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Capitols singulars deles llauors que deuras sembrar: A late medieval planting guide for the Spanish Levant

Capitols singulars deles llauors que deuras sembrar: A late medieval planting guide for the Spanish Levant

By Thomas M. Capuano

Catalan Review, Vol.12:1 (1998)

Introduction: Gabriel Alonso de Herrera, whose treatise Obra de agricultura (1513) has long been considered the first original writing on agriculture in the vernacular in Spain, cites in his “Prologo” four reasons why his critics and detractors scorned his undertaking. First, there was the argument that the Latin authorities, who perforce served as sources for any would-be compendium on agriculture, wrote about the subject in accordance with the rules governing the soil and climate of Italy, and, since these differed substantially from those of Spain, were therefore useless. Second, some considered any written or scholarly approach to agriculture as superfluous and suspect. Herrera writes “I’m not surprised at the murmurings of those who say that any rude peasant knows more about the labors of the field than did Columella, Pliny, Cato, Palladius, and the great Marcus Terentius Varro”; one notes reflected in these words the disdain felt by noblemen and Conquistadores toward both the lowly farmer and the lofty Latin texts of the classic writers on agriculture.” Third, there were those who argued that ” the precepts of agriculture cannot be made an art”; i.e., could not be codified, implying perhaps that agriculture, like, say, shoemaking, fishing or sewing did not merit the prestige that attached in those times to being put down into writing. Such detractors further claimed that “nothing ever written about [agriculture] serves any good use.” Finally there were those who argued “Why write it down, since farmers can’t read anyway?”

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