In the colonial theater of New Spain, multiple actors utilized the rhetoric of disease to discuss and describe the ongoing discoveries of indigenous traditional religion, which they termed idolatry. Focusing primarily on Yucatán, this article closely analyzes these usages, arguing that the two primary modes of understanding the spread of illness in the early modern world, that of miasmic factors and that of contagion, provided rationalizations for the perseverance of idolatrous practices, informed the institutionalized prevention of these heretical acts, and ultimately provided models for their possible cure. As the definition of idolatry was expanded to include all religious crimes committed by New Spain's indigenous population, it was severed from the material aspect (idol worship) that had originally defined it. The result was the conceptual conflation of two of the defining characteristics of early colonial experience: epidemic disease and ongoing idolatries.
And what if the recently converted Indians should revert to the vomit?
The neophytes should certainly be punished if they revert to the vomit, commands the said Pope Paul III.
—Doctor Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar (1639)
In 1613, Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar commenced upon a lofty project. The secular priest's goal was to inform Philip IV of the idolatries still enacted by the Maya of the Yucatán peninsula and to explain why such unorthodox, pre-Columbian practices continued. Despite more than half a century of intensive evangelism by the Franciscan order, it was clear that the Maya were still paying homage to their native gods, since the ecclesiastical judges continued to “fill their jails” with the “heretical idolaters.”1 In so many ways, there was no one better to fulfill this commission. Sánchez de Aguilar had been born in Yucatán province (in Valladolid) and was a grandson of one of the region's conquistadores, Hernando de Aguilar.2 He was thus a second-generation yucateco intimately familiar with the traditions of the province's indigenous population. He had also been taught the Mayan language by none other than Gaspar Antonio Chi, a Maya of noble birth who had worked for the Spanish religious authorities as a translator and informant since early childhood.3 Having taken orders in Mexico City in 1591, Sánchez de Aguilar returned home in 1597, assigned as vicar to the towns of Valladolid, Chancenote, and Yaxcabá. He then moved up the church's hierarchy to become comisario general of the Santa Cruzada in 1598, cura beneficido of Chancenote in 1601, and dean of Mérida Cathedral in 1613.4 Once dean, he began his Informe contra idolorum cultores del obispado de Yucatán, reflecting on his more than a decade and a half of evangelical experience among the Maya “adoradores idolátricos”; he only completed the project in 1619, after taking the post of canon of the Rio Plata (or Charcas) Cathedral in the Viceroyalty of Peru.5
The primary motivating query of the friar's letter was “whether the Bishop of Yucatán is allowed to arrest, imprison, dispossess, punish, and whip Indians of this Province, idol worshippers, without the secular arm helping.”6 The gist of his response was yes (he even advocated capital punishment in some cases), but his conclusion only followed five counterarguments, ten distinct reasons in favor of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and sixteen recommendations for remedying the idolatry. Buried within a final section, Sánchez de Aguilar inserted the short passage quoted above as this essay's epigraph, in which he used the singular word vómito (without penning the implied “of idolatry”) to simultaneously reference pre-Columbian religious practices and express his absolute revulsion upon their discovery.7 Sánchez de Aguilar cannot take credit for coining this turn of phrase, as he directly transcribed it from the very papal bull that he was citing, Pope Paul III's Cupientes judaeos (1542), in which the pontiff refers to ongoing Jewish practices as the “vomit of Judaism.”8 The metaphor is more nauseating in the formalized decree from the 1585 Concilio Provincial Mexicano that argued for the removal of all remembrances of pre-Columbian traditions lest indigenous neophytes be “deceived by the devil's cunning, and return again like dogs to the vomit of idolatry.”9 Pope Paul III and the early Mexican fathers were operating within an established rhetorical system; as historian Martin Nesvig has convincingly shown, the “disease metaphor” (or what historians of science have termed the medical metaphor) had been used to describe idolatrous practices since the later Middle Ages and permeated early modern commentaries on Jewish, Islamic, and Amerindian religious traditions.10 However, Sánchez de Aguilar only utilizes this viscerally acute image two times in the 124 pages of his 1639 Informe, and it thus stands out among the more banal and certainly less damning occurrences of “el delito,” “el crimen de la idolatría,” and the like.11 The image appears uniquely repellent among Sánchez de Aguilar's idiomatic formulations, for what other substance on earth communicates such absolute disgust as vomit?12
Within the context of early colonial New Spain, the turn of phrase cannot help but conjure nightmarish visions of the various epidemics that claimed thousands of indigenous lives, for many of which profuse vomiting was a known early symptom. From the beginning of the sixteenth century (and thus before European contact in Yucatán) through the end of the seventeenth, the peninsula was plagued by numerous distinct epidemics, among them smallpox, measles, typhoid, and yellow fever; a conservative estimate hypothesizes a loss of 25 percent of the Maya population.13 Concurrent with these epidemics were fraught attempts at a systematized extirpation campaign overseen by the ecclesiastical authorities and their secular soldiers, such as Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar.14 A closer look at colonial accounts reveals that bodily metaphors were quite common; for this reason, the biological nature of some New World religious terminology begs analysis.15 In the following pages I will propose that within Spain's colonial project, this medical metaphor not only became particularly effective because it resonated with the horrific ubiquity of epidemic disease but ultimately affected the way that Spanish colonists came to conceive of the supposed idolatrous practices of the resident indigenous populations.16 In fact, the two reigning theories of disease, that of miasmic factors and that of contagion, seem to have directly informed the given rationalizations for the continued idolatries. Disease theory also provided sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century colonists with models for preventative measures to use against this disease of the soul. We can see this in a variety of sources, both textual and visual, from the administrative and religious spheres. Ideas surrounding idolatry and disease comprised a mutually informing conceptual space, making the repeated occurrences of pre-Columbian practices and colonial epidemics, two defining characteristics of the New World, inextricable from one another.
As historian John F. Chuchiak has convincingly argued, in the Yucatán peninsula the definition of idolatry itself was not stable; this was likely the case in the rest of New Spain as well. By the seventeenth century, Spanish understandings of what constituted idolatry had undergone profound alteration. Via a thorough investigation of archival sources that describe discovered idolatries between the mid-sixteenth and the end of the seventeenth century, Chuchiak has charted how the act of idolatry became decreasingly linked to the second commandment, which specifically forbade the veneration of graven images. Idolatry thus was severed from the physicality associated with the attributed sin. In fact, by the turn of the eighteenth century any unorthodox act performed by indigenous people could be simply termed idolatry, irrespective of the use of material culture.17 The archival record provides innumerable examples of healing practices, love magic, blasphemies, bigamy, and the like being described as idolatry. As Chuchiak concluded, “Since idols were not the only source of idolatry, the colonial clergy gradually expanded the traditional concept of idolatry. . . . not wishing to see any of the Mayas' customs or religious rites preserved.”18
In this article I argue that, semantics aside, this evolving definition of idolatry had much to do with its reconceptualization as a disease that was dangerously infectious. I first provide a brief overview of medical theory and practice in the early modern world and of how colonists living in Yucatán understood them. I then turn to the rhetorical devices employed by writers in early colonial central Mexico, who drew substantive links between religious and medical professionals and between disease, morally suspect individuals, and idolatry, frequently using metaphors of the body to discuss unorthodox religious practices. This is most apparent when comparing the works of the Franciscan friars Bernardino de Sahagún and Diego Valadés, specifically the intellectual effect of the former on the latter. The visual record that these friars left behind reflected and then served to reinforce a link between illness and both the rhetorical practices and state-level ritual of the pre-Columbian era, which were deemed idolatrous. Finally, I argue that Spanish colonists employed strategies for combating physical disease at the level of the indigenous pueblo to alleviate the threat of idolatry's spread among recently converted Maya populations. In this regard, Iberian tactics of epidemic avoidance dictated colonial religious practices.
