Flowers of Rome and China

The first book we received as a gift in the year of 2012 comes from the tireless officina of Víctor Infantes. Well knowing our weakness for curiosities, he presented to us a whole little wonder chest fished out from the depths of the 16th century, for which we hereby also want to say thanks.

Juan Agüero de Trasmiera, Probadas flores romanas de famosos y doctos varones,
compuestas para salud y reparo de los cuerpos humanos, y gentilezas de
hombres de palacio y de crianza
(Flowers of Rome tested by
illustrious and learned men and composed for the health
and recovery of the human body as well as for the
pleasure of courtly and noble people (1512)

This little book is a collection of recipes for preserving the health, to remove all troubles of the body and soul, for beauty care and boosting the kitchen, which fortunately all are gone and forgotten now. This little all-rounder at its time was very popular and widely used until the Inquisition put it on the Index of forbidden books at the middle of the 16th century, to be raised to a new life now with the introduction and notes by Víctor Infantes (Madrid: Turpin Editores 2012).

On the author, Juan Agüero de Trasmiera Víctor mentions to have gained a high reputation already at the beginning of the 16th century, mainly in Salamanca, with his long poem Triunfo Raimundino written in praise of the noble families of his native city. He also published leaflet Coplas del perro de Alba (Rhymes on the dog of Alba), edited one of the first and most influential romance novels, the Palmerín de Oliva (1511) as well as its continuation Primaleón y Polendos (1512), furthermore Martín Fernández de Figueroa’s Conquista de las Indias de Persia y Arabia (The conquest of the Indies, Persia and Arabia, 1512). And in the same years he composed, partly from oral tradition and partly from the little treatises circulating since the Middle Ages which mixed observations with superstitions, trickery and natural prodigies, this little volume, a breviary of recipes, jokes, tricks and useful information, in which curiosities mingle with entertainment and practical recipes with miracles. And all this on just ten pages.

Only one thing remains unclear after Víctor’s meticulous work: the Italian source from which Agüero claims to have translated his book, and whose existence is attested by a number of references in the text. However, until this alleged Fiori romani or any other book comes to light, the way remains open for another possible interpretation which promises us a great discovery.

Admonitions of the governess to the palace ladies. Gu Kaizhi’s illustration to a satire by Zhang Hua

It is just obvious that the source of the 16th-century Flores romanas cannot be anything else but Zhang Hua’s (A.D. 232-300) Relation on the things of the world which must have been brought to Mallorca by Zheng He’s fleet in 1421. As a proof of this, a simple look is enough at the following recipe by Agüero: what else could it be, but the adaptation of the respective ancient Chinese recipe to the Western mentality?
Juan Agüero de Trasmiera:
To make parsley sprout in an hour. They say that if you put well fertilized earth in a copper pot or kettle, sow the parsley seed in it, and then sprinkle it with brandy and put burning coals under it, and cover it, then it will sprout from this earth with the help of the four elements, which were all put in operation for this purpose.
Zhang Hua:
4.49. In order mallow could sprout overnight, take mallow seed from the previous year, warm it over slow fire until they open; sow it generously into such earth which had been fertilized all year before, and tread it well into it: what you planted in the morning will sprout in the evening.
On the other hand, a great part of the recipes in both book belong to the realm of miracles, and are presented with the same rethoric, which arguing for the sake of conviction with repetitive formulas like “…and this is a certain and tested thing”.  Like the two parallel samples below:
[1] An indeed very effective recipe against plague. First take a pan, and fill it with the said drug to one third; fill the second third with brandy, and let the third one be the urine of a virgin girl child. And mix the three well together, and give it to the patient for three days every morning before eating anything else, one cup a morning. And this was tested in the illustrious city of Venice in the 1505th year of the Lord by the stockings maker Maestre Macía who lives in the Sancta Sophia, both on himself and on his wife, and it was very useful. Nevertheless, let us pray to the Lord and His glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary, to ask her beloved and precious Son to forbid us all and in every place to be in such a necessity to have to test this. (Juan Agüero de Trasmiera)
4.58. As for the lizards or snakes are concerned, breed them in any container, give them connabar to eat until their bodies become red, and do so as long as their weight reaches seven jins. Then cut them into long pieces and put them on the body of a woman. They will not fall off her for a whole year unless she fornicates, and this is why these animals are called the guardians of the palace entrance. According to the book Zhuan, “Dong Fangshuo claims that Emperor Wu from the Wei dynasty tried and experienced the effectiveness of this method”. (Zhang Hua)
And many other similarities between how to prepare amber from egg (Zhang Hua) and “how to slip a piece of paper into an egg” (Agüero); how to put on fire some dry grass with the help of a piece of ice through which light passes (Zhang Hua) and “how to make that from two heads or faces painted on a piece of paper or on the wall one lights the candle, and the other puts it out” (Agüero)…

But we believe that already the comparison made so far provides enough material for PhD students in search of a topic to immediately start their thesis.

3 comentarios:

trebots dijo...

Nice try, but Theophrastus wrote about temperature and germination rates, and that information obviously passed to Asia via Alexander's hordes ;-)

Studiolum dijo...

eh, trebots, why so scientific? such long-distance and absolutely improbable connections are beautiful only until one does not look into the details ;)

and thank you for the parallel story: “How to grow enough mustard for a salad from seed in two hours”

trebots dijo...

Re Zheng He: Maybe when you've got a moment you could let your thoughts drift over this Additional points for not mentioning the Magus of Java.