Historia general de las cosas de nueva España (General history of the things of New Spain) is an encyclopedic work about the people and culture of central Mexico compiled by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590), a Franciscan missionary who arrived in Mexico in 1529, eight years after completion of the Spanish conquest by Hernan Cortés. Commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex, the manuscript consists of 12 books devoted to different topics. Book XI, the longest in the codex, is a treatise on natural history. Following the traditional division of knowledge common to many European encyclopedic works, the Florentine Codex deals with “all things divine (or rather idolatrous), human and natural of New Spain.” Thus, having dealt with higher beings and humans, Sahagún turns to animals, plants, and all types of minerals. For the discussion of medicinal herbs and minerals, Sahagún drew upon the knowledge of indigenous physicians, creating what the scholar Miguel León-Portilla has called a kind of pre-Hispanic pharmacology. The discussion of animals draws upon Aztec legends about various animals, both real and mythical. The book is an especially important source for understanding how the Mesoamericans used natural resources before the arrival of the Europeans. Many animals raised in Europe, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and horses, were unknown to Mesoamerican peoples. Instead they raised rabbits, xoloitzcuintli (a breed of hairless dog), birds, and, in particular, turkeys. They supplemented their diet with wild boars, deer, tapirs, birds, frogs, ants, crickets, and snakes. Other animals were hunted chiefly for their skins, such as the jaguar and other felines, or for their feathers. Book XI contains numerous illustrations of animals, including mammals (jaguar and armadillo), birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.
References: Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, The World of the Aztecs in the Florentine Codex, (Mandragora: 2007).
Place: Latin America and the Caribbean; Mexico
Institution: Medicea Laurenziana Library, Florence
Physical description: Bound as part of volume 3. Ink on paper ; 310 x 212 millimeters