winds in parts of the Indies

10. Of the ocean that surrounds the Indies and of the Northern and Southern Seas

11. Of the Strait of Magellan and how it was crossed on its southern side

12. Of the strait that some say exists in Florida

13. Of the properties of the Strait of Magellan

14. Of the ebb and flow of the Ocean Sea in the Indies

15. Of the different fish and methods of fishing of the Indians

16. Of the pools and lakes that are found in the Indies

17. Of various fountains and springs

18. Of rivers

19. Of the general nature of the earth in the Indies

20. Of the properties of the land of Peru

21. Of the reasons given as to why it does not rain on the plains

22. Of the properties of New Spain and the islands and the other lands

23. Of undiscovered regions and the difference of a whole day between east and west

24. Of volcanoes or vents of fire

25. Why the fire and smoke of these volcanoes persists for so long

26. Of earthquakes

27. How earth and sea clasp one another

Book IV

1. Of the three kinds of mixtures that will be dealt with in this history

2. Of the abundance of metals that exist in the Indies

3. Of the kind of land where metals are found, and how in the Indies all the metals are not worked, and how the Indians used metals

4. Of the gold that is produced in the Indies

5. Of the silver of the Indies

6. Of the mountain of Potosí and its discovery

7. Of the wealth that has been taken, and is still being taken daily, from the mountain of Potosí

8. How the mines of Potosí are worked

9. How silver ore is refined

10. Of the wonderful properties of quicksilver

11. Where quicksilver is found and how rich mines of it were discovered in Huancavelica

12. How quicksilver is extracted and how silver is refined with its use

13. Of the machinery for grinding ore and assaying silver

14. Of emeralds

15. Of pearls

16. Of bread in the Indies, and maize

17. Of yucca and cassava, and potatoes and chuño and rice

18. Of different roots that grow in the Indies

19. Of different kinds of greenstuffs and vegetables, and of those called cucumbers, and pineapples and Chilean strawberries, and plums

20. Of ají, or Indies pepper

21. Of the plantain

22. Of cocoa and coca

23. Of maguey, tunal, and cochineal and of indigo and cotton

24. Of mameys and guavas and alligator pears

25. Of chicozapote and anonas and capolíes

26. Of different kinds of fruit trees, and of coconuts and Andes almonds, a
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2845-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2832-2
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