Acosta, Christobal

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ACOSTA, CHRISTOBAL (1515–1580), Marrano physician and botanist. Acosta's father, probably born a Jew and a victim of the Forced Conversion in Portugal in 1497, emigrated first to one of the Portuguese fortresses in North Africa and then to Mozambique, where Acosta was born. He studied in Portugal, qualified as a physician, and in this capacity accompanied the Portuguese viceroy Luis de Ataïde in 1568 to India, where he spent many years in medical practice. In 1569–71 he was a physician at the Royal Hospital in Cochin. Later he undertook many long and arduous journeys, suffering shipwreck, captivity, and many hardships in Persia, China, Arabia, and North Africa. The trips were for the purpose of studying natural history. On his return he settled down in Burgos (Spain) where he spent the rest of his life. Acosta's main interest in his travels was the study of the medicinal plants of the East Indies. His great work on the subject was Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias Orientales con sus Plantas debuscadas al vivo. This treatise was originally published in Burgos in 1578, and describes 69 plants and other sources of medicines, with illustrations of 46 plants and their roots. Acosta was undoubtedly influenced by Garcia da *Orta, whom he knew in India, but he revealed originality in his reproduction of certain plants from nature. Acosta's Tractado de las drogas was translated into Latin, Italian, and French. There is no evidence that Acosta had any Jewish leanings, despite his ancestry; and indeed he wrote two works which breathe a spirit of Catholic piety: Tractado en contra y pro de la vida solitaria, and Tractado en loor de las mujeres de la caridad (both Venice, 1592). In the latter work, Acosta describes himself as "Cristobal Acosta Affricano."


H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine (1944), 445–7; E.H.F. Meyer, Geschichte der Botanik, 4 (1857), 408; S. Kagan, Jewish Medicine (1952), 120; C. Markham, Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India by Garcia de Orta (1913), xiv–xv (introd.); Glésinger, in: rhmh (March 1955), 21; D.J. Olmedilla y Puig, Estudio histórico de la vida y escritos del sabio médico… (1899). add. bibliography: L. Priner, in: New York State Journal of Medicine, 70 (Feb. 15, 1970), 581–84; R.N. Kapil and A.K. Bhatnagar, in: Isis, 67 (1976), 449–52.

[Isidore Simon]