Disease in the Early Modern World and Beyond
Modern scholars often describe European medical traditions before the late nineteenth-century discovery of germ theory as a hodgepodge of competing and conflicting ideologies. Afflicted patients relied on seemingly contradictory theories and treatments, practiced by not only medical professionals whom we today would term doctors and surgeons but also lay healers and midwives. Since the Christian Godhead was deemed ultimately responsible for every human illness, spiritual authorities such as priests were also consulted, because they were understood to intervene on the patient's behalf.19 Most scholars divide these medical professionals into two distinct and sometimes competing camps: those who argued for humoral explanations, and those who supported theories of material contagion.20 These medical theories and practices were largely derived from the work of the ancients, primarily the fourth-century BCE Hippocrates and his followers, whose work was later glossed in the second century CE by Galen of Pergamon. As expressed most succinctly in Hippocrates's “Airs, Waters, Places,” an unhealthy human body could be attributed to a variety of external factors, such as weather, winds, sunlight, and the quality of land, water, and air.21 A population's physical character and behavioral patterns could also be directly linked to their specific environmental niche, a point that Hippocrates famously mapped in regard to tropical populations. Hippocrates specifically maintained that residents of hot climates could be defined in this way: because of the “meadowy, stifling” region in which they lived, they were “neither tall nor well-made . . . bravery and endurance are not by nature part of their character, but the imposition of law can produce them artificially.”22
The earth's divergent environments, and thus differential quantities of heat, also had the potential to variously affect the resident populations' humoral balance. Galen understood heat as directly related to “generation and growth,” “digestion, distribution of food to the various parts of the body,” and, most importantly, “the generation of humours.”23 A healthy human body was one in which the four humors—black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—were kept in perpetual balance (eucrasia). If one humor was dominant or deficient, the result would be an ill body (dyscrasia), one in need of medical intervention. The practice of medicine was aimed at the restoration of corporeal balance, either by reducing the dominant humor through practices such as bloodletting or by ingesting foodstuffs and medicines that counteracted humoral deficiencies.
Galen, following Hippocrates, also argued that bad airs, or what would later be termed miasmas, were the cause of epidemic disease.24 Individual susceptibility to these malodors could be directly related to the balance of one's humors. When the black plague first appeared in western Europe in 1348, medical practitioners blamed the crisis on putrid air, in addition to God's wrath for the population's various unrepented sins.25 Jacme d'Agramont, writing in Catalonia during this initial outbreak, summarizes the putrid air theory thus: “I maintain that pestilence is a contra-natural change of the air in its qualities or in its substance; from which arise in living things corruptions and sudden deaths and various maladies in certain determined regions beyond their ordinary.”26 In this relatively condensed sentence, d'Agramont successfully reconciles theories of humoral causes with divergent environmental factors.
Despite the Galenic school's attribution of epidemics to putrid airs, most early modern medical professionals also seemed to recognize that most diseases were caused by some kind of material contagion.27 Due to the practical and technological limitations of scientific inquiry (primarily the absence of microscopes powerful enough to view individual cells), exactly how seemingly healthy bodies contracted diseases was the debated topic, not if a physical element was responsible for the spread of diseases; the nature of this element had to remain conjecture until Louis Pasteur's discoveries in the nineteenth century. Most clearly articulated in the Veronese doctor and poet Girolamo Fracastoro's De contagione et contagiosis morbis et eorum curatione (1546), the predominant theory argued that disease was caused by material entities that Fracastoro termed “seeds,” which were “corrupt substances” that could be passed along and infect the healthy via three distinct modes: bodily contact, from a great distance, or indirect contact.28 As pointed out by Vivian Nutton, in his first two explanations Fracastoro was merely engaging with the theories of his predecessors; Galen himself had hinted at a simplified form of contagion theory in his own works.29 Fracastoro's real innovation was his third cause of epidemic transmission, indirect contact via material elements that he termed fomes or “seedlets of contagion” (seminaria contagionis). He posited that these invisibly tiny elements could embed themselves in inanimate objects such as clothing or furniture and infect unsuspecting parties. Richard Palmer has convincingly contextualized Fracastoro's theory within an early modern conceptual framework, suggesting that it was still inherently Galenic.30 As Nutton puts it, “His intention in De contagione was not to separate himself from the mainstream Galenic tradition but to carry out more deeply the investigations already begun by others.”31
That the first generation of Spanish colonists in Yucatán carried with them some of the medical conceptions outlined above, albeit in simplified, layperson's form, is obvious in numerous archival sources but is perhaps most systematically expressed in the responses to Philip II's Relaciones Geográficas project.32 Seeking to acquire an encyclopedic grasp of every province in the empire, the king commanded his chronicler-cosmographer of the Council of the Indies, Juan López de Velasco, to compose a 50-point questionnaire addressing a variety of topics, including local histories, economies, and agricultural potential.33 Between 1577 and 1581, this instrucción was disseminated to the farthest reaches of Philip's New World territories, and the responses slowly began to trickle back to Seville.34 Question 17 specifically asked local civic authorities “if the land or site is healthy or sickly, and if sickly, what is the cause (if it is understood), and the illnesses that commonly occur, and the remedies that are often made for them.”35 While the typical Yucatecan response was rather succinct, when the 54 responses are taken in sum some conceptual patterns emerge.36
The first is that illness in the peninsula was most obviously caused by bad air, specifically the nortes, violent winds that sweep off the northern shore typically during the dry season, between January and September. According to Juan de Aguilar, the encomendero of the Maya village of Mama, “The primary cause that had been found [for all the illness] is the nortes, which come with so much coldness that it is a thing that the Indians feel a lot, the worst that they suffer are fevers, pains in their chests and heads.”37 These sicknesses were understood to predate the Spanish conquest since “in ancient times, there had been the same illnesses and other ones among them.”38 However, these same colonists recognized that the diseases of the colonial period afflicted the Indian population more violently than the European one.39 Following miasmic theory, the land itself was also blamed for the poor health of the peninsula's Spanish population. In relating the early settlement history of Dzonot Aké (“Dohot”) and Tizimín (“Tetzimin”), Giraldo Díaz de Alpuche explained that “the land is very sickly because of the lagoons and bogs, and in the span of four months, more or less, we had a great illness that this site gave to us and also to our servants, who were indios and indias, a great quantity of them died and all the others of us were sick and this caused the depopulation of this site.”40
In addition to the miasmic nortes, Maya bathing traditions were frequently cited as a cause for illness, echoing Hippocratic/Galenic ideas surrounding the influence of temperature on physical health. Not only did the Indians bathe too often, but they washed themselves as a remedy for particular illnesses, which according to the colonists only resulted in further death. In particular, the Maya had a habit of taking a hot bath (most likely a sweat bath) to alleviate hot symptoms such as the high fevers associated with smallpox and typhus, the two deadliest diseases of the colonial period before the lethal yellow fever outbreak of 1648.41 Other Spaniards, clearly not as versant in proper Galenic techniques, blamed the tradition of cold bathing to alleviate hot symptoms. Early modern medicine advocated bathing as a curative in certain circumstances, but as a general rule physicians and laypeople alike followed Hippocrates's dictum that “warm bathing invigorates the system whilst in a vigorous state, but otherwise it tends to weaken it.”42
One colonist followed up on this indigenous misunderstanding of the importance of temperature in healing practices. In addition to citing the inappropriate use of cold baths, the encomendero of K'inakma (“Quinacama”) and Muxup'ip’ (“Moxopipe”), Pedro de Santillana, cited the eating of foods deemed cold in the Galenic tradition, specifically the “corn mush that they drink diluted” (atole), as bringing death; unlike the Spaniards, the Mayas clearly did not understand “atole to be very cold in its quality,” instead deeming it “hot.”43 The improper use of purgative techniques was also mentioned repeatedly. Not only did the Maya not know how to administer the remedy properly, but they were also unaware of appropriate protocol. According to the encomendero from Mama, the Maya “bleed themselves without rhyme or reason and because of this many of them die.”44
Interestingly, some Spanish Yucatecans made a direct link between the Mayas' physical health and their new spiritual and cultural enlightenment. Writing from the Indian parish of Tekit (“Tequite”), encomendero Hernando de Bracamonte declared that his Indians only became unhealthy following the imposition of Spanish lifeways: “After the religious took the ancient customs that they had away from them, saying that they were bad, I have understood that this was very harmful for their bodily health even though it was good for their souls.”45 The example that he gives is the new requirement that bodies be covered. According to Bracamonte's logic, since the Indians were “hot” (calurosa) people due to their residence in a “hot” (caliente) land, they were better off going nude; now required to wear clothes, they had to bathe continuously in order to cool off, to which Bracamonte, like his fellow settlers, attributed his Indians' “chest aches, tummy aches, and head colds.”46
Lacking in the colonists' assessments is evidence that they were even aware of the recent academic development of contagion theories, which were circulating among intellectual circles in Italy, France, and Spain. Given that the Protomedicato Real never had a sustained presence in the peninsula, it is understandable that these geographically provincial settlers would not have been up on the most recent trends in academic medicine.47 When Yucatecans were asked to intellectualize the cause of bodily disease in the new province, they invariably relied exclusively on Galenic theories of humoral balances and environmental effect. However, as I will argue below, using evidence from both central Mexico and the Yucatán peninsula, when called upon to explain the root cause and enduring presence of the native population's spiritual diseases, the primary symptom of which was idolatrous practices, colonists utilized both humoral and contagion theories, ultimately favoring the latter.
