- A dictionary of medical eponyms

José de Acosta

Born  1539
Died  1900

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Spanish Jesuit missionary, born 1539, Medina del Campo, Spain; died February 15, 1600, Salamanca, Spain.

Biography of José de Acosta

José de Acosta was a Jesuit theologian and missionary to the New World. He provided the first detailed description of the geography and culture of Latin America, Aztec history and the uses of coca. He is chiefly known for his Historia natural y moral de las Indias, the earliest survey of the New World and its relation to the Old. Acosta's work is especially valuable as a firsthand account of western South America at this time, based on his 16 years' life and travel in the region. He travelled extensively through Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Mexico and was the first European to systematize the geography of the New World.

Acosta joined the Jesuits in 1570 and went to Peru as a missionary in 1571. Having been provincial of his order there (1576-81), he was appointed theological adviser to the Third Provincial Council of Lima (1582), later writing a catechism in local Indian languages, the first book printed in Peru.

One a journey he crossed the Andes and spent some time on the high plateau known as the Altiplano. Many of his party became sick when crossing the high pass at Pariacaca (4800 meters). He himself was "suddenly surprized with so mortall and strange a pang, that I was ready to fall" and considered that 'the aire is there so subtle and delicate, as it is not proportionable with the breathing of man.'

He returned to Spain in 1587 and published Historia natural y moral de las Indias in 1590.

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