Girolamo Benzoni’s The History of the New World (1565) is a foundational text in the development of the Black Legend, the stereotypical portrayal of Spaniards as uniquely evil and exploitative colonizers. Though long overshadowed by Bartolomé de las Casas’s Brevíssima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, Benzoni’s book probably had a greater impact in his own time, appearing in seventeen editions, in multiple languages, by the end of the sixteenth century. A resident of the Duchy of Milan, Benzoni built on an Italian tradition of both resenting and belittling the Spaniards. His account consistently presents them in a negative light, as untrustworthy, braggadocian upstarts who delight in heedless destruction: “You find among the Spaniards not just cruel people but the very cruelest of people” (51). Moreover, he asserts that their unchecked greed and ambition has proven counterproductive, wiping out the...

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