The Medical Metaphor and the Rhetoric of Idolatry in Mexico City
In addition to bringing with them lay understandings of medical theory, the early modern Europeans who colonized the American continents were also inheritors of a rhetorical tradition that applied these medical conceptualizations to diseases of the soul. Time and time again, priests from the three mendicant orders represented in New Spain declared that their role in the New World was as “spiritual doctors” whose primary objective was the “remedy” of the “disease of idolatry.” Fray Bernardino de Sahagún penned what is arguably the best known example from colonial Latin America of the doctor as priest analogy, using it as the conceptual frame for the prologue to his Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (more commonly known as the Florentine Codex).48 To justify his lengthy project (and perhaps to rationalize the fact that his order's provincial, Fray Francisco de Toral, had relieved him of his pastoral duties so that he could compose the tome), the Franciscan relied upon the metaphor of disease to describe his Amerindian neophytes' idolatrous practices and his role in their alleviation:
The doctor cannot apply with certainty medicines to the sick without first knowing what humor or cause came before the sickness; in this way, the good doctor should be educated in the knowledge of medicines and in sicknesses in order to suitably apply the contrary medicine to each sickness. Preachers and confessors are doctors of souls; in order to cure the spiritual sicknesses, they should know the spirit of the medicines and of the spiritual illnesses.49
The Franciscan alludes to the Hippocratic/Galenic school in referring to humors; his mention of “the contrary medicine” demonstrates that he was also clearly knowledgeable about that school's theory of curing with opposites. What is more intriguing is Sahagún's idea that pre-Columbian traditions should be understood as “spiritual sicknesses.” As the Indians of central Mexico were understood to be spiritually unwell, their friars, to whom their spiritual welfare and ultimate redemption were entrusted, were framed as doctors, professionals capable of first diagnosing and then curing diseased elements. In his prologue, Sahagún does not explicitly explain the exact nature of his intended spiritual medicine, but in describing the army of friars who had spread throughout the landscape of New Spain as “preachers and confessors,” he clearly suggests that their rhetorical prowess will be integral to the cure. In this, Sahagún falls in line with contemporaneous theology, which conceptualized refined rhetoric as a kind of social cure.
This conceptual link between rhetorical practices and disease is also apparent in another well-known text of the colonial era, Fray Diego Valadés's Rhetorica christiana, but in this source pre-Columbian rhetoric itself is the disease that the friars are trying to cure.50 Although most frequently deemed an early form of ethnography, Valadés's text in large part is devoted to the art of rhetoric, derived from European precedents but fully placed within a New World context.51 In part 4 of the 394-page tome, Valadés provided readers with a pithy, if hyperbolic, account of Mexica religious practices, with the aim of advocating for the use of Christian rhetorical devices to more effectively convert this native population. The author included 5 engravings to illustrate the finer points of the art of rhetoric, but scholars have paid more attention to his 17 images of the conversion effort, such as his now infamous engraving of an idealized New World atrium. Within this same section on the evangelical campaign, however, Valadés inserted an image spread over two full pages, which in compositional terms is unique within the Franciscan's larger corpus (figure 1).
At their most basic level, these two engravings illustrate the threat, possible avoidance, and probable consequence of idolatrous speech, points that Valadés unpacks in the body of the text. The images illustrate an organized Mexica universe gallantly ruled by none other than Satan himself, who sits enthroned at the very top of both images. He is depicted as overly muscular, with serpents emerging from his head and open mouth. Smaller-scale devils flank the beast, offering foodstuffs and precious objects to the grotesquely sexualized being, who sits with legs spread, displaying his genitalia. Below, Valadés divides the composition into six additional horizontal registers. The bottommost depicts scenes from hell, “where each one [of the sinners] receives their punishments in the body and soul.”52 We see indigenous bodies tortured by devils, who in the right image physically carry the damned in backpacks to meet their fate in the circles of hell. The right engraving is perhaps simpler in its intended message: the result of leading a sinful life. Mexica people are shown chained by the wrists or tied by the feet or neck, overseen by small devils placed at the extreme edges of the composition.
As evocative and titillating as the engravings are in their entirety, what is most fascinating from my perspective are the middle registers of the left one, which can be understood as visualizing Valadés's philosophy of indigenous sin as acts of speech.53 The second register depicts pairs of indigenous people participating in blasphemous conversations, which Valadés portrays as revolting creatures—snakes, frogs, scorpions, centipedes, and other, unidentifiable animals—emerging from the speakers' mouths. He states that these false words “leave our mouth like snakes and other diseased animals for our destruction and of those who listen to us.”54 This theme continues in the third register, where “one can clearly see how death enters through the mouth in those that have said false words.”55 The two conversing pairs at the far right are shown receiving divine intervention; two small angels hover behind two of the speakers, luring one penitent to physically remove the snake speech from his fellow conversant, and an angel's heavenly influence causes a participant in the second pair to cover his ears against the serpentine words of his conversation partner.
This mode of representing speech immediately brings to mind the evocatively rendered speech scrolls of the pre-Columbian painting tradition, which used spirals emanating from orators' mouths to depict simple speech or flowery scrolls for more elaborate oral traditions such as poetry or song (figure 2). Even in his compositional choice of multiple registers Valadés appears to be intentionally repositioning the pre-Columbian pictorial tradition as a satanic practice, because late Post-Classic codices and murals frequently relied upon this organizational scheme to diagram discrete narrative events. However, I believe that Fray Valadés based his representation not on firsthand interaction with pre-Columbian pictorial objects but rather on the native-produced images in Sahagún's Florentine Codex; there is profound compositional similarity between images in both (figure 2).56
It is tempting to assume an additional influence on Valadés's engravings: a full-folio illustration from the Florentine Codex's pictorial predecessor, Sahagún's Primeros memoriales. Composed between 1558 and 1561, this earlier manuscript is similarly encyclopedic in scope, albeit not as comprehensive.57 The illustration in question was provided by Sahagún's indigenous collaborators and depicted (with color wash) Atamalqualiztli (The eating of the water tamales), a ritual performed every eight years to honor the deity of water and agricultural fecundity, Tlaloc (figure 3). In the textual description, also provided by the collaborators, the rite is recounted as encompassing abstinence and fasting, followed by the dancing of performers elaborately costumed as “hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, flies, birds, beetles, [and] dung beetles,” among other animals, and donning various kinds of tamales as ritual necklaces.58 The native informants then go on to describe a curious ethnographic detail, relevant to Valadés's imagining of indigenous idolatry: the participants placed before a statue of Tlaloc a pool of “water which was filled with snakes and frogs,” and “those called Mazateca each swallowed the snakes, which were alive, and the frogs. They seized the frogs with their mouths, not their hands; they just chewed them up. . . . And they rewarded those who swallowed the snakes.”59 This exact ritual moment was depicted near the center of the Atamalqualiztli image, where two ritual participants, visually differentiated by their black-tinted skin, consume live snakes (figure 3). Just below and to the left, an additional black individual appears to vomit a liquid substance rendered in the same orange hue as the serpents, presumably representing their regurgitated remains.
