|Author: ||D.P.F. Almeida|
|Keywords: ||age of discoveries, economic botany, spices, Garcia da Orta|
The Eurasian region is a massive land continuum where trading, migration, and conquest have occurred since antiquity.
Of the eight Vavilovian Centers of Origin of cultivated plants, five derive from isolated regions in the Eurasian continuum; the sixth is from Abyssinia, and the remaining two from the Americas.
The Old World crops were largely known within the region at the dawn of the Modern Age.
Asian spices and other crops played a central role in the economical, political, cultural, and scientific changes that occurred in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Vasco da Gama’s voyage around Africa to reach India in 1498, opening a new route between Europe and Asia, epitomizes the rupture with the ancient way of commerce and world view.
Crop movement between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas intensified and a new way of looking at plants emerged.
Garcia da Orta, the first western botanist in India, described Asian crops in his “Colloquia on the Simples and Drugs of India” (1563) with a previously unknown objectivity.
This modern approach to reality has been beautifully captured in the verses by the Portuguese poet Camoes used as an epigraph in Orta’s book “Favor the ancient / Science which Achilles held in esteem;/ Look because you must see / What was revealed in our time / The fruit of a Orta [garden, a pun on Orta’s name] where / New plants bloom, unknown to scholars.” Orta’s book, written in vernacular Portuguese, was translated into Latin by Charles de l'Écluse and became an influential botanical treatise in Renaissance Europe.
Scholars would in fact have to revise their knowledge of plants leading to the emancipation of botany and its emergence as a scientific discipline.
The world’s economy, science, and literature would not be the same after Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.
Spices and other Asian crops were at the center of the story.
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