chapter  6
22 Pages

Cultures of Inquiry, Myths of Empire: Natural History in Colonial Goa

The Portuguese physician Garcia de Orta emerged from relative obscurity after a Latin edition of his Colóquios debuted at the Frankfurt book fair of 1567.1 The original book and its Latin counterpart gave detailed information on many of the plants, minerals and other naturalia traded throughout the Indian Ocean world of the sixteenth century. Orta first published the Colóquios in Goa, on India’s Konkan Coast, in April of 1563. The book travelled swiftly. Copies were in Lisbon by the following January. Across Western Christendom, amid a culture increasingly interested in novelties, wonders and exotica of many kinds, Orta’s book found a wide and diverse readership.2 Latin and vernacular editions of the Colóquios found their way into the hands of surgeons at the French court, the libraries of Italian universities and Northern Europe’s first physic garden at the University of Leiden. Versions also travelled to Spain’s colonies on the far side of the Atlantic. And, in 1620, the Dutch East India Company physician Jacobus Bontius carried Orta’s work from Leiden back to the region of its original composition.3