It is impossible to definitively prove that Valadés was referencing these kinds of ethnographic details in his own visualization of pre-Columbian idolatries, but the similarities between the Atamalqualiztli rite and the engraving included in Rhetorica christiana tempt one to argue for direct intellectual and artistic influence. What is certain, however, is that Valadés intended to transmit to his audience the conception that Mexican rhetoric and, by extension, idolatry were diseased, vile forces that he represented as a vomiting of the earth's most repugnant creatures.60 He even goes so far as to use the term pestilentia in his description of blasphemy, describing those words as “plague animals.”61 Idolatry is here cast as a plague of the mouth, an oral affliction visualized by reptilian vomit, that only the word of God (or a helpful angel sent by God) is capable of curing.
Of course, agents deemed hazardous to the human population, either physically or spiritually, had long been visualized as repugnant creatures. Marcia Stephenson has shown that early modern visual representations rendered poison as reptilian, demon-like beings, the best example of which is Francisco de Zurbarán's image of Saint Luis Beltrán (who, not coincidentally, was a sixteenth-century Dominican friar who missioned in Colombia).62 Representations of Satan have long taken on an animalistic tone due to his conceptual mixing in the early Christian period with classical deities such as the hooved Pan. Moreover, Jorge Cañizares has argued that although “there are only a handful of cases that point to overt connections between animals and Satan in the New World,” early modern thinkers such as Juan Eusebio Nieremberg maintained that snakes, stemming from their role in the fall of man, were “Satan's pets.”63 Animals, especially reptilian creatures, easily lent themselves to symbolizing dangerous entities such as diseases of the body or soul, given their early modern conception as inherently immoral.64
In Mexico City a similar link between illness and morally suspect human actors is evident in a variety of other sources, but in the interest of space I will provide only two examples, one from a secular actor and the other from a religious one. Writing in 1577 to the Spanish crown, the doctor don Sancho Sánchez de Muñón provided the clearest example of this link. According to Sánchez de Muñón, one of the greatest challenges to the spiritual integrity of burgeoning Mexico City, and by extension the entire Viceroyalty of New Spain, was “the multitude of free mulattoes, mestizos, blacks, and criollos that there are in these kingdoms.” He saw their very presence and unrestricted movement as “something that causes apprehension,” due to his inherently racist assumption that people of the various mixed castas were somehow less morally sound than those of pure Spanish blood.65 He went on to provide the king with a possible solution to this problem: the physical removal of these questionable elements from Sánchez de Muñón's immediate social world. While this wasn't a provocative suggestion (it was often repeated throughout Spain's New World territories, and we'll see a Yucatecan example of it below), what is intriguing is the use that Sánchez de Muñón makes of a medical analogy: “The remedy that this could have, it seems to me, is to do in this land that which the doctor does for a body too overfilled, which is to diminish the too-abundant blood and bad humors that for being a lot can't be naturally used up.”66 By placing this social problem within the framework of Hippocratic/Galenic medical theory, Sánchez de Muñón directly engages with the conceptual field outlined above, one in which morally suspect comportment, the outward sign of one's internalized moral fiber, is depicted via a sickly physical body.
This linkage is even more concrete in Franciscan friar Gerónimo de Mendieta's account of the waves of epidemics that affected the indigenous population in the early years of the conquest.67 According to the friar, the first massive smallpox outbreak was introduced by the crew of Pánfilo de Narváez's 1520 expedition, sent by the Cuban governor, Diego Velázquez, to bring Hernando Cortés to justice. Not surprisingly, Mendieta targeted a morally questionable member of this expedition as spreading the disease, an African slave who was infected when they disembarked on Mexican soil.68 In due course, the epidemic spread “pueblo a pueblo” until “there wasn't a single corner left healthy in all of this New Spain.”69
Like Sahagún, Mendieta framed himself and his fellow clergy as doctors of souls. Just as suspect morality was responsible for the physical disease sweeping the land, spiritual guidance could combat the diseases of those souls. According to the Franciscan, rampant idolatry was the greatest cause of Spanish concern, “whose remedy and medicine is the Sacred Inquisition.”70 But soon after Mendieta penned these words, the Spanish crown removed indigenous bodies from the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, prompting the religious debate discussed in this article's introduction.71 Interestingly, once this jurisdiction was formally established, Spanish colonists turned to remedies associated with the outbreak of bodily epidemics to cure the spiritual diseases that likewise continued to ravage native communities.
Diseased Morality and Precautionary Measures in Yucatán
Thus far my emphasis has been on the ways that Spanish colonists conceived and conflated notions of idolatry and illness, closely analyzing a handful of choice quotes and images. For the remainder of this article, I will turn to the concrete and offer a variety of Yucatecan examples in which these notions were not only articulated but also in some cases served to influence administrative actions, frequently with dire consequences for the indigenous population.
In addition to deep-seated biases about the intellectual capabilities of the native population in Yucatán (and beyond), one of the most frequently cited reasons for the continuation of idolatrous practices among supposedly converted peoples was the dire need for friars in the region, specifically friars who spoke the Mayan language. As Governor Francisco Velázquez de Gijón put it in a 1575 letter to the Spanish crown, “There is a great lack of doctrine because most of the [Franciscan] superiors have ten or twelve thousand souls that come to the benefit of the sacraments . . . and there are few religious who are lenguas.”72 A repeatedly given excuse was of poco castigo (too little punishment), and, as discussed above, the defense of religiously dictated corporal punishment was the motivating factor for Sánchez de Aguilar's tome.73
Intriguingly, following a Hippocratic model, the Yucatec landscape itself was also blamed for the numerous idolatries discovered during the first 100 years of missionary efforts; the Maya were continually returning to their pre-Columbian ways because the region's topography afforded them the opportunity. Additionally, Hippocrates's view of tropical populations was clearly echoed in colonial-period discussions of indigenous capabilities, specifically for the Yucatán peninsula.74 Like the locales discussed by Hippocrates, the province was low-lying, had an abundance of hot winds, and was replete with warm coastal waters. Its inhabitants were also deemed lazy, capable of work only when directed by their overlords.75 To pick just one example among dozens, Governor Carlos de Luna y Arellano explained in a 1605 letter to the crown that the heresies were rampant because “the mountainous land is terrible and full of caves and very ripe for similar sins.”76 The nature of the local environment had a direct impact upon human temperament and behavior. In a 1606 letter to the Audiencia of Mexico, Bishop Diego Vázquez de Mercado described the Maya “Indians” as having “little capacity and even less liking for the things of the faith and religion.”77 The peninsula's physical topography not only provided a convenient location for clandestine religious activities but also influenced recent neophytes in demonic ways.78
Bodily metaphors also became a convenient rhetorical device for Yucatecan colonists, from off-the-cuff comments to relatively developed reactions to the contagiousness of idolatry. Due to space limits, I will only provide a few examples here. The language of idolatry utilizes the same rhetorical tropes outlined above; idolatrous practices are repeatedly deemed illnesses in need of a specific cure. Remedy, sickness, and affliction are themes that pervade this discourse. Bishop Vázquez de Mercado lamented the continued idolatries of the Mayas, specifically decrying their use in ancient rituals of the fermented honey-based beverage balché, which he described as having a “contagious stench.”79 Two years earlier, in 1604, Andrés Fernández de Castro, a visiting ecclesiastical judge who had been sent to the Valladolid region, produced a probanza and sent it to the Spanish crown in an attempt to secure a pension. A witness who provided testimonial of Fernández de Castro's contributions to God and country described them in veiled medical terms, likening Fernández de Castro to a spiritual doctor who had successfully cured the resident Mayas' diseases: “He is vicar and judge of the Indians' idolatries, to which he has come with great zeal, whose cause and by love with which he always came to remedy their needs, visiting them and scolding them for their sicknesses . . . punishing and remedying with all his ability and charity.”80 In another instance, the secular Antonio de Arroyo, the local vicar and ecclesiastical judge of the Maya parish of Peto for more than 20 years, described his idolatrous parishioners using the medical trope of affliction, noting “the idolatry of which almost all the gentiles are afflicted.”81
Although the rhetorical structures and medical metaphors utilized by this handful of Yucatecan colonists evinces the conceptual conflation of disease and idolatry, their words do not reveal how and if this discourse affected everyday practice. The responses to question 17 of the Relación Geográfica instrucción suggest that colonists believed the environment and the Mayas' poor understanding of Galenic medicine to be the primary causes of corporeal diseases.82 Alternatively, as we have seen, when it came to idolatry, the main disease of the soul, these same colonists applied the model of contagion to prevent its spread. Both the official ordinances and individualized punishments very frequently have one thing in common: they appear to replicate the tactics of European communities for avoiding mass epidemics such as the black plague.
