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Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (August 1478 - 1557) was a Spanish historian and writer.

He was born in Madrid of a Noble Asturian lineage and educated in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. At thirteen, he became page to their son, the Infante Juan, (Infante is a title bestowed on any of the Royal Family's children that are not heirs to the Spanish Crown) was present at the siege of Granada, and there saw Christopher Columbus previously to his voyage to The Americas. On the death of Infante Juan (October 4, 1497), Oviedo went to Italy, and there acted as secretary to Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba. In 1514 he was appointed supervisor of gold-smeltings at Santo Domingo, and on his return to Spain in 1523 was appointed historiographer of the Indies. He paid five more visits to America before his death, which took place at Valladolid in 1557.

First Oviedo's literary work was a Chivalric romance entitled Libro del muy esforzado e invencible caballero Don Claribalte (Book of the very striving and invincible knight Don Claribalte). It was published in 1519 in Valencia by Juan Viñao, one of the prominent printers of that time. In the foreword, dedicated to Ferdinand of Aragón, Duke of Calabria (not to be confused with the King Ferdinand II of Aragon), Oviedo relates that the work had been conceived and written while he was in Santo Domingo. Therefore, it seems that this was the first literary work created in the New World.

Oviedo wrote later two extensive works of permanent value: La General y natural historia de las Indias and Las Quinquagenas de la nobleza de España. The former work was first issued at Toledo (1526) in the form of a summary entitled La Natural hystoria de las Indias; the first part of La Historia general de las Indias appeared at Seville in 1535; but the complete work was not published till 1851-1855, when it was edited by J.A. de los Rios for the Spanish Academy of History.

Though written in a diffuse style, it embodies a mass of curious information collected at first hand, and, the incomplete Seville edition was widely read in the English and French versions published by Eden and Poleur respectively in 1555 and 1556. Las Casas describes it as "containing almost as many lies as pages," and Oviedo undoubtedly puts the most favourable interpretation on the proceedings of his countrymen; but, apart from a patriotic bias which is too obvious to be misleading, his narrative is both trustworthy and interesting.

It is through his book, that Europeans — and then the whole world — came to learn about the hammock, the pineapple and tobacco among other things, because these were used by the Native Indians that he encountered; The first illustration of a pineapple is credited to him. He was also placed in charge of the Fortaleza (famous Fort in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) where there is a large statue of him given to the Dominican government by the King of Spain.

In his Quinquagenas he indulges in much lively gossip concerning eminent contemporaries; this collection of quaint, moralizing anecdotes was first published at Madrid in 1880, under the editorship of Vicente de la Fuente.

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