Orta, Garcia de

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ORTA, GARCIA DE (c. 1500–1568), Portuguese Marrano scientist and physician. Born in Castelo de Vide, he studied medicine at Salamanca and Alcalá and taught at Lisbon University. Garcia de Orta left for India in 1534. During his long stay in Goa, he served as physician to the Portuguese viceroys and leading Christian dignitaries, as well as the Muslim ruler Burhā n al-Dīn Niẓām al-Mulk. In recognition of his services, the Portuguese viceroy bestowed on him, probably in 1548, the island of *Bombay, then a small fishing village.

Garcia de Orta's great work, Coloquios dos Simples e drogas he Cousas Medicinais da India (Goa, 1563; "Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India" 1913), made him "the first European writer on tropical medicine and a pioneer in pharmacology." This work, written in Portuguese in the form of a dialogue, was approved by the Inquisition and recommended by the official physician of the viceroy, Luiz de Camões. It was hailed as one of the chief cultural achievements of the 16th century, a work which brought the greatest honor to the author's country, Portugal. Garcia de Orta was long believed to be Christian, but the Acts of the Inquisition, published in 1934, made it clear that he was a militant Converso who had lived a dual religious life throughout his 30 years in Goa and had possibly gone there in the hope of escaping the Inquisition. He was posthumously condemned by the Inquisition in 1580, and his remains exhumed and cast into the sea.


W.J. Fischel, Garcia de Orta and the Exodus of Jews from Spain and Portugal to India (1970); Carvalho, in: Revista da Universidade de Coimbra, 12 (1934), 61–246; Revah, ibid. (1960); H. Friedenwald, The Jews and Medicine (1944), index; C.R. Boxer, Two Pioneers of Tropical Medicine (1963).

[Walter Joseph Fischel and

Joshua O. Leibowitz]