The academic literature on the black death is vast, and I cannot do it justice here.83 However, for the purposes of my argument I will make a few salient points. The first is that although the majority of medical professionals blamed the spread of the plague on putrid air, the actions taken at the community level clearly stemmed from a recognition that the plague was contagious, that direct bodily contact, or secondary contact via clothes and the like (à la Fracastoro), was the main cause. One only has to remember the medieval tactic of burning a deceased victim's clothing and bed linens to fully appreciate to what degree individuals believed in the notion of invisible seeds. As early as the fifteenth century, Spanish medical authorities touted physical distance as the most effective measure against infection. In the now infamous words of Doctor Alfonso Chirino, “The most important thing is to get out of the [infected] land where the disease generates itself or is generating, and as quickly as you can.”84 My second point is that once news of a distant outbreak reached administrative personnel, their primary response was quarantine; city gates were closed (or in some cases erected), thereby making it nearly impossible for infected individuals to enter the civic space.85 In port cities, individuals on recently docked ships were not allowed to leave their vessel until the threat of disease had passed.86 Large public gatherings were deemed illegal, as close contact between individuals could result in an outbreak. The point here is that beyond other lines of reasoning such as air, winds, and environment, physical contact with infected individuals or their effects was understood to keep the march of disease at a steady pace.
In a similar vein, the most common tactic deployed to halt the spread of idolatry was the avoidance of contact between indigenous neophytes and nearly every other kind of colonial actor: mestizos, mulattoes, blacks, and, especially, unchristianized or apostate Mayas. As in the viceregal capital, in the provinces mere communication with morally suspect individuals was understood to entice Christianized indigenes to return to their traditional cultural practices. The threat of this contact prompted a series of what could be called spatial ordinances as early as 1552. Sent by the Audiencia of Guatemala in response to the Franciscans' accusation of abusive practices by resident encomenderos, royal oidor Tomás López Medel administered the region's first set of official decrees.87 Today, López Medel's decrees are only preserved as a transcription published as a discrete chapter in Fray Diego López de Cogolludo's 1688 Historia de Yucathan.88 While it is inarguable that the ordinances carried administrative weight, the title of López de Cogolludo's chapter including them—“It Was Necessary to Make Laws with Royal Authority, in order for the Indians to Avoid Some Rites of Their Gentility”—suggests that, from the Franciscan perspective, the edicts were also related to the avoidance of idolatry.89 López Medel's first ordinance insists that the indigenous leadership, the “Caziques, y Governadores, y Principales, y Alguaziles,” stay in the pueblos over which they govern and not be absent from them for more than 40 or 50 days.90 The unspoken fear was that these indigenous leaders would vanish into the monte (the uninhabited wild zones of the peninsula) to conduct heretical rites and initiate other Mayas into their cult.91 López Medel went on to argue that “one of the things that has impeded and impedes policía” is how the Indians live so far apart from one another in the monte. To resolve this, he proposed that the Mayas be forced to settle in organized towns defined by an orthogonal plan in well-made houses. These Mayas were not allowed to move between pueblos because “by moving from one pueblo to another, they are made vagabonds, escaping from the doctrine.”92
Of course these kinds of ordinances stem directly from the idea that the New World Indian population needed to be Hispanicized as well as Christianized to be worthy subjects of the Spanish crown, but I would argue that they also expose a Spanish fear of unmediated contact between Indian neophytes and potential spiritual contaminants, the latter perhaps including the monte itself. For example, in a letter of 1601 Governor Diego de Velasco described how “the greatest nuisance that the Indians make are those that live as in their gentility, hidden in the fragmented mountains, some having secret communication with those who are Christians and living in doctrinas, with all the caution that could be mustered they are now imprisoned, they don the hairstyles that they used in their gentility, [and are] circumcised, which is something that has never been found in this land.”93 Thus by coming into direct contact with their uninitiated brothers, Christianized Mayas immediately returned to their heathen ways.
López Medel's decrees were reformalized nearly three decades later when the Audiencia of Mexico tasked oidor Diego García de Palacio with a similar commission.94 In many senses, García de Palacio approached his task with a direr sense of its urgency; given the ongoing discovery of indigenous idolatry over the intervening 30 years, it was clear that his predecessor's decrees had not fully resulted in “the Indians of these parts being in concert and policía.”95 As such, the oidor ruled with a slightly firmer hand, explicitly prohibiting any indigenous movement away from Christian spaces, including previously legal movement such as to tend to distant milpas. More specifically, García de Palacio targeted indigenous individuals who, in order to meet tribute demands, left their assigned towns to procure salt, dyewood, chocolate, indigo, or fish. These tribute obligations unwittingly gave the Mayas ample opportunity to, in García de Palacio's own words, “go to the monte to idol worship.”96 To alleviate this threat, he commanded indigenous officials to never consent to their residents participating in such unassuming activities. All access to the dangerous monte had to be closed off.97
And perhaps the Spaniards were right in thinking that continual exposure could spread the disease; they certainly had ample evidence that this was the case. So infectious was this plague of idolatry that even fully confirmed Catholic Spaniards were at risk of affliction.98 A case heard by the Inquisition in Mexico City involved the supposed religious crimes of Juan Vela de Aguirre, the creole encomendero of the Maya village of Homún.99 Aguirre became romantically involved with a Maya woman, Magdalena Chan, and eventually took up residence with her. Magdalena's father, Andrés Chan, was the “great priest of all these idolatries and a publicly known witch doctor” who had repeatedly had run-ins with religious authorities for engaging in idolatrous activities.100 According to the witness testimony of six resident Mayas, who had already endured punishment (and torture) at the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities, Aguirre was strongly influenced by his father-in-law and began engaging in ancient Maya rituals. He was eventually caught and then charged with “idolatry and witchcraft.” The detail given in the case file is intriguing, prompting one to trust its veracity despite the fact that the indigenous testimony may have been extracted under duress. For example, Aguirre is specifically charged in three distinct instances with ingesting food and drink previously offered to non-Christian deities, a religious crime that was forbidden by biblical scripture, most famously by Saint Paul in his epistles.101 The Mayan names for specific objects utilized during the course of the ceremony are given, such as particular kinds of bread and beverage, called tutul uah (or tutul wah) and huisil haa (or wisil haa’), as well as descriptions of the ritual vessels that were used. From the Spanish perspective, cases such as these stood as cautionary tales for how powerful the disease of idolatry actually was. Not only were indigenous Mayas at risk for backsliding, but fully Catholic Spaniards were as well. Aguirre's Catholic status could not protect him from this deadly disease: isolation from Christian Spanish society and continual contact with the diseased indigenous elements resulted in his inevitable infection.
The Spanish fear of contact brings up pragmatic issues; it becomes necessary to question exactly how these colonists conceived of the mechanics of idolatry's spread. This is extremely difficult to access in the extant archival sources, but when Spanish acts are analyzed an answer emerges. For example, García de Palacio's ordinances seem to suggest that seeds of idolatrous sins could be carried in the physicality of Maya-made goods; not only did he replicate his predecessor's decree forbidding Spaniards, mestizos, mulattoes, and blacks from living among the Indians, but he also disallowed these people from selling or buying anything in Indian homes.102 Beyond physical contact between human subjects, the exchange of material goods or foodstuffs was deemed hazardous in that it could potentially spread this spiritual plague. Punishment for such an infraction was strict: for Spaniards a fine of 20 pesos, for Mayas 50 lashes. One could argue that López Medel's own decree that Spaniards should burn Maya villages that were depopulated also spoke to this assumption. Like the burning of plague victims' personal goods, the fiery destruction of abandoned Maya homes assured the eradication of whatever idolatrous essence still inhabited that space.103
However, there was always hope for a cure. Interestingly, the proposed remedies typically lack a material basis (physical medicine or ritualized enactment) and fall into the realm of metaphysical miracles. Inherent in some of these cures is the assumption that living in a purely Spanish environment could potentially heal a diseased soul. In his probanza of 1606, Fray Rodrigo Tinoco described a case that he oversaw dealing with the physical removal of a spiritual contagion from the Maya village of Telchac.104 As he retells the story, one evening the local cacique held a fiesta at his home and served an alcoholic beverage (in all likelihood balché, but described as “a jug of wine”).105 At some point in the evening, two Indian women got into a scuffle; one was unnamed, and the other, Maria Dzul, was an intoxicated widow from the neighboring village of Sinanché. During the fight Maria tore the burlap shirt off her combatant and the next day was brought before the local alcaldes. In concert with the local indigenous leaders, Fray Tinoco, in his role as ecclesiastical judge, responded to the public outcry by exiling Maria to the convent of nuns in Mérida, where she presumably became a domestic servant.106 While it is impossible to know from the admittedly abbreviated account the subtle intricacies of the social life of Telchac, it is clear that the friar understood physical removal and subsequent quarantine as the only method of saving both the community and the individual.107 Treated as a diseased and infectious element, Dzul was exiled from her home village and placed in the cloistered center of feminized Catholicism, where she could be cured and allow the community of Telchac to remain spiritually healthy.
In addition to spiritual quarantine, the Spaniards employed another strategy to avoid an infestation of idolatry, seemingly taken from the traditional suite of plague responses: disallowing Maya peoples from gathering in large numbers. López Medel understood the need for this, having decreed that no Indian of “any condition,” Christian or not, should “host such assemblies and meetings.”108 Moreover, should these kinds of events occur, it was forbidden for the indigenous elite to “preach, nor publicly teach, nor secretly [enact] their rituals, and past heathenisms, nor things of their gods, nor renew the memory of them,” since the fear was that in mass, knowledge of these ancient practices would be “stirred up” and infection would occur.109 García de Palacio was even more explicit when he stated that “the fiestas and other gatherings that occur far from their houses . . . have resulted in some diseases and other inconveniences in disservice to God our Lord.”110 This kind of decree was necessary since the Mayas had “remain[ed] dissolute and distant from the Christian Doctrine,” while “memory of their past rituals had stayed fresh in their minds.”111
Taken in total, all the strategies against the spread of idolatry resonated within the larger semantic field of disease. From avoidance to physical containment, the pragmatic steps taken against this religious epidemic can be mapped against measures known to protect urban populations from communal health tragedies, such as the ongoing European experiences of the black plague.
In this article I have attempted to draw a substantive and conceptual link between ideologies of disease and idolatry in early colonial New Spain, with examples taken from Mexico City and archival sources from the province of Yucatán. My goal has been to offer an explanation for the expansion of the definition of idolatry in the seventeenth century, specifically the redefinition of idolatrous practices beyond engagement with suspect material culture. Pragmatic reasons aside, this severing of idolatry from material accoutrements can be attributed to a shift in the way that early colonial actors perceived native sacrilegious acts. In the historical theater of New Spain, two of the defining characteristics of sixteenth-century colonialism—epidemic disease and ongoing idolatries—appear to have operated in a conceptual sphere that conflated the two distinct phenomena. I have argued that this can be seen in rhetorical devices, simple turns of phrase, and visual culture. To explain the ongoing outbreaks of indigenous idolatry, Spanish colonists turned to a convenient and relevant intellectual model, that of bodily illness. Given the communal memory in the Iberian world of mass epidemics such as the plague, Spanish colonists rightly understood that widespread civil and religious unrest could be blamed on an unseen enemy: seeds of contagion, invisible to the naked eye but still threatening to unsuspecting populations. Similarly in New Spain, another invisible contagion, the workings of the devil and his blind minions, could be responsible for infecting otherwise healthy souls.
1. Antonio de Figueroa, 1615, quoted in Sánchez de Aguilar, Informe, fol. 52r.
2. Hernando de Aguilar was among the Spaniards murdered by Maya warriors in the rebellion of 1546. Bracamonte y Sosa, La conquista inconclusa, 156.
3. A son of noble descent from the Xiu and Chi lineages, Gaspar Antonio Chi remains fascinating to scholars of colonial Yucatán. See Restall, “Gaspar Antonio Chi.”
4. For a more detailed account of Sánchez de Aguilar's career, see Bracamonte y Sosa, La conquista inconclusa, 156–59.
5. Gubler, “El Informe,” 109.
6. Sánchez de Aguilar, Informe, fol. 1r.
7. Ibid., fols. 65v–66r.
8. Quoted in ibid., fol. 66r.
9. Galván Rivera, Concilio, 23. The theme of “returning” to the “vomit” of idolatry was later echoed twice by Friar Diego Aduarte in reference to the missionary efforts in the Philippines. Aduarte, Historia, 62, 230.
10. Nesvig, Ideology, 31–32. In fact, this linkage between disease and idolatry can be traced all the way back to Tertullian's usage of the “contagion of idolatry” (contagio idololatriae) in the second century: see Tertullian, De idololatria, para. 8, line 5. As early as the fourth century, theologians were moving beyond the generalized disease metaphor to specifically refer to heretical acts as a form of vomit; Gregory of Nyssa, among other nauseating constructions, uses the phrase the “fetid vomit of heresy.” Schaff and Wace, Gregory, 241. This early Christian metaphor likely survived into the medieval period and beyond due to Saint Augustine's heavy reliance upon Tertullian's theology. Much more recently, Marcia Stephenson has analyzed the usage of the medical metaphor of idolatry as a poison in the context of colonial Peruvian extirpation campaigns. See Stephenson, “From Marvelous Antidote,” 26.
11. The other usage of vómito occurs amid Sánchez de Aguilar's discussion of Philip II's royal cédula that informed his New Spanish colonists of certain “heretics” who were trying to come to his American territories. The king urged his New World religious to enact the “necessary remedy,” prompting Sánchez de Aguilar to state that the king should know that the “Indians of this Province would return to the vomit of adoring idols.” Sánchez de Aguilar, Informe, fol. 37v. While not as visceral but certainly pertinent to the discussion here, in the last section of the text Sánchez de Aguilar repeatedly uses the phrase “la enfermedad” to refer to the ongoing idolatries and “los enfermos” for its practitioners. In a similar vein, the Franciscan friar Alfonso de Castro wrote of “the dung of idolatry” in his 1543 treatise; for an English translation of the entire text, see Nesvig, Forgotten Franciscans, 26–50 (quote on 40).
12. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, scholars have noted and theorized the apparently universal human capability of associating the witnessing of acts considered to be amoral (such as idolatry to a Catholic) with the physical reaction of nausea or vomiting. As perhaps best illuminated by the philosopher Aurel Kolnai in 1927, disgust should be understood as an emotive response necessarily linked to a sensory experience. Kolnai goes on to suggest that “seeing, touching, and smelling all grasp the materiality of objects, which is where the central qualities of the disgusting reside.” Kolnai, On Disgust, 15. I would propose that this more fully explains why the Spanish clergy were so particularly repelled by idolatrous acts. Since these acts had a visual or physical component and thus directly involved the sensory experience of sight (or even smell, if a native incense such as copal were involved), they were more likely to evoke a physical sensation of disgust than a nonmaterial religious crime. What remains to be more fully explained is exactly why heresy, a distinctly nonmaterial religious crime, elicited the same viscerally repugnant reaction during the early Christian, medieval, and early modern periods (as described in note 10) as idolatry did in the New World. For a more recent commentary on the concept of disgust, see Miller, Anatomy.
13. Population estimates for the Post-Classic period vary drastically, making a clear assessment of colonial population loss impossible. It is undeniable that the peninsula experienced a devastating demographic collapse resulting in dire social, cultural, political, and economic consequences for the surviving population. Sherburne Cook and Woodrow Borah, analyzing more than 30 colonial sources, have provided a detailed overview of population fluctuations during the course of the colonial period. See Cook and Borah, Essays, 177. Robert Patch has developed an intriguing methodology to calculate and thus contextualize the severity of late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century epidemics in Yucatán by analyzing changes in the administration of sacramental rights. See Patch, “Sacraments.”
14. Much has been written on ecclesiastical justice in colonial New Spain and the jurisdictional battles that were sometimes waged between bishops, the mendicant orders, and seculars. For these debates in Yucatán, see González Cicero, Perspectiva religiosa; Chuchiak, “In Servitio Dei”; Chuchiak, “La inquisición indiana.”
15. The bodily metaphor of disease still pervades contemporary scholarship; Mitchell, in Contagious Metaphor, traces academic usages of contagion metaphors from classical antiquity to the present.
16. Numerous scholars, both within the field of Latin American colonial history and beyond, have attempted to formulate an understanding of colonial Christianity and ritualized vestiges of pre-Columbian religion—what early modern Spaniards would have termed idolatría. For paramount works in this regard for the Andean region, see MacCormack, Religion; Mills, Idolatry; Griffiths, Cross. For New Spain, see Nesvig, Ideology; Tavárez, Invisible War; Chuchiak, Inquisition. The list of relevant and noteworthy scholarship on this topic is of course much longer.
17. Which isn't to say that the adoration of suspect material artifacts didn't also continue well into the colonial period. For studies of the visual culture still in circulation at the time, see Orellana, “Idols”; Chuchiak, “De Descriptio Idolorum.”
18. Chuchiak, “Toward a Regional Definition,” 154.
19. Pete Sigal has argued that in a fortuitously similar fashion Nahuas and Mayas blamed illness, death, and all other negative life events on the will of discontented deities. Sigal, From Moon Goddesses, 54–56.
20. Lindemann, Medicine, 51.
21. Even after the discovery of the smallpox vaccination, which was coeval with the beginning of germ theory, this environmental approach was still in vogue. For example, in a 1797 booklet (published in Puebla) on the proper methods of smallpox inoculation, the author included a discussion of cures for diseases specific to hot and cold environments. He also recommended that blood be let when the pox began to dry out. See Instrucción, 15–17, 34–35.
22. Jones, Hippocrates, 135.
23. Durling, “Innate Heat,” 210.
24. Carl Sterner has argued that the term miasma was not used to describe this phenomenon until the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Sterner, “Brief History,” 1.
25. Historians of science have noted that even in the medieval period, disease outbreaks were differentiated by scale and severity, which has allowed scholars to reconstruct the particulars of these epidemiological disasters. See Carmichael, “Universal.”
26. d'Agramont, “Regiment,” 61.
27. Nutton, “Reception,” 198. For an insightful analysis of medieval Christian and Muslim theories of contagion, see Stearns, Infectious Ideas.
28. Fracastoro, De contagione.
29. Nutton has identified three distinct instances when Galen utilized the “seed analogy,” all of which occurred within a span of 2 to 4 years, suggesting a development of his theory of seeds. Nutton, “Reception,” 199–204.
30. Palmer, “Control.”
31. Nutton, “Reception,” 234.
32. Scholars have made great headway in understanding later colonial medical practices, particularly as performed by indigenous healers. See Gubler, “El papel”; Kashanipour, “World.”
33. Cline, “Relaciones Geográficas,” 347. López de Velasco's questionnaire was heavily influenced, and perhaps even directly assisted, by Juan de Ovando y Godoy, who had spent the past decade drafting similar questionnaires for Spain's Iberian holdings.
34. The 54 Yucatecan responses can be found in the Archivo General de Indias, Seville (hereafter cited as AGI), Indiferente 1530, no. 5. Reliable transcriptions can be found in volumes 11 and 13 of Colección.
35. Copy of instrucción, 1579, AGI, Indiferente 1530, no. 5, fol. 20r. José Pardo-Tomás has similarly focused on questions 5 and 15 to analyze the variability of the Spanish respondents' explanations for the dramatic indigenous population decline of the sixteenth century. Pardo-Tomás, “‘Antiguamente.’”
36. Gerardo Bustos has compiled the Yucatecan responses to create a generalized Spanish view of the peninsula's environment. See Bustos, Libro.
37. Colección, 11:164.
38. Ibid., 11:84.
39. Ibid., 11:164.
40. Ibid., 13:205.
41. Patch asserts that the 1648 yellow fever outbreak killed half the peninsula's population. Patch, “Sacraments,” 731.
42. Coxe, Writings, 247.
43. Colección, 11:260. Interestingly, the curatives described by the peninsula's Spanish population perfectly resonate with known Maya healing practices, such as the curing of physical symptoms with objects and herbs that replicate those bodily responses. See Kashanipour, “World,” 258–59. Mayas deemed atole hot up until the 1930s: see Redfield and Villa R., Chan Kom, 130.
44. Colección, 11:165. One is tempted to suggest that this bloodletting that seemed so happenstance to the Spanish audience was actually a form of autosacrifice intended for supernatural intervention rather than physically easing corporeal suffering per se.
45. Ibid., 11:106. As William Hanks has noted, this sentiment also perfectly reflects the rivalry between Spanish Franciscans and seculars being played out in the Yucatán peninsula at this time, in which each party actively accused the other of abuses against the Maya population. See Hanks, Converting Words, 33.
46. Colección, 11:106.
47. Kashanipour, “World,” 185, 189. In fact, these emerging theories were hotly debated even among medical professionals. For an overview, see Nutton, “Reception.”
48. Of course, for early modern people the Jesuit José de Acosta's widely disseminated works would have provided a handier example of this same conceit; he famously stated in reference to idolatry that “this pestilence is the greatest of all evils.” José de Acosta, quoted in Gose, Invaders, 26.
49. Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, 1575–77, Biblioteca Laurenziana Medicea, Florence, fol. 1r.
50. Valadés, Rhetorica. Although the text was composed in Latin, a partial Spanish translation exists: see Palomera, Fray Diego Valadés.
51. For detailed discussions of the relationship between Valadés's rhetorical practices and those of his contemporaries, see Abbott, Rhetoric; Venier, “La Rhetorica Christiana.”
52. Valadés, Rhetorica, 218.
53. Valadés's contemporaries, such as Theodor de Bry, would have likely pictorialized the more expected tropes of cannibalism or idol worshipping. See Gaudio, Engraving the Savage.
54. Valadés, Rhetorica, 218.
56. Frays Sahagún and Valadés were both resident in the Tlatelolco monastery from 1557, when Provincial Toral commissioned Sahagún to write up his ethnographic findings, which ended when Sahagún moved to the convent of San Francisco in Mexico City in 1564. The two friars undoubtedly remained in contact until Valadés was summoned to Spain in 1571. This decade-long block of time would have provided ample opportunity for Valadés to see Sahagún's work in progress, since his magnum opus was not completed until circa 1578. Brendan R. Branley has convincingly shown that some of Valadés's other engravings, such as the more famous “Indian Town,” were directly derived from the 1572 edition of Jerónimo Benzoni's La historia del Mondo Nuovo. See Branley, “Visual Rhetoric,” 128–43.
57. Baird, Drawings, 16.
58. Sahagún, Primeros Memoriales, 68.
59. Ibid., 68–69.
60. In this way Valadés differentiates himself from Sahagún, who saw within the pre-Columbian rhetorical traditions a means for easing the evangelical burden, since the indigenous population was already familiar with the convincing function of oration. Abbott, Rhetoric, 32.
61. Valadés, Rhetorica, 218.
62. Stephenson, “From Marvelous Antidote,” 24.
63. Cañizares-Esguerra, Puritan Conquistadors, 136.
64. Interestingly, pre-Columbian societies do not appear to have had the same negative connotations for these kinds of animals. For example, when one closely studies the species descriptions included in book 11 of the Florentine Codex, nonvenomous snakes are repeatedly described as “harmless,” and there isn't a single description of their inherent evilness, in contrast to what is found in contemporaneous European encyclopedias. However, scholars such as Pete Sigal have shown that among the Nahuas of central Mexico, animals (in his example, scorpions) were much more evocative in their cultural connotations than is suggested by their mere biology. Sigal argues that due to the scorpion's conceptualization as an embodiment of culturally contingent understandings of sexuality and sexual acts, “only through the simulation of sexual activity can the shaman cure the individual” stung by the scorpion. Sigal, Flower, 9. While beyond the goals of my study, a closer examination of Valadés's use of snake imagery in other rhetorical contexts could be enlightening.
65. Sancho Sánchez de Muñón to crown, 1577, AGI, Indiferente General 739, no. 94, fol. 94v. I am deeply indebted to Robert Schwaller for bringing this incredibly evocative letter to my attention.
67. For a scholarly interpretation of these epidemics, see Prem, “Disease Outbreaks,” 24–27; Cook, Born to Die, 63–70. For additional sources on New World epidemics in general, see Alchon, Pest; Fields, Pestilence.
68. Of course this wouldn't be the first time in history that a person of African descent was targeted as patient zero in a mass epidemic. This was a trope as early as the fifth century BCE, when Thucydides hypothesized that the Attic plague of 432 originally spread from “Ethiopia in upper Egypt.” Quoted in Garza, Understanding Plague, 16.
69. Mendieta, Historia, 514.
70. Ibid., 18. Additionally, in the second and third Concilio Provincial Mexicano, Mexican bishops likened the extirpation of idolatry to the excising of a tumor from an otherwise healthy body. John F. Chuchiak IV, personal communication.
71. Philip II did this in a royal cédula of 1571: see Klor de Alva, “Colonizing Souls,” 4. For an overview of the colonial Inquisition, see Greenleaf, “Inquisition,” 138–66; Moreno de los Arcos, “New Spain's Inquisition,” 23–32; Chuchiak, Inquisition.
72. Francisco de Velázquez de Gijón to crown, 1575, AGI, México 359, r. 4, no. 15, fol. 24.
73. Bishop Diego Vázquez de Mercado was particularly outspoken about this aspect of the continued idolatries, penning numerous letters to both the Spanish court and the Mexican audiencia on the topic. See in particular Bishop Diego Vázquez de Mercado to Audiencia of Mexico, 1606, AGI, México 359, r. 9, no. 50, fol. 4.
74. For a list of texts imported to the colony that either derived from or directly referenced Hippocratic/Galenic theories of disease, see Rueda Ramírez, Negocio.
75. Of course, alternative thoughts on Maya demeanor were also offered, most famously by Diego de Landa in his collection of writings known as the Relación de las cosas de Yucatán. The Franciscan praised the industrious nature of the Maya, but as historians Matthew Restall and John Chuchiak have shown, scholars need to contextualize the opinions expressed by Landa within the manuscript's production as part of his trial for his illegal auto-da-fé of 1562. Restall and Chuchiak, “Reevaluation.”
76. Carlos de Luna y Arellano to crown, 1605, AGI, México 359, r. 9, no. 50, fol. 13.
77. Vázquez de Mercado to Audiencia of Mexico, 1606, AGI, México 359, r. 9, no. 50, fol. 4.
78. Ibid. In one of the earliest letters written by a Franciscan in the province, the comisario Fray Juan de la Puerta similarly referenced the ecological nature of this social ill when he utilized the phrase “desert of idolatry” to describe Yucatán's pre-Christian religious landscape. Juan de la Puerta to crown, 1547, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Diversos-Colecciones 23, no. 7, fol. 1v.
79. Vázquez de Mercado to Audiencia of Mexico, 1606, AGI, México 359, r. 9, no. 50, fol. 1v.
80. Andrés Fernández de Castro to crown, 1604, AGI, México 294. Emphasis added.
82. Some scholars have suggested that the pre-Columbian Maya maintained a body of medical theory fortuitously similar to Galen's theory of airs and differential environmental factors. See Redfield and Villa R., Chan Kom, 118–19; Bassie-Sweet, Maya Sacred Geography, 130. For an overview of similar practices within contemporary Q'eqchi’ Maya communities, see De Gezelle, Q'eqchi’, 16.
83. Plague studies have focused on the outbreaks in England, France, and Italy, likely due to the relative dearth of documentary evidence from the Iberian Peninsula. However, in recent years some attention has been paid to the Spanish and Portuguese experience. See Pérez Moreda, “Plague”; Carrascal Muñoz, La guerra; Garza, Understanding Plague; Stearns, Infectious Ideas; Bowers, Plague.
84. Chirino, Menor daño, fol. viir.
85. Crisis management was much more lenient in reality; civic powers continually made exceptions to their public decrees based on the economic communal good. Bowers, “Balancing Individual and Communal Needs.”
86. This was certainly the case during Seville's plague scare of 1579, when two vessels from Portugal were forced to remain quarantined until the threat of contamination had passed. See Cook and Cook, Plague Files, 16–17. Being the primary port of Yucatán, San Francisco de Campeche undoubtedly utilized the same tactic on occasion. For an overview of port society in early colonial Campeche, see García Bernal, Campeche.
87. López Medel's ordinances did not deal with space alone; they also included edicts regarding the proper extraction of tribute payment. As Hanks has pointed out, these decrees must be understood within the context of the failed implementation of the 1542 New Laws in Yucatán, and in some cases, López Medel's laws directly contradicted the earlier edicts. Hanks, Converting Words, 33–34.
88. López de Cogolludo, Historia, 292–302. López de Cogolludo states that he transcribed these edicts “a la letra” from the “libro antiguo” held by the cabildo of Valladolid. Ibid., 293. For an overview of López Medel's decrees pertaining to Indian advocates, see Cunill, “Tomás López Medel.”
89. López de Cogolludo, Historia, 292.
91. The problem of indigenous flight into the uncolonized zones of the peninsula remained an administrative grievance for the rest of the sixteenth century. For an overview of the varied forces behind this phenomenon, see Farriss, “Nucleation.” Intriguingly, John Chuchiak has argued that as a response to a series of armed expeditions intended to round up these apostate Mayas, many indigenous communities voluntarily left their monte villages to join Franciscan reducciones (or to found them anew) “as a means of avoiding military confrontations.” Chuchiak, “‘Fide,’” 124. For a recent look at the multivalent meaning of the monte, or montaña, during the colonial period, see Rocher Salas, “La Montaña”; Solari, Maya Ideologies, 5, 11–13, 129–30, 148–49.
92. López de Cogolludo, Historia, 294.
93. Diego de Velasco to crown, 1601, AGI, México 359, r. 8, no. 42, fol. 1.
94. For a discussion of this particular visitation, see Ortiz Yam and Quezada, Visita.
95. Ordinances of Diego García de Palacio, 1584, AGI, Indiferente General 2987, fol. 20r.
96. Ibid., fol. 22r.
97. So dangerous was the monte that friars sent into it never seemed to return, causing Fray Antonio de Ciudad Real in 1604 to refer to travel there as a “death sentence.” Antonio de Ciudad Real to king, 1604, AGI, México 294.
98. The Inquisition continually tried Spaniards for engaging in Maya rituals. Although this topic has yet to receive full treatment in the scholarship, Matthew Restall and Ryan Kashanipour discuss it directly in reference to love magic. See Kashanipour, “World,” 100–101; Restall, Black Middle, 265–77.
99. “Auto del Obispo de Yucatán contra Juan Vela de Aguirre El Viejo, encomendero de la mitad del pueblo de San Buenaventura de Homún,” 1611, AGN, Inquisición 455, fols. 303r–7v.
100. Ibid., fol. 303r.
101. See 1 Cor. 8:7–13, 10:14–33.
102. Ordinances of Diego García de Palacio, 1584, AGI, Indiferente General 2987, fol. 23v.
103. Of course, there was a pragmatic reason for this particular decree as well: without ready-for-habitation domestic architecture, Mayas would be less likely to run away to the monte.
104. Probanza of Rodrigo Tinoco, 1607, AGI, México 3167.
106. It bears noting that Fray Tinoco was later reprimanded for this action, as the bishop had not granted him special permission to do so. John F. Chuchiak IV, personal communication.
107. David Tavárez has noted a similar instance of spiritual quarantine in Oaxaca, where Bishop Isidro Sariñana y Cuenca utilized “a perpetual prison,” “treating idolatry defendants like infectious cases. . . . quarantined from their social networks.” Tavárez, Invisible War, 279.
108. López de Cogolludo, Historia, 295.
110. Ordinances of Diego García de Palacio, 1584, AGI, Indiferente General 2987, fol. 24r.
111. López de Cogolludo, Historia